Erdős number

Yesterday I learned my Erdős number is 4.

-> K. Birgitta Whaley “Monte Carlo studies of grain boundary segregation and ordering”; Journal of Chemical Physics (1992)
-> Julia Kempe “Decoherence-free subspaces for multiple-qubit errors. II. Universal, fault-tolerant quantum computation”; Physical Review A (2001)
-> László Pyber “Permutation groups, minimal degrees and quantum computing”; Groups, Geometry, and Dynamics (2007)
-> Paul Erdős “Vertex coverings by monochromatic cycles and trees”; Journal of Combinatorial Theory (1991)

little things

I’m writing this over a late lunch that is also serving as an early dinner, before teaching this spring’s first session of Energy: Science, Society, and Communication.

I sprinkle salt on my tomato. Each time I remember staying with an acquaintance in Ann Arbor nearly a quarter century ago, being introduced to the idea of salt on fresh tomato slices from a farmer’s market.

I bring the pepper shaker over to join the salt shaker. Each time I remember a friend telling me nearly a quarter century ago how the pair should always be together, passed together, like a couple.

I sign my email “Best wishes”. Each time I remember my undergraduate and graduate research advisors from over three decades ago, who initialed documents “BW” and “KBW”. Ben Widom is one of the finest human beings I have ever known, as well as a great scientist and teacher. I was Birgit Whaley’s first grad student and together we learned what that meant.

Little things.

big problems facing science

Julia Belluz, Brad Plumer, and Brian Resnick have co-authored a beautifully articulate article on the 7 biggest problems facing science:

  1. Academia has a huge money problem
  2. Too many studies are poorly designed
  3. Replicating results is crucial — and rare
  4. Peer review is broken
  5. Too much science is locked behind paywalls
  6. Science is poorly communicated
  7. Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful

Many of these problems are not new; I witnesssed many of them a quarter-century ago as a graduate student in chemistry at Berkeley. In addition, I recall my beloved undergraduate research advisor at Cornell longing for the time when NSF took a more generous view towards long-term, speculative projects. Nevertheless, I would agree that these problems in science are even more severe than ever.

Throughout my career, I have purposefully worked “off the grid”, only taking jobs that have not required me to publish papers or pursue research grants. While it has not always been ideal to live at the margins, overall I’ve had a fulfilling career.

show me your throat

(This piece is about how intimacy and vulnerability are intertwined: 
intimacy and vulnerability between audience and reader, reader and text, 
doctor and patient, dog and master, lover and lover. This piece is called: 
show me your throat here’s mine. Can you hear?)

How about now? Is that better?

Does that hurt?
How about now? Is that better?

you take your self to the physician you tell the doctor what’s wrong you say, 
doctor what should I do: it hurts when I do this <Basho poem: left hand 
smooths, right hand jumps, both splash>
The doctor says,
stop <splash> 
don’t do that

It’s a joke, don’t you get it? <splash> 
It’s a joke.

Do you know what I’m talking about? 
Has this ever happened to you?

you take your child to the pediatrician the child sometimes can’t tell you 
what’s wrong you have to read the child
you take your dog to the veterinarian the dog can never tell you what’s wrong 
you have to read the dog

you have to walk the dog 
you have to read the dog

listen: the dog is telling you something:
the dog is saying, I’m happy to see you I’ve missed you awful okay let’s go for 
a walk
the dog is saying, if you dropped that piece of fried chicken then I’ll be here to 
help clean up 
the dog is saying, leave me alone you’re too warm I don’t want to be near you 
right now 
the dog is saying, I’m
     so hurt that you can take my paw between metal forceps and pinch
     so hard that your knuckles turn white but I won’t whimper or squirm I’m
     so tired I can barely open my eyes to tell you that I wish that you would stop
stop <splash>

don’t do that

no one wants to tell you – : no one needs to tell you –

Do you know what I’m talking about? 
Has this ever happened to you?

Open wide – say aaah.
Lie on your back – expose 
your throat.

Show me your throat. Here’s mine.