Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-8 Stanford

December 4, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 4, 2019

I marked the end of Stanford’s 2019 football season where I’d welcomed it: At Tobacco Road, where I watched the Notre Dame game with elation that eventually shaded into apprehension and then despair. It’s fair to say that I was cranky during the second half.

• The Bad

What for Stanford doesn’t belong in this category, especially as the game wore on? The Cardinal was outscored 24-7 in the final 30 minutes, as the Irish gained 249 yards on 44 snaps and held the ball for nineteen minutes and 37 seconds. Stanford’s equivalent figures were 120, 27 and 10:13.

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Irish clobber Stanford, 45-24

December 3, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 3, 2019

Notre Dame rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit for a 45-24 over host Stanford in the finale of the worst Cardinal football season in more than a decade.

The Irish finished 10-2, with its only losses coming on road clashes at Georgia and Michigan, then ranked third and 15th, respectively. Stanford, condemned to its first losing season since a 4-8 finish in 2007, closed out a 4-9 campaign that saw the Cardinal go 3-6 in Pac-12 games.

The game turned with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. After Stanford junior quarterback Davis Mills was only able to run for three yards on third and four, freshman kicker Ryan Sanborn was summoned to punt with the line of scrimmage at the home 24. Freshman defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey blocked the ball, which Notre Dame freshman punter Jay Bramblett recovered at the 1-yard line.

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Conflict echoes even through decades of peace in Mark Obmascik’s fascinating World War II history ‘The Storm on Our Shores’

December 1, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 1, 2019

Dick Laird was the fifth child born to a dissolute father. Frank Laird’s gambling and drinking led him to squander a modest inheritance. The Lairds moved from one coal town to another during Dick’s childhood, sometimes because there was no work for his father, sometimes because the locals forced the family out.

At age 14, not long after the start of the Great Depression, Dick quit school and went to work in a coal mine. It was a physically punishing way to make a living, assuming one was able to stay in the bosses’ graces and keep a job in the first place. It was also wildly dangerous: In the early 1930s, about one in 340 mine workers were killed on the job.

Laird, as he was widely known, was a strapping lad; at age 18, he was six feet tall and a well-muscled 160 pounds. He would have pursued a career as a boxer had not a doctor discovered a heart murmur that disqualified him from competition. At a buddy’s urging, he decided to join the U.S. Army. In the words of Mark Obmascik, author of the 2019 book The Storm on Our Shores: One Island, Two Soldiers, and the Forgotten Battle of World War II: “Could his odds of being killed in the peacetime Army really be any worse than his 1-in-340 chance at the Powhatan mine?”

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-7 Stanford

November 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 28, 2019

I attended the joint Stanford-Cal Big Game viewing party for the fifth year in a row. Suffice to say that the result was not to my liking.

“I can’t believe we have the Axe!” one Cal backer exclaimed joyfully upon the conclusion of the Cardinal’s nine-year victory streak over the Bears.

I had to wait rather a while to pay my bill, which didn’t put me in a good mood.

• The Bad

I was struck after the end of Big Game by the similarities between Stanford’s second half at Washington State and its second half vs. the Bears. Junior quarterback Davis Mills threw two picks in both cases, once per game near the opposing goal line. The Cardinal’s opponents had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in both cases. And the opposing defense turned the Farm team away on fourth downs with less than two minutes to play in both contests.

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Cal uses two fourth-quarter touchdowns to snap Stanford’s Big Game streak, 24-20

November 27, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 27, 2019

Cal quarterback Chase Garbers ran for a 16-yard touchdown with 79 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to lead the Bears to a 24-20 win, the team’s first victory over Stanford since 2009.

The outcome of the 122nd Big Game clinched bowl eligibility for the Bears (6-5 overall, 3-5 in the Pac-12) while ensuring that the Cardinal (4-7, 3-6) will have its first losing season since 2008.

Garbers, participating in only his second game since sustaining an injury in late September, finished with 285 yards on 20 of 30 passing. The redshirt sophomore threw one touchdown and one interception; he was also the game’s leading rusher with 72 yards on 13 carries.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-6 Stanford

November 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 22, 2019

I watched the Stanford–Washington State game at the one Durham venue that I know for sure has Spectrum cable, which carries the Pac-12 Networks. The outcome, sadly, did not go as I’d hoped.

• The Bad

I went through these numbers the other day: Washington State scored on nine of its first 10 possessions, held the ball for nearly 34 minutes and accumulated 624 yards on offense, including 520 through the air.

But as tempted as I am to ding the Cardinal defense — especially the Cardinal pass defense — I’m going to hold off. Stanford has been thin at inside linebacker all year, and the secondary came down with the injury bug at perhaps the worst possible time. Junior cornerback Paulson Adebo and senior free safety Malik Antoine, each of whom had made 20 consecutive starts, didn’t play at all against Wazzu. That’s not exactly an excuse for allowing 520 passing yards, but maybe I’m feeling generous today.

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Cougars surge past Stanford, 49-22

November 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 18, 2019

Washington State scored 24 unanswered points over the final 19 minutes in a 49-22 victory over the Stanford football team Saturday afternoon.

Both starting quarterbacks recorded more 500 passing yards during the contest, which gave WSU head coach Mike Leach a four-game winning streak over Stanford. But the host Cougars (5-5 overall, 2-5 Pac-12) scored on nine of their first 11 possessions, while the Cardinal (4-6, 3-5) managed just three touchdowns over the same number of offensive drives.

WSU dominated Stanford in three key areas:

• The Cougars mounted a respectable ground game, generating 104 yards on 21 rushes. Stanford was held to six rushing yards on 10 tries, the Cardinal’s worst output in that category since the 2007 squad finished with minus-8 yards on 25 carries in a 23-6 road loss at Oregon State. (Quarterback Tavita Pritchard, now Stanford’s QB coach and offensive coordinator, was sacked nine times for minus-38 in that outing.)

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-5 Stanford

November 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 13, 2019

The Pac-12 Networks, a production and broadcast organization wholly owned by the collegiate sports league whose name it bears, has famously limited availability. The conference’s system of regional channels for the Bay Area, Southern California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and the mountain states (read: Colorado and Utah), plus a “main” conference channel, has never signed a distribution deal with DirecTV.

The Pac-12 Networks have only 19 million subscribers. That’s fewer than Fox’s Spanish-language sports channel and other TV powerhouses such as Great American Country, Justice Central, MaxPrime, Ovation Network and the Smithsonian Channel, according to SBNation.

When your team is mediocre, its games tend to be relegated to the Pac-12 Networks, which makes it very hard to watch said games. For Stanford’s demoralizing loss at Colorado, I met a buddy at a venue that doesn’t subscribe to the channel; we wound up listening to the KZSU radio feed through my phone on my pal’s Bluetooth earbuds. (We each used one of his buds — my phone is evidently incapable of connecting simultaneously to multiple Bluetooth devices.)

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Colorado squeaks past Stanford, 16-13

November 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 12, 2019

Stanford dropped a 16-13 decision at Colorado on Saturday when a dismal offensive outing by the Cardinal was supplemented by crucial second-half breakdowns on defense and special teams.

Redshirt freshman Evan Price won the game on Colorado’s homecoming weekend by hitting a 37-yard kick as time expired, his third field goal of the game. Stanford (4-5 overall, 3-4 in league) had taken a 13-10 lead 55 seconds into the fourth quarter thanks to a 79-yard touchdown throw from K.J. Costello to Simi Fehoko, but the Buffalo (4-6, 2-5) came back by mounting two methodical field-goal drives that ate up an astonishing 12 minutes and 31 seconds of the final period.

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Short takes: ‘Oblivion,’ ‘Redline’ and ‘Lifeforce’

November 9, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 9, 2019

One could be forgiven for having forgotten Tom Cruise’s 2013 action vehicle, Oblivion, which sank into — well, you know — seemingly within days of its release. This was somewhat unjust, as the movie turns out to be a pretty zippy science fiction actioner.

Cruise stars as Jack Harper, technician for — tower? sector? something, anyway — No. 49 on post-apocalyptic Earth in 2077. As he explains in the opening narration, humanity has survived an invasion by a mysterious alien race, but only barely. Earth is in shambles, in part because the aliens smashed the moon, causing immense earthquakes and tidal waves, and in part because humans used nuclear weapons, converting vast swathes of the planet into radioactive wastelands.

What’s left of the population has decamped to the Saturnian moon of Titan as massive hovering machines rehabilitate the home planet. Harper and his communications officer/controller, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, also of Birdman and the Nicholas Cage vehicle Mandy), who have had their memories wiped, help guard massive installations that convert seawater to energy. These facilities and the hovering armed drones that patrol the area are occasionally pestered by scavengers, menacing remnants of the alien force who tend to stick to the shadows.

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Short takes: ‘The Heavens,’ ‘The Psychology of Time Travel’ and ‘The Outpost’

November 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 5, 2019

Sandra Newman’s The Heavens is classified by the digital media service from which I borrowed it in audiobook form as horror. That’s not particularly accurate; although this 2019 novel has some touches of horror, it also incorporates elements of romance, historical dramas and science fiction.

The variability is fitting, because the main character, Kate, lives multiple lives. In what the people around her very sensibly call reality, Kate is a sweet but feckless twentysomething American artist with Iranian roots. In her dreams, however, she is Emilia, a married young musician of Jewish and Italian extraction with ties to the royal court of a strange preindustrial land called Albion. But she — “she” being both Kate and Emilia — also has dreadful visions of a post-apocalyptic city where nothing stirs but the air. Gradually, the two-faced protagonist comes to feel that her actions may play a role in preventing this augury from occurring.

This is no easy burden to assume, not least because Kate and Emilia don’t know just which actions might stave off disaster. With Albion’s capital stricken by plague, Emilia embarks upon a peripatetic excursion across the land, where she encounters her disaffected former patron, an obscure but aspiring poet and a handsome young lord.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-4 Stanford

October 29, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 29, 2019

The Arizona game marked the second time this year that a Stanford game was broadcast by the Pac-12 Network. Rather than attempt to find a bar or restaurant near my parent’s home that had the Dish Network, and hence carried any of the Pac-12 channels, I wound up listening to the KZSU broadcast of the game on my computer and phone.

(This was, I should note, partly because I took a long late-morning walk and then had a late lunch and then did some shopping, by which point it was 3 p.m. if not later.)

At any rate, Stanford wrapped up its victory right around 7 p.m. Eastern time, which worked out great for me!

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K.J. Costello returns to lead Stanford to a 41-31 homecoming victory over Arizona

October 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 28, 2019

K.J. Costello threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Stanford football team to a 41-31 win over Arizona on Saturday amid reunion festivities on the Farm.

The Cardinal, who moved to 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the Pac-12, also got outstanding efforts from their most reliable offensive player, redshirt senior running back Cameron Scarlett (two scores and 102 yards on 19 carries), and their emerging star at wide receiver, sophomore Simi Fehoko (two touchdowns and 97 yards on just three catches).

Costello’s 30 completions on 43 throws went to an even dozen players, including himself on a curious play. In all, the offense rolled for 472 yards, a number second this season only to the 482 yards they compiled in their upset victory over Washington.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 3-4 Stanford

October 21, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 21, 2019

The day after Stanford’s brutal loss to UCLA, I realized that I hadn’t donned the possibly lucky Stanford wristband that I’d acquired at the alumni tailgate prior to the UCF debacle and worn during the thrilling victory over the University of Washington.

Was Thursday night’s defeat my fault?!

Anyway, I went to James Joyce Pub and watched Thursday evening’s game with a pal. Things did not go the way we’d hoped, to say the least, and the Bruins were able to beat Stanford for the first time since 2008. Ouch.

• The Bad

There was a whole lot of bad for the Cardinal on Thursday night. UCLA was the first team this season to beat Stanford in time of possession, 31:40 to 28:20; Stanford had led the league in the category, holding the ball 34 minutes and 58 seconds per game. The Bruins defense — which, as noted on Friday, was statistically the worst in the league entering the contest — held the Farm gridders to 198 yards of total offense, their worst output of 2019. UCLA’s previous opponent low was 373 yards of total defense allowed in a loss to San Diego State.

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Bruins maul Stanford, 34-16

October 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 18, 2019

Twelve days after turning in their best performance of the season, the Stanford football team put in arguably their worst Thursday evening with a 34-16 home loss to UCLA. The result gave the Bruins (2-5 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) their first win over Stanford since a 23-20 result in Pasadena in 2008, Jim Harbaugh’s second year at the helm of the Cardinal.

The Cardinal offense generated just nine points and 198 yards against the conference’s worst defense in dropping to 3-4 overall and 2-3 in league. The Cardinal defense allowed 455 yards to a Bruins attack that had only been averaging 397 yards to that point in the season.

It was a crushing comedown for a Stanford team that had seemed on the brink of pulling itself together after an injury-riddled start. The defeat left head coach David Shaw’s squad with immense uncertainty after the team’s third-string quarterback, sophomore Jack West, struggled mightily in his first collegiate start.

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2019 Robb Griffith Memorial Tournament, part 3

October 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 17, 2019

As I noted in my last post, my opponents’ ratings were increasing as the day wore on. Round seven pitted me against the field’s No. 2 seed, D.L., a Durham resident who was returning to competitive Scrabble after a 12-year break.

His rating entering the tournament was 942, but he’d had a rough day, and his record stood at 2-4 with a spread of minus-190. Nevertheless, I expected him to be dangerous — he’d beaten me and a few other players during club play earlier in October.

However, I got off to a good start. Playing second, I turned my opening rack of ADEHIS? into SHADIEr/COWS, a 72-point bingo. Later, I put down ZEST/SCOWS for 43-points, which gave me a 168-57 lead after five turns.

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2019 Robb Griffith Memorial Tournament, part 2

October 16, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 16, 2019

As is customary when we hold Scrabble tournaments at the local mall, I took advantage of the midday break to walk home. After grabbing some lunch, I hopped in my car. I parked in a shady spot — I think the temperature got up to the mid-80s that day — in a very particular part of the mall lot that I picked out because it would facilitate my access to the highway I planned to use after the Scrabbling was done.

Upon returning to the tournament play area, which was roughly in the center of the mall, I saw that standings had been posted. Somewhat surprisingly, my 3-0 record with a plus-379 spread hadn’t been enough to put me in first place. That honor actually belonged to N—, whom I hadn’t competed against since June 2018. Like me, she was 3-0, but her spread was even better than mine: plus-435. I knew that I’d have to play well to stay in contention.

My adversary in round four was C—, whom I’d last played in April 2018. Playing first, I drew CJLSVXY and threw back everything but SX. C— put down WHALE 30, which benefitted from the double-letter-score bonus that amplified the W as well as the double-word-score bonus that automatically applies to the first word played in every Scrabble game.

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2019 Robb Griffith Memorial Tournament, part 1

October 15, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 15, 2019

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote about Scrabble. Those posts detailed my 4-4 record with a minus-53 spread that saw me finish sixth in the 10-person lower division.

Since then, I’ve participated in four tournaments that have until now gone unremarked-up on this blog:

• A 4-12 debacle in Wilmington, N.C., in which I finished 12th out of 12 in a single-division event in October 2018. I was seeded 10th but lost 12 games against four wins, with an abysmal spread of minus-1,036.

• A 9-7 performance in the January 2019 Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament. I was fifth out of 18 in the lower division and exceeded my No. 14 seed. I started out 3-5 but went 6-2 on the second and final day.

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Stephen King’s 2015 collection ‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’ is a mixed bag

October 14, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 14, 2019

It was with no small interest that I began reading The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King’s 2015 short story collection. His 1978 anthology, Night Shift, gave me chills when I first read it back in the… well, a long time ago. And I found that it held up just fine when I reread the volume earlier this year.

Unfortunately, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a bit of a mixed bag when compared with its predecessor. There are some definite hits here, but also some big whiffs.

King is not just one of the most successful authors alive today; he’s one of the most successful in the history of the world. He’s also a vital presence on social media, especially if you enjoy reading sassy left-wing commentary.

But he often gets in his own way in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. His introduction struck me as rather silly:

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Sworn enemies exchange love notes in the sci-fi romance ‘This is How You Lose the Time War’

October 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 12, 2019

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a new novella that offers a science-fictional update on Romeo and Juliet.

The star-crossed lovers here are Red and Blue, specially equipped and trained time warriors. They respectively champion the Agency and Garden, organizations that are attempting to ensure that their and only their timelines — or strands, in the book’s terminology — survive. When Red, a hyper-advanced cyborg, catches the eye of organically inclined Blue, the latter sends a covert message that launches a romance conducted entirely through letters.

These are not letters or messages as you or I might conceive. Here, Red discovers one while embedded in a Mongol army:

Ten years into deep cover, having joined the horde, proven her worth, and achieved the place for which she strove, she feels suited to this war. 

She has suited herself to it. 

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Struggling up a hill, causing a traffic jam: A recent dream

October 11, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 11, 2019

Author’s note: I originally published this post with the title “Climbing that hill, stuck in traffic: A recent dream”; I adjusted the title shortly after publication to make it more accurate. MEM

This morning, I dreamed that I was driving, perhaps to work. I remember thinking to myself — or explaining to someone in the car? — that this wasn’t the route I normally took to get where I was going, but that it was important to have some variety in one’s routine.

(This part of the dream may have been influenced by Thursday, because I went to a part of Hillsborough Street in Raleigh that I hadn’t traveled on in a few months and found the area transformed by construction. As I used one of the new roundabouts to reverse course in order to access a bookshop on the north side of the street, I noticed that the concrete foundations for a new building had been installed on the northwest “corner” of Hillsborough and Dixie Trail. I thought to myself, “Hey, the sports bar with the outdoor deck that used to be right there that I never visited is now a thing of the past!”)

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 3-3 Stanford

October 10, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 10, 2019

I had kind of a crazy night last weekend.

I watched the first part of Saturday’s Washington–Stanford game at Tobacco Road but deliberately left at halftime because of what happened the last time I’d watched the Cardinal play a night game at that location. I walked to my car, drove home and then walked to a sports bar near my house that I’d never visited, despite it having been open for something like two years.

I say that this venue was near my house, but in fact the walk there covered about three-quarters of a mile. I listened to the early part of the second half on my phone…

…and when I arrived at the front door, I noticed that this establishment closed at 1 a.m., which would be before the game’s conclusion. If I’d realized that, I never would have planned this visit.

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Stanford tames Huskies, 23-13

October 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 8, 2019

A scrappy Stanford team controlled the lines of scrimmage and played its best football game yet to beat No. 15 Washington on Saturday evening, 23-13.

Running back Cameron Scarlett and quarterback Davis Mills posted career-high marks of 151 rushing yards and 293 passing yards, respectively, as the unranked Cardinal improved to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12.

The game got off to a somewhat ominous start for Stanford, which is playing at home throughout October. The Cardinal scored on its first drive thanks to a 20-yard kick by senior Jet Toner. But Washington (4-2, 2-1) went ahead by a 7-3 score when junior quarterback Jacob Eason threw to wide-open sophomore tight end Cade Otton for a three-yard touchdown to cap the Huskies’ first possession. It was reminiscent of the Oregon contest, which saw the Ducks take a 7-3 lead after their first possession.

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Short Takes: ‘The Final Frontier,’ Denis Johnson’s ‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden’ and Poul Anderson’s ‘Tau Zero’

October 4, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 4, 2019

The 2018 book The Final Frontier is a collection of 21 stories that share the topic of deep-space travel. My favorite entry in the book was the final one, which I’d read before: Peter Watts’s “The Island,” which is essentially a three-character narrative.

The tale is set aboard Eriophora, a deep-space vessel that set out millennia ago and whiles away the centuries ceaselessly building a network of teleportation gateways. Each gate empowers not its builders but the offshoots of whatever civilization launched the ship; each one also destroys anything near it, which is among the reasons why the vessel cannot slow or even change course by more than a tiny degree.

The unnamed narrator, like all of her crewmates, is carrying out a limited rebellion against Chimp, the deliberately hobbled artificial intelligence that ruthlessly hews to the ship’s original mission. Make that most of her crewmates — the third player in the story is Dix, the 20-something son she’s never met, who is suspiciously loyal to Eri’s brain.

‘The Final Frontier’ edited by Neil Clarke.

The narrator and Dix are awakened as part of a seemingly random rotation of personnel who shepherd the assembly of each new gate. As so often is the case, there’s a wrinkle, which is precisely why the ship has a crew. Chimp has detected an anomaly and wants to know if it will affect the build. The narrator discovers something amazing, something the AI likely would not have perceived on its own. In the end, though, she finds that her intuition — her uniquely human wisdom — may not be as well geared to comprehending the immensity and variety of the universe and its strange creations as she initially believed.

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A movie, some local history, a career and some advice; or, my trip to an alumni function

October 2, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 2, 2019

I have not been particularly active in the local Stanford Alumni chapter, but last week there was an event that I absolutely had to attend. The group showed The Best of Enemies, a movie released in April that’s based on a remarkable incident in the battle to integrate Durham schools.

The movie, based on the 2007 book of the same name by journalist Osha Gray Davidson, centers on a comprehensive series of community discussions known as a charrette. The meetings were organized because a fire at an elementary school serving black students essentially forced the public’s hand.

I won’t say much more about what happened, either in actual history or in the movie, other than to note that it’s a truly amazing story. I’d learned about this 1970s episode during a past life as a local education reporter — although I’d forgotten some of the more important points, which heightened the climax for me.

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