Frank and I were recently in China, where by contrast the government eagerly invests in universities and academic research. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think countries like China (and Sweden, etc.) are on the brink of inheriting the educational wealth of the United States as young people who want to do science become economic exiles.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a time when @frankwilczek was on sabbatical, so that the Marriott Residence Inn of Tempe AZ became our temporary home.
We spent fun time with our children in the Marriott Residence Inn of Austin, TX, over Christmas break. Contrary to what your image may be of Texas, this was a smaller location with smaller rooms and a much less useful kitchen (no actual oven, and double beds rather than queen size.) Still the presence of children makes up for a lot, and the nearby-ness of Austin’s amazing Drafthouse Ritz Cinema makes up for almost as much.
But I digress. The point of this blogpost is that the delicious hotel-provided free microwave popcorn here needs to cook for about 5 or 10 seconds less than the Popcorn setting on the admirable hotel-provided microwave oven. So that tonight, we ended up setting off our smoke alarm, which is very very loud. And which predictably caused the nice people at the front desk to call the Tempe fire department.
If you should experience this exciting event, here is my advice. Drench the smoking bag of popcorn under your faucet asap. This stops it from making new billows of black popcorn smoke.
Call the front desk (or send someone down there) to alert Tempe’s Fire Department that nothing is currently on fire in your hotel room. Turn on the fan of the microwave. Prop open the door to the hallway with one chair or even two. Open some windows. And the hideously noisy alarm will stop making noise.
Then you can smile quite complacently and write a blogpost…
I almost left out the best part! When I went downstairs to the front desk with my dripping, formerly smoking bag of popcorn, the very sweet people behind the desk (besides calling the Tempe Fire Department, etc.) asked me, “Would you like another bag of popcorn?”
I love you, Tempe Downtown Marriott Residence Inn!
My mother could remember when an electric iron and central heating were huge tech novelties.
I can remember my first pocket calculator (which cost a fortune!), and I remember how long I kept using my CRC handbook and sliderule anyway, not the new toy. I remember my first VHS, the freedom of time-shifting or just re-watching good movies. And my first home computer! But all those were commonplace items to my two daughters.
My daughters remember a time before there was an Internet; a time before smartphones, Siri, ubiquitous constant connection via the “cloud.” To their children, all those will be unremarkable facts, as commonplace as deliveries from the coal man and the ice man were to my mother’s household in the 1920s.
My mother was 8 years old when women got the vote. Soon thereafter, her aunts daringly drove from Northampton to Springfield in order to have their long hair “bobbed” by a barber. Oh, the freedom of not spending hours every day maintaining long hair — and oh, the wonderful freedom of owning a car!
All new technology pokes and prods our shared culture. Even despite some nostalgia, most of us would be reluctant to give up our latest new tech freedoms.
Here’s hoping the book that inspired these thoughts (The Second Machine Age, by Erik Bryniolfsson and Andrew McAfee) will provide more answers than I can now see by myself.
Coming soon to a PR debacle near you… the carefully crafted non-apology apology that admits no guilt or liability for whatever it is that upset a whole lot of people but instead works to show the (alleged) wrongdoer is in fact the victim here, and anybody who judges said (alleged) wrongdoer is just as bad as the whistleblower(s) who made (alleged) misdeeds public. Or, in other words, worse than H****r.
Note the Creative Commons license that I pasted right on the bingo card, Internet people. Because it is mine and I made it. So don’t you go be worse than H****r because I am counting on Google to buy this from me for a million gazillion dollars.
Because Google might not need this Bingo card yet, but in the long run, Google, you’ll need it.
What a Wonderful World, sung by Eva Cassidy
When I listen to Eva Cassidy, already diagnosed with the metastatic cancer that would be killing her, singing at her final concert “What a Wonderful World,” my tears are not so much, or at least not only for young Eva Cassidy, but for all of us, so ready to love and create and be generous (if our early lives don’t take those hopes out of our hearts) but instead shunted off into harder and lesser and more painful lives than our childhoods imagined. And even then, our hearts keep hoping and dreaming of love and fulfillment. They keep looking for chances to give joy to people we love.
I have to say, if I were god, it would never in ten million years occur to me to create any hell to punish my people. Instead, my heart would be breaking daily to witness their courage, their generosity, their imagination. Instead of plotting dark hells for the people who did not worship me in exactly the right way, I would be knocking myself out to figure out how my god-powers could be used to stop suffering and to make people more kind and more joyful. But of course, this is me, Betsy, oldest of four children, who can advise even gods! (I still think I’m right though.)
Doing my bit to get this little vignette added some day to a learned biography of Frank Wilczek:
Me: (sitting in living room, working on Internet stuff) (silence)
Frank: (sitting on porch, working on physics stuff) (laughing and laughing)
Me: (still in living room, not working) What? Oo, what’s funny, what?
Frank: (walking in from porch with open book in his hand, full of enthusiasm) It’s a great quote from Wittgenstein!
And if you didn’t know yet that he’s a sweet-natured guy, he agreeably posed for this picture with his great quote in view on top of the new Viking book he bought at the supermarket and is having fun reading.
Today (July 23, 2013) Frank and I played hookey from both our to-do lists to continue on with our plan of 40 ice cream cones (in honor of our 40th anniversary.)
Once the hookey plan had been formulated, we completely did it in spades. We went out to lunch at the Weathervane over near Concord. We went to a very enjoyable movie (20 Feet From Fame) at an art house theater in Concord. We bought some health foods at the Concord Co-Op in Concord. And finally, we made our way to a new destination called Dips, where you can make your own frozen yogurt dessert from Stonyfield Yogurt and NH dairy products plus really awesome toppings including my favorite, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
I tried three different flavors of frozen yogurt: Original Tart, Salted Caramel, and (sinfully sweet) Cotton Candy. All were super, but I couldn’t finish my cup.
If you are wondering what became of #2, Frank and I had breakfast together last week in Great Neck on Long Island (NY) and our breakfast was (yum) frozen yogurt with granola topping. Sadly, neither of us now remembers the name of the restaurant, but we definitely will go back there.
If you are still reading this .. please, go buy yourself your own ice cream cone!
We now have three fish again eating up mosquito larvae that try to start new lives in our backyard pond. In this photo you can see two of the three — the two you can see are named Silver and Trigger, for two cowboy horses of our TV childhood.
There was a time when our fish were fancier. A few small koi lived in the pond when we bought his house, years ago. But despite a deep under-rock hole where they can supposedly live all winter long, our koi died in the winter. Koi are delicate blossoms, say the knowledgeable young folk of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, MA (it’s well worth a visit to those true a-fish-ionados.)
So now, we avoid springtime sadness with comets and shubunkin, sturdy small fishlings who survive and even make babies out there in the pond.
Another thing (my) longevity taught me: how to name pond fish. There is a counter-story behind that knowledge. One earlier fishless springtime, I named three small new fish for the three kids’ roles in a play I once wrote — Beauty, Truth, and Justice. But not long thereafter, I had the sad job of telling the family, “I’m sorry to say that for some reason Beauty died…”
It was a sad moment.
So now I name animals after other animals, a practice I recommend to you. And who knows what new wisdom I may discover in my next sixty-plus years?