Walter Bitner

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Peaking at Totality


Total Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2016, Nashville, Tennessee ~ photo by Isa Bitner (click photos to enlarge)



It’s a once in a lifetime event. A total solar eclipse passed over Nashville today, and the city’s population reportedly doubled briefly as approximately a million people arrived in the area from out of town to witness it. Parties were scheduled all over town, with commercial opportunities galore as eager consumers snapped up eclipse glasses, eclipse t-shirts, beer brewed especially for the eclipse, cocktails crafted for the eclipse, eclipse mugs and growlers and tote bags and ball caps and smart phone apps. Experts across the country shared astronomic data and compiled essential playlists. The Atlantic reprinted Annie Dillard’s superlative 1982 essay Total Eclipse.


New York 2017, New York 2140

Lower Manhattan from the Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn, July 11, 2017 (click photos to enlarge)



What a beautiful ruin it will make!

~ H.G. Wells,
on first seeing the Manhattan skyline

Last month we traveled to New York for our summer vacation –  a combination of seeing old friends and introducing our teenage daughter to the city. My wife and I lived in the New York metropolitan area for nearly 5 years in our late twenties: formative years. Our first child was born there. Although I have been back a number of times since we moved away in 1995 (several times for work) and seen old friends and colleagues before, it has been a decade or more since I saw many of them – more than 20 years since I have seen some, and since we really had the time to simply roam about Manhattan.


100 Years of Jack Vance




Jack Vance playing banjo and kazoo, San Francisco, 1979 ~ photo by Hayford Peirce

Jack Vance playing banjo and kazoo, San Francisco, 1979 ~ photo by Hayford Peirce

Today is the birthday of the American writer Jack Vance (1916 – 2013). If Jack were still with us he’d be 100 years old today: it’s his Centennial! Jack’s books have given me countless hours of amusement, wonder, and escape over the last four decades, since I first found The Dying Earth on a paperback rack at a local drug store in Camillus, New York. I paid $1.75 for the slender volume of loosely connected stories, took it home, and was miraculously transported to the strange far-future fantasy inhabited by Turjan of Miir and Pandelume, the lovely but unfortunate T’sais, Guyal of Sfere – and of course, Chun the Unavoidable. The next week I returned to the drug store and found The Eyes of the Overworld, and trudged with Cugel and Firx across a strange and outlandish world, often laughing at Cugel’s intrepid antics or cringing at his relentless scheming. I was hooked. Jack’s stories were an unfailing source of delight and as I got older his characters became a part of my interior world, with whom I could find respite at times from the stress and pressures of my daily life.


Dreaming of Middle Earth

this is what my first copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings looked like

my original boxed set fell apart decades ago, but this is what my first copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings looked like

OFFTOPIC2When I was a child growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, there was a boxed set of books on a shelf in my parents’ study. The cardboard box contained four paperbacks and was decorated with strange symbols and the word TOLKIEN on a field of gold. The entire package was shrink-wrapped and had never been opened, and it sat there there for a long time – weeks or months, I guess, maybe even a year or two – sitting on the shelf with the other books next to it, quietly minding its own business and waiting for me. Sometimes I would pass by it and notice it, read the titles and wonder what it was, what was TOLKIEN, and what was a hobbit, anyway?


My Top 21 Science Fiction Novels of All Time





Introducing Off Topic: because one cannot live on Music and Education alone.

After more than a year of writing Off The Podium, I decided to let out the leash a little and allow myself to write about something else, from time to time. This blog will continue to primarily feature my writings on Music and Education! But once in a while it’s good to change it up.

So now for something completely different: my carefully curated list of My Top 21 Science Fiction Novels of All Time. If this is not your thing, just move along. This is not the post you’re looking for!