Saturday, April 23, 2016

How to be a polymath

One thing that might stump someone trying to be a polymath is how.  It's not like there are classes in it or you get to major in Polymathism. Although that would be awesomely cool. 

But yeah I've been wondering. Especially today. After watching music videos and Purple Rain(the movie) I came to the conclusion that Prince was also a polymath.

That got me thinking about the defining characteristics of a polymath. Is it creativity? I don't think so, not totally. But polymaths are creatively inclined. They are able to think outside the box. They expand the limits of knowledge, both their own and the world's. For instance, Prince played over 20 instruments and was a prolific songwriter. D'Arcy Thompson read several languages, was a biologist, and a pioneer in the field of bio-mathematics.

Another trait of a polymath is that they are also wildly curious. They involve themselves into new ventures because they like to learn. They have an almost obsessive desire to KNOW about something. That desire leads them to master the skill. Whether it's learning a language, or creating a museum, or learning how to play a new musical instrument a polymath will work to become an expert.

That often leads to another trait that I believe is part of polymathism. Sharing that skill. Passing on the knowledge and the expertise in order for others to rise and become greater. But there might be a little bit of ego involved. Polymaths know a lot and maybe like to show off that knowledge. 

Thompson was a teacher. He created two natural history museums. He wrote and published his work for others to share and build upon.
Prince wrote songs for other musicians and they rose to stardom on the those songs. Nothing Compares 2 U is one of the most famous. He brought in new musicians for his bands and to work in his studio.

Finally these traits lead to an attitude of independence and individualism. A polymath will get labelled as eccentric or an iconoclast. Those aren't bad labels. The world needs more free thinkers. Those who aren't afraid to say and do away from the crowd.

What a polymath learns during the discovery process is that hiding their light under a basket isn't worth it. They use their gifts. They accept the outrageousness, the breadth of their interests, and say in essence Fuck it. This is who I am. I lean into the weird and it makes me memorable. It makes me, me.

My take is that a polymath learns, shares, learns some more, creates, and is a free thinker and an individualist. In a nutshell? We're geeks.

So in respect to a fellow polymath here's his iconic Super Bowl performance. Great showmanship, great music.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


My favorite St Andrews historical personage is Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. He was a professor of natural history, a mathematician, a zoologist, a museum developer, classicist, and parrot lover.

He had a reputation, even before taking up the chair at St Andrews, as being eccentric. He once said about his magnum opus On Growth and Form "it is 'all preface' from beginning to end." The book advocated natural laws that govern behavior rather than strictly focusing on evolution. Which at the time in 1917 was kinda radical. He also used math to point out differences and similarities between species.

This book inspired both Alan Turing and Jackson Pollock. Talk about differences in the species! He created both the natural history museums at the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews(I enjoyed studying in the Bell-Pettigrew, which I talked about in an earlier post). One of his habits after moving to St Andrews would be to walk about town with his parrot on his shoulder.

My point here is that Professor Thompson was a polymath. Equally comfortable with language, science, math, and art. And parrots.He refused to be confined to disciplines. He would have made a good librarian.

I've decided to be more like D'Arcy W. Thompson. I'm not going to get a parrot and it's probably too late to be a renowned mathematician(even if I wanted). But he knew how to own his differences. He made them work for him. That's what I'm going to do. Learn more, walk about with a figurative parrot on my shoulder, use my knowledge and not apologize for it.

After all, I am a librarian. And as another (probably) polymath and librarian, Allen Smith, once said, "In order to be really good as a librarian, everything counts towards your work, every play you go see, every concert you hear, every trip you take, everything you read, everything you know. I don’t know of another occupation like that. The more you know, the better you’re going to be.”


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

They are staring at me. And it's not that creepy

St. Andrews has several museums in the town.  It's a bit odd for a town this small to have 6 different museums and an exhibition space, but that's how it goes.

One of the museums attached to the University is the Bell-Pettigrew Museum, which I have heard referred to as the Taxidermy Museum.
It's a natural history museum in a classic Victorian style.  Lots of birds, insects, and shells.  There's a bunch of fossils, including a dinosaur leg bone.  They even have some old science equipment. 

But they have a lot of taxidermied animals.  Animal heads.
 A gator mounted sideways up on the wall(not sure why).

 A buck toothed weasel.

And then there is this. It has to be the most terrified predator I have ever seen.
I'm sure they meant it to be snarling or something.  But really, this just says Oh my God I saw a scary bird and it's going to eat me!

See if you don't agree. It's a British wild cat, for those interested.  They are pretty much extinct in England, and there aren't that many in Scotland left.  It's supposed to be a pretty fierce animal.  Yes, it looks like a domestic cat. 

And this is a good one.  Because what's a museum without a vampire deer?  It's actually a musk deer, but honestly?  That screams Vampire.

One can imagine that not many people would study in here with all the dead eyes looking at them.  But no.  People do.  It's a good place to hang out.  They provide tables to spread out your stuff, plugs for the computer, and it's generally a quiet spot out of the hustle and bustle.  Not to mention you don't have to jockey for a space in the library.

Not a lot of distractions, except for the dead stuff.  And hey I can appreciate the humor, unintended as it may be, of the displays.
So unless it really creeps you out, it's a cool place.  Despite the stuff in jars.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Roots, family, golf courses, and Facebook photos

Some of you know that I'm partially Scottish in descent.  On my dad's side.  Which is one reason I chose to apply and finally go to school in St. Andrews.  I walk past Makar's Court on my way to my internship at National Museums Scotland and the quote that always stops me is, "my roots in the soil of Alba."  Well, that and the Scott quote.  "This is my own, my native land."  Sort of. 

I knew there were distant cousins who lived here(well, in the ancestral towns) but didn't have their addresses.  I contacted my aunt(thanks Cookie!) and she gave me my cousin Kath's e-mail.
Kath and Liz are cousins on the Milne(my paternal grandmother) side. 

We got in touch and went back and forth via e-mail.  I found out later, that Kath was Facebook stalking me, but that's what it's for!
Last week we went to lunch at the St. Andrews golf links clubhouse.  Lovely time, good food, great views.
I met them and their husbands Chic and Brian.  They are lovely people.  Welcoming, kind, funny, and fun.  But then again, they're Scottish and they're family.  So what else would you expect? 
I'm going to go to Forfar to see the auld town and also hopefully get to Arbroath, where my grandfather was born. They offered to escort me.  Both are in Angus, so it's not terribly far. 

We also had after lunch drinks at The Jigger Inn.  Now that's a pub! 
I found out that one can walk on the Old Course(Sundays only thank you).  I also found out(this week) that they play golf on the New Course on Sundays, so be careful!  I also learned that every hole on the Old Course has a name.  I thought that odd.  Some make sense.  Like the 17th.  The Road Hole.  Because it's on the road.  Others not so much.

It's a nice walk.  And spring is coming.  That's what snowdrops mean here. So I got out and enjoyed the snowdrops and the hills of the Old Course.

You have to have this photo, if you come to St. Andrews, thanks to Kath, Liz, Brian, and Chic I am fulfilling the sacred bond.  Ha!  It's really important if you like golf. Here I am on the Swilcan Burn Bridge.  With family. We look good.
The new Facebook photo is from that day.  It was a good day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Field Trips part whatever

We had a field trip for class today.  We went to the towns of Kirkcaldy and then to Dunfermline.  Both are in the Kingdom of Fife. So we stayed pretty close to home.  Dunfermline is the ancient royal capital of Scotland and Kirkcaldy is the home of linoleum.  Yes, really.

I suppose I should start with the linoleum.  It was invented way back when by a guy from somewhere in England.  It doesn't really matter where or who, cause he let his patent lapse.  An enterprising Scot by the name of Nairn bought it up and started his factory in Kirkcaldy in Fife.  Linoleum quickly became a major industry in the town and eventually it was exported everywhere.

In the post industrial age(the 1960's and 1970's) it was no longer feasible to make and export real Kirkcaldy linoleum around the world and the factories went out of business and eventually were demolished.  Except for one.  There's still one linoleum factory in Kirkcaldy going strong.  When the wind is right you can smell the linseed oil from the factory. 

The museum has machines and patterns from the old factories.  I mean it's not the ONLY thing that the museum has.  Adam Smith lived there too.  One of the more famous sons of the area.  One panel had the headline "Local man writes international best-seller."  I thought that fun.  Hey, if you write a book that basically changes the world's idea of economics, someone will remember you from your hometown.
This is one of the more famous items in the museum.  It was made by a linoleum factory worker.  It's a carving of a Portuguese cork plantation.  They used good Portuguese cork in the manufacture of the tiles.

So after tea and cake in the Cafe Weymss(they used to make the pottery there too) we headed to the old capital.
It's not only the old capital, but also the home of the first Carnegie Library.  Which we got to see.  Andrew Carnegie was a son of Dunfermline.  So when he gave his money away, his hometown was the first to benefit.
Quite a pretty place.  Very impressive.  But it kinda had to be.  The cathedral, not the library.

 I don't get this gravestone at all.  Did he/she take it with them?  Is it a crest or fancy monogram?  No matter what it is, it's strange.  Maybe this guy is trying to reconcile God and Money?  Anyway I thought it the most interesting memorial there.  Sadly, the Victorians just didn't do creepy gravestones. 

I don't quite understand the advertisement for Robert.  Assuming it's like the statues and obelisks of Egypt with the names on them, so you'd KNOW this was the guy to praise.  Just seems like an odd placement. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


There are signs around St. Andrews that PROMISE there are seals around.  And you can see them.  I hadn't yet.  Mysterious creatures, these seals.
I figured that I'd probably miss out on seeing real, live, wild seals in my sojourn here.  I'd seen seals before.  In zoos and aquariums.  So, it's not like it was the only chance I'd ever have.
But coming back from the field trip(Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline) I stopped at the fish and chips shop and then walked home via the harbor and East Sands.
It's my favorite walk.
I love to watch the waves break and the colors of the sea shift with the light. (Okay full disclosure, the first photo is near the golf course and on West Sands.  But it still counts as beach since that's where I took it a few days ago and it's a great sunset shot)
 This one is actually East Sands and today. 

I walked past the little bridge of the harbor and noticed that there seemed to be an addition to the short hill into the harbor.
I did a double take and yes, it was a seal.  A real, live, wild seal.  A baby one, at that!  There were signs to not touch him/her, cause he/she was waiting for Mom to come back with dinner.  And, they bite.
So I have seen a real seal in the wild.  And it is adorable!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The walking dead and loyal dogs

I don't really know if the dead walk at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.  I could imagine they do.  It's sort of a spooky place.  It's old enough.  Sandwiched behind the Flodden Wall and the Old Town. 
I finally found it after one day at my internship at NMS.  I bet when they built the church and planted the first few people there it was easy to find.  Now...a bit harder.  It's hidden behind bars and a computer repair store.
I had a hell of a time finding the statue too.  As a friend of mine said 'he's quite wee.'  It is a small statue, but it's not exactly hidden.  Apparently I was just not paying attention.

But once I figured out the church(sorry kirk)yard it was fun.  A bit creepy.  Especially this one memorial.

Well, I assume it's someone's memorial.  It could be real.

Not sure if it was a good thing that when I saw this the first thing I thought of was 'oh I know someone who would think that's so cool'.  He did, in case you needed to know.  I took more photos, mostly 'cause he asked.  But I did find the decorations interesting.  Especially when you could read the years.  It's very specific to a time period.  Like anything it has it's fashions.  I like the ones with wings best, but the pirate theme is topical, and it's always nice to see the gravedigger(I guess) represented.


Most people know the story of the loyal little dog known as Greyfriars Bobby.  If not, well, he was a Skye Terrier who along with his master lived in the area.  His master died suddenly and Bobby spent the next 14 years at his grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard.   Bobby and Jock both have gravestones in the cemetary.  But the dog is the draw.  It's why most people know the church and want to see it.

Even if it's not all true(really 14 years? Skye terriers don't usually live that long) it's not unusual for a dog to mourn.  It was also his turf.  So to speak. His headstone says it all really.  "Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all."  Perhaps we should learn a little from a loyal little dog who inspires to this day.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


One serious advantage of staying in Scotland for the holiday was the opportunity to attend the New Year's Eve party in Edinburgh.
Known as Hogmanay in Scotland(this link explains why in part) it's a major party.
The Edinburgh Hogmanay is world famous.  For good reasons.  Some of the reason are the music, the venues, and the fireworks from the Castle.

It was a great party.  It was jammed with people, 80,000 of us in a few streets in the center of town. 
As you can see...

And only 5 arrests!  As one woman said to me, explaining why "We're Scottish."  Yes, the alcohol flows.  And there are police.  But overall, it's amazingly civilized and friendly and fun.  My backpack was open and someone made a point of telling me.  In New York, I probably would have been robbed. 

Even with all the pushy-shovy happening most people are very chill about it.  It happens.  We are all going the same way, this is how it has to be. 

Edinburgh's Hogmanay is the best known.  There is a concert in the garden,(this year the Pet Shop Boys were the headliners) a street festival, a Keilidh, a torch procession, fireworks, and even a carnival.  It's recommended you get a hotel or something early.  Or live nearby.  If you want to go to the events, be warned, some sell out quickly.  This year the Keilidh did and the concert.  If you don't get to go to those, no worries, there are stages set up in the street festival.  And someone will start dancing and you'll get pulled into the circle.  Honest.

Fiddler's Bid is a folk group from Shetland that played on the Scottish stage.  Good music.  The accents were tough to understand though.    After we listened and danced to their set we moved on to the Rewinder stage which was the DJ and VJ set up.  The stage was set up on the Mound, so you had to head toward Old Town with a great view of the Castle.  This is a view of the party thanks to the BBC.  The Mound is in the upper left hand.

Which was the place to be.  Well, the three of us thought so. 
We ended up dancing to British club music with thousands of other people in the cobblestone streets. The view of the midnight fireworks was excellent.  My photos don't really do it justice.  Sorry 'bout that.

A wild party.  But fun, friendly, and hopeful.  All these people from all over the world doing the same thing in the same place and just having a good time.  People you'll never see again, but it didn't matter then.

Case in point... I met a girl from Mexico waiting in line at the toilets.  Had a great conversation with her for 5 minutes.  The funny part was some Scottish guy offered her 25 pounds to cut in line in front of her.  We both agreed that wasn't happening.  There are lines that cannot be crossed.

If you do one New Year's celebration in your whole life, this is the one.  Have dinner in a Scottish pub(mulled wine is recommended) ride the carnival rides, find a spot to dance the night away, look after your friends, sing Auld Lang Syne at the top of your lungs, and kiss a stranger at midnight.  You'll never regret it.
Happy New Year!  Make it a good one.  I hope it's blessed, happy, hopeful, and filled with wonder.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


It is my considered opinion that you should go to The Elephant House on Chamber Street in Edinburgh for 4 reasons.
1.  The decor.  There are Elephants!  All over. Who doesn't like elephants?  Little ones, big ones, posters, chairs, wooden and ceramic elephants.

2. The food's good. I recommend the tea and the stromboli.  Maybe not together, you understand...but still.
3. If you read or heard about this book series called Harry Potter than you might be interested in seeing the place.  Since it's 'the birthplace of Harry Potter.'  It says so on the window.  They even sell postcards of J.K. Rowling working in the back.
4. Because the graffiti in the bathrooms is about as unique as it is possible to be. My apologies for the fuzzy shot.  I figure you can get the gist of it.  That's only one small part of one stall in the ladies room.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Field trips,

First of all, apologies.  I haven't been very diligent about blogging.  Again there's no real excuse.  I just forget or get sucked into e-mail.
I'll try to be better.
So, we've gone a few class field trips.  One was to the National Gallery Scotland storage facility and then to their conservation labs.  I have to say that was fun.  I like storage for museums.  After all I was the one who organized the Nooks and Crannies tour of the Furniture Storage Center at Yale.  Ah, original Stickley and art deco.
The highlight for me in the conservation tour was seeing the curator studio for the paintings.  The curator was cleaning a Cezanne.  In fact she was cleaning this Cezanne.

It's going on loan to the Prado, so it needs to be taken care of before shipping.
It was just sitting there on the easel.  I could have touched it!  I had never been that close to a masterpiece.  I breathed on it.  It was one of those spine tingling moments.

And I recognized it right off.  Oh I screwed up my identification of the artist at first.  I do that.  I get Cezanne and Gauguin confused for some reason.  But it took me back to art history 101.  As soon as I saw the mountain, I knew.  Apparently some lessons from Dr. Dixon sunk in.  It was seriously cool.

But the best part was the Monet.  It wasn't even on an easel!  It was on a table.  Ah Claude.  Just sitting there! It was scheduled for some cleaning.  I just love Monet.  I couldn't believe I was so close to one of his masterpieces in a non-gallery setting.
It's really hard to describe how thrilling it was.  Just amazing.  It was like being in a sacred presence. I wish I had a photo of the lab.

We also went to the Black Watch Castle and Museum.  As well as the Ferguson Gallery and the Perth Museum and Art Gallery.
I liked the Black Watch.  I have a fondness for the regiment.  It's not just the tartan.  Although I like that too.  They used it liberally throughout the museum...

My great aunt once told me that an uncle of hers served.  I just wish I remembered his name.  I saw a bunch of Milnes in the honor roll of the regiment and a few family names like George, Alexander and David.  Plus the Black Watch was pretty local in this part of Scotland.  The men from Fife, Angus and Perth signed up.  But there were a few from Forfar, where one side of the family came from.  The odds were good one of them was in the book.  This was the book from after WWI. 

They had newer stuff too.  Found this in the post war galleries.  Hmm, where have I heard about these cards?

After we left the Black Watch we went to Perth.  The museum there has a combination of stuff.  Natural history, social history, decorative arts, and paintings.
In an interesting coincidence I found someone I knew.  Sort of.
It's my dad!  Well, his name anyway. And as soon as I saw it I heard his voice.  I knew exactly what he'd say if he was there.  "Hey that's me!  There I am!"  Made me smile.  But it's hard too. I know he'd love to visit and be so proud that I was at this university so near where his parents came from.  I miss him. 
But we saw the stores in Perth too.  Lots of fun.  I had another encounter with home, as the museum has a dinosaur footprint from CT.  Actually it has one of the Connecticut state fossil footprints.  I recognized the footprint and the dino name before I saw the Connecticut tag on the label.
This was one of my favorite moments.  The museum is closing for a few months so some items are being sent on temporary exhibit around Perth.
I'm assuming they will pack them first.  There were other oddities.  Such as these.  I can't help but feel that was a terribly uncomfortable bike to ride.  And that dog/fox/whatever has a very sappy look on its face.  It's hard to tell with the horn, but there was no good angle for a photo.  Amazing what you find in storage.