Gila monster in the driveway

Abby noticed this as she was driving out to visit friends and called us on her mobile. It was Nell’s last night before leaving for France, and my last night before turning 50. We had lamb curry, dahl, raita, chutneys from the 17th Street market, and leftover home-made ice cream from Nell’s friends’ farewell party on the weekend. Nell is feeling very nervous about this trip, I think. I spent today and yesterday (in Ann Arbor at item camp) talking French to insurance agencies and real estate agents and bankers, and I think I have it all set up for Nell to pick up the keys to her studio on Friday. We shall see.

Interesting conversation with Sally last night. She had been put off by a comment from Jessica about how smart she was, because she doesn’t like being seen that way, at the same time as being irritated that a rival boy did better than her on the Spanish test. We concluded, after some analysis, that she doesn’t want to be seen as smarter than anybody dumber than her, but does want to be seen as smarter than anybody smarter than her. A difficult position.


next >

Hawk morning

Two new hawks, both quite small (unfortunately my camera battery was on the charger). The smallest not much bigger than a large pigeon, had a strongly vertically streaked brown and white breast, dark wings, tail with 3 or 4 bands,  a long slender tail when perched, white rump, a strange bunch of feathers on the back of the base of the tail, perhaps something to do with molting. The other was slightly larger and plumper, bright yellow eye, stronger beak, brownish horizontally streaked breast, dark grey wings, brown head, also some bars on the tail, but thicker and perhaps fewer in number than the first. Both could have been either a Sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s Hawk, with the vertical streaks meaning an immature bird. The length of the tail on the first bird makes me lean towards identifying it as a Cooper’s. The second bird had the contrast between back and crown that is a marker for Cooper’s, so perhaps it was a pair.

Saw what is probably a molting Phainopepla, showing white edges to the wing, red eye, a few long thin feathers poking out of the head in place of the usual crest. Also a possible immature Mockingbird, bird with brown wings, creamy breast and belly, grey head, beak curved down slightly at the tip.

next >

Abby’s first day bussing

Abby has started work at Vivace’s and spent her first day bussing today (clearing away dishes). It did not go well. One gentlemen kept leaning in the wrong direction every time she had to put the bread and oil down, and she ended up spilling it on him. Another time her boob caught the folded napkin poking out of a wine glass, knocked it into another full glass, which spilled all over a couple of ladies having lunch. One of them tried to make her feel better, which made her feel worse. And she was vexed by the other busses, who only spoke Spanish but didn’t believe Abby would be able to understand them.

I started out on the wrong foot, trying to give her advice, perhaps prompted by her comment that it was very difficult to carry trays because the moment you looked somewhere else your hand started to tip, which had me biting my tongue furiously. But we had a good conversation in the end, once the ground rules were established.

next >

Remembering Mary McLelland

Mary always used to give me non-fiction books for birthday presents: books about Greek mythology, or music, or famous scientists. As a child I saw her as very much a non-fiction person: straightforward, clear, strong-minded, and able to speak in complete paragraphs. As an adult I learned of Mary’s interest in art. When Mary discovered that Amy was an art historian, she took us on a gallery tour of some of her favorite Australian artists. I hope this visual dimension to her intellect sustained her as her power of speech waned. Amy remarked to me when she heard of Mary’s death that she hoped the Rupert Bunny would go to a museum. That’s the painting whose corner shows in this photo.


next >

Finger-leaf Gourd on barrel

This is the same barrel cactus as the one shown here, with a new gourd vine clambering all over it (and all over the ground around). The bird call I heard yesterday was an Abert’s Towhee. I heard it at the same location this morning, and then later spotted a pair on the west side of the wash coming back, and confirmed the call when I came home. I’m also hearing thrashers, and seeing lots of Cactus Wrens. A Gila Woodpecker had a bright orange piece of fruit in his mouth. It is clear and beginning to cool down and dry out ever so slightly.

next >

My mathematical background

The crew from Firehouse Pictures and Vern Lamplot came by to interview me for distinguished professor video they are making. They asked me the usual question: when did I know I wanted to become a mathematician? And I gave the usual answer: not until university. Although I had been good at mathematics in high school I hadn’t been terribly interested in it (and didn’t see it as particularly connected with the enjoyment I got out of doing logic puzzles at home). It wasn’t until university that I discovered mathematics was about ideas, when I took calculus from Jack Gray and linear algebra from Alf van der Poorten. At the end the photographer asked if I had any photos I wanted to send and I thought of this one. I’m not sure I will, but it’s worth mentioning here: it’s the four original professors who founded the University of Queensland, with three of their wives. My mathematician grandfather Henry James Priestley is second from the right and my grandmother Margery Hewitt is on the left.

I do remember a couple of early indications that I might become a mathematician. I remember a conversation with mum as a child about adding odd and even numbers, where she helped me figure out the rules for what you get when you add two odds, two evens, and an odd and an even. I don’t think this had anything to do with school, I just wanted to know.

And in first year of high school, Freddy Kaineder (sp?), the only good math teacher I ever had in high school, predicted I would become a mathematician. He used to tell us he had written a thesis “this thick”, holding up fat finger and thumb, about transcendental numbers. He also used to tell us about the parties he had been at on the weekend where his friends had dared him to pull his pants down and show his bum. He was a contemporary in graduate school of Alf van der Poorten.


next >

Mourning doves

Wash still quite wet but not flowing. New bird call: a rising series of tweets followed by a trill on a lower note, ending with a flourish. Some kind of warbler perhaps (the Yellow Warblers I saw yesterday?). Three Cactus Wrens having some sort of fight, play, or love triangle: one calling from a tree, another from the top of a saguaro, joined later by a third. Also a thrasher. The ants are hard at work on the new leaves, leaving trails of green to their nests. A Sonoran Spotted Whiptail and a large Zebra-tail.


next >

Rainy morning

Had a big rainfall this morning, this is about 2 hours after it was over. Saw a flycatcher, quite large with brown tail feathers and white wing bars more clearly visible than usual. Also a couple of Yellow Warblers, yellow head, breast, and belly with darker wings and white wing bars, beady black eye. Also a finch or sparrow with yellow beak, two brown stripes above and below the eye, paler crest, chest and bellow. The swallows are still around.


next >

Flowering barrel

All the barrels are flowering together. There was a gang of swallows around yesterday and today, dark on top and white below, dark around the eyes with a white cheek-patch. From the loud raucous whistling call I think they are Northern Rough-winged Swallows, although they have more white extending up the cheek than the picture in the book shows. The other possibility from the call was Violet-green Swallows, but these ones did not have the white above the eye. In general lots of birds calling this morning.


next >