Living (building) history: flat roofs on Lawn rooms

West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia
West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia

UVA Today: Jeffersonian Roofs Restored Over Lawn Rooms. When I lived at 3 West Lawn, there were pitched slate roofs over all the student rooms on the Lawn at the University of Virginia. Turns out that those roofs post-dated Jefferson. His original idea? Flat roofs. And the design was ingenious: Cover a serrated wooden roof with decking. The rain water would run down through the decking and run out through the valleys of the wood roofs. Kind of like this:

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Unfortunately, Jefferson’s vision outstripped his engineering. The wood sub-roof leaked, damaging the roof over the colonnade walkway. So in the 1830s the flat roofs were covered over with pitched slate roofs.

What I find so fascinating about the story is the fact that Jefferson’s original roofs were preserved under the slate for 180 years. I also like this tidbit:

“All the single-leaf doors were replaced in the 1990s with new half-leaf doors,” Kutney said. “We’ve more recently found evidence that the single-leaf was the original Jefferson condition, so we’re going back to the single-leaf.”

When I was a student, I had a discussion with the late J. Murray Howard about the ongoing renovations of the Lawn, including his dismay that students damaged the paint of the doors on their Lawn rooms by hanging signs on them advertising various student activities. He didn’t appreciate my observation that the students who occupied the Lawn were the living embodiment of Jefferson’s vision just as much as the buildings, and that part of the vitality of that vision was the presence of advertising for the student groups who had gotten them to the Lawn in the first place. Howard was responsible for adding the half-leaf doors. It’s petty of me, but I like the reminder that even experts can be wrong.

Learning about user feedback the hard way

TechCrunch points to a Fast Company interview with Apple execs, says The Apple Maps launch fiasco led to the iOS public beta program. Really interesting interview with Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi, among others, talking about two big issues that the company overlooked.

The TechCrunch headline focuses on the “public beta” aspect of Apple’s post-Maps transformation. I’d argue that an even more significant aspect is highlighted by Federighi’s comment that “we needed to develop competencies that we initially didn’t appreciate… Maps presents huge issues relating to data integration and data quality, things we would need to do on an ongoing basis.” They’re doing them now, to the tune of an added 4,000 workers in an Indian development center focused on Maps data.

The whole 2012 fiasco – which I believe has been turned around, btw – was completely avoidable had Apple done any strategic analysis on the maps market. A little Porter’s five forces would have drawn their attention to the problem of barriers to entry, and a little thought might have raised the point that data quality was in fact a significant competitive advantage that Google had, and a sustainable one based on their existing efforts around data quality in other, more directly search-related fields.

Thirty thousand feet over Peach Springs, Arizona


Living in a densely populated state like Massachusetts, it’s sometimes a shock to be reminded that we have such immense areas of uninhabitable land in the United States. There’s nothing like a flyover of the Grand Canyon to bring that home.

And there’s nothing like following it up with a flyover of Lake Mead and a landing in Las Vegas to remind oneself of just how much we’ve changed the landscape of this country. And how much water matters.

Separating the artist from the art

I was in an interesting Facebook discussion last night. One of my friends was struggling to reconcile love for the works of Edgar Allan Poe with increased evidence that he was a virulent racist.

It occurred to me, as I thought about my response, that this is not unlike being a lifelong student of Thomas Jefferson while acknowledging that he not only owned slaves but fathered children with one of them.

What I’ve come to increasingly understand—not “appreciate,” but understand—is that this whole country is tainted with racism and slavery. It’s like Bob Dylan said: “Seen an arrow on the doorpost / Saying this land’s been condemned / All the way from New Orleans / To Jerusalem.” We are, all of us Americans, complicit in the original sin of America. That doesn’t mean, to me, that you throw out the whole thing; it means that you appreciate the moments of beauty that have managed to poke their heads above the horror all around them.

Summertime rolls


It’s entering the busy season of my summer, though in reality the whole summer feels both jam-packed and oddly relaxed. Last week: mid-year team offsite. This week: mid-year sales training. Next week: hacker summer camp.

Then there are rehearsals. In late August there’s Rossini, and Aida, and a Prelude concert and Beethoven’s 9th. So of course we’re in high rehearsal mode. I think I’ll have had over 18 hours of rehearsal in the last couple weeks of July by the time all is done.

But right now all I can think about is how much fun it was taking my kids around the Museum of Science on Sunday and watching the Tesla coils make music with The Girl. Turns out that you can translate AC frequencies directly into musical tones.

NASA Langley Research Center at 50

I’m going to double up on posts today since I’ve missed a few this week. I want to start by sharing this cool artifact from NASA Langley Research Center in 1967, commemorating the center’s 50th anniversary.

This was released while my dad (happy birthday!) was working at the center; he went there straight out of his undergraduate degree at NC State. He doesn’t talk a lot about those days, but it’s fun to think he might have been in the background of some of those shots.

It’s also thought provoking to reflect on the vision of future aviation that is shared in the video. Supersonic and VTOL “flying cars” never really happened, victims of a collision with environmental concerns and the energy crisis.

A history of stolen time

Via Daring Fireball, behold (the Kickstarter for) The Secret History of Mac Gaming. There is so much of my late childhood and early adulthood here: Ambrosia, the Myst team, Freeverse, Escape Velocity, Bungie and more.

I can actually still play a handful of these games. Escape Velocity: Nova received a Mac OS X port (though I haven’t tried to play it in years), but there’s also SheepShaver, on which I’ve played Bungie’s Abuse and Ambrosia’s Harry the Handsome Executive.

Twenty years of Cheese Lords

Members of the Suspicious Cheese Lords, Washington National Cathedral, 1998
Members of the Suspicious Cheese Lords, Washington National Cathedral, 1998

Hard to imagine that my first rehearsals with the Suspicious Cheese Lords were twenty years ago this year. The group with the funny name is quite serious about Renaissance music, as my review of their first recording suggests. Some of my earliest posts on this blog were about a visit to the nerve center of the group, stately Cheese Lord Manor; over the years I have watched them develop as a group even as I’ve reminisced about my experiences with them.

I don’t know that I’ve ever properly acknowledged all the debts I owe to them.

First, vocally: I never sang seriously in a small group before the Cheese Lords. Though we were far from exemplary in the early years, I still learned important lessons about tuning, balance, pitch, and other vocal fundamentals that are critical when you’re one-tenth of a group instead of one-fortieth. I began a journey of exploration of my vocal instrument then that continues to this day.

Second, sociopolitically: I had never met anyone like the people I found in the Cheese Lords. Young, urban, gay (and straight), happily single or with long-term partners, they stretched my understanding of humanity–and thankfully were forgiving when I sometimes proved less cosmopolitan than I thought I was.

Third, the debt of friendship. The Cheese Lords sang at my wedding. I sang at some of theirs. Last summer, before this blog was resurrected from an almost certain grave, I sat in a sweltering Boston church to watch their Boston Early Music Fringe Festival debut, then hosted them for dinner. After dinner, we sat down with scores and sang through the Lamentations, puzzling my children and thrilling me.

I wish I could be at the Cheese Lords’ 20th reunion concert. (I’ll be singing Aïda that night.) But my heart will be with them.

Cocktail Friday: Tonic and Bitters

When I posted a note about today’s drink on a private cocktails discussion, the reaction was swift: “sounds delicious, but not as delicious as alcohol.”

Yes, this is a non-alcoholic drink. But we’re staring down the barrel of a week of 90+ degree days and having something cool but satisfyingly complex sounds pretty good to me right now. And the proportions for combining something as simple as tonic and bitters turned out to be surprisingly tricky to get right. (The addition of lime is a non-obvious, but delightful, balance. Also for this drink, if you think you’re putting too much bitters in, you probably haven’t added enough.)

As always, here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!


It’s a wonderful world

P.D. Gwaltney, Jr and the world's oldest ham
P.D. Gwaltney, Jr and the world’s oldest ham

Every time I think about how awful this world is, I stop and think, there must be something that’s wonderful out there for me to discover. Today, it’s the Isle of Wight County Museum, which features as its star exhibit the World’s Oldest Smithfield Ham. Cured in 1902 and forgotten, the ham was rediscovered in a packing house 20 years later by P.D. Gwaltney Jr.

Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham was featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

The county museum web site, of course, features a Ham Cam. And there’s a contest to take the picture of Gwaltney and his ham to unusual places this summer: the Pan Ham.

Burroughs from beyond the grave

Dangerous Minds: ‘Let Me Hang You’: William S. Burroughs reads the dirtiest parts of ‘Naked Lunch.’  I was exposed at a formative age to the inimitable voice of Burroughs via Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak (“Paging Mr. Sharkey—white courtesy telephone, please!”). Then my good friend Catherine shared on a mix tape tracks from Material’s Seven Souls, including “Ineffect” and “The End of Words,” that also featured the voice and words of Burroughs. The common thread was producer Bill Laswell. Then I started hearing other recordings, including Dead City Radio and Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, which were produced by Hal Willner, who apparently recorded the Burroughs tracks that are the basis for this new collection.

As we come up next year on the 20th anniversary of Uncle Bill’s death, it’s delightful to come across new recordings of the master, even if the material is, as Dangerous Minds warns, very unsafe for work.

New engineering degree requirements

Boing Boing (Cory Doctorow): For the first time, a federal judge has thrown out police surveillance evidence from a ‘Stingray’ device.

In the future, perhaps we should add a course in constitutional law to the requirements for an engineering degree. Or, better, a business degree. Or even better, as a requirement for employment in law enforcement.

Thirteen years ago: Pernice Brothers

I forgot a show in my “live shows list“, and a look back through the archives reminded me. Thirteen years ago today I wrote about going to see the Pernice Brothers at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard, Washington. It was a great show, and I had forgotten that Warren Zanes was on the bill too.

I did not note, but will note now, that it was also the kind of show and the kind of night that a very drunk 20something girl in a silver Mylar dress could fall on the floor when trying to dance and flirt, bounce right back up, and disappear into the night. Which is honestly the thing I most remember about the evening. Rock on, silver girl.