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Sandblasted

 

Glances, bases, hearts … That’s what I thought people stole. Who knew this too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_theft

 

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This artist's illustration shows the comet 'Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system.
“‘Oumuamua Races Toward Outskirts of Solar System” (Artist’s Concept), NASA/ESA/STScI

 

So, I don’t know how I missed this, but apparently we had an interstellar visitor a while back. Last week I read this interview with the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department. I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot, sitting at red lights and stuff. These excerpts should give the idea:

We have no way of knowing whether it’s active technology, or a spaceship that is no longer operative and is continuing to float in space. But if Oumuamua was created together with a whole population of similar objects that were launched randomly, the fact that we discovered it means that its creators launched a quadrillion probes like it to every star in the Milky Way.

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If to judge by our own behavior, it seems to me that the likeliest explanation is that civilizations develop the technologies that destroy them …The technological window of opportunity might be very small. Sails like these are launched, but they no longer have anyone to broadcast back to.

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My premise is cosmic modesty … there are more planets like Earth than there are grains of sand on all the shores of all the seas. Imagine a king who manages to seize control of a piece of another country in a horrific battle, and who then thinks of himself as a great, omnipotent ruler. And then imagine that he succeeds in seizing control of all the land, or of the entire world: It would be like an ant that has wrapped its feelers around one grain of sand on a vast seashore. It’s meaningless.

 

As quoth Nigel Tufnel: “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?”

 

Special English

 

Years ago I spent some time in Central Africa. I had a shortwave radio, but it was too complicated for me to figure out, and reception wasn’t always that great, so I’d listen to whatever I could pick up. That’s how I learned to dread Voice of America’s Special English. It was like being stuck in a Bob and Ray routine. Two decades later I find myself thankful for its existence.

 

 

Before winter break I had my students read VOA’s abridged version of “The Gift of the Magi,” perfect for English learners. (Seriously: the first few paragraphs of the original are crammed with highfalutin vocabulary.) It’s part of their American Stories series, which offers a canonical sampler, if apparently filtered by expired copyright.

Now, I consider myself passingly acquainted with the literature of my homeland. If you were to demand my immodesty, I would even confess having contributed thereto. But I’ve read only two stories on that list, and “The Gift of the Magi” is one of them. And: Fitz-James O’Brien? Hamlin Garland? Never heard of them. Sheesh.

My one-man book club’s 2019 reading list is shaping up. Yes, I’ll read the unabridged versions.

 

New Year’s Address

 

If you cannot fashion your life as you would like,
endeavour to do this at least,
as much as you can: do not trivialize it
through too much contact with the world,
through too much activity and chatter.

Do not trivialize your life by parading it,
running around displaying it
in the daily stupidity
of cliques and gatherings
until it becomes like a tiresome guest.

 

– “As Much As You Can,” C.P. Cavafy: Selected Poems, translated by Avi Sharon, Penguin Classics, 2008.

 

Continue reading “New Year’s Address”

My Christmas Card to You

 

I just got my caroling schedule and, alas, further posting is right out until after the Yule.

Speaking of miraculous births, though. You know that “We got a great big convoy” trucker song? I was surprised to learn it had anything to do with Mannheim Steamroller. Also, to the extent that I ever considered the name Mannheim Steamroller, I figured it was some groovy Manfred Mann/Jefferson Airplane-type concoction. Who knew:

With the cash he’d earned from “Convoy,” Davis decided to start his own band. He took to describing Mannheim Steamroller as “eighteenth-century classical rock.” The outfit was named after the Mannheim roller, an intense melodic crescendo developed by the court orchestra of the German city of Mannheim, in the mid-seventeen-hundreds.

 

Well, Gentle Reader, I leave you with this Christmas story.  If you don’t know it, it’s a good one (NB the tree part, not the preceding event).

As quoth Diamond Dave below: may your days be blessed with the very very best.

 

 

The Dummy

Image result for medical dummy

After Tuesday, Gentle Reader, your attempted expiry in my presence may be less unwise. I’m going for my third CPR training.

The first, about a decade ago, I made a hash of. I couldn’t keep anything straight. The instructor was very nice about it, and easily forgiven if he went home thinking the problem with education in America was idiots like me.

The second time, a few years later, was at the NICU. It was an exit interview of sorts with a nurse who ran through various scenarios with a little fake baby. I don’t remember much; it mostly scared the daylights out of me.

Around the time of my first CPR training, I had a week of jury duty. After the jurors had been selected, a court officer gave us a talk about what to do the next day. This is what happened:

Continue reading “The Dummy”

Scissors!

 

Since neither labor nor Providence has brought me – yet, anyway – wealth, on Saturdays I buy a scratch ticket. Along with it I get copy of the Financial Times, just so I’m prepared.

Granted, the real estate pages give me the devil’s own time deciding where I’d move, but otherwise I like the weekend edition because it always has stuff like this: a profile of the only scissors maker left in the UK. (See what they did there with the title? -ed.)

I try not to talk too much shop here, but among the many things teaching has taught me is to appreciate good scissors. Inferior scissors, man.

 

 

In fact, I looked it up and the very word scissors was, in the mid-19th century, “an expression of disgust or impatience.”

 

Thanksgiving

 

 

Last year, each Friday, I taught a double block of Science class. Early on it became apparent that if our sanities were to be maintained, the students and I would have to find something active and engaging to do.

I put a request on DonorsChoose for some engineering kits. And on Giving Tuesday, a local comic book store stepped up and paid for the whole thing, over five hundred dollars’ worth. For the rest of the year, double block was a joy. The kids were totally into it, as was I.

Thank you, Hub Comics, for making our lives a lot better.

This Friday (and thereafter), Gentle Reader, shop there!

 

Astronaut Training

 

Image result for apollo 11

If I devote just one hour a week to running, I can stay in good shape. I do this by running four times a week on my local track, two miles per outing, and timing myself. In my Gemini days I could make two miles in thirteen minutes, but my time has gradually crept up, and today I feel as if I am going to cough up a lung if I do it in fourteen. This pace can be examined from an Olympic or a geriatric point of view, and is either tortoise-like or spectacularly fast. Personally, I think it’s pretty goddamned swift …

– Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 11

 

I had all but stopped running last year, but when I read the above in February, I started again.

What followed was the brutally unforgiving process of making it up to one mile, then two, and then – more or less – the above routine. I was humbled. Two years before I’d run a half-marathon.

Granted, at some point the digital arrangement on my scale would have educed a similar resumption. I like to think, though, that it’s due to the power of literature to change the reader.

The thing is, I’ve just read this, and it too is powerful:

I believe that the good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I’m damned if I’m going to use up mine running up and down a street.

– Neil Armstrong, Commander, Apollo 11

 

These Go to Eleven

 

Because Foch rejected German requests for a ceasefire while the Armistice was being negotiated … sixty-seven hundred and fifty lives were lost and nearly fifteen thousand men were wounded. Worse yet, British, French, and American commanders made certain that the bloodshed continued at full pitch for six hours after the Armistice had been signed. The delegates in Foch’s railway carriage put their signatures to the document just after 5 A.M. on November 11th … Nonetheless, Allied soldiers scheduled to attack that morning did so until the very last minute.

– “A Hundred Years After the Armistice,” New Yorker, November 5, 2018

 

Perhaps the above unfortunates at least found time that morning to contemplate how neat triple elevens looked.

For solemn consideration of two veterans of later wars, please read the latest post on my obit site. It’s about enemy soldiers who met unusually and died in circumstances both probably would not have imagined.

 

Rocktober

 

Last Sunday I drove forty-five minutes to see Twin 1 perform in a choir. I was happy to do it, and I’d happily do it again; rest assured few are those for whom I would ever thusly inconvenience myself.

That evening I was settling into my chair with the paper when I got a text from my friend Owen: Still on for tonight?

My stars, I’d forgotten that we had tickets to a show! I was exhausted, for Twin 2 had kept me awake half the previous night with various nonsense. And the club is in Allston, which, from where I live, it’s pretty much easier to get to New Hampshire. Plus: Sunday night.

What follow, Gentle Reader, are musings on the show.

 

Continue reading “Rocktober”

Chucklehead

 

The other day I realized I didn’t know what civilization was, which ordinarily would not give much pause, for I am resigned to incomprehension regarding humanity, but the thing was I had to teach “civilization” as a vocabulary word. So I looked it up.

As ever with the Shorter Oxford, I get easily distracted, and this time among my diversions was the word chuckler.

Golly, it doesn’t mean what I expected:

 

 

Naturally, my first thought was that The Chucklers would make an excellent band name, but Merciless Google says: too late.

 

Continue reading “Chucklehead”

Thinking Fast and Slow

 

In Science I teach that Earth has been around for a long time, and in Ancient Civilizations I teach that humanity has been around for a long time.

Monday I’m taking the latter class out to the football field to recreate this video, that they might see which has existed longer:

 

 

Well, it really puts perspective on things though, doesn’t it?

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One of humanity’s better endeavors has been putting up those little free library boxes. There’s one at the playground, and I never cease to marvel at the volumes that find their way in. Last week I picked up The Timetables of History.

The early 500s music scene wasn’t much, apparently:

 

But in the 540s, daily life went downhill fast:

 

Handel With Care

 

 

He was stubborn, astute, determined, cunning, art-loving, gregarious, solitary, humorous and wonderfully compassionate and generous in his dealings with the Foundling Hospital, the Fund for Decayed Musicians and the Lock Hospital for women in distress.

-Review, Handel in London: The Making of a Genius, Financial Times, September 29/30, 2018

 

Fund for Decayed Musicians? I had to look that up. Turns out it’s legit, and has a much nicer name now.

You’ll have to look up the hospital on your own, though.

 

Let’s Get Lost 2

 

In my labors to become less bad at math I encountered the word subitize. I had not known this was a word, but apparently there are five-year-olds who do.

I’ve been trying to learn combinatorics (another word I’d not known existed). That binomial coefficient, man: exclamation points, n choose k … Pete choose headache!

 

 

I’ve read a few books on math now and am distressed that my childhood experience replicates in middle age: math is easy at first, quickly gets very difficult, and not long thereafter loses me completely.

E.g. I’m reading Mathematician’s Delight (on the strength of its title and groovy cover). The author was a British professor of mathematics, and he has a kindly, assured tone that makes it seem like he’s invited me over for a fireside chat.

It starts off well:

Professor: Owing to the accidental fact that we possess ten fingers, the multiplication tables depend on this number 10. If we had eight or ten fingers, the patterns would be different.

Pete: [sips port, chuckles amiably] Quite right!

But in a few pages he’s talking about a fire-watching rota:

Professor: How long will it be before Alf and Bill are again on duty together? Alf and Charlie? Bill and Charlie?

Pete: [drains glass] Uh, can I have a pencil and paper? And what’s a fire-watching rota?

And then Alf and Charlie start wrapping ropes around posts to lower an injured comrade:

Professor: Now what will happen if we wind 0.301 of a turn on one post, and then 0.477 on the next?

Pete: [asks for coat]

 

See also: Let’s Get Lost 1