Sunday, December 3, 2023

We are the Champions

 A short time ago, the NCAA announced the lineup of the four-team college playoff for this season's National Championship.  The leadup to this revelation was the topic of much discussion.  The playoffs only accommodate the current top four teams in the nation, and strong arguments could be made for at least five teams.  Someone was going to be left out and be very understandably upset.  Turns out the aggrieved team was to be the Florida State Seminoles, who earned an undefeated record and the ACC Championship.  (An interesting personal note: I've met FSU AD Michael Alford, who is a friend of a friend.  I totally sympathize with his feelings right now.)  Ahead of them were the Michigan Wolverines, Washington Huskies, Texas Longhorns, and Alabama Crimson Tide.  Much will be written of the reasoning of the 13 member selection committee, but as they say, the decision of the committee is final.  So on New Years Day, Michigan will play Alabama in the Rose Bowl, then Washington will face Texas in the Sugar Bowl.  Winners of those games will face each other in the National Championship game in Houston on January 8, 2024. 

 The Rose Bowl is of interest to me, due to my connection to both teams.  In the mid 1990s I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and retain an affinity for the team.  But as I have lived in Alabama for 30 years, I've adopted an alliance with the Crimson Tide.  I don't have a direct connection to the school (much like all those "sidewalk fans" who never were students there), but I've always called myself a "fan-in-law", via members of my extended family who were students in Tuscaloosa.  My wife is the same, even more so.  So for the next couple of weeks, I will be even more isolated than usual.  As a sensible, intelligent political moderate and social liberal in Alabama, I can feel quite lonely at times.  In my daily life, I rarely encounter anyone who shares my views on...well, anything.  You try being a scientist in a conservative state.  So until New Years, I am really on my own.  Once that game is over, I can go back to being a mere political and social outcast.  Go Blue.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Just my type 5

 Today, I wrote a couple letters on my Underwood Universal.  The nifty feature of this sturdy, reliable typewriter is that it has legs built into the case.  Unlock the bottom panel, and tripod legs fold out, and the panel serves as a small side desk.  It's clever, and quite useful.  I currently have the typewriter fitted out with a blue ribbon, to give a nice break from standard black type.  It looks especially good on my favorite green stationary.  Write on!

Typewriter: Underwood Universal

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Win as one


Today was the last home game of the 2023 season for the UAB Blazers.  The Blazers managed to muscle through to a 34-24 win over Temple.  It's been a disappointing season for the 4-7 Blazers, and with one more regular season game to go, they have no prospects of post-season play.  Disappointing, too, for first year coach Trent Dilford, who came into this season with such high hopes and expectations.  But today, Blazer fans appreciate a hard-won victory, and nurture hope for the future.  Go Blazers!

Friday, November 17, 2023

It's in the mail 7

 These days, neighborhood collection boxes are much rarer than they used to be.  They are found only in older neighborhoods; new subdivisions seem to be built without a convenient dropoff point.  This all draws attention to the ones that still exist.  I mean, we're not talking about Dollar General stores or Starbuck's, which can be seemingly found on every corner.  So that's what makes this forlorn box more notable.  It's in a neighborhood on Birmingham's southside, at the fringe of UAB campus.  I just wonder why with boxes so scarce, there is still this one, precisely one block away from the South Highland post office.

Thursday, November 16, 2023


 A man, learning that astronomers had just announced that a huge asteroid would soon destroy the earth, promptly moved his family to Alabama.  "What's the point of this, if the earth will soon end?", asked his wife.  "Because everyone knows Alabama is always years behind the rest of the world," he replied.

This article, posted yesterday, illustrates how doggedly Alabama resists advancement.  The Alabama Board of Education announced they will continue to cling to their ridiculous disclaimer that is a forced addition to statewide science textbooks.  It misinforms children that natural selection and Darwinian evolution are "only a theory" and are a "controversial" one, at that.  The disclaimer was inserted into school science texts beginning in 1995, and with small changes remains there to this day.  Never mind that legitimate scientists are in near-unanimous support of the principle of evolution to explain the development of life on this planet.  "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution", wrote famed Columbia University biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky.  The controversy exists only in the mind of biblically informed creationists, like the current Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who insist that bronze age fables explain the nature of life on earth better than the modern scientific method.  In this case, the Alabama BOE continues to deliberately misinform and mis-educate the students in its charge, as well as to violate the nation's laws and numerous high court precedents.  An Alabama science educator, Dr. Amanda Glaze wrote in 2016 that the textbook disclaimer only damages Alabama students. 

It is Alabama's students who are the victims here. Students who have little chance to attain a proper understanding of evolution are at risk of not attaining a basic level of scientific literacy. And because understanding evolution is practically important, in such fields as medicine, biotechnology, and agriculture, they are also at risk in their future careers.  

Glaze recognized, years ago, that the misguided policies of theocratic politicians are a perpetual drag on Alabama and on larger society.  Only when the public finally manages to throw off the theocratic anchor holding it back can real human progress occur.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Bloom day

 This post has nothing to do with the writer James Joyce, but instead marks the first appearance of flowers on my cherry tomato plants, planted 44 days ago. The Aerogarden Bounty has been bubbling along, and now the Mega Cherry Tomatoes have set their first blooms.  I've already made a pass with my "Be the Bee" pollinator, which is a plastic wand with a vibrating bee-shaped brush on the end.  This shakes pollen free in the flowers and allows the tomato blooms to self-pollinate.  With a little more patience, I should be soon enjoying fresh, home-grown tomatoes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Snow or no?

 I live in a part of the country where snow is rare.  And actually, that's a good thing, since we don't deal with snow very well in Birmingham, Alabama.  The normally terrible local drivers are an absolute menace when the flakes start to fall.  Children love the rare snow events, but adults lose their fricken' minds!  Panic buying at grocery stores (and sure, liquor stores) precedes even a faint mention of possible snow.  You'd think we were going to be snowbound in a mountain cabin until the spring thaw, the way people react.  Usually, any snow that may accumulate melts away quickly, leaving only a pleasant memory and a fridge full of deli meat, milk, and bread.  So naturally, long range forecasts are of interest in these parts.  Personally, I ignore the ones from self-appointed YouTube "experts", regarding them as the useless trash they are.  If anything is worth some attention, it might be a serious analysis from NOAA, the government weather professionals (and not the ones with a map and a Sharpie).  The real professionals have recently issued a long-term forecast for the coming winter, and there is a suggestion Birmingham may see more snow than usual.  Which means some snow.  The culprit is a mid-to strong El Niño cycle this year which has the ability to bring snow to the southeast.  NOAA fills their article with disclaimers, and in actuality the skill at these long term forecasts is pretty small.  Also, snow in Birmingham is a tough situation:  for snow, one needs moisture and cold.  The way things work around here, we often have only one or the other.  Cold air comes to us from the north, but by the time it gets here, it is usually very dry.  Moisture comes to us from the south, but it comes from the warm Gulf of Mexico, so the wet air masses usually aren't cold enough for snow.  It's a tricky thing to get both here at the same time.  Anyway, for what it's worth, we have a higher chance than usual for snow, say the experts.  Stay tuned.

Monday, November 13, 2023


 Out into the mailstream and thus to the world go 20 postcards that I wrote in between my usual household chores this weekend.  As I did laundry and cooked and cleaned, I tried to catch up on my Postcrossing list.  New Postcrossing members are allowed to have a maximum of five cards travelling to recipients at any one time.  When a card is received and registered by its recipient, it is marked as "sent", and then the member may then send another.  This limit on "travelling" cards increases with Postcrossing seniority, up to the maximum of 100 cards simultaneously in transit.  I have, at times, been "maxxed out" at my 100 card limit, but most of the time I maintain at a slightly lower level- ideally at around 85 is a comfortable level for me.  This results in sending just over 100 cards per month.  The postage rate for international postcards is $1.50 and the cards themselves can cost anywhere from $0.10 to $1.50 a piece.  So the hobby's costs can add up. (I count myself fortunate that USPS rates are comparatively low.  I was told that with exchange rates and comparative household incomes, it costs the equivalent of around $7.00 for a Postcrossing member in Poland to send a postcard, for example.) So this morning I mailed out 20 cards to destinations such as Germany, Thailand, China, and Tunisia.  This gets me a closer to the level I'd like to be at, but since I have been slacking off lately, as of this morning I have only 55 travelling cards out of my allowed limit of 100. Still need to step up my pace.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Make sail!

 My recent reading of the book All Hands On Deck has me thinking of my own experience aboard a square rigged tall ship.  To be more precise, a three masted sailing barque named the USCGC Eagle (WIX-327).  As a cadet at the US Coast Guard Academy in the mid 1980s, I spent several weeks in the summer of 1984 as a training crewmember on the Eagle.  Many experiences Will Sofrin describes in his book were familiar to me: climbing ratlines, laying out on a yard, furling and setting large squaresails, and so many other aspects of life at sea on a square rigger.  Some of it wasn't so glamorous: washing dishes, polishing brass, and standing tedious watch in a hot, noisy engine room.  But years later, I look on my experience with fondness.  Balancing on a footline on a yard 100 feet above the ocean surface in a stiff breeze and a choppy sea, the ship rolling back and forth, is not something many people get to experience.  And thanks to the obliviousness of youth, I never worried about the danger.  Today, as an old man, I could never imagine doing such things.  In those days before cell phones, I still came away with many photos, including the one below as I perched at the tip of the bowsprit as Eagle raced along under full sail.

My Coast Guard career was to be short lived, as it turns out.  At that stage of my life, I was slow to catch on to the social networking and relationship skills necessary in military organizations.  So after a couple years, I washed out of the academy and returned to my original life plan of being a scientist.  About half my academy class eventually did the same, leaving before graduation.  But those remarkable individuals who went on to make a long career as Coast Guard officers will always hold my deep admiration.  In fact, not one but two of my classmates would go on to eventually serve in succession as Captain of the Eagle.  And another classmate became the top guy running the Coast Guard Academy.  I am glad to have briefly known those impressive men and women, my classmates who served our country as members of the country's oldest military branch.  '87 Sir!!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

'Zine Day 3

 Another one of the 'zines that I subscribe to arrived yesterday.  This one is the East Village Inky which was launched in 1998 by Ayun Halliday when she lived in a small apartment in, you guessed it, east Greenwich Village, NYC. I first learned about Inky in this NY Times article which discussed zinesters who create their publications in unlikely places. Ayun Halliday is an immensely creative person who has since moved away from the east village, but continues to create and publish her 'zine entirely by hand.  Each issue is a 40 or so page glimpse of life in NYC, or some designated topic thereof.  This most recent issue 69 covers fashion, while previous editions have touched on topics as varied as the US Post Office, Kurt Vonnegut, or NYC museums.  In each issue, Halliday's imaginative and fun-loving spirit comes through loud and clear, making it a rare treat to read, while building the anticipation of the next issue.  Oh, and she has a really nifty bear coat, too. 

East Village Inky: Issue 69