Emeritus Faculty Association news November 2014
Friday November 7th, 10.30 am, Note changed location for November and December only - Chem 412 right by the elevator. Prof Mark Aronoff will speak on Competition and Words.
Abstract: Darwin's thinking on the evolution of species was informed by early 19th century demonstrations that modern and classical European languages shared a common ancestor and were related to one another by regular patterns of descent. Darwin was also interested in the struggle between individual words, about which he remarked in The Descent of Man: "A struggle for life is constantly going on among the words and grammatical forms in each language. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue." In this talk, I will show how the struggle among words can be understood in terms of the competitive exclusion principle of Georgii Gause, one of the founders of modern ecology. This principle applies broadly to any system in which two entities compete for the same resources: only one of these entities will survive locally. I will show how it helps us to understand the historical evolution of English vocabulary, both individual words and affixation patterns.
Bio: Mark Aronoff is Distinguished Professor of Linguistics at Stony Brook, where he has served on the faculty for his entire academic career. Prof. Aronoff is one of a very small number of researchers whose work has been supported by all three major Federal academic granting agencies: NEH, NSF, and NIMH. His major research areas are linguistic morphology, the emergence of sign languages, and the organization of writing systems. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This year, he holds a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship.
Takanobu Ishida passed away on September 28, after a long illness. The Chemistry Department at Stony Brook was the focus of his life. An obituary appears in the Village Times of Oct 10.
Appeal for Judges
Michael Lake (PhD Stony Brook), now Academic Research Director at Half Hollow Hills Central School District in S Huntington, writes on behalf of the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair, to be held at the Crest Hollow Country Club, 8325 Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury: On the first day (9 February, 2015) all students present their work to at least two judges. Individuals and teams compete within the same category. At least twenty-five per cent in each category are selected to participate in a second round of judging on March 12, after which the finalists advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair. Currently, we are in desperate need of qualified judges to help evaluate approximately 400 student projects in over 17 disciplines. Judges are typically asked to evaluate and score between 8-12 projects depending on the category. If any of our members would like to volunteer for either or both days they could go to the fair website www.lisef.org and follow the instructions there.
SUNY Retirees Newsletter:
Judy Wishnia announced that the UUP retirees membership fee would be going up somewhat to cover the costs this year of the death benefit and travel insurance. Still a bargain no doubt even if only for the free diaries and retiree brunches(2) each year.
Then retired distinguished chemistry professor Albert Haim was introduced to speak on My Life as a Bixophile. Albert has been a devotee of jazz music from the time when he was a teenager in Paris and Uruguay, and through his subsequent career in the US. Throughout he made an avocation of documenting one of the jazz pioneers, Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke, which now, in Albert's retirement, has became almost a full time job in itself. Although Bix tragically lived only a short life, dying at age 28 of complications arising from his alcoholism, he was tremendously influential for a large number of jazz musicians. This was due to his inspired improvisational style and for bringing the soloist to the fore. Among those he worked with and influenced were the Dorsey Brothers, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Hoagy Carmichael. Louis Armstrong famously said ". . . there'll never be another Bix Beiderbecke. Take that from Satchmo! He was a born genius. . .".
The glory days of the jazz age coincided with prohibition, By the early 20's it was centered in Chicago having moved upriver from New Orleans, thence migrating to New York by the end of the decade. From his birthplace in Davenport, IA, Bix joined this migration path in Chicago and produced 250 disks in the period. Two of these, Singing the blues and In a Mist are honored as two of of the most historically significant in the Grammy Hall of Fame awards. The latter was one of only two on piano, for although Bix worked out all is compositions on that instrument, he principally played and improvised on the cornet. By now he is featured in many other commemorations - the easiest for our members to visit being the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame on the 9th floor of the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. For this, the nomination of Singing the blues was made by Prof Haim himself who considers it one of the two most important 1920s jazz recordings, the other one being Louis Armstrong's West End Blues. By now Bix even has an asteroid named after him. Since 1999 Albert has maintained a discussion group and website, where you can fill in on all the details missing from this summary, including many of the historic video and audio files, see: http://bixbeiderbecke.com . And now as many as 2000 people from all over the world visit this site daily.
As a coda, Albert described his effort to locate and acquire the piano that Bix had purchased a few weeks before he died 6 August 1931, - truly a detective story which even challenges that of Sherlock Grollman reported in our November 2010 issue. Bix wrote to his parents in 1931 that he had moved to an apartment in Queens and had found the girl he intended to marry, one Alice O'Connell. In Richard Sudhalter and Philip Evans's 1974 biography, Bix, Man and Legend, it was reported that in mid-July 1931, Hoagy Carmichael invited Bix and his girlfriend to his apartment in Manhattan and that Hoagy's recollection was that the girl's name was Helen Weiss. Sudhalter and Evans concluded: "Some things may never be clarified, such as the extent of his relationship with Helen Weiss. Rumor persists that they became engaged sometime in July. But all attempts to find Miss Weiss have proved fruitless. There seems little possibility now of establishing the facts."
Albert started his investigation by consulting the 1930 U.S. Census for the borough of Queens, and discovered that Bix's new address, 2460 32nd Street, was actually listed for an Alice Gavitte as the head of the household, with her sister Vera Weiss, age 17, the only other resident. The census also recorded that Alice's father was born in Germany and her mother was born in Ireland. Albert knew from other letters that when Bix was particularly ill in the period before he died, that a bassist acquaintance, Rex Gavitte, had taken Bix into his own apartment a couple of blocks away for a short time. It turns out Rex Gavitte and Alice Weiss had been married in Philadelphia in 1926, but that Alice filed for divorce in May 1932. When Rex Gavitte also died of alcoholism in 1941, Alice, who had dealt with the tragic death of Bix ten years earlier, handled the arrangements for her ex-husband and Bix benefactor. A few months later, in February 1942, Alice married a Max Weiss and they purchased a property in West Islip. After Alice herself died in November 1982, her niece Joan Fabrizio told Albert that when Bix had died, Alice had the choice of keeping his piano or his cornet and she chose the piano. And that when Loretta Weiss, Alice's grandniece, asked her about the piano, Alice answered, "It belonged to a dear friend who died very young". At this time Vera Weiss inherited the house and when she died in 1995, Joan Fabrizio as executrix held an estate sale with the help of Alice's grandniece Patricia Weiss. Patricia informed Albert that the piano was purchased by LI resident Nick Buongervino, who apparently soon gave it to his son Nick, Jr. in Hauppauge. He in turn exchanged the piano at the Franklin and Camille piano store in Westbury. This store used to provide pianos to Hofstra University free of charge, and at the end of each year the store would bring additional pianos to the college and hold a sale on campus. This was how Gerald Tauber purchased the piano and when in February 2011, the Taubers sold their home in Lawrence, the piano was left in the house. The serial number on the piano was 124231, which indicated that it was indeed manufactured in 1931. Thus in October 2012 Albert was finally able to purchase it for $3,500 and donate it to the Bix Beiderbecke Museum and Archive in Davenport, Iowa.
Students are taught a lesson:
The following account has been put together from several sources including the Computer Science Dept., the Humanities Institute, and an article in Entrepreneur Magazine. It is believed that the facts related are correct although your correspondent David Smith remains responsible for any errors or omissions.
In the last few years the tradition of "hackathons" has grown up across the country. These are not about breaking into computer systems but rather marathon programming competitions of sorts where the teams which achieve the best results are awarded prizes. After competing (and being rather successful) at a number of these events in the last few years, the students of the SB undergraduate computer science club got the idea that they could do better. They would organize an "unhackathon", which would be less of a competition between experienced programmers and more of a learning experience for a wider class of applicants. Mentors from the tech company startups would be made available throughout the weekend for consultation and advice. Last March, after 6 months of planning, including securing tens of thousands of dollars of sponsorships from Bloomberg, Facebook, Google, Softheon, Viacom, and others, they sought and received a reservation for the Wang center for the weekend of September 20-21. They then arranged for security, insurance, food, and buses to transport teams from as far away as the University of Illinois. They were proud that they attracted a large pool of varied applicants, in particular doubling the usual participation of women to 25%. In other words these students were doing what the university itself crows about when it is seeking state funding (eg: for projects in the former Gyrodyne property, discussed in the last issue) - bringing high tech and entrepreneurship to Long Island.
Then in June the Wang administration informed the students that they were revoking the reservation. Fortunately, after CS faculty told President Stanley the full story, he supported the event and asked staff to work with the unhackathon organizers to get the facilities they needed to make the event a success. It appears that a competing request had been received for a Global Women's Cinema conference. But this was for the period Sept 18-20 and was to be centered in the Humanities Institute and the Hilton Garden Inn. The only conflict appears to be the request for Wang theater screenings of the experimental films, and the only overlap 5pm Saturday 20th. (The usual location for film festivals, the Staller theater, was also available for those dates). Nevertheless, negotiations dragged on and it was not clear who was making the decisions and why. The students were relayed a final response at 5pm on Friday 12th September, that they could take an inadequate space in a dormitory or nothing, and admonished to stop bothering the university.
But these students had evidently not learned computer programming and entrepreneurship for nothing. With only days to go, they secured an alternative site in Manhattan, rerouted the applicants, industrial mentors, buses, and food, and made the event a success. See: http://www.unhackathon.org
So much of a success in fact, with over 250 participants, that the sponsors want the event to recur each year.
But in the city, not Stony Brook. And Stony Brook will not be receiving the credit.
Coincidentally the NYTimes ran a recent story about the rise of coding bootcamps, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/us/web-era-trade-schools-feeding-a-need-for-code.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSumSmallMediaHigh&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0