Digitized We Fall

Photo credit: GBlakeley

If the nation is divided, blame computing. A nation digitized against itself cannot stand. When we invented the computer we started down a slippery slope by reducing information to data—a series of binary on/off switches. Everything became zero or one, plus or minus, yes or no…us or them.

In the process of digitizing information, we have also distilled knowledge and understanding to extremes. Once you express ideas in absolutes, the next step is to think that way. Life imitates information. So now we have red states and blue states and politicians pandering to their “base,” which is not really the base at all but the fringe. We’ve got a left wing and right wing but the body politic is missing its core.

Remember the proverbial pendulum that would dependably swing back when things got out of hand? That grandfather clock has been replaced with a digital readout. It’s not just a metaphor. Technology changes how we view information. Sure, a digital watch tells exact time—it’s 11:47:03. But precision is no substitute for context. The reliable hands of an analog clock pointed to the hour in relation to the day. We saw what time it was and what time it wasn’t.

No more. Today we calculate but we don’t figure. We advance but don’t progress. Taking things to extremes, the Internet connects like-minded people so they can communicate, commiserate, coordinate, instigate. This gives radical causes a louder voice. The media comply with publicity in a quest to sensationalize events into big stories. Everything achieves “controversy” status. We used to have talking heads but now they shout.

Through this polarized filter we see the world as a snapshot but not the whole picture, like a digital photo distorted by poor resolution.

Why do we reduce, produce, record and convey information in this way? Because it’s easy, fast and cheap. Where will it end? We need only look at our digital devices to know: We’re going to crash. That’s because digital and electronic systems function perfectly or not at all. It’s everything or nothing. A mechanical system on the other hand, like an old model automobile, undergoes a graceful degradation. It gradually becomes less efficient until it peters out. In the past, you could always prop the carburetor open with a pencil. But in the electronic world of black boxes, we have no role in how the car runs and little advance warning before it dies completely. This total system failure is what engineers call catastrophic degradation.

Depending on machines is frightening enough. Let’s not allow how we think to depend on them too.

Rebirth of a Nation

[Illustrators: Sudowoodo, terdpong pangwong]

I want to have a little talk with you about the birds and the bees. As you know, right now, your body politic is going through an awkward transition that brings with it strange desires, excitement and also feelings of uncertainty.

You may have noticed changes taking place that you didn’t expect and don’t understand. I want you to know that everything is going to be okay. We all go through this and it is perfectly normal, and in many ways a beautiful thing.

Remember when you were little and I told you that Republicans were made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, and Democrats were made of sugar and spice and everything nice? Well sometimes these two very different types of people come together and even go out with each other. I know you think this sounds pretty gross and you’re right to make that face.

But the reason we come together is to create a new nation, conceived in liberty. Remember when Fluffy had kittens? It’s the same idea. You see, it’s a natural cycle. Every four years we have an election. Don’t be embarrassed. These are the facts of life. In the election the Democrat meets the Republican. Then, a few months later, there’s a new birth of freedom as your Uncle Abe would say.

I know it all sounds very weird right now. When you grow up, after you are old enough to register to vote, you will meet a candidate and fall in love and make a new nation together too. I guess what I’m trying to say is, even though it doesn’t seem like it now, you will get through these growing pains, and when you do, things will get a lot better. I promise.

So now you know where you came from—you came from people. If you have any questions, ask your forefathers.

Gefilte Fish: A Poem

Illustration: michaarcher

Gefilte fish is not a fish.
Gefilte fish is a dish.

You can put it in the skin.
But it won’t be a fish agin.

 

 

 

 

 

Kirk Douglas and The Forverts

Remember the movie “Hester Street”? It was based on the writing of Abe Cahan, who was editor of the Yiddish newspaper, The Forverts (The Forward).  The link above is to a funny story about it as told to my daughter…

Kirk Douglas

On this occasion of his passing, take a moment to hear Mr. Douglas in 2002 singing in Yiddish when he received a lifetime achievement award. The song is Mayn Yidishe Meydele, My Jewish Girl, link below. You won’t believe his eloquent speech and presentation despite suffering a stroke. Such a poignant reminiscence perhaps only a gifted actor could convey.

https://forward.com/culture/yiddish-culture/439597/watch-kirk-douglas-sing-in-yiddish/

Olev hasholem.

From Oy Vey to Olé: Lox, Eggs and Onion Frittata

This recipe solves an inherent problem with the classic recipe. You can scroll down below the recipe to read why.

Lox, Eggs and Onion Frittata

Ingredients:

-6 eggs*

-1 medium onion, sliced thinly

-Nova (smoked salmon), about one slice per egg, cut into hearty pieces

-Fresh dill

-Black Pepper

-Light olive oil (and/or butter, optional)

-Cream cheese (optional)

*(2 servings, adjust quantities proportionately for your family)

This frittata is first cooked on the stove top then finished in the broiler: If your broiler is within the oven, position an oven rack up high, allowing room for your fry pan.

Heat olive oil and/or butter in an oven-ready fry pan. Saute the onions till they begin to brown. Add lox and cook briefly till opaque. Spread lox and onions evenly around the pan, minimizing flaking of lox pieces. Whisk eggs and pour in. Cook on stove top till eggs are almost set; the top will remain uncooked. Garnish with dill. Dot with cream cheese. Turn on broiler. Place pan under broiler for a minute or two to cook the top and brown and puff up the frittata, watching at all times to ensure it does not burn. Use oven mitt to carefully remove pan from broiler, and place on stovetop for a secure base. Use a spatula to gradually scrap around and under entire frittata with care so it can be removed from pan and served. Voila!

The story: Lox and eggs and onions (always plural with ands between!) is a classic breakfast combo, typically made with Nova and not actual lox. But it is basically scrambled eggs, resulting in a delicious but unappetizing looking meal. You don’t want an omelet because the lox and onion should be spread throughout the egg mixture and not concentrated as a filling. You could try cooking on the stove top, then flipping it, but that’s messy. The solution is to make a frittata cooked or finished in the oven, a beautiful, puffy preparation that solves the problem of an undercooked top. It does take some care to get the frittata out of the pan.

Counter top cookware note: A frittata can also be made in an air fryer with a round cake pan insert.

Christmas Cards

The holidays have just begun,
I see your card and raise you one.
Let’s go shuffle through the malls,
Look for deals to deck the halls.

I’ll bet that on this holiday
People still use layaway, and
Christmas clubs for shopping carts
With diamond gifts to meld our hearts.

In my hand I hold three kings.
Oh what joy a full house brings!

You Can Take the Girl out of Brooklyn, but…

You can’t take the Brooklyn out of the girl. (I know that “The Bronx” would have worked a lot better in this borrowing but I am not from there.)

Now I ask you, what does the sign, spotted on the Belt Parkway, mean? Does it mean you are leaving Brooklyn so you can just forget it? Or, my interpretation, you are never really leaving Brooklyn behind. To put it another way, “Fuhgeddaboudit? Fuhgeddaboudit!”

 

From Earth to Moon and Back

Source: NASA

Here’s to all the unsung engineers who made the Apollo 11 moon landing possible. I say this with particular pride because my husband was one of them. A systems engineer for a NASA sub-contractor, he was a card-carrying member of the IEE (from his early days in the UK) and IEEE (US). His expertise was in military/aerospace radar in applications such as tracking and guidance. This technology was used to land the lunar module, dock it back with the command module after the moon landing, and return the spaceship to Earth. (For more details, go to the link at the bottom of this post.)

My husband with a rooftop microwave dish, Ilford, Essex, England (c.1947)

Early wireless communication for the Apollo mission (RCA)

Below is a link to a press release. Read all about space radar, wireless lunar radios, HD-to-TV signals, digital rocket launch technology, and other precursors to the tiny cellular computers we now carry around every day.

https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/413105/Apollo%20Press%20Kits/RCA%20Defense%20Electronic%20Products.pdf

 

My Father the Tailor

Above is quite an old photo of my father, Harry Silberman, who was a tailor from Romania.

The photo above shows Poppa (left) with one of his first bosses when he worked as a tailor in a factory loft in Brooklyn. Poppa later opened his own shop and dry cleaners in Bay Ridge.

But few people wear bespoke clothing anymore. Most people, well…