Vancouver

For FPSAC.  The part of the conference I attended was excellent, particularly an outstanding talk by Jennifer Morse on Macdonald polynomials.  Had dinner in a rotating restaurant

FPSAC2016RotatingRestaurant

which was fun (although I did find the rotation slightly nauseating).  Also walked around Stanley park.

IMG_1045 They have big trees on the west coast.FPSAC2016StanleyPark2

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“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

This book was a loan from a friend (and former HRSFA member) upon finding out that I was going to England for the first time.  I would call it a pretty standard genre novel: easy to read, basically enjoyable, but not very substantive (particularly with regards to character development).  The fantasy aspects struck me as reasonably inventive, but the thing that made the strongest impression on me was the terrible gender politics: essentially every female character is one-dimensional and horrible.  This left a bad taste in my mouth.

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“The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” by Richard Feynman

This book is a collection of short pieces by Feynman, including a number that were speeches or transcripts of interviews.  I thought there were several very interesting pieces, a bunch of repetition between different bits, and some odd choices about what things to include and in what order to present them.  An example is that the book includes Feynman’s minority report in the Challenger disaster inquiry.  This is certainly a historically interesting document, and anyone who wanted to write a biography of Feynman would want to read and write about it, but it is really not something that holds much interest as an undigested thing, in my opinion.

On a random personal note, I liked seeing family friend C.H. Bennett get some positive mentions.  Finally, Feynman is very quotable; here’s one paragraph I happened to enjoy:

I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio.  He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of his work were.  “Well,” I said, “there aren’t any.”  He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.”  I think that’s kind of dishonest.  If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing–and if they don’t want to support you under these circumstances, then that’s their decision.

(I was reading an uncorrected page proof, rather than the final published version, so I don’t know how much it changed in final editing.)

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One size fits all

What does the author of this sentence think “one-size-fits-all” means?

Our economy is too diverse for a one-size-fits-all sick and safe leave policy to work, particularly if enacted differently in each local community.

The associated good news is that Minneapolis is getting paid sick leave, with some neighboring cities hopefully following soon.

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Marijuana and driving

I have no idea how one is supposed to parse this lead sentence:

WASHINGTON — Six states that allow marijuana use have legal tests to determine driving while impaired by the drug that have no scientific basis, according to a study by the nation’s largest automobile club that calls for scrapping those laws.

The rest of the article is interesting, though.  Short version: blood testing for THC doesn’t have anything to do with driving under the influence.

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“The Family Markowitz” by Allegra Goodman

This  story of several generations of the Markowitz family was a very good read — touching and funny, and more “real” than some of the David Lodge novels I was reading earlier.  (I do not think that this is because the Jewishness of the story rings truer to me than the Englishness of Lodge’s characters.)  The whole think hung together beautifully, and I don’t think I can really do it justice by pulling out any single part for comment.

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Callery pear

An article in the Times entirely about street trees?  Be still my heart!  Anyhow, it’s the usual story: once upon a time someone thought that it would be a good idea to widely spread an Asian ornamental in America, and then it turns out that there are reasons not to do this:

Its wood splits easily, making extra work for utility and public works crews. Its offspring pop up unbidden in forests and parks. Its blossoms are fragrant — but not in a good way. … The Bradford pear has been called a “scourge,” a “weed” and a “monster.”

In the end, the author considers the questions of (1) whether cities should stop planting them, and (2) whether they should actually tear up the ones that are already there.  I think he comes to the right conclusions, namely (1) obviously and (2) meh.

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