Thursday, June 21, 2018

Washington, DC — June 2018

The National Museum of African-American History and Culture and the Washington Monument

13 photos at the U.S. Botanic Garden

19 photos​ from some of the places I visited. (View each photo individually to see the captions.)

It's been more than 20 years since I was last in Washington. I wanted to visit the many new museums I had never seen.

The weather was hot and humid, but I was indoors most of the time. It rained one afternoon, but, again, I was indoors during the rain.

I'm a rapid museum-goer. I rarely spend more than a couple of hours in any museum. Here's a day-by-day rundown of what I saw:


  • Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens — Better than expected.
  • The Phillips Collection — OK. The featured exhibit was good.
  • National Geographic Museum — Less than expected. There is a small permanent exhibition in the back building, and that is free. But you don't know that when you enter at the front, where you pay for only two exhibits, one of which I was not at all interested in seeing. There are also some fine large photos in the display windows all around the front building.



Sunday, June 3, 2018

Bank and card fees

Responding to a column two weeks ago, I wrote this letter, published in today's Los Angeles Times:

The “Credit Card Fee Game” [May 20, Money Matters, by Catharine Hamm] made me think of two peeves of mine, one longstanding and one brand new:
— I go to Mexico several times a year. Even though Citigroup owns Banamex, I still get charged a hefty fee for getting pesos at a Banamex ATM using my Citibank ATM card. Grrr.
— My United Airlines MileagePlus Explorer Visa card has a hefty annual fee, but at least the 10,000 bonus miles I get for spending at least $25,000 per year almost completely pays for the annual fee.
However, the card company recently notified me that the 10,000 bonus miles benefit will be disappearing. Grrr.

Even though I fly United frequently and use this card as my main one, I hate fees, and I may not keep it after this year.
Rodney Hoffman

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Juarez — May 2018

Giraffe in Parque Central

Link to more photos. (View them individually to see the captions.)

As discussed in the previous post, Victor and I went to Ciudad Juarez to pursue the fiancé visa, and, due to the complications I detailed there, we had to spend two extra days there, too.

We took a tourist bus tour of the city early in our stay. We went back (by regular bus and by foot) the next day to get better photos of some of the sites.

In general, we were not too impressed with Juarez. For a city of well over 1 million, .....

  • It's very unfriendly to pedestrians. It's quite difficult to cross major streets due to the weird way they handle left turns. (When we return later this year, I'll take a photo of that.) There's almost always lots of traffic.
  • There are few parks.
  • Other than the single giraffe and one ostrich in Parque Central, there's no zoo.
  • ​There's one rather small art museum and only one other, mostly history, museum.
  • The sun and heat are unrelenting; there are rarely any clouds.
  • The airport insists on immigration checks coming and going, even if you're coming from and going to other cities in Mexico.

That said, there were a few good things. Parque Central was about a 40-minute walk from our hotel. Even though the walk is not very pleasant, most mornings, we walked there and then spent two to three hours walking repeatedly around the mile-long perimeter track, sometimes going through the cactus botanical garden, stopping briefly to use the exercise machines, always admiring the lake and the many ducks and geese. Curiously, there's a second half of the park that's private and almost completely empty of people.

We also learned of a few highly-recommended small restaurants. We were able to try one for burritos and one for tortas, both excellent.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Visa progess: Step 2.5

I should have known better. I thought this trip would finish everything, but I forgot that there have been unexpected complications and delays at every step. Sigh.

Victor's medical exam x-rays yesterday showed a scar / lesion in his lungs. Now he must follow additional steps to rule out tuberculosis. Just look at what that means:

  • The interview next Monday is postponed until this TB check is done.
  • He needs to give early morning sputum samples for three consecutive days. Since they're closed on weekends, that means it couldn't start today, Thursday. Instead, it will be next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
  • Our non-refundable flight back to Mérida was for next Tuesday. Now we have canceled that and bought new tickets for next Thursday. We have also extended our hotel stay for two more nights.
  • The cultures from the sputum smears take 8 weeks to complete! We will find out the results around July 12th.
  • Either immediately after that, or after treatment if he has TB, we will have to make another trip to exciting (* sarcasm *) Juarez for the postponed interview.
So, instead of this trip being the third and final step in the fiancé visa process, it turns out to be Step 2.5. The medical exam itself is complete, but the final interview is postponed. Even if everything now goes as well as it can, Victor won't be in the U.S. until late summer at the earliest. As I said above: Sigh!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My math publication

My only mathematics "publication"

In 1984, The Mathematical Intelligencer magazine asked for pithy definitions of applied and pure mathematicians. A definition just came to me, I got an honorable mention for it, and it was printed in the magazine, as you can see in the lower right above:

   An applied mathematician loves the theorem.
   A pure mathematician loves the proof.

I still like this a lot.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Autographs ― Walter Mosley

I have not yet read any of Mosley's books. I decided to attend his talk at this past weekend's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I knew they would have his newest book for sale, but I wanted to start with one of his earliest, so I bought this one the night before at Vroman's.

(Index of autographs)

Autographs ― Lawrence Wright

I have always enjoyed Wright's work in The New Yorker, and our book group discussed The Looming Tower back in 2006.

Until I read about this new book, I didn't know he lived in Austin. I went to hear him at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this past weekend, and I bought this book. When I was getting his autograph, I told him I had been born and raised in San Antonio, went to Rice, then came to USC for grad school.

(Index of autographs)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An apparently religious boy

Chip Levine Memorial Award (CLMA) 
Rodney Hoffman
for Devotion to Jewish Studies, 1964

To all appearances, I was quite a religious boy. I'll say why, and then talk about what happened.

We didn't go to services every week, but we did go on major holidays and some other occasions. 

I started kindergarten at the synagogue, learning to read before I entered first grade. 

I went to Sunday School through confirmation at age 16. I won the Jewish Community Center's Bible Bowl (named and modeled after TV's College Bowl). 

I went to Hebrew School twice a week. Almost everyone stopped going to Hebrew School after Bar Mitzvah, but because my Bar Mitzvah was in October, and I had already begun the new academic year, I finished out that year, almost a full extra year of Hebrew School. Because of that, in May, I won the gold watch pictured above. 

I was in SAFTY, the San Antonio chapter of the the North American Federation of Temple Youth, and went to SAFTY and TOFTY (Texas) events. I won one of the Temple's four camperships to NFTY's Hagigah, a two-week arts camp in Warwick, NY. 

In college, I went to quite a few Hillel events. In grad school, I still went to a few.

But starting years earlier, I found the number of religions, each claiming The Revealed Truth, baffling and impossible and the very idea of God dubious. Conflicts between religion and science, historical and current, pushed me away from religion. Coming to terms with being gay was the final breaking point.

I have now been an atheist for decades. My hatred of religion has only grown over the years. I think raising children to be religious is child abuse. (See all my blog posts tagged 'religion.')

I reluctantly attend religious weddings and funerals, but otherwise I don't even step into churches, temples, or cathedrals. I respond negatively to anyone pushing their religion in my face, including fish on cars and crosses on homes, saying, if only silently, "Keep it to yourself!"

Friday, March 30, 2018

Whole Earth Catalog

A few of my WEC items

[Prompted by this John Markoff article about WEC in the LATimes]

I was a huge fan of The Whole Earth Catalog (see also the Wikipedia page). I have many issues of the catalog and its offshoots, CoEvolution Quarterly, Whole Earth Review, Whole Earth Software Review, etc.. It drove my reading for many years. I made countless library purchase recommendations based on its listings.  I visited the Whole Earth Truck Store on one of my first visits to the San Francisco area.

When I was at PARCin Alan Kay's group, I was pleased to see so many WEC-recommended titles in the library, but until I read Markoff's piece I didn't know that Kay had started that!

When asked for my favorite book, I sometimes say The Whole Earth Catalog, despite that not being the kind of book the questioner had in mind. It was more important to me and influenced me more than anything else I read. It led me to so many new ideas and writers.

The timing was ideal for me, just as I went off to college. It also accelerated my shift away from TV to more reading, which has continued for my entire adult life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Visa progress: Step 2

I added time in Mérida before and after our Peru trip so that I could push forward on Victor's visa.

The U.S. Consulate in Juárez handles fiancé visas, and they say they sent some papers to Victor on February 7th. As of today, he still has not received anything. (See my note about Mexico's postal system!) Fortunately, they also sent a copy of at least the main page to me, mailed from El Paso instead of Juárez!

With that, we were able to complete Victor's lengthy online visa application. I expected to immediately see instructions for selecting an interview date, but that didn't happen. Even after returning from Peru, nothing. When I called, after fighting through the recorded prompts and hunting down my application confirmation number, I finally was told that I needed to pay (more!), wait for the receipt, and then schedule the interview.

The website says this additional fee can be paid online, and I spent a long time unsuccessfully hunting for that. The same page says the fee could be paid by phone, but when I tried that, they said the website needs updating; the fee can only be paid in pesos at specified banks in Mexico. They also could not help with scheduling the medical exam in Juárez, nor could they even tell me whether interview dates were available starting in a week, a month, or six months. Every little step of this process is aggravating. GRRR.

I paid the additional fee this morning and received the email receipt at once. That did enable me to get to the interview appointment page! So we finally have the dates for the final step. Victor will go for fingerprints, etc. in Mérida on April 30th, and we will then go to Juárez. The medical exam is walk-in, no appointment needed. The interview is set for May 7th.