“Administrative leave”

So one of the things that has happened in the course of my lifetime is that now everyone carries cameras around with them all the time. And this has a bunch of not-necessarily-foreseen effects, some good and some not good. One of the surprising good effects (also, of course, helped by an active activist movement) is that all sorts of low-level racial discrimination has become very documentable, to the extent that when the Times publishes an article about individual incidents, it sometimes includes a paragraph at the end explaining the broader nature of the phenomenon:

The incident follows several high-profile confrontations between white people and black people who are engaging in everyday activities, including several at pools. Many of them have been popularized by hashtags — the Indianapolis encounter has been tagged as #SwimmingSheriffSusie, in apparent reference to the off-duty officer.

In Memphis, a white manager of an apartment complex was fired after she called the police on a black man wearing socks in the pool on the Fourth of July.

In North Carolina, a white man was fired by his employer, a major international packaging supplier, after he demanded identification from a black woman at a private community pool on the Fourth of July and called the police when she refused.

In South Carolina, a white woman was charged with assault after she attacked a 15-year-old black boy at a neighborhood pool, telling him and his friends that they had to “get out” or she would call 911.

To me, this seems like a promising sign for the future. Actually, though, the reason that I decided to write a blog post about this particular article is the following sentence:

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, Barrett and Stokely Inc., the company that manages the apartment complex, said the apartment manager had been placed on “administrative leave” as the encounter is investigated.

I like the scare-quotes around “administrative leave”, but I would have liked even more to know what they said when asked to explain what that actually means.

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Tomoko Fuse’s origami units

On the suggestion of an acquaintance, I got a book of Tomoko Fuse’s from the library.  She has some very nice modules.  I have mostly been experimenting with the one she calls “convex hexagonal ring solid” — if anything, it is more flexible than the Sonobe unit.  Roughly, I think it can be used to construct any convex polyhedron whose faces are equilateral polygons of not more than 6 sides.  (I am not completely certain that 7 sides is impossible, but at some point the pyramids won’t close up.) Here are some first constructions with it:

That’s a tetrahedron, a cuboctahedron, and an icosadodecahedron (two shots of the latter, one while it is half-constructed).

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“Dialogues on mathematics” by Alfred Renyi

For various reasons I have recently been reading a bunch of books broadly addressing the theme “what is mathematics?”  (Linderholm was accidentally a lead-in, and clearly belongs in the category.)  This one is a short (under 100 pages) and snappy read, and should be accessible to just about anyone.  I read it in an hour or two and enjoyed pretty much all of it (although Galileo is a windbag and drags on a little bit).  Manages to touch at least briefly on all the really important things (e.g., mathematical beauty, the connection between research and teaching, mathematical Platonism, the broad applicability of mathematics).

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“Mathematics Made Difficult” by Carl E. Linderholm

I have seen attributed to Halmos (Linderholm’s advisor) the description of this book as an in-joke to the mathematical community, and that’s about right: I don’t think it would be possible to explain why it’s funny to someone who doesn’t know at least a bit of category theory, among other things, and of course some parts are more amusing than others.  Probably any mathematician could find something that tickles them particularly; for me, it was that the section “What are brackets?” ends with an absurdist derivation of the Catalan numbers.  I also thought the exercises were particularly wonderful.  (On the other hand, the long-winded send-ups of word problems felt tedious.)  Overall, the thing it most reminds me of is 1066 and all that.

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“The Table Comes First” by Adam Gopnik

In the preface, Gopnik writes, “We shouldn’t intellectualize food,” and on that count I think the book is a failure; as a result, some chapters are something of a slog. But others are wonderful.  (They vary quite a lot in style and tone, and don’t make a very cohesive whole – presumably because they were written as a series of unconnected essays for the New Yorker.)  I loved the chapter on the history of recipes and recipe books, and the letters to Elizabeth Pennell, which even allow for a plot twist of sorts.  I found the philosophizing about (against, really) vegetarianism particularly unconvincing, but he does get a good burn in on Mark Bittman:

[Bittman] is cautious, and even skeptical; while Rosso and Lukins “love” and “crave” their filet of beef, to all of animal flesh Bittman allows no more than “Meat is filling and requires little work to prepare.  It’s relatively inexpensive and an excellent source of many nutrients.  And most people like it.”  Most people like it!  Rosso and Lukins would have tossed out any recipe, much less an entire food group, of which no more than that could be said.  Lamb is a thing they “fall in love with again every season of the year,” and of pork they know that it is “divinely succulent.”  Bittman thinks that most people like it.

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West Virginia teacher strike

So, West Virginia teachers (some of whom are unionized, but whose unions are not recognized by the state) have been on strike for a week, continuing even after their union leadership struck a deal with the governor.  (The strikers fear, quite reasonably, that the legislature and other parties will not carry through.)  It’s quite inspiring!  Here are some good articles about it:

Gov. Jim Justice announces 5-percent raise for all West Virginia educators

A Massive Strike Is Actually Working




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“Modular Origami Polyhedra” by Lewis Simon, Bennett Arnstein, and Rona Gurkewitz

Haven’t had an origami post in a while!  This book was as Christmas gift.  It consists of an assortment of instructions for modular origami: about ten different versions of the Sonobe unit, a variety of cube-based units they call the “decoration box” module, and an assortment of others.  The Sonobe variations aren’t so interesting to me (they don’t change the geometry of the polyhedra you can make), but there are a number of other models that seem very interesting.  Here are my first few excursions:

6-color “decoration box” cube

This module is annoying because it (or its relatives) can be used to make other polyhedra than cubes, but you have to change the module (unlike in the case of Sonobe).  On the other hand, because it makes polyhedral skeleta, you can do other cool things:

Interlocking three-color “decoration box” cubes

Another model that seems to have more flexibility is the “gyroscope”:

“Gyroscope” octahedron

Gurkewitz has a webpage with some beautiful photos and more information.  (Unfortunately the photos of assembled constructions in the book itself are dark, grainy, and monochrome.)

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