Italian wordplay

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:49 am by ducky

I’m studying Italian, and decided to have some fun with alliteration for a recent assignment:

  • If you don’t cheat, we will take care of you: Se si non bara, baderemo a voi.
  • They released the libertine books: Si sono liberati i libri libertini.
  • Everyone was fascinated by the fascist booklets: Tutti affascina dai fascicoli fascisti.
  • Wealthy Rocky was remembered: Si è ricordato ricco Rocco.
  • If you find yourself in a scuffle at a gambling den, don’t give an encore: Quando ci si trova in una rissa nella bisca, non si bissa.
  • You need to put the painting on the easel in order to paint the pony eating the cabbage: Si deve mettere il quadro sul cavalletto in modo di dipingere il cavallino mangiando il cavolo.
  • The high-level students were relieved by lifting the veil of work: Si alleviano gli allievi di un elevato livello levando il velo dal lavorare.
  • In prison, Charles blew up limestone and loaded the cart before going to bed: Nel carcere, Carlo fa scoppiare il calcare e carica il carrello prima di coricarsi.
  • Afterwards, the dust was raining a bit upon the poor octopus: Poi, la polvere pioveva un po’ sulla povera piovra.


Grief (non-fiction)

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:34 pm by ducky

“Uh, I’m not sure”, I told my husband. Everything had happened so fast — the scream, her still-breathing body, the sirens, the first responders — that I hadn’t actually stopped to ask myself how I felt. I took stock. “I… I’m okay — I’m actually surprised at how good I’m feeling.” Inside my brain, a facet of me was absolutely appalled that I could be so calm, so unfeeling, after witnessing a suicide attempt.

Husband and I talked for a few minutes, and I decided I was going to continue on to work as I had originally planned. Hubby had had something else he wanted to do that evening, so — given that I appeared to be surprisingly fine — I continued on to the startup where I worked.

Later, when collaborating with a colleague, I found it hard to focus with the jumper’s scream echoing through my head. I apologized for my lack of focus, telling him I’d just witnessed a suicide attempt. My colleague, a trauma survivor, insisted that I call a suicide hotline.

I resisted, since I had not committed suicide, but he was relentless (for which I am grateful).

I told the nice woman who called me back that I thought I was in good shape except I couldn’t forget the scream and I was shocked at how callous I was.

“In times of stress, it is absolutely normal for your emotions to shut down”, she told me. “It’s a survival mechanism so that you can deal with the threat.” I had not known that.


I had been watching the pandemic in China with a wary eye as we returned to British Columbia from London in mid-February 2020. I watched the United States fumble its preparation for the pandemic’s arrival, and worried about it, as if my worry could speed up the arrival of working test kits. I kept watching, and they kept fumbling. More watching, more utter lack of progress.

I remember March 11th, when Trump had a truly awful press conference. That same day, a famous actor and a professional basketball player announced that they had tested positive for COVID-19.

Things happened very fast after that. For example, several professional sports leagues quickly cancelled their seasons, and California put some social distancing requirements in place. I had a real sense that a lot of people had been waiting for the federal government to take action, but after Trump’s awful press conference, realized that there would be no leadership from above. “I guess we are not going to get guidance from the government”, I imagined them saying. “I guess we need to act on our own.”

Me, I shut down. I had no more worry left, just an aching sadness. I knew then that a bunch of people who I cared about were going to die. Probably tens of people, maybe even hundreds.

And I knew there was nothing I could do about it.

Like when I watched the pain of the woman who destroyed her body by jumping off the bridge, I am watching the country of my birth go through an agony, at least part of which it brought upon itself.

What hotline number do I call when an entire country goes off the rails? How do I grieve for people who aren’t dead yet?


How do you share your bad news?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:41 pm by ducky

My mother died. It wasn’t a big surprise — she had had cancer for three years, and was not having a good time.

I am discovering that I am human: I burst into tears somewhat unpredictably, I find myself regularly thinking, “Oh, I should tell Mom about… oh wait, no I can’t.” I had heard people talk about those effects, so I know those would happen.

But nobody told me how to break the news. If there is a convention in our culture for how to break the news, well, I must have been sick the day we covered that material.

It was straightforward to notify her friends. I phoned them and told them. It was right and appropriate and the mere fact that I phoned them was an indication that something was wrong. It was sometimes hard for me to get the words out, but her friends understood, in part because they also were grieving.

Telling strangers was slightly harder than telling her friends. Sometimes I had to tell a company, e.g. ones Mom was a customer of. If the company was big enough that they had a branch dedicated to closing accounts for deceased people, it wasn’t so bad, but for smaller companies, sometimes the person on the other end would not be emotionally prepared, and it would remind them of some loss of theirs and set them off, which would set me off.

(There was exactly one company, her newspaper, which was insensitive. The agent kept very aggressively trying to get me to take over her subscription even though I don’t live in Mom’s town.)

But nobody prepared me for the angst of how to tell my friends and acquaintances, especially those who lived in other cities. Send them an email with the subject line, “Mom died”? Send a chatty email about the weather and say, “oh, by the way, Mom died yesterday”? Or do I wait and say, “oh, by the way, Mom died last month”? Or should I wait until I see them in person, which might be a year or two from now? Or do I just not tell them — ever?

For people I run into who I know and like but am not super close to, a simple “How’s it going?” makes my brain freeze for a minute. Do I just give the pro forma “fine?”. Do I blurt out “my mom died”? Do I wait for an appropriate place in the conversation? Is there an appropriate place? Am I going to burst into tears or am I going to be able to maintain composure?

I thus have been completely bumbling along and inconsistent. Some people I have told unbidden. Some people I’ve told when asked how I was. Some people I just… haven’t told… yet. I tell myself I’m doing the best I can, but I know I am lying to myself. I don’t even have the foggiest idea what “best” looks like.

So I’m blogging this. Perhaps this will catch some of the people I haven’t told yet.


My mother RIP

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:01 pm by ducky

My mother, Judith Newlin Sherwood passed away, April 26, 2019 in her home in Bellingham, Washington. She was 80 years old. Memorial services will be held at 3PM on Friday May 24, 2019 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship in Bellingham, WA. She is survived by her sister Joyce, brother Joe, her three children — Anton, Tim, and me — and her former husband Bruce.

Mom was born in 1939 to Mildred and Jason Newlin in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her childhood was spent in Carmel, Indiana,  just north of Indianapolis, close to relatives and the wonderful fields and farms of (then-rural) central Indiana. When she was twelve, her family moved to West Lafayette, Indiana.  She met Bruce Sherwood at West Lafayette High School and married him in 1959, after their junior year in college.  During their senior year, they were they first married couple to appear on College Bowl, and on the first team to win four games in a row.

She completed her preparatory education and life in central Indiana in 1960 when she graduated from Purdue University.

She and Dad then spent a year in Padova, Italy after they graduated, where my brother Anton was born.  They then finished their educations at the University of Chicago, where  Mom earned a masters in Statistics.  They then spent three years in Pasadena, CA.

In 1969, Mom and Dad, now with three children, moved to Champaign, Illinois. They both established careers there that supported education delivery in a distinctly technological and novel way at the PLATO project at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. During most of my childhood, Mom worked as an on-line “consultant”, helping novice programmers debug their programs.

Having raised a family, acquiring invaluable experience and skills in a quietly major technologically innovative project, Mom’s life changed focus to a different type of spiritual growth. She moved from Champaign in 1984, to Pittsburgh, PA, to Mt. View, California and finally to Bellingham. She formally retired in California in 2002 with nearly 35 years of experience in computing technology.

In 2004, Mom made Bellingham, WA her home, joining the community taking and taking a seat at a few tables. Her hobbies included quilting and duplicate bridge, and she was active in the Hearing Loss Association, the Unitarian Church, and local associations. She is remembered by many for her cheerful kindness.

The family asks that donations in lieu of flowers go to the Hearing Loss Association of America or the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.



Stimulus package map

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:35 pm by ducky

I have updated my stimulus map to give projected effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 (AKA “the stimulus bill”), now that the bill is final. Here’s a snapshot of the per-capita jobs map:

Stimulus jobs per capita

There isn’t anything too surprising in this map.  Note that the differences are actually rather small in reality: full white corresponds to 10.5 jobs created/saved per 1000 people, while full red corresponds to 15 jobs.  One might also note that ~12 jobs per thousand sure doesn’t sound like a lot.

I only have data job creation forecasts, not tax cuts, education benefits, or extended unemployment benefits, as were in the map that showed proposed legislation.

I would like to also show the number of jobs that have been lost in the district over the past year, or the “GNP” (what’s the term for states or congressional districts?), but I don’t have that information.

In order to make this map, I needed to load up the geometries for the US congressional House districts, and I found that interesting.  I had expected to see really strangely-shaped districts, but by and large they looked pretty reasonable.  It might be that the districts with most extreme gerrymandering are in urban areas, and hence too small to see easily. Rural areas have much more uniform demographics, so there is less incentive to draw bizarre shapes.

Here’s a map where each of the congressional districts is a random colour:

Random colouring of US House Districts

And, because it was easy, here’s a map of the party affiliations of members of the U.S. House of Representatives:demlegislators1

Update: the data that I’d gotten with the US congressional representatives was incorrect, so the picture I had at first in this post was wrong.  I’ve updated the data file and the picture.


The two "Progressives"

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:10 am by ducky

Wow, Nate Silver just nailed it today.  His posting on the two different meanings of the word “progressive” seemed very clear and resonated completely with me.  I am, based on his definitions, absolutely a rational progressive.


Throwing Blagojevich out

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:59 am by ducky

Am I the only person who is concerned that justice is moving too hastily on Blagojevich?  He stands accused of some pretty appalling stuff, but the key word is accused.  I realize that many civil liberties have been badly compromised in the past eight years, but I thought that the US still (mostly) believed in “innocent until proven guilty” for its citizens.  To throw him out of office before a trial would be unfair.

There is also some speculation that he didn’t do anything illegal.  He sure looks like a stupid, arrogant slimebucket, but that isn’t illegal.  He wanted to use the appointment to his advantage, sure, but there is lots of influence-trading that doesn’t get prosecuted, e.g. people donating to a candidate being rewarded with ambassadorships.  (It is always less shocking to discover how much illegal activity goes on, than how much is perfectly legal.)

It is important for civil liberties to ensure that the government not be allowed to deny anyone — even people we don’t like — fair, equitable process under the law, including the presumption of legal innocence.


I nominate Fivethirtyeight.com

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:10 pm by ducky

I nominate fivethirtyeight.com for a Pulitzer Prize for their absolutely outstanding electoral poll coverage.


Good deeds remembered

Posted in Random thoughts, Uncategorized at 11:15 am by ducky

Twenty-five years ago, I was 19 and working in Delft, Netherlands for a summer. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I ran low on cash a week before it was time to go home. This was before ATMs, so it was tricky to get more. There were no places in the Netherlands that would advance me cash on my Visa, but I heard that there was in Brussels.

I took some of my dwindling supply of cash, bought a ticket to Brussels, and discovered that the place I needed to go wasn’t open. (Maybe I had been foolish enough to try on a Sunday? I don’t remember.) Worse, I was about USD$0.50 short of the fare I needed to get back to Delft.  I asked a stranger for 50c, he handed me a buck and I immediately took off to the ticket counter and got a ticket.

When I got my ~50c change, I realized I should have given it back to the stranger.  Ooops.  But he was lost in the crowd, so I instead got myself an ice cream cone — the only food I’d had all day.

I think he spotted me a bit later, eating the ice cream cone.  I was embarrassed to have him see me eating the cone, so I hid my face.  He probably figured that he’d just been had.

So Mr. Stranger?  Whoever you are?  If that was you 25 years ago in August in the main train station in Brussels, I wasn’t a runaway or drug addict or anything — I was exactly who I said I was.  To this day, I remain very grateful for your generosity on that day.  The buck might not have meant a huge amount to you, but it made all the difference in the world to me.  Thank you.


dogs rolling in stinky stuff

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:23 pm by ducky

I don’t think I’m the only one who thought it was odd that dogs like to roll in stinky stuff, even feces. This seemed like a bad idea — it would let their prey smell them from afar, right?

I just came up with a hypothesis for why dogs roll in stinky stuff: as defense against other biting animals (including other dogs). If dog A is covered in feces, and dog B bites dog A, then dog B might get sick from the feces. This might discourage dog B from biting dog A.

Yes, it is true that if dog B bites dog A, then dog A could get fecal material in the bloodstream from the bit, but if dog B punctures dog A’s skin, dog A is already in a heap of trouble. We forget, since modern antibiotics are so good at eliminating infections, that infections are A Big Deal. (For example, Calvin Coolidge, Jr. died of an infection from a blister!) So it might be that its use as a deterrent is worth the extra risk of greater infection.

So why don’t cats roll around in stinky stuff? Perhaps because cats fight with their claws, while dogs fight with their mouths. If cat A rolls in feces, and cat B scratches cat A, then cat A is at higher risk for complications, while the feces pose no risk for cat B.

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