This is the current list of every flight leaving Madison today:
(For those who don’t live here, under normal conditions there would be about 50 depatures a day to 15-20 destinations.)
This is the current list of every flight leaving Madison today:
(For those who don’t live here, under normal conditions there would be about 50 depatures a day to 15-20 destinations.)
Actually, I arrived on October 31, but who can resist a gratuitous Blade Runner reference?
I was in town for the always-interesting meeting of the IPAM science board. Keep an eye on their schedule; there are great workshops coming up!
There was chaos and anger at LAX when I landed, because the airport just this week moved Lyft/Uber/taxi pickups offsite. For reasons I don’t fully understand, this has led to long waits for rideshare cars. For reasons I understand even less, people are waiting an hour for their Lyft to show up when the regular taxi stand is right there, and you can — I did — just hop in a cab with no wait and go. (Yes, a VC-subsidized Lyft is cheaper than a cab, if it’s not surge time. But the bus is cheaper still, and once you’re not saving time with the Lyft, what’s the point?)
So I got in my cab and went to the beach, and watched the sunset over the ocean. Clear view of a really nice Moon-Jupiter conjunction and Venus still visible down at the horizon. Last time I went to Dockweiler Beach I was all alone, but this time there were several groups of people in Halloween costumes around bonfires. That was probably the most Blade Runner thing about this trip and it wasn’t even November 2019 yet!
I have a first cousin in LA, and good luck for me — my first cousin’s first baby was born my first morning in town! So on Saturday after the meeting I got to go see my first cousin once removed on his second day alive. I haven’t seen a one-day-old baby in a really long time! And it’s true what they say; I both remember my own kids being that age and I don’t. It’s more like I remember remembering it. I thought I was going to have a lot of advice but mostly all I had to say to them was that they are going to be amazing parents, because they are.
The hospital was in East Hollywood, a neighborhood I don’t know at all. Walking around afterwards, I saw a sign for an art-food festival in a park, so I walked up the hill into the park, where there wasn’t really an art-food festival, but there was a great Frank Lloyd Wright mansion I’d never heard of, Hollyhock House:
As with most FLW houses, there’s a lot more to it than you can see in the picture. A lot of it is just the pleasurable three-dimensional superimposition of rectangular parallelipipeds, and that doesn’t project well onto the plane.
There were a lot of folks sitting on blankets on the hillside, even though there was no art-food festival, because it turns out Barnsdall Park is where you and your 20-something moderately hipster friends go to watch the sunset in LA (unless it’s Halloween, in which case I guess you dress up and build a bonfire on Dockweiler Beach.) Sunset:
Then I ate some Filipino food, since Filipino restaurants sadly don’t exist in Madison right now, and went back to my hotel and read MathJobs files.
My Lyft driver on the way back was a 27-year-old guy from Florida who’s working on an album. That’s no surprise; my Lyft driver yesterday was also working on an album. Your Lyft driver in LA, unless they are a comic, is always working on an album. (My Lyft driver yesterday was also a comic.) This ride was a little deeper, though. This guy was a first-generation college student who went to school out-of-state on a soccer scholarship, majored in biology, and thought about getting a Ph.D. but was too stressed out about the GRE. He said whenever he started studying for the math part he was troubled by deep questions about foundations. Pi, he asked me: what is it? How can anyone really know it goes on forever? For that matter, what about two? Why is there such a thing as two? He also wanted to be a perfusionist but sat in on an open-heart surgery and decided it wasn’t for him, not in the long term. He started asking himself: is biology what I really want to do? So he’s driving a Lyft and working on his album. He also told me about how he doubts he’ll be able to make a long-term relationship work because he doesn’t believe in sex before marriage (he said: “out of wedlock”) and how he had dabbled in Hasidic Judiasm and how he was surprised I was Jewish because I didn’t look it (“no offense.”) Anyway, it just made me think about how normal and maybe universal his existential doubts and worries are for a 27-year-old dude; but for an upper-middle-class 27-year-old dude from an elite educational background, those existential doubts and worries would be something to process while you continued climbing on up that staircase to a stable professional career. That would just be a given. For this guy, the world said “You’re not sure you want that? Fine, don’t have it.”
Now I’m in LAX about to go get on the flight home to Madison, the direct flight we so gloriously now have. The last time I was in this LAX breakfast place, there was a big tumult around somebody else eating there and I realized it must be a celebrity, but I didn’t recognize him at all, and it turned out it was Gene Simmons. In LA people know what Gene Simmons looks like without the Kiss makeup! I do not. For all I know he could be in here right now. Are you here, Gene Simmons?
I spent a little time this summer visiting Institut Henri Poincare for their program on rational points, but this post is not about the math I did there, but about a salad I ate there. Not there at IHP, but at the terrific neighborhood bistro around the corner from where I was staying. I liked it so much I went there three times and I got this salad three times. I have been trying to recreate it at home. It’s good! Not Paris bistro good. But really good. Here is how I make it so I don’t forget.
I had never heard of piment d’espelette! It’s from the Basque part of France and is roughly in the paprika family but it’s different. I went to a spice store before I left Paris and bought a jar to bring home. So now I have something I thought my kitchen would never be able to boast: a spice Penzey’s doesn’t sell.
Anyway, the recipe is: put all that stuff in a bowl and mix it up. Or ideally put everything except the chevre in and mix it up and then strew the chevre on the top. Festive!
Of course the concept of watermelon and goat cheese as a summer salad is standard; but this is a lot better than any version of this I’ve had before.
Back from nearly two weeks at the Institut Henri Poincare, where we were reinventing rational points, though they actually seem pretty much as they have always been. But lots of new ideas floating around and in particular lots of problems I see as potentially rich ones for students.
Last week featured the hottest temperatures ever recorded in France, reminding one that when you move the mean of a distribution even a little, the frequency of formerly rare events might jump quite a lot. Paris was spared the worst of the heat; after initial predictions of temperatures going over 100F, the hottest day of the conference was 97 and the rest of the week was in the mid-90s, regular old East Coast US summer weather. But of course France doesn’t have regular old East Coast US summer air-conditioning. Faiblement climatisé is the order of the day. The word for heatwave in French is “canicule,” which comes from the Italian word for Sirius, thought to be a bringer of hot weather.
It’s also the Women’s World Cup. Tickets for the US-France quarterfinal, held the night before I left, were going at 350 euros for the very cheapest, but I don’t think I’d have wanted to go, anyway. The Orioles are the only team I love enough to really enjoy rooting for them as the visiting team. Instead I went to Scotland-Argentina, which looked like a laugher 70 minutes in with Scotland up 3-0, but ended in a controversial tie after Scotland’s apparent save of a last-minute penalty kick was called back when VAR showed the goalie jumping off the line a moment before the ball was kicked. The ref called end of time directly after the second kick went in to tie the game, to the confusion and dismay of the players on the field; both teams needed a win to have a real chance of advancing past the group stage, and the tie left them both out. Scottish forward Erin Cuthbert pulled something out of her sock and kissed it after her goal; later I found out it was a picture of herself as a baby. I like her style!
I ate well. I ate whelks. They’re OK. I ate thiebou djienne at this place near IHP which was much better than OK. I ate a watermelon-chevre salad that was so good I went to a spice store and bought the pepper they used, piment d’espelette, and now I have a spice Penzey’s doesn’t sell. Favorite new cheese I ate on this trip was Soumaintrain.
I went to the museum of Jewish history where I saw this campaign poster:
And I saw the computer teen Blaise Pascal built for his dad in 1642, which is at the Musée des arts et métiers, along with a revolutionary 10-hour clock:
And right there at the museum, later that night, just by my good luck, there was a free Divine Comedy concert as part of the Fête de la Musique. It was sold out but, my good luck part deux, someone’s friend didn’t show up and in I went. Great set. Sort of a beautifully multinational moment to watch an Irish guy play a They Might Be Giants song in Paris in front of a cast of the Statue of Liberty:
I also learned on this trip that when French kids play Capture the Flag they use an actual French flag:
and that “Good Grief!” in French is “Bon sang!”
I gave a talk at Williams College last year and took a little while to visit one of my favorite museums, Mass MoCA. There’s a new installation there, by Taryn Simon, called Assembled Audience. You walk in through a curtained opening and you’re in a pitch-black space. It’s very quiet. And then, slowly, applause starts to build. Bigger and bigger. About a minute of swell until the invisible crowd out there in the dark is going absolutely fucking nuts.
And I have to be honest, whatever this may say about me: I felt an incredible warmth and safety and satisfaction, standing there, being clapped for and adored by a recording of a crowd. Reader, I stayed for a second cycle.
As an eternal 1990s indie-pop nerd I could not but be thrilled this week when I realized I was going to Bristol
on the National Express.
Bristol, besides having lots of great mathematicians to talk to, is much lovelier than I knew. There’s lots of terrain! It seems every time you turn a corner there’s another fine vista of pastel-painted row houses and the green English hills far away. There’s a famous bridge. I walked across it, then sat on a bench at the other side doing some math, in the hopes I’d think of something really good, because I’ve always wanted to scratch some math on a British bridge, William Rowan Hamilton-style. Didn’t happen. There was a bus strike in Bristol for civil rights because the bus companies didn’t allow black or Indian drivers; the bus lines gave in to the strikers and integrated on the same day Martin Luther King, Jr. was saying “I have a dream” in Washington, DC. There’s a chain of tea shops in Bristol called Boston Tea Party. I think it’s slightly weird to have a commercial operation named after an anti-colonial uprising against your own country, but my colleagues said no one there really thinks of it that way. The University of Bristol, by the way, is sort of the Duke of the UK, in that it was founded by a limitless bequest from the biggest tobacco family in the country, the Willses. Bristol also has this clock:
I went to California last week to talk math and machine learning with Ben Recht (have you read his awesome blogstravaganza about reinforcement learning and control?) My first time on the brand-new Madison – San Francisco direct flight (the long-time wish of Silicon Isthmus finally realized!) That flight only goes once a day, which means I landed at SFO at 6:15, in the middle of rush hour, which meant getting to Berkeley by car was going to take almost an hour and a half. So maybe it made more sense to have dinner near SFO and then go to the East Bay. But where can you have dinner near SFO?
Well, here’s what I learned. When I was at MSRI for the Galois Groups and Fundamental Groups semester in 1999, there was an amazing Chinese restaurant in Albany, CA called China Village. I learned about it from my favorite website at the time, Chowhound.com. China Village is still there and apparently still great, but the original chef, Zongyi Liu, left long ago. Chowhound, too, is still there, but a thin shadow of its old self. When I checked Chowhound this week, though, I learned something fantastic — Liu is back and cooking in Millbrae! At Royal Feast, a 10-minute drive from SFO. So what started as a plan to dodge traffic turned into the best Chinese meal I’ve eaten in forever. Now I’m thinking I’ll probably stop there every time I fly to San Francisco! And it’s right by the Millbrae BART station, so if you’re going into the city, it’s as convenient as being at the airport.
So that got me thinking: what are good things to know about that are right near the airport in other cities? The neighborhood around the airport is often kind of unpromising, so it’s good to have some prior knowledge of places worth stopping. And I actually have a pretty decent list!
LAX: This is easy — you can go to the beach! Dockweiler State Beach is maybe 5 minutes from the airport. It’s a state park, not developed, so there’s no boardwalk, no snack stand, and, when I went there, no people. You just walk down to the ocean and look at the waves and every thirty seconds or so a jumbo jet blasts by overhead on its way to Asia because did I mention 5 minutes from the airport? You’re right under the takeoff path. And it’s great. A sensory experience like no other beach there is. I just stood there for an hour thinking about math.
BOSTON: There is lots of great pizza in Boston, of course, but Santarpio’s in East Boston might be the very best I’ve had, and it’s only 7 minutes from Logan airport. Stop there and get takeout on your way unless you want to bring yet another $13 cup of Legal Seafood chowder on your flight.
SEATTLE: The Museum of Flight isn’t quite as close to Sea-Tac as some of these other attractions are to their airports — 12 minutes away per Google Maps. But it’s very worth seeing, especially if you happen to be landing in Seattle with an aircraft-mad 11-year-old in tow.
MADISON: “The best barbecue in Madison, Wisconsin” is not going to impress my friends south of the Mason-Dixon line, or even my friends south of the Beloit-Rockford line, but Smoky Jon’s, just north of the airport on Packers Avenue (not named for the football team, but for the actual packers who worked at the Oscar Mayer plant that stood on this road until 2017) is the real thing, good enough for out of town visitors and definitely better than what’s on offer at MSN.
CHICAGO: No, O’Hare is terrible in this way as in every other way. I once got stuck there for the night and tried to find something exciting in the area to do or eat. I didn’t succeed.
You guys travel a lot — you must have some good ones! Put them in the comments.
I was in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago with AB and we went to the brand-new Museum of the American Revolution. It’s a great work of public history. Every American, and everybody else who cares about America, should see it.
The museum scrapes away the layer of inevitability and myth around our founding. Its Revolution is something that might easily not have succeeded. Or that might have succeeded but with different aims. There were deep contemporary disagreements about what kind of nation we should be. The museum puts you face to face with them.
E Pluribus Unum was an aspiration, not a fact. There was a lot of pluribus. The gentility in Massachusetts and the Oneida and frontierspeople in Maryland and the French and the enslaved Africans and their American slavemasters were different people with different interests and each had their own revolution in mind.
Somehow it came together. George Washington gets his due. The museum presents him as a real person, not just a face on the money. A person who knew that the decisions he made, in a hurry and under duress, would reverberate through the lifespan of the new country. We were lucky to have him. And yes, I choked up, seeing his tent, fragile and beaten-up and confined to a climate-controlled chamber, but somehow still here and standing.
The Haggadah tells us that every generation of Jews has to read the story of Exodus as if we, ourselves, personally, were among those brought out from Egypt. The museum reminded me of that commandment. It demands that we find the General Washington in ourselves. In each generation we have to tell the story of the American Revolution as if we, ourselves, personally, are fighting for our freedom, and are responsible for what America will be.
Because we are! We are still in the course of human events. The American Revolution isn’t over. It won’t ever be over. It’s right that we call it a “revolution” and not an “overthrow” or a “liberation.” We’re still revolving, still turning this place over, we’re still plural, we’re still arguing. We still have the chance, and so we still have the obligation, to make the lives of our children more free than our own.
Happy Independence Day.
I’ve lived in Madison for 13 years and this is the first time I’ve noticed anybody caring about the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s definitely the first time I’ve cared about the Milwaukee Bucks. But now the Bucks have a legitimate superstar in Giannis Antetokoumnpo and a likeable cast of supporting characters like 19-year-old former refugee and skinny blockmaster Thon Maker. The kids had a rare unscheduled day on Sunday and the Bucks were in the playoffs against the Celtics and there were nosebleed tickets on Stubhub for $40 apiece so why not?
You may know that I kind of hate driving so if I’m gonna drive all the way to Milwaukee it’s got to be for more than a Bucks game. When I thought about what the kids would really want to do it was pretty clear — see the Brewers, stay over, then see the Bucks. So that’s what we did!
Notes on the Brewers:
On to Milwaukee. Bucks play the Celtics at noon, in what, if they lose, could be the last ever game played at Bradley Center. (This is a bit of a sore point for UW folks, who absorbed as a budget cut the $250m state contribution to the arena’s cost.) We have breakfast at the hotel and chat with a nice older couple in Packers/Celtics gear — what? — who turn out to be Boston forward Al Horford’s aunt and uncle from Green Bay.
This is only the third NBA game I’ve been to, CJ’s second, AB’s first. We wander around inside the arena for a bit. Two separate groups of Bucks cheerleaders come up to AB and applaud her curly hair. I think people are especially struck by it when they see us together, because I don’t have curly hair, except here’s a little-known fact: I do have curly hair! I just keep it short so it doesn’t curl. In 1995 or so it looked like this:
Anyway. The atmosphere, as I have promised AB, is more intense than baseball. Bucks build up a 19-point lead and seem poised to coast but the Celtics come back, and back, and back, and finally go ahead with 52 seconds left. Jaylen Brown plainly capable of taking over a game. Aron Baynes has a very dumb-looking haircut. Milwaukee’s Thon Maker is ridiculously skinny and has very long arms. He’s just 21, a former refugee from South Sudan. We saw his first game as a Buck, an exhibition against the Mavericks at Kohl Center. Those long skinny arms can block a shot.
Game tied at 102, 5 seconds left, Malcom Brogdon (called “The President” — why?) misses a layup, and there, rising like a Greek column above the scene, is the Greek arm of Giannis Antetokounmpo — the tip-in is good, Celtics miss the desperation last shot, Bucks win 104-102, crowd goes berserk.
I was going to blog about this last week but got busy so let’s throw in more sports. Bucks eventually lose this series in 7, home team winning every game a la Twins-Braves 1991. The next Friday, I’m giving a talk at Maryland, and the Orioles are playing that night. It’s been five years since I’ve seen OPACY. I brought CJ along this time, too. The Orioles are not in a good way; they’ve won 6 and lost 19, though 3 of those 6 were against New York at least. Attendance at the game, on a beautiful Friday night, was just over 14,000. The last baseball game I went to that felt this empty and mellow was the AAA Tucson Toros, several months before they moved to El Paso and became the Chihuahuas. Chris Tillman, tonight’s starter, was the Orioles’ ace five years ago. Now he’s coming off a 1-7 season and has an ERA over 9.
So who would have thought he’d toss seven shutout innings and take a no-hitter into the fifth? Never looked overpowering but kept missing bats. His first win in almost a year. Manny Machado, surely now in his last year as an Oriole, strokes a home run to dead center to get things started. It’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t even look like he’s working hard. It’s like he’s just saying “Out there. Out there is where this ball should be.” Pedro Alvarez homers twice, in exactly the opposite manner, smashing the ball with eye-popping force. Jace Peterson, who the Orioles picked up off the Yankees’ scrap heap, steals third on the shift when the Tigers third baseman forgets to pay attention to him. He did the same thing against the Rays the night before. I am already starting to love him the way I love Carlos Gomez. Maybe now the Orioles are going to go back to being a bad team that makes good use of players nobody else wants, like Melvin Mora and Rodrigo López.
Besides me and CJ, this guy was at the game:
Never get tired of that flag.
My kids both wanted to see the eclipse and I said “that sounds fun but it’s too far” and I kept thinking about it and thinking about it and finally, Saturday night, I looked inward and asked myself is there really a reason we can’t do this? And the answer was no. Or rather the answer was “it might be the case that it’s totally impossible to find a place to sleep in the totality zone within 24 hours for a non-insane amount of money, and that would be a reason” so I said, if I can get a room, we’re going. Hotel Tonight did the rest. (Not the first time this last-minute hotel app has saved my bacon, by the way. I don’t use it a lot, but when I need it, it gets the job done.)
Notes on the trip: