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    June 10, 2009

    GM is bankrupt but I got a new SUV...

    I'm not talking about a gas-guzzling, eco-doomsday SUV machine...
    I don't think my SUV is anywhere close to winning any kind of popularity contest in LA either.

    I'm talking about a Sustainable Utility Vehicle, as in bicycle baby! In fact, I do commute between home and the vanpool area with my SUV: that's about 10 minutes in the morning and about 15 minutes in the evening. You see, my SUV rides very high, just like those big hummers in music videos. In fact, I ride taller than most cars and medium-size SUVs around me because my SUV is a hybrid -- that's right! It's a full-featured, high-torque cross-over between a mountain bike and a race bike. This means it's got a bit of suspension in the front to smooth out over the potholes in LA's streets -- although the disk on my MacBook Pro laptop has a crash guard feature, I really don't want to take risks with this so the AAA-rating front-end suspension on my SUV is a really nice feature! At the same time, the folks at Helen's in Santa Monica advised me against lugging around the streets a mountain bike unless I really want to shape up to walk the catwalk. So I gave in to the cross-over hype and got myself a fancy Trek 7500 hybrid. With handlebar shifters, this light vehicle just zigs around traffic. With the ocean breeze blowing inland in the evening, I'm driving headwind which gives me an extra dose of much needed stress relief.

    Actually, Gabriel and I have the same bike. I reduced my car insurance to leisure driving: less than 50 miles per week! I can average easily one tank a month even on my car and now, my goal is to average 1 tank for 2 months. This year, we have no pay raises at JPL which effectively means a net salary decrease after inflation. PInching every penny matters and I really don't want to feel like being a sucker for billion-dollar profit oil companies anymore.

    So, what's good for the pocket book and for the heart can also be good for the environment. Now, if only we could increase the density of bicycle drivers in LA just enough for the average driver to take notice in our 5-minute attention span, then we might have a chance that we won't have to worry so much about loaded jerks driving around town with fancy sports cars, talking on their cellphone while at the same time edging us off the road. I mean -- is there any competition between a Porsche and a Trek 7500?

    Well, when I'm really frustrated after a tough day, I can tell you that crossing West-LA traffic to Santa Monica on a zippy hybrid bike can be almost as fast as what a spoiled-rich jerk driving a Porsche can achieve within legal driving conditions. It happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

    I was biking on a 1-lane construction stretch on National Blvd between Sepulveda & Sawtelle, the end of the construction zone where the road widens to 2 lanes again. At cold start from a green light, I can outrun a car ... for just a few seconds. Still, that's something to be proud of, sometimes. This time, it turns out that it must have pissed of some dude driving a high-end Porsche. Pedal to the metal, his car roared through the intersection. Man, these Germans really got motor engineering nailed to the perfection. Less than 2 miles later, I zig-zag through neighborhood side streets where I don't have to inhale so much toxic exhaust from congested boulevards. It just happened that as I passed by one of the side streets, I noticed that the Porsche that roared through National & Sawtelle just pulled into a driveway to excitement of kids waiting for their daddy to come home.

    Home sweet home vs. hybrid sweet humility. Isn't it amazing how many advantages there are to eco-friendly bicycle driving? It's even sweeter than beeping your zipcar with your iPhone.

    - Nicolas.

    August 03, 2008

    The saddest song

    That is possibly the saddest song ever..but I am glad you posted it. As I metioned to you, Nicolas, I have so many things around my house that Tina gave me that will remind me of her. It is almost as if she knew that by giving me these things that I would not forget  her.  I felt very loved by Tina, even when we weren't speaking.

    For some reason I remember so much the time that I came to your apartment on Kansas Avenue so that's how long ago it was. I am guessing that it must have been Veteran's Day --one of our "pupil -free" days from Edison.  I kept ringing the doorbell and could hear the sound of a vacuum cleaner, or something like that, that was the reason that Tina didn't answer.  Finally I managed to get in --either she answered or I just opened the door --and it was Nirana playing full-blast.  I should have known...even then, I don't think of Tina ever vacuuming.  She was quite involved with Kurt Cobain at the time.  ---and now, who knows???


    August 02, 2008

    The Closing of The Mind

    Yesterday, I started writing a paper journal. There is something therapeutic about synchronizing one's thought processes with the coordination activity involved in handwriting. This morning, I wrote about an acute feeling of melancholy that occurred when a song started playing while I was reading a particularly interesting article in the first issue of The Review for Symbolic Logic.

    This is a new journal that I received as part of my membership to the Association for Symbolic Logic. I had completely forgotten about it when this issue arrived around the time Tina passed away. Since then, I've been reading it at night and on weekends. Actually, for a terminally-nerdy journal, this is pretty darn good stuff! The first article kind of blew my socks off: "How Applied Mathematics Became Pure". Geez, how many people in their lifetime spend a iota of time thinking about the distinction between the two? That's assuming that someone already knows about the existence of this distinction which brings me to this morning when I read the article:

    "The Closing of The Mind: How The Particular Quantifier Became Existentially Loaded Behind Our Backs"

    An example of a particular quantifier is this:

    There exists a French person who speaks English without any accent.

    Well, the debate that has been raging in the circles of formal philosophy and mathematics for years has revolved around the meta-level question whether this statement is vacuously false because it is impossible for any French person to speak any other language without any accent or materially true because such a person has been identified and universally recognized as being a particular example that proves the validity of the statement. I won't pretend dreaming that I'm that person; that would be unpleasantly arrogant and conceited. However, toying with non-native speakers of English about the mere possibility of this statement being true has value as a conversation starter.

    Somewhere in the discussion about Russell's views about the existential quantifier and Russell's example about "Unicorns exist", my computer started playing Léo Ferré's "Avec le temps, tout s'en va..."

    Léo speaks of the inescapable melancholy due to the inevitability of forgetting feelings and memories about loved ones that make particular quantification about the beauty of love, friendship, tenderness, connectedness and understanding true between lovers. Eventually, all of these feelings and memories will be lost; an absolute truth that I realize is the dual of the fundamental need for particular quantification over things that exist, might have existed, did exist or were believed to have existed. How can we be 100% sure about love? I am sure of one thing irrespective of any interpretation of particular quantification: Tina taught me how to love someone. Love is something worth living for. I'm surprised that despite centuries of introspection, all of these smart philosophers are remarkably silent on the import of love on questions of particular quantification. If there is one thing that ought resolve this debate, I'd choose love instead of Russell's unicorns.

    July 19, 2008

    Eco-friendly cross-town parties: Edison meets JPL

    There’s a reason end-of-school-year parties are held in the summer. In the fall, there’s Halloween and we all know how creepy this day can be. A couple of years ago, someone almost lost a hand at Gabriel's party at the Museum of Natural History, but that’s another story.

    Still, it was quite a surprise to see how much Jack had grown. I remember him as a small 4th grader in 1998-1999.

    Jack was still his sisters' baby brother not so long ago...

    Next to his giraffe poise, I would have felt embarassingly short.

    But let's turn the tables on the kids, shall we?

    How about "homework from beyond" ? How scary is it to go to a party and find correctedhomework from over 10 years ago?

    Thank you Tina, the effect this produced on Kevin was priceless.

    Whether Tina's little darlings like Kevin who gave me gray hair when I tutored him for AP Physics have since now graduated from college or are still going through it, they all had something to be verklempf about and talk amongst themselves.

    Tina loved the French national anthem: bloody, yet melancholy; extremely violent but musically transcendent; in other words, it's whatachamacallit beautiful. So were the many flowers she received!

    She wasn't around on the account that there was something in her birthday cake on July 7, 2008, that didn't agree with her as Little Bonaparte would have said in Some Like It Hot, our favorite family movie. The autopsy is still pending but Tina's ashes arrived on Friday at home.

    Although the Edison croud was glad to have an end-of-school-year party, the day wasn't all about teachers!

    My JPL vanpool friends stopped by on the way home -- how cool is that? The whole van! One had split to pick up some flowers and there were too many distractions that delayed his departure.

    (is it me or is there something weird about this picture?)

    Earlier in the day, we scored a lot of green karma organizing a birthday party at JPL: how about 0% transportation overhead? Ok, JPL isn't the most party-friendly environment but when I'm around rocket scientists, I feel truly at home, whether it is with managers, my first boss and acclaimed gurus, Deep Space One colleagues, formal methods nerds, State Analysis amigos or just being there with my son.

    Of course, everybody missed Tina: she had wit and flair for cracking jokes; a party fire cracker!

    July 11, 2008

    SAMOHI's Chemistry Bombshell

    Whether you believe that "it takes a village to raise children" sounds corny or not, fact remains that I'm personally very grateful for SAMOHI's excellent AP-Chemistry teacher, Mrs. Martha Diaz-Chacon, who turns out to have played indirectly an important role in helping me spend 2 great weeks with Tina before she died.

    Back at the end of the first semester, she had compelled her students to prepare for the finals by studying in pairs or groups. Gabriel teamed with Alex. This spark triggered a chain reaction of practice / study sessions where Gabriel and Alex forged great bonds of friendship. That bond was strong enough for Alex to offer driving Gabriel to the airport on June 30th. Less than 1/2 hour later, Tina said:

    "I miss Gabriel already"

    I felt really good about being there. Had I followed my fatherly impulses and driven him to the airport, Tina would have been all alone at home and in her heart. Instead, I spent the evening with Tina at home; an "odd couple" of sorts. I managed to spend the following week at home with her. She had improved so much from Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus thanks to Dr. Bergsneider's treatment at UCLA that it felt as if I had spent a lot more time than just a week. Gabriel, Tina and I had managed to have breakfast outside for the first time in years.

    Yesterday, Gabriel spent the night at Alex'. He was jet-lagged for sure and I'm glad he didn't wake me up. Organizing a birthday/memorial get-together party the way Tina-la-vecina would have wanted it is a challenge. My Tinazinha was a tough, demanding cookie. I'm glad that Gabriel had a tough, demanding AP-Chem teacher at SAMOHI this year.

    Thank you Mrs. Chacon.

    July 09, 2008

    An anarchic birthday

    Around 3am this morning, I woke up with a weird sense of anachronism about Tina's 56th birthday.
    Unfortunately, Tina-la-vecina as she was known in the Santa Monica Unified School District checked in Hotel California on Monday and isn't available to solve this riddle.

    What do you mean?

    Well, here's what happened.

    She was born in the Bronx near the Yankee stadium on July 9, 1952. She would have been 56 today. Sometimes people ask me if my wife is French. It pleases me to reply that my wife was born in New York.
    Tina's parents migrated to Rio de Janeiro when she was an English-speaking 5-year-old cutie pie. Who could imagine she'd score some of the highest scores in highly-competitive exams in Portuguese?

    In the summer of 1991, 6-months pregnant with Gabriel, she realized that Zefa, aka Josephina, wouldn't be able to live by herself in Laranjeiras street in the appartment her parents penny-pinched themselves very dearly to buy. Zefa's irresistible attraction for the "loja americana" (American market) used to drive her dad bananas: "For christ's sake Josephina!" was all he could conjure up to say before she'd storm out of the appartment declaring matter-of-factly: "mommy here is going to the cinema, bye-bye!" So, Tina thought of an irresistible ploy to drag Zefa out of Brasil one last time: "Please come help me take care of my baby".

    Tina had scheduled a c-section for Gabriel'd birth on Halloween 1991. Zefa arrived the next day.
    Gabriel, her "neto", burst out whaling when he learned of Zefa's death on April 28 this year. Our house had felt empty for about a year since she had been in convalescent care. We missed teasing Zefa about which cities of the world were the most beautiful to which she'd invariably declare: "Paris and Rio are the most beautiful cities in the world". Zefa was calm but she had a knack to drive us bananas at which point she'd bail out saying: "I'm going to my room, bye-bye". Zefa was a living encyclopledia of early Hollywood royalty. Tina used to drag Zefa out of her room to watch an old movie only to tease her mom about who so-and-so's extra-marital affairs on that particular movie had been with. Zefa responded matter-of-factly to such questions. These interactions inspired Tina to twist what sometimes started as an argument into something that transpired as a really funny story in her blogs.

    Ok, but what did happen?

    To put it bluntly, she checked in Hotel California 2 days before her birthday. Pick a date and Tina could tell you who famous actor, rock-and-roller was born on that date. Encyclopedic memory runs in her family for sure. With all of my attention-deficit disorder, it took me several years to adjust to Tina's pace of on-cue-memory recall. I'm still a junior compared to her and her sudden departure left me puzzled. What's so special about 2 days before her birthday? Then I remembered Nehemiah Persoff's 'Little Bonaparte' character in 'Some Like it Hot' asking: "So What's a few months between friends?" in a announcing prematurely the birthday of the lead of Chicago chapter of his "Friends of the Opera" organization. "The boys and I baked you a little cake for your birthday!" Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta.... Tina, Gabriel and I loved to watch this movie; it would be so anarchically Tina for her to say that there was something in her premature birthday cake that didn't agree with her.

    I fell in love with Tina's mind when I was taking a course on AI & Natural Language Processing with Igal Arens. At that time, she taught me a very different view on language learning, one that she learned from Stephen Krashen at USC, her beloved mentor in linguistics. She was adamant about his views on language education and was unyielding in her blogs with whoever dared to profess blashmey w.r.t. Krashen's views. It took me over two decades to fully recognize that what attracted me to Tina was the anarchic character of her personality: an unyielding dedication to the ideas she believe where fundamentally worth fighting tooth and nail for. I am really glad and honored to have been a part of her life helping her do that fighting. It's the realization that I spent half of my life in France and half of my life with Tina, first living in sin then under the blessing of the State of California as husband and wife; give or take a few months. But then, what's a few days or months among friends, eh? Tina and I formed an odd couple: half of her life in her beloved Brazil; half of my life with my beloved Tina.

    If you have known Tina and have fond memories to share about her, please consider writing a comment or asking to join her blog as a guest author. She touched on many lives; far more than I am aware of and I'm sure that many who've known her would appreciate reading about it as much as I would.

    Ciao meu gostozinha Tinazinha.

    July 07, 2008

    links for 2008-07-07

    July 06, 2008

    I'm Voting Republican - The Video ;P)

    links for 2008-07-06

    July 04, 2008

    links for 2008-07-04