A Sunny Morning

It’s a simple thing, but after what seems like weeks of rain, a sunny morning is a realy big deal. When I was a kid, I used to hear people say, “If you don’t like the weather here in Maine, wait five minutes.” There is a lot of truth in that most of the time, but not so much lately. Unless, that is, you insist on maintaining clear distinctions between and among all the kinds of lousy. Over the past few weeks, our local weather menu has offered the following:

  • Cloudy and cold
  • Cloudy and humid
  • Cloudy and hot
  • Foggy, damp and cold
  • Fog and drizzle
  • Intermittent rain
  • Steady rain
  • Torrential rain
  • Thunder, lightning and hail
  • Coastal flooding
  • High ozone
  • Particulate pollution

So a sunny morning is a treat. Actually, was a treat. A nice morning made me so damn lazy that it took me all day and into the evening to get back to this little rant and finish it.

Revisiting Flatland

This evening I picked up Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland, first published in 1884, a book I haven’t thought about in years. I bought the paperback edition I still own in the University of Connecticut bookstore in the spring of 1964 when I was visiting the campus.

I was drawn to the book initially by simple curiousity over the fact that the author’s middle and last names are the same. If I ever learned what that was about, however, I have long since forgotten, because everything about the book delighted me.

Abbott writes in the persona of A. Square, a sentient geometrical figure who by accident discovers our three-dimensional world. The story is an astute satire of Abbott’s own Victorian society, by turns funny, poignant, subversive and sly.

Through the years, I have occasionally met someone who has heard of the book. For the most part, however, Flatland sits on my shelf as a sort of private delight. I once tried to get Marge to read it, but it didn’t interest her. I’m not sure she got past the preface. I may have suggested it to Elizabeth when she was a high school student struggling with geometry. In fact, through the years I’ve recommended it to a lot of people, but I’m not sure anyone has ever taken me up on it.

But now, Flatland is available on line. That link at the top of this page will take you to the full text, with Abbott’s original illustrations. So go ahead, click on it. You know you want to…

Flash Flood Watch

A flash flood would just about put the cap on our almost-kinda-sorta summer. With the exception of a single day here and there, the whole summer has been gray and wet. The National Weather Service now tells us to expect 1-2″ of additional rain over the next 18 hours or so.

radarNow, I know for a fact that there are other places in the country that could really use some of this water, but no. We’re gonna get it all right here on the southwest coast of Maine.

Weather radar tells the story. That bit of nastiness offshore from Portland is probably what I begin to hear booming in the distance as I write this.

The lawn I was proud of back in the spring has been soggy for so long that it is beginning to give itself over to moss and broad-leaf weeds. The backyard we worked so hard to prepare for summer has been just about unusable. No one has been in the pool for close to two weeks.

And to think that not that long ago I was whining because commitments of various kinds were filling up the summer so that the camping trip we talked about back in the spring wouldn’t happen! Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so bad not to be huddled in a sodden tent. Marge and I did that for a week decades ago. It’s nice to have had the experience because it makes a good story, but once around is a lifetime supply.

As for flash floods, I saw a real one in Oklahoma in about 1976. The house we were renting was built on a slab and had a slider into the back yard. As rain fell at something like 10″ per hour (!) the water built up against the side of the house so that the glass door looked like the side of an aquarium. I spent a busy half hour shoveling water out of the garage. I don’t need to see any of that again either.

A Dark and Stormy Night

I’ll bet this is the sort of night Edward George Bulwer-Lytton imagined when, in about 1830, he wrote the infamous opening words of the otherwise forgotten novel Paul Clifford. Actually, Bulwer-Lytton’s complete opening sentence goes like this:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

No wonder Bulwer-Lytton has a contest named for him in which entrants compete to see who can write the worst opening sentence of a novel that, God willing, will remain imaginary.

Through the years, the contest has become more and more elaborate, with categories and subcategories and “dishonorable mentions.” I thought I was going to write about the contest, but I find I’ve used up all the time I have reading this year’s winning entries and laughing maniacally.

Spend some time with the winners, and you’ll have favorites of your own. Perhaps it’s only because my nextdoor neighbor has become the proud owner of a genuine hot rod, but tonight my own personal favorite is this:

“Let’s see what this baby can do, Virgil,” said Wyatt, as he floored the Charger, brushing a Dart out of the way, sideswiping an oncoming Lancer, rear-ending a Diplomat, and demolishing a row of Rams before catapulting head-on into the sheriff’s Viper—realizing that we’d indeed missed the turn-off to Abilene and ended up instead, in Dodge City.
–>I want a space here, dammit!<–
Paul Curtis
Randburg, South Africa

A Widget from Newsweek

Now, what am I supposed to do with the thing? It comes with no instructions whatever. No indication of its size; no information about how it is likely to behave when embedded in a page. Absolutely nothing. Newsweek, you can do better than this!

Although the watch is pretty cool…

D is for Discovery

Discovering a great website is a small but very real delight. Yesterday, thanks to StumbleUpon, I found a site called POW!, which in turn led me to Liam’s Pictures from Old Books, where I found the wonderful ornamented D that begins this paragraph. The site offers illustrations of all types, including old maps, sample alphabets, technical illustrations ranging from 19th century “marine lighting” to medieval “siege engines.”

We have some old books ourselves, so I’ll make a few scans and send them to Liam. If you’re interested in old books, you might want to do the same.

The POW! site, by the way, contains links to free and cheap stock photos of all kinds. Enjoy.