Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pictures of March

March has now come and gone, and left behind a collection of pictures that didn't really fit anywhere else. Let's have a look, in chronological order:

1) Taste the rainbow:

rainbow cake

A coworker and I presented Safe Zone training, and one of the students hosting it made this cake for the attendees. She said it took her two tries.

2) In bloom:

blooming tree

A flowering tree that I walked past on my way to talk to a class.

3) Night light:

lighted greenhouse

Leaving campus after dark, I took the back way to avoid some basketball game traffic, and discovered that the greenhouses on the ag campus are lit up at night. It looks kind of like a horror movie set, or maybe some science fiction.

4) Pinhole self-portrait:

pinhole self portrait

When Kristin and I hiked Laurel Falls, I was leaning against the car waiting for her to finish using the bathroom, and decided to try a pinhole portrait. I think it came out pretty well, except that I look a little frowny.

5) Mini cupcakes:

mini cupcakes

From a reception for iO Tillet Wright's Self Evident Truths project, which I was photographed for.

6) Shoe:

high heeled

Someone put a shoe on the outside windowsill of the stairwell window by my office. It's been there for a few weeks now.

7) Super-crispy:


Kristin bought me this chocolate covered rice crispy treat. I have not eaten it yet, as I cannot decide if it's candy or not.

8) Some guy on Gay Street:

some guy on gay street

I rarely take pictures with people as the intended subjects, but I was walking down Gay Street and it was a nice morning, and this just struck me as a good photo.

9) Super Doo-Doo:

super doo-doo

I bought a Superboy coloring book at an estate sale this morning, and found this inside.

That's it for March.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Jura Duta"

I'm now one month into serving on federal petit jury. For the next three months (since I've already served one), every Friday after two I have to call to find out if I report the following Tuesday. If I do have to report, I have to call again Monday night to make sure the case hasn't been settled at the last minute. If the case hasn't settled, I have to drive down to the courthouse on Tuesday morning:

courthouse at dawn

and report to the jury room.

I'm not sure what I expected jury duty to be like, exactly. I envisioned sort of a cross between "Law and Order", Chicago, and that time the Legion (and honorary Legionnaire reserve member, Insect Queen) had to face Mordru and the Devil's Jury:

Adventure Comics #370

So far, it hasn't been like any of those things.

It's actually really boring.

I'm not allowed to talk about any of the trials, but according to my friend Sonja, who is a lawyer, I'm totally at liberty to talk about the experience. Like I said, so far it's been pretty boring, but I've gotten a lot of reading done. The people at the courthouse are very polite, and the lady who greets us each time and organizes the pool is downright friendly. She makes coffee for us, and gently reminds us to call every Friday. The first day we were there, for orientation, she also showed us an "all about jury duty" movie from the justice department, which lied to us.

The movie (vintage late 1980's based on the narrator's "Knots Landing" shoulderpads, feathered updo, and frosted lipstick) told us that it starred real jurors, who would talk to us about their real experiences, but the busy busy businesswoman who was too busy to be on jury duty was Kathy Fannon, the lady who played Betty Sterner in Serial Mom, the movie that I show potential romantic interests to see if we're compatible. If they don't laugh at least once, it's not going to work out. Anyway, I suppose it's possible that Kathy Fannon was a businesswoman, then a juror, and then decided to become an actress, but it seems more likely that the people in the movie weren't actual jurors like they said they were.

I don't mean to harp on it, but it seems kind of dishonest to talk to us about the importance of honesty and then lie to us in the orientation video.

I've only had to go twice so far. Once I didn't make it to the panel, because they filled it before they got to me, and another time I was stricken during voir dire. I don't know what my trigger is for being struck from the panel (too educated? obvious liberal? flaming homosexual? Yankee?), but two other people have been struck every time I have: the retired deputy sheriff and the lady who got arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor in the 1970's, and feels that the cops mistreated her. She talks about it loudly and often during voir dire, and she keeps getting struck from the panel.

She doesn't talk about it any other time, and nobody asks her when we're in the jury room (I'm certainly not going to), but people talk about a lot of other things, and I'm starting to get a bit of a feel for the people there.

There are less than ten people who seem to be younger than me.

There are a lot of retirees. A lot. Maybe there are a lot of retirees in our federal district?

There's a lady whose southern accent is so strong and slurry that when she talks about jury duty, it comes out as "jura duta", as in "Ah cain't buhlieve ah have jura duta ag-yin."

One guy drives for almost an hour on the interstate to get here. The district is several counties, and he lives pretty far.

There's a youngish guy, kind of a hippy type, who wears those shoes with toes and reads a lot of Asimov. I thought he might be fun to sit by, but he asks a lot annoying questions about the location of recycling bins in the courthouse, so I don't sit by him.

There's also a lady who keeps wearing a fanny pack over her shoulder by the strap, like a purse. It's not a purse, so I don't sit by her either.

Which just proves that I should get called for a jury: I'm really good at judging.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

That Time Our School Had a Baby (4 Times)

People who know me know that I tend to read a lot, and that there's really no pattern to most of the books that I pick up. If I'm reading an article or a book review online and the book sounds interesting, I go stick it on my wish list on Amazon and eventually pick it up, receive it as a gift, or look at it months later and decide that I'm not really interested in that anymore and remove it from the list.

At some point in 2011 that process landed Barbara Bisantz Raymond's The Baby Thief on my reading list, and I picked it up after Christmas when I used my accrued birthday and Christmas gift cards to pick up a bunch of things that I didn't get for Christmas or my birthday. It was a good book, and tells the story of Georgia Tann, a woman working out of Memphis who took over the Tennessee adoption system and became an adoption broker for the whole country. Through a network of judges, police, social workers, legislators, and famous people (she sold kids to Joan Crawford, Pearl Buck, and June Allyson and Dick Powell, among others) she seized children legally and through kidnapping, and sold over 5000 children in all 50 states before her death from cancer. Even then, the state waited until after she was dead to briefly expose and then immediately cover up her crimes.

The book does a really good job of pointing out how orphaned children were viewed completely differently in the early 1900's than they are today, and how adoption has changed. Back then, you could pick up a couple of orphans to work on your farm in exchange for room and board, or get one to live in your house as a servant for your family, and nobody thought that this was really horrible because hey, nobody wanted those kids anyway and at least you were saving them from a long slow death in poverty and starvation, right?

What I found really interesting, though, was a one paragraph mention of the University of Tennessee, where the author mentioned reading an article about an orphaned baby that the students in the College of Home Economics were raising as a "living textbook" in the Home Economics "Practice House", in 1929. They named the baby Richard P. House, the P standing for Practice, and took turns being his mother.

Let that sink in for a minute, and think about how much college has changed.

Now imagine a group of college students raising a baby in a house on campus. It's like a recipe for a sitcom with a smattering of The Truman Show thrown in, except that it really happened, on our campus. And not just our campus. While looking into this, I discovered that "practice houses" were really common on campuses that had a Home Economics program, and that a lot of practice houses adopted a baby for a semester or a year, then had the baby adopted out to permanent parents, and this was all a totally normal and accepted part of a Home Economics college education.

I mentioned this to a few friends and colleagues on campus, and nobody had ever heard of this. The idea that, for however short a time, our university had adopted a baby and let students raise it was a complete surprise, and a few found it hard to believe. Intrigued, I contacted my friend Donna, who works in the library, with possibly the dumbest question I've asked lately:


I’ve never used the library here for research, and haven’t really done library research since grad school. Are there people over there who can help me find things? And do they work on the weekend?

(I feel totally dumb asking this.)

Yes, I need help using the library. The only times I've used the library here on campus are to go to Starbucks or to look books up in the online catalogue and then ask for someone to send them over to my office. I feel like a guy (who will remain nameless) I knew my senior year of college who was also a senior and had never been in the library, except that I at least have the good sense to be ashamed of my ignorance. Donna, who works in Library Research, offered to help, and the library research staff produced an amazing amount of information in less than a week with only this article citation as a starting point.

It turns out that the University had not one, but at least four of these babies. We also had multiple practice houses at different times, located all over campus. At one point, there were even two practice houses at once: the regular one and a second one on Temple Avenue, and each of them had a baby!

As for Richard P. House, the baby referenced in the book, the research staff found a few interesting items. There was a note in the minutes of a Board of Trustees meeting in the 1920's giving permission for the College of Home Economics to "procure a baby to aid in the training of students in infant care", as if they were just going to order one from the Staples catalogue along with pens, paper, and office supplies. There was also a note that after living in the practice house for almost a year Richard was adopted in December of 1929, which would have been right after the article about him, and then the last time he seems to appear in university records is a letter to the university president in 1948, saying he graduated from Stanford.

The University of Tennessee raises Ivy League babies, apparently.

The adoption records for all of the babies were sealed by the Knoxville Juvenile Court, so you'd really have to dig for more information, but I still wondered about the practice houses. Where did they go? Was there any trace of them left on campus? We no longer have a College of Home Economics, but the building was renamed, and became the Jesse Harris Building:

jesse harris building

The practice houses were a little more difficult to track down, though. Since there had been so many, there didn't seem to be clear, easily accessible records on where they had been located. There was that mention in one of the articles that the research staff found about a second house on Temple Avenue, but mapquest says there isn't a Temple Avenue in Knoxville anymore, and none of my friends on campus seemed to know exactly where Temple Avenue would have been, although we all agreed that it would probably have been on or near campus. My friend Tom pointed out that there is a building called Temple Court and suggested a link, and then Tom and Kay suggested I try looking for older maps of Knoxville at the Map Library, so after work the other day I did.

While the librarian there was searching for older maps of the city, I noticed a large display map on the wall:

knoxville, 1886 (2)

and, looking in the area where campus is now, saw this:

knoxville, 1886 (1)

Temple Avenue.

"Hey, I found it. It's on this map on the wall."

I'm including this quote because it's one of the only parts of the story where I actually discovered something myself. I take pride in my achievements, however small.

Armed with an approximate location and a clear link to campus, I discovered via Google that Temple Avenue does still exist and that, as Tom guessed, Temple Court sits on it:

volunteer boulevard

It's Volunteer Boulevard, the street in front of my office. It was, literally, right in front of me the entire time.

There aren't any practice houses on that street, though, so I still hadn't answered my question, so I went back to the library to talk to the research assistant. In searching the archives, she located what seemed to be photographs of the practice houses. Since they are not digitized, I'd have to view the photographs themselves, and they were part of the Special Collections department. Armed with call numbers, I sent an email and scheduled an appointment to visit Special Collections:

special collections

It's just behind the centaur case in the library.

There are a lot of rules for viewing items in Special Collections, and you have to fill out a lot of forms. Most of the rules exist to protect the special collections from damage and theft, and I'm sure people who do a lot of research with rare books and stuff deal with this kind of thing all the time, but it's all kind of new to me, and the research assistant had cautioned me that I might even have to wear gloves to handle the materials. I didn't, but I was ready to.

There were photographs of the practice houses:

practice house (2)

and a few photocopied news clippings with addresses for some of them. One sat on Laurel Avenue, where there is now a parking lot and power substation. Another sat on Melrose Place, in the footprint of the Baker Center. There was one promising photo, though:

practice house (1)

The picture on the left has a modern-era university sign in front, and gave the address as 1218 White Avenue. It's not still the practice house, but there was a fair chance that the building itself might still be there, so yesterday after work I informed Kristin that we were going for a walk, to look for the practice house.

We found the steps:

1218 White Avenue

That's the vacant lot where the practice house used to be. While we were checking the addresses of buildings on either side, to make sure this lot was 1218, a university maintenance man happened by and told us that there had been a really nice house there, but it was torn down about ten years ago. Time marches on, and history erases things and leaves them buried.

It can be a little bit of fun, though, to spend a couple of weeks digging them back up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Call Me Any, Any Time (but not tonight because I don't know how to use the phone yet)

Today I stopped at the Verizon store on my way home from work, because my phone is hard to text on, and the battery only holds about twenty minutes of charge. My phone is like that because until a few hours ago, this was my phone:

my old phone

You're probably making a face like the lady at the Verizon store made when I held it out to her.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes. This is my phone."

"Really? Does it work?"

No, lady. I carry a dead phone around with me because I want people to think I'm cool enough to have a cell phone but I don't want to actually call anyone.

"I'd like a new phone. I think I might be eligible for an upgrade."

"I'm... sure you are. Let's look that up." Typing. Typing. Suppressing laughter and the urge to call other employees over to stare at the cellular dinosaur. Typing. "Oh! Look at that! You've been eligible for a free upgrade since 2008."

"What kind of phone can I get?"

"What kind of features do you want?"

"I want a phone that makes calls and receives calls. That's all that a phone needs to do. Also, I would like to add texting to my calling plan. So a phone that texts."

"All phones te... you know, let's go look at the simple flip phones. What about this one? It has a camera."

"I already own a camera."

"Yes, but... yes. OK. This one also flips, and doesn't have a camera. It's completely free with your upgrade."

"I don't know... I like the phone I have..."

"You know, we have another phone that we don't actually put out because people don't usually ask for it."


And so, twenty minutes later:

my new phone

I just spent half hour programming all my numbers into it, because they couldn't transfer them over from the old phone.

Why not, you might ask?

"We usually just Bluetooth them over, but Bluetooth wasn't invented yet when you got your phone."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Laurel Falls

I've wanted to hike to Laurel Falls in the Smokies for a while, but every time I decide that I want to go, the parking at the trailhead is always full when I get there and I end up going somewhere else in the park instead. I figured out a while ago that I could just get up really early and go then, but I hate getting up really early, and my hatred of early rising has always outweighed my desire to hike to Laurel Falls.

Fortunately I've been getting up at 5:30 in the morning for two weeks to get to work really early (or maybe not fortunately; I've fallen asleep during a lot of TV for the past couple of weeks) so I figured that now was the time to take advantage of my new early-riser schedule, and informed Kristin that I would be leaving my apartment to head to Laurel Falls between 6:00 and 6:30 Saturday morning.





"You're gonna need to call me. A lot."


Yesterday morning I got up, and left the apartment at 6:08. Yay for being on schedule!

I got some gas:


picked up Kristin and the picnic basket she packed us for brunch, and we headed into the mountains...

...where my plan was completely successful!

Laurel Falls trail

There were so many parking spaces at the trailhead when we got there that I parked us right in front of the sign.

Not that it was the only sign there:

warning sign

Danger? Vertical drops? I don't really like dangerous vertical drops. Kristin, on the other hand, took the sign as a challenge, not a warning:

ignored warning

Edge of the path, then entire way. I should have been more worried, but I had the car keys, so, you know, if you want to play on the edge of the cliffs (and it's a lot of cliffs; the path is paved and not steep, but clings to the side of the mountain the whole way) even though a sign told you not to, go right ahead. I'll be sure to explain the whole thing to the park ranger while they're trying to jam your legbone back inside so they can airlift you.

The trail isn't especially scenic. There are some nice views, and I was intrigued by this tree that managed to grow and fill every space between two boulders:

tree in rocks

but for the most part it's just 1.2 miles of walking and trying to figure out what's wrong with the tenth of a mile markers along the way.

I have photographic proof that there definitely is something wrong with them.

At first, I was trying to use them to be motivational.

"Look! We've already gone two tenths of a mile!"

But then Kristin pointed out that three tenths was taking forever.

"Seriously, we've walked like twice as far as we walked for the first two marker things."

"No, they measure. It just seems farther because the trail doubled back and went uphill. Or something. Whatever. They measure it."

"I think you're wrong."

"I think you should stop playing on the edge like that."


I loudly called out each tenth as we passed the marker, Kristin continued to insist that they were inaccurately placed, and I continued to insist that she was wrong, until we got to marker #8:


See those two guys back there? That thing sticking out of the ground next to them is marker #7. It's less than fifty yards away. Even if I'm off on the yardage, that's definitely not a tenth of a mile. I also didn't see a marker #12 anywhere near the falls, but maybe the park designers figured you didn't need a marker when it was obvious that you were at the end:

laurel falls (1)

laurel falls (2)

There's a bridge over the falls:

bridge over laurel falls

where there's kind of a natural break between the top level and bottom level of the falls. The path keeps going on the opposite side of the bridge, although it gets really steep and rocky:

up high

If you do go ahead and climb it a little ways, though, it gives a better view of the falls as a whole:

Laurel Falls (3)

We stayed for several minutes taking it in, peeking over the edges, and taking a lot of photos:

me and laurel falls

and I learned a couple of things:

1) The water is COLD. Like, "This water was snow ten minutes ago" cold. Just standing on the bridge you could feel a noticeable difference in the temperature, and it was cold enough to see your breath.

2) It's kind of dark by the falls early in the morning. I brought the pinhole camera, but none of the pictures I took at the falls came out. There are a few where you can see the white water, but everything else is so dark that you can't tell what's going on around it.

3) The falls are loud. We heard them long before we got to them. You can hear a little bit of it in this video:

but it seemed a lot louder in person.

It was a good hike, though, and when we got back to the car all of the other parking spaces were taken.

Those people should have left home earlier.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pinhole Botanical Gardens

Last weekend I took the pinhole camera out to the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, where I've taken pictures before, but for some reason I didn't take the film out of the camera when I was done, so I didn't develop them until this weekend when I remembered.

The week of detachment gave me enough time to forget what I'd actually taken pictures of, so when I pulled this picture out I had no idea what it was:

pinhole greenhouse (3)

I frowned at it for a minute or two.

The hell? Did I stick the camera inside one of those monoliths from "2001"? What's at the garden that looks anything like this?

But when I started turning it over it suddenly clicked:

pinhole greenhouse (1)

It's one of the former potting sheds, which has a translucent roof. They have a couple of buildings like that, and the roof of the other one really glows in this picture:

pinhole greenhouse (2)

That soft glowing lighting? I want every photo of me from now until forever to look like this, because I bet it's flattering as hell.

The rest of the grounds look great, too:

gate and stairs

round building

road, gatehouse

although I'm disappointed in the way the gatehouse looks in this picture:


The gatehouse, to me, always looks a little bit like a storybook house:

gatehouse exterior

but I wasn't able to catch that with the pinhole, and will need to try again. I also shot from the interior:

gatehouse interior

like I've done before:

gatehouse interior

for some comparison, and then wrapped up with some broken statues of deer:

deer statues

and a view of the countryside:

pinhole landscape

I also decided to take the pinhole camera back there in a few weeks, when the trees are in bloom for spring. When I use my camera on them, I end up with pictures of petals all around them:

pink flowering tree (2)

but the pinhole's longer exposure should get some petals actually falling. I can see in my head the way that it should look, with long streaks across the picture like falling snowflakes.

If I can take the picture right without overexposing it.