Monday Morning Open Thread: Expect the Unexpected

Because it’s a holiday for most of us, here’s something genuinely nice and uplifting to start the day. From the Washington Post‘s book section, “He quit the NFL for a career in math”:

John Urschel has heard it a lot: “You’re that football player who’s really smart.” It’s an accurate description — Urschel, a former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is a doctoral candidate in mathematics at MIT — but that description makes him wince.

Instead, he offers this: “I’m looking forward to being considered that mathematician who used play football.”

In July of 2017, Urschel retired from the NFL after three seasons. He hasn’t played football since. Not even a casual game in the park? Nope. “This isn’t something my friends and I do for fun,” he says.

Besides, Urschel has been busy with something else — his memoir, “Mind and Matter.” Written with his wife, journalist Louisa Thomas, the book chronicles his life in both sports and academics and explains how and why, in the end, he chose math over football. Yes, it had something to do with concussions, but that’s not all of it…

When asked what he likes to do for fun, his immediate answer is, “math!” He carries a notepad with him just in case he’s struck by an idea. He wanted his first book to be a pure math book, and at signings he’s been known to inscribe the memoir he ended up writing with “fun integrals” and “important constants” that he’s excited to explain to anyone who wants to geek out with him.

Urschel grew up in Buffalo. His parents, who separated when Urschel was 3, encouraged his two-track learning from an early age. His mother, a nurse-turned-lawyer, urged him to pursue his interests in math with games and puzzles, and later advanced course work. “If I am a true outlier,” he writes in his book, “it is because of her — an African-American single mother who loved math but was discouraged from it, who wanted me never to feel that any door was closed to me.” His father, a thoracic surgeon and former linebacker at the University of Alberta, pushed him academically, too. But he was also concerned about his son’s conditioning, and his time with young Urschel involved visits to the gym as well as to the library…

Book Recommendation: D-Day Girls

In between gardening and other things, starting to read D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose. I have a backlog of things I need to read, including this, The Theft of a Decade: How the Baby Boomers Stole the Millennials’ Economic Future, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, and about 85 others, but I really wanted to read this one first. It caught my eye when I saw someone retweet the author (her twitter is @thesarahrose), and I was immediately interested because my mom is fascinated with female codebreakers (among one of her many niche fascinations). So I started talking to her, mentioned my mom had read other books in this area, learned that Sarah had written a book called For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History, bought it, liked it, and got a copy of D-Day Girls.

Mom inhaled it in a few days and loved it and wrote a glowing blurb:

So that is on my schedule this weekend, mainly because I am interested, but also because I will have something to talk about with my mom other than stupid Pirates baseball which she loves but makes my eyes glaze over.

Librarians in Our Midst: Graduation Edition

(Photo Courtesy of Mnemosyne Muse)

Mnemosyne Muse asked that I inform you all:

Since I think we all need some unabashedly happy news right now, today is the day that longtime commenter Darkrose is receiving her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University here in California. San Jose State Univerity is one of only two accredited Master of Library and Information Science programs in California (UCLA is the other one). I happen to know all of this because my spouse was in the same program at the same time as Darkrose, which we found out during a mini Bay Area meetup a few years ago, so I’ll be at the graduation as well.

This is a big accomplishment, so let’s all take a minute to congratulate Darkrose on her hard work!

And here’s the graduate herself!

(Darkrose’s Graduation Selfie!)

So wish her some congratulations, but keep it down or she’ll have to officially shush!!! you all for making too much noise in the comments.

Congrats to Darkrose, Mnemosyne’s husband, and all the other graduates.

Open thread!

Thursday Morning Open Thread: Oh Joy, It’s Pollen Season Already

Betcha you don’t even have to ask how I can tell! But if I’m unusually disorganized or cryptic in the near future… well, blame it on the juniper / poplar / maple. Especially the Norway maples which are prominent among the local trash trees.

Meanwhile, random (mostly) happy, uplifting news tidbits…

Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Welcome the Worm Super Moon

Seriously. According to lore, it’s when the frozen ground softens enough for earthworms to emerge, thereby encouraging the return of the robins. Perhaps more importantly, the Spring Equinox arrives just before 6pm EDT… and I, for one, am ready for this winter to be over.

And speaking of spring, with the impulse for housecleaning it inspires, this is very sweet and also embarrassingly reminiscent of our whole house…

When I was a child, the grownup books in my house were arranged according to two principles. One of these, which governed the downstairs books, was instituted by my mother, and involved achieving a remarkable harmony—one that anyone who has ever tried to organize a home library would envy—among thematic, alphabetic, and aesthetic demands. The other, which governed the upstairs books, was instituted by my father, and was based on the conviction that it is very nice to have everything you’ve recently read near at hand, in case you get the urge to consult any of it again; and also that it is a pain in the neck to put those books away, especially when the shelves on which they belong are so exquisitely organized that returning one to its appropriate slot requires not only a card catalogue but a crowbar.

It was this pair of convictions that led to the development of the Stack. I can’t remember it in its early days, because in its early days it wasn’t memorable. I suppose back then it was just a modest little pile of stray books, the kind that many readers have lying around in the living room or next to the bed. But by the time I was in my early teens it was the case—and seemed by then to have always been the case—that my parents’ bedroom was home to the Mt. Kilimanjaro of books. Or perhaps more aptly the Mt. St. Helens of books, since it seemed possible that at any moment some subterranean shift in it might cause a cataclysm.

The Stack had started in a recessed space near my father’s half of the bed, bounded on one side by a wall and on the other by my parents’ dresser, a vertical behemoth taller than I would ever be. At some point in the Stack’s development, it had overtopped that piece of furniture, whereupon it met a second tower of books, which, at some slightly later point, had begun growing up along the dresser’s other side. For some reason, though, the Stack always looked to me as if it had defied gravity (or perhaps obeyed some other, more mysterious force) and grown down the far side of the dresser instead. At all events, the result was a kind of homemade Arc de Triomphe, extremely haphazard-looking but basically stable, made of some three or four hundred books…