Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Injured Reserve List

This has been quite the week, and it's only Tuesday morning...  Yesterday, I received a call from my coworker Jim's wife- he is in the hospital, and will most likely be there for at least a week.  Right now, the department is down to two able-bodied members.  I had to juggle the schedule, which was complicated by the fact that today is an election day, I called my coworker Tim and asked him if he could come in at 5PM and work until 5AM, rather than working the previously scheduled 9PM to 9AM shift.  Needless to say, I arrived at 5AM.  By 5:30, the poll workers had arrived and already had complaints (no, the central air conditioning in the building won't kick in for a couple of hours, the system is set to accommodate 9AM to 5PM occupants).

I've already sent an email to the vice president in my chain of command (my immediate boss is on vacation), alerting him to the current situation in the department, which will necessitate overtime shifts for Tim and myself.  We have already been approved for some overtime, but the sheer number of hours necessary (Jim is a 20 hour part timer) necessary might come as a surprise.

Obviously, my prime concern is Jim's health.  I've known the man for years, and consider him a friend as well as a coworker.  Our values align pretty closely, and we aren't far apart in age, so shift changes are typically a bull-session about music, books, and movies.  I also value his professionalism, he's the perfect foil to bounce ideas off of... when he was hired, my then-boss told me, "I hired another you."  It's stiff upper lip time, but that's what we do.

To compound matters, Ginger is also on sick leave, the swelling in her ear not having gone down.  We were instructed to massage her ear pinna and, if possible, squeeze out any fluid.  Tim attempted to do so on Sunday afternoon, but no fluid came out... needless to say, it's a good thing the vet trimmed Ginger's claws.  When I arrived for the midnight shift, I got her in a bear hug and Tim squeezed her pinna, with no results.  We made sure to give her treats as a peace offering, and she forgave us, spending the bulk of the night sleeping on my desk.  Right now, she is with one of the daytime managers, who brought her to the vet, and received oral antibiotics for her.

It's going to be a long week, and two of my beloved coworkers are out of commission.  As the cliché goes, this is a time which tries a man's soul.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Bronx Boy, Florida Bound

This afternoon, I headed down to the ancestral homestead in the beautiful Bronx to bid buon viaggio to my Uncle Richard, who will be flying down to Florida tomorrow to take up residence.  He and his wife sold their house in Port Chester, New York- the moving van packed them up last Wednesday, and my aunt drove down with a friend and the family dogs while my uncle stuck around for the closing, which happened today, staying with my aunt who serves as materfamilias and holds court in the ancestral home, a house built by my great-grandfather and his friends in the building trades, who pooled their labor and built each others' homes.

The best descriptor for my Uncle Richard is 'Runyonesque'... he was always a larger than life character, hearty and boisterous.  In many ways, he has always lived as he did while in high school, a member of both the varsity football team and the theater club.  You just know when the man enters the room, and you know it's going to be a blast.  

While I was still in high school, he got me a part-time job on Saturdays, and we had a morning ritual- I would meet him at the family homestead, we'd travel down to Manhattan where we'd work, then he'd bring me along to his day job, working as a project manager for a large construction project in lower Manhattan... I'd accompany him on his afternoon inspection tour, and then we'd wend our way north, stopping at Morrone and Sons bakery on 116th St in East Harlem to pick up a pane di casa and some other bread before returning to the Bronx.  The proprietress would invariably ask Richard when he was going to marry her daughter, would refer to me as Richard's bodyguard, and we'd have a great laugh before returning to dear old Pelham Bay for a late lunch.  When we arrived, my genius grandfather and a neighbor with Down syndrome would be sitting in the front parlor, listening to opera on WQXR and occasionally bickering like an old married couple.  After all this, I'd head home, having received an education on many levels.

Uncle Richard, like most men of his age, wouldn't exactly be considered politically correct, but he's one of those men who can pull it off without being an asshole.  While he might occasionally make an off-color joke, he's the sort of man who would, and did, jump through hoops to ensure that our friend Suzi, a lesbian immigrant from Argentina, would be able to adopt a child of drug addicted parents who was destined to languish in the foster care system.  Richard used his considerable Rolodex to find attorneys, with the help of a formidable activist cousin of mine, who could push back against a hidebound system and make sure that the baby would have a loving home with a parent that the system would not necessarily have favored, and that baby will be going to a prestigious public high school (one of the ones that has a demanding application process) in the fall.  That's Richard, he might tell a salty tale, but when it comes to helping a friend, color, creed, gender, and sexual identity are of no concern.  For the record, Suzi is paying her respects tomorrow, lunchtime, before Richard travels to the airport.

The move was largely precipitated by my aunt, Richard's wife.  Her siblings live down in the area, as do her nieces and nephews.  Richard has a bunch of friends within a twenty-mile radius, including an old college buddy.  They are moving into a ranch house with a decent yard, with no snow to shovel.  Sure, Richard knows that Florida is full of nuts, but he's prepared.  He's an old Bronx boy, with the sort of savvy that is second to none.  He'll be back on a fairly regular basis, I'm sure.  You just can't get good bread in Florida, not like you can in East Harlem... or Port Chester, for that matter.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Happy Fathers' Day

Here's wishing all the fathers in the audience a happy Father's Day.  I spoke to my brothers and they are doing well- in particular, baby brother is on a marathon hockey weekend with the family, and revealed that my niece made team captain for next season.

Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying the day with family, making up for last year's non-events.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juneteenth Goes Federal

The big news this week is that President Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday, the eleventh federal holiday in our calendar.  Until recently, Juneteenth was a Texas regional holiday because it commemorates the post Civil War announcement of the abolition of slavery to enslaved persons in Galveston.  I learned about it from a friend and former coworker who is a blerd from East Texas... she is a huge history buff, and grew up celebrating Juneteenth with her family.  For a one-and-a-half minute explainer of Juneteenth and a 'Schoolhouse Rock' parody, this video by Shah Wonders and the Roots can't be beat:


Of course, there is outrage (albeit incoherent) on the Right about this elevation of Juneteenth to federal holiday status, even members of the Blacks Against African-Americans contingent have weighed in. Personally, I don't get the outrage, I mean, it IS a new holiday in a month generally characterized by nice weather... it's almost as if their racism trumps any natural inclination to want more paid time off. Maybe the best way to shut these people up is to point out to them that the celebration is not just a commemoration of the liberation of slaves, but a celebration of a US military victory over a hostile, traitorous foreign power. Ah, who am I kidding? These people are more racist than they are patriotic, and pine for the Confederacy. Anyway, let them whine. Maybe they can console themselves when the holiday inevitably becomes characterized by white sales

On a happy note, I have been discussing celebratory menus for this new federal holiday. Of course, family favorites should be at the center of any celebration, but a nod to African-American foodways of Texas would be a nice place to start. On matters of historical American cuisine, with a focus on the foods of the African Diaspora, I can find no better authority than chef and historian Michael W. Twitty. If anybody is going to inspire you to create a 'curated' Juneteenth menu, he is. Freedom is delicious!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Writer's Block

Ever suffer from writer's block? Every once in a while, I am afflicted with writer's block, because somebody is blocking my keyboard:

Uhhhhh... I put a nice, soft cushion out for you, Ginger. Is this the Cancel Culture that Cons are always talking about? 

This week, I finally replaced my three year old (this pisses me off) smartphone because it was freezing up, and a large, dark splotch was inexorably 'oozing' across the screen. This Wonkette post by Robyn Pennachia hit home... 

Regular readers may have noticed a paucity of pictures posted to the blog, but with a new phone, and camera, I will get back to more regular photo uploads. With warmer weather and more daylight hours, there will be more subjects to capture, as well.

UPDATE: I didn't notice this at the time I took the picture, but looking at it again, I notice that Ginger's left ear is a bit crooked.  One of the day shift managers noticed that her ear was swelling and took her to the vet, who drained some fluid from it.  He then trimmed Ginger's claws to make it easier, by which I mean safer, for us to hold onto her if we need to squeeze additional fluid from the swelling. She currently looks, and sounds, well as she sits contentedly on that nice cushion I put out, but I will be monitoring her ear for any additional swelling.

So far, no fresh-squeezed cat juice has made its way onto the menu.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Another Trip Around the Sun

 It's a low-key birthday, I did the bulk of the celebrating last Sunday, and plan on going out to dinner with friends tomorrow and Saturday.  Today, it's a night on the job, though the phone calls and text messages are going back-and-forth.  I've never been a stickler for celebrating on the day itself, I have a whole lot of friends with birthdays this time of year, so the celebration is ongoing.  I guess tonight is a bit of a breather.

At any rate, I'll just be spending the rest of the night fielding ommuniqués

Anyway, here's an appropriate musical number, an uncharacteristically upbeat number from LA rockers Concrete Blonde: Excuse me, now, the phone is pinging.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture: Shape

Tonight, my great and good friends at the Secret Science Club hosted a Zoom lecture featuring mathemetician Dr Jordan Elleberg of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Dr Ellenberg's newly published book is Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else

Dr Ellebberg began his lecture by noting that everything is connected, showing a 'map' of connections of topics in his book. Ronald Ross was a physician who determined that malaria was transmitted by mosquitos. Ross was an indifferent doctor, but had a love for mathematics, and he applied mathematical models to epidemiology. Ross wanted to formulate a theory of phenomena, starting with epidemics. His work in this field was the beginning of mathematical modeling. He applied it to the problem of malaria... eliminating malaria would involve eliminating mosquitos, which is impossible. Mosquitos can be temporarily eliminated from an area- how long would it take for them to repopulate an area. Mosquitos do not move in predetermined fashion, they move largely at random. Ross enlisted mathemetician Karl Pearson to couch a model of mosquito repopulation of an area in neutral terms, removing references to insects- The Problem of the Random Walk

Botanist Robert Brown noticed the movement of particles in a medium, which became known as Brownian motion- he wondered if is it a vital life principle, noticing it in pollen first. Brown tested it on organic and non-organic materials (including a 'fragment of the Sphinx'). Albert Einstein noted that the molecules are colliding, causing this movement. This motion can be figured only on a basis of probability. 

Russian mathematician Andrey Markov had a reputation for being furious- he was angry that Tolstoy was excommunicated while he was not, so he ended up being excommunicated as well. He approached the problem of the Law of Large Numbers, which basically states that if one were to flip a coin numerous times, the more times it is flipped, the probability of heads and tails approach fifty percent increases. Flip a coin ten times, there is a good chance there will be six heads and four tails... flipping one thousand coins, having six hundred heads and four hundred tails would be less probable. Markov formulated the concept of the Markov Chain. He applied the Markov chain to determine the sequence of vowels and consonants in Pushkin's poem Eugene Onegin 

Dr Ellengram then played around with bigrams- what letters are likely to follow other letters? He mentioned playing with a computer game called AI Dungeon which can be used to generate texts. He presented an artificial intelligence generated text about geometry- not quite convincing, but with an occasional flash of brilliance such as: "But squares aren't just shapes, they're also numbers!" Can machines replace humans? There is a line of difficulty from, say Tic Tac To to a perfect Go game- computers aren't smarter if they can beat humans at chess or Go, it's a one dimensional difficulty issue... a robot may beat a human at chess, but it can't fold a shirt. Machines will be great collaborators for us- we must determine which tasks they can outperform us in. Dr Ellenberg hopes they can be capable partners. 

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, which began with a question about gerrymandering- new districts are going to be drawn, this gives the people who draw these lines great power over who gets elected. In Wisconsin, the current legislators draw the maps, which is a problem. Legislators are given the keys to thwarting the electorate. Districting is a geometric problem- there are districts which look like 'polyamorous octopuses'. Mathematical tests can determine how bad gerrymandering is. 

How many holes in a straw? It depends

Dr Ellenberg criticized a mathematical approach which separates the subject into discrete courses of study- mathematical fields are connected. 

The Random Walk is a probability problem, but also a geometry problem. Dr Ellenberg sees most math as having a geometric component. 

Was Lewis Carroll aware of Bigrams? Jabberwocky seems to hint that he was... his fake words sound plausible, but Dr Ellenberg wasn't sure if he were aware of bigrams... it would be a great fake theory to promulgate, Dr Ellenberg joked. 

 Squaring the circle- problem for the ancient Greeks, could a square be created with the same area as a circle? It became a symbol of a difficult problem. Lincoln, a geometry enthusiast, used this metaphor to express difficulty. 

Mathematics is built one the one hand on rigid reasoning and on the other hand on intuition. Geometry is based on our bodies, our two-dimensional field of perception and our three-dimensional space. 

Regarding internet searches, the search engines use a random walk process to determine the priority of search results. 

 Regarding the use of math to map pandemics, Dr Ellenberg referred back to Ross attempt to formulate a theory of phenomena. People move, pathogens are transmitted, this is a geometric problem. 

 Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished out another fantastic lecture, a humorous deep dive into esoteric topics. Kudos to Dr Ellenberg, Margaret and Dorian. For a small taste of the Secret Science Club experience, here is the Good Doctor speaking on the subject of his new book:


Pour yourself a nice beverage, sit back, and soak in that SCIENCE!!!