tweaking the blog

Please pardon the mess. I’m trying to tweak the theme and I seem to have lost my header picture.

EDIT: got it back. Now I’m playing with categories and trying to do something with the organization of the thing.

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Nella Last’s War

Book cover: Nella Last's WarNella Last’s War, edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming.

Subtitle: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49.

Mass Observation was a British project begun in 1937 to “create an anthropology of ourselves.” Part of the project involved a few hundred volunteers who kept diaries about their everyday lives and thoughts. One of these volunteers was Nella Last.

I first heard of Nella Last through a podcast of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. When she started writing her Mass Observation diary in 1937, she was a 39 year old housewife in Barrow-in-Furness, north of Liverpool, married to a joiner and shopfitter. Her older son, Arthur, was a trainee tax inspector in Manchester; Cliff, her younger son was waiting to be called up to the army.

When the war started, she joined the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) and worked providing blankets, toys, and anything else that was needed by hospitals and evacuees, and food and drink to soldiers and sailors. Later, she also joined the Red Cross store, raising money for aid packages for POWs.

For the next thirty years, Nella Last kept her diary. Since then, it has been edited and released in three volumes. This book, the first one, covers the wartime years, from September 1939 to August 1945. In it, we learn what it felt like to be bombed night after night during the Blitz and the very real possibility of invasion; how she managed to make do with wartime rations; and the small but important pleasures of driving to the lake or parking by the water, stress-relieving pleasures that were temporarily denied during severe gasoline rationing. We see the everyday interactions and dramas at home, at the WVS, with friends, family and neighbors, and we worry with her when Cliff ships off to war. Through her eyes, we see the way society was changing in reaction to the experiences of the war. But we also see how she feels about life with her domineering husband and how things change between them as she gets more involved with matters outside the house.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in daily life, World War II, proto-feminism, and women coming into their own.

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And all the rest: February

Stuff I read or watched but didn’t write about (February 2012).


  • A Useful Dog, by Donald McCaig.


  • Space: 1999, season 2 (eps 9-48).
  • Swing Kids.
  • Sarah Connor Chronicles, season 2.
  • QB VII.
  • The American President (1995).
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The Dollhouse Murders

Book cover: The Dollhouse Murders

The Dollhouse Murders, by Thomas P. Mauriello.

Subtitle: A Forensic Expert Investigates 6 Little Crimes.

Thomas Mauriello is an expert crime scene investigator and also teaches the subject. In 1992, he saw the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” dioramas, a series of 18 dollhouse miniatures of crime scenes. They were created in the 1940′s by Frances Glessner Lee to help train police recruits in how to really see the details. Mauriello decided to create his own set of miniatures not only to help his students learn to observe, but also to show them how everything they were learning about forensics and physical evidence tied together.

In this book, Mauriello, with the help of Ann Darby, presents six short mystery stories that follow the detectives who are investigating these tiny crime scenes, the observations they make, and the proper handling of evidence. (One they mention a lot: use paper bags, not plastic bags, to protect the evidence on the victim’s hands, unless you want warmth-loving bacteria to contaminate the evidence. I’m looking at you, CSI.)

If you insist on always finding out whodunnit, you might find this book frustrating, since they don’t always provide the answers. If, however, you’re more interested in the forensics process, I recommend you give this book a try.

To learn more about Frances Glessner Lee and her miniature scenes, see the San Diego Union-Tribune. Close-up photos can be seen in the Bruce Goldfarb blog and in the New York Times.

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Piled Higher and Deeper # 4

Book cover: Piled Higher and Deeper. Chapter 4 Piled Higher and Deeper. Chapter 4: Academic Stimulus Package, by Jorge Cham.

This is the fourth compilation of the online comic strip, Piled Higher and Deeper (“a grad student comic strip”). PHD is one of the best online time sinks. If you’ve ever been in academia or in grad school, particularly if you’ve ever been in a doctorate program, this will all sound all too familiar. This time, you get to laugh about it.

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The Boy in the Dress

Book cover: The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress, by David Walliams.

Dennis is a 12-year-old boy whose life has been very boring and lonely since his mother left a couple of years ago. He is bullied by his brother and his father has a “no hugging” rule in the house. The two bright spots in Dennis’ life are soccer — he’s the star player on his school team — and fashion (but don’t tell his dad). He befriends Lisa, one of the fashionable girls in school, when she finds out that he reads Vogue. Then Lisa has an idea: what if Dennis went to school dressed up as a girl? It’s a great idea… until everything goes wrong.

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2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Pic: 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently updated its Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

What’s a plant hardiness zone? It’s a zone based on the “average annual extreme minimum temperature during a 30-year period in the past” and helps gardeners determine whether a plant has a chance to thrive in that zone. The 2012 map is more finely tuned than past maps were. Still, don’t expect your town’s zones to apply everywhere in town. Every place has microclimates whose conditions are affected by water, pavement, sunlight, shade, and buildings.

In the United States, most seed packets will indicate that plant’s optimal hardiness zone. You can find out which zone you’re in here and read more about zones and how to use them here.

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Marcelino Pan Y Vino

Book cover: Marcelino Pan y Vino

Marcelino Pan y Vino, by Jose Maria Sanchez-Silva.

Marcelino is an orphan who was abandoned as a baby at the doorstep of a small Franciscan monastery. He grows up to be a mischievious little boy who has the run of the monastery. He only place he’s not allowed to visit is the attic. Of course, he sneaks up there, anyway. In the back room, he finds a life-size crucifix. Marcelino offers the Jesus statue some bread. Marcelino returns to visit whenever he can, always with bread and wine.

This 1953 book has become a classic of Spanish children’s literature (and, in 1955, of Spanish film).

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Getting the most out of a professional conference

Getting the most out of an in-person professional conference,” by Kathryn Greenhill, posted on Librarians Matter.

“I just really miss that exciting feeling of stepping out of a conference session, where I didn’t really understand what the abstract in the programme meant, with my mind buzzing with trying to quickly assimilate the new knowledge and ideas into what I already know. That feeling of my professional world..tilting…a little as a big rip appeared in the curtain between me and what was possible and achievable. That feeling of wanting to run out and do something RIGHT NOW.”

After finding herself disappointed after conferences, lately, both by the conference and by herself, Kathryn Greenhill posted some ideas for making face to face conferences more engaging.

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Dante’s Equation

Book cover: Dante's Equation

Dante’s Equation, by Jane Jensen.

[Short note this time as I try to catch up on the book write-ups.]

This book combines Torah code, cutting-edge physics, Auschwitz, alternate universes, and good and evil to make a neat, far-raging, and exciting adventure. You wouldn’t think such a mix would work so well, but it does.

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