Charles Petzold



James Earl Jones Saves the Play

February 8, 2019
Sayreville, New Jersey

When I was 15 years old, my mother started letting me take the bus into New York City by myself. I would walk to the bus stop at the intersection of Route 9 and Ernston Road (at that time a traffic light), and after a 45-minute bus trip arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Usually I just went to bookstores but sometimes I saw a play, and that’s how I saw James Earl Jones onstage in The Great White Hope, and witnessed the great actor improvising a save when something unexpected threatened to blunt the play’s impact.

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Reading “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”

January 30, 2019
Sayreville, New Jersey

I've always been both fascinated and disturbed by Degas' paintings of young ballerinas. The tutus are so frilly, the legs and arms exquisitely posed even when they're not dancing, but the faces are often turned away from us, and when we do see their faces, they are deliberately smudged, or appear pained, weary, and exhausted, so unlike the radiant faces of Renoir's young women. There may be beauty in the ballerinas' poses and movement, but no joy in their execution. Rarely do we glimpse a smile.

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Reading “Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely”

January 28, 2019
Sayreville, New Jersey

Denis Diderot (1713 - 1784) is best known as editor and frequent contributor to the Encyclopédie that defined many of the goals and ideas of the French Enlightenment. He wrote novels as well, but they're very strange -- elliptical, digressive, and satirical dialogues that hover somewhere between fictional fantasies and philosophical tracts. Consequently, it's hard to get a grasp on the main thrust of his ideas.

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“All the Books of Moses / Were nothing but supposes”

January 26, 2019
Sayreville, New Jersey

The wittily rhyming couplet that titles this blog entry originated in England around the year 1695, a time when such flippant irreverence is not expected. This was an era of orthodox piety: The sovereigns (William and the recently desceased Mary) were of a stern Calvinistic disposition; neither Isaac Newton nor John Locke (two of England's greatest minds of this decade) questioned the authenticity of the Biblical narrative of Creation; Voltaire was but an infant; and in America, the Salem witch trials had just ended.

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Reading “Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist”

January 24, 2019
Sayreville, New Jersey

A recent TV commercial for a pizza delivery chain shows a father electronically summoning his family to dinner when the pizza arrives. The kids drop what they’re doing and rush home. The man’s wife is teaching a college chemistry class when she gets the notification. She quickly gathers up her belongings and hurries out of the classroom, telling the class “You're never gonna use this anyway.”

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Reading “Bringing Down the Colonel”

January 21, 2019
Sayreville, New Jersey

At first, Bringing Down the Colonel seems like a retelling of a tawdry sex scandal of the 1890s, but in Patricia Miller's skillful hands, it becomes a springboard for a panoramic view of the burgeoning feminist movement in the decades prior to the 20th century.

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Retirement and Realignment

September 14, 2018
Sayreville, New Jersey

Effective today, I have resigned my employment at Microsoft, concluding an engaging and delightful 4½ years as part of the Xamarin documentation team. I will miss my co-workers immensely, and I hope to keep in touch with them on Facebook.

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“Computer of the Tides” – The Chapter 2 Schematic

May 7, 2017
New York, NY

In the original 1988 edition of his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking famously revealed why the book contains virtually no mathematics:

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The Dawn of the Sinusoid

April 8, 2017
Roscoe, NY

I’ve been thinking about sine curves recently. The gently undulating pattern of the sinusoid is one of the most familiar mathematical images, but how long has that been the case? Who were the first people to see this curve? Who was the first person to draw it?

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“Computer of the Tides” Chapter 1 (Draft Preview)

December 29, 2016
New York, N.Y.

For over a decade, I’ve been poking away at a book I call Computer of the Tides: Lord Kelvin’s Machine to Disprove Evolution, an extended history of an early analog computer invented by Scottish scientist William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and its role in the 19th century Darwin Wars.

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Reading Steve Pincus’s “The Heart of the Declaration”

October 30, 2016
New York, N.Y.

I loved Yale historian Steve Pincus’s monumental book 1688: The First Modern Revolution (Yale University Press, 2011). It’s not exactly a primer on the Glorious Revolution; for that purpose, I think a more conventional narrative account such as Tim Harris’s Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720 might be better. But reading Pincus is essential when you think you know the Glorious Revolution and want a fresh look that goes much deeper.

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Reading Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures”

September 19, 2016
New York, N.Y.

For a few optimistic years at the beginning of the 20th century, some people believed that the invention of the airplane had effectively ended war. Air warfare was potentially so horrible and so destructive that no country would dare start a war that might make use of airplanes to invade and bomb from the sky.

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The Metric System for Angles and Time

June 5, 2016
Roscoe, N.Y.

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.” — William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), 1883.

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