Sideways

This is one of those stories that parents will recognize and will re-confirm for adults smart enough not to become parents the wisdom of your choices. This is the story how your day can go sideways for, yes, the right reasons, but still sideways.

As many of you know, the girl has been battling a badly torn ligament in her right ankle, as in almost completely torn back in May. She’s been in physical therapy since then, and she played in nationals in July, and, while she didn’t hurt the ankle any more, she did set her recovery back. A month later, school underway, she was back playing club soccer and we were at a tournament in Texas, when suddenly her hips felt like they just wouldn’t work and she was in a lot of pain. The tournament trainer gave her some relief, doing some pretzel things to her body, and told her both that this often happened with leg joint injuries: they travel up and down the body. Do your exercises, keep up your PT, and you’ll get better, because, he warned, this could just as easily move into your back.

Fast forward a week and the girl starts having serious back pain. Okay, we said, this was not unexpected. Rest and ibuprofen will see her through. By Wednesday, it was so bad that she said she couldn’t sit still in her classes and indeed when she came home, she couldn’t sit to do homework. Okay, okay … but, as you all know, back pain goes deep into your being and by evening’s end she was both in pain and in tears.

Thursday, yesterday, morning, I called her pediatrician, who is great and we had an afternoon appointment. I get the girl from school a bit early and we get to the doctor, who just saw her a few weeks ago for her annual, so she has a baseline in her memory. She checks Lily out, asks lots of good questions, gets a handful of reasonable answers from the teenager, and concludes that it’s 99% the case that it’s muscular and just an unfortunate convergence of physical and emotional stress from both the injury and school. But, she says, let’s make sure it’s not something skeletal, so let’s get you an X-ray and let’s get that today so we have something before the Labor Day weekend.

It’s 4 and we dash to the nearby Children’s Specialty Center. Nice registration people, but their system is incredibly slow. We’re checked in by 4:30, but … they are short staffed and they have to send us to the main hospital for the X-rays. Okay, we say, we’ll just drive it: you don’t have to have us ferried by security. Oh, thank you, they say.

So we make the short drive to the hospital across a series of hot parking lots, find a spot, and walk in. We head to the aquarium where we were told to go, and not ten seconds later a tall woman comes bustling in to escort us to X-ray. Oh, she says, we’re going to go to ER. ER? We ask. Yes, she says, their system is better and faster and we can get you on your way — because the girl’s brow is furrowed deeply worried about homework.

And she does. A half dozen images of my child’s spine, not covered by Blue Cross’s co-pay but part of my deductible — oh, thank you State of Louisiana for our great insurance options — later, and we are in the maelstrom of 5 o’clock traffic headed home.

We are home by 5 and the doctor calls to say the X-rays are clear and proceed with PT and the course of super naproxen and muscle relaxants she prescribed for the girl. Yung-Hsing braves traffic to go to the nearby CVS pharmacy, which is swamped, but everyone is in a reasonable mood — one person tried to start a singalong apparently but couldn’t remember any songs. The pharmacy tells Yung-Hsing they’ll text her when it’s ready because they are so far behind. So she leaves to return home.

We get some dinner and the girl starts trying to do homework, but she can’t think very clearly so Yung steps in to be a bit of an anchor for her. I hang out, but soon it’s after 8 and the pharmacy hasn’t texted and I decide just to go because, surely, after three hours they’ve had time to fill it.

I get to the CVS and they have filled the naproxen but not the muscle relaxant … because they don’t have it?

  • You don’t have it?
  • No, sir.
  • Why didn’t you call us to tell us?
  • Well, if you had left your number, we would have texted you.
  • My wife left you her number but you didn’t text her.
  • Oh.
  • Where else can I go?

At this point, the pharmacist says she’ll call a nearby CVS to see if they have it. They do. Oh, good, I say, let me have the prescription and I’ll head there. Oh, she says, I’ll enter it for you from here. Type type beep. Type type beep. Ten minutes go by of type type beep. It won’t go through. They keep telling me to go ahead and go, but I am not leaving without the prescription or the assurance that the transfer has gone through. (And why, oh why, CVS, can one pharmacist not simply tell another over the phone what’s needed?) You should just go. They close at 9.

It’s 8:40 according to my phone. I decide, against my own better judgement, to go. I get in the truck and head up Camellia to the CVS on the corner of Camellia and Johnston, and, for once, I speed up the boulevard. If a copy wants to clock me, he can follow me into the damn CVS parking lot. I am getting that muscle relaxant and my child is going to sleep.

I arrive at 8:50. I get to the pharmacy counter. They know why I’m there, but the order won’t show up in their damned computer system. I keep standing there. I keep thinking “Why can’t you call? Why can’t you call? What matters more: your system or the well-being of a child?” But I keep my mouth shut.

It’s 8:56, the pharmacy tech is clearly closing up chop, when something beeps. Here it is, announces the pharmacist. She quickly fills the prescription, the tech checks me out, and I bee line it out of the second CVS and third medical facility I have visited today.

And when I step into the muggy, evening heat of the parking lot, Yung-Hsing texts me that she got the text that the prescription is ready. Yes, really.

And that is what happened to four hours of my life yesterday.

Legends, Lies, and Life

We begin with an excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men:

As I crossed the Maitland-Eatonville township line I could see a group on the store porch. I was delighted. The town had not changed. Same love of talk and song. So I drove on down there before I stopped. Yes, there was George Thomas, Calvin Daniels, Jack and Charlie Jones, Gene Brazzle, B. Moseley and “Seaboard.” Deep in a game of Florida-flip. AH of those who were not actually playing were giving advice-“bet straightening” they call it.
“Hello, boys,” I hailed them as I went into neutral.
They looked up from the game and for a moment it looked as if they had forgotten me. Then B. Moseley said, “Well, if it ain’t Zora Hurston!” Then everybody crowded around the car to help greet me.
“You gointer stay awhile, Zora?”
“Yep. Several months.”
“Where you gointer stay, Zora?”
“With Mett and Ellis, I reckon.”
“Mett” was Mrs. Armetta Jones, an intimate friend of mine since childhood and Ellis was her husband. Their house stands under the huge camphor tree on the front street.
“Hello, heart-string,” Mayor Hiram Lester yelled as he hurried up the street. “We heard A about you up North. You back home for good, I hope.”
“Nope, Ah come to collect some old stories and tales and Ah know y’all know a plenty of ’em and that’s why Ah headed straight for home.”
“What you mean, Zora, them big old lies we tell when we’re jus’ sittin’ around here on the store porch doin’ nothin’?” asked B. Moseley.
“Yeah, those same ones about Ole Massa, and colored folks in heaven, and oh, y’all know the kind I mean.”
“Aw shucks,” exclaimed George Thomas doubtfully. “Zora, don’t you come here and tell de biggest lie first thing.
“Who you reckon want to read all them old-time tales about Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear?”
“Plenty of people, George. They are a lot more valuable than you might think. We want to set them down before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?”
“Before everybody forgets all of ’em.”
“No danger of that. That’s all some people is good for settin’ ’round and lie and murder groceries.”

Useful Pandas Posts

Please note that this post is, yes, “under construction” as I compile various notes from across my file system and decide what’s worth keeping here and what’s going into the virtual trash bin.

If, like me, you are not very familiar with R and thus you do not readily grasp how pandas brings much of R’s coolness to Python data analysis workflows, then having the occasional overview and/or cheat sheet on hand is useful.

For overviews, I found the following really helpful in understanding how pandas organizes data and the methods available for working with it:

For quick tips that border on almost being cheat sheets, there is Chris Albon’s “Technical Notes on Using Data Science & Artificial Intelligence to Fight for Something That Matters”, at the bottom of which is a compendium of great tutorials and tips on using pandas. (And as you scroll, you glimpse a lot of other really useful stuff as well.)

Who Wears Short Shorts?

I stumbled across this photo of John Wayne wearing short shorts, sporting a murse, and smoking a cigarette in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal (17-18 August 2019). I burst out laughing because it offers quite the contrast from the usual views of the Duke in a lot of places. This one is for my stepfather.

John Wayne, Acapulco, 1959.

Rewiring Apple Speakers

Parts needed:

1 x Standard stereo Y cable with a standard mini plug attached.
1 x Pair of wirecutters/strippers
1 x Roll of electrical tape

The operation:

  1. Using the wirecutters, remove the Apple junction and all cabling behind it, including the Apple mini-plug. Please don’t worry, this is safe.
  2. Strip about 1 inch of insulation from each cable that remains attached to the Apple Pro Speakers. Do the same to the stereo Y cable we purchased.
  3. Inside each cable, one will notice a pair of wires. Strip about 1/2 inch of insulation from each wire. Do the same to the stereo Y cable.
  4. Join each wire from the Apple Pro Speaker stereo pair to it’s compliment on the stereo Y cable. Anyone thathas done wiring of a home stereo system will have no problem recognizing what to do from here on out.
  5. Tape of each join securly, or solder if one likes and then tape up each joint. Also, heat sealing joiners can be used as well. I used electrical tape myself, but I may go back and get heat seals as they look nicer.
  6. Insert stereo mini plug into the audio output of choice an enjoy!

The right speaker has: shielding on the outside, a layer of foil, a brown wire, a yellow wire.

The left speaker has: shielding on the outside, a layer of foil, a blue wire, a white wire.

  • Pull the foil away and when connecting these wires MAKE SURE THEY DO NOT TOUCH WIRES THAT THEY ARE NOT PURPOSELY ATTACHED TO.
  • Get a mini or headphones connector where the left and right wires are easily stripped and separated. I used one where the right wire is clearly red and the left is clearly white and both wires have shielding.
  • Make sure the stripped wires are stripped at least an inch above the shielding so there is less opportunity to touch.
  • Twist the shielding of all wires together and cover with electrical tape.
  • Twist the Brown and the Blue wires from the two speakers together and cover with electrical tape
  • Twist the white wire from the Apple Pro speaker together with the left (in my case white) wire connected to the mini connector, cover with electrical tape.
  • Twist the Yellow wire from the Apple Pro speaker together with the right (in my case red) wire connected to the mini connector, cover with electrical tape.
  • The blue and brown wires, now connected, need to be connected to the shielding wire.

Science Fiction Stories by Keith Laumer in the Public Domain

If like me you found yourself very excited by the news on Boing Boing that possibly as much as 80% of the books published between 1924 and 1963 might now be in the public domain thanks to their copyrights not being renewed, then like me you also clicked on the links to the New York Public Library’s explanation as well as Leonard Richardson’s discussion. What was most exciting, to me, to discover was that a fair amount of science fiction from that period, which includes the so-called golden era, might be in the public domain.

That’s the good news. The bad news, or the news that requires patience, is that you still have to track down that work, much of which hasn’t been scanned. Some of it has been scanned, and is possibly available through the Hathi Trust, but it hasn’t been OCRed and curated into clean digital versions. But some of it has, and in the case of some work by Keith Laumer, a favorite of mine, it’s available on Gutenberg.

The list of texts is all sitting on one page, and it’s only 12 works, so writing a BeautifulSoup script seemed like overkill, especially when my preferred plain text note application, [Bear][], does a terrific job of turning HTML into easily edited markdown. From there, I edited the URLs following the pattern I gleaned from one of the texts using Textmate’s block edit functionality. I got the following list:

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/51258/pg51258.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/53132/pg53132.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/51509/pg51509.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/51712/pg51712.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/51267/pg51267.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/26782/pg26782.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/51781/pg51781.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/21627/pg21627.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/23028/pg23028.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/52844/pg52844.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/52855/pg52855.txt
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/21782/pg21782.txt

I saved it to a file, cded into my texts repo and ran wget:

wget -w 2 -i ~/Desktop/laumer.txt

A half minute later it was done:

FINISHED --2019-08-14 19:01:18--
Total wall clock time: 24s
Downloaded: 12 files, 1.2M in 1.4s (874 KB/s)

You can do the same, or you can grab the collection of plain text files out of my GitHub texts repo: Laumer stories.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk

If you’re curious about what I have been up to, it’s working with Katherine M. Kinnaird: “TED talks as Data” is the first in three planned installments of our collaboration — data, words, discourse. In the mean time, as they say, “thanks for coming to my TED talk”:

On Attentiveness

Wendell Berry in an essay entitled “Preserving Wildness” collected inHome Economics makes the case for what may be called an economy of attentiveness (as opposed to an economy of mere attention).

The good worker loves the board before it becomes a table, loves the tree before it yields the board, loves the forest before it gives up the tree. The good worker understands that a badly made artifact is both an insult to its user and a danger to its source. We could say, then, that good forestry begins with the respectful husbanding of the forest that we call stewardship and ends with well-made tables and chairs and houses, just as good agriculture begins with stewardship of the fields and ends with good meals.

How It Feels to Be Copied

I wrote this some time ago, in 2015, I think. I thought it was published here, and when I discovered it lying in an archive of notes on my computer, I thought it was only right to put it where I intended all those years ago.

It begins with whispers and occasional sideways glances among the people who know what is happening, and with very odd questions among the people who don’t know — I remember someone from across the university remarking that I should check out the other project, since it too was on the same topic. Then, someone finally steps forward and points out what others have known, or suspected, for a while. They show you a website, and I was confused because the prose, while not exactly my own, was so much like how I wrote, how I thought, and the title of the project was remarkably similar to my own, and, in fact, was fairly close to a phrase I had used in an essay that I had published out of the larger research project. Finally, when I kind of stumbled back to my office, unsure of what to think, a hallmate sticks his head in to say that the other person has been asking about the topic. My hallmate tells me that he kept telling the other person to talk to me, but …

But what? How do such things happen? As a student of culture, I am fully aware that there is such a thing as zeitgeist, that ideas have their moments. I have also chosen to pursue a scholar’s life in the humanities, which means I have chosen to sacrifice greater economic opportunities for the ability, I hope, to serve the greater good, to make a contribution not only to the domain of human knowledge but also to make a difference in the lives of individuals students and the life of my community. And so, the first thing I feel is betrayal. Someone else has done something to me.

But, really, the other person doesn’t really need to care that much.

As for the other project. It takes my idea, which is to examine creativity through a clearly creative object, and focuses on an old wooden boat form that is only made by a few antiquarians for other antiquarians. It’s not a terrible thing to spend time with someone older than you making antiques, but call it that. Don’t call it scholarship. It’s a memoir.

The difficult part is when universities begin to confuse this kind of work with the actual work of scholarship and science, which is probably going to happen more often in more places as universities allow themselves to be run by professional managers and not academics.

This has always been a risk, of course. The great mass at the center of almost any university is the spread of abilities. One of the central tensions in the academy has always been between those who prefer to research, and do it well; those who prefer to teach, and do it well; and those who prefer to manage things, and maybe they do it somewhat competently. But the pay hierarchy goes: administration, research, teaching.

As bean counters take over, not only will they count butts in seats but they will also count publications, without any sense of what matters and what does not. A colleague of mine reported that in her conversation with our dean, when she pointed out that she felt like her work, published in the top journals in her field, was largely being undervalued, our dean replied, “that quantity matters, not quality.” (If he was being ironic, there was no later action he took to reveal that subtle dimension: floggings continued with hopes of morale improving.)

Annual Performance Evaluation Response

At the end of the tedious online performance evaluation process faculty are allowed to make a statement of sorts. Please note that my final evaluation was 4.8 out of 5: I was assessed at 5 for research (55% of my evaluation), 4.5 for teaching (35%), and 5 for service (10%). Here is what I submitted:

Why are we embarked upon a process which the provost himself has described publicly as “inane”? What does it mean for a faculty member to receive a grade of 4.8? Moreover, what’s the point of seeking to distinguish oneself when the only thing at stake is a cost of living adjustment misnamed as a “merit raise”? And this in a year when there will be no adjustments, no raises? Mr. LeBlanc can shake his head in sympathy that my salary will, in effect, be diminished by 3.5%, and maybe the dean will, too, but they both are comfortable in their 6-figure salaries and I have to decide, once again, how much of my savings I will divert to send my child to school, to effect meaningful home repair, and/or offset other expenses which grow each year even as our salaries do not. I am lucky to hold an endowed professorship, but it is only ever temporary, and I know that all I have to do is stumble professionally or annoy the wrong person and that will be taken away and things will be as bad as they are for everyone else in the department. (Or, worse, its removal could be the outcome of an under-considered process possessing no strategic focus nor even a sense of the variance in values of publications to an institution that claims to aspire to higher status.) The evaluation of performance in the absence of any meaningful reward and only the ever-present damoclean threat of punishment is not evaluation but a constant reminder that the administration always holds a knife to faculty’s throat.