Monday, August 2, 2021

Klara and the Sun: a very short review

I must first admit that I had not heard of Kazuo Ishiguro before I happened to pick up Klara and the Sun; clearly I've been missing out on the work of one of the great writers of our time.

I loved this book.

I read it very fast, as it is both extremely compelling yet also quite approachable. And, as I read it, I kept having different reactions.

At first I thought: "oh, this is clever! What an interesting idea!" About a quarter of the way through the book, I thought: "I think this would have made a fine short story, but I think he's exhausted everything he came here to say."

But as I continued reading, I found that on the contrary, he had much more to say.

Klara and the Sun is, I believe, deliberately intended to be both thought-provoking and disturbing.

It is also rather topical, which makes me wonder a bit how well it will age: will it still be relevant 75 years from now? Ishiguro takes on topics such as: the ethics of artificial intelligence; the ethics of genetic editing; equity of access to health care; equity of access to education; the increasing isolation and remoteness brought upon us by technology; job displacement by technology; and much more.

It's also quite clearly drawn from the last 18 months of global shelter-in-place, as one of the main characters is a young child, confined to her home, without playmates, being educated by remote professors over video hookups, sufficiently withdrawn that her family takes her to "interaction parties" where she can (with adult supervision) learn how to interact with other home-sheltered peers.

Other aspects of the book are more universal and timeless, such as the sub-plots involving the invocation of prayer and the search for a greater power in the presence of hopelessness and pain, and the observations about human relationships and how they change as we age.

I think that many different people will find many different things to say about Klara and the Sun. For me, I think I will stop with these two observations:

  1. All along, even while I was thinking to myself that this book, so easy to read and be fascinated by, was shallow and superficial, I kept abruptly realizing, time and again, how much deeper and richer it was than I had given it credit for ("Beach reading" this is not).
  2. Disturbing though the book is, literally from start to finish, I can't help but feel that Ishiguro, overall, means the book to be hopeful. I think he wants us to realize that we can in fact influence how it turns out; we don't just need to let the future happen to us without thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

California energy efficiency laws for computers

I don't think I paid enough attention to this five years ago: Dell won't ship energy-hungry PCs to California and five other US states due to power regulations

The standards [PDF] specify energy consumption targets that cover four non-active usage modes – short-idle, long-idle, sleep and off-modes – tied to the device's "expandability score" (ES), based on the number and types of interfaces, and on additional power requirements arising from add-on capabilities (graphics cards, high-bandwidth system memory, etc.).

The requirements thus vary depending in the device's characteristics, but as a baseline, desktop computers, mobile gaming systems, and thin clients manufactured between January 1, 2019 and July 1, 2021 can consume no more than 50/80/100 kWh per year for ES scores of less than 250, 251-425, and 426-690 respectively.

For such devices manufactured after July 1, 2021, the kWh per year limit becomes 50, 60, and 75. The Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition model cited above lists [PDF] a short-idle energy consumption of 66.29 watts and 563.01 watts when stressed.

I don't know the terms "short-idle, long-idle" and "stressed" when used in this context.

Monday, July 26, 2021

(Slow) vaccine progress

Steadily, we make progress: One millionth Alameda County resident receives COVID-19 vaccine

One million Alameda County residents are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 or two-thirds of the county population, public health officials said Friday.

Of the residents 12 years old and older, 70.7% are fully vaccinated and about 83% have had at least one dose.

"It's been a long 7-month journey to get to this remarkable milestone in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the State," said Colleen Chawla, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.

But Chawla said, "We have more work to do to get to immunity from this devastating disease and we are moving deeper into our communities to engage our residents."

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


It's been a while (more than a decade, actually) since I worked seriously in C#, and so I had rather lost track of what's going on in that community.

But recently I stumbled upon BOTR, the DotNet Book Of The Runtime.

What a great resource! Each article is clearly written and useful on its own, but most of them lead further with many references to even far more detailed information about DotNet internals.

I have no idea if or when I'll ever be back in the C# programming world again, but it is certainly pegging my geek-o-meter to dig through this treasure trove of system programming details.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Wake: a very short review

After listening to an interview with the author on NPR, I picked up a copy of Rebecca Hall's Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

This is a very unusual book.

First of all, it is unusual because it is a graphic novel. I don't generally read many graphic novels, and it's been a while since I read one.

It's also unusual because it is, or tries to be, non-fiction. I guess the best way to describe it is as historical fiction. Hall, who is an academic historian and professor, wrote Wake as sort of a memoir of her work in trying to learn about the role that women played in slave revolts more than 300 years ago. The non-fiction aspect of Wake concerns Hall's efforts to uncover the truth about what happened during these incidents; the historical fiction aspect of Wake takes over when Hall, having reached the limit of what can be learned from the historical record, decides that, as she puts it:

It is time for a measured use of historical imagination in order to reconstruct a story.

Wake is simply remarkable, words fail me (which is why, I suppose, the graphical novel approach works so well). I found that I had to read through the book quite slowly, taking my time with the drawings, understanding the various perspectives that Hall was bringing.

Wake is not an easy read.

But I hope it finds an enormous audience, for surely it should.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Everything is buzzing, in the wrong way

These are NOT the headlines I wanted to see today:

  • L.A. County Sees Increased Spread of COVID-19
    The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) confirms a 165% increase of new cases over last week with 839 new cases of COVID-19.

    The County’s daily average case rate is now 3.5 cases per 100,000 people, an increase from last week’s rate of 1.74 cases per 100,000.

    Today’s daily test positivity rate is 2.5%, also an increase from last week’s rate of 1.2%.
  • Los Angeles County sees exponential growth in Covid-19 cases as Delta variant becomes dominant, worrying officials
    "We do continue to see an uptick in cases and hospitalizations," Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. "Deaths, fortunately, continue to be relatively low, but as hospitalizations continue to increase, we anticipate that deaths might also increase."
  • Average new COVID-19 cases double in Alameda County
    the county is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases that could exceed the spring wave earlier this year.

    Officials said it’s more than doubled. The average number of new cases was as low as about 30 a day. Now the average is up to 70 a day.

    Health officer Nicholas Moss believes we aren’t seeing the impact of the 4th of July holiday just yet.

    “It takes a few days when you’ve been exposed to COVID to get sick.”

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Marriage Plot: a very short review

Jeffrey Eugenides, famous for several books, was new to me when I picked up The Marriage Plot, a gift from my sister-in-law.

The Marriage Plot is sort of a romance, with a romantic triangle consisting of three Brown University students. One studies Biology, one is a Religious Studies student, and the third studies Semiotics. Madeleine, the Semiotics student, supplies the title for The Marriage Plot; she is writing her senior thesis on the marriage plots that underlaid the works of Austin, Bronte, Eliot, and other Victorian-era authors. Going into the book I thought this little detail was going to prove interesting and was greatly anticipating it, but it ended up being just a tossaway item, one in a fairly long list of tantalizing details of the book that only seemed to result in false hopes.

Our three protagonists finish college, travel the world, move on to graduate school, have adventures, yet somehow don't really seem to change terribly much, no matter how many earnest conversations on Derrida and Barthes ensue, or how many vivid encounters they have on their travels (one of them volunteers in one of Mother Teresa's convents in Calcutta).

One of my favorite parts of the book was an episode that occurred several times in which Madeleine experiences the odd feeling that she's somehow living out one of Ludwig Bemelmans's children's books:

On the day before they flew back to the States, Madeleine left Leonard in the room while she went out to buy him cigarettes. The summer weather was lovely, the colors of the flowers in the park so bright they hurt her eyes. Up ahead, she saw an amazing sight, a troop of schoolgirls being led by a nun. They were crossing the street, heading into the courtyard of their school. Smiling for the first time in weeks, Madeleine watched them proceed. Ludwig Bemelmans had written sequels to Madeline. In one, Madeline had joined a gypsy circus. In another, she'd been saved from drowning by a dog. But, despite all her adventures, Madeline had never gotten any older than eight.

Bemelmans, I think, made no bones about his Madeline: she was a child, and he was telling stories to children about children. But what sort of book is The Marriage Plot? At the end, it just sort of halts, having run out of steam more than anything else.

At some point, the voice also told Mitchell that, in addition to never living with Madeleine, he would never go to divinity school, either. It was unclear what he was going to do with his life, but he wasn't going to be a monk, or a minister, or even a scholar.

Eugenides appears to have just become bored of his three characters, and, having demonstrated that all failed to live up to their early promise, he washes his hands of them and walks away. The Marriage Plot seemed like an odd little book from an otherwise much-ballyhooed author. Probably I just didn't get it. Or maybe, it was just that sort of book.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The ferries are buzzing, too

Today is the day the San Francisco Bay Ferries are back:

Yes, you read that right: more routes, more departures, lower fares.

Not often you see news like that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Everything is just buzzing

It's been two weeks since the state re-opened, and everything is just buzzing. The roads are packed, as are restaurants, bars, etc.

And it's not just the retail world that's buzzing. Here's a thoroughly bizarre (paywalled, unfortunately) article, with a thoroughly bizarre headline: Alameda office building shopping spree widens in tech hub.

A shopping spree for office buildings in the tech and biotech hot spot of Alameda has widened with the purchase of another property on the island city by a Bay Area developer.

With the latest deal, Paceline Investors has now spent $69.3 million over the last few days for three office buildings in Alameda, focusing on an area whose tenants are primarily advanced technology and life sciences firms.

The buildings are all located in Alameda’s Harbor Bay district, an area dotted with an array of companies with cutting-edge products and services.

Real estate firms have undertaken property purchases or launched development efforts that indicate they believe the Bay Area economy will be fueled by the expansion of tech, biotech, and advanced manufacturing companies.

That neighborhood is not far from where I live, and I ride my bike through there several times a week.

Indeed, there have been a lot of development efforts in this business park.

But the buildings are standing empty!

There are at least 10 large office buildings, brand new, completely vacant. Many were built during the COVID shutdowns, but a number of them were built as long ago as 2019 and have never found tenants. Other, existing buildings are dotted with "For Sale" and "For Lease" signs.

There are two buildings that are fully occupied and very busy:

Of course, neither of these are "advanced technology and life sciences firms".

But they sure make very good coffee and wonderful bread!

I definitely don't understand how the Real Estate development world works.

Monday, June 28, 2021


While doing a bit of browsing on the Internet, I followed some links and came to a (relatively) ancient document: Pierre L'Ecuyer and Richard Simard. TestU01: A Software Library in ANSI C for Empirical Testing of Random Number Generators: User's guide, compact version. Département d'Informatique et de Recherche Opérationnelle, Université de Montréal, May 2013..

I guess it's truth-in-labelling, but I must confess that it's a bit startling when the "User's guide, compact version" runs to 219 pages!

But if you're at all interested in Random Number Generators, this is some amazing stuff. From the prologue:

TestU01 started as a Pascal program implementing the tests suggested in the 1981 edition of volume 2 of “The Art of Computer Programming”. This was around 1985. Three or four years later, a Modula-2 implementation was made, in the form of a library with a modular design. Other tests were added, as well as some generators implemented in generic form. Between 1990 and 2001, new generators and new tests were added regularly to the library and a detailed user’s guide (in french) was kept up to date. The f modules, which contain tools for testing entire families of generators, were introduced in 1997, while the first author was on sabbatical at the University of Salzburg, Austria. In 2001 and 2002, we partially redesigned the library, translated it in the C language, and translated the user’s guide in english.

These preliminary versions of the library were used for several articles (co)authored by P. L’Ecuyer, starting from his 1986 paper where he first proposed a combined LCG.

I love the brutal honesty that, after 28 years of effort, they considered that they had only achieved a "preliminary version of the library".

Random Number Generation is deep indeed, perhaps among the deepest of modern intellectual studies.

Anyway, I didn't know about this amazing effort until now, so here I am, some 36 years later, sharing it with those few who might not yet know of its existence.

Monday, June 14, 2021

There are all sorts of reasons why COVID data is hard to interpret

This detailed explanation letter from the Alameda County Public Health Department explains why overall COVID deaths in Alameda County have been restated from 1,634 to 1,223:

Alameda County previously included any person who died while infected with the virus in the total COVID-19 deaths for the County. Aligning with the State’s definition will require Alameda County to report as COVID-19 deaths only those people who died as a direct result of COVID-19, with COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, or in whom death caused by COVID-19 could not be ruled out.

Alameda County has appx 1,671,000 people.

So, prior to this adjustment, we thought that appx 0.1% of the population had died of COVID so far; aligning the definitions with national standards shows us that 0.07% of the population has died of COVID so far.

Meanwhile, in more good news, the county continues to inch closer to complete vaccine coverage, with 1.98 million doses administered to this date.

And even closer to home, in my hometown 85% of the population aged 12+ are at least partially vaccinated; 71% are fully vaccinated. For the county as a whole, those numbers are 79% and 64%.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Vaccine Complexity

Through a combination of the amazing Tableau data analysis software, applied to the extensive California Open Data Portal datasets, you can now see an amazing breakdown of COVID-19 vaccination data down to the individual ZipCode level, across the entire state.

Spending some time with this visualization tool is amazing. Not only can you learn a lot about the situation across various areas of the state, the challenges of "vaccine equity" become crystal clear.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Less: a very short review

When I started reading Andrew Sean Greer's Less, I didn't understand why I was reading it, nor what all the fuss was about (Less won numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer).

But I found myself continuing to read, page after page, chapter after chapter, and quickly I became captivated and enchanted.

It's hard to explain why Less is so much fun to read, but almost every single page is graceful and sincere while still being outrageous and hilarious.

And that's a hard thing for a book to do!

Our hero, Arthur Less, doesn't take himself too seriously, and doesn't take the world too seriously, and yet still somehow has an entirely serious observation to make on almost everything, nestled down there in betwixt all the sly pokes and rude chuckles.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

News of the World: a (2nd) very short review.

News of the World, perhaps better known as "that movie that Tom Hanks was making when he caught COVID-19 on the set", turned out quite well, I thought.

It's nowhere near as good as the book, but I think that it did a very good job of capturing the essence of the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Possibly vaccine progress?

It is a bit hard to see, but the diagram below, from the CA State COVID-19 dashboard, shows that the Alameda County count of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 is down to 68 patients.

Not only does that represent a 30% drop in patient count in the last 12 days, but perhaps even more importantly it is the lowest count of hospitalized patients in Alameda County since the counting began, back in March of 2020.

I haven't read any detailed analysis of this data, but I've certainly been watching these numbers every day for months, wondering if and when the hospitalization count would ever drop (note how stubbornly it hovered at ~ 100 patients for the last 2.5 months, even as daily case counts plummeted during that time).

Hopefully this is a real finding, and represents real progress.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Time to upgrade that phone!

I have an iPhone 6, meaning I'm locked on iOS 12.

I recently learned about the existence of Silence Unknown Callers.

That one feature, right there, might be enough to get me to finally buy a new iPhone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Vaccine Progress

This is what public health success looks like (from the May 25, 2021 state dashboard page):

Now, 618 new cases and 8 new deaths in a single day is still a tragedy. Hospitalization numbers remain high, and vaccination numbers are still a long way from where we'd like them to be.

But as recently as early March, California was still reporting more than 2 thousand new cases a day, as well as more than 100 new deaths a day, so the progress here is dramatic.

I hope the state is able to continue to drive millions more vaccine doses through under-served communities, and the overall progress continues at this rate.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Hollow Places: a very short review

A friend gave me T. Kingfisher's The Hollow Places.

Generally, the horror genre isn't my thing, but the book pulled me in quickly and kept me turning the pages.

Kingfisher is a pen name, obviously at least partly an homage to Stephen King, and Kingfisher's novel reminds me of a King work. I liked the quirkiness of the setting; I liked the fortitude of our two bumbling, stumbling main characters; I liked the roller-coaster pace of the book.

I breezed through the book in about 3 days, probably faster than it deserved, but it was right for me.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Up, up and away

The City of Oakland has accepted a proposal from Houston-based Hines Corporation to build a 622-foot-tall office building in Oakland: Mega office tower proposal in downtown Oakland hops ahead.

The tower, if built, would be 50% taller than any other office tower in Oakland, so this is a dramatic step for downtown Oakland real estate, and the Oakland planning commission seems to be bubbling over with enthusiasm:

“It is about time we had some truly tall buildings here,” Planning Commissioner Leopold Ray-Lynch said. “If we can get more of these, we can truly make Oakland a city that’s on the move, more than it is now.”

Hines, who are probably best known in these parts for the (somewhat controversial) million-square-foot Parcel F project in the city, certainly have the chops to pull this off.

But will they? It's not the first time that major Oakland real estate projects have been proposed, and many in the end were never completed or were completed after being reshaped in significant ways.

Yet Oakland has dramatically changed in the last five years. Perhaps now really is the time?

One thing that's not clear from the article is if this project would mean the shuttering of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's Oakland Scientific Facility, which currently occupies this site, I believe. The supercomputers won't care, of course, they can probably just be trucked to some new location.

The site is just across the street, cater-corner as they say, from my wife's office. I suppose if it happens, she'll have a front row seat to the project!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Penny Lane 2007-2021

Our hearts are broken as we say goodbye to our family dog.

My granddaughter grew up with Penny. Or maybe it was Penny who grew up with Hannah. Or I guess we all grew up together.

She always thought she was a lap dog, though 80 pound Labrador Retrievers can take up the entire couch.

She was always up for a selfie.

Best. Dog. Ever.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about Penny later, when the hole in our lives isn't such a gaping wound as it is today.

So for now, let me share with you a poem, written by the lovely poet Tom Luce, titled Buy a Dog.

As is often the case with poetry, this poem isn't actually about a dog.

I had a dream, it was a good dream
you were there and so was I.
We were so happy
I did not want to open up my eyes,
and we were driving down a road;
it was a long one.
There were signs all over;
the signs said "welcome to your life".
I looked over and you were smiling.
You had a great big smile going.
You turned to me, you turned and you said:
"all your life, all your life, I got your back."

So if you want to try
we'll make it you and I
we'll never be alone
we'll buy a dog and bring him home
he'll jump up on the bed
we'll be the best of friends
I think that we should try
I picture you and I...

I had another dream
I know you think, "how convenient"
but I swear it's the truth:
we were there, yeah, I was me and you were you.
We had a good long life on this planet
when we died we went to heaven,
saw that god was really Elvis!
Anyway, our souls were in the right place,
our souls were in the right place..

So if you want to try
we'll make it you and I
we'll never be alone
we'll buy a dog and bring him home
he'll jump up on the bed
we'll be the best of friends
I think that we should try
I think that we should try

And we'll take him on walks with us everyday
(underneath the summer sun).
He can ride in the back of our car when we go away
with his head outside of the window frame
and his tongue out.

It's a miracle that we're even here and alive.
Let's buy a dog and bring him home.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

My second Pfizer shot is done!

That is all.

(Well, at least until I need a booster shot...)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Vaccine progress

California has administered 28.5 million vaccine doses; 57% of eligible Californians (those age 16 or older) have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Among all 50 states, California is now 50th (last place) in new cases per 100K population over the last 7 days.

It's hard to look at this data and not feel some hope that the two observations are causally related.

Fingers crossed that it's working.

Wow Dan Kaminski died

I never got to meet Dan Kaminski, but I loved reading his work. He was not only a brilliant engineer but also a great communicator.

What a shame. 42 is way too young.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

That which connects Alameda CA and Ann Arbor, MI

Lovely short article: You can take a magical tour of Alameda's fairy doors with this online map

The rise in fairy doors on Alameda began about seven years ago and is largely attributed to Fred Hogenboom and his granddaughter, Serena. The pair built about a dozen doors from scrap wood in Hogenboom's wood shop, then installed them on trees and telephone poles near Hogenboom's home on Oak Street. After that, “social media got a hold of it and from there it just blew up,” Hogenboom said, laughing.


Alameda is a whimsical little city, but it isn’t alone in its fascination with fairy doors. San Francisco has seen its own fairy door boom in recent years, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, has mysterious doors that have been around since 1993 (the doors even have their own Wikipedia page). There are notable fairy door communities everywhere from New York and Washington, D.C., to Kentucky and North Carolina.

It just so happens, I do in fact know some lovers of fairy doors, both in Alameda, and in Ann Arbor...

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Vaccine progress!

Courtesy of the City of Berkeley Health Department, today I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine!

I was extremely impressed with the way the mass vaccination site was run. They were very organized, they moved everybody through smoothly and accurately, and everybody who I talked to was friendly and helpful.

Including the 15 minute wait time after the shot, I was through the entire process in barely 25 minutes.

Great work by Curative, who operate the clinic, and the City of Berkeley HD!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Giant Cargo Ship Traffic Jams Everywhere!

Forget highways, Bay Area's biggest traffic jam right now is on the bay

For the past few weeks, San Francisco Bay has been packed with huge cargo ships. There were 15 of them anchored south of the Bay Bridge at midweek. There is so much ship traffic that there is not enough room inside the bay for them all to anchor safely. Nine more big ships were waiting in the Pacific, steaming up and down 20 to 30 miles offshore between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

Everything is complicated nowadays.

Normally, a big ship like the T.Jefferson would sail up the Oakland Estuary straight from sea and not have to spend time at anchor. It would be accompanied by tugs and navigated under control of one or more pilots. The 1,200-foot-long ship would be turned 180 degrees in a basin a ways up the estuary. The turning basin has a diameter of just under 1,500 feet, so turning a 1,200-foot ship there is a delicate maneuver.

My son used to attend junior sailing classes in that turning basin, which is in the section of the estuary close to Coast Guard Island and across from the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda.

Learning to sail those little Optimist dinghies was a wonderful memory ... I'm glad he never had to avoid the T. Jefferson!

The Known World: a very short review

Early in the new year, browsing through the scads of "best books of 2020" lists that always appear in various publications, I was struck by a note from one critic, who said something to the effect of: "yes, it's 18 years old, but The Known World is still one of the best books you could possibly read."

So I tracked it down, and spent the next two months slowly reading it, and I can confirm that that critic was entirely correct.

I'll be thinking about The Known World, and about how deeply it's affected me, for many months and years to come.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How important is that Amazon unionization question? Possibly, quite important.

Corey Quinn explains why: You Can’t Trust Amazon When It Feels Threatened.

This teaches us that—when it’s a big enough deal—Amazon will lie to us. And coming from the company that runs the production infrastructure for our companies, stores our data, and has been granted an outsized position of trust based upon having earned it over 15 years, this is a nightmare.

Or, possibly, it was just a Really Stupid Tweet.

Anyway, worth a read.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Vaccine confusion

Here's a snapshot of today's display on the California state Vaccines Dashboard:

I'm trying to understand what those percentages mean.

The "(78%)" for doses administered clearly means that California has administered 78% of the doses it has received -- as of today, California has received 17,661,490 doses of vaccine.

But what about the percentages "(13.7%)" and "(14.9%)" for "People partially vaccinated" and "People fully vaccinated"?

It seems like this should be interpreted as "this is the percentage of the overall population of California".

But the overall population of California as of 2020 is 39.4 million. and 13.7% of 39.4 million is 5,398,000 people, a vastly different number than 4,445,354.

If I reverse the computation, by computing ( (100 / 13.7) * 4,445,354) and also ( (100 / 14.9) * 4,825,765), I end up with 32.4 million.

Is the dashboard assuming that the California population is 32,400,000 people?

It's not like fully vaccinating nearly 5 million people is nothing, of course! But I think it's actually only about 11% of the state population, not 13.7 percent.

I must be misunderstanding something basic.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Antikythera Cosmos work at UCL

A very nice video with an accompanying paper: A Model of the Cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism

Using our identified period relations for all the planets, we have devised new theoretical planetary mechanisms expressing the epicyclic theories, which fit the physical evidence. For the inferior planets, previous 2-gear mechanisms are inadequate for more complex period relations because the gears would be too large. Two-stage compound trains with idler gears are necessary, leading to new 5-gear mechanisms with pin-and-slotted followers for the variable motions (Fig. 3c). For the superior planets, earlier models used direct mechanisms, directly reflecting epicyclic theories with pin-and-slotted followers. Here we propose novel 7-gear indirect mechanisms with pin-and-slot devices for variable motions (Fig. 3d), analogous to the subtle mechanism that drives the lunar anomaly. Compared to direct mechanisms, these are more economical; a better match for the evidence; and incorporate period relations exactly for higher accuracy. The crucial advantages of indirect mechanisms are expanded in Supplementary Discussion S4. Without these compact systems that can all be mounted on the same plate, it would have been impossible to fit the gearing into the available spaces. Proofs that the mechanisms in Fig. 3 correctly calculate the ancient Greek epicyclic theories are included in Supplementary Discussion S4.

I'm not sure how much of this is actually science, it strikes me more as some sort of historical-fiction-done-by-astronomy-loving-nerds.

But it's still quite interesting, and it's got some fun number theory.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Vaccine progress is so slow

Three months into the vaccination effort, I was really hoping for a larger acceleration. But the State's vaccine dashboard is, frustratingly, reporting that the state is averaging just 200,000 doses administered per day.

At this rate, there are still 21 months of vaccination to go before the state is fully vaccinated.

So slow. So slow.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Super Mega Cranes!

I obviously wasn't paying attention three months ago, for I totally missed this news: Port of Oakland to Receive Three Giant New Container Cranes As Tall As 40-Story Buildings. My apologies, I was distracted. I'll try to pay more attention in the future!

But they're here, and they're real, and so here's a detailed follow-up report on the three new Super Mega Cranes that are now installed at the Port of Oakland: Watch a Timelapse Video of Those Three New Giant Cranes Go Up at the Port of Oakland

The three cranes, reportedly now the largest in North America, stand 442 feet tall and move with "greater efficiency" than the smaller models already at the Port. As we learned when they arrived, the cranes are capable of lifting containers up to 174 feet above the dock, and reach 225 feet across cargo ship decks. And the Port of Oakland needs these extra-large cranes to stay competitive, and to be able to offload containers from some of the ultra-large ships now floating around the world.

Forty-story construction projects in Oakland have become almost mundane over the last few years, as a huge residential housing boom in downtown Oakland has raised multiple such condominium towers. I suppose from the highest levels of these new towers, residents will have quite the view of the new cranes.

As the article observes, not only are the cranes getting bigger, but the container vessels are getting bigger, too: If You're Near the Bay Today You Can Watch One of the World's Largest Cargo Ships Carefully Steer Into Port

"The San Francisco Bay is one of the most challenging pilotage grounds in the world and safely piloting these huge ships requires expertise and significant training,” says Capt. Joseph Long, president of the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association, in a statement to KPIX.

In the list of large container ships traipsing the oceans, the MSC Anna ranks high among them — with the top 15 all measuring 400 meters in length, the same as the MSC Anna. The extra width and height of the ship make it an extra challenge for getting safely into the Bay and under two bridges, into port.

Don't miss the fun videos!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Where are the CDC getting their numbers about Missouri COVID?

I don't understand why the CDC COVID Data Tracker is showing such strange numbers for Missouri.

Here's the map:

And here's the top of the numbers that are behind that map:

I've searched all around the Internet, and nobody else seems to be reporting that Missouri are recording 12,000 new cases a day.

But the other top states that I checked (California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York) seem to be matching the numbers that you can find on the state websites. (FWIW, here's the Missouri COVID dashboard, showing that they are currently getting appx 350 new cases per day, state wide.)

I'm puzzled: what's going on here?

UPDATE: Buried in a footnote on the CDC page, we find:

On 08 March 2021, Texas reported 1,295 and Missouri reported 81,806 historical counts of probable cases. This raised the total number of new cases in both Texas, Missouri, and the U.S. during on this day and correspondingly affects the 7-day rolling average of new cases. Without the inclusion of these probable cases in COVID Data Tracker for 08 March 2021, the resultant new cases in the United States on 08 March 2021 would be 41,237.

I guess I wasn't the only person who was puzzled.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Ocean Cleanup is going live!

I had somewhat lost track of The Ocean Cleanup, the ecologically-oriented organization founded by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat a decade ago. I had been paying closer attention to it for a few years because it was doing a lot of research and development from its Alameda, California research site.

So I was pleased to discover that they're continuing to make progress, and this winter they have begun deploying their cleanup machines in major rivers around the globe.

Today, we announced that we are partnering with Konecranes to handle manufacturing and series production of Interceptors in their MHE-Demag facilities in Malaysia – with two in production right now. Over the last year and a half, we have gained valuable insights into the Interceptor technology and, together with Konecranes’ MHE-Demag, we have made updates to the design that improve its operational and manufacturing efficiency.

According to the website, they will be deploying at least one River Interceptor here in California, somewhere in Los Angeles County, presumably on the Los Angeles River somewhere close to its mouth in Long Beach.

The Ocean Cleanup website has lots of great multi-media information about their projects, but I also really enjoyed this nice set of overhead shots from the Dailoy Overview website of the first River Interceptor in Klang, Malaysia. Check out the zoomed-in picture showing the catamaran filling up with plastic rubbish!

Friday, March 5, 2021

Vaccine Confusion

According to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, the entire world is currently averaging about 7 million doses administered per day.

Approximately 2.2 million doses per day are being administered in the United States.

I don't understand how this can work, if the entire rest of the world isn't even managing 5 million doses administered per day.

Oh, dear.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Steady vaccine progress

Bloomberg reports an acceleration in doses administered as the winter travel conditions of mid-February abated:

The biggest gains came through this past weekend with a blockbuster three days of peak doses reported—2.2 million doses delivered on Friday and 2.4 million each on Saturday and Sunday. The push drove the seven-day average back to 1.6 million doses per day.

On Monday, the CDC reported 1.7 million doses administered.

Closer to home, it's beginning to seem almost routine to meet a neighbor and have them tell us that they've received one or even two doses. (Near my home, we have a lot of elderly neighbors, we are still among the young people in our area.)

Case loads still seem extremely high, but perhaps we don't expect those to drop immediately, as the vaccines continue to go to those who are most at risk of death, not those who are most commonly infected.

So hopefully we will soon begin to see an impact as hospitalization rates start to drop?

And then, since death rates are a 6-week trailing data point beyond hospitalization rates, we might see death rates start to drop by mid-April?

Something to hope for as the daffodils pop and the redbuds begin to send out their beautiful little pink flowers.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Steady Vaccine Progress

As California passes the 8 million doses administered mark, the SF Chronicle posted this short table:

Vaccinations in the Bay Area
County	        Doses administered	Doses per 100,000
Napa	        42,854	            30,693
Marin	        76,672	            29,496
Sonoma	        127,381	            25,488
Contra Costa	290,359	            25,420
San Mateo       191,486	            24,952
San Francisco   199,987	            22,857
Alameda	        364,416	            21,996
Santa Clara     404,238	            20,972
Solano	        85,493	            19,350

Since both the current vaccines are 2-dose regimens, this translates to about 8-12% of the population is fully vaccinated, with another 4% or so having received their first dose.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Vaccine administration does appear to be speeding up

AIUI, over the past week the USA has averaged 1.25 million doses administered per day.

But yesterday there were 1.6 million doses administered.

Also, yesterday the doses were about evenly split between first dose and second dose, which is I guess exactly as it should be once the large scale rollouts are all underway.

Meanwhile, here in California, the state is administering just under 200,000 doses a day, and today it should surpass 8 million doses administered, which means (more or less) that 10% of the state's population has been vaccinated.

That's still agonizingly slow; somehow the state has to get much closer to 500,000 doses a day, and soon.

Before it's too late (if it isn't already).

500,000 doses a day would still mean six more months to vaccinate the state.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The impact of the Remote Work switch reaches far beyond the engineers no longer at their desks

Eater San Francisco is running a long article that explores all the enormous shifts and changes that are underway: 10,000 Salesforce Employees Never Have to Buy Lunch Downtown Again.

As the article describes, this isn't just "ping-pong tables and snacks;" it stretches much farther and will re-shape the city and, eventually, the entire Bay Area.

“People would take a little detour after they got off the bus and come and get coffee before they went into their office,” describes Crabbe. “It wasn’t solely Salesforce. There’s a whole economic ecosystem there with all of the companies in that area. There are banks, lawyers, architects, all kinds of people. … And there are people who live down there. The East Cut is a neighborhood. For me, that’s the most heartbreaking thing: We don’t get to see our regulars taking their kids to the rooftop park. We really miss that community. And yes, a lot of it was commuters, but not all of it.”

I haven't been back to the East Cut, where I spent 50 hours a week for 3.5 years, for nearly a year now, and I can only imagine how much it has changed. But people still live there; they can tell us what it's like now:

“It’s completely desolate,” says Keeling. “In the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the park itself, there’s nothing going on. ... It’s going to decimate food retail and other food businesses.” Observing the “gargantuan” tech offices, he fears empty towers and vacant storefronts, juxtaposed with all of the people who need homes in San Francisco. “Looking at all those empty towers, it’s staggering. You have these oversized shafts of glass and steel with no one inside them. It’s eerie.”

And it's not just the East Cut. The entire city will be re-formed, as Eater SF describe in a related article: Off the Grid Is Unlikely to Relaunch Any of Its Food Truck Events in 2021

Apart from its marquee weekend events, the company has focused almost all of its efforts on food truck hubs providing lunch for office workers in San Francisco’s downtown areas — over time, those proved to be much more reliable sources of business for the trucks that participated, Cohen says: “About 75 percent of our public market spaces were serving business lunch needs more so than suburban market needs.”

With office workers continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, those markets were essentially dead in the water. And because Off the Grid is such a power player within the Bay Area mobile food landscape, its virtual disappearance from the scene has had massive ripple effects for local food trucks and pop-up vendors, many of whom were forced to rebuild their entire business model from scratch in order to survive.

Some of this business will indeed re-form, since people need to eat, after all.

But when people are spread out all over the place, where do the food trucks go to find their audience? Some areas are still being active:

it’s likely that the company will look to launch additional locations in more residential areas once we head into the spring and summer — not “markets,” but “food spots,” like the ones currently running in Alameda, Serramonte, and SFO, that function only as takeout pickup locations for a small number of trucks. One advantage of these more modest locations is that participating trucks only have to pay a flat fee, instead of giving the 10 percent cut of their sales that Off the Grid typically charges on top of the fee.

It isn't just food trucks and Michael Mina restaurants that are affected, of course; these are just some of the core topics that Eater SF pay attention to. But the same sorts of transformations are affected every other part of life in San Francisco, and every other part of life throughout the Bay Area.

At some point, a new normal will emerge. San Francisco will surely remain one of the great tourist destinations of the world, with its year-round climate, its spectacular scenery, and its easy access to the rest of the West Coast.

And I don't believe, in my inner heart, that Remote Work is really viable as a long-term approach. Sure, there have been a few successes, such as GitLab, GitHub, Atlassian, Red Hat, etc.

But software development, in the large, which is what the companies in San Francisco do, whether they be straight-up tech companies like Facebook or Twitter, or financial companies such as Charles Schwab or BlackRock, or even entertainment companies such as Lucasfilms or Pixar, is fundamentally and crucially a social activity, requiring enormous interactivity among its participants.

We may be (slowly) improving at holding 15-person Zoom meetings from our bedrooms, but the productivity levels are far from what you achieve with a handful of engineers, a couple boxes of pizza, and a whiteboard that fills the entire wall.

A colleague of mine said to me the other day: "I feel completely adrift; I don't understand how to be effective. In the office, when I got stuck, I'd just get up, stretch my legs, walk around, and ask people questions. Before long, I figured out what was blocking me, and I was back in gear again. Now, I just stay stuck."

How do you form teams, and launch projects? How do you make new connections in other parts of your company? How do you identify and recruit new employees? How do you run a college intern program? All of these activities have for many decades depended on large groups of talented individuals gathering in shared spaces to collaborate.

Some of this never actually changed during 2020: friends I know who worked at early-stage startups say that these companies mostly continued as they were, with a small unfurnished space in some non-descript office building, a bunch of folding tables and Office Depot chairs, and extension cords littering every inch of the floor. That activity will surely continue, but the vast majority of the people in tech industry don't work in those startups, they work in the mega-corps.

We're all trying to re-learn all the skills that we've developed over years of experience, all the techniques that we acquired at school, but this is slow, slow going (and the schools are all closed, too!)

The world is changing, but it will take us a long time to get back to the level of dynamism and activity that we were at in 2019.

And, for now, the hub of that innovation and creativity sits empty and idle, while people are practicing getting onto their conference calls and declaring that "I'm not a cat".

Monday, February 15, 2021

Gears 5: a very short review

Gears 5 is a very fun shoot-em-up game, with lots of squishy alien baddies to vanquish, and all sorts of different sci-fi action in the process.

Unfortunately (for me), Gears 5 is really a multi-player tactical game, to be played online with your friends; the "campaign mode" is pretty much just a multi-hour tutorial on how the combat mechanics work.

There's an "open world" of sorts, but really it's not very open, it's just a pretty landscape that you can zoom around in while you stop off at various locations for various missions. Stories, background, NPCs, locations; Gears 5 doesn't bother with that, it's all about Vanquish The Baddies!!

Very fun, just not what I was looking for right now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Jewels of Paradise: a very short review

When I finish a book, it's typical that I either:

  • like the book, and have a reasonable understanding of why I like it,
  • or, dislike the book, and have a reasonable understanding of why I dislike it

But with Donna Leon's The Jewels of Paradise, I find myself in a funny sort of different state: I really liked the book, but I find it a bit challenging to say why.

The Jewels of Paradise is a nicely-constructed dual-timeline who-done-it, with our heroine, in the current timeline, attempting to solve a mystery that happened 300 years ago.

For a who-done-it, it's a bit low key, for she spends most of her time in the library reading books, and when she isn't reading books she's having a coffee and trading emails with her sister. There's a bit of intrigue about a mysterious fellow who tails her as she walks around Venice, and some more intrigue about a sharp-dressing lawyer who may be trying to play all sides off against each other.

But don't expect a lot of action and thrills and chills in The Jewels of Paradise; about as close as we get to that comes at the conclusion of one of her carefully-worded emails:

She pushed the "send" key, thinking that a person could get to enjoy this James Bond stuff, locked up everything, and went home.

In the end, it is the contemplation of the similarities and contrasts between present-day times versus how things were in the late 17th century that are the most interesting parts of the book. Some things are the same, others are different, but in the end people are people and isn't that really what a who-done-it is all about?

After all the emotion and tumult of the last few months, it was lovely to spend some quiet wintertime hours sitting in my rocking chair, reading a book about a woman who likes to read books.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Praxis Fiber Workshop

In the world of Fiber Art, this is big news!

  • Praxis Fiber Workshop welcomes the TC2!
    The new Digital Weaving Lab at the Praxis Fiber Workshop at Ohio, USA recently welcomed the TC2 loom. And what’s more exciting is that Cathryn Amidei, who’s been associated with Digital Weaving Norway for ages now, is at the helm of affairs…as the Director! She tells us all about the Centre, its Digital Weaving Lab and the plans that are in the pipeline.
  • Director
    Cathryn has been engaged with Jacquard weaving for 15+ years. She has travelled extensively, studying and teaching on the TC2. She spent a year living in Norway working and walking at Tronrud Engineering Headquarters: the Digital Weaving Norway production facility.
  • Cool Cleveland! Praxis Fiber Workshop
    Praxis Fiber Workshop is dedicated to supporting the textile arts, especially the ancient art of weaving. But its new exhibit, Digital Garden, brings that art into the contemporary age, with a display of digital weavings. Curated by gallery director Connie Fu and digital weaving lab director Cathryn Amidei, supported by Kayli Salzano, the show features the work of seven artists including Amidei, Jovencio de la Paz, Gabrielle Duggan, Marianne Fairbanks, Robin Kang, Janice Lessman-Moss and Robert Mertens.

    The exhibit heralds the debut of the new Praxis Digital Weaving Lab.
  • Contact
    The longer I work in this media, the more finely tuned I become to the nature of the matrix and the materials. The materials of the threads, their origins and their dispositions are familiar to me. I am drawn to them, they surround me in many variations. It is also true that the longer I work, the more I explore and thus, the more I see that I do not know. Each piece I make includes those tiny incremental steps forward from the piece before, as well as the hidden processes, the invisible hours and motions and states of mind and body during execution.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

This is, understandably, quite controversial

I imagine that conversations like this are happening all over the country right now: An inside look at how one Bay Area school district is preparing to reopen March 8

The district announced last month a framework to reopen March 8 if three key components fall into place: if public health conditions allow, if a program to test all teachers and students is launched and if an agreement is approved with the teachers union.

In the Golden State, with 6 million public school students, the California Teachers Association has said it wants all educators vaccinated before returning to the classroom; many local unions have also adopted this sentiment.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has said he will not force schools to reopen. Instead, he wants to give them an incentive, proposing a $2 billion “Safe Schools for All” plan, which has been met with criticism from superintendents, unions and lawmakers. It would give schools extra funding for COVID-19 testing and other safety measures if they resume in-person classes. Schools that reopen sooner would get more money.

"Our goal is to open a hybrid TK-5 program that consists of part-time in-class instruction and part-time on-line instruction," district spokeswoman Susan Davis said. "In adherence to county and state public health mandates, our plan is to divide our classes into small cohorts of students and maintain social distancing and mask-wearing for all staff and students. We have also put considerable effort into upgrading our ventilation systems."

"We've all been operating under the assumption we needed to be fewer than 7 cases per 100,000 residents in the county to reopen, but some significant adjustments in the guidance that came to us on Jan. 14 from the governor's office and from the state department of public health are aimed at allowing schools to reopen when the case rate is 25 per 100,000," Pasquale Scuderi, the district superintendent, said in a Jan. 26 video.

I guess one good thing is that, at this point, everybody's at least talking about what the right answer is.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Early vaccination results from Israel are very promising

Take a look at this story that ran on the BBC today: Covid: Israel's vaccine rollout linked to infection fall. There is some remarkably good news from Israel, which have already succeeded in vaccinating half (!!) of their population.

Israel's vaccination programme is showing signs of working to drive down infections and illness in the over-60s.

The fall appears to be most pronounced in older people and areas furthest ahead in their immunisation efforts.

This suggests it is the vaccine, and not just the country's current lockdown, taking effect.

There are lots of details in the linked article.

Vaccine Confusion

On the up side, California has now administered more doses than we've had positive tests: 3.4 million doses have been administered as of Jan 30; 3.3 million positive tests as of Jan 30.

On the down side, it's just so slow.

It took 3 months for California to administer 3 million doses. There are 40 million people in California.

Can we include more vaccines? It seems like America should be pushing for approval of (at least) the vaccines from:

  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Novavax
  • Astra Zeneca

And what about others, such as the Bayer/CureVac mRNA vaccine, or the vaccine developed by Baylor College of Medicine?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Vaccine Confusion

The California Vaccine Dashboard says that Alameda County is currently administering about 8,000 doses per day.

Since both the current vaccines require 2 doses, this means the county is effectively vaccinating 4,000 people per day.

Since Alameda County population is approximately 1.6 million, this means that it will take 400 days to vaccinate 100% of the population, which means we might get there by March 1, 2022.

That's still a long ways away.

On the other hand, the state dashboards also show that Alameda County is currently experiencing about 500 new COVID-19 cases per day.

So for every new case of COVID-19, eight other people are getting protected.

That's something to be happy about.

But 8,000 doses administered a day. It. Just. Seems. To. Be. Taking. So. Long.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

More vaccine confusion

The California Vaccines Dashboard doesn't make it super easy to see the progress of vaccination as, say, a graph showing the numbers day-by-day would.

But just by eyeballing the numbers each day, it seems to me that California is currently administering 120,000+ doses per day, which is double the 60,000 daily doses that the state was administering just a week ago.

Clearly the state can't double its dose delivery every week.

But if we could just double the dose delivery one or two more times, so that we were up to, say, 400,000 doses per day, we'd be able to vaccinate the state by June.

Meanwhile, a question: as of today, the state has had 3,153,186 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and has administered 2,587,736 vaccination doses. When will doses administered exceed confirmed cases? Will it be in January?

My prediction is that it will occur on Feb 2, and that on that day we'll see 3,250,000 confirmed cases, and 3,300,000 doses administered.

The Corner Refuge Island comes to the Island

Over the past decade, the city of Alameda has been working steadily to improve its bike-friendliness.

Bike-friendly cities are not unusual in California; the college towns of Davis and Santa Barbara are perhaps the best known , but there are lots of others.

But here's a fascinating article about the latest steps being taken closer to (my) home: Eyes on the Street: Alameda’s First Fully Protected Intersection.

Alameda will soon join the ranks of cities with a fully built out, Dutch-style protected intersection. Construction is well underway at Otis and Grand, a previously notorious junction.

A big part of the new design is the use of a Corner Refuge Island, which is certainly not new to Alameda. Refuge Islands have been popping up all over The Island City over the past few years, most notably along the state beach but in many other locations as well.

The StreetsBlog page points to a City of Alameda page where most of the details are spelled out: Otis Drive Traffic Safety Improvements.

The StreetsBlog page also embeds a very clear video explaining the concept, from Nick Falbo's

We had only been living in Northern California for a few years when Critical Mass began. At the time, there was an often-tense mixture of consciousness raising and confrontational agitation for change. I have close friends who participated in Critical Mass, for many good reasons, even though they later abandoned that effort.

It seems in a way a shame that it has taken three decades to get from the point where people had to stage protests and demonstrations in order to get attention to these problems, but on the other hand taking the positive perspective: look how far things have come in just three decades!

Now the announcement of significant traffic pattern changes to favor a bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly way of life is barely noticed, receiving more nods of acceptance and understanding than frowns of antagonism.

The particular section of the city is about out of my regular bicycle range from my house, but someday I will make a trip over there and enjoy using the Corner Refuge Island myself.

This is going to be a big winter storm

The weather predictions (yeah, I know) are suggesting that, essentially, the entire Sierra Nevada range, from Donner Pass all the way down to almost as far south as Kernville, is going to get at least four feet of snow over the next 96 hours, with the heart of the Sierras getting significantly more than that.

And most of the Central Coast, from Big Sur down to Los Padres, should see from seven to ten inches of rain during that same period of time.

Stay safe, everyone, and let's let Mother Nature fill up the reservoirs for next spring.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Stormy Weather: a very short review

As was the case with the other Jiles novels I have read, Stormy Weather is a novel of strong women in hard times.

In this case, our heroine is Jeanine Stoddard, who had the bad luck to become a teenager just as the Great Depression arrived. Soon her family have become migrants, traveling from town to town as their father tries to find work.

They lose jobs, lose housing, lose belongings, make do with less and then still less, and then things start to get really bad, until Stormy Weather reaches a point where so many heart-breaking tragedies have been visted upon the Stoddards that I actually put the book down for a while to rest.

And then I picked it back up, and I am so glad I did.

Jeanine and her sisters don't just endure hardships, they triumph over them. She looks adversity in the mouth, gives it a swift punch in the chops, and somehow finds a way through it.

It's interesting to read a book about the Great Depression during the pandemic years of 2020-2021. And it's particularly interesting when it's an extremely well-written book, such as Stormy Weather. We, in our modern times, know only a little about the Great Depression. It wasn't so long ago, but it is now long enough in the past that most of us don't hear about the Great Depression from our grandparents or some other relatives who lived through it firsthand. Rather, people like me learn about the Great Depression from authors like Agee, or Steinbeck, or Dos Passos.

Perhaps Jiles is not yet ready to be classed among these, but Stormy Weather is beautiful and vivid in its own plain-spoken, blunt, direct manner:

So they began to make their lives there, throughout the fall and winter of 1937. They tried to piece their lives together the way people draw maps of remembered places; they get things wrong and out of proportion, they erase and redraw again. From the radio they heard of people dying in the dust storms just to the north of them, in Oklahoma and the Panhandle. That Gloria Vanderbilt was reduced to dressmaking for a living. Of the faraway rich with more money than there ever was in the world while men starved and had no work and women starved and worked both, of strikes at the textile mills in Rhode Island and all the people going to California to pick peas or whatever there was to pick. But the Hamilton clock seemed to tell only of their own long hours of labor against the dust and the drought. They were in the midst of the Dirty Thirties, and that decade's modish obsession with important people in far places, with gangsters and movie stars and oil barons and swing bands. It was easy to feel themselves invisible and empty of significance, to forget that behind every human life is an immense chain of happenstance that includes the gravest concerns; murder and theft and betrayal, great love; lives spent in burning spiritual devotion and others in miserly denial; that despite the supposed conformity of country places there might be an oil field worker who kept a trunk of fossil fish or a man with a desparate stutter who dreamed of being a radio announcer, a dwarf with a rivet gun or an old main on a rooftop with a telescope, spending her finest hours observing the harmonics of the planetary dance.

I'm sure it is easy, if you set out to write a book about the Great Depression, to want to write about "important people in far places," and to forget that the Depression was really about people who were "invisible and empty of significance."

Jiles is fully aware that the way you tell the stories of great events, such as the Civil War (Enemy Women) or the opening of the western frontier (News of the World) or the Great Depression (Stormy Weather), is to tell the stories of the ordinary people who inhabited these places and times. As she reveals in an afterword, the ordinary people in Stormy Weather, like those in Enemy Women and News of the World, were in fact her own ancestors, and the strength and honesty of her writing comes directly from the strength and honesty of these people, doing what they had to in the situations in which they found themselves.

And, somehow, though hard work, patience, effort, and a fair bit of that thing we call luck, such people find joy, as they always do:

This turned the conversation toward marriage in general. They waited out the dust storm that was hammering against the steel sides of the drive shed by giving their opinions on marriage during a time of Depression and drought and dust storms. And a very short man said that no matter what happened in the world people got married. It didn't have anything to do with what the weather was like or if you had any money or not, people just went and got married. Another man said that a war was coming and here this boy was in the service, that was something you had to keep in mind. He could get sent to some aerodrome in a foreign country. But the short man said it didn't matter about wars, either. It was the damnedest thing. He didn't know what would matter, anywise.

And, for me, this is what made Stormy Weather a near-perfect book for me to read during the dark days of the winter of 2020.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Vaccine confusion -- 5 years until Californians are vaccinated?

Dr. Erica Pan of the California Department of Public Health says that the state is only receiving about 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine a day: Vaccinating Californians 65 and older could take until June, likely delaying rollout to other groups.

The current pace could change if the federal government speeds up shipments beyond the current rate of 300,000 to 500,000 doses each week, Pan said.

There are 40 million people in California.

Each person needs 2 doses of vaccine.

At 50,000 doses a day, it will take 1,600 days to vaccinate all of California.

That's 5 years.

Oh, dear.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The port of Long Beach is full?

I wandered into this interesting story on the site: Inside California’s colossal container-ship traffic jam.

It sounds like there's a two part problem: lots of cargo wants to arrive in the port, and onshore cargo processing is significantly slowed down by COVID impacts in Southern California.

In an alert to customers this week, carrier Hapag-Lloyd reported, “All terminals [at Los Angeles/Long Beach] continue to be congested due to the spike in import volumes and [this] is expected to last until February.

“Terminals are working with limited labor and split shifts,” it said, asserting that this is related to COVID. “This labor shortage affects all terminals’ TAT [turnaround time] for truckers, inter-terminal transfers and the number of daily appointments available for gate transactions and delays our vessel operations.”

Monday, January 18, 2021

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and One Night in Miami: two very short reviews

Over my holidays, I watched two very interesting movies.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, airing on Netflix, is set in the 1920's, and tells the story of a day when Ma Rainey and her band spent the day at a recording studio in Chicago, recording their newest album.

Ma Rainey herself was a famous blues singer and her records from the 1920's are justly treasured. The movie, though, is not really about music, and not really very much about Rainey herself. The primary plot arc of the movie involves one of her band members, a young musician with ambition, hopes, and dreams to become a star entertainer on his own.

The movie is an adaptation of a famous stage play by August Wilson, and the movie makers decided to use a very "stage-like" production, so you really feel like you're sitting in the theater watching the play in person. At times that is distracting but overall the result is tremendous.

One Night in Miami, airing on Amazon, is set in the 1960's, and tells an imagined story of what might have happened later at night after Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight world champion in boxing.

After the match, instead of drinking and dancing all night long, Clay convinces his guests, NFL superstar Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke, to join him as he makes a trip to a nearby hotel room to visit Malcom X. As the movie portrays it, this was the night that Clay agreed to follow Malcom X and join the Nation of Islam church; soon afterward he would change his name to Muhammad Ali.

Although the lead characters of the movie are athletes and entertainers, the movie has very little singing and very little sports. It's really a movie that, for large long parts, is four guys sitting around in a quiet hotel room at night, talking about their lives and about what lies ahead.

But those discussions are as gripping and mesmerizing as you can possibly imagine. Brown and Cooke are both struggling to understand why Clay has made this decision, and the resulting conversations are deep and heartfelt.

We're only just a few weeks into 2021, but one thing I can already say is that you should not be lacking for fine cinema entertainment. Both these movies are very much worth your time.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

I wonder if the Lavarand at Cloudflare HQ is still running

As I approach the one year anniversary of when I stopped going into San Francisco every weekday, I find myself wondering what has changed about SoMa, and what is still the same.

For example, one of my regular mid-day walks used to take me past the Cloudflare HQ down by the ballpark, where I would walk past their lobby Lavarand installation.

I believe it wasn't just for show, though certainly it was an interesting piece of art, so I assume that it's still running.

Anybody happen to know?

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Why are the US not taking advantage of the AstraZenica/Oxford COVID vaccine?

It is proving extremely effective in the UK, and is cheap and much easier to distribute and administer than the alternatives.

I am confused by this.

Good news for bad times

In these awful dreadful days, let me shine a bit of light: the best financial reporter in the world, belay that, one of the best writers on ANY subject in the world right now, the wonderful Matt Levine, has returned from paternity leave and is publishing again!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Perhaps the U.S. is listening to the wise Canadians

CNN are reporting that, on January 20th, the US will switch to the First Doses First allocation policy.

May it be so.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

If I ever do get around to reading Dorothy Sayers...

... I suspect I ought to read her with Bill Peschel as a guide: The Wimsey Annotations

Actually, maybe this is a good goal for 2021: read some Sayers!

Tirimo's Complete Beethoven Piano Works

Ah, there is no better way to start a New Year than with new music!

Actually, rather old music in this case, though newly-recorded: Complete Piano Works

I can't possibly tell you everything about this boxed set -- there are 16 CDs after all!

Tirimo, on the other hand, is probably known to all, though I am just learning about him. He is a Cypriot who spent much of his youth training in Italy, as I understand it.

The recordings are beautiful.

It will be just fine to give my old Brendel sonatas set a rest for a while, and spend some quality hours with Mr. Tirimo and his beautiful renditions of the most beautiful music ever written (sorry messrs Bach, Mozart, etc., but I'm with Schroeder on this one :) ).

Monday, January 4, 2021

Solutions and Other Problems: a very short review

What seems like an eternity ago, but was actually just 12 years ago, I was utterly enthralled by Allie Brosh's blog-turned-Internet-comic-strip-turned-(eventually)-book, Hyperbole and a Half.

I read it eagerly, re-read it even more eagerly, raved about it to colleagues, friends, family, went back months later to re-read parts even again. And when it became a book, read that, too.

I couldn't wait for her to write more.

Then: nothing.

Years passed, a decade passed, I had completely forgotten about her work when up popped a notice somewhere saying that I could order her new book: Solutions and Other Problems.

So, naturally, I did. And, just at the holidays, it arrived.

Putting aside at least half a dozen other books that were ahead of it on the stack, I flew through Solutions and Other Problems like someone possessed.

So, what can I tell you?

Firstly, this is a heavy book.

I mean literally it is heavy! It is over 500 pages, printed on beautiful heavy glossy paper, to highlight Brosh's continually fascinating artwork, and the book must weigh at least 3 pounds.

But also, and more importantly, this is a heavy book.

A quick survey of some of the topics covered by the stories in Solutions and Other Problems:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stalking
  • Loneliness
  • Self-image
  • Divorce
  • Death

Uh, yeah, really.

The thing is, I can't really think of anyone else who could pull this off like Brosh does. When I search for words to describe what she's done in her art, I come up with words like: clarity, honesty, truth, vision, insight.

This is probably not the sort of book to read on a dark, gray, rainy day.

Or maybe it is? After all, I did, and I loved it!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Yellowstone (Series): a very short review

I was sufficiently intrigued by Yellowstone to give it a try. It's a big-budget epic about the Modern West, with Kevin Costner leading a star-studded cast. It took a long time to finally watch it, though, because although I put it on my queue in April 2020, Netflix kept reporting "Very Long Wait". Disk One eventually did arrive, though.

Anyway, we made it through most of Episode One and gave up. It's a strange marriage of the lyricism of Longmire, the soap opera grandness of Dallas, and the grittiness of Justified, with NONE of the charms of any of those wonderful shows.

There. Now you know what you need to know.