Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back on 2015

Generally speaking, 2015 was a pretty good year for me, I received a substantial (though not outrageous) raise at work, the social calendar is filled with comfortable routine- the monthly Secret Science Club lecture-with-beer and the weekly Tuesday night trivia contest at a local bar (our team has the winningest record for the year, but we've established a friendly rivalry with our closest competitors), the Saturday coaching gig is going well, and I was able to use my vacation time to spend some quality days with family. As is typical, I am working on New Year's Eve. I've always seen it as "amateurs' night", a night when the bars jack up the drink prices and some people tend to get stupid. It's quiet, and I've had a chance to reflect on the past year, and it's not a particular standout year. All told, on a personal level, 2015 was decent, though nothing truly spectacular (good or ill) occurred.

As far as "personal growth" goes, I'm pretty much skating along. The single greatest accomplishment I've achieved this year was getting comfortable enough with wild mushrooms that I've added them to my foraging repertoire... that sounds like a big "ho hum', but being able to find prized fifteen pound mushrooms isn't a bad skill to have. I've been a forager for years now, but this is taking it to the whole level.

On a broader basis, 2015 was a lackluster year- the problems of violence, systemic racism, and misogyny that have been with the U.S. since its inception continue, with no foreseeable hope of abatement. The inability of the Congress to get its act together to pass useful legislation is annoying, but on a local level, I see the new Tappan Zee bridge going up at a good pace, and the trains in the area run on time, so at least some stuff is getting done. Politics has seemed more stupid than usual this past year, but I think that's mainly due to the fact that a stupid, vulgar amateur has campaigned long after his suspected "past due" date, much longer than 2012's crop of numbnuts novelty candidates.

All told, it hasn't been a bad year, or a great year, or a particularly challenging year- there's a certain amount of stasis that seems to have set in, nothing of import is really occurring. Given the stupid attitudes of much of the public, and the media's complicity in the dumbing down, I don't know if I'm looking forward to an exciting 2016.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Back in New York, Family Time Was a Blast

It's been a pretty insane week- my four siblings and I under the same roof, with our mom and a passel of children, for the first time in five years. I can't get over how all of my nieces and nephews got along so beautifully, with the two teenaged sons of my sister alternating between being extremely nurturing toward all of the "little kids" and good-naturedly roughhousing with them. If there's anything funnier than watching a crew of preadolescent girls chasing their teenage cousin with a chorus of "GET HIM!", I don't know what it could be... and is there anything cooler than not being too cool to hang out with a bunch of brainy grade-schoolers?

It was a bit tough on the kids to part ways, but there weren't any tears. My sister's boys are already planning a Europe trip over the summer to visit my older brother and I have big summer plans with my goddaughter. We may be pretty far-flung, but we're all close-knit. We've got plans to make for the coming months, but we always seem to pull things off with aplomb.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No, LEMMY!!!!

Just in time to make the '2015 obituaries list', we learn of the death of Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister, the rock-and-roll juggernaut who fronted the space rock band Hawkwind and the heavy metal band Motörhead, after a shockingly brief fight with cancer. Lemmy was one of those rare individuals who could make a neighborhood bicycle ride sound both cosmic and menacing:

Back in high school, my smartass friend Spike and I requested the DJ at a school dance to play Iron Fist, but his succinctly reply was, "No Motörhead tonight, boys."

I figure the greatest tribute to Lemmy is to blast his signature growl at high volume, with perhaps Killed by Death being the most appropriate showcase for it on this sad morning:

The metal world lost a titan, and the suddenness of Lemmy's death (he was diagnosed with cancer on the 26th) boggles the mind. Lemmy had a good, long run in an industry that seems to chew up young lives at an alarming rate. He lived the most rock-and-roll of rock-and-roll lifestyles, and lived to be old enough to earn a pension, but generations of metal fans will miss him none-the-less. Rest in peace, Lemmy, but not in quiet.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Yesterday, all of my siblings and I, with all of the family's children, were gathered under one roof for the first time in years. The kids all got along famously, and the day's activities ranged from throwing around a Nerf football to playing epic Risk and Monopoly games, to playing 8-ball on a pool table one of my brother Vin's army buddies bequeathed to my mom when he was deployed. It was a great day, but I have developed an acute mental condition I'm calling Legopodaphobia... the fear of stepping on a Lego (or Monopoly house or Clue weapon or Risk army) while barefoot.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas to All

Here's wishing a very merry Christmas to all of my readers. I was awakened this morning by my niece and nephews, the children of my older brother, who were eager to open their Christmas presents. They are good kids, patient enough to wait for the grand unveiling of presents. Breakfast was an informal affair, we ate leftovers from the last couple of days. Around eleven in the morning, one of my sister's sons called to say the family would be boarding their flight from LAX to Dulles... I didn't recognize his voice, he's fourteen and I have already been forewarned not to be too shocked at how big he's gotten.

The rest of the day has been occupied by cooking. I'm the designated root and tuber guy, so I attacked two rutabagas and about six pounds of potatoes, which are now resting, all puréed, in oven safe bowls. We've also had some social calls from neighbors who my mother has unofficial lay adopted. Tonight is going to be great, we'll have enough family over so we'll have to use two sets of plates, and there are two brothers left to arrive tomorrow. We'll clean out the china cabinet to be sure, as well as the board game collection.

It has been a great Christmas so far, and it's only going to get better.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Muggy Christmas

It doesn't feel like a typical Middle Atlantic State Christmas Eve today, being a muggy 72F (22C) outside. Although thunderstorms were predicted, they haven't panned out. It's been raining the last couple of days, though, and the ground is saturated. We were outside throwing a Nerf football around, and small gouts of water were thrown up with every step. It's a muggy, muddy day, but the kids got out so cabin fever's been averted temporarily.

The kitchen has been a hotbed of activity, we baked three quiches, a sausage-apple quiche, a quiche Lorraine, and a spinach quiche. I don't know how quiche became associated with effeminacy by yahoos, because I have French ancestry in my genetic mix, but baking and eating quiche hasn't affected my throwing arm adversely.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Family Trait

If there's one trait that characterizes my family, it's an unwillingness to go to sleep when there's a possibility of interesting goings-on. Whenever there was a party or get-together, we'd be impossible to put to bed. This is a trait that has carried over to the next generation. Over the Thanksgivng weekend, I sat up one night with my eight year-old niece and goddaughter, exchanging jokes and generally being a couple of goofballs. Last night, my brother Sweetums' kids didn't retire until after midnight, due to a synergistic combination of jet lag, a five+ hour road trip, and sheer overexcitement. When all of the kids in the family are gathered together under one roof, the family reluctance to end the party will no doubt be even more pronounced.

The kids won't want to miss any of the excitement of being together as one big tribe, and we adults will indulge them in this. It's a family trait, and we wouldn't want to miss out on the excitement either. There are just too many interesting things going on to make sleep an option.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Righties Talking "Star Wars"

Roy's latest column is about righties' reactions to the latest "Star Wars" film. Once again, these idjits are fussing over a bit of pop culture and trying to pound it into an ideologically sound (dare I say, a politically correct?) hole. Typically, they fail pretty miserably.

Righties have a "Star Wars problem", even those who are big fans of the movies. The original 1977 movie which kicked off the franchise opened with a depiction of an "extraordinary rendition" of a civilian deemed to be an enemy of the state. The main villain's perfidy was signaled by his use of "enhanced interrogation techniques", an impromptu grilling of a captured crewman, and an eventual extended torture session in a "black site". The sheer magnitude of the villains' evil was driven home by a depiction of a "shock and awe" attack on a planet inhabited by civilians. Twenty-five years later, a Republican administration used these scenes as a blueprint for a pre-emptive war, even though they were a clear indicator to 20th Century audiences: THIS IS WHAT BAD GUYS DO!!!

Righties try to portray Darth Obama as the Dark Lord who wants to destroy their freedom by raising the top marginal tax rates by a few percentage points or make dudes face background checks to buy AR-15s, but that's not what bad guys do... bad guys don't force schools to serve kale at lunch or to institute carbon cap-and-trade policies, they whisk people off to torture sites and blow civilians to smithereens, stuff which righties applauded. Try as they might, they don't "get" the Star Wars movies, precisely because they took one look at the Evil Empire and thought, "Hey, they have some good ideas."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

An Annual Tradition

For more years than I care to relate, I have volunteered as a judo coach for a children's athletic program, a comprehensive introduction to sports as common as soccer and basketball to as esoteric as water polo and fencing. The program broadly follows the school year, beginning in October and ending in March. Today, we will be having outr holiday party before taking a two week break. There's a lovely luncheon and the kids sing carols. Every year, presents are given, hats or gym bags... the like.

This year, my brother Sweetums is bringing the kids, who are judo players. I have had the pleasure of attending one of their classes in Switzerland, and actually met a couple of players from their dojo in New York. For a city of millions, NYC is a one horse town. Today, I promised the kids I'd teach them uchimata, a hip throw which looks a lot worse than it actually is. This Christmas, I'm giving the gift of badassery.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Ancestral Homeland

While they're in New York, my brother, his wife, and their kids will be staying at my aunt's house in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx. The house was built by my dad's mom's dad and a group of his colleagues who worked in the building trades. He was a mason/bricklayer- all of the homes in the neighborhood are modest brick houses, all built in a huge collaborative effort by the folks who ended up moving into them. If you carefully examine the mortar between the bricks, you can find an occasional fragment of crushed clamshell- a free source of lime, foraged from the wetlands of Pelham Bay.

While my grandparents were alive, the house was a boisterous place, the sort of house which was invaded every weekend by a horde of grandkids. Much of the backyard was taken up by my grandfather's marvelous garden, the centerpiece of which was a maze of raspberry brambles, carefully trained on a network of stakes. There was enough of a grassy yard for a decent-sized bocce court- my grandfather staying close to his Italian roots, even though he married an Irish girl.

After my grandmother died, my Aunt Jane sold her house, a few blocks away, moved into the ancestral homestead, and assumed the mantle of family matriarch. At the time, my Uncle Jim was still alive. He had been the victim of an accident which resulted in a head injury serious enough to leave him with a steel plate in his skull. He had learned the mason's trade and worked as a bricklayer until he obtained a job as a night porter in Rockefeller Center. He made a decent wage, but he wasn't really capable of living on his own. When he retired, I traveled down to the union hall so he could file his paperwork, and then had a long discussion with my aunt about how to set up his account so most of his money was saved while leaving him enough "mad money" (as my grandmother would put it) to hold court at his neighborhood haunts.

After my uncle Jim's death, my aunt kinda sorta had the house to herself, though there has always been a revolving cast of visitors. Her grandchildren are there practically every day, and several of my uncles stay there on a regular basis when work brings them to New York. I stay there whenever there's work being done on my apartment. Hardly a night goes by when nobody is dropping by.

It's good to have a place in which the family roots run deep. My aunt has kept up the family tradition of hospitality which has been the model for generation, ever since my great-grandparents landed on these shores.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

'Tums Touchdown

Tonight, my older brother, Sweetums ('Tums for short) and the family fly into JFK for a Christmas vacation back in the homeland. It's been just over two years since I stayed with them in Europe, so I'm ecstatic. It'll be interesting to see how much the kids have grown since last I saw them.

Needless to say, the next couple of weeks are going to be very busy. I'll try to keep up with the posts, but I make no promises in that regard. Being able to dash off a quick post on the phone is a boon, though.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sustaining Secret Science

It's no secret (heh) that I have been a big fan of the Secret Science Club, the monthly science lecture, arts and performance series created by my great and good friends Dorian and Margaret. For the second time in the SSC's nine year and three month existence, the organization needs an infusion of funds so a pledge drive is underway at Donorbox.

In a climate (heh, uh, sob!) in which corrupt academics are taking pallets of money to produce industry-mandated "results", the real heroes are working on a shoestring budget, getting real science out to the public. If you've got a couple of bucks, please consider a donation to the Secret Science Club... even if it's just two dollars- they don't have the backing of multinational fossil fuel oligopolies.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's Not Your Fault for Following the Pathways of Your Heart

Lately, my musical obsession has been with a song off of the new album by Shannon and the Clams, a band which has been on my radar for a couple of years. The band has this great 'neo-retro' vibe, their songs sound like something the oldies stations of a cooler parallel universe would play. I'd describe it as the Shangri-Las and Dick Dale collaborating with the Cramps, with John Waters acting as style consultant. Here's a live performance of How Long, my current earworm:

The sound is a little raw, which only highlights the sweet notes... and how amazing is Shannon Shaw's voice? It's rich and lush, with the sweetness tempered by a great punk growl. If Ronnie Spector had channeled John Lydon, she would have sounded a lot like this. It's not my fault for following the pathways of my heart (or my ears) and falling in love with this tune.

Poking around the t00bz, I found a couple of nice interviews with Ms. Shaw. It's nice to see someone escape a staid, square upbringing and reinvent themselves as a rock-and-roll powerhouse.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nutty Little Neighbor

The news has been a bit of a downer lately, terrorist attacks, political ugliness. I think I need a little relief... I had a bunch of errands to run locally. Luckily, I could travel by shank's mare to accomplish them all. As I was heading out, passing by the local schoolyard, I ran into this little guy running towards me on top of the fence:

Thanks, Nutkin, you never fail to cheer me up, even when you're causing all sorts of mischief. I apologize for not having a peanut to give to you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Sobering Read About Sexism

Interrobang's Livejournal site is a really good aggregator of interesting reads, and yesterday she linked to a must read post about horrific callousness of media coverage of violence against women. This Salon article covers similar ground- the reflexive media reaction to humanize white male perpetrators and victims who are women and people of color... something that 'even the liberal New York Times' does with distressing regularity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trump and Muslims

The internet is abuzz with Trump's dumb idea to ban all Muslims from entering the US- besides religious tests being completely unconstitutional, the guy has made no distinction between immigrants, refugees, tourists, and citizens. As a bastard with close Muslim friends (I'd say that I would trust these people with my life, but I do trust these people with my life every time we're in the dojo together), I have to note that Trump is a bigoted asshole, and that his statement is not all that different from Jeb Bush's stated position.

It seems like Trump isn't walking back this comment anytime soon- he'd kill his chances with the base, who will probably turn on the other GOPers who are leveling lukewarm criticism at Vulgarmort. I can see a way for Trump to do a complete 180 on Muslims entering the country... just tell him that Islam forbids labor unions. We all know who Trump considers the real enemy.

The kernel for this post came to me while I was waiting for my 'spinach twist' to come out of the oven at a local pizzeria. The family that owns it is Albanian, but I've never asked them if they are Muslim or not... but if the topic of Trump ever came up in conversation, I'd be the first to call him a budalla.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Serving Two Masters

Via Tengrain, we have the latest idiocy from Marco Rubio:

Well, the executive orders would be to reverse the executive orders the President has made on things like gender equality in restrooms. You’ve seen some local districts and others been forced to, you know, provide girls access to a boys’ bathroom and so forth. These sorts of things you’ve seen in Illinois for example, but also ensure that we’re not doing anything that at any part in our government that is putting organizations that are motivated by their faith or organized around their faith from having to violate the tenants of their faith and that includes government contractors. There are many government contractors and small companies who provide services to the government who are faith-based people, and they are, they are being compelled to sin by government in their business conduct. That is not something we should be supporting.

I seem to recall a verse from a book that touched on this topic...

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

So, what'll it be, so-called Christians seeking government cashola, God or the sawbucks? Ours is a constitutionally-mandated secular society, a society in which no religion is to receive favorable treatment from the government. Like most conservative Christians (so called), Rubio has completely divorced what he calls Christianity from that liberal Jesus guy. Just like public prayer, paying taxes, stand your ground laws, and the war on women, this is another bit of the Bible that 'strict interpreters' completely elide.

Also, why the hell is Rubio working the Cruz/Huckabee side of the GOP street?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Hanukkah

Here's wishing a happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers. I'm not Jewish, but I think I have a decent understanding of the holiday... I'm pretty sure that the Macca Bees fly down the chimneys of people's homes, leaving presents for the good children. Children who have been misbehaving get a visit from this guy. Frankly, I'd rather take my chances with Schmutzli.

I can't top an earlier Hanukkah post, so I won't even try. All joking aside, folks, have a joyous Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sweetums' Birthday Again

Today marks the birthday of my older brother, who received the moniker 'Sweetums' from my super-sarcastic sister. "Oh, Sweetums would never do anything wrong, Sweetums is perfect." The nickname stuck because, as it turns out, he is perfect. Besides being an older brother, he was a great role model. If you conduct yourself in the manner in which Sweetums conducts himself, you'll do okay.

Sweetums and his family are coming stateside for Christmas, which is something that I am very much looking forward to. It's been a while since he's been back in the old stomping grounds, so there will be a long line to get to see him... he is Sweetums, after all, and a guy like that has got fans. I include myself among them.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Collective Intelligence

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Simon Garnier of the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Swarm Lab. Dr Garnier's topic was collective intelligence, how millions become one.

Dr Garnier began his lecture with a brief discussion of American football- football is a complex problem of coordination involving actions with partners being performed against the actions of opponents. Dr Garnier joked that it is such a difficult problem that four tries are necessary to move the ball forward. He then noted that traffic is a problem of coordination as well. That being said, fish are able to move in coordinated schools, even though they have very small brains. He then noted that starlings are the champions of coordinated movements, showing videos of a "bird ballet":

Dr Garnier then showed videos of leafcutting ants, genus Atta, in action. These ants form nests up to twenty meters wide and eight meters deep, which house generations of workers- one single queen can give birth to five million workers. These ants are masters of coordination, even though their brains contain fewer neurons than a human pinkie does. The human brain is also a 'master' of coordinated activity- life is dependent on one's body being coordinated.

Dr Garnier posed the question, how do one million act as one? The short answer is 'self-organization'. He then showed an adorable video of Scotties feeding, noting that, with time, they coordinated their movements:

Coordinated interactions are local, repeated behaviors... if these behaviors are not constant, dispersal occurs. Coordination involves coupling of action and reaction, with various actors synchronizing like metronomes on a moving platform:

This synchronization takes place in a few steps, which Dr Garnier demonstrated in an audience-participation exercise. Audiences can synchronize clapping. He had us clap our hands, then exhorted us to synchronize our clapping with our neighbors, then to listen for more distant audience members, and to synchronize with them. Within moments, the whole audience was clapping in unison. Well played, Dr Garnier, well played.

Coordinated movements are necessary for information transfer, construction, decision making, and traffic organization. Dr Garnier posed the question, how do we make decisions? The fasted way to make decisions is to make many random trials. A better way to make decisions is to search for information and narrow down possibilities to optimize- choose the best course of action. There is an exploration/exploitation trade-off... one must spend resources to search and select the best option based on current knowledge. Dr Garnier compared the decision making process to a multi-armed bandit, a series of slot machines with different programming, with some machines paying better than others. In order to seek optimal winnings, one must try multiple machines in order to determine which provide better outcomes. Dr Garnier joked that some birds are better at making these choices than some humans.

After noting that most decision-making experiments are performed with animals that have a lot of brainpower, that organization is possible without a brain, whereupon he showed a slide of the U.S. Congress. He noted that some plants and some bacteria engage in coordinated behavior, which he termed the Homer Simpson Paradox- how does an organism thrive without brains? He then launched into a long digression about slime molds. A moving slime mold is a single-celled organism, but that single cell can have billions of cell nuclei. The yellow Physarum polycephalum slime mold and the 'dog vomit' slime mold, Fuligo septica are two of the better known slime molds. While in their mobile stage, slime molds start oscillating by pumping cytoplasm and then move in the direction of food sources, effectively making a decision in their search for sustenance. When the food runs out, the slime molds stop and develop into a sporulating form in order to reproduce. Dr Garnier informed us that slime molds are used a lot in research because they are cheap and fun to work with. He treated us to several time-lapse videos of slime molds moving, similar to this BBC video:

This zero-neuron organism is able to beat the 'multi-armed bandit' in its movements- in environments with consistent rewards, the slime mold tends to move in one direction, mainly toward the last reward. In environments with irregular rewards, slime molds will change directions, with the general movement being in the area with the highest mean of relative successes- they move in proportion to the number of reward sites. Dr Garnier paused and gave us the Twitter version: slime molds ignore failures and focus on successes.

Dr Garnier then showed an image of Berlin, taken from the International Space Station:

He noted that there was a city center with radiating arteries, allowing for ease of defense and the control of a large territory. He then showed a slide of the foraging paths used by Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), noting the similarities to the roadways of Berlin. The trails of the ants are marked with pheromones, so that other members of the colony can follow them. He then returned to the subject of genus Atta, which forms well-defined paths through its forest habitats, removing debris from these pathways. The leaf-cutter ants cut vegetation into pieces and use these scraps of vegetable matter to cultivate edible fungus in their nests. They have not only figured out traffic control, they also engage in agriculture.

The talk then shifted to army ants, specifically the genus Eciton of Central and South America. These ants form colonies of up to two million individuals. They move for a period of about two weeks and then form stationary colonies for about three weeks, during which the queen lays eggs. Due to their cycle of movement and lack of a permanent colony, they cannot form well-defined paths like the leaf-cutter ants do. They have to move quickly while carrying the queens brood. When their movement is restricted by obstacles, these ants form bridges with their own bodies, using hooked feet to lock together:

Swarming ants can also form rafts, having hydrophobic bodies:

The ants self-organize through a basic rule, "Walk all over me!" If there is a lot of traffic, an ant stays in place, if the movement behind stops, the ant proceeds. Dr Garnier had a hilarious aside about the the bites of army ants... they really hurt, which is why grad students are made to do the studies. While moving, ants seek to move the shortest distance, so their will form shifting bridges to bypass sharply angled paths:

Ecologists are the economists of the natural world, they perform cost/benefit analyses- the ants balance the building costs with the benefits, the less distance they have to move, the more efficiently they move. It's possible that swarming robots could be developed which operate in a fashion similar to the ants' behavior to bypass obstacles. Dr Garnier noted that the army ants are blind, they follow pheremone trails and are basically automatons designed to kill things and to bring them back to the nest as food. The individual ants have little memory, but they lay down little 'fridge notes' which can be followed, a process known as stigmergy.

Dr Garnier then shifted to the subject of traffic organization among humans, noting that, in 2011, Americans wasted 5.5 billion additional travel hours and 2.9 billion gallons of fuel due to traffic jams, at a cost of $121 billion. We know why it exists... density, and how to solve the problem. The number of cars that pass along a given stretch of roadway per hour is known as flux- when there are few cars on the road, passing is possible. As density increases, flux is diminished until a critical density is reached and a 'crystallization' process occurs, a traffic jam. Dr Garnier then ran a neat traffic simulator to demonstrate how density affects flux. He joked about wishing to set 'politeness' parameters, ranging from 'Swiss' to 'New Jersey', then noted that any perturbation of flux creates a traffic jam. He then showed images of the 'Snowmageddon' which crippled Atlanta in 2014.

Throughout the lecture, Dr Garnier would make an aside to display photos of his colleagues and to give short biographical notes, stressing that science is a collective adventure. Personally, I think that is a wonderful statement, and kudos to Dr Garnier for being so good to his grad students. He then described some an experiment in which subjects had to avoid a stationary individual while walking through a corridor- subjects usually showed no preference as to which side they passed a stationary subject, fifty percent passed to the left, fifty to the right. When passing individuals moving in the opposite direction, there was a social convention among individuals to pass on the right in countries in which motor vehicle traffic travels on the right. In conditions of high density, such as the Hajj in Mecca, pedestrian movement occurs in stop-and-go waves, with extremely high density causing turbulence, in which people lose control of their movement, a very dangerous situation. In areas of high population density, traffic problems increase. Dr Garnier characterized traffic jams as 'human self-organization gone wrong', but noted that we know the solution. He proposed a density-reducing solution based on a combination of public transportation, bicycle use, and smaller transportation footprints. He exhorted us to 'go back to the ants', to take turns. He noted that a flexible traffic system was needed, and mentioned that smart traffic lights could reduce congestion, noting that the city of Zurich implemented the use of traffic lights with no fixed timers, using lights that optimize traffic flow. He also mentioned the redesign of traffic patterns, such as substituting roundabouts for intersections, and ensuring that drivers don't have to cross in front of traffic moving in the opposite direction. He ended the lecture proper by joking, "I welcome our new ant overlords, may they fix the FDR and the Tappan Zee."

In the Q&A, some bastard in the audience, noting that eusocial species have evolved in distantly related clades, if swarming behavior can be induced in species which don't have well-defined social groups. Dr Garnier noted that some spiders can flip between sociality and non-sociality, probably due to hormone levels in their eggs. During optimal conditions, they tend towards a solitary existence, but under marginal conditions, they exhibit sociality.

All told, Dr Garnier delivered a fantastic lecture, one with applications to the crowed metropolitan area in which his audience resides. Let's hope that the findings of the Swarm Lab can be applied to the human swarms that take to the roads every day. Thanks again to Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House, and to Dr Garnier. Here's a video of Dr Garnier briefly covering the subjects he mentioned in his talk:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that Secret Science ambiance.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Show of Gratitude

This evening, the company had a ice little soirée as a show of gratitude for jobs well done. About half of the workforce showed up for a nice cocktail reception, with a cheese/crudités spread and a variety of nice "hoover doovers". It was nice to see everybody in a relaxed post-crunch time mood, especially since we all had tales to tell from October. Our President gave a nice speech thanking everybody for their hard work.

I had three small glasses of Pinot Grigio, then switched to non-alcoholic punch, mainly because I plan on going out drinking- it's trivia night again. The key to drinking successfully is in the pacing. Thankfully, I've had years of practice.