Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Numeracy

The whole country, and perhaps the whole world, is currently in the thrall of swine flu. And a consequence, a backlash, almost, is a better understanding of the regular flu.
One figure that has been quoted a lot over the past couple of days is that "the regular flu kills 36,000 people in the US a year": and the universal reaction to this seems to be "Wow! That's huge -- I didn't know it was that many".
Now, I haven't investigated the accuracy of the figure, but let's take it as accurate, and view it from two different angles. First, the figure does seem high: that seems like a huge number of people. A moderately sized small city, even. But let's turn it around: it means that each year, something like 1/10,000 of the population of the US will have a serious enough case of the flu that they die. In other words, if you live 10,000 years, then you've got a pretty good chance of living long enough to die from the flu.
Or, if the death rate each year is between 1/50 and 1/100 of the population, then the odds of dying from the flu are between 1/100 and 1/200. That seems rather better, especially when you think of the folks who you hear about having some sort of weakened system and end up dying from the flu: 1/50 sounds rather low!

My point is not that H1N1, swine flu, is not scary. Nor that we should be complacent about ordinary flu. Rather, I'd like us to calm down, think about the figures, which presented one way can be very scary, and another way can look downright benign. So let's calm down, and take appropriate precautions, and bring the world out ahead.

Yours, opposed to panic,
N.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Vicar of Bray

An old song, about a fellow who changed sides as the country did. Lyrics plucked brazenly from Wikipedia. Followed by an updated version, The Chameleon, by Flanders and Swan.

The Vicar of Bray

In good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Zealous High-Church man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Anointed.

And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

When Royal James possest the crown,
And popery grew in fashion;
The Penal Law I shouted down,
And read the Declaration:
The Church of Rome I found would fit
Full well my Constitution,
And I had been a Jesuit,
But for the Revolution.

And this is Law, &c.

When William our Deliverer came,
To heal the Nation's Grievance,
I turn'd the Cat in Pan again,
And swore to him Allegiance:
Old Principles I did revoke,
Set conscience at a distance,
Passive Obedience is a Joke,
A Jest is non-resistance.

And this is Law, &c.

When Royal Ann became our Queen,
Then Church of England's Glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory:
Occasional Conformists base
I Damn'd, and Moderation,
And thought the Church in danger was,
From such Prevarication.

And this is Law, &c.

When George in Pudding time came o'er,
And Moderate Men looked big, Sir,
My Principles I chang'd once more,
And so became a Whig, Sir.
And thus Preferment I procur'd,
From our Faith's great Defender
And almost every day abjur'd
The Pope, and the Pretender.

And this is Law, &c.

The Illustrious House of Hannover,
And Protestant succession,
To these I lustily will swear,
Whilst they can keep possession:
For in my Faith, and Loyalty,
I never once will faulter,
But George, my lawful king shall be,
Except the Times shou'd alter.

And this is Law, &c.


The Chameleon

Consider the Chameleon,
he colours himself and his opinions by the company he's in.

In Belfast, he's an Orangeman, the shade is quite ephemeral,

Directly he moves south, it fades, In Dublin, look: He's emerald.

In church on Sunday he turns gold, and sings the 'love thy neighbour' hymn.

Monday he's black and buys a stick, the better to belabour him.

He says; 'All men are equal' when in Trinidad or Malibar,

But in his green in Paddington, he shouts; 'We'll keep the colour bar'.

This parti-coloured fellow, you'll find that underneath, is yellow.

With Tories blue, with reds vermilion,
and chequered when he meets MacMillian.

That's the Chameleon. If that Chameleon were me, I'd be ashamed to sham.

Each night, all white between the sheets, I'd wonder who I am.


Yours, waxing lyrical on the spectre of Specter,
N.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Community

One of the loveliest things about where we live is the sense of community it provides. Our town is small enough that we know a significant proportion of the people who live there, almost everyone is on first name terms with our mayor and town council, and people generally get along well.

This year is the tenth time we've run a town leadership group: bringing together a dozen or two participants to learn more about the town, and to encourage them to become leaders in the volunteer groups, helping to beautify, build, and better the community. Last night was we had a get-together for the 150+ people who have participated in the program over the years, and it was lovely to see a good turnout (not 150, but I'd guess that over half of them were there), to reflect on past successes of the groups, and to look forward to future projects. One difference this year: the current group is going to announce their project this year on twitter.

Yours, in praise of community, and of community spirit,
N.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The annual gymnastics show

Boo and Skibo have been doing gymnastics for years now: Boo since she was 1, and Skibo since before he was born --- and officially, since he was 1.
Each year their gymnastics club puts on a show, with participants ranging from 3 up: this year the show was today. Chloe and Boo performed marvellously, as we expected.
We had K&K filling in as substitute grandparents, cheering all the way, and after the show we all came back to the house and made fajitas with flank steak, chicken, tuna, etc. Just an absolutely lovely day.

Yours, loving days like this,
N.

Sushi

LOML and I love sushi, and we love to cook. But somehow, we've never put the two together --- perhaps a reaction to the quality of fish that we see for sale around here -- and yes, for us, sushi doesn't mean just rice, but fish with it.

Today, however, we decided to give it a try -- we bought some sashimi grade (so the store claimed) tuna (actually, the tuna was pretty good) and some sushi rice, and gave it a shot.
Not the prettiest rolls ever made, nor would the nigiri win any prizes for presentation: and the fish, while decent, was not at the level we are used to in our one good sushi restaurant a few miles from here. But it all tasted pretty good, and we ate too much, and the children even tried some of it.

Pictures were taken, and may at some stage appear.

Yours, tuna-rolling in it,
N.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Aptly named town

This is incredible. Waco? Whacko, indeed!

Yours, in shock,
N.Link

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy St George's Day

And a happy birthday to Will Shakespeare too.
In honour of the day, we had bangers and mash -- well, brats, since bangers are hard to find around here -- which were eaten joyfully by the adults, and to a lesser extent by the children.
Yours, celebrating a lesser holiday,
N.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chicken marsala

In need this evening of comfort food all around, I threw together a feast of chicken marsala: lightly beaten chicken cutlets (cut into bite-ish size pieces, despite what the folks who know better say) floured and seared in peanut oil, pancetta finely chopped and fried up until crisp, mushrooms cooked over medium high heat in the same pan until they taste like pancetta, and then throw the marsala in, plus the chicken and pancetta and finish with some butter and some cream. I did say comfort food, didn't I. Served over farfalle this evening, a meal fit for a LOML in need of a meal fit for LOML.

Yours, happy with how it tasted, and even more, happy with the comfort it brought,
N.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Congratulations to my student, J

Who has continued my tradition: over the past five years, my four PhD students have each won the outstanding graduate student teaching award. Across campus, yet! They award two per year, which means that my students have taken fully 40% of the awards.
And congratulations to my colleague's student, E, on whose PhD committee I served, who took the outstanding graduate student teaching award. Again, across the whole campus.

Yours, thrilled to see my students doing so well!
N.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No tornado

We are fortunate, I believe, in that we live a few dozen yards from the town tornado warning system. It used to be a serious pain, as it also served as the call to the volunteer fire brigade, and any time there was an emergency call it would go off --- sometimes scores of times in a week. But the fire brigade has woken to the reality that all of their volunteers carry beepers, cell phones etc, and that they live far away from the siren, so they wouldn't hear it anyway.

So now the siren goes off at shortly after 9am on Mondays, to test the system, and whenever there is a tornado sighted (I believe within the county -- but this is not clear). And goes, and goes and goes. We're still waiting to hear from the town how we are supposed to tell when it is safe to come out of our inner bathroom (the only room in the house without external walls). It would be nice if they had a different sounding siren to announce the end of the alert.

I bring all this up because the siren went off at 1:30 this morning, waking both LOML and I up, and then turned off within a few more seconds, leaving us to wonder whether to continue waking up Boo and Skibo, to usher them into the bathroom, ruining their sleep, or to assume that it was a slip of the finger pressing the button. The weather websites were not too helpful --- or rather, since none of the ones we went to showed a tornado sighting, we assumed it had been a false alarm. Correctly, it seems.

Sleep ruined for the rest of the night, I've felt miserable for the whole day.
And so to bed. No likelihood of weather tonight, I am promised.

Yours, in spite of it all, glad to live within the siren's song,
N.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lasagna

Our friends from the bookstore came over this afternoon/evening for dinner: my repertoire is obviously becoming limited, since we fed them something we've given them before, possibly even this year.
Now, granted, they are family (in all but bloodline) and we have them over almost every week, but still, to be repeating menus already is rather distressing. The flip side is, of course, that lasagna, with freshly made noodles, is rather wonderful. And they don't seem to object:-)

Yours, using my noodle,
N.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Time with Skibo

Since LOML and Boo were away today (and tomorrow), Skibo and I had a chance to have some nice time together. We had one of his friends over for dinner --- we made pizza, which was nice --- and then we all sat and watched Pinocchio together. A lovely time was had by all. And since he was up a little, but only a little, later than usual, he went to sleep reasonably quickly and easily.

Tomorrow morning we'll take Monty for a long walk, and then get to making lasagna for dinner:-) And listen again to lots of loud rock music --- he has become insistent over the past couple of days that he wants to listen to wild rock music --- by which I believe that he means electric guitar played fast and loud. Time to dig out some old 70's albums....

Yours, enjoying the one-on-one time for a little while,
N.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Two budding photographers

LOML and I have been discussing for months getting Boo and Skibo their own decent point-and-shoot cameras: we'd bought an awful one for Boo a couple of years ago, and even though the pictures it took were terrible quality, it brought her a great deal of enjoyment. And now Skibo's the age she was when she got it, so last week I went online and bought two cameras: identical, of course (essential with children!) except for colours (I hate colour coding by gender, but he wanted blue, and likewise she wanted red...)
So this afternoon, after the cameras arrived, they spent a good while going round the garden, taking pictures of feet, plants, hula hoops and more.

The most amazing thing about all this? In a period of a few minutes, Boo took enough photographs to take up twice the amount of memory that I had on the hard drive of my first laptop, fifteen years ago.

Yours, happy they're snappy,
N.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

By and large, comparisons between "now" and the novel "1984" tend to fall flat, since the novel was designed to be a parable --- a description of how terrible things could become if society was willing to let it all go bad:.

But this seems to be a reasonable comparison. Which to me says that the current situation must be unreasonably bad.

Yours, being unreasonable, I'm sure,
N.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Privateers

Ron Paul needs to change his name. Then he'd have a ready-made theme song.

In response to the problems being posed by piracy, Paul is apparently suggesting that the US government issue letters of marque, commissioning privateers to go and take out the pirates.

Stan Rogers, in perhaps his best known song, Barrett's Privateers, addressed this issue. Of course, as a theme song it would suck: it tells of a crippled privateer,
"now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett's privateers".

Still, sometimes any anthem is better than none. So, here's to Ron Paul becoming Ron Barrett.

Yours, privately,
N.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dolphins are our friends

I like this story!

Yours, a huge fan of dolphins,
N.

Burnout

As always at this time of the year I am beginning to feel burned out. The semester has another week or two to go before exams, and in both the high level research course and the folding course I'm feeling uninspired to come up with new material. I will do so, of course, but I'd be happy if they snowed us out for the next two weeks.
I'm definitely in need of the couple of weeks break I'll get before the summer gets crazy: and then I get 13 weeks of hectic, counting down to the beach in August. I think I'll just hibernate for the two coming weeks:-)

Yours, burned, but not blistered,
N.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Prefering Boo's development to Skibo's

Skibo is, at the moment, going through an "all boy" development phase: lots of running, shouting, banging, hitting, etcetera. Boo is jumping further and further into reading. I prefer the latter to the former.

Mind you, I gave her an additional incentive today: she had a magician come to school this morning, and enjoyed the tricks tremendously. So I mentioned, just off-handedly, that once she can read well enough she'd enjoy finding my books about how to do magic tricks....

Looking forward to more magic from them both, especially when Skibo's worked through this phase,
N.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Baking again

For the first time in well over a week I pulled out the yeast and flour: and this time, a number of other ingredients -- allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins, and baked some hot cross buns. Yes, I realise that traditionally I should have baked these on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday, but I didn't have the time or energy Friday, and I did today.
LOML pronounced them the best hot cross buns ever --- or at least here. Truth be told, I thought that they were pretty good too.

Yours, crossing another item off my list,
N.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bad influences

We had friends over for dinner this evening -- nice people, and we don't see enough of them. But this evening we were reminded of just how much of a bad influence their children can be on ours. Ours, of course, you'll realise if you've been reading for a while, are absolutely perfect. Except for when they are not. But this evening, in response to playing with their friend, they've adopted his habits and even now are bouncing off the walls instead of going to sleep.
Most distressing. And LOML and I are ready for a ridiculously early night, and this is getting in the way.

Oh well.

Yours, ready for sleep before my children are,
N.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tornadoes

My sympathies this evening are especially with those affected by the tornadoes in Tennessee and elsewhere. We had the tail end of the storms brush by us --- giving drenching rain and a stunning light and noise show for a couple of hours or so --- but fortunately without the twisters.

Yours, in sympathy,
N.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Another round of congratulations

To Dr-to-be E.S., who successfully defended a lovely dissertation this afternoon, has a great job lined up, I send my warmest congratulations!

Yours, happy to celebrate,
N.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Doomed. We're doomed.

I had hope that it would never come to this. LOML and I tried so hard to prevent it from happening. But yesterday we succumbed, and henceforth we are doomed.

Yes, Boo has a Barbie(TM) doll. With "cuttable" hair (it attaches with little plastic snaps, which can be detached using a special pair of "scissors"). Said hair remained completely untangled for at least ten minutes after the package arrived in the house, and for several minutes even after the package was opened.

Of course, the opposite of "completely untangled" is not "completely tangled", and it hasn't quite reached that stage yet. Several hours to go before then, I suspect.

Oh well. We fought a good fight. Boo won.

Yours, defeated,
N.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My superpowers have been stripped away

My superpowers have been stripped away from me, my cape hung up to attract moths, my stockings donated to worthy causes (destitute bank robbers, probably). I have been reduced to a mere mortal again.

Yes, my designated parking spot expired this afternoon. As of tomorrow, if I wish to park within a five minute walk of the office, I will have to resort to mere mortal talents: getting to the office before 7:23. And staying there (except for the openings at 11:27) until at least 3:30. It makes for a late lunch, but what the heck -- I get to park!

Yours, rejoining humanity,
N.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The zoo

To the zoo today, with children on spring break. Lots of fun for all.
Unfortunately, we got back into town and my sinuses closed up again. Definitely something in the air in town, I'd say.

Yours, taking the day off blogging while clogged,
N.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The end of nuclear weapons?

It is a nice goal. And I think that is is clear that Obama is correct: if the world is to be rid of nuclear weapons, then the US will have to take the leading role. I can see almost infinite difficulties, but I can also see hope, and perhaps a few faint paths that could be trod to get there from here.
And without the attempt, it is certain that we won't get there. And with North Korea and other nations at the moment, it looks like getting there would lead us to a better future than the alternatives.

Yours, hoping we can lead,
N.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blocked sinuses make me cranky

Cranky, tired, and tired and cranky.

Yours, stuffed,
N.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The piano

The piano is a success so far.
Not in terms of the amount of music that has been made (unless you count my tapping out nursery rhymes with occasional easy chords) (which I don't).
But yesterday, LOML, who has never played the piano, figured out how to tap out a tune, and Boo and Skibo are accepting of the idea that they should try playing a scale, or a chord, etc for a few minutes before they get to play with all the cool sound effects (seriously? gunshots? helicopters?) for a few minutes more. And so, three out of the four of us can now manage to "play" Twinkle Twinkle Little Star relatively correctly, and reasonably smoothly. And Skibo will get there soon enough:-)

Yours, all keyed up,
N.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A lovely child

Boo is a trip sometimes. She can be such a pain, but then on occasion she makes up for it all and more.
This evening, Skibo was being the pain. Royal PITA pain. We were sitting playing (with) the piano before bedtime, taking turns at the keyboard. And it was Boo's turn, so I asked him to wait for her to be done: she immediately offered to let him on at once, but he'd already stormed off in a huff and was tantruming out on his bed. So she went in, and immediately started to try to comfort him, gently trying to help him out of his snit, really trying hard to make him happy. For a six year old, she's an amazing armchair psychologist.
Not that she got him out of the snit, mind you: but at least he stopped screaming!

Yours, proud of my little girl,
N.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A good day

My promotion took another step forward this afternoon: I met with the Dean, who kicked the process upstairs, with a positive recommendation. Only three more levels of the process to go.
I rushed home from that meeting to pick up Boo and head to the art exhibit, in which I had entered a piece of origami. I took third place in the category, which is nice (there were three pieces entered, but the other two were by students of mine, and I am much happier for them to finish ahead of me!)
Finally, after snatching what should have been a quick bite to eat but wasn't (thanks to the local bar and "grille"'s efficiency) I rushed off to supervise the rowing team's election. And this year, they finished in time for me to be home before midnight(!) unlike last year.

And that was just the part of the day after I left the office!

Yours, looking forward to relaxing next week,
N.