A most peculiar Halloween

Math is everywhere

Ah, the peculiar Halloween of 2020. My wife and I mused on what we would do if we were to actually get a trick or treater at our door. I considered looking on YouTube for videos on building a candy catapult, but I opted against that.

I talked with a friend on the phone who was distraught during our previous discussion. He’s happier now.

At some point, I caught the news that Sean Connery had died. I was sad. Yet, here’s a confession: I’ve never seen ANY James Bond film. But I liked his advocacy for Scotland. He was a hoot in that third Indiana Jones film. I also enjoyed the movie Finding Forrester (2000). Here are 10 movie quotes.

I printed out three recipes for my wife. One was from Australia and had a reference to 160 Celsius. What’s that in Fahrenheit? I asked my phone, but it kept hearing “Once it.” Heck with that, I’m using pen and paper. I need to multiply the Celsius temp by 9/5, then add 32, which gets me 320°F. Hey, I still remember!

In the afternoon, a man in his 40s or 50s who I had never seen before rang the doorbell. He wanted to know if he could do some yard work. Immediately, I said “no thanks.” Then I thought about it. 1) He obviously needed the work. 2) I could afford to pay him.

And most importantly, 3) I HATE raking. It is what my economics teacher might call the “law of diminishing returns.” The more I do it, the less satisfying it is. I went to the front porch. The guy was already four houses up the street. I called, and he came back. He swept the porch and the sidewalk, as well as raking the lawn. Money well spent.

I did a couple of Venmo transaction for my wife so she could fund some teaching activities. I’ve yet to use it for my own needs.

The total was zero

Walking to the bank and back, I was struck by how few people were outside. It was a chilly day, but still. And I was reminded that it took a pandemic for my bank to dispense five- and ten-dollar bills, not just twenties.

I’d purchased about $30 of candy earlier in the week. NOBODY came to our door, compared to about 240 last year. Perhaps it was the fact that there were alternative activities.

From 3 pm to 5 pm the City of Albany will partner with a variety of sponsors and community organizations to host Halloween events in 11 City Parks.

“As per guidance published by New York State and the Centers for Disease Control, the City of Albany is calling on residents to avoid high-risk activities to help prevent the spread COVID-19, such as door-to-door trick-or-treating or trunk-or-treats, attending crowded costume parties held indoors, or going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together. “

I had missed the memo. On one hand, I was really happy not having to worry about opening the door. On the other hand, I missed seeing the costumes. No satisfying some people, I guess.

My wife and I went out about 9 p.m. to see the full moon. A little while later, we went to bed. But I could not sleep at all. It really wasn’t the noisy next-door neighbors in their backyard. Maybe it was the over 98,000 COVID cases the day before. Or my fear of what the body politic was going to do this week. A peculiar Halloween, indeed

The law of diminishing returns: raking, social media


When I was raking leaves in the front lawn recently, I was reminded yet again of the law of diminishing returns, which I learned about in my first college freshman economics class.

I don’t recall the definition, but I’ve always remembered the example. If someone gives you an ice cream cone, that’s great! If someone gives you a second cone, that’s OK, but not nearly as satisfying. And someone gives you a third cone, why that might give you a headache from brain freeze or a stomach ache.

Raking leaves is like that. You rake the yard the first time and you get about 90% of the leaves. You have a strong feeling of accomplishment. You rake it a second time and maybe you get 80% of the remaining 10% or 8% of the yard; not nearly so satisfying. A third time, when you’re making even more effort for not very much of a result? I just can’t be bothered.

Incidentally, when I rake leaves by myself, I put them in a garbage can with tires, and wheel them to the compost pile in the backyard. But when I do this with my wife, we put the leaves in those bags with openings that are too small, and the bags don’t stand on their own. I think my way is better, but the law makes discussing this yet again fruitless.

It’s somewhat like debate on Facebook. Someone writes a piece on the platform that you know for sure is 100% wrong. You comment on the page perhaps with a link to collaborating evidence. He – it’s more often a he – says you’re stupid, and probably don’t even love your country.

You warily try one more time, but it is met with a buzz saw of further resistance. So you walk away. You WALK AWAY. Well, that’s what I do because it just isn’t worth the effort.

I’ve discovered that the law of diminishing returns applies to lots of situations. It sure beats having a Twitter war over insignificant stuff.

The Zen of raking

In the late 1990s, someone stole my boom box from my office at work.

It’s practically a tradition; I rake leaves on Veterans Day, or shortly thereafter. Usually, some ill wind blows the bulk of the leaves off the huge oak in the back, and the maple tree, not to mention the Japanese maple, in the front.

It’s one of those activities that allow for creative thought. Musing about raking, or the alternatives to it, such as leaf blowers, for instance.

So I don’t mind raking, though my wife is much more thorough than I. She’ll leave one leaf per square meter, and I might leave a dozen. My law of diminishing returns cuts in sooner I guess. I DON’T LIKE stepping into a hidden pile of dog manure, though, since we don’t own a dog.

When I’m out there, I like to play music. I don’t want to get some headphones, though; I do that every day at work. I want to hear music blasting out of my boom box. OK, not blasting; I’m too socially appropriate to have music blaring outside at 10 a.m.

Not that I should have worried. The leaf blower that someone turned on ten houses away totally made my Aaron Copland CD inaudible.

I was on Facebook dissing leaf blowers when someone defended them as “fun.” I think my antipathy towards the machine is one part pollution aversion (it uses gas or electricity and it’s LOUD), but one part irritation about how people use them, blowing leaves into the street so that they become the responsibility of the municipality. I see that a LOT, and it really bugs me.

I think I’ll crank up my boom box all the way to five; well, maybe four and a half. I said to my wife that I was feeling like having a hamburger, a reference to the use of Hoe-Down from Rodeo by Copland as the theme for the long-running beef campaign; here is one example, and here’s another.

For some reason, the Daughter, who’s a great help with raking, asked me if I had ever been robbed. I was reminded that in the late 1990s, someone stole my boom box, identical to the one I was playing, from my office at work; I had purchased one for myself and one for Carol back in 1995. The thief was eventually caught because he was purloining a number of items from the building over time.

The really interesting thing was I had to testify before a grand jury to indicate that, no, I had not had given the defendant permission to “borrow” my boom box, and indeed did not know the defendant. Much to my surprise, a few months later, I received restitution for very nearly the full value of my loss from some court-related entity.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

The issue is perpetual fidelity to the great lawn gods.

One of the things I most remember from my freshman year of college is Law of Diminishing Returns. It was a concept in my Economics 101 course, and suggests that more is not necessarily better. The illustration that sticks in my mind is this: One ice cream cone tastes delicious. Subsequent cones do not provide the same amount of pleasure as that first dessert; in fact, that third or fourth cone may be less than tasty and, indeed, more tummy-ache-inducing.

That’s how I feel about raking leaves. That first pass generates a sensation of good feeling. But subsequent sweeps over the same area, when fewer leaves are being moved, are far less satisfying.

My wife is fond, if not the raking itself, then the results of raking, talking about how much nicer the lawn will be in the spring. This is not exactly an incentive for me, since I’ll be the one MOWING the lawn in the spring.

Her late brother John sent out this e-mail about a decade ago which addressed the issue of this perpetual fidelity to the great lawn gods, and how utterly silly it was; wish I still had it, for I would surely post it here.

Worse than raking, though, are those noisy leaf blowers. Not only can I not justify the expenditure of whatever fuel runs them, but as anti-noise advocate Julie Newmar describes them, they are an unnecessary blight.

So I rake. And rake. And rake some more.

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