Reading Trollope

I’m reading Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope. It isn’t as good as Barchester Towers, but everyone has to have a peak and Barchester Towers may well be that peak. This is my fifth Trollope novel, so there must be some reason I continue. He’s a good author, not a great one. His best, like Barchester Towers, are still of the second rank. I could be re-reading Jane Austen or Middlemarch.

So why read five Trollope novels and look forward to the sixth? Trollope’s virtues are known—he has a marvelous grasp of everyday life and his characters are always individuals even when intended as caricatures, like “Dr. Fillgrave”. But that isn’t why I come back. You can get all you need of everyday life and individuals in Barchester Towers and The Way We Live Now.

Partly, I come back for the confections of plot. There is a marvelous stretch in Barchester Towers when four different people are each satisfied that they have said something very clearly and every one of them has been misunderstood. Even better, in each scene, you can clearly see what was intended and what was understood. It is all believable and at the same time a fine parlour trick from the author. [They missed getting this across in the otherwise excellent BBC production, Barchester Chronicles.]

Also, Trollope is alert to technology and communication to an interesting degree. Courcy town is languishing because of the railroad. Turns of plot in Barchester Towers depend on the telegraph being faster than letters and on trains being faster than carriages.

Again, that isn’t really enough. I think I read Trollope mostly because of the pace. Trollope is no particular hurry, but he doesn’t dawdle or go on for pages in digressions. He takes time to describe Courcy Castle and then also describe the town and the state of business there. He’ll gladly spend a paragraph or so to assure you that there will be a happy ending for the heroine. Except for the occasional archaic word or concept, he is easy to read. I know that he wrote on a strict schedule, producing novels to keep the money coming in, but that is not at all apparent in his writing. When reading Trollope, I fall in step with his pace. I become a person who has time to read unhurriedly, who isn’t re-writing for the perfect five-sentence e-mail. When I need to slow down for a bit, I read Trollope.

Computing Al Fresco

At work we have a small covered patio on the first floor, not so far from my cube. I just moved out here with my PowerBook and coffee for a change of scenery and to smell and hear the second good rain of the season. The construction crew is walking back to their cars in twos and threes, an occasional car splashes through the parking lot, and I’m typing another search idea into the wiki.

When Does “Hold” Mean “Move”?

When does “hold” mean “move”? At the Palo Alto Library, of course. I had an urge to read a couple of books and their catalog showed that they were both in the collection and available: Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous at the Mitchell Park branch and Liddell-Hart’s History of the Second World War at the Main Library. Once I found them in the catalog (easy, if you are a really good speller), I put holds on them, even though I didn’t really expect the Liddell-Hart to circulate out from under me. Still, with the Ken Burns documentary current, it was worth playing it safe. I had some errands planned, so I decided to hit both libraries and pick up the books. At Mitchell Park, Weinberger was already on the hold shelf (quick work!). At the Main, there was nothing on the hold shelf and an obvious space at 940.53 L712h. I asked at the circulation desk and found that it was already in transit to the Mitchell Park branch. Sigh. It was now trapped in the tubes until some undetermined delivery time. Where is my UPS tracker URL? I guess I’ll be checking the catalog daily, waiting for Transit Request to morph into some unknown successor state.

Meanwhile, why doesn’t a “hold” pin a book to it’s current location? Or if it means “deliver it to my preferred branch”, why doesn’t it say that?

Troff Flashback

I was editing a doc on our internal wiki, and I kept getting the wiki-speak header directive wrong. After a while, I figured out why I was typing .h3 instead of h3. into the editing window. I’m almost surprised I didn’t type .h 3 since that’s the proper directive in mm (the Memorandum Macros). On the other hand, it has been a few years since I even edited a man page, let alone a full document in troff.

I don’t really miss PWB/UNIX, but it was very fine for its time. Source control with SCCS, yacc/lex, troff, wow.

Hiking Mission Peak

Eight Scouts and six adults had a great time hiking up Mission Peak on Saturday a couple of weeks ago. The weather was great, sunny but not hot, with clear views of our next peak to climb in the Rim of the Bay series, Mt. Diablo.

One of our Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders was our leader and a new Scout, on his first outing with the troop, was our navigator, checking the map at each junction. Two Scouts on this trip had hiked Mission Peak two years ago as their first outing with the troop. A tradition!

We started up the trail at 9:18. The first section of the trail is almost as steep as the final climb to the peak, so we took two rest stops in the first hour. By 10:30, we were over that hump and stopped in the trees to snack and pull off our boots. No blisters! Out of the trees, we climbed up to a ridge with great views across the bay and a view of the peak ahead of us.


After another rest stop and a tough hike up the last stretch, we reached the peak at exactly noon. We sat down, put on our windbreakers, and had lunch. The ASPL and I had a Scoutmaster Conference for his Eagle Palm. It set a personal record for the nicest location for a conference. We posed for a group photo, of course. I’m the one on the far right. If I look like I barely made it into the frame, it’s because I had ten seconds to get from behind the camera to on top of the rocks.


The view was wonderful, from San Francisco down to San Jose, on the other side up to Mt. Diablo, and out to the Central Valley. We could see Del Valle Reservoir and the Ohlone Wilderness, where the troop will be taking a 20 mile backpack trip in the spring. To the south, the range of peaks continues, starting with Mt. Allison, which has a very impressive set of radio towers.

After a half hour lunch break on the peak, we chose to come down the other side of Mission Peak and discovered that the trail is much easier on that side. We circled back around the peak past the Eagle Spring trail camp, four sites with a wonderful view out to Mt. Diablo.


As we came down off the ridge, the hang gliding club started launching, so we could see them playing along the ridgeline. As we were almost back to the Ohlone College trailhead, we could see a grass fire burning close by in Fremont.


We got back to the trailhead at 3:10, just under six hours on the trail.

The hike leadership and navigation was great. It was clear that I was comfortable with the navigation, because I gave away both of my maps to two different people who asked me for directions. I was a bit sore for a few days, mostly because I’m still recovering from a bad ankle sprain, but it was a great hike and I’d do it again.