Ian McEwan, bridge and restricted choice

I am reading Ian McEwan's novel "The Sweet Tooth" and was surprised to see an excellent explanation of a complex logic puzzle in it.  And even more surprised when the author shows off by building a slightly-wrong vignette based on the puzzle, and a better vignette that corrects the problem.

My respect for Mr. McEwan has gone up several fold now. Full details in my bridge blog (don't worry you should understand almost all of it).

Purple Radar

If you were driving along Robinson St. in Norman today, you'd see a purple radar dome.

My former colleagues at OU/NSSL got together and painted the phased array radar (PAR) purple in honor of a key PAR scientist who is going through cancer treatment right now. As someone remarked on Facebook, there's a lot of love in that picture.

On a week when OU is in the national news because of a group of fraternity boys singing songs about niggers hanging from trees, the purple radar reminds me of the thoughtfulness and camaraderie that I associate with my nearly 20 years in Oklahoma.

Swastikas on the wall of a Hindu temple

Apparently someone painted a hateful symbol on the wall of the Seattle area Hindu temple.

The ironic thing is that the graffiti in question was a swastika. Swastikas were of course Hindu symbols long before Hitler got hold of it. Even though the Nazi symbol is a mirror image of the Hindu swastika, many Hindu temples in America use the Hindi letter for Om in order to avoid any misunderstanding.

If caught, a smart lawyer could probably plead the symbol was not meant in a harmful way and that the swastika was drawn on a wall where it was quite apt. Hope however that the graffiti artist was drawing in da Vinci code.

Three-commute day

Today, I commuted to work twice.  Huh?

My usual commute is to ride the bike (at 6.45 am) to a freeway station and catch an express bus to Seattle. At about 7.10am, I got a call from home.  The wife could not find the car keys.

Turns out I had been even less sharp than usual this morning when I left for work.  I had left home with both set of car keys, one in each jeans pocket.  Mine and the wife's.

In the mornings, the express routes and the bus lines are all oriented towards getting to downtown. Coming back is another matter altogether.  Luckily there was a bus at 7.25am that stopped somewhat in the vicinity of home.  So, I took that bus, bicycled home, returned the car keys and caught the next bus back to the city. I was back at work at 8.40 am.  Not bad for two roundtrips on public transit.

The funny thing?  Because all my bus rides were within 2 hours of the start of my journey, the remaining 3 trips all counted as "transfers" and all four journeys together cost $3.00.

Cranks make testable predictions

Working in severe weather, I have gotten used to getting the occassional email from cranks, even ones with credentials that make you want to take them seriously. For example, a couple of years ago, I was pestered repeatedly by a professor of civil engineering at a well-known university.  He claimed to be able to predict the path of tornadoes based on terrain, and it was all I could do to deter him from coming to Norman to talk to our group.

And of course, there was the infamous physics professor who wanted to build a wall in the Great Plains forgetting that there are mountain ranges that high in the Midwest that do nothing to stop 'em twisters.

But the email I got today was a first.  The crank makes a testable prediction:

We , at Swami Hardas Foundation, India,  have developed a  super advanced calamity forecast technology, which is capable of forecasting  calamities  much ahead of other technologies. The following are our latest likely predictions :1)    Severe storm at eastern Alabama likely around 26th January, 20152)    Mount Fuji , Japan is likely to start spewing lava during the last week of March,2015. There may be emission of smoke, debris etc during the weeks prior to it.

Since when have cranks started making testable predictions?  Since severe storms are more prevalent in Alabama starting in March, this is not a climatological prediction.  And while there have been a few small earthquakes near Fuji, and the Japanese have evacuation plans in place, there is no heightened state of alarm.

Controlling her spirit

The kids and I are playing The Settlers of Catan .  The daughter is winning and has 9 points (10 to win), but the son is close behind and will probably get a longer road, thus reducing her to 7 points on the next turn.

She is about to pass the die off to me, when I suggest that she look again at her hand.  "Why don't you use your 2:1 port to convert some of your cards," I ask her, "and upgrade one of your houses to a settlement?".   She doesn't quite get it.  "What does that mean?," she asks.

At which point, the son interjects:  "Because she doesn't want to, Appa.  Don't control her spirit."

p.s. You may have noticed that my blogging frequency has reduced.  This appears to be a side-effect of working in the private sector -- I am reluctant to post anything that is even tangentially related to work, and that obviously cuts down on what I can post.  The bridge blog continues apace of course, because there is nothing there to self-censor.

Cycling over the lake

USA today came out with one of their lists of best places to live.  Among all cities (without looking at slicing and dicing them into midsize cities, etc.) Newton, MA and Bellevue, WA took the top two spots.  My experience with Newton has been limited to playing bridge at the Jewish community center there, so I don't know much about Newton, but having lived in Bellevue for three weeks, I consider myself an expert on what makes the area cool.

My work is in downtown Seattle but we chose to live in Bellevue after extensive research because it has both great schools and convenient public transport into the city. I'll talk about the schools another day; today, I'll talk about bicycling.  Having lived and bicycled in Oklahoma, the difference is stark.

Most days, I bicycle to an express bus stop (5 minutes) and then take the bus into the city (20 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes on the way back).  Had I taken a car, it would take 40 minutes to get there and an hour to get back.  Not to mention ... I'd pay $11 for parking most days and up to $125/day when there are events going on .

On days when I can plan it out, I can bicycle all the way home, forgoing the bus altogether.  The bicycle path runs along the interstate and over the lake.  This is what my bicycle commute looks like:

Leaving work in downtown Seattle: notice that the line is marked for bicycles, and note the space that the car gives the bicyclists at the traffic signal.

 Near 12th and Jackson at the south edge of the city, just before getting on the Mountains-to-Sound trail.

The start of the trail.

The trail runs through a neighborhood that is a sister city to Daejeon, S. Korea

About to join I-90, the bike trail becomes fenced in on both sides.

Joining I-90

One bridge on I-90 wasn't wide enough to accomodate bicycles, so you you've got to wait at a traffic signal to cross the street

To make up for that, though, the trail then runs through a park

Trail going through a tunnel under a particularly steep hill.

View of Lake Washington and the I-90 bridge from other side of tunnel

The bicycle path running beside I-90 over the lake

The cars are backed up, but the cycles have no issue.

Mercer Island

Trail in Mercer Island

The trail loops over the north end of Mercer Island

But part of the trail is along a rather busy road. Still bicycles are fully separated from the road

And at this point, we start going through a park again

local road on left, I-90 on right.
 Pecking order
In Bellevue, the trail runs through a swamp called Mercer Slough

This is the worst part of the trail in that it is a bunch of concrete slabs.

In Bellevue, you get a dedicated bicycle lane

So, 11 miles through downtown, traffic signals, mountains, parks, tunnel, lake, island, swamp. And at no point unsafe. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what all of America needs to be like.