How Much Longer?

We headed upstairs past clusters of people smarter than us. I got a cup of coffee in the back and headed to my favorite spot–the magazines.


Thursday night in New Haven, CT. Noah was off in New York for the Big East Tournament. Ann left to have dinner with her husband and an old college friend. Ted and I were alone for dinner. Usually that means heading somewhere we can’t go with Ann (very picky with food). Thursday night that meant Gourmet Heaven on Broadway near Yale.

Dinner was great and quick. We were left with some extra time which meant walking down the block to the Yale Bookstore.

The bookstore is really a Barnes & Noble re-badged to reflect the community and probably ease the pain caused when the original Yale Co-op was squeezed out a few years ago.

We headed upstairs past clusters of people smarter than us leafing through heavy tomes on weighty subjects. I got a cup of coffee in the back and headed to my favorite spot–the magazines.

The photo at the top of this entry probably shows half the titles on sale at the bookstore. They range from the common to specialized to esoteric to totally off-the-wall weird. The computer mags are close to some with bikini clad tattooed women leaning against motorcycles.

This part of the bookstore might as well be on the endangered species list. Pulp publishing is a dying business.

I remember as a college student subscribing to Time Magazine and poring through its pages weekly. The news and analysis were still new to me when the magazine arrived. Now, even the morning paper is sadly dated by the time it hits my front steps.

Too slow. To expensive. Too bad.

I remember when growing up how my parents would claim radio drama had been superior to TV as a medium of the mind. I’ve heard old radio. They were mistaken. TV was better. Will I be looked upon as having made the same mistake?

The Internet is better for transmitting words and pictures than magazines. I’m still in love with type set on paper.

Frost/Nixon–Tonight’s Entertainment

Obviously any account of the event will share facts, but this is scarily similar. Too similar. I suspect it entered heavily into Peter Morgan’s thought process as he wrote the original stage play.


The text above, from the New York Times, is a contemporaneous account of the Frost/Nixon interviews. I didn’t watch them in ’77. The pre-show buzz said it was long and ploddingly boring as I remember.

Helaine and I saw Frost/Nixon tonight. Excellent movie. Very compelling. Frank Langella is Nixon. I am a huge Ron Howard fan–that won’t change.

I was no fan of Nixon.

I turned against our Vietnam policy in ’66 or so (against our government’s policy not against our soldiers) during the Johnson Administration. I marched on Washington in the Moratorium and joined more peaceful protests while in college in Boston.

To my contemporaries and me Nixon poured gasoline on an already raging fire. Watergate then added insult to injury. And, as recon missions go, it was stupid. Nixon was going to win by a landslide anyway. Did they really need to know what was in Larry O’Brien’s office at Watergate?

It is difficult to understand the depth of distaste toward Richard Nixon if you weren’t there. Unlike Iraq, ‘Nam was being fought daily on TV. Death and injury were vividly seen. Bush-43 controlled the coverage much better than Nixon who watched public opinion shift away from him as the futility of the war became obvious. And, of course, Nixon was anything but a sympathetic character.

After the movie I wanted to read a little more from the period. Along with the Times article I found a long preview of the show from Time Magazine.

“He is back among us. And, as always, in a memorable manner, both painful and poignant, sometimes illuminating, usually self-serving. The once too-familiar face of Richard Nixon re-enters the homes of America this week for 90 minutes of dramatic television.”

What’s most interesting is this long Time article reads like an outline for the movie! Obviously any two accounts of this event will share facts, but this is uncomfortably similar. Too similar. I suspect Time’s treatment entered heavily into Peter Morgan’s thought process as he wrote the original stage play.

In the movie Nixon’s camp downplays David Frost’s qualifications to hurt them. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t ring true because of Frost’s association with “That Was The Week That Was“–a show whose American version was brutally critical of Nixon (and with this clip also brutally critical of PM Harold Macmillan in its British version).

Hyperbole As Large As Space Itself

Over the past few days I’ve seen headlines for, and mostly avoided reading articles on, the discovery of a new planet, Gliese_581_c. Time Magazine headlined: “Life on the New Planet?” Those words just don’t pass the sniff test.

It would be nice to say I’m excited about Gliese_581_c, except there’s a whole lot less here than meets the eye.

“On the treasure map of the universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X,” said Xavier Delfosse, an astronomer with Grenoble University in France and one of the planet’s co-discoverers. Dmitri Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, went further, enthusing to The New York Times, “It’s 20 light-years [away]. We can go there.”

Sure, what’s 120,000,000,000,000 miles?

He’s talking 20 years, if we travel as fast as light. The fastest a man made object has ever traveled is around 150,000 mph by the Helios 2 spacecraft. This amazing speed was reached as the probe whipped around the Sun, using solar gravity for an assist.

Even at that normally unattainable rate, 120 trillion miles would take about 91,000 years.

And that life stuff – no one has actually seen the planet. Its existence is implied, based on orbital mechanics and shifts of the star it orbits. We don’t know if its got water or an atmosphere or what the surface temperature is. Gliese_581_c’s extremely close proximity to its “sun” probably affects its rotation, though we have no firm understanding of the final result.

The assumption is, gravity would be about twice what it is on Earth with tidal forces about 400 times what we see. The planet might be locked into its orbit in such a way that one side is always illuminated while the other side is under constant darkness.

What I’m getting at is, it’s an immense leap of faith to go with Time’s headline and project a planet supporting life.

It’s good to get excited about science. Why spoil that by turning on the hype machine?


Recently, I had an email conversation with my Statistical Climatology teaching assistant (quite an important person, as she controls my grades!). We talked about Innumeracy, the book by John Allen Paulos.

His, unfortunate, conclusion is that most people are mathematically challenged. Not knowing math leaves them less capable of dealing with the world around them.

Out of curiosity, I asked some folks at work to tell me the relationship between a million and a billion. Not many knew it was 1:1,000.

Since our government is now throwing billions and even trillions around (a trillion is 1,000 billion or a million million) it seems like this is something we should know.

Flash forward to this past weekend. My friend Bob called me on IM and sent a link to an article in Time Magazine about America’s problems with weight and obesity. On the first page was a chart which said Americans eat “600 Billion Big Macs a year.”

Wow. That’s a lot… something like 2,000 apiece per year. Obviously, we’ve got a problem here. That number’s wrong.

Dear Mr. Fox:

Thanks for writing to us about TIME’s Oct. 20 cover story and the figure of how many Big Macs are consumed by Americans each year. It appears in the online version as 600 billion, but that’s not accurate. The correct figure of 600 million appears in the print edition of the magazine.

We appreciated hearing from you. Sorry for any confusion.

TIME letters

Don’t be sorry to me. Feel sorry for all the people who looked at that stat, wrong as it was, and never realized what that number meant.