Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Splendid Spotify

Long day... long week... endless meetings and class prep...

For recovery, might I recommend searching spotify for "It Never Entered My Mind," one of the loveliest yet saddest songs in the American songbook, and listening to one after another after another... Sinatra and Miles Davis perhaps the best, but also Peggy Lee... Johnny Hartman... 

Once I laughed when I heard you saying 
that I'd be playing solitaire, 
uneasy in my easy chair. 
It never entered my mind. 

Coolest album cover ever?

Quite possibly, but what would you expect from the coolest musician ever (almost by definition)? The music is outstanding too, especially when Miles plays every note out of tune, just to send a very blue chill down your spine...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Buy this album!

Offspring's latest. Good music for a good cause.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

The growing inequality of death

Stunning, scary. Seems like it should be question #1 at any presidential debate...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

At the risk of immodesty...

... I would say I am an excellent stone skipper. But not this good.

Master and Commander

I watched the movie again, having seen it in the theatre when it came out. A very fine entertainment by Peter Weir... it really takes you there, and captures some of the high-minded spirit of the novels, with the classical music and natural history. Russell Crowe is perfect. The plot moves along briskly and efficiently. The action scenes are chaotic and exciting. The mis-en-scène is undoubtedly less gritty and nasty than life must have been aboard those tall ships, but enough so to make it cinematically compelling. Your heart might just stir a little for old England during the corny Lord Nelson scene.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Yes, robots will take your job...

... just not next year... but someday. If you want to know what it feels like, just ask Roger Federer.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

I'm a pretty good cook!

I love food, and most nights I'd rather eat my own cooking than go out and eat someone else's. How did I learn to cook? A lot of it was trial and error, and Mom, but if one person is responsible for whatever skills I have in the kitchen, it is Jacques Pépin. His TV cooking shows are never intimidating, always encouraging a degree of ease with improvisation and imprecision, but all the while teaching good technique and good taste. His charm, humility, and humor go a long way, but also the sense, lesson after lesson, that you'd really like to be eating whatever it is he has just made. I hope to catch some of his final series.

I arrived late to this party...

... but I will surely miss Key & Peele. A humanistic blend of Chappelle and Python, they hit a lot more often than they missed...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The meek may not inherit the earth...

... but the tardigrades surely will...
Confronted with drying, rapid temperature changes, changes in water salinity or other problems, tardigrades can curtail their metabolism to 0.01 percent of normal, entering a kind of suspended animation in which they lose “the vast, vast, vast majority of their body water,” Dr. Siddall said. They curl up into something called a “tun.” 
Tuns can be subjected to atmospheric pressure 600 times that of the surface of Earth, and they will bounce right back. They can be chilled to more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit below zero for more than a year, no problem. The European Space Agency once sent tuns into space: Two-thirds survived simultaneous exposure to solar radiation and the vacuum of space. 
Without water, “the damaging effects of freezing cannot happen,” Dr. Siddall explained. “It protects against heat because the water inside cannot turn into a gas that expands.” Even radiation needs water to do damage, he said. When cosmic radiation hits water in a cell, it produces a highly reactive form of oxygen that damages cell DNA. The tun doesn’t have this problem.

Tuns have been reconstituted after more than a century and brought back to life as tardigrades, looking not a day older.
Holy crap. Photo:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Scottish Highland Gathering and Games

I've never been to Scotland, but it's hard to imagine there are many places less like Scotland than Pleasanton, CA, a pretty and prosperous little town in the "Tri-Valley" near San Jose. Being over the ridge to the east of the Bay, the climate is hot and dry in the summer... the hills are crispy and dormant, not misty and verdant. Nevertheless, the Scottish Games have settled here on the Alameda County Fairgrounds. The organizers claim this is the sesquicentennial. Impressive... Scots can hardly have been her much longer than that...

Plaid and kilts much in evidence... and beer, and whisky. Of course, county-fair food, and the big bellies and butts that accompany it. Folks who claim Scots heritage or affinity come in droves and park their RVs among their "clans."

What were the highlights?

#3: Caber-tossing. I learned a lot about this sport. That's not saying much... I knew nothing about it except brawny guys try to hurl a big log. Most importantly, I learned that it has nothing to do with how far you toss the thing, but rather with how the caber lands. It's rather difficult. There are now women as well as men tossing the things.

#2: Albannach. A very spirited Scottish band featuring percussion and one bagpipe guy and a lot of tattoos, plus a dude on didgeridoo, which is a fine addition to any band with bagpipes. Drone on!

#1: Sheep dog trials. We arrived late and managed to catch only three dogs. I've seen this on TV, and, frankly, it's a lot more entertaining than you might suppose. Alas, these dogs were not the best, but the task is extremely challenging. The sheep really are not inclined to cooperate, and the dog must be unfailingly focused and strategic. I have thought of sport as a human activity at a very high level, but these dogs are fine athletes in every sense of the word.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Purisima Creek

Coast-side, there's plenty of fog and condensation, so the creeks are running even at summer's end during this severe drought year. A little piece of Oregon for the parched California hiker...



Alders are the pioneers in a logged-over creek bed...

Elk clover... always seems disproportionately large...

A section of redwoods in the canyon floor have crazy burls...

We're number one!

In the NY Times noted today...
The United States has long been the world’s largest donor to the international programs that deliver the most direct assistance to refugees, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Refugee Organization, the World Food Program and others.
But of course we're also the biggest economy on the planet: aggregates always make us look pretty good. How are we doing relative to population, or national income? Here are some numbers on overall humanitarian assistance from governments, for the top 20 donor countries. The per citizen numbers are in dollars per person per year.  Source: Table 10.6.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nathan Rosenberg, RIP

Nate was one of my professors in grad school at Stanford, and I was in touch with him intermittently until recent years. Stanford's announcement of his death is here. Nate made his reputation as an economic historian of technological change, and he was an important teacher and mentor to a number of economic historians and students of technological change who passed through the Stanford program. We will remember him fondly.

Nate's work was considered "old school" in the sense of being qualitative and narrative, rather than quantitative in the spirit of the cliometric revolution that swept the field during the 1960s and 70s. But understanding technological change has remained a real challenge to economic theory and empirics both, no matter how mathematically sophisticated, and Nate's ideas, if occasionally informal and fuzzy by current standards, remain insightful. For example, the idea of technological disequilibrium: that incremental progress along certain technological lines produced tensions that spurred innovation in complementary areas. Or the importance of information sharing and local agglomeration economies, for example in nineteenth-century New England machine shops, an early example of the kind of knowledge-based local economy that we associate with Silicon Valley.

I interviewed Nate in 1994 for the newsletter of the Cliometric Society, an interview that was later published in a collection by Routledge. Here is a link to the interview. Nate's longstanding engagement with the history of economic thought comes out in the interview, including his mixed feelings about Marx... probably typical of many red-diaper babies like him. His relative agnosticism about neoclassical vs. heterodox ideas in economics was a plus to a generation of PhD students attracted to alternative approaches to economics in the 1970s and 1980s, including me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015