I got my Cafe du Monde coffee mug out. There's nothing like coffee and hot beignets for breakfast. Unfortunately, the Cafe du Monde is (probably) underwater at the moment.
So, let me finish off the coffee and use it as a beggar's cup. Romania has been slammed hard by flooding. Euro readers, y'all should probably contribute there. NorAm readers, hell. My friend Dana's family is homeless. Brett Favre's family is homeless. Their homes are gone. Cash to the American Red Cross would be a good idea.
I am behind on furnishing the new digs. (The dresser, the new bed, et cetera.) But I did find this shop in the East Village which has stuff suitable for New York City's micro-apartments, which mine will be should I let the books take over (again). I was especially taken by this little sewing machine. I know, I know, a serious machine isn't much bigger than a typical computer peripheral, and I suppose I'll eventually succumb to their allure. But I still admire the cleverness behind this little guy's design, you know?
Manhattan has famously tiny apartments. But check out this European 2.6 meter cube, designed by people who studied the ergonomics of airplane lavatories. This article in Detail has more information; unfortunately, the public access version of the article has an embargo strip covering the meat of the text, but if you're clever, you can puzzle out most of it.
Incidentally, in the same issue there's an article on the treehouse dwelling people of New Guinea, the Korowai, who experienced sustained contact with the outside world beginning in the 1980s. (They're mostly living in compounds now.)
Odds and ends of Romanian news from the last week.
You remember all those floods from last month? Well, Romania got hit with more of them. Another 25 or so people killed, and a couple of thousand homeless, and maybe another couple of hundred million in damages.
(American readers: to scale up, multiply everything by 15. So, in a US context, it's maybe 400 people dead and ~$3 billion of damage. In American terms, it's like Romania just got hit with two major killer Florida hurricanes in two months.)
From the home office in Capernaum, Galilee, tonight's Top Ten: People Jesus Would Have Killed. That's right, Paul, Jesus. Who would Jesus have killed? Have had killed. Assassinated. Do you have assassinations in Canada, Paul?
10. The Pharisees
9. The Sadducees
8. Ungrateful lepers
7. That phony Simon Magus
6. Captain Kirk
4. One of the twelve, that dips with Him in the dish
3. That guy who keeps on stealing His camel's parking space
2. He who casts the first stone with sin
and the number one person Jesus would have had killed -- drum roll please, Anton...
For reasons which are unclear even to myself, I decided to use Google Scholar to get a list of all archived scientific journal papers with the words "National Security Agency" published before 1975.
There's a big cluster of papers funded by the NSA dealing with solid state physics, semiconductors and superconductors, from 1957 to 1961, with one paper on the properties of lithium hydride in 1959. Then there's a dry spell, followed by a steady flow of papers on mathematical techniques tangentially related to cryptography, computer security, and, of course, "Real-time recognition of ten vowel-like sounds in continuous speech".
It's known that the NSA developed the cryptographic technique known as differential cryptanalysis before IBM rediscovered it in the early 1970s during the development of the Data Encryption Standard. The NSA told IBM to keep it secret, which it did. The method was independently discovered in the late 1980s, by Biham and Shamir, who published in 1990. So the NSA is pretty good at keeping things mum.
But I'm a little curious if the NSA was trying for a quick run towards quantum entanglement technology in the late 1950s and early 1960s; and if so, did they find anything? And why the burst and lull?
Anyway, here's the list of papers for my readers Bernard:
I went back on coffee a week ago.
I had been off for forty days, which seemed a suitably spiritual sort of number. Also, we had the road trip across Europe coming up, and Claudia made it pretty clear she didn't want to get in the car with me unless I was reasonably (and consistently) alert.
-- I think I was almost there. The physical symptoms had disappeared, and the psychological ones were abating. A few more days and I would have been back to full capacity, I think.
But this was a proof-of-concept sort of thing anyhow. I have small children, and I live in the Balkans; going off coffee for good would probably be more trouble than it's worth.
For now, I'm back on one cup per day, in the morning.
When I was a little boy, I used to disappear.
Not all that little, really. I was still disappearing until I was, oh, eleven, twelve? But by that time it wasn't so bad, because I knew my home telephone number, and was nearly as good at finding my Mom as she was at finding me. I went through a phase where I would get separated from her in a department store or shopping mall, realize it, and then have her paged. "Mrs. Muir, your son is at Aisle One. Mrs. Muir..." She seemed to find this upsetting. I told her that I'd learned it from all the times she had paged me over the years, but it didn't help. Go figure.
Anyway, my real glory days of disappearance were when I was much younger. Three, four, five years old. I didn't know my phone number, didn't know my address, couldn't describe my mother's last location better than "Mommy was over there". But hot damn was I good at disappearing. Crowded stores were a favorite, but anywhere would do. Airports and train stations. Parking lots. A busy sidewalk where Mom had paused to rummage in her purse. Central Park in New York City.
We've been on the road, driving from Germany to Romania.
This was about a 2500 km (1500 mile) trip, with a three year old and a two year old in the back. We originally planned to do it over seven days, but in the event we cut it to six -- the boys were talking about "home" a lot ("want go home"), and the car was starting to smell a bit.
We just got back a few hours ago. The boys are asleep in the next room, in their own beds again at last.
We originally planned to blog from the road, but that proved a bit... impractical. But we'll try to retroblog the high points.
More in a bit.
Do you remember the time you saw 2001 and you were so stoned that the ending not only made cosmic sense, but added visual texture to the next few weeks of your life?
I don't either. I saw 2001 the way God intended, with a fast-forward button, sarcastic friends, and some beer. (OK, a lot of beer.) But I've always been a little bit envious of those freaky-deaky types who did end up tripping the light fantastic to one of Kubrick's dullest movies.
Now, thanks to the miracle of children's television, I need envy no more! Oh the colors.
The strange thing is, very young children *love* this. Giant fat-assed pastel schmoos dancing spastically to cut-rate techno. It's like a rave at a Shriner's convention.
The evolutionary implications are highly disturbing.
I thought I'd dig out some of the old family photos. These are my parents:
Whoops. No, that's not it. The fellow on the right is Filipino businessman Virgilio "Gil" Hilario, who bravely married the Finnish winner of the first Miss Universe pageant, Armi Kuusela.
These are my parents.
I was going to write about this yesterday, but you know what? It was too hot.
Let's see. Start off with Lazy Man's Sangria. You get a jug of wine and one of those orange juice fruit blends from the store. Mix them proportionately in a pitcher, and squeeze a lime or two in. Spike it with some brandy if you got it (and if you're drinking this on a Monday morning, you probably do). It's better if you let it sit in the refrigerator for a while, but it's not bad if you don't.
You don't want heavy starches. Fried potatoes are out. Thin toast with jam is good. Rice is good. Leftover black beans and rice is very good.
If you have mango trees in the backyard, this would be a good time to pick a few. If you don't, maybe the store has some? (Or not. Sigh.) If they don't, maybe they have some worthwhile melons? I live in hope.
You can't go wrong with a fresh ripe tomato and a hard-boiled egg, with some salt and pepper. (Casanova liked this.)
My dad's Old Country, in addition to being right under the Sun, lies at the confluence of several different biogeographic zones of ocean life. Breakfast came from two oceans and three or four phyla, things that they don't have names for in English. If you can, do.
They also serve tapas for breakfast. Not the various little dishes of Spanish appetizers, though the word might derive from the Spanish (then again, it might derive from the Sanskrit word meaning 'heat'); no, this tapas is candied pork. Here's a recipe for the American version.
And of course, coffee.
It's body temperature in Brooklyn today, and I used up all my creative energy getting a haircut. So, on to the links!
Elswhere has continued the book meme! Some very cool choices (I, too, recommend Jessica Mitford).
Ever wonder how the recent unpleasant trends in US domestic security were justified by the Constitution? Surprise: the Supreme Court has allowed these loopholes for over a century! They're called the Insular Cases. And in these troubled times, every man (and woman) is an island.
I was going to do a whole post on this article, "What the universe looks like from the inside", and call it The Markopoulou Case. If mind-expanding articles on the foundations of physics that involve some advanced math (but no calculus) are your thing, read it.
This was very cool. And so was this. And in an entirely different way, this.
And for Bernard, here's a web version of Dorothy Lewis's important 1992 review article, "From abuse to violence, psychophysiological consequences of mistreatment".
Saw some people swimming in the Dumbovitsa today.
You have to understand: the Dumbovitsa is the little river that flows right through (and, in some cases, under) the center of Bucharest. It used to be a real river, but it flooded and caused trouble, so the Communists put it in a really ugly concrete trough. Most of the time it's only a few feet deep. The water is brown and stagnant and smells of old socks. In the winter, there isn't even that; it's just an concrete ditch through the middle of the city, filled with frozen mud and trash.
However... because of the recent heavy rains, the Dumbovitsa is unusually high. It's probably over 2 meters (maybe 7 feet) deep. And there's actually a little bit of current; if you watch a piece of trash on the surface for a minute or two, you can see it move very slowly.
But it's still an unpleasant deep brown color and, well, I really wouldn't swim in it.
But people were. I saw at least half a dozen of them today as I walked along the river on business. They were all wearing bathing suits, so this was clearly no idle whim. All boys or young men. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.
When I saw it, I literally stopped in mid-step and said "Yikes!" out loud. I must have looked rather odd.
It's finally getting better.
I still am a little irritable sometimes, and I still want coffee. But my attention span has come back to nearly normal, and the cravings have mostly died down.
The funny thing is, I've told Claudia that I'll go back on it again when I come up to Germany next week. So the experiment will have to be terminated.
I think another week or two and I'd have been fine. But that's okay. I turned the corner, and that's the key point. This was a proof-of-concept exercise anyway.
So there's this statue of Iuliu Maniu in front of the Senate here in Bucharest.
I blogged about a visit to the Senate a while back. But I didn't mention the memorials out in front.
There are two. One is a small, but very tasteful monument to the dead of the Revolution, immediately in front of the building. The other is a statue of Iuliu Maniu, who I blogged about last week.
I can't find an online photograph of the statue of Maniu, but: it's ugly. Hideous, really.
Fellow Brooklynite Majikthise comments on an extremely cheesy apparition of Jesus in Frank Sinatra's hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. Ring-a-ding-ding, pally!
This, however, is not the cheesiest piece of religious kitsch I have seen lately. No, that no-prize has to go to the good people at Nelson Bibles. After market research indicated that the reason teenagers don't read the Bible is because "it's too big and freaky-looking", Nelson Bibles decided to repackage the Bible to resemble a fashion magazine.
Honest. Here, take a look:
We live on a street of old houses.
Our house has been renovated, and it's very nice. Most of the houses haven't, though, and a lot of them are falling apart from decades of deferred maintenance. We're not just talking peeling paint here. There's a house across the street whose top floor has been abandoned for years; pigeons fly in and out of the open windows. It's sad, especially since it's a gorgeous old building. But there are dozens like it in our neighborhood, and tens of thousands more across Romania.
So why are these houses in such miserable condition?