Sunday, March 29, 2020

Stayin' Alive, Oh Yeah....

Hey, we all just wanna keep ’Stayin’ Alive,’ right:
(sorry, couldn't get these to embed within blogpost, but just follow the links)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Good Reads...

Those stuck at home now may have time for a lot more reading, so passing along two of my favorite long posting-links from the almost 10 years of doing this blog... in case you missed these (or worth re-reading if you saw them the first go-around).  Amazingly, both of them come from computational biologist Lior Pachter:

2014 piece on the “cultures” of math and biology:

and fantastic 2015 piece on problems related to Common Core (for teachers especially):

…finally, slightly similar to the above, here’s a very long, wonderful 2012 Tim Gowers’ piece, also on problems for math teachers:

Happy reading (and sheltering-in-place)… and stay well, warm, safe everyone.

Monday, March 23, 2020


Maybe time for a little distraction from the approaching apocalypse and accompanying probabilities of the Trump virus, er, uhhh, I mean Corona virus, and get back to some math. So here's Alex Bellos' latest puzzle, a probability one from Peter Winkler, for The Guardian:

By the way, the above link to Winkler's brief Wikipedia page offers this chuckle-worthy story of Paul Erdos' attendance at the Bar Mitzvah celebration for Winklers' twin boys (the story is quoted from Hoffman's "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers"):
"Erdös came to my twins' bar mitzvah, notebook in hand," said Peter Winkler, a colleague of Graham's at AT&T. "He also brought gifts for my children--he loved kids--and behaved himself very well. But my mother-in-law tried to throw him out. She thought he was some guy who wandered in off the street, in a rumpled suit, carrying a pad under his arm. It is entirely possible that he proved a theorem or two during the ceremony."
Meanwhile, happy handwashing everyone... and in the immortal words of Yogi Berra (supposedly) keep in mind, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Surviving ... [FWIW, more Covid-19]

There are so many sites with great coverage of the Covid-19 situation I don’t wish to spend too much time on it here (as I already devoted the previous post to it), but have to say the more extensively I read, the less consensus I see among various doctors, epidemiologists, and statisticians on approaches to the crisis. 

I mainly want to use this post to state below the regimen I use for winter cold/flu-like symptoms (in case it’s helpful for anyone else), but before getting to that feel compelled to say a little about all this emphasis on “flattening the curve” and “mitigation.”

1)  Virtually EVERYone will be exposed to this virus. Social distancing, isolation, home-sequester, will NOT prevent that. It may well reduce the frequency and intensity of exposure (especially any transmission from you to others), but you will still be exposed -- there is a difference between exposure and contraction (or infection) of the actual disease. As with most flu varieties, most people will naturally fight off the virus with their own immune system, and even if they contract it most will survive after some (and perhaps serious) unpleasantries — I realize many of you already know all this, but from the fear that has been stoked it’s also clear many do not. 
Frankly (for so many reasons), I think it almost certain that our medical system will inevitably be overwhelmed by this situation — the whole ‘flattening the curve’ argument just says that instead of being overrun, early-on, say in the next month, we will be less intensely overrun across several months later on (a worthy goal, but no panacea). The virus also may re-hit in separate waves further complicating matters.

2)  Since we all will be exposed to the virus (repeatedly) I’m disappointed that more emphasis hasn’t been placed on proactively bolstering our own individual health and immune system (for those who already have compromised health or underlying conditions, what I say may not apply, but I’m speaking to the bulk of average, reasonably healthy adults). And that means a simple emphasis on the basics:  good diet, regular exercise, hydration, adequate sleep/warmth, fresh air & sunshine, perhaps vitamins/supplements. Things you should be concentrating on all the time anyway (but of course most of us don’t), and even more especially NOW!

So anyway I want to offer the regimen I’ve worked out over decades that helps me avoid or recover from typical cold-and-flu-like symptoms (I don’t claim these specific ones will work for everyone, but that something like them will benefit most individuals):
These are steps I take at the FIRST SIGN of a sore throat, congestion/stuffy-nose, fever, headache, etc. (IF you wait more than 24 hrs. the chance of success diminishes):

1)  WARMTH — THE FIRST AND BY FAR MOST IMPORTANT step is to throw on layers of clothing… to the point almost of sweating; i.e. raise your body temperature — a fever of course is the body’s attempt to fight an infection, and if you can proactively raise your own temperature early on I often find that alone stops an infection in its tracks. This includes covering the extremities (hat, toboggan, or ski cap for head, gloves for hands, and thick socks or a double-pair of socks — I especially like latex gloves that fit tight but allow dexterous finger movement, but winter gloves OK too; also cover neck, turtleneck attire is good).  I spend the day so-clothed AND sleep in a similar bundle! -- if you awake in the middle of the night soaked in sweat, that's a GOOD thing, not a bad thing; and you can always remove layers, as needed. I'll also wear a dust mask at night (including sleep) to breathe in warm air. Depending on time of year, a room humidifier at night, may be a good idea as well.

BTW, before putting on the layered attire a hot shower and all-over application of body lotion or baby oil is in order; for me lotion on the back of the neck seems especially crucial (though I don’t even know why!).

2)  DIET — surprise, surprise, eat well! Plenty of veggies/fruits/salads; fewer starchy carbs, pasta, bread, pastries, dairy products, and definitely much less sugar (…and I’m a sweets-and-carb-addict).  When I was younger the ol' staple chicken noodle soup (and even Ramen noodles) helped, but my body no longer does well with high sodium, so I avoid these (but if you can tolerate the sodium by all means) — of course if you have Fawn Nguyen’s recipe for “pho” on-hand that just might be a more powerful cure-all than all the aforementioned ;))))  Also, at least one apple-a-day — seriously, helps me!

Plenty of water and liquids; especially hot green tea (preferably Jasmine), citrus fruits, and my one surrender to sugar is (I hate to admit it) Mountain Dew or Ginger Ale (preferably with real sugar, no fructose or artificial sweetener; 8-16 oz. a day at most) — otherwise, I avoid sodas and other sugary drinks, and decrease alcohol (...I also try to decrease coffee, but never succeed). p.s... I like to add lemon juice to plain bottled or tap water. And sucking on ice cubes is yet another small tidbit I've found helpful. 

3)  EXERCISE  — DO NOT BECOME SEDENTARY! — I fear the folks in the grocery stores right now filling their carts to the hilt with chips and crackers, ice cream and jelly beans, and going home, possibly to play video games and eat junk food… and then act surprised when they come down with the virus! The body was made to move. Even without special equipment there are plenty of exercises you can do right at home (look up YouTube exercise videos if you need to), but better yet get outside and walk, jog, hike, bicycle, etc. (aerobic exercise best; alternatively, weight training) — avoid other people, but move, move, move around outdoors… in your layered clothing, and perhaps even sipping a thermos of Jasmine tea ;)
Sunshine is a great sterilizer, and indoor air is often horrid! Try to spend at least an hour, preferably more, in the sun and fresh air (even on a cloudy day) every day; even if it’s just sitting in a lawn chair working crossword puzzles (unless it is simply too cold/windy to be outside).
In addition to exercise, one certainly might add meditation, yoga, tai chi, and the like to a daily routine of otherwise active movement.

4)  Try for a good night’s sleep each evening. (I can't do it, but maybe you can.)

5)  VITAMINS/SUPPLEMENTS — these vary tremendously from one individual to the next. I’m partial to vitamin C, garlic tablets, vitamin D, fish oil, and a Chinese herbal product a friend turned me on to, called “Cold Snap.” But I certainly know people who swear by the benefits of zinc, turmeric, ginger, honey, echinacea, bee pollen, ginseng, mushrooms, and on and on — you just have to play around and see what, if anything, benefits your body and genetics.

So much of what I’m saying here is little more than what your grandmother or great grandmother would have recommended, without any medical degree (except no one listens to grandma anymore with Dr. Oz a click away on the Web). It is not intended to sound like know-it-all stuff, but intended to simply say act proactively on behalf of your own health; don’t just sit around waiting for the Government to tell you what to do in lockstep, and then run off at the first sniffles or sore throat to clog up your medical facilities asking for a screening test (though I realize others will argue that IF the tests were readily available then mass screening should be done).

Stay warm, stay well, stay safe, move… and this too shall pass.

ADDENDUM:  To lighten things up a bit, this seems to be making the rounds on the internet right now… and so timely (despite being 40 years old). From the incomparable Tom Lehrer, who I wrote about back HERE:

ADDENDUM II -- This is one of the better, and more nuanced, Twitter threads (in my view) of many good ones on the Covid-19 situation:

...and another ADDENDUM:  After writing all the above, a number of smaller things occurred to me that I do regularly in the winter, or especially at the slightest hint of illness, so will pass them along as well, though not as key as the general actions above:

1)  boil water in a teakettle (or just a sauce pan) and hold face, obviously not to closely, over the steam (feels good, not sure it has any real illness-fighting ability)

2)  similarly, soak a wash cloth in hot water (as hot as I can stand to hold) and hold over nose, mouth, eyes, massaging face with it

3)  brush body (circular motions), especially aching areas, with a hard bristle brush (can also use self-massager, but I especially like a brush)

4)  keep fingernails trimmed short (to reduce ‘hiding’ places for virus)

5)  use saline nose spray as needed, but, NOT too often

6)  gargling with hydrogen peroxide solution or an herbal product (hard to find) called Alkalol

7)  use slow, calming breathing… inhaling slowly through nose, exhaling slowly through mouth (there are several variations practiced)

8)  Something I do anyway (because of a bad back) and now do even more, limit prolonged sitting; stay on your feet as much as possible.

Again my point in all this is that I wish there was at least a little more emphasis from the Government on individuals trying to maintain health and a strong immune system to successfully fight the virus, instead of only emphasis on trying to avoid exposure to the virus (which isn't likely possible). With all that said, DO wash hands, DON'T touch face, and stay warm and well-hydrated.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The End of Education As We’ve Known It ??? [The Covid-19 Edition]

I’m not involved with or in the loop of education, but many readers here are (at various levels). Especially at university level we are now seeing colleges all across the nation close down brick-and-mortar classes in favor of online education. This will likely last for the remainder of the current semester, and one can easily imagine it carrying on through the summer and next fall semester.

I can’t help but wonder how easy it will be, if this alteration continues very long, to return to traditional classrooms and lecture halls (for some courses of course, much easier than for others). Once young people get fully accustomed to an online format will they have tolerance for returning to buildings/desks/chairs/etc. I’ve watched, over time, how many friends have gotten ‘hooked’ on online shopping to the point that actual stores/malls/shopping seem like drudgery or a nuisance to avoid.

Where I live, for some decades now, the main state university has been planning a major expansion of its grounds to meet future needs (I believe it started as a 50+ year plan… except that we are now I think at least 25 years into it and little has been done, except pay for a lot of expensive independent studies that were then trashed). It involves transforming a lot of beautiful woodland and wild habitat into another separate university campus to meet future demands. From the beginning I wondered if this expansion was even necessary. In 50 or 100 years I could imagine the university requiring LESS, not more land/space and brick-and-mortar buildings — because students may not need classrooms, lecture halls, and other physical spaces, IF most learning takes place online. In the future students may not even matriculate at a single university, but instead take a smorgasbord of courses, over 4 years, from a variety of schools: physics 101 from Princeton, English Lit. from Yale, Economics from University of Michigan, American History from Stanford, and on and on. Of course there will always be some courses and labs that require student presence in a special building, but a lot of courses can indeed be covered digitally. Not only that, but in such a world you don’t need 100s of professors teaching calculus 101; perhaps 10 (or less) of the best could instruct ALL students throughout the nation, with plenty of assistants available more locally. 

The point being, who knows what education will be like (or its needs be) 50-100 years from now; few of us can foresee or predict all the changes ahead. And what I’m wondering is whether or not this current disease-driven crisis is simply going to hasten the day where brick-and-mortar universities, like brick-and-mortar malls/stores will be a dying breed. A lot of smaller, less well-endowed colleges are already struggling or going out-of-business in the very competitive world of higher education. How many will be left standing in decades to come, and how big of a physical footprint will they require from generations raised living their lives so largely online?

Anyway, for now (and sorry to sound like such a doomsayer) it’s difficult for me to see any likely near-term scenario for this crisis that doesn’t result in a worldwide depression and potentially huge societal transformations. I’m amused at folks using the tepid word “recession” when surely they must realize the far worse implications/ripples for economies, business, employment, and daily lives that the current situation seems to augur — but hey, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’  so who knows what lies ahead, what creative solutions may evolve and how quickly society will adapt — if you see a realistic scenario that avoids widespread financial depression feel free to offer it in the comments. I'm not perceptive enough to imagine one and I need some opening for optimism!
ADDENDUM (3/12):  With the Dow Jones Average tanking another 2300+ points today, the answer to how to attempt to avoid economic depression may have come in the form of the Fed announcing a plan for dropping a tidy 1.5 trillion dollars into the economy (I know some debt-ridden students who would like a chunk of that). They don’t have a lot of tools left in their arsenal, but they seem to be rapidly employing those they do have (...or maybe we can all just start printing up $20 bills at home, LOL).

Meanwhile, I’ve told friends for over a year that I thought the actual fair value for the DJA was somewhere between 18,000 and 22,000 and we’ve now reached that range with an awful lot of Covid-19 news still to come. Gonna be a wild ride.

ADDENDUM II (3/14):  In my town (like many), closings/cancellations are now happening fast and furious. Most of these closings are talking of a 30-day action to be re-evaluated at that time. But we are still far closer to the early stages of this situation than to the end. I can’t imagine that at the end of 30 days, many of the closings won’t be extended for another 30-60 days (…and then after that perhaps again) with devastating results for individuals’ economic lives, especially the MANY who live month-to-month. Still possible with spring around the corner that this novel virus might prove to be seasonal, and much of the danger dissipate soon, in a best-case scenario,** but still the ripples/ramifications outward won’t suddenly end.  Whenever this ends, how much of society and human behavior will have changed for the long-term?

   ** Addendum to an Addendum ;) ... for a take on why 'seasonality' might NOT be a good thing see:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

ASMR by the Beach

A new month of crazy politics so who doesn't need a li'l dose of ASMR, before perhaps all Heck erupts.... 
Another long-standing ASMR producer is "ASMR Barber," early on often doing 'shaving' ASMR videos. Here's an example by the beach:


side-note and RFI: ASMR is being heavily-studied by researchers to understand the wide variety of stimuli that generate the sensation, and why some folks are susceptible to it (to varying degrees) and others not at all. Anyway, it all makes me wonder a bit about an opposite sensation:  the screeching sound of fingernails down a blackboard or tennis shoes on a playing court is intensely irritating to many people, yet has no effect on others. Does anyone happen to know of research or explanations for these wide individual differences?

Sunday, March 1, 2020


Here are a couple of wonderful recent optical motion illusions from @jagarikin on Twitter (there is NO motion; nothing is moving):

( it any wonder that eyewitness testimony is so unreliable!)