“1066 and all that” by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman

Since I was near the site of the Battle of Hastings, I decided to read up on British history.  1066 and all that is parody, playing on a particular Anglo-centric view of the universe, but you actually have to know a bit of English history to appreciate many parts of it.  On the whole, entertaining.  Two short selections to give a sense of the thing:

During this reign the Hundred Years War was brought to an end by Joan of Ark, a French descendant of Noah who after hearing Angel voices singing Do Re Mi became inspired, thus unfairly defeating the English in several battles.  Indeed, she might even have made France top nation if the Church had not decided that she would make an exceptionally memorable martyr.  Thus Joan of Ark was a Good Thing in the end and is now the only memorable French saint.


Other benefactors [of the Industrial Revelation] were Sir Isaak Watts who invented steam-kettles, and Sir Robert Boyle who had them legalized.1

1: Boyle’s Law: (“Watts pots never boyle”).


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Runaways — update

This very strange story has finally been resolved, more or less: the mother has been convicted, with sentencing and the trials of the co-conspirators still to come.  The extra-special highlight is that Michelle MacDonald, her crazy lawyer, is running again for a seat on the state Supreme Court.  Presumably the Strib endorsing the qualified and non-crazy incumbent will get enough people to the polls to keep her far away from elected office.  Go if you live in a relevant district, go vote on Tuesday!


Update: in the primary, the incumbent Hudson won a solid 65% of the vote, but MacDonald goes through to the general election as well.  Also, congrats to my soon-to-be new state representative Ilhan Omar (Strib 1, 2).

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As I mentioned, after Vancouver I went to a conference at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, England.  It was mathematically excellent, and I feel that BBC detective shows properly prepared me for my first visit to the UK.  Trees in England are more familiar to me than those on the west coast
Herstmonceux_beechalthough I do not see many 300+-year-old chestnuts in the US.


The conference location was an old castle (really, a manor house done up to look like a castle), something we also don’t have many of here.
Herstmonceux_castle Herstmonceux_castleorchardHerstmonceux_castlewindowsThe grounds were at one point in the 20th century owned by the Met Office, so there are lots of telescopes and a geodesy facility nearby.


Herstmonceux is not far from Hastings, and we took an outing to the location of the Battle of Hastings:


The castle had some sculptures, possibly by Hilary Manuhwa (but there were works displayed by several Zimbabwean artists, so I’m not certain it was his):


Herstmonceux is a very rural area; this was the only nearby commercial establishment. Herstmonceux_inn

Also, I learned lots of stuff about reflection groups of various types, and met some German mathematicians whose work I have been thinking about a lot recently.

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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


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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