When You Know You’re Old

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

PanAmTerminal

I wrote four posts last Sunday about our visit to New York the week before on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Left unwritten was this one, in which our trip ends with an unexpected gift.

You may be familiar with the once-glorious Pan Am terminal at JFK, pictured above. On Pan Am’s death, Delta took it over. Under the numbering system developed for JFK’s different buildings, it became the prosaic Terminal 3. It also became a dump, though no less so than its neighbor, Terminal 2, which Delta also uses. Flying Delta to JFK, you knew you had arrived in hell, especially in contrast to the new terminals (5 and 8) that JetBlue and American built.

And then there was the old international arrivals terminal, which in an era when only Pan Am and TWA, among US carriers, flew overseas, and from their own terminals, was where all the foreign airlines came. It received its own facelift a few years ago.

With T3 beyond repair, Delta decided to invest in a huge extension to T4, which opened last May. They still use T2, while T3 is now a ruin. The T4 extension is a huge arm running perpendicular to the main entry building for as far as you can see, and then some. We flew into the end gate last summer and walked/rode the moving walkway forever to get to baggage claim.

The terminal’s new Delta Sky Club is far past the wing’s midpoint, which suggests that the extension isn’t finished, and that is indeed the case. Last November, I dropped Gail and Joel at T4 for their return to Seattle and then took the post-security shuttle bus from T4 around to T2 to catch a flight to Chicago, giving me a good view from the tarmac of the continued construction. When the extension is completed, the club will no doubt find itself at the midpoint.

Anyway, here we were, two Sundays ago, at T4, just through security, with a long walk first to the Delta wing and then to the farthest end of it for our Seattle flight. Or maybe not quite the farthest end, since we were going to stop first at the club.

As we made the turn from the main terminal area to the Delta wing, one of those beeping shuttle vehicles was headed right at us, the kind with a few rows of bench seats that ferries passengers with mobility problems out to the gates. It was returning passenger-less, and I was trying to get out of its way when suddenly the driver pulled alongside to ask what gate we were headed to. I gave him a number just short of our actual gate, one by the club. He said hop on.

Hop on? Did I look like I needed a ride? How old do I look anyway?

Well, who cares? This was too good an opportunity to pass up. And there was plenty of room on board. Gail got in one row, me in the one behind. Joel looked at us like we were insane and kept walking. Then we were off.

I had to record this, at the least so I could show Joel what he was missing. I got my phone out, took a photo, then switched to movie mode. You can see the result below. We asked the driver to pull up to the club entrance and we jumped off.

If this is what being old is like, I’ll take it.

Oh, bonus viewing: see if you can spot our son as we pass him. I didn’t even notice him when we went by, but he’s there, in the video.

Categories: Life, Transportation, Travel

The Morgan Library

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

morganroom
A week ago we were in New York to celebrate my mother’s 94th birthday. What to do after the festive lunch at La Grenouille and leaving my parents? Well, we were on 52nd, with the Morgan Library just 16 blocks down Madison. Why not stop by? We did.

Good decision.

I see that I wrote a post about the Morgan in October 2010, on the occasion of the post-restoration reopening of the historic 1906 building that Charles McKim designed to serve as J.P. Morgan’s office and library. Reviewing it, I see that Gail and I last visited almost exactly three years before, when we were back in New York for my father’s 90th birthday. The Renzo Piano addition to the library was still new. Joel had flown back to Boston the day we visited. Last week we all went.

What did we see? Well, first, of course, the restored 1906 building.

In 2010 the Morgan restored the interior of the 1906 library to its original grandeur. A new lighting system was installed to illuminate the extraordinary murals and decor of the four historic rooms. Intricate marble surfaces and applied ornamentation were cleaned, period furniture was reupholstered, and original fixtures—including three chandeliers removed decades ago—were restored and reinstalled. A late-nineteenth-century Persian rug (similar to the one originally there) was laid in the grand East Room. The ornate ceiling of the librarian’s office, or North Room, was cleaned, and visitors are able to enter the refurbished space—now a gallery—for the first time. New, beautifully crafted display cases throughout the 1906 library feature selections from the Morgan’s collection of great works of art and literature from the ancient world to modern times.

You can read more about the restoration here and here. I especially love the “intricately carved cylinder seals produced by Mesopotamian sculptors” in the North Room.

Next we headed to one of the temporary exhibitions, The Little Prince: A New York Story. The description:

Since its publication seventy years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has captivated millions of readers throughout the world. It may come as a surprise that this French tale of an interstellar traveler who comes to Earth in search of friendship and understanding was written and first published in New York City, during the two years the author spent here at the height of the Second World War.

As he prepared to leave the city to rejoin the war effort as a reconnaissance pilot, Saint-Exupéry appeared at his friend Silvia Hamilton’s door wearing his military uniform. “I’d like to give you something splendid,” he said, “but this is all I have.” He tossed a rumpled paper bag onto her entryway table. Inside were the manuscript and drawings for The Little Prince, which the Morgan acquired from her in 1968.

Focusing on the story’s American origins, this exhibition features twenty-five of the manuscript pages—replete with crossed-out words, cigarette burns, and coffee stains—and all forty-three of the earliest versions of drawings for the book. Also on view are rare printed editions from the Morgan’s collection as well as personal letters, photographs, and artifacts on loan from the Saint-Exupéry estate, private collections, and museums and libraries in France and the United States.

The Little Prince: A New York Story is the first exhibition to explore in depth the creative decisions Saint-Exupéry made as he crafted his beloved story that reminds us that what matters most can only be seen with the heart.

We would have gotten more out of the exhibition if we had ever read The Little Prince.

Across the hall was A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play. Wow! We were so fortunate to stumble in. It was a stunner.

A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play signals the debut of photography as a curatorial focus at the Morgan. With over eighty works from more than two dozen collections arranged into a surprising chain of visual associations, the exhibition explores the many ways of interpreting a photograph and pays tribute to the unique role played by the creative collector. Each photograph in the exhibition’s “collective invention” shares a visual or conceptual quality with the piece to its left, another with the one to its right. Embodying photography’s rich history and wide range of applications in science, art, propaganda, journalism, and self-promotion, A Collective Invention celebrates a medium that mirrors the energy and complexity of modern life.

The photographs were wonderful on their own, ranging in time from the mid-nineteenth century to today, in location around the world, and in subject as wide as you can imagine. Here a photo taken by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in 1858 of the Lidell girls, Alice on the right. There a photo of Lenny Bruce in court in 1962 with a tape recorder. And one of my favorites, an array of photographer baseball cards.

The visitor can enjoy the photos for their intrinsic merits or add to the pleasure by observing the thematic pairings, each photo indeed connected obviously or subtly to the one on its left and, in an entirely different way, to the one on its right.

The exhibition webpage has a slide show with selected photos. I urge you to look through it. Better yet, if you’re in New York by May 18, see the exhibition itself. See also Ken Johnson’s review in the NYT.

Here’s the idea: Look at a photograph, and zero in on one element. It can be obvious or incidental, formal or conceptual. Then find another photograph that contains something similar to what you spotted in the first image. Now identify something in the second photograph — again, important or trivial — and discover something like that in a third picture. Repeat ad infinitum.

[snip]

Following this herky-jerky, daisy-chain path through the whole show is not only amusing, but also has some philosophical payoffs. Most immediately, it unsettles customary habits of visual consumption. The labels prompt you to examine aspects and details of pictures that might otherwise pass unnoticed, fostering an alertness to both what you’re looking at and how you’re looking at it.

Categories: Museums, Photography

La Grenouille, 3

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

lagrenouille

A year ago almost to the day I wrote about our celebration of my mother’s 93rd birthday at New York’s great French restaurant La Grenouille. (A little over four years ago, I wrote about La Grenouille on the overlapping occasions of my parents’ celebrating their 68th anniversary there and the NYT offering a new review of it.)

Well, we ate there again, last weekend, on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Another wonderful meal.

The restaurant website appears to be in a state of transition. It’s not working now, or I’d link to the menu. Gail and I both started with Le Potage Saint Germain, or split green pea soup, which was sublime. The waiter brought croutons to dish into it. Maybe the best croutons I ever had. Joel had salmon tartare. For our main course, Gail and I both chose the onglet, or hanger steak, which was served with a light, pureed, mashed potato. Joel had calf’s liver. I was tempted to have the grilled Dover sole with mustard sauce, for which they are famous, but had it last year and decided to do something different. (Oh, I see now that last year I had the split pea soup. I had forgotten. But it’s so good. I’m glad I had it again.)

Shortly after ordering, before any food came, the waiter returned to ask if we wished to have any hot desserts: soufflés or apple tart. The soufflé choices were Grand Marnier, chocolate, and something else. Well, looking at last year’s post, I see that I wrote, “According to the menu, there are three options: Grand Marnier, Chocolat ou Citron ‘Meyer’. Other options offered were an apple tart and a tarte tatin.” I suppose the options last week were the same. Gail chose a chocolate soufflé, Joel the Grand Marnier, me the apple tart.

It doesn’t seem that I have much to add to what I wrote a year ago, when I concluded that “the meal was delicious, the service both warm and unobtrusive.” One difference: I wrote then that “I’ll be happy not to wait another 35 years before returning.” Happy indeed, after waiting just one year. And boy what good bread they have!

Categories: Family, Restaurants

The Race

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

cablevision

One of the pleasures of travel is the opportunity it affords to discover how similar life is in other places. And how different.

Take cable, for instance. Here in Seattle, we live under the Comcast monopoly. A few years ago, they rebranded all their services under the Xfinity label. Back at my parents’ house in New York, Cablevision runs things, and they brand their services under the Optimum name. I have no idea why cable companies decided to invent stupid names for their consumer services.

In any case, when we were in New York last week, we decided to help with some cable box problems. I called Cablevision, described the issue, and was told that we should exchange our DVR for a new one at the nearest Optimum store, in Roslyn. We disconnected everything, put the box in our rental car, and drove off.

Once in the store, I was amazed to see that it was a clone of our Seattle Comcast Xfinity store. Long line. Lots of customer service reps behind computer screens along a long counter. Piles of cable and DVR boxes behind them. Wait your turn, walk up, describe problem, turn in box, get new box with new power cable. It was like a parallel universe, with only the store name changed.

Except for one thing. The race. This I haven’t seen in Seattle.

When we drove into the Optimum lot, I passed up some parking spots close to the front door, parked out of the way, Gail and Joel got out, I fussed with the rental car a bit, finally getting out and locking up, during which time a woman had driven into the lot, parked, and gotten out with what looked like a bill and cash in one hand. There was a bit of drizzle. I looked over to see Gail and Joel waiting for me rather than heading in to get on line. Suddenly, the woman was off and running. I told Gail to go ahead, which she did. But she wasn’t going to run too. Clip clop, clip clop the women’s shoes rhythmically pounded as she passed Gail and entered with a yard to spare. Amazing.

Of course, we ended up standing in line just behind the race winner, who kept her head rigidly facing forward, suitably embarrassed I’d like to believe. Her reward? She was taken about two seconds ahead of us, with several spots opening up at once.

The new DVR we were given didn’t solve the problem. In that regard, the trip was a waste. But we did enjoy the new lesson in human behavior. Next time we go to the cable store, we’ll be wearing running shoes.

Categories: Life, Travel

Chicken Parm Pizza

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

pizzaparm

I love pizza. I love chicken parm. Why not combine them?

They do that at Kitchen Kabaret, the amazing food emporium located not far from where I grew up on Long Island. We were back there last weekend, and stopped by to take out some food. When I saw the pizza pictured above, I thought I was in heaven. But I had just eaten veal parm the night before when we had dinner with my brother’s family at our usual meeting place, Piccolo’s, so I resisted.

Next time.

kitchenkabaret

Categories: Food

2014 Abel Prize

March 26, 2014 Leave a comment

yakovsinai

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters this morning announced the recipient of its 2014 Abel Prize, the twelfth one awarded. With mathematicians so rarely in the news, I have made it a point here at Ron’s View each year to write a post about the award. (Click on the following links for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.) This year’s recipient is Yakov G. Sinai, a professor of mathematics at Princeton University and researcher at the Landau Institute of Theoretical Physics outside Moscow.

As I explain each year, the Abel Prize was established in 2001 by the Norwegian government to be the counterpart in mathematics to the Nobel Prizes in other disciplines. It has been awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters each year since 2003 to one or two outstanding mathematicians and honors the great, early-nineteenth-century Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel.

Regarding Sinai, here is a passage from the press release:

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has decided to award the Abel Prize for 2014 to Yakov G. Sinai (78) of Princeton University, USA, and the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, “for his fundamental contributions to dynamical systems, ergodic theory, and mathematical physics”.

[snip]

Yakov Sinai is one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century. He has achieved numerous groundbreaking results in the theory of dynamical systems, in mathematical physics and in probability theory. Many mathematical results are
named after him … .

Sinai is highly respected in both physics and mathematics communities as the major architect of the most bridges connecting the world of deterministic (dynamical) systems with the world of probabilistic (stochastic) systems. During the past half-century Yakov Sinai has written more than 250 research papers and a number of books. He has supervised more than 50 Ph.D.-students.

Yakov Sinai has trained and influenced a generation of leading specialists in his research fields. Much of his research has become a standard toolbox for mathematical physicists. The Abel Committee says, “His works had and continue to have a broad and profound impact on mathematics and physics, as well as on the ever-fruitful interaction between these two fields.”

The Abel Prize website has a brochure on this year’s prize that is a bit more informative about Sinai’s work and career. Here are the first two paragraphs of an expanded description of his work.

Ever since the time of Newton, differential equations have been used by mathematicians, scientists and engineers to explain natural phenomena and to predict how they evolve. Many equations incorporate stochastic terms to model unknown, seemingly random, factors acting upon that evolution. The range of modern applications of deterministic and stochastic evolution equations encompasses such diverse issues as planetary motion, ocean currents, physiological cycles, population dynamics, and electrical networks, to name just a few. Some of these phenomena can be foreseen with great accuracy, while others seem to evolve in a chaotic, unpredictable way. Now it has become clear that order and chaos are intimately connected: we may find chaotic behavior in deterministic systems, and conversely, the statistical analysis of chaotic systems may lead to definite predictions.

Yakov Sinai made fundamental contributions in this broad domain, discovering surprising connections between order and chaos and developing the use of probability and measure theory in the study of dynamical systems. His achievements include seminal works in ergodic theory, which studies the tendency of a system to explore all of its available states according to certain time statistics; and statistical mechanics, which explores the behavior of systems composed of a very large number of particles, such as molecules in a gas.

See also the short article by Arne Sletsjøe (Norwegian mathematician and former Olympic sprint canoer) at the end of the brochure in which he explains what dynamical systems and entropy are, leading to a glimpse into Sinai’s contributions. I’ll close with an excerpt.

A dynamical system is a description of a physical system and its evolution over time. The system has many phases and all phases are represented in the phase space of the system. A path in the phase space describes the dynamics of the dynamical system.

A dynamical system may be deterministic. In a deterministic system no randomness is involved in the development of future states of the system. A swinging pendulum describes a deterministic system. Fixing the position and the speed, the laws of physics will determine the motion of the pendulum. When throwing a dice, we have the other extreme; a stochastic system. The future is completely uncertain, the last toss of the dice has no influence on the next.

In general, we can get a good overview of what happens in a dynamical system in the short term. However, when analyzed in the long term, dynamical systems are difficult to understand and predict. The problem of weather forecasting illustrates this phenomenon; the weather condition, described by air pressure, temperature, wind, humidity, etc. is a phase of a dynamical system. A weather forecast for the next ten minutes is much more reliable than a weather forecast for the next ten days.

Yakov Sinai was the first to come up with a mathematical foundation for quantifying
the complexity of a given dynamical system. Inspired by Shannon’s entropy in information theory, and in the framework of Kolmogorov’s Moscow seminar, Sinai introduced the concept of entropy for so-called measure-preserving dynamical systems, today known as Kolmogorov–Sinai-entropy. This entropy turned out to be a strong and far-reaching invariant of dynamical systems.

Categories: Math

Too Late

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment
Bob Feller throwing a no-hitter on opening day, 1940, at age 21.

Bob Feller throwing no-hitter on opening day, 1940, at age 21.

[From Sports Illustrated]

Joe Posnanski has been running a series of posts on the 100 Greatest Baseball Players Ever. I gather this will turn into a book. The posts were coming pretty quickly a couple of months ago, but then he went to Sochi to cover the Winter Olympics and things slowed down, which has been fine with me. The post-every-few-days pace allows me to enjoy each new entry a little more.

Today we learned Posnanski’s choice for number 48, Bob Feller. Posnanski attempts to explain just how extraordinary a pitcher Feller was from the moment he arrived in the big leagues at the age of 17 in 1936 through the 1946 and 1947 seasons, despite missing all of the 1942-1944 seasons and most of 1945 while serving in World War II. We can safely assume that Feller’s rare level of dominance would have continued right through the war years. (See Feller’s stats here.)

One accomplishment that Posnanski highlighted caught my fancy. Before describing it, I’ll take a detour into golf.

You are perhaps familiar with the golfing notion of shooting your age. The par score for an 18-hole golf course is typically 70 or 71 or 72. Top golfers will routinely score in the 60s. On a handful of occasions, players have shot 59s in tournament play. (A list of occasions when men have done it is here.)

The best players, when in their 30s or 40s, are never going to shoot a score equal to or lower than their age. However—and this is one of the benefits of aging—once you hit your 60s you can begin to think about “shooting your age.” It’s not that unusual a feat, at least for the golfing elite.

I haven’t played a round of golf in years, but even if I had, I’m too young to be shooting my age. In a few years, who knows? I could take up the game again and at least dream of shooting my age.

Oh, I just found an article from a few years ago by the WSJ golf writer, John Paul Newport on “The Wonders of Shooting Your Age.” Doing so is more common than I realized:

Phil Schlosser has always been a determined fellow. As the founder and owner of a forging company in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., his happiest moments came in defying competitors who whispered that he’d taken on a job his facilities couldn’t handle. “Every fiber in my body started to vibrate,” the strapping 84-year-old told me recently at his golf-course home in an elite Palm Springs-area community called The Reserve. “And I thought, ‘I’ll figure out how to do her.’ ” Usually he did.

So it’s not surprising that 11 years ago, when he was paired at his golf club in Bend, Ore., with two major-league baseball players who almost totally ignored him, he grew miffed and took action. Despite having scored less than 80 only three or four times in his life, he rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 73. “How’s that for an old man!” he told the players, whom he prefers not to name.

It was the first time he shot his age or better — and it was on the number. Since then, including Friday’s round of 81, Mr. Schlosser has shot his age an additional 381 times. That’s far from a record: A Minnesotan named T. Edison Smith, a retired physical-education professor, has shot his age or better nearly 2,700 times. Ed Ervasti, a member at Turtle Creek in Tequesta, Fla., and other clubs, last year at age 93 shot 72 on a course measuring more than 6,000 yards.

I shouldn’t just dream. I should do it.

Back to baseball, and the notion I was previously unfamiliar with of “striking out your age,” which Posnanski describes in writing about Feller.

He made his Major League debut two weeks later by pitching one shaky inning against Washington. He made his first big league start about month later, August 23, against the St. Louis Browns. He struck out 15. That’s when the papers really went crazy. To sum up the coverage in one sentence: This lad, who learned to throw by pegging at a makeshift backstop in his father’s cow pasture, this boy wonder not long out of short pants, this high school boy has a future brighter than the sun.

Less than a month after that, Feller had his most remarkable day of that remarkable year. With his father in the stands, he struck out 17 Philadelphia Athletics — an American League record. The United Press account probably described it best: “A fastball, a mystifying curve and a flare of wildness that made the Philadelphia athletics step back from the plate made 17-year-old Bob Feller today the amazed possessor of a New American League record of 17 strikeouts.”

That’s 17 strikeouts in one game at the age of 17!

Posnanski continues:

Feller is one of only two players, by the way, to strike out his age. He struck out 17 at 17. Chicago’s Kerry Wood, more than 60 years later, struck out 20 at 20.

I missed Feller’s feat but remember Wood’s. What I don’t remember is anyone making the connection to striking out one’s age.

Alas, doing so has an age upper bound. You’re not going to do it once you turn 28. Too late.

Oh, I know. It’s possible to strike out more than 27 players in a game. A batter strikes out, the ball gets away from the catcher, the batter runs to first and arrives safely. It counts as a strikeout, but not an out. (Here’s a list of the occasions when a pitcher struck out 4 in an inning. It was done just last October.) If enough players strike out but get on base, you can have unlimited strikeouts. But basically 27 is the natural limit. Or let’s say 36 to be safe, nine consecutive four-strikeout innings.

This is one rare feat, for sure. And one I can’t dream of doing. Even if I somehow defy the laws of aging and become a professional pitcher at my age, it’s too late for me to strike out my age.

No baseball when I retire. I’ll focus on golf.

Categories: Baseball, Golf, Life
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