Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beginnings, endings

On this day twenty years ago - April 19, 1992 - our son William was stillborn in Toronto. My postdoc was ending, so we had to move back to California a month later. Christine got pregnant again and fortunately, through a college friend, we found an expert at Stanford to watch over Christine. Joey was born a month early - on September 15, 1993 - but he made it. He would not have lived if we had followed the advice of the first obstetrician we saw in California.

T.S. Eliot notwithstanding, lots of cruel things have happened in that part of April in the last 20 years. The Oklahoma City bombing was two years to the day after William's birth. The Columbine massacre was April 20, 1999, fifteen days after we moved into our house in Colorado. The Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico was April 20, 2010.

Tomorrow I will fly to Memphis. On Saturday - April 21 - I will attend my friend Bernard's memorial service. Bernard took his own life. He was the smartest person I ever knew well. We were friends since middle school. I wish he'd known that he had a lot of people he could have talked to.

Christine and Joey flew to Cleveland today to visit Oberlin College. All I know so far is that they attended an evening with the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat and that Joey, wearing his albino squirrel shirt, got his picture taken with the president of Oberlin. Joey will probably attend Colorado College or Oberlin in the fall. We visited 16 colleges in the last year, but Oberlin wasn't one of them. It looks great on paper - or on screen - but who knows what Joey will think? He has to decide by April 30.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Joey has had 3 days of calculus at Colorado College and is having a great time.

I am working on a NASA proposal due in 15 days with friends and colleagues.

Christine and our friend Jenna, who just graduated from high school, are getting rid of my junk in the basement. It's OK as long as I don't look or ask what they recycled or threw out.

First world problems ...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My dad's house

I went to Texas last month to get things moving so I can sell my dad's house. He died at age 85 on October 30, 2005, about a month after he fell in the house. He broke his neck and lay there for some time before he was discovered. My dad didn't have a valid will. I hired a lawyer, chosen pretty much out of the blue, in Kerrville. He discovered that the previous owners of the house, Mr. and Mrs. X, had failed to transfer the deed after the house was paid off. Furthermore, Mr. X had died and Mrs. X had moved to another state. So, even though I'm my dad's sole heir, I had no clear right to the house. I also didn't have much time to deal with it, because Christine, Joey and I were preparing to spend most of 2006 on a sabbatical in London. So the only thing that got done in 2006 was that my cousin Julie and her husband Jesse helped me go through the house, and I drove back to Colorado in my dad's car with stuff that had sentimental or possible financial value. The latter category included some jewelry, a few paintings, and the car itself.
My dad was a doctor and should have been able to retire comfortably, but he was bad with money. Getting divorced from his second wife when he was in his 80s didn't help.

I've been ignoring the house for years because dealing with it involves paying the lawyer, and what I'll get back is not clear. The house is a mobile home that wasn't in great shape when my dad died. In the last year, kids have broken windows on two occasions, and the place is really moldy. There were personal papers in the house that I wanted to go through, but I couldn't stand to be in there for much more than an hour at a time, so in the end I only took a few photo albums. The best thing that happened was that a couple with a store where they sell antiques and junk gave me $600 for the stuff remaining in the house. That includes clearing out everything except trash and a decrepit refrigerator. I'm so grateful to be rid of the house that I almost hope they make a big profit.

Monday, October 06, 2008

How can I force myself to write?

October 6 2008

It's Donkey Day. Today in history.

I've taken a couple of days off work since Christine got home on Thursday from the hospital. Her total knee replacement surgery, performed a week ago today, though she still has to take pain meds. She left the house today for the first time since Thursday. I took her to Longmont Clinic to get her blood drawn (she's on warfarin, aka coumadin), then to Lowe's. Our neighbor Ray the Handyman started painting our house today - just in time, as we're expecting our first frost tonight, and possibly our first snow next weekend.

This afternoon I read Planet Migration through a Self-Gravitating Planetesimal Disk, a preprint by a group at the University of Rochester. The main interest of the paper is that they performed N-body simulations on a GPU. We've talked about doing this at SwRI. It sounds like Moore, Quillen, and Edgar have figured out how to do it, using a C development environment from NVIDIA called CUDA. There's no connection with Sarah Palin, so far as I know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fixing Climate, Part 2

Phil Orr took Broecker to Pyramid Lake in Nevada, which is a remnant of Lake Lahontan, one of the largest lakes in North America during the last Ice Age. Orr had found human and animal bones in Fishbone Cave on the eastern shore of the dry bed of nearby Lake Winnemucca. Orr believed that man had entered North America during the Ice Age, and suspected that the bones dated to that time. In 1955, "scholars" favored a more recent date. Orr was interested in having Broecker perform carbon-14 dating on the human bones and artifacts that he had found. Broecker also took samples of tufa, a form of calcium carbonate, from Pyramid Lake. Broecker and Orr collaborated for the rest of the 1950s. Orr's intuition proved to be correct, and the rises and falls of the lakes in the Great Basin got Broecker interested in climate.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fixing Climate, Episode 1

Last weekend I read Fixing Climate, by Wallace S. Broecker and Robert Kunzig. Broecker is a scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who is known for his work on the ocean conveyer belt and rapid climate change. Kunzig is a terrific science writer. I liked the book so much that I’m going to write about it here for a while.

Episode 1 (text from the book is given in italics):

Broecker gave his first scientific talk, as a graduate student, at an archeology meeting in Los Angeles on September 1, 1955. It was the hottest day ever to that point in LA – 110 degrees. He had been asked to give the talk by J. Laurence Kulp, who was a pioneer in the newly developed field of Carbon-14 dating. The archeologists were arguing about when people first arrived in the New World. After Broecker’s talk, Phil Orr of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History came up to him:

Phil Orr … was clearly more of a digger than a scholar; although he smoked a pipe, it had a cigar butt in it. He was a short man with a potbelly stuffed into jeans and cowboy boots. His face was shaped like an interstate highway shield – a wide forehead, uncluttered by hair, narrowing to a pointy, straggly bearded chin. That forehead overhung deep-set eyes that seemed made to squint. Orr eyeballed Broecker.

“Kid,” he said, for he was plenty old to be Broecker’s father. “I can see that you know a lot about physics and math. But I also see that you don’t know a goddamned thing about the earth.”

He paused to let that sink in, and to relight the cigar butt.

“Come with me for three weeks and I’ll change your life.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Words That Make Me Stop Reading

blood and treasure
boots on the ground
speak truth to power
muscular foreign policy
chattering classes
executive experience
quick study

However, I do like the Educational Jargon Generator and the Automatic Computer Science Paper Generator.