Use of Fields By Permit Only

 

 

 

 

SAMSUNG

Why our children have no choice but to play video games and get fat.

Saw this sign the other day on an empty playing field, one amid many empty playing fields.  It’s not the best weather, admittedly, winter dreariness.  It’s not the greatest day for ball.  But what happened to the days when kids would, on their own accord, round up their neighbors, grab their gloves, one or two decent balls with the stitches still intact and not too much scuffing on the leather, find a bat, a few plates or hats or whatever for bases, and make an afternoon of it?

Now the choices we have, as parents, are a). Being our childrens’ athletic/entertainment coordinators b). Enrolling them in expensive and often overly-structured competitive sports programs, or c). Condemning them to idleness and video games, locked safely away in our suburban distopias.

This sign made me sad.  It’s NQR.  I wish I had a cure for it.

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No Swimming, Wading, Dog-Bathing or Skateboarding

A very specific sign outside the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton.

A very specific sign outside the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton.

If the rather disparate ideas of swimming, wading, dog-bathing, or skateboarding in an empty, frigid, December fountain plaza in the middle of an Ivy League campus ever occur to you:  please don’t.

First of all, the nice people in charge here at Princeton have put up a very explicit sign forbidding such conduct.  (Note the word PROHIBITED is in all-caps.)

Second, they’ve erected an enormous procession of Chinese Zodiac-themed statues overlooking the potential location of your chicanery.  Leering and toothy, these figures seem like they have been placed here just to ensure, in case you’ve missed the sign, that the bejesus will be scared out you.  Any crazy thoughts of splashing around in the waterless fountain will safely subside after you glance up from your frolic to notice twelve sets of beady eyes and bronzed teeth (is the rabbit the scariest of them all?) staring at you.

However you look at it, it’s a little weird, a little NQR.

Just in case you missed the sign.

Just in case you missed the sign and feel like taking a dip.


What Children Do When Deprived of TV/Video Games

As we come closer and closer to winter’s bad weather and the associated heartlessness of forcing the children outdoors for their daily bout of video-game and tv-free (self)-entertainment, we’ve moved into arts-and-crafts mode.

Lest this be perceived as doily-decorating, scrapbook-creating fluffiness (confessing upfront that one of our two boys spends an inordinate amount of his non-tv time cooking and/or making architectural plans on post-it notes) I present this piece of handiwork, which makes me feel much more confident that my children will be equipped to survive a coming apocalypse:

the rubberband fly-fishing bait

Note that the red thread has been woven INTO the rubberband!

Although this little beauty was almost mistaken for lint and vacuumed from our living-room floor, it is worth noting that the creator  (I suspect my older, fishing-crazy son) adhered to house rules and did not complete his masterwork.  No hooks!

As a bait, it’s a little NQR, and just a tad redneck-ish.   As a demonstration of what a 12-year old can do when unplugged for a few minutes, it’s precious.


Fishing from Pontius Pilate’s Palace

The gloom of a foggy, pre-winter day here on the east coast of the US has sent me back to my storehouse of Middle Eastern photos, perhaps seeking warmth, perhaps respite from academics and from brutal post-storm New Jersey traffic and congestion.

The ‘throne room’ or reception chamber of the governor’s palace at Caesarea.

I found a series of photos from a visit to the ancient Roman ruins of Caesarea in Israel.  They’re warm.  They’re balmy and quiet (I was almost alone, near closing time for the ruins, making a quick dash to see the site on my way back from a marathon tour day where I visited the entirety of the Golan Heights all the way up to Majd al-Shams, the ruins of Nimrod, the Lebanese-Israeli border, and the northern coast from Haifa down to Tel Aviv.)

Most important, these photos resonate with a sad truth about life and history: slow but steady decay, accompanied by the cheerier but still fatalistic idea that life continues, unabated, even over the most important puzzle pieces of a contentious past.

Two fishermen on a jetty that was probably, at one time, a garden courtyard overlooked by Pontius Pilate’s seaside reception chamber.

That is the mark of NQR I found at Caesarea:  the mundane littlenesses upon which the world really functions, many little examples of which seemed to be creeping — all at once — inward from the sea to reclaim such a fabulous, famous site.

For example, standing in the very spot where the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate held audience with the Apostle Paul and granted him the request to be judged, as a Roman citizen, in front of Caesar himself, I saw the ruins slipping back into the sea and a few local Arab men clambering over the shore, fishing.  Life continues.  I love that.  Despite the rocks, the ruins, the joinery, the faience tilework, the vista, these men operated on a simpler and more innocent level, plying the ruins in search of dinner.

Plaque (multi-language!) telling how the Apostle Paul sought an audience with the Emperor and was shipped to Rome from this location.

More of the world’s petty necessities creeping in toward Caesarea: a power plant just down the beach from the ruins.

A last beautiful photo of a fisherman on the sculpted but eroding shores of the ancient city.

 

 

 


Lo, The Squirrels Are Ravenous

As if the East Coast needs a further harbinger of bad weather . . . I’ve captured on film an indication of just how severe this coming winter will likely be:  never-before-seen-animal-behavior.  Saving up for winter, certainly Not Quite Right, I give you . . .

Squirrels.

Feeding.

Viciously.

On our Jack-O-Lanterns!

Caught, red-pawed.

Mugshot of the offender.

Close-up of the damage.

 

 


Don Quixote of the Modern College Campus

I took this picture while stopped in traffic on Nassau Street, right in front of Princeton University’s main gate.

The bus caught my eye.  (How could it not?)  It’s the type of NQR that makes me, at least fleetingly, rather happy, warmed-inside, representing a sort of harmless and hopeful craziness which, if it were to increase individually or collectively, would surely benefit our often cruel and callous world.

Some of the lovely, hopeful slogans borne by this Rocinante:  “Spread kindness to everyone every chance you get” . . . “Overcome bullying through love” . . . “One guy (Bob) and his dog (Gocart) traveling to campuses across the country to promote kindness” . . . “Kids need role models” . . . “Let’s all stop hurtin’ each other” . . . “Don’t Hit Don’t Hurt Do Help Do Heal” . . . “You Have Such a Big Heart Share It With Everyone” . . . “The Greatest of These Is Love”

The bus also provides an opportunity to show to people overseas who aren’t familiar with America one of the last vestiges of our vaunted hippie culture, a dream and an anti-capitalist fervor that once thrived on certain (more liberal) college campuses but has now disappeared, aging and mellowing, to suburban pacification or to isolation in certain marginalized movements or locations. (Though the ‘Occupy’ events of last summer still had force!)

I was happy to see this bus, here, in a place like Princeton where I wouldn’t ever have expected it.  I wonder how its owner fared, preaching or simply being among the scions of this elite, Ivy locale.  I imagine he found some folks to listen, others like me to look and think about his slogans and his message.  But, in the end, the thing that made me happiest of all was just to imagine him, a modern Quixote mounting his painted, slogan-covered Rocinante and driving, rescue-dog at his side, off into some romantic and futile sunset, tilting at so many noble windmills.


Architectural Masterpiece on Post-It Notes

Although I certainly appreciate how far my boy has come in his artistic endeavors since the episode, earlier this summer, now known as “Offspring of Lightning and Pure Darkness,” something rather NQR about these architectural sketches remains, be it the choice of media (Post-It Notes? — come on, kid!) or the presumption of fabulous wealth certainly necessary to fulfill this lovely dream of a house, either personally or on behalf of a rather childish and bourgeois clientele if, in his mind, he has designed this home for some third party rather than for himeself.  As such, I’ll share these sketches and give my ballpark for the associated costs (though I’m no home contractor myself!), not as a way to crush his dreams but more with the mind to preserve these little images, someday to show them to him when and if he does ever build a home of his own.

First, the overview (found under the work-light of his bunkbed desk, left here exactly in situ):

What rich client wouldn’t want to see the creativity here, the artiste’s obviously taking oreintal inspiration from the trivet tile from a Moroccan souq and the cartouche of the architect’s own name, made sentimentally in 4th grade art?

Next, a slightly closer view of the work-in-progress, here focusing on the kitchen — to include vintage ‘egg chairs’ along with a marble countertop, plus a supplementary sketch, ala Frank Lloyd Wright, for the patterning of tilework — yielding up in rough estimate a very preliminary construction cost of perhaps $80,000.  Second floor layout seems to allude pleasantly to the shape of a coffee-mug, perhaps in the artiste’s thinking a way to ‘welcome the day’ with Folger’s in his cup.

Sketch of the kitchen, along with some very rough initial ‘thoughts’ on the layout of the second floor.

Next, the indoor pool with a ballpark construction cost-estimate of $200,000, including the slide from the master bedroom.

Indoor pool, with slide coming from bedroom closet (see bedroom diagram below).

Next the master bedroom, with slide to the indoor waterpool coming out of the closet, estimate for cost:  $40,000?

Bedroom: interesting features include woodwork behind bed (in the closet?) sliding doors that lead to a ‘padio,’ window overlooking indoor pool.

Next, the connection between the two levels of the house.  Looks like there is a hallway and at least one set of stairs.  Hard to assign a cost to this segment of the house, but since it must be built we can arbitrarily say, maybe, $10,000?  If the roof of the pool, shown here, is glassed-in or decorative, then maybe another $30,000 should be added.

Concept is unclear in this sketch, presumably will be thrashed out in more detail in the final blueprint.

An alternate, more costly version, including a curving stair, probably runs closer to $25,000.

Another (competing?) concept for the stairs between the two levels of the house, this one more expensive and showing some antebellum influences. Architect’s shorthand for “Bird’s I” amusing. . .

Next, the rather boxy but efficient layout of the complete first floor.  Discounting the cost of the kitchen and the pool (which were figured above) the remainder of this probably comes to another $250,000 in construction and design costs.

Complete diagram for first level of the house: tennis/basketball court, pool, kitchen, and a rather open-concept living area testify to the owner’s enthusiasm for Sport.

Finally, and blurrily (whether it was laughter on the part of the photographer or sudden furtiveness at the sound of approaching steps outside the architect’s door, I can offer no valid excuse for taking such a poor photo) the living room.  Given its rather empty and square construction, this one portion of the building project probably does not require a separate cost estimate, although I strongly suspect that a large flatscreen TV is intended to remedy the architect’s childhood bitterness at always having owned the smallest and oldest TV on the block.

The least ‘clear’ of the early sketches for this building project, a close-up on the quadrant of the lower-level designated to serve as ‘living room.’

TOTAL COST ESTIMATE FOR CONSTRUCTION:  $355,000 – $500,000 depending on improvements to the lot, municiple fees, etc.

TOTAL VALUE PRESERVED FOR (FUTURE) ARCHITECTURAL CAREER:  Priceless, baby.


al-Mughira bin Shu’bah

Earlier this fall, in fact the very same week I sat down to start writing my thesis — a monograph on al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah (ra), the rather infamous Companion of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) — one of my advisors informed me that a work in Arabic had just been produced and published, albeit in Iran, on the very same man.  As an academic, even a very temporary academic like me, this is not the sort of news you want to hear.  In fact, it is very much like having the rug pulled right from under your feet.  Hours and hours of research in primary sources:  Tabari, Ibn Sa’d, Ibn Kathir, Baladhuri, Waqidi, Ibn Khallikhan, Ibn Khaldun, all the ahadith of the various canonized collections, all of that down the tubes, not to mention more contemporary tomes that helped me frame my thinking about these primary sources.

Holding “Mughira bin Shu’bah” for the first time.

But, wonderfully enough, through whatever absurd connections Princeton maintains around the world, the University was able to get me a copy of this book, even though it isn’t yet widely available.  As such my task in this monograph remains intact but also gets shaded just a little.  Not only will I produce a monograph of al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah (in English) but I will engage with this work, debate it, raise conflicting opinions, and jump into what might become a mini-academic debate.

The combination of curmudgeonly respect I feel for this volume, as I heft it for the first time, freshly hand-delivered to me by the library staff here, and disgust (that my idea has been stolen) has a certain curiosity to it, an NQR-icism unique, so far, in the annals of this blog.

Please wish me luck reading this tome, digesting it, and somehow incorporating it in my own endeavors over the next two months as I finish this thesis.  It remains for me to read and review and think about just what sources were used and what opinion of al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah the author of this study — a man named Abd’al-Baqi Qurna al-Jaza’iri — formed and conveyed in his preemptive strike on my (strangely cherished) objective.


Arabic Conjugation Reveals Professor’s Secret Identity

Some of the more prominent Crushers. (Or Breadbreakers).

Frustrated perhaps by a lack of grammatical precision in his ‘supposedly’ advanced Arabic students, my professor in this semester’s Language of the Qur’an course has taken us back a step this week into our primary verb conjugation chart, making us (re)memorize all the verb forms and spending each day of our classwork chanting those forms together to reinforce them in our weak and forgetful minds.

While this might seem like the ultimate in dry and unproductive exercises, it does yield some added ability to communicate in a register above common ‘street’ Arabic.

Additionally, as we ran through the Measure III conjugation of the verb h-SH-M, he provided us with an interesting tidbit of historical AND personal revelation.  (I’m using lowercase ‘h’ here to separate between the two Arabic H’s, fyi, this one being the softer).

Opening my trusty Hans Wehr dictionary, the root h-SH-M means, in Measure I,  ‘to destroy’ ‘to smash’ ‘to crush’ or ‘to shatter.’  Hans Wehr doesn’t offer a verb for Measure III, but the Musdar, or verbal noun, that comes from it yields our modern day Hashemite (as in the tribe, which now rules in both Jordan and Morocco and traces its ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad).  Lest we imagine that Hashemite refers to some ability to smash or destroy in a physical or martial way we must point out that Measure III, from which this Musdar comes, is participatory, changing the base meaning the verb to render something more like: ‘to smash with someone’ or, in this specific case, ‘to break bread with someone.’  Thus, historically, the Hashemites get their name from being the hosts of the sacred area in Mecca, those with whom pilgrims would break bread.

Taking this one step further, my professor’s first name is Hisham.  This also comes from Measure III of h-SH-M, but from a variant of the Musdar that differentiates between ‘completed’ and ‘in-process’ or ‘trying-to-complete’ action.  So, while (to my knowledge) Professor Hisham isn’t a member of either the Moroccan or Jordanian royal families, fittingly enough for us students, we could at least consider him our definite and complete ‘breaker’ ‘smasher’ ‘shatterer’ or ‘crusher’.  He isn’t just trying to break bread here.  He’s wholly successful.

I will remember that next time we get a grammar test.

 


Improbable Research – Kansas vs. Pancake

Reblogged from:  http://www.improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume9/v9i3/kansas.html

 

Kansas Is Flatter Than a Pancake

by Mark Fonstad 1, William Pugatch 1, and Brandon Vogt 2

1. Department of Geography, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
2. Department of Geography, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

In this report, we apply basic scientific techniques to answer the question “Is Kansas as flat as a pancake?”

Figure 1. (a) A well-cooked pancake; and (b) Kansas. 1

While driving across the American Midwest, it is common to hear travelers remark, “This state is as flat as a pancake.” To the authors, this adage seems to qualitatively capture some characteristic of a topographic geodetic survey 2. This obvious question “how flat is a pancake” spurned our analytical interest, and we set out to find the ‘flatness’ of both a pancake and one particular state: Kansas.

 

A Technical Approach to Pancakes and Kansas

Barring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sized pancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do a proper comparison. Some readers may find the comparing of a pancake and Kansas to be analogous to the comparing of apples and oranges; we refer those readers to a 1995 publication by NASA’s Scott Sandford 3, who used spectrographic techniques to do a comparison of apples and oranges.

One common method of quantifying ‘flatness’ in geodesy is the ‘flattening’ ratio. The length of an ellipse’s (or arc’s) semi-major axis a is compared with its measured semi-minor axis b using the formula for flattening, f = (a – b) / a. A perfectly flat surface will have a flattening f of one, whereas an ellipsoid with equal axis lengths will have no flattening, and f will equal zero.

For example, the earth is slightly flattened at the poles due to the earth’s rotation, making its semi-major axis slightly longer than its semi-minor axis, giving a global f of 0.00335. For both Kansas and the pancake, we approximated the local ellipsoid with a second-order polynomial line fit to the cross-sections. These polynomial equations allowed us to estimate the local ellipsoid’s semi-major and semi-minor axes and thus we can calculate the flattening measure f.

Materials and Methods

We purchased a well-cooked pancake from a local restaurant, the International House of Pancakes, and prepared it for analysis by separating a 2-cm wide sample strip that had not had time to desiccate. We collected macro-pancake topography through digital image processing of a pancake image and ruler for scale calibration (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Pancake cross-sectional surface being digitized.

We made another topographic profile from the sample, using a confocal laser microscope. The importance of this research dictated that we not be daunted by the “No Food or Drink” sign posted in the microscopy room. The microscope collects one elevation point every 10 mm and has a maximum surface diameter of 2 cm (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. When viewed at a scale of 50 mm, a pancake appears more rugged than the Grand Canyon.

We measured a west-east profile across Kansas taken from merged 1:250,000 scale digital elevation model (DEM) data from the United States Geological Survey. In general, the spacing between adjacent elevation points on the landscape transects was approximately 90 meters. We extracted surface transects and flatness estimates from the Kansas and pancake DEM data using a geographic information system.

Results

The topographic transects of both Kansas and a pancake at millimeter scale are both quite flat, but this first analysis showed that Kansas is clearly flatter (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Surface topography of Kansas and of a pancake.

Mathematically, a value of 1.000 would indicate perfect, platonic flatness. The calculated flatness of the pancake transect from the digital image is approximately 0.957, which is pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat. The confocal laser scan showed the pancake surface to be slightly rougher, still.

Measuring the flatness of Kansas presented us with a greater challenge than measuring the flatness of the pancake. The state is so flat that the off-the-shelf software produced a flatness value for it of 1. This value was, as they say, too good to be true, so we did a more complex analysis, and after many hours of programming work, we were able to estimate that Kansas’s flatness is approximately 0.9997. That degree of flatness might be described, mathematically, as “damn flat.”

Conclusion

Simply put, our results show that Kansas is considerably flatter than a pancake.

Notes

1. The photograph of Kansas is of an area near Wichita, Kansas. It may be of significance that the town of Liberal, Kansas hosts the annual ‘International Pancake Day’ festival.

2. To pump up our cross-disciplinary name-dropping, we should also mention that recently some quick-thinking cosmologists also described the universe as being “flatter than a pancake” after making detailed measurements of the cosmic background radiation.

3. “Comparing Apples and Oranges,” S.A. Sandford, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 1, no. 3, May/June 1995.

 

© Copyright 2003 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)