I had a lovely post on tariffs all mapped out for this week’s essay, but then the sunrise came up pink and the Dailypost word turned out to be “Quartet” and I looked at the daffodils on the kitchen counter, and all I could think about was Spring! Spring! Spring! We’ve sprung into a new season–officially last week in northern California, the northern United States, the northern hemisphere of Terra Firma. Everyone knows there are four of everything that make up the universe: seasons, elements, states of matter, humors, food groups. Is four some sort of natural requirement?
Maybe only Two Seasons. Or, How about Six?
We are humans; we like to divide things. It seems pretty obvious that there would be at least two seasons, since the winter and summer solstice create natural divisions in a calendar. There is a point of time where the days get longer in most of the civilized part of the world, and another point where days get shorter. Western civilization evolved to recognize four separate seasons, with the other two categorizes recognizing the equinoxes, those times when the day and night are roughly equal before transitioning to slightly longer or slightly shorter. Continue reading “A Quartet Convenient but not Required”
Make a joyful noise for today, oh happy day, is Pi Day, 3/14. As you surely know by now, either because you remember some maths or because you don’t live in in the wild, 3.14 are the first few digits of π. And, as we know, Pi are squared. Although, as my 8th grade math teacher Louise Blanchfield told us with a mischievous old-lady I’ve-been-telling-this-joke-for-forty-years grin, “Pi are not squared, Pi are round.” Meanwhile, I am proud to say that the establishment of this august day of celebration first occurred in my neck of woods, a day recognized by Larry Shaw at the San Francisco Exploratorium back in 1988. The rest is a lot of fun history.
Achtung Lieber! It’s a Miracle!
One particularly curious fact about Pi Day is that it also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday. He didn’t have anything to say about pi, pier se (see what I did there? that’s not the last pun I am about to inflict on you either)… anyway, Einstein wasn’t a geometer, but he was a brainy guy and did a lot of math. Actually he failed math, which is always used as an example of how you could buckle down and make something of yourself even if you start a failure.
However, I always thought it was a better example of how to successfully buck the establishment, since it’s likely that Einstein failed math because he kept telling the teachers they were wrong. And they were. It’s more like Stephen Hawking crumpling up his physics homework and throwing it in the trash because he didn’t think his proofs were elegant enough. Other students would get them out of the trash so they could understand how to do physics.
RIP Stephen Hawking–who coincidentally passed away yesterday–or maybe it was today since it’s 12 hours ahead in Cambridge. (And you know those smart people always want to be ahead of everybody else.) Stephen and Albert can now argue about the exact shape of the curvature of space-time until infinity or until the end of pi. Maybe they can borrow some of Newton’s apples to use for examples. Continue reading “Any Old Pi Will Do”
The turning of the year is always a time we treat ourselves to a new round of self-reflection and self-flagellation for what we have done and what we have not done. It’s a good time to take stock and make plans. But resolutions are flighty beasts. If you create them, do so with an eye towards success rather than suffering.
All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments…of revelation. This has the feeling of both.
—G’Kar, Babylon 5
Blame the Romans for emphasizing this act of two-faced reflection, this looking forward and looking back. Along with roads, sanitation, and language, they also gave Europe and the New World a workable calendar. Some tweaking was required; the original “Romulus” calendar was ten months long and began in March. Legend credits King Numa Pompilius — the dude in charge sometime after Rome’s foundation but way before the Republic and Julius Caesar — with adding two more months to help bring the lunar and solar year into synchronization. The new year was moved to start a week or so after the winter solstice on January 1st in a new month dedicated to Janus, the god of doorways, the god of looking forward and looking back. Continue reading “Facing forward, facing back”
We have been making rather merry and I have family visiting. I could, perhaps, have planned something ahead of time as I have been known to plan, but I confess I did not feel up to it. I thought perhaps I should cheat and just post pictures of the food we made and have been eating. But that doesn’t seem like an adequate confession.
I confess to guilt that I am not generous enough, that I do not reach out enough, and that I think of comfort before action. I am not Catholic, so I don’t know how to classify that sin. Continue reading “Full Confession”
A few weeks ago, I highlighted a recent sentiment that Christmas lights make everything better. This is no accident. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Our body clocks can’t wait for that turning of the tide and, over centuries, our cultures have created one tradition after another to add lights which stave off that darkness. That desire for more light is built into us at the core, even at the cellular levels, within our circadian rhythms.
Hall, Rosbash, and Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for studying the phenomenon of circadian rhythms. The basic notion of a circadian cycle is one tied to a 24-hour biological clock, a circuit fundamentally tied to the length of a day, split between sun and darkness. Life cycles, for everything from plants to fruit flies to human beings, have adapted to that 24-hour pattern. Scientists have known for years that key processes that regulate sleep, hormone production, metabolism, and behavior are linked to these patterns. The Nobel scientists figured out why.