Winter Solstice 2020

Today is the winter solstice. Using my cleverphone, I recorded the sunrise from the window of my home office. The phone messed up the auto-focus just before the sun actually rose, which is a little disappointing, but the focus eventually started working again. Venus rising is rather pretty, and the airplanes zooming by in the early morning are nifty.

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My ballot finally got to where it is meant to go, and was ruled acceptable. Please do what you need to do in order ensure that you can say the same.

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A friend and I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park last night to look for the comet NEOWISE. I took a few pictures with my phone (it is rather impressive what consumer-grade electronics can do these days…), which I’ve posted below. All of the images are clickable for larger versions.

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Can we pull over?

Another short anecdote about my father. This one centers on his preternatural ability to hold onto large swathes of geography. My father knew the name of every mountain peak visible from every house he ever lived in, could glance at a map once then navigate across the country on county roads, and seemed to remember every trail he ever hiked (a few weeks before his death, he was correcting my uncle about the location of a hike they went on in the early 70s!). My father had a profound sense of place, and always knew exactly where he fit on the landscape.

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Fig Leibnizes

Yesterday, my daughter and I made fig Leibnizes, which consist of a layer of fig paste between two layers of cakey-cookie substance (they’re like fig Newtons, only Newton was kind of a jerk, and there are no trademark issues). They turned out rather well, so I thought that I’d share the recipe here.

The confection in question.

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The Accidental Lawyer

The following is a bit of folklore regarding my father. The basic outlines are correct, though there is likely a little bit of embellishment—this story takes place before my actual memory begins. Of course, the real truth is in a characterization of who may father was: tenacious, brilliant, and hard-headed.

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Thesis Stuff

I officially submitted my Ph.D. thesis yesterday afternoon. It is a tremendous weight off of my shoulders to have that done. I’m going to take a few days off, and then I need to get cracking on a couple of papers.

Because I fought mightily with the LaTeX template provided by UCR, am am also making available my own LaTeX template for a thesis at UCR. It is a highly stripped-down version of the template provided by the university, but it passed all of the formatting reviews, and seems to produce a reasonable product at the end of the day. According to the text at the top of the class file provided by UCR, the template is licensed under the LPPL and has the status ‘unmaintained’. If I read the license correctly, this means that I am free to modify the document and redistribute it as I see fit. However, if anyone wants to tell me otherwise (in particular, anyone listed in the document header), please do so.

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Letter to Chancellor Wilcox

The world is in a state of flux right now, and the Academy is facing a major crisis. In light of this crisis, many students are demanding that grades be eliminated, that finals be cancelled, and that the Academy otherwise shut down. While I am sympathetic to the voices which are calling for such action, I believe that relaxing our standards has the potential to have long-term negative consequences. It is, after all, doctors, nurses, anthropologists, virologists, sociologists, political scientists, epidemiologists, economists, and other experts trained by the Academy who are going to be best placed to steer us through the curren crises and help us to put the pieces back together again in the future. At the risk of Godwinning myself, where would we be now if not for the work of mathematicians and early computer scientists at Bletchley Park?

This afternoon, I communicated the following to the Chancellor’s Office at UCR, and to the chair of my department:

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Dr. Henderson

Last Friday, I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis. For all intents and purposes, I am now the fourth Dr. Henderson in my line. I follow in the footsteps of my great-grandfather Dr. Norman Batty Henderson D.Div., my grandfather Dr. Norman B. Henderson, Jr., Ph.D., and my father Dr. Eric Henderson Ph.D. This ought to be a moment for pride. And celebration. And excitement. Instead, I feel little more than deep ambivalence.

The last couple of years have taken an incredible toll: my wife of almost 12 years suddenly and unexpectedly ended our marriage, the world has fallen into the grip of a dangerous and fast-moving virus, and my father died. Rather than take this space to discuss my own accomplishments, which feel quite small and inconsequential, I prefer to eulogize my father.

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My Mathematical Genealogy

While at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in January, I attended a talk by Erica Winterer titled Attention Is the Beginning of Devotion: Noticing and Acculturative Routines in a Large Freshman Calculus Course. In this talk, Ms Winterer presented a number of interesting ideas for making students feel more comfortable and welcome in lower-division college mathematics classes.

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