Arts & Entertainment

Francis Alexander. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Now what? It’s a question that affects everyone from the quarterback who wins the Super Bowl — who often says something about visiting a Disney facility — to the student who earns a college degree, to the researcher who has published a paper sharing results with the scientific community.

For some, the path forward is akin to following footsteps in the snow, moving ever closer to a destination for which a path is clear. For others, particularly those developing new technology, looking to unlock mysteries, the path is more like trudging through unfamiliar terrain.

The technology at facilities like Brookhaven National Laboratory, which includes the powerful National Synchrotron Light Source II and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, among others, enables scientists to see processes at incredibly fine scales.

While these sites offer the promise of providing a greater ability to address questions such as what causes some batteries to die sooner than others, they also cost considerable money to use, putting pressure on researchers to ask the most fruitful question or pursue research that has the greatest chance for success.

Francis Alexander. Photo from BNL

That’s where people like Francis Alexander, the deputy director of Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Computational Science Initiative, and his team at BNL can add considerable value. Alexander takes what researchers have discovered, couples it with other knowledge, and helps guide his fellow laboratory scientists to the next steps in their work — even if he, himself, isn’t conducting these experiments.

“Given our theoretical understanding of what’s going on, as imperfect as that may be, we take that understanding — the theory plus the experimental data — and determine what experiments we should do next,” Alexander said. “That will get us to our goal more quickly with limited resources.”

This approach offers a mutually reinforcing feedback loop between discoveries and interpretations of those discoveries, helping researchers appreciate what their results might show, while directing them toward the next best experiment.

The experiments, in turn, can either reinforce the theory or can challenge previous ideas or results, forcing theoreticians like Alexander to use that data to reconstruct models that take a wide range of information into account.

Alexander is hoping to begin a project in which he works on developing products with specific properties. He plans to apply his knowledge of theoretical physics to polymers that will separate or grow into different structures. “We want to grow a structure with a [particular] function” that has specific properties, he said.

This work is in the early stages in which the first goal is to find the linkage between what is known about some materials and what scientists can extrapolate based on the available experiments and data.

Alexander said the aerospace industry has “models of everything they do.” They run “complex computer simulations [because] they want to know how they’d design something and which design to carry out.”

Alexander is currently the head of a co-design center, ExaLearn, that focuses on exascale, machine-learning technologies. The center is the sixth through the Exascale Computing Project. Growth in the amount of data and computational power is rapidly changing the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The applications for this type of technology range from computational and experimental science to engineering and the complex systems that support them.

Ultimately, the exascale project hopes to create a scalable and sustainable software framework for machine learning that links applied math and computer science communities to create designs for learning.

Alexander “brings to machine learning a strong background in science that is often lacking in the field,” Edward Dougherty, a distinguished professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M, wrote in an email. He is an “excellent choice to lead the exascale machine learning effort at Brookhaven.”

Alexander is eager to lead an attempt he suggested would advance scientific and national security work at the Department of Energy. “There are eight national laboratories involved and all the labs are on an equal level,” he said. 

One of the goals of the exascale computing project is to build machines capable of 10 to the 18th operations per second. “There’s this enormous investment of DOE” in this project, Alexander said.

Once the project is completely operational, Alexander expects that this work will take about 30 percent of his time. About 20 percent of the time, he’ll spend on other projects, which leaves him with about half of his workweek dedicated to management.

The deputy director recognizes that he will be coordinating an effort that involves numerous scientists accustomed to setting their own agenda.

Dougherty suggested that Alexander’s connections would help ensure his success, adding that he has “established a strong network of contacts in important application areas such as health care and materials.

The national laboratories are akin to players in a professional sporting league. They compete against each other regularly, bidding for projects and working to be the first to make a new discovery. Extending the sports metaphor, members of these labs often collaborate on broad projects, like players on an all-star team competing against similar teams from other nations or continents.

Alexander grew up in Ohio and wound up working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico  for over 20 years. He came to BNL in 2017 because he felt he “had the opportunity to build something almost from the ground up.” The program he had been leading at Los Alamos was large and well developed, even as it was still growing. 

The experimental scientists at BNL have been receptive to working with Alexander, which has helped him achieve some of his early goals.

Ultimately, Alexander hopes his work increases the efficiency of numerous basic and applied science efforts. He hopes to help experimental scientists understand “what technologies we should develop that will be feasible” and “what technologies would be most useful to carry experiments out.”

The cast, back row, from left, Andrew Lenahan, K.D. Guadagno, Steven Uihlein and Eric J. Hughes; front row, from left, Nicole Bianco and Michelle LaBozzetta with students Photo from Theatre Three

A LESSON IN KINDNESS 

The educational touring production of Theatre Three’s “Stand Up! Stand Out! — The Bullying Project” performed at the Edna Louise Spears Elementary School in Port Jefferson on Oct. 11. Written and directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical features six professional actors, puppets and a toe-tapping original score. 

Above, the cast with two fourth-grade students who said, “The show was ‘great’ and we learned that you can talk to your parents, teachers, bus drivers and friends if someone is getting bullied and you want to help stop it.” If you would like to bring this show to your school, call Marci at 631-928-9202 or e-mail marci@theatrethree.com.

Pasta with Walnut Sauce

By Barbara Beltrami

Come October it was always there. The peaches and plums and cherries in the big yellow bowl on the kitchen table gave way to apples and pears and walnuts accompanied by an ancient slightly rusty nutcracker and mother of pearl-handled fruit knives thrust among them. When we came home from school, we would grab a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts on our way upstairs to do our homework. Inevitably we would be chastened later for having left a trail of nutshell shards behind us and not putting the nutcracker back in the bowl. If you like walnuts as much as I did and still do, here are some recipes you’ll love.

Pasta with Creamy Walnut Sauce

Pasta with Walnut Sauce

YIELD: Makes 1½ to 2 cups sauce

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound pasta

1¼ cups chopped shelled walnuts

1 garlic clove

¹/3 cup light cream

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a food processor combine walnuts and garlic; pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Add cream, oil, thyme, salt and pepper and process to a coarse paste with pieces still remaining. Add 4 tablespoons pasta water and Parmesan cheese and pulse a few more times (sauce should be chunky, not smooth). If desired, place sauce in a small skillet over medium heat to warm. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and pour sauce over it. Serve with a light salad or green vegetable on the side.

Candied Walnuts

Candied Walnuts

YIELD: Makes 3 cups

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dash of freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg white at room temperature

1/2 pound shelled walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 300 F. In a small bowl, combine the sugars, salt, cinnamon and pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white till frothy; add one tablespoon room temperature water and whisk in. Add walnuts and stir to coat; add sugar mixture and stir again. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and spread nuts on it. Bake 15 minutes, stir the nuts, then bake another 15 minutes until nuts are toasted and sugar coating is caramelized. Serve alone as a snack or with salad or cheese.

Walnut–Arugula Pesto

Walnut Arugula Pesto

 

YIELD: Makes 1 cup

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1 garlic clove

2 cups tightly packed arugula

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Place all ingredients in an electric food processor and, stopping to scrape sides of bowl frequently, process until smooth and light green. Serve with pasta, crostini, crackers, chips, chicken or fish, as a sandwich spread or dip.

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John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

By Kyle Barr

Is there something to say about the fact that, even as so many Western genre movies have been released, covering every inch of America’s rugged past, that the genre still survives?

Though it’s one of film’s oldest and most tested settings, the entire concept of the Western has been deconstructed, reconstructed, parodied, satired, mocked and idolized so many times until today where we have different subgenres from the post-Western, the comedy Western and beyond.

So where does “The Sisters Brothers,” a film directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, sit in this framework? The film was marketed as a comedy Western, and while the film is certainly funny at points, it really is so much more.

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

This is the jazz version of the Western, something recognizable yet off-kilter enough to be fresh in all the right ways. Adapted from a 2011 novel by the Canadian author Patrick deWitt, the story follows the brothers Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) as two hit-men gunslingers employed by the enigmatic figure of The Commodore (Rutger Hauer).

The Sisters brothers are tasked with finding Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a gentleman and a chemist, knowing that, most likely, they will have to kill him. When they finally find him, Warm and the man who was supposed to confine him, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) have a much more interesting offer to give the two murderous brothers.

The opening shot is one so cleanly reminiscent of Westerns but given a subtle twist of shot and lighting. It starts large, a black field with the hint of a purple horizon, but the silence is cut short with sparks and flashes of light as the Sisters brothers engage men fortified in a house. The film is violent without languishing in it, and, instead, Audiard likes to spend more time in finding comedic moments in the exhausting work of traveling across the West, from trying to ride when hung over or from a  random spider bite (one that crawled inside his mouth), or force a man near-comatose for several days while a bear attack nearly kills his horse. 

Westerns have long drawn their themes of the line between right and wrong, good and evil, society and the wilderness. “The Sisters Brothers” doesn’t so much run away from those themes as it does show just how deflated they are. The fact that the film ends not with so much of a bang but with a calm, pastoral scene of home and family goes to say something about the entire idea of the Western genre.

Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from ‘Sisters Brothers’

All actors involved do a great job with their performances, and both Ahmed and Gyllenhaal are particularly interesting to watch as they develop a respect for the other over the course of the film. Phoenix is terrific in his role, playing the slightly unhinged gunslinger with just the right amount of anger while leaving room for introspection.

“You do realize that our father was stark raving mad and we got his foul blood in our veins?,” Charlie Sisters says. “That was his gift to us. That blood is why we’re good at what we do.”

While it was Reilly’s own production company that financed the film, it’s good to note that the man who is most known for his comedies, often co-starring with Will Farrell, takes a far more interesting and nuanced turn as the older Sisters brother, killing people in the name of defending his brother, who does not believe he needs saving. He comes into his own especially at the end of the film, as he tries to make up for the past by protecting his brother as they run across the West pursued by men who would kill them.

“The Sisters Brothers” is one of those films that you’ll either love or fully question what all the fuss is about. As a general fan of Westerns and all its spin-offs, this reviewer says it’s a much-needed spin on many overdone film tropes of the Western genre.

Rated R for violence, disturbing images and language, “The Sisters Brothers” is now playing in local theaters.

Mason. Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET MASON!

This week’s shelter pet is Mason, a 6-month-old Chihuahua puppy rescued from South Carolina during Hurricane Florence. This sweet little guy arrived at Kent Animal Shelter with his brother Parker. Parker was adopted yesterday. Now it’s Mason’s turn. Come on down and say hello! He comes neutered, microchipped and up to date on vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. For more information on Mason and other adoptable pets at Kent, call 631-727-5731. 

3 monarch butterflies at West Meadow Wetlands Reserve

By Teresa Dybvig

We almost missed the stunning sight — hundreds of monarch butterflies in one place at our very own West Meadow Beach, or to be more precise, the West Meadow Wetlands Reserve.

 If you have walked along the beach recently, you’ve probably noticed the field of seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) lighting up the edge of the dunes all the way down the beach. 

On Thursday, Oct. 4, my husband and I happened to turn away from the water to gaze at the goldenrod glowing in the late daylight. As we approached, we saw hundreds — probably thousands — of buzzing bees and wasps on the flowers. Then we saw a flash of orange, then another, and another. To our astonishment, everywhere we looked, we could see up to 10 monarch butterflies without turning our heads!

We returned on Sunday with a camera and more time. Walking steadily down about a third of the beach, we counted 144 monarchs! I’m sure there were many more; the field is so deep we couldn’t see every flower, and when monarchs fold their wings to eat, they are as thin as a blade of grass from the front. And we didn’t even get to two-thirds of the field. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were, literally, hundreds of monarchs on the beach that day.

 If you have ever seen a monarch butterfly, you know it is gorgeous. It also has a jaw-dropping multigenerational migratory life cycle. The monarchs feasting on the goldenrods at West Meadow are fueling up to fly 2,700 miles to Mexico, at an average rate of 25 to 30 miles per day. Some have already traveled great distances to get here. 

This generation of monarchs is sometimes called the “supermonarch” because it’s the only generation strong enough to make the trip, overwinter on a cool, damp Mexican mountaintop, and fly north again to lay eggs in the earliest-growing milkweed in the southern U.S. before its life comes to an end. The eggs laid by the supermonarchs will grow into monarchs who will fly north and repeat the process, living only two to five weeks. 

The next supermonarchs are the offspring of the offspring of the previous generation of supermonarchs. Sometimes they are the offspring of the offspring of the offspring. So no monarch flying to Mexico has ever made the trip before. Yet thousands of generations have made the journey. 

 Our eastern monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus is in a heartbreakingly steep and dangerous decline. For every 10 monarchs in the sky two decades ago, there are now only two. Researchers estimate that this species could be extinct within 20 years. If the monarch ceases to exist, we humans will have been the cause.  

Monarchs are in danger because of human activities. We have cut down the trees monarchs require to overwinter in Mexico, we have killed milkweed that is critical for monarch caterpillars by spraying fields and their peripheries with herbicides like Round-up, we have paved over land where monarchs used to fuel up on nectar for their spectacular fall migration to Mexico, and we have contributed to changes in weather that can render the monarch’s route dangerous.

 But we humans have also been working to help the monarch stay in the skies. People in Mexico are growing trees to replace the ones that were cut. Government agencies and ordinary citizens in the U.S. and Canada are planting milkweed in reserves and home gardens.  And we are planting more fall-blooming native plants to fuel the long migration to Mexico.

 This is where West Meadow Wetlands Reserve comes in! The seaside goldenrod there is one of the primary foods for monarchs migrating south. The wildflower’s blooming season is relatively short, so if you want to see the miracle in action, keep a lookout next fall in late September and early October. 

Walk past the left end of the swimming area until you see the shining field of yellow flowers. Stand facing it for about a minute, and you will see a flash of orange, then another, and another. “We did this,” you can say to yourself. Our community. We set aside land for these flowers to grow, and they are helping these amazing creatures stay in the sky.

The author is a resident of Stony Brook.

By Kyle Barr

The Bates House in Setauket is gearing up to host a night of intrigue and mystery in order to support a local horse sanctuary in need.

The nonprofit Twin Oaks Horse Sanctuary in Manorville will hold a murder mystery event at the Setauket venue on Sunday, Nov. 11 to raise funds for repairs to a barn roof, among others. The farm shelters close to 30 horses, some of which have suffered from abuse, neglect, injury or simply the ravages of time and age. 

“We take them in and they live out their lives,” said Cynthia Steinmann, one of the two main sanctuary volunteers. “You never know their stories before you get them.”

From left, Jennifer Zalak with Maggie the horse and Cynthia Steinmann with Frankie the cat

Horses range in age, but all were saved from worse fates or were taken in when they had no other place to go. Two Friesian brothers Jan and Attilla were brought into the sanctuary after a period where they were nearly starved, kept in the same barn as a dead horse. Another horse named Journey was brought to the sanctuary after a very difficult childbirth in Pennsylvania. Dealer was brought to the sanctuary by caring riding students after becoming too old to be used for lessons.

The sanctuary, which is run by a group of just three women, is looking to get in front of a number of issues before winter season sets in. A recent storm blew the roof off of one of the barn buildings on site and there is a need for a drainage system to prevent flooding as well as to create new boards for horses to walk on if the rains soften the ground too much. 

Several of the horse shelters on site could use renovations, including one that needs to be rebuilt, and the sanctuary is always looking for new wood to reconstruct the pens that some of the larger horses can knock down with only a slight nudge of their huge frames.

“When it’s cold you want them to have a place to get out of the wind,” said Jennifer Zalak, Steinmann’s cousin and volunteer at the sanctuary. “I would just like them to have a nice dry spot to go to if the ground is muddy.”

Journey

The staff take turns alternating between the mornings and evenings, and each in turn is there close to six days a week or more depending on what work is needed. In previous years, when snow storms closed off roads and blanketed their small farm in foot after foot of muddy snow, the volunteers have also slept there to make sure the horses were alright come morning.

Most of the horses are older, around 20 to 30 years old. It means most are past their prime, and they are treated more like members of a retirement community. “With our guys being senior citizens, they really don’t care about moving around too much,” Zalak laughed.

Bates House Manager Lise Hintz said she took a road trip out to the sanctuary and was amazed at how much such a small group of people have been able to accomplish. “When I went out there I could not believe what I saw,” said Hintz “How do you not help a group like that? This sanctuary is in such need of repair and help.”

If Zalak and Steinmann had the opportunity and the funds, their dream would be to open the sanctuary to the public, not necessarily for lessons due to the age of most of the horses, but for therapy reasons, where people come to interact with the horses in quiet and peace. Steinmann said she has seen just how much of a calming effect the horses can have on individuals, especially for people experiencing depression or for those with other mental issues.

“My ultimate dream would be to do a bed and breakfast on the sanctuary with therapy programs for veterans and retired police officers, people with social disabilities, anxiety, depression and others” Steinmann said. “Some people get something spiritual out of it, some people get something relaxing out of it.”

The Nov. 11 murder mystery event, run by the nationally based Murder Mystery Company, will put local residents into a 1920s-themed scenario in which one person has committed a murder most foul. Titled “Crime and Pun-ishment,” the audience has to figure out who the murderer is before he or she gets away. Participants are encouraged to dress for the occasion in either flapper dresses, zoot suits or whatever attire one thinks is appropriate to the time. 

The Bates House is located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and the show will start at 6 p.m. An assortment of Italian food will be served buffet style along with a variety of wines, soft drinks, dessert, coffee and tea. In addition, there will be a silent auction, and a raffle for local artist Dino Rinaldi to personally paint a picture of one winner’s family pet.

Tickets are $35 per person and must be purchased before Oct. 29. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-sold basis and can be purchased at www.twinoakshorsesanctuary.org, by mail at P.O. Box 284, Lake Grove, NY 11755 or by phone at 631-874-4913. If you are mailing a check please write “Murder Mystery Ticket” in the memo. No tickets will be sold at the door.

For further information call 631-689-7054.

All photos by Kyle Barr

MEN-AT-ARMS: Members of the Huntington Militia held a colonial-era encampment at The Arsenal on Park Avenue in Huntington last Sunday, Oct. 14. The free event featured a tour of the 1740 building which was used to store grain until it became the home of Job Sammis and his family in 1748. It was expanded to accommodate weapons and gunpowder for the local militia during the American Revolution. Other activities included musket firing, colonial demonstrations and the loading and firing of a canon on the adjacent Village Green.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

A HISTORICAL TRADITION: 

The Huntington Historical Society hosted its annual Apple Festival on the grounds of the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum Sunday, Oct. 14. The event, which drew more than 800 visitors, featured live music by the Huntingtonians, craft demonstrations, old-fashioned kids games, pumpkin and face painting, a haunted tractor ride and, of course, apples. The museum’s latest exhibit, Poetry in Thread, which explores the history and technique of lace making, was also open for tours

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Susan Lucci

A night of comedy

“Celebrity Autobiography” heads to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts Recital Hall on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. The evening will feature Emmy winner Susan Lucci (“All My Children”), Mario Cantone (“Sex and the City”), Jackie Hoffman (Emmy nominee for “Feud”) and show creators Emmy nominee Eugene Pack and Drama Desk winner Dayle Reyfel who will read from highly selective and hilarious celebrity memoirs.

Mario Cantone

The passages in “Celebrity Autobiography” run the gamut from the “poetry of Suzanne Somers” to the shocking “romance tips” from Tommy Lee. Audiences will hear how Vanna flips her panels, what Stallone stores in his freezer and tips from the Kardashians. Justin Bieber, Hasselhoff, Celine, Zayn, Barbra, Tiger, Arnold, Britney, Dolly, Cher, Oprah, Beyonce, as well as the famous love triangle of Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher are included, all in their own words. 

“Celebrity Autobiography” won the 2009 Drama Desk Award in the category of Unique Theatrical Experience. The off-Broadway show ran for 10 years and toured extensively to Los Angeles, Edinburgh, London’s West End and Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Tickets are $48 with discounts for children, students and seniors. To order, visit www.stallercenter.com or call 631-632-ARTS (2787). 

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