A weekend in Ashland

We left Friday morning (just the wife and I; Grandma had the kids for the weekend) and headed down to southern Oregon for a play and a getaway. The weather turned out great, and the trip was largely a winery tour, among other things; we visited four wineries and ended up buying just over a case of wine.

The last time we’d been to Ashland was nine years ago, before the kids were born. Compared to Bend over the past decade, few things in the area have changed; both Medford and Ashland have remained pretty stable, and even though there are signs of growth, much of it (particularly downtown Ashland) is as I remember it.

(Holy smokes, this post got long.)

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As You Like It

Via Boing Boing this evening comes the mildy disturbing story that Shakespeare may have been afflicted with one or more venereal diseases.

Mentions of the “pox,” the “malady of France,” the “infinite malady,” and the “hoar leprosy” in his writings seem to indicate that the Bard knew—perhaps from personal experience—how torturous venereal disease could be. “Shakespeare’s knowledge of syphilis is clinically precise,” said John Ross, MD, author of the study. A line in Sonnet 154, “Love’s fire heats water,” apparently refers to an STD causing burning urination.


In Shakespeare’s time, one of the treatments for syphilis, inhalation of mercury vapor, was worse than the disease. Dr. Ross suggests that Shakespeare’s tremulous signature on his will, his social withdrawal in later years, and even his baldness might all be due to a mild degree of mercury vapor poisoning.

Well, they do say to write what you know.

Shakespeare Social Networks

This is an amazing link: Shakespeare Social Networks.

PieSpy is a tool designed to infer and visualize social networks on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It works by applying simple heuristics to work out who is talking to whom. This information can be used to produce a visualization of the social network, essentially showing which users are connected and how strong those connections are.

As PieSpy matured, it became obvious that IRC was not the only suitable testing ground. By feeding PieSpy with the entire texts of Shakespeare plays, it became possible to produce drawings of the social networks present in his plays – it is now possible to visualize the relationships between the characters in his works.

So it treats a Shakespeare play as an extended IRC session. Brilliant. I love thinking outside the box!

Of course, it doesn’t have to be limited to Shakespeare. You could feed the program any play, script, or written work that looks enough like dialogue from a chat session. Jeez, or law enforcement agencies could use it to draw social network diagrams of people based on wiretaps…


Over on Peter David‘s weblog is this post about Shakespeare. Since I like Shakespeare, I thought I’d link to it, it’s a good post.

It’s one of those topics where there seems to be little or no middle ground: either you dig Shakespeare, or you don’t. Those who don’t can be converted, but I ain’t gonna bother with that here—I just thought I’d riff a bit and let everyone make up their own mind.

Back in college I took several Shakespeare courses: the typical English-course requirement-type class and another titled “Shakespeare in Ashland” which was a hands-on course in which we studied several plays and then went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland to see them performed. It was a totally great class. All the courses were taught by the same professor, who—get this—had been a cop in Los Angeles before getting his degree and becoming a teacher. He was a cool guy, had a totally pragmatic approach to Shakespeare, not the usual “masterpiece of English literature” approach that turns so many off.

Speaking of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you ever get the opportunity to see a play performed there, jump all over it. It will likely be the best production of Shakespeare you will ever see, bar none. There’s simply nothing like the experience of seeing it performed live, and performed well—especially if it’s in the outdoor Elizabethan theater. I’ve been there a bunch of times and seen about half-a-dozen plays (Richard III and Henry IV Part I really stand out in my mind), and I’d go back anytime for more.

And I just checked the 2004 schedule: King Lear (I guarantee this will be awesome), Henry VI (all three parts, a ho-hum set of plays but I bet they do good with them anyway), The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado About Nothing (another one that will be really good, I’ll bet).

And finally, some gratuitous plugs for my ebooks: Hamlet Palm Reader .pdb file, and Macbeth Palm Reader .pdb file.