Saturday, May 30, 2020

Persepolis Rising: a very short review

Persepolis Rising is the 7th book in The Expanse series of sci fi novels written by James S.A. Corey (a pen name for the writing duo of Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham).

Reading The Expanse is kind of like eating a big plate full of homemade Mac and Cheese (and I do mean a big plate -- each book in the series is over 500 pages). I know that homemade Mac and Cheese is not the best choice for my diet: the pasta goes straight to my hips and the cheese clogs my arteries. But boy does it taste good! It's the ultimate comfort food, sending sensory pleasure signals directly to the receptors in my brain.

And I know that whenever I get that urge, I can just have a plate of homemade Mac and Cheese, and I know exactly what to expect: hot, cheesy, chewy goodness.

So it is with a new volume of The Expanse, and Persepolis Rising delivers exactly what I anticipated: pounding outer-space action and adventure from the first page to the last, heros and villains, thrills and chills throughout.

In order to crank out 4,000+ pages of space epic, of course, the authors become rather formulaic, and Persepolis Rising is quite comfortably within the bounds that they have set with the previous 6 volumes.

But I'm quite near the end, now; there's only one book left in the series.

I shall surely read to the end.

After I finish a bunch of other books that are ahead of it on my list.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fruitvale struggles with COVID

I guess that it's good to see that others are as worried about this as I am: Twelve workers at Oakland Cardenas Markets test positive for COVID-19

The outbreak, which has not been previously reported, comes as Alameda County struggles with a spike in coronavirus cases. The 94601 zip code, where the market is located, has been the epicenter of that surge, with total of 290 COVID-19 cases — a rate of 519 cases per 100,000 residents, by far the highest of any zip code in the county, according to health department data.

News of the cluster stunned Oakland Councilman Noel Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District. 

It may have stunned Mr. Gallo, but it is, however, pretty obvious in the data. It's not like Alameda County has been hiding the data, if you want to see it here it is

As recently as May 8, zip 94601 had only 125 cases, while today it is at 302. That's a 140% increase in just 3 weeks.

Other Oakland zip codes are very scary in the last 2 weeks, too:
  1. zip 94621, the Coliseum BART area, was at 92 cases on May 8 and is at 153 now, a 60% increase
  2. 94603, the East Oakland area, was at 58 cases on May 8 and is at 127 now, a 120% increase
Viewed from this perspective, zip 94544, which for months has been the worst-affected zip in Alameda County, was at 260 cases on May 8 and is at 381 now, which is certainly a frightening increase, but in percentage terms it's only increased 45% in 3 weeks.

I hope Oakland can get this under control soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Too clever by half!


I am completely embarrassed by how much  this simple printing error undid me with the Memorial Day weekend crossword puzzle.

"Oh! This puzzle is really hard!" I said to my family, "There's an unclued entry here in the puzzle, what might it mean? And this other clue was missing entirely?"

Well, I ended up "solving" it anyway, though the part about Tim Cook went *way* over my head (and me a Bay Area resident! If anyone should have considered him a "celebrity" in the same sense as Cole Porter or Chet Baker, I guess it should have been me?)

Next time I guess I'll take a bit of a simpler approach to trying to figure things out ...

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A dear reader makes it crystal clear

It's funny, the mental blocks that prevent you from seeing something, even when it's staring you right in the face.

A devoted reader explains:

Accept a mid-October full of hail (5,2)

  • Accept: The definition, not part of the cryptic.
  • a mid-October full of hail: the cryptic clue.

The cryptic clue is then de-crypted, as follows:

  • a: The letter a, part of the solution.
  • mid-October: The letter o, part of the solution.
  • full of: The words that says it's a container cryptic (we're going to rearrange the parts to put some letters inside of other letters)
  • hail: The word greet, part of the solution.

So you have:

    a     o, full of greet,
  • or: a greet o
  • which is: agree to

Answer is agree to

Many thanks to my faithful correspondent!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Those Cryptics I mentioned...

Here they are, if you wondered:

  1. Refurbished laptops are vastly different (5,5) Poles Apart
  2. Associates of violent armed cops (9) Compadres
  3. Where you may see a North African in a suit, perhaps (7) Tunisia
  4. Smart panel working to create big business strategy (6,4) Master Plan
  5. Shakespeare's amazing breadth (3,4) The Bard
  6. Old means of communication is great help, surprisingly (9) Telegraph
  7. Or whisper Reformed prayer (9) Worshipper
  8. Listening, notice raspy upright swimmer (3,5) Sea Horse
  9. Like some editors' notes about prize for far-out subject? (12) Astrophysics
  10. Have children arrange procedure (9) Reproduce
  11. Farmworker eats hot poultry (8) Pheasant
  12. African nation angered by a Tesla alternative (10) Madagascar
  13. Technophobe diluted fluid (7) Luddite

And, just to keep you entertained, here are 5 more I solved this week:

  1. Outside of shops, one of Santa's reindeer lands (5,2,4)
  2. Blurriness spoiled mini-copiers (11)
  3. Infestation ruined Italian concert piece (11)
  4. Stated price, if only in good times (4-7)
  5. Caterer's hot new dessert (6,5)
  6. Acute sensitivity damaged retinal cone (11) (For some reason this took me a while!)

Some of these drove me crazy! Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon have done it to me again.

And sometimes, when I get them, I don't really understand why.

For example, I worked out that "Accept a mid-October full of hail (5,2)" must be "Agree to" because of cross-letters, but I don't really understand why that is the right answer.

Oh, well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Let's try to be glass half-full people, shall we?

The good news, according to the extremely detailed CA Open Data dashboard, is that major progress continues to be made:

  1. The state is testing more than 45,000 people per day. That's more than one in every thousand people, statewide.
  2. Hospitalization rates are at least steady, but in fact appear to be declining significantly.
  3. New cases, statewide, are routinely less than 2% increase per day

Sadly, the data are not all lovely. There are still a frightening number of new cases each day, there are still dozens of people dying each day, all across the state.

A particular detail is that there are certain counties that are really struggling to control their case load.

If you click through the top eight or so counties at the top of the list, you can see a few counties which are doing very, very well. Santa Clara county really stands out, and San Francisco county is also making dramatic strides.

But Riverside county, San Bernardino county, Alameda county, and San Diego county are all really, really struggling.

And of course Los Angeles county, far and away the largest county in California, with its 10+ million residents.

There's still a lot of work to be done, I'm afraid.

But go take a look at Santa Clara County! No, do better than that. Go look up Dr. Sara Cody.

Fifty years from now, people will be teaching their grandchildren about this amazing woman, and how she saved hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, not just in her home town, but across the Bay Area, across California, and across the entire Western United States.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Normal People: a very short review

Normal People is Sally Rooney's second novel.

But of course you knew that. It's a worldwide bestseller, it won or was a finalist for every fiction award of the year, it's a major Hulu TV series, it's the staple of every book club around the globe, and I'm sure I've barely begun to scratch the surface of Normal People's presence in our lives.

Rooney is clearly a major phenomenon, and I'm certainly a member of the bandwagon.

But what is it about her work that everyone finds so compelling? Normal People is in many ways similar to Conversations with Friends. Stylistically, Rooney maintains her simple, intimate approach, telling much of the story through dialogue (complete with her affectation of eschewing quotation marks), and keeping the overall plot, setting, and set of characters minimal in order to focus on the human relationships that are of so much interest to her. And from a subject matter point of view she is clearly still content to "write what she knows", focusing again on a young woman from country Ireland who has made it to Dublin to study and learn in the Big City, while maintaining her on-again, off-again relationship with her hometown first boyfriend.

But Normal People is different than Conversations with Friends in several ways, too. It's somehow simultaneously both more intimate and yet coarser. I think Rooney yearns to let us more deeply into the lives of her characters. Where Conversations with Friends often was content to perch on the back of a chair at a table of young artists arguing about politics and art, Normal People goes deep, deep into the lives of these two "normal people" (who spend most of the book trying to explain how far from normal they feel).

Along the way, in sometimes exhausting stretches, they suffer through problem after problem: jealousy, inadequacy, abuse, addiction, infidelity, depression, self-destructive behavior. All of it normal, but all of it painful.

It sounds awful, but because every page is told with love and empathy, the result is actually beautiful.

For example, here's Rooney showing how the slightest of mis-steps in a simple conversation, the merest of mis-understandings, can suddenly and unexpectedly become a major confrontation without anyone understanding how it happened:

Hey, listen. By the way. It looks like I won't be able to pay rent up here this summer. Marianne looked up from her coffee and said flatly: What?

Yeah, he said. I'm going to have to move out of Niall's place.

When? said Marianne.

Pretty soon. Next week maybe.

Her face hardened, without displaying any particular emotion. Oh, she said. You'll be going home, then.

He rubbed at his breastbone then, feeling short of breath. Looks like it, yeah, he said.

She nodded, raised her eyebrows briefly and then lowered them again, and stared down into her cup of coffee. Well, she said. You'll be back in September, I assume.

His eyes were hurting and he closed them. He couldn't understand how this had happened, how he had let the discussion get away like this. It was too late to say he wanted to stay with her, that was clear, but when had it become too late? It seemed to have happened immediately. He contemplated putting his face down on the table and just crying like a child. Instead he opened his eyes again.

Rooney is clearly fascinated by the power of writing to help convey things that you can't just get from surface observations.

Last summer she read one of Connell's stories for the first time. It gave her such a peculiar sense of him as a person to sit there with the printed pages, folded over in the top-left corner because he had no staples. In a way she felt very close to him while reading, as if she was witnessing his most private thoughts, but she also felt him turned away from her, focused on some complex task of his own, one she could never be part of. Of course, Sadie can never be part of that task either, not really, but at least she's a writer, with a hidden imaginary life of her own. Marianne's life happens strictly in the real world, populated by real individuals. She thinks of Connell saying: People are a lot more knowable than they think they are. But still he has something she lacks, an inner life that does not include the other person.

But little of Normal People is of this ilk. Rooney has very quickly moved far beyond the literary chitchat of Conversations with Friends, and what she is after now is bigger fish.

What is it that makes a relationship work? As Rooney so elegantly explains, it comes down to time, trust, and compromise:

I can stay and you can go, she says. It's just a year. I think you should do it.

He makes a strange, confused noise, almost like a laugh. He touches his neck. She puts the towel down and starts brushing the knots out of her hair slowly.

That's ridiculous, he says. I'm not going to New York without you. I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for you.

It's true, she thinks, he wouldn't be. He would be somewhere else entirely, living a different kind of life. He would be different with women even, and his aspirations for love would be different. And Marianne herself, she would be another person completely. Would she ever have been happy? And what kind of happiness might it have been? All these years they've been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions. But in the end she has done something for him, she's made a new life possible, and she can always feel good about that.


To be honest, I don't know what to do, he says. Say you want me to stay and I will.

She closes her eyes. He probably won't come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They've done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change each other.

You should go, she says. I'll always be here. You know that.

All too few of us are lucky enough to find another "little plant sharing the same plot of soil," what a lovely and perfect description!

Normal People is a marvelous novel, but what is more marvelous is how rapidly Rooney is developing as a writer. I can't wait for her next book, whatever it may be.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

ProPublica "Two Coasts, One Virus" report

ProPublica is out with their immense, enormous, almost overwhelming report on the first 3 months of dealing with the virus: Two Coasts. One Virus..

But from January on, her chief of staff, Sean Elsbernd, would scarcely let a day go by without bringing it up. Elsbernd and the director of public health, Dr. Grant Colfax, reminded Breed that her city had one of the largest Chinese American communities in the country. They thus paid close attention as the numbers of infected grew exponentially in Wuhan and the virus made its way across Europe.

Colfax was particularly well-suited to recognize the threat early. He was inspired to enter the medical profession some 30 years earlier by the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before Breed chose him to lead her Health Department, Colfax had worked in the Obama White House from 2012 to 2014, where he was the director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. He had been involved in response efforts to Ebola and SARS. He was plugged into the world-renowned epidemiology community in the area.

I think there can be no dispute that the Bay Area led the way in encouraging the rest of the country to take the threat seriously.

I only wish we could have been even more successful at getting that message across.

Here at home, where Alameda County continues to struggle to get its caseload under control, I am definitely concerned about what will happen in the upcoming months. I am lucky that I can continue to shelter at home while still working my regular hours, for the foreseeable future.

So I will.

Cryptically thinking

Like so many other people, I've been less physically active during these last few months. But I'm working on that, as I'm trying to resume activities like bicycle riding and perhaps even golf, to go with my regular long walks.

Meanwhile, though, I've been doing lots and lots of crossword puzzles. Beyond the traditional puzzle, my paper frequently includes some "variety" puzzles, of which one of my favorites is the "cryptic" crossword.

Cryptic crosswords change the rules.

The cryptic crossword clue typically involves lots of word-play, including but not limited to: homophones, anagrams, reversals, hidden words, puns, etc.

Here's a lovely example:

  • Terribly dim thing! (8)

The answer, in this case, is "midnight", which is indeed a "terribly dim thing", but more importantly is an anagram of "dim thing".

I went through a burst of these over the last few weeks and below have collected a baker's dozen of my favorite clues.

Typically a clue is a favorite of mine if it makes me chuckle or groan when I finally crack it, but sometimes I just find them elegant or whatever.

And I know these aren't really hard. To get really hard Cryptic Crossword Clues, you have to go get the ones in the Telegraph or the Sunday Times. But I'm a lightweight, what can I say?

I'll come back here in a few days and post the answers, so if you haven't cracked them yourself by then you can look them up :)

Oh, btw: the format here is to list the clue itself, followed by the number of letters in the answer. If the answer is multiple words, the length of each word is given.

  1. Refurbished laptops are vastly different (5,5)
  2. Associates of violent armed cops (9)
  3. Where you may see a North African in a suit, perhaps (7)
  4. Smart panel working to create big business strategy (6,4)
  5. Shakespeare's amazing breadth (3,4)
  6. Old means of communication is great help, surprisingly (9)
  7. Or whisper Reformed prayer (9)
  8. Listening, notice raspy upright swimmer (3,5)
  9. Like some editors' notes about prize for far-out subject? (12)
  10. Have children arrange procedure (9)
  11. Farmworker eats hot poultry (8)
  12. African nation angered by a Tesla alternative (10)
  13. Technophobe diluted fluid (7)

Monday, May 11, 2020

Erin Bromage's detailed explanation of the risks and how to minimize them.

Warning, heavy-duty COVID link ahead: The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them

In order to get infected you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with MERS and SARS, some estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 viral particles are needed for an infection to take hold. Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection.

Certainly not light reading, but essential.