The nose knows.

Late last night, I was having an in-depth conversation about Tycho Brahe.  Why?  Because that’s the sort of uber-smart super-cool person I am.  And because stars are cool, and measurements are cooler, and I’m the kind of nit-picky person who likes redundancy and repeated observations.  Of course, as all enlightened conversations do, ours eventually wound down into the mundane – Tycho’s fake nose (we’re appropriate conversationalists – we don’t get into mercury poisoning and UTIs).

Personally, I am all about the nose.  I love the smell of autumn, the smell of dew in the morning, and the not-quite-greasy smell of old metal.  I have allergies, so the consistent sneezing reminds me of my own nose.  In addition, my German heritage gives me the facial spine to judge other, lesser noses.  I get offended when people stroke my nose and firmly intend (at times) to knock other noses out of joint.  A nose is a terrible thing to lose, and I sympathize with Tycho.  In addition, carrying the weight of a plastered on metal fake-nose must have been a burden.

Still, the nose can occasionally get in the way.  When you’re peering out of a window, it restricts the angle of your vision.  When you’re smooching, it can be an awkward protuberance.  It’s one of the first things to get snapped ina  fist fight, and like ears (as Tycho can attest to) it can easily be lopped off.  One of my friends noted that making certain nighttime observations, the nose prevents a direct line of sight.  Of course, this little tidbit suggests the monumental question:  Did Tycho Brahe remove his nose to make celestial observations?  You be the judge.

Spidey and the bus

There are two things that are making this day blaze a little brighter in my mind.  The first is a firefighter with superhero costumes.  The second is the New! Improved! #89 bus schedule from Davis Square.  Both are what life/public transportation should be about more often.

So, on to Spidey.  I have not been able to accurately check my facts as yet, but it seems that a fireman was able to rescue an autistic boy from a ledge by dressing as Spiderman.  Evidently this particular fireman had the costume on hand at the station to use for a little more ‘Zing!’ at elementary school demonstrations.  Of course, our quick-thinking, costume-loving gentleman ran back to the station as soon as he heard ‘comics’.  Lesson learned: a little zing does us all good and probably saves lives.

As for the MBTA, they finally did something right.  For the past year, I’ve lived in an under-served neighborhood of Somerville, longing for the day when the supposed green line extension will be available in my neck of the woods.  I mean, walking to Davis for 20 minutes each way is great in summertime.  It keeps your heart rate up and allows you to experience the outdoors.  But during Boston winter, I would prefer not to be experiencing the outdoors, especially not after dark.  Since the bus stops at 7 pm, that would be pretty much any time I want to do anything after work (other than coming straight home.  But this past weekend, new service was announced.  From now on, buses would be departing from Davis on the hour till the post-midnight last run.  Woohoo!  I’m back in business!  of course, it’s after the winter months and i’m leaving the city this fall, but who’s really counting?

Confidence, Trust, and Good Manners

In the current financial ‘crisis’, there have been many critiques and analyses of the situation.  People criticize the greedy, the proponents of particular financial theories, various mortgage institutions, and the government, attempting to lay blame.  There have been various ideas proposed to create jobs and lessen the financial burden placed on a variety of people.  There has been a renewed look at fiscal policy during the Great Depression and other eras for solutions.  One such look in the NYT today checks in on banking in Ancient China, quoting that “until the end of the Qing dynasty, Pingyao’s banks had confidence, trust and good manners.”  They failed due to a collapse in the central government, not any loss of faith in the banks themselves.  But the artile also comments on what area inhabitants have learned from that situation – that “wealth does not last for more than three generations”, which is both a warning and an adage to live by.  We do not need wealth, though we are often tied to its gain.  The same could be said for colleges and universities that have been hit quite hard by the crisis.

We’ve all heard that endowments and colleges ‘have to’ be long-sighted.  The ability to maintain competitive salaries for the best professors, to develop infrastructure and other permanent resources, and to invest capital in illiquid vehicles for long-term returns are all considered required for a functioning university.  The academic world is, and will continue to be, a competitive industry.  While some may see problems with the current model’s lack of upward movement, I do not see major changes to the system as realistic at this time.  So what does this financial long-sightedness mean for the average endowment?  What does it mean for professors, other educators, and students?  What does it mean for this country in the current financial crisis?  What does it mean for the system as a whole?

First, endowments should be seen as what they are – revenue streams. While some regulation may be necessary to keep them from getting too big for their britches, the majority of staff working in these areas do it for personal satisfaction, rather than big money or big influence.  They aren’t your typical Wall Street junkies.  And while some students may feel accountability and endowment investor responsibility is important, typically the most objectionable investments are not the most lucrative.

Second, the successful academic life should have a cap.  I’m not talking about a general removal of staff and tenured professors over a certain age, but again, I think some broad regulation may help.  This involves thinking on the longer term for tenure and the best use of resources.  For example, a professor at a science-based school should be able to use email, just as professors required to publish must be able to write.  Another example might be seen in the appropriate time for a department head to retire or move on to another line of work.  Academia has a problem with its current system in that it allows too many strong minds to stagnate without the hope of further advancement.  A longer term horizon should include a way to incorporate such talent and eventually expedite the removal of those who’ve had their time in the sun.

We are consistently worried, as a nation, abotu teh security of our financial resources.  While I’m not advocating widespread unemployment, we need to realize, at the core, that security does not come from a job, or from wealth.   Currently our unemployment rate is at 8.1%.  While we may all know some of those unemployed, it’s not really that bad, and I doubt it’s going to be.

Pow! Sock! Blam! Zappo!

It’s interesting the way the mind turns, discovering odd quirks in the world at unexpected times.  For instance, I knew that sickle cell anemia existed, and that it was a disease prevalent in certain populations.  I didn’t realize that it developped (independantly in at least four different places) as a genetic mutation to combat malaria.  I knew that wormwood was something used in absinthe.  I didn’t realize it was also originally the main flavor additive for vermouth, or that certain kinds were used as a fever cure in Ancient China and as a potential cancer treatment today.  I didn’t realize that wormwood types were closely related to tarragon.  Blammo to the brain, right there.

Outside of sudden revelations of odd knowledge, there are more shocking – but happy – truths.  One of them involves big money going where it’s supposed to – in this case a former Bill Gates employee striking out on his own to create malaria prevention mosquito-zapping laser tools.  I have no idea how these are going to be financed or distributed, but if they actually work as advertised, I’m impressed and quite possibly, electrified.  Power of ten thousand suns, here I come.

Instant Voice

I am the type of person that prefers email communication.  It’s quick, it’s easy to recall at need, and it takes advantage of my skills as a writer.  In some cases, it may be faster to arrange a meeting or set up travel plans over the phone, but I still consider email the best means of long-distance correspondence.  But perhaps my judgment is just skewed.

In the realm of the business world, my judgment is definitely a little off – email has led me to expect near instant contact.  I expect that once someone reads an email, they will turn around and shoot one back to me, and generally that happens.  I also expect that if I do call, and am forced to leave a voicemail, someone will be back to me shortly.  When an hour or more goes by, I start counting minutes.

Take my current scheduling situation.  I left a voicemail at 8;47 am, which may be early for some offices.  So what time can I expect a return phone call?  Will the recipient of the voicemail arrive at 9 am?  10?  How long does it take to listen to messages?  Does it happen on arrival, or does email get opened and breakfast get eaten first?  Do people even notice anymore if they have new voicemails?  Is the voice mail recipient out all day?  All week?  How do I know?  At what point does it become permissible to call back?  How soon is a call back just really annoying?  Should I be worried that I worry about this stuff?

As usual, the morning has allowed me to dig myself into a questioning morass of self-doubt.  Hooray!

RoboPlantLand at the Oven Glove

The thing that orchids supposedly need to grow well is water flow.  These are teh kinds of plants, like bonsai, where you soak the roots but don’t let them remain in the water for too long.  I’m not sure how this applies to natural rainforest conditions.  Frequent light rains and a dense upper canopy could prevent the puddling of rains, but I’m not sure it would be enough to prevent root rot.  Still, supplies liek moss and a rockier planting medium are supposed to allow moisture to drain in the potted household variety.  The point remains, however, that too much watering can be more of a  problem than not enough watering.  The same sorts of things can be applied to all the basics of plant growth – sunlight, nutrients, pollination.  It’s great on a small scale but not so great in ever increasing quantities.

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but that means that I can only take care of a certain number of plants with dedication.  I’m not even a hobbyist gardener really.  I like green things grown in my apartment, but if it requires too much effort, I’d much rather just be killing the plants.  Enter in MIT’s new garden-variety robotics creation.  The idea behind the project is to make gardening, and eventually agriculture, more sustainable.  If we actually measure and track and give plants only what they need and no more, we aren’t wasting as many resources on farming.  At the basic level the program they’re at right now, the scale is much smaller.  For the moment, instead of ag industry-level products, we’re talking home and garden – the Roomba gardener.  I want it.

Over the transom

Sometimes, your job just causes you to look things up.  It’s just necessary.  Unavoidable.  Nothing you can do about it. Today, the Oven Glove made me look up the phrase ‘over the transom’.  Why?  Everyone kept using it.  But did I really know what it meant?  Of course not.

Here’s the scoop:

A transom is, basically, any connective piece.  It’s been used with architecture (the cross bar in a window or the bar above a lintel separating a door from a window or a window from another window), shipbuilding (crossbar attached to the stern post), railroads (cross-timbers across sleepers or connecting the sides of a railway carriage), furniture (cross pieces to a head board, the seat of a throne, or a built-in bench in a state room) and to refer to the horizontal part of a cross or  the top bar of a swing or gallows.  So where did this phrase come from?


Do any of you remember those little windows that used to be above interior doors in offices and other places to allow for added light and ventilation?  Basically, that’s where it comes from.  Here’s a picture:

OVER THE TRANSOM – “Kent Dirlam of Greenwich, Connecticut, wrote us: ‘I wonder whether you ever encountered the expression, ‘It came in ‘over the transom.” This goes way back to the early days of the Copper Kings in Montana, when the paying off of legislators and other public officials was not unknown. To avoid observation, contributions were frequently made by tossing packets of banknotes from the hotel corridor ‘over the transom” into the friendly official’s hotel room. Thus the expression, ‘It came in over the transom.’ Thus ultimately came to mean any windfall or expected bit of luck. A transom is simply a hinged window above a door. ‘Over the transom’ has still another meaning in publishing circles. A manuscript that comes to a publisher’s office unsolicited is said to have come ‘over the transom.’.” From the “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988)

So originally, it meant a bribe thrown literally through that little window, which was expected and positive, and evolved to the current meaning of an unexpected proposal that may or may not be something we want.  Still, I guess ‘over the transom’ is better than a brick-through-the-window approach to marketing.

If you know who Figit is, you might know this quote. And that’s a big ‘might’.

“Meegosh. Excellent choice.”

Why is this one of my favorite movie quotes of all time? Hmm, let’s see. I love this because it’s a great movie? Or maybe I love it because you can say it in casual conversation and people think you’re saying “Good choice” without picking up on the Meegosh reference at all. Or maybe it’s because Meegosh IS such an excellent choice.

My money’s on the bear

If there was ever a shark vs. bear rumble, this is what would happen:

Shark looking at bear – ‘It could be a rock. Or maybe a very large anemone.’
Bear looking at shark – ‘Mmm. SALMON.’

Ok, true, sharks are pretty fierce. And some of them might be big enough to take on a bear. Might. If the bear falls into the middle of the ocean and can’t get out, or the shark is big enough to drag it into the water (somehow). But let’s just take a look at where this fight would have to take place.

Coastline – bears and sharks obviously live in different worlds. If they meet on the beach to ‘tangle’, the bear has the obvious advantage. Sharks are going to be dying out of water, and most beaches don’t have a deep enough drop off for a shark to effectively jump up and gnaw on a bear. At a rockier, possibly cliffside coast, the bear still has the advantage. If it can flip the shark out of the water (which it is used to doing), the shark is DONE.

So let’s look at a little more combined interaction – polar bear, already in the water, with shark. True, the shark is a better swimmer (even though polar bears swim pretty well). Still, I think toothy mouth and four powerful claws beats one set of massive boneless jaws and a strong tail.

You can call me call me Lightning Hair

Other names include Moves With No Balance, Frohead (ok, that one’s an actual nickname), and Speaks Without Thinking.