angiosperms are hot

From a ScienceNow article (subscription required):

The fossil record is chock-full of angiosperms, a testament to the extraordinary explosion of flowering plants that began around 140 million years ago. Today, angiosperms boast a diversity of 250,000 to 300,000 species, compared to 10,000 kinds of ferns… Most major lineages of polypod ferns, which comprise more than 80% of today’s fern species, arose and diversified a mere 100 million years ago, after the major riot of flowering plants… “The idea that the polypods took advantage of the angiosperms– that’s hot!” says David Barrington of the University of Vermont in Burlington.

In fact, one might call it the hotness if one were into California slang… scientists are fun and funny folk.

bathroom tiles

On the way to the library today I stopped in the bathroom in O’Brien, one of the not-so-recently renovated engineering buildings. The style reminded me of the men’s room in 14N at MIT. Although much of the floor had been pasted over with a faux-tile laminate, there was still a patch of the old square-tile and grout floor that must have come with the original design. The original monochrome (blue in this case) pattern of speckled tile looked random to me because of the small patch, whereas the laminate I knew came in huge patterned sheets. I wonder if the workers who put in the original floor got to put in the design themselves, or if the patter was pre-specified by the architect.

Nowadays a tile floor like that would be fabricated off-site and just installed, the deisgn having been specifically chosen by the architect to change the way in which we interact with the bathroom floor or to provide a pleasing visual experience to the lavatory users. I imagine someone putting a Magic Eye stereogram in tiles on the floor so that when you’re sitting on the can and zoning out a 3D roll of toilet paper will pop up in your visual field. The idea is about as egregious as the furniture design for the Stata Center at MIT that Rodin rightfully abhors. I rather like the idea of someone taking the time to put in the floor by hand, tile after tile, and perhaps “misplacing” a blue square here and there to mix it up. It would be like writing a comment on the architecture. I’m sure there are all sorts of theoretical implications, but they’d take too much space to sort out.

the robustness of uncoded transmission

Tooling like a madman is not at all like riding a bike — you do forget over time. And much to my dismay, tooling on my research does not take the same form as tooling on the Mystery Hunt. I have one crucial ingredient : coffee. Now add a dash of techno, one chalkboard (whiteboard will do in a pinch), and garnish with some zest of fresh madness. A dish best served cold, to harden one’s resolve.


by Michael Chabon. It’s been a while since I had to stay up past my bedtime to finish a book. Summerland was a nice breath of fresh air though my brain, a good way to welcome in the spring. Chabon’s first children’s novel doesn’t quite have the breadth of Kavalier and Clay, but it has inventiveness to spare. I didn’t find it as delightful as Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but it was fun, witty, and pulled me along for the ride.

Unlike Neil Gaiman, who’s Ragnarok-inspired American Gods delighted me with its innovative moderization of ancient pantheons, Chabon conflates the Native American Coyote with Loki, conjures up a mournful She-Sasquatch, and adds a healthy dose of English folk magic as well. A good original fantasy is beholden to no particular mythos, and Chabon picks and chooses his cultural references with gleeful abandon. Part of the joy for me as an adult reader was picking out these folkloric references.

The only downside in my opinion was that the whole book was about baseball. Everyone (giants, werefoxes, and Coyote himself) plays baseball, and I’m just not a baseball fan. Perhaps it’s an even stronger endorsement of the book that I liked it despite its obsession with our national game.

I’m now re-motivated to look at some of my old plays, including A Head For Ganesh to see if I can whittle down the lumpiness therein. There’s a world of difference between a novel and a play, but they both try to tell a story, and in this case, both in a magical way.

advice via ms. randall

Before I rant, a little background. Before becoming my 6th grade homeroom teacher (go team Supernova!) at Urbana Middle School (neé Urbana Junior High), Ms. Randall was an elementary school teacher. While driving out of the teacher’s parking lot in her minivan one afternoon, she hit a child who was careening down the sidewalk in a bicycle. The child was not wearing a helmet and died from the impact. All of this had a profound impact on Ms. Randall — as an educator of children this was about the worst thing that could happen. And so Ms. Randall became a helmet evangelist. It wasn’t that she claimed the child was at fault for not wearing a helmet, but she tried to impress on her audiences that the world is a dangerous place for bicyclists and that we should always wear helmets to mitigate serious injuries. And not soft-shell helmets either, but hard shell helmets that passed stringent crash-test requirements.

Of course, we all thought she was a bit of a nutter, not because she thought helmets were a good idea, but because she was so evangelical about it, and for several other quirks which some of use attributed to the shock of the accident. I suppose that her message must have sunk in though, because I am filled with an irrational rage at Berkeley bikers who don’t wear helmets. Much of this has to do with these bikers’ complete and utter disregard for traffic rules such as right-of-way, one-way streets, stop signs, and yes, even traffic lights. There is a definite positive correlation between lack-of-helmet and this kamikaze approach to city roadways. Perhaps the helmet keeps their brains from sloshing around too much so they can remember traffic laws.

As an aside, let me mention what these confusing traffic laws are: bikes are like any other vehicle. They must stop at stop signs, yield the right of way, and not go the wrong way down one-way streets. I regularly see bikes cruise through busy 4-way stops without even pausing or acknowledging the cars in the cross-direction, dodging though red-lights if there is no oncoming traffic, and cruising the wrong way down one-way streets, occupying an entire lane no less.

The bikes act as if they own this town, and it’s time to stop. I often bike to school, but there’s a line that has to be drawn between making a statement and being stupid. You don’t convince people to start riding their bikes more by acting like arrogant suicidal assholes. If you don’t know how to downshift when you come to an intersection, learn. If you get too tired from stopping and starting, get stronger. And for god’s sake, wear a fucking helmet before some motorist splatters your brains across the asphalt.

Thank you, Ms. Randall.


A lunch with a warm bowl of vichyssoise, a smoked ham and mozzarella sandwich, a tall glass of orange juice, sunlight streaming through an open window, and Michael Chabon’s Summerland is an excellent way to maintain the illusion that it’s still spring break at noon on Monday. Try it sometime.

it don’t mean a thing

Last night Erin Rhode and I went to Ashkenaz for an evening with Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, an East Coast Swing/Lindyhop show. Ashkenaz is an odd venue in Berkeley — all sorts of world music, hip-hop, cajun, swing, klezmer, you name it and they play it, as long as it’s not rock-n-roll. The inside resembles a barn more than anything else, exposed rafters and everything. It’s not that big, but there was still quite a bit of room for dancing.

Erin managed to teach me the rudiments of a rock step and a few turns after dinner at home, but I was totally intimdated by the swing-savvy in evidence on the floor. She convinced me to dance one number before I (a) re-twisted my ankle badly and (b) stepped on some woman who looked like my 6th grade teacher and who proceeded to glare at me in a way that suggested detention was in order. I nearly fled the place but ended up driving around the block until my embarrassment faded. We spend the rest of the night standing or sitting and watching the other dancers (lame, I know).

Lavay Smith ended up annoying me more than entertaining me. She was very lackadaisical in her singing, preferring instead to do a few vocal nods in the direction of growling and wailing, and otherwise tossing off lyrics like she was too good for the place. What drew the line for me though was that she started the second set visibly intoxicated. Erin picked up on the slight slurring first, but once it was pointed out to me I could tell some of the band members weren’t sure how to proceed with the show while she waved at various people in the crowd.

All that aside though, I had a good time. Even if she was not so hot, the Skillet Lickers were hot enough to compensate. I was particularly impressed with the alto sax player. And they played Blue Skies, which is one of my favorite tunes. I’m still looking for the Brent Spiner version from that otherwise atrocious Star Trek movie — if anyone has a tip on that, let me know.