21 July 2011

July shorts

Happy 20th
birthday, Sonic!
(Generations trailer)
This Sonic the Hedgehog item is actually late by a month--Sega calculates the beloved video game character's birthday as June 23, 1991. That's when his first Genesis game was released on the North American video game market. That very summer he became part of our own family's culture, with me being the first family member to overcome Dr. Robotnik at the end of level 1. (This is not the first time I've taken the opportunity to mention this triumph! That, however, is nearly the sum total of my own gaming experience!)

Thanks to Tina Russell for the photo of Sonic enjoying a 20th birthday serving of his favorite chili dogs. As part of this 20th anniversary year, Sega announced that Sonic will appear again in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade this coming November, the same month that the new game, Sonic Generations, is scheduled to appear.

A few hours ago I stepped up to the cafe counter at the nearby Border's bookstore here in Eugene, Oregon. I told friendly and efficient Stephanie, working behind the counter this evening, that I had received an e-mail from Border's, telling me that I'd earned a free drink. She said, "Well, you're supposed to download and bring in a coupon, but since we're closing for good this evening, I'll honor your free drink offer.... You can choose any drink, any size." I had heard that Border's was facing liquidation, but I hadn't realized that this calamity had come so soon--and I utterly admired this employee's wonderful poise and competence just hours from the end of her very last cafe shift.

The store itself apparently will not be closing for weeks or months, during the liquidation process. But I'll shortly be back in Russia, meaning that the next time I'm here, there will be a huge hole in the cultural fabric of this side of town. If you want to know what happened to this once-proud chain of over 1000 bookstores, there are plenty of places to find reflections and analyses. (National Public Radio. American Booksellers Association. The Bookseller [UK].) But I simply want to wish their employees the best as they face a borderless future. I know I'm not supposed to like big chain bookstores, but this location served us well.

Unlike some customers, who apparently previewed book for free while planning to buy them from Amazon, I really did buy books there--and coffee, too. Today's goodbye purchase: Patricia T. O'Connor's Woe Is I. It's going back to Russia with me--I have in mind a particular colleague, who always asks me questions about how to distinguish such usages as (to quote from O'Connor)...
DIFFERENT FROM/DIFFERENT THAN. What's the difference? The simple answer is that different from is almost always right, and different than is almost always wrong. You can stop there if you like. 
NOTE: You may use either one if what follows is a clause (a group of words with its own subject and verb). Both of these are accepted: Respectability is different from what it was fifty years ago. Respectability is different than it was fifty years ago. But use different from when no clause follows. Respectability is different from reliability.
Friday PS: More from Financial Times on Borders in the context of the larger retail environment.

Another closure: the end of the Space Shuttle program, which was originally envisioned as a fleet of workhorses for the American and international space program. Sadly, it turned out that reusability turned out not to be a bargain, nor was it a guarantee of safety. In coincidental commemoration of this milestone, I've  begun reading a fascinating history, Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age, by Matthew Brzezinski. (Amazon link.)

Considering the cost of launching even the tiniest cargo into orbit, it's amazing to read that Wernher von Braun and the Army ballistic missile team tried to persuade their bosses to let them launch the world's first satellite for a mere $100,000. Interservice politics sidelined the Army team in favor of the Navy for a "civilian" satellite and the Air Force for weapons ... until the Soviet Union unexpectedly won the first round of the space race with their Sputnik.

There are certainly still "hidden rivalries" in spaceflight today, but it's amazing that the USA must for the time being now rely on Russian facilities to send American astronauts to the International Space Station--that station itself being a remarkable multinational effort.

Righteous links:

Speaking of books, see Internet Monk contributor Jeff Dunn's "My Summer Reading List." Be sure to read the comments--and, if you like, add to them. I'm going to keep checking what's been added. Have you seen any good reading lists recently? I'm especially eager to hear about books that would interest adult students of English.

Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends begins its annual sessions in just a few days. Will you be there? Judy and I are participating in two banquets and two workshops--and, I'm sure, many joyful reunions.

From the Evangelical Environmental Network: "Heat wave bearing down on 150 million Americans."

Jim Wallis got almost ten minutes on MSNBC today to talk about God and budget priorities. Video.

"A National Leader in Search of a Post"--and a new post in search of a national leader??

Friday PS: Looking with horror at familiar streets and buildings in Oslo, via BBC.

Today's blues dessert is from Toots Hibbert and Playing for Change (best known for the viral video, "Stand By Me")

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