Archive for August, 2020


I’m in the mode of repurposing these days. So if I “have to” read an essay for my MFA class, I might as well post it here for you to read, right?

The essay is “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. I heard her lecture in SF many years ago. This is not what she read, but I found Girl on YouTube. There it is for your listening pleasure.

PS, this is not cheating because I’ve already submitted my homework, so I won’t be getting credit for any comments you make.


It had been a while since there was a tv drama I liked. Then I found “Billions” and now I’ve lost “Billions.” There’s no sign of when it might return.

Friends are surprised I liked the show about billionaires and the world of high finance. I can barely understand low finance. Not that I’m poor, I just don’t get money things.

My family lived on the dollar bills my father brought home on Fridays, in a little brown envelope, after shoveling cement all week. We never had a checking account, and credit cards hadn’t been born.

Then, I left home and took a vow of poverty, the kind where you’re not allowed to have money in your possession.

So, what about the plot in “Billions?” Frankly, I have no idea.

This is an example of a HEDGE FUND, as featured in the tv show “Billions.” Except that this is a friend fixing our hedge and we didn’t pay her, so now I’m confused.

All I know is

            1) Damian Lewis (the billionaire) and Paul Giamatti (the DA) head up an incredible cast of characters, and

            2) The writing oozes equally incredible dialogue.

What I know of the plot is that in every episode either the billionaire or the DA would win. Also, the DA was always trying to catch the billionaire doing something illegal, and in doing so, he was borderline legal himself.

Why does any of this matter? Because it’s the same with books—novels, stories. They’re about characters, writing, and plot. For me, if the first two are done well, I can live with failures of plot.  



A miniature physics lesson set up in my office. Pen for scale.

Even though it’s a virtual year, the start of school for many of us inspires me to drag out the famous (to some of us) story of the barometer.

Question on a quiz:

Show how it’s possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.

One student answered this way:

“Take the barometer to the top of the building and attach a long piece of rope to it. Lower the barometer until it hits the sidewalk, then pull it up and measure the length of the rope, which will give you the height of the building.”

What? The teacher expected a different answer, using the standard equation involving the difference in pressure at the top and bottom of the building.


When challenged to come up with “the right answer,” the student gave several. Among them:

1. Take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building. Using simple proportion, determine the height of the building.

2. Take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you the height of the building in barometer units.

And so on.

My favorite remains this one:

“Take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent’s door. When the superintendent answers, say: ‘Ms. Superintendent, if you will tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer.'”

How would you grade this student?

** Legend has it that the student was Niels Bohr (1885-1962, Nobel Prize in physics, 1922), but then a legend can say anything and get away with it.