Bill Bryson

“A separate but no less important reason for the retention of head hair is that it has been a tool of seduction since time immemorial. – The Body, Bill Bryson

He was probably referencing Malcolm Gladwell:

Pet Peeve

“Radiolab is created by Jad Aboomrad”

“Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrod”

“Radiolab is created by Jed AhbumRaad”

“Radiolab is created by Jatt Aboomraid”

“Radiolab is created by Jedi Abromroid”

It can’t be this hard guys.

The Help

In 2009, I was too busy avoiding reading Faulkner and Hawthorne to be paying attention  to The Help. In 2020, I was not busy enough and ended up reading this solid novel.

The book is about a group of African-American maids in Jim Crow era Mississippi attempting to write a book themselves on what it was like to be maids. At points, I wondered if the book would go meta and have the second half of the book just be the book from the book. At other points, I wondered if the main plot was based on true events, since the author interleaved in JFK’s and Medgar Ever’s assassinations. I feel like this is part of the reason I never sought out historical fiction: can never distinguish fact from fiction.

Otherwise, with the current social situation, the obvious themes of racism and ignorance still remains fresh to this day, and unfortunately will probably be pertinent for the foreseeable future. The emphasis of the power dynamics between the maids and their employers resonated with me; the fact that small acts of rebellion can result in the help’s whole family being unemployed and possibly thrown in jail was not something I understood before.

Ultimately, it was a pretty darn good read, especially in the summer. There’s a certain schadenfreude when reading about characters suffering through a heat wave while I was also.

 

Billboards Questions

Highway billboards are entirely forgettable. It seems that the only exceptions to this rule, at least for me, all lie on the extreme ends of the “Biblical morality” spectrum.

When I was driving up through Pennsylvania, I saw a billboard which, in bold white font, stated “In the beginning God created …” My initial thought was confusion. God created what? Ellipsis?

Of course, it was an anti-evolution billboard, but realizing that instead raised even more questions:

Who is paying for this, and is there really a person manning that toll free number? Is there some call center in Asia tasked with providing tech support from 8am till 12pm and then Jesus support in the afternoon, or is it an American call center? Should a billboard be so thought provocative? What type of person decides to change their view on evolution while traveling to Amish country? Does the Bible mention anything about advertising? Hmm, I wonder if that anti-abortion billboard down in South Florida is still up…?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those advertising more… lewd content. I don’t think I have to elaborate much about them do I?

Burt’s Bees

The inside joke manifested fairly early on in Darrel and Heather’s relationship.

It was a warm Sunday morning amidst a brutal winter, and the happy couple decided to spend it on the patio. During a lull in the conversation, Heather pulled out her Burt’s Bees lip balm and smeared some over her dried lips.

“Would you like some cha –”

A songbird, who up til then, was silently sheltering underneath the awning, decided it was its turn to hop into the conversation.

“CHAA peee CHAA peee CHAAA peee,” it trilled, before promptly flying into the woods.

“Was it just me, or did that bird really just say ‘chapy’ like in chapstick?” asked Darrel.

“I definitely heard it too,” Heather quickly replied.

And so it was born. For the remainder of the cold winter, the two never called it a “lip balm” or the corresponding proprietary eponym “ChapStick” anymore. Rather, whenever one of their lips were dry, they would yodel “chapy chapy” at each other followed by an inevitable giggling.

But Darrel and Heather didn’t last. She wanted someone who was more assertive, and he wanted someone who would open up more. Or so it went. When they finally split up two winters later, the silly little inside joke had nowhere to go, and so disappeared alongside the conjunction between their two names. Still, even now, whenever Darrel or Heather pull out their individual lip balm, their internal dialogue still yodels that silly little sound bite; their minds wander to dry winters long ago.

“Why do you always smile at your chapstick after putting it on?” their current partners would ask.

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

A Fibonacci Identity

From Putnam 1996:

Define a selfish set to be a set which has its own cardinality as an element. Find, with proof, the number of subsets of $\{1,2,\ldots,n\}$ which are minimal selfish sets, that is, selfish sets none of whose proper subsets is selfish.

First solution:

We can easily show that a selfish set of length $k$ cannot be minimally selfish if it contains any numbers smaller than $k$. We can conversely show that a selfish set of length $k$ containing only elements greater than or equal to the number $k$ is minimal. Thus we can iterate over the length of the subsets, and simply choose from the remaining numbers to fill the set

\begin{align*}
\sum_{k=0}^n \binom{n-k}{k-1}
\end{align*}

Lastly, notice that $n-k \le k – 1 \implies n+1 \ge 2k$ which means the upper bound can be changed to the floor of $(n+1)/2$.

Second solution:

Let’s consider a inductive solution. Let $s_n$ be the number of minimal selfish set for the set $A_n = \{1,2,\ldots,n\}$. We first note that all minimal selfish set of $A_n$ are also minimal selfish sets in $A_{n+1}$; note that all minimal selfish sets of $A_n$ do not contain the element $n+1$. Thus, the question now is counting how many minimal selfish sets also contains $n+1$.

Actually computing the minimal selfish sets for a few small $n$s suggests that we should be looking for the Fibonacci numbers. Indeed, consider a minimal selfish set $k \subsetneq A_{n-1}$; if we add 1 to each number in $k$, and then append $n+1$, we see that it is also a selfish set, but is it minimal?

Assume that it is not minimal, that is, there exists a strict subset $f$ of $k +1 \cup \{n+1\}$ which is also selfish. The first observation is to note that if $f$ contains $n+1$, then taking $n+1$ out of $f$ then subtracting 1 contradicts the assumption that $k$ is a minimal selfish set. But if $f$ doesn’t contain $n+1$, then removing an arbitrary item and subtracting 1 will again contradict the assumption that $k$ is minimally selfish. We remark that $f$ can be of length of 1 since in the construction, we added 1.

Thus, $f_n = f_{n-1} + f_{n-2}$ and we have that the sum in the first solution is equal to the Fibonacci sequence.

A Reminder

After I got my Echo some four and a half years ago, I developed a bedtime routine of playing the “Flash Briefing.” What that entailed was Alexa would play the latest NPR hourly news update followed by the latest news update from WGBH (the Public’s Radio didn’t interface well with the device at the time; can we also discuss how Rhode Island’s public radio brand doesn’t start with the letter “W”? What is up with that?).

At the time, this ritual served two purposes: allowed me to keep up with local news (too bad I missed the news of my murdered landlord) and also the NPR newscaster all have amazingly soothing voices. Oh, how I missed those days when I would lightly chuckle at the events before drifting off to bed. When the news is light, there would be a shade of snark in the scripts. Now the news update is a constant, desolate wasteland.

In times like this, I have to remind myself a little quote from Mr. Rogers:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

It’s so easy, in the ugliness of this world, to not look for the beauty in things. It’s so easy to see the violence and havoc, rather than the unity and hope. It’s so easy to find the disrupters and not the helpers of the world. I want to choose to see more of the beauty in this world. After all, it’s the only one we have.

Citizens

There are a few names repeated a lot these days; when they were alive, they probably did not expect to hear their names uttered by the masses. They were regular citizens of these United States with dreams, fear and ambitions. They probably wanted what we all desire: George Floyd moved to Minneapolis to work, Ahmaud Arbery just wanted to run outside, Breonna Taylor just wanted to live in her own home. They all wanted to live.

I hope this time it’s different.

Top Secret

 

  1. “My greatest strength is probably the ability to deal with worst case scenarios”
  2. “Don’t worry Sid, the portfolio is structured for long term growth. It’ll probably be only a short term correction.”
  3. “Let’s rebrand Pangaea… something like Pan-gone?”