Saturday, January 29, 2011

Feelin' Pepper-y

I woke up singing "My Friends" by the Chili Peppers, so I thought I'd post the video.  Also, I'm posting "Snow" because it is my favorite Chili Pepper song.  Sometimes, musicians hit the nail right on the head, and it's enough to bring tears to my eyes.  These are two such cases.

"My Friends"

Favorite line: "I heard a little girl, and what she said was something beautiful: 'To give your love no matter what,' is what she said."


Not one particular line I like best.  I love the whole damn thing, so I posted the song with the lyrics.  Hey, who denies that Anthony Kiedis can be a little hard to understand at times?

Friday, January 28, 2011

I am unmotivated today. 

It's partly the weather.  It's warming, which means that there will be an awful storm in a few days.  I can already feel the sinus pressure building. 

I haven't been sleeping well.  I keep waking from violent or active dreams.  Normally, I can blank my thoughts and go back to sleep, but this week, my mind clicks on the second I wake.  And, it's not that I'm worried about anything.  There are just a lot of people and things on my mind lately.  Thinking and talking about them isn't helping.  Pretending they would or do listen isn't healthy.  Writing about them won't help either, so it feels as though I have no outlet for what I'm feeling.     

Given enough time, it'll pass.  I really hate having to wait, but hell, that's just what you have to do sometimes. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reading Is Fundamental

Generally, I'm afraid of fundamentalists (read fanatics).  However, the key to keeping your brain young and in good working condition is to keep learning.  One of the best ways to do this is by reading.  To people who say they hate reading, I say that you just haven't found the right subject yet.  If my sister-in-law can get my brother to read by buying him Star Trek fanfic, then everyone can find something they like to read.

Most people find textbooks especially inaccessible, and I agree to a certain extent.  However, in this day and age and book market, writing a textbook that is virtually unreadable is pointless, unless you're doing it on a graduate or research level.  Then, you're probably shooting for being published in a specific journal.  Anyway, my point is that you need to read, and if you're a student, that includes your textbooks. 

Having said all that, the following cartoon gives a much better argument.  Thanks, again, to Dave.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Space Avalanche

Adding this cartoon site to my blogroll.  Good stuff, especially all the Batman jabs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mentor To This Monkey

My undergrad mentor, and the designer of the elementary math classes that I teach, stopped by my office today.  It was the first time I've seen her since she retired a year ago.  She taught me how to write mathematical proofs, sponsored me for an undergraduate research grant, and introduced me to the best thai restaurant in town.  God, I miss her.  She was the only female faculty member and made a point to encourage me and any other female students in math to pursue our degrees and careers, especially since she didn't always have that support.

The woman is amazing.

At age twenty-two, she began her graduate studies at Berkeley.  She was married and had a one year old son.  In her second year, her husband was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which led to their divorce.  Somehow, she managed to earn a PhD in mathematics while caring for her son with no other help.  Honestly, I cannot even begin to imagine how damn near impossible that was. 

When her son was about twenty, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and while her career flourished, her family life was a nightmare.  She struggled with helping her child, now legally an adult, navigate a system fraught with often ridiculous rules and treatment requirements.  Giving a crazy person a long, carefully timed list of things to do in order to get treatment is a surefire way to set him up for failure.  Her son is now in his mid-forties, still somewhat dependent on her though he lives by himself, but she can't do for him what needs to be done because, well, he's forty!  She often feels powerless because the only thing she can still legally do is have him committed, which she had to do two years ago.

As of today, he's doing well.  He's compliant with his meds and living on his own again.  She just got back from visiting her sister in Seattle, and she dropped by to see how my courses were and how my research was coming along.  I told her I missed her and asked if she missed Ye Olde Math Building.

"I miss the idea of teaching, but not the reality of it.  There was a time when I couldn't imagine not teaching.  I just got so burned out, and I think these elementary ed classes sped up the process."  She ran her hands through her hair and rubbed her shin (her nervous ticks).  "Now that I'm not teaching, I've fallen in love with research all over again."   

She looked happy, which made me happy.  Love you, Cecelia.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Monkey Business

excerpt from an article in The New York Times regarding a portion of  Freakonomics by STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT.  For more information about the authors and Keith Chen's research, including photographs, academic papers and a live monkey cam, see
Published: June 5, 2005
Keith Chen's Monkey Research

Adam Smith, the founder of classical economics, was certain that humankind's knack for monetary exchange belonged to humankind alone. ''Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog,'' he wrote. ''Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.'' But in a clean and spacious laboratory at Yale-New Haven Hospital, seven capuchin monkeys have been taught to use money, and a comparison of capuchin behavior and human behavior will either surprise you very much or not at all, depending on your view of humans. 
The capuchin is a New World monkey, brown and cute, the size of a scrawny year-old human baby plus a long tail. ''The capuchin has a small brain, and it's pretty much focused on food and sex,'' says Keith Chen, a Yale economist who, along with Laurie Santos, a psychologist, is exploiting these natural desires -- well, the desire for food at least -- to teach the capuchins to buy grapes, apples and Jell-O. ''You should really think of a capuchin as a bottomless stomach of want,'' Chen says. ''You can feed them marshmallows all day, they'll throw up and then come back for more.''
When most people think of economics, they probably conjure images of inflation charts or currency rates rather than monkeys and marshmallows. But economics is increasingly being recognized as a science whose statistical tools can be put to work on nearly any aspect of modern life. That's because economics is in essence the study of incentives, and how people -- perhaps even monkeys -- respond to those incentives. A quick scan of the current literature reveals that top economists are studying subjects like prostitution, rock 'n' roll, baseball cards and media bias.

Chen proudly calls himself a behavioral economist, a member of a growing subtribe whose research crosses over into psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. He began his monkey work as a Harvard graduate student, in concert with Marc Hauser, a psychologist. The Harvard monkeys were cotton-top tamarins, and the experiments with them concerned altruism. Two monkeys faced each other in adjoining cages, each equipped with a lever that would release a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. So pulling the lever was to some degree an act of altruism, or at least of strategic cooperation.

The tamarins were fairly cooperative but still showed a healthy amount of self-interest: over repeated encounters with fellow monkeys, the typical tamarin pulled the lever about 40 percent of the time. Then Hauser and Chen heightened the drama. They conditioned one tamarin to always pull the lever (thus creating an altruistic stooge) and another to never pull the lever (thus creating a selfish jerk). The stooge and the jerk were then sent to play the game with the other tamarins. The stooge blithely pulled her lever over and over, never failing to dump a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. Initially, the other monkeys responded in kind, pulling their own levers 50 percent of the time. But once they figured out that their partner was a pushover (like a parent who buys her kid a toy on every outing whether the kid is a saint or a devil), their rate of reciprocation dropped to 30 percent -- lower than the original average rate. The selfish jerk, meanwhile, was punished even worse. Once her reputation was established, whenever she was led into the experimenting chamber, the other tamarins ''would just go nuts,'' Chen recalls. ''They'd throw their feces at the wall, walk into the corner and sit on their hands, kind of sulk.''

Chen is a hyperverbal, sharp-dressing 29-year-old with spiky hair. The son of Chinese immigrants, he had an itinerant upbringing in the rural Midwest. As a Stanford undergraduate, he was a de facto Marxist before being seduced, quite accidentally, by economics. He may be the only economist conducting monkey experiments, which puts him at slight odds with his psychologist collaborators (who are more interested in behavior itself than in the incentives that produce the behavior) as well as with certain economist colleagues. ''I love interest rates, and I'm willing to talk about their kind of stuff all the time,'' he says, speaking of his fellow economists. ''But I can tell that they're biting their tongues when I tell them what I'm working on.''

It is sometimes unclear, even to Chen himself, exactly what he is working on. When he and Santos, his psychologist collaborator, began to teach the Yale capuchins to use money, he had no pressing research theme. The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. The currency Chen settled on was a silver disc, one inch in diameter, with a hole in the middle -- ''kind of like Chinese money,'' he says. It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.
Then Chen introduced price shocks and wealth shocks. If, for instance, the price of Jell-O fell (two cubes instead of one per token), would the capuchin buy more Jell-O and fewer grapes? The capuchins responded rationally to tests like this -- that is, they responded the way most readers of The Times would respond. In economist-speak, the capuchins adhered to the rules of utility maximization and price theory: when the price of something falls, people tend to buy more of it.

Chen next introduced a pair of gambling games and set out to determine which one the monkeys preferred. In the first game, the capuchin was given one grape and, dependent on a coin flip, either retained the original grape or won a bonus grape. In the second game, the capuchin started out owning the bonus grape and, once again dependent on a coin flip, either kept the two grapes or lost one. These two games are in fact the same gamble, with identical odds, but one is framed as a potential win and the other as a potential loss.
How did the capuchins react? They far preferred to take a gamble on the potential gain than the potential loss. This is not what an economics textbook would predict. The laws of economics state that these two gambles, because they represent such small stakes, should be treated equally.

So, does Chen's gambling experiment simply reveal the cognitive limitations of his small-brained subjects? Perhaps not. In similar experiments, it turns out that humans tend to make the same type of irrational decision at a nearly identical rate. Documenting this phenomenon, known as loss aversion, is what helped the psychologist Daniel Kahneman win a Nobel Prize in economics. The data generated by the capuchin monkeys, Chen says, ''make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.''

But do the capuchins actually understand money? Or is Chen simply exploiting their endless appetites to make them perform neat tricks?

Several facts suggest the former. During a recent capuchin experiment that used cucumbers as treats, a research assistant happened to slice the cucumber into discs instead of cubes, as was typical. One capuchin picked up a slice, started to eat it and then ran over to a researcher to see if he could ''buy'' something sweeter with it. To the capuchin, a round slice of cucumber bore enough resemblance to Chen's silver tokens to seem like another piece of currency.

Then there is the stealing. Santos has observed that the monkeys never deliberately save any money, but they do sometimes purloin a token or two during an experiment. All seven monkeys live in a communal main chamber of about 750 cubic feet. For experiments, one capuchin at a time is let into a smaller testing chamber next door. Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them -- a combination jailbreak and bank heist -- which led to a chaotic scene in which the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

This is a sensitive subject. The capuchin lab at Yale has been built and maintained to make the monkeys as comfortable as possible, and especially to allow them to carry on in a natural state. The introduction of money was tricky enough; it wouldn't reflect well on anyone involved if the money turned the lab into a brothel. To this end, Chen has taken steps to ensure that future monkey sex at Yale occurs as nature intended it.

But these facts remain: When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex. In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen's more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's Hard Bein' Hard, Ya'll

Sometimes, I get so tired of being tough.  I'm really not as thick-skinned as I like to think I am.  There are days when I want nothing more than to take off my shell and be at ease, Dr. Zoidberg-style.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Along with Metalocalpyse, Superjail feeds my appetite for gruesome, creepy, and awesome cartoonage.  I can't say that the plots and drawings are all that great, but the uniqueness of the imagination behind the animation and brutal death scenes that generally close the episodes are what take the cake.  It is rare to see two inmates killed the same way in not only the same episode but at all.  That is the beauty of this psychotic acid trip of a cartoon.

Characters: who don't I love?  There is Jackknife, the inmate who is always caught and dragged back to jail at the beginning of each episode.  Jailbot and Alice run herd on the inmates.  The Warden is a goofier, crazier version of Willy Wonka.  But, I suppose my very favorite characters are the ones I refer to as the "Techno Twins."  They take the warden's already poor ideas and kick them up a notch (playing the warden's dream organ until everyone is insane, setting Spanish flies free inside the female/male inmate dance, creating a superclone for the battle arena, to name a few).

When compared to the other bloody, gruesome cartoons Cartoon Network airs on Adult Swim, Superjail beats them hands-down in body count.  When I catch it, I almost always say, "Ooh, Superjail.  I wonder how everyone will die tonight?"  For a twisted, screwy person like me, it's the perfect bookend to a day.

A sampling of deaths; Note the Techno Twins and their clone on the left wall, watcing it all go to Hell.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marcy Hack or Dynamite Playground

For the radio stations to have played "Sex and Candy" to death, it was by far not the best song on Marcy Playground's self-titled debut album.  The following YouTube videos of Marcy Playground aren't really videos but do have the full songs. There are several awesome songs on the album, but since I've been singing "Cloak of Elvenkind" along with the anti-rap of "Boyz in the Hood" by Dynamite Hack on and off all day, I thought I would post those and "Vampires of New York."

"Cloak of Elvenkind":

"Vampires of New York":

"Boyz in the Hood":

L said...

"I'm like the Fonz."

In keeping with the theme of my house falling apart, we have a short somewhere between the overhead kitchen light and the garage door opener.  This isn't too surprising, when one takes into consideration how crazily the house is wired. 

I have a one-story house with the garage and kitchen on the left side, the office and living room in the middle, and the two bedrooms and two baths on the right side.  The range is on its own breaker, but after that, we had to make a list to keep track of it all.  For example, the back porch light, front entry light (on opposite ends of the house), and the office light are all on the same circuit, completely skipping the living room.  The kitchen is half with the garage and outlets for the office (but not the light) and half by itself.  I'm sure there is a reason, if nothing more than sheer laziness.

Back to the short...L's car is usually in the garage with mine in the driveway, but since the delivery of the fridge on Thursday, we haven't moved the cars.  Yesterday, L and I came home and went into the house through the garage instead of the front door.  L punched the garage door button, but when we went into the house and shut the door, the garage door stopped halfway.  I punched the button several times, the force increasing with the level of my anger, until it lowered again, but as soon as I closed the house door, it quit.  L turned on the overhead kitchen light, and it didn't work either.  We flipped the breaker, which did nothing more than kill power to the modem and our computers in the office.  After slamming the door several times, the light came on and the garage door worked.  (Blowing out a puff of air) So, while we really, really hope it's in the attic, the short is probably in the wall.

We went out to get some Chinese last night, and when we came home, we made sure to carefully shut the door.  The garage door shut, but the light didn't turn off after a few minutes like it should.  At 10:30 last night, the light as still on, and L said, "I'll deal with it."  He turned on the overhead kitchen light and walked over to the house door into the garage.   As I headed into the bedroom, I heard him bang the wall and say, "Aye!" and a bit later, "The light's off now."

Yep, just like the Fonz.     

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Today was my first day back to teaching.  Even though I have been working for a few weeks now, yesterday was my first official day back in the office.  We should've gone back Monday, but with the snow, campus was closed.  While I wasn't looking forward to working Monday, there is a reason we start back two days early: starting Monday gives you Tuesday for any last minute crop-ups to be beaten back down.  We didn't have that, and so the brain-bleed inducing problems arose today.

First, none of the textbooks for math classes level 300 and up were ordered by the bookstore.  That's dandy.  Freakin' brilliant.  You've got one job: to have the books people need for their classes.  It isn't like the math department waited and placed their order late.  No.  In fact, the bookstore gave us free breakfast one day last fall to thank us for how quickly and thoroughly we sent in complete orders.

Math teachers ask for so precious little...a large board, some chalk (or a marker), and textbooks.  Correct textbooks, which brings me to the next snag.

As educators, we try to ensure that once a student begins a sequence of courses, say Calculus 1, 2, and 3, he can use the same textbook for the whole sequence.  The elementary ed math classes I teach are the same way.  The book went to a new edition last fall, and due to a clerical error at the bookstore (surprise!), the new editions weren't ordered.  After many, many emails (I cannot stress how many times I emailed the department head and office assistants), we decided that, since the students didn't have access to the new book in Fall 2010, everyone would stick with the old edition and use it to finish out their sequence in that book.  The people taking the first course this spring would start with the new edition so that when we switch to it for all three next fall, they wouldn't have to buy a new book. 

Right.  So much for that.

I went into class today to do my first-day stuff, and at the end of class, ten students came up to me and said, "We have the purple book with the zebra.  Is that not right?" 
Ten years ago, I would've gone ape, but having mellowed a bit with age, I said, "I'll look into it and email you." 
Sure enough, after talking it over with the office staff, re-explaining the whys and so forth, the head assistant said, "I thought we had that all figured out and explained too, but the verdict came down for no changes in textbooks in spring." 

Okay, fine, fine, EXCEPT YOU DIDN'T TELL THE PEOPLE TEACHING IT THAT YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND!!  It's not that they waited until the last second to tell us; they just didn't.  So here, my co-instructor and I have spent Christmas break making new notes, new activities, writing new homework solutions, and we aren't even using the new book.  The syllabi and assignments are wrong, and we looked like freakin' idiots. 

I would say that it isn't time or energy wasted, that when we switch books next fall, all my work will be worth it.  That would be true if I knew for sure that I would be teaching the courses again.  That is never guaranteed.  So, if I don't teach the course next fall, I've just done half the work for the person who does get to teach it.  I'm a giving, generous person.  I'll share, to a point.  But after rebuilding this course three times, by God I better get to teach it! 

I spent my afternoon helping my co-instructor remake all the legally binding documents for the class.  I' was in a fabulous mood (heavy sarcasm here).  I needed a laugh, and I needed it bad.

As I debated whether or not to rewrite my notes again, my next-door-office neighbor came by to tell me about her morning.  Her first class was in the Physics and Astronomy building (long story short: they want math classes at 50 and above capacity and the math building only has 4 rooms that large).  So, she went over a bit early to check that it had all the necessary equipment.   

Of course, it doesn't.  Many instructors use doc cams instead of the boards.  It's like an overhead projector, but it has a camera and projects onto a screen or a white board.  This room didn't appear to have one.  "I use the doc cam all the time," she said and waved her hands to indicate how it flustered her.  Mathematicians may not need much, but we're a picky bunch.  So, she and the office assistant poked around until she noticed three ceiling-mounted Elmo cameras.  Ba-da-bing.  The assistant turned on camera 1 and what does it see?  Straight down the front of her shirt, her ample cleavage and more projected clear as day on the board behind her.

Yeah, that made me feel much better.   

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Wanna Sling Poo...and Snow

The day it snows/sleets enough to close businesses and schools is the day my refrigerator malfunctioned.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard it making a loud humming noise over the regular humming noise it makes when it cycles.  The sound grew louder and louder, as if traveling from the top of the fridge, down the back, and then click! at my feet.  It would stop.  A minute or so would pass and it would begin again.  

Around dinnertime, I felt inside the fridge and said to L, "I think it's not cooling."  He said it felt fine, but I thought the freezer seemed too warm as well.

This morning, everything in the freezer was thawed.  Now, the dairy and eggs are in a cooler on the porch, and I would be okay with the fact that it's barely above 30ยบ out there, but we've also snowy-icy-slush on everything.  Even though the roads here are passable (as L has already returned from getting a bag of ice for the cooler), no one except grocery and gas station clerks have gone to work, including refrigerator repairmen.  So while I'm pretty sure it's either out of coolant or the compressor is shot, I can't get in touch with anyone to come confirm/fix it.

Part of me thinks I should just go out and buy a new fridge and forget about it, but the part of me that thinks it might be a $60 fix wants to wait and see.  Either way, I'll have a huge grocery bill from having to replace all the frozen stuff that thawed.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

According to Bob...

"I know you would be a good parent because whatever you do, if it matters, you put everything you've got into it."

We were discussing his and his wife's decision to wait until they were in their forties to have children and my trepidation over have/have not.  Bob has known me for about twelve years, and being my teacher, mentor, and colleague, he knows what kind of student and worker I am.  So, he's right.  If I ever had children, I couldn't be a lazy shitbag about it because it is far too important.

I have subtle and not-so-subtle pressure from friends and relatives that I should just do it.  I'm thirty-four, and L is thirty-two.  L is perfect mother material.  Having lived with his sister for the first two years of his niece's life, he certainly has more baby experience than I do.  In fact, only the second or third time I came to their house, my now brother-in-law smacked me on the back and said, "He's already baby-trained." 

So, what's holding me back? 

It certainly isn't L.  He said he'd like to it was what I wanted.  The last time we talked about it, he said that he could take or leave having children, that they were something we might consider a nuisance to raise while we're young (I still consider myself young, damnit) but appreciate when we're old.  Like money, almost. 

Maybe more than you might think, as some people see their children as a sort of insurance policy.  From a strict mathematical game theory standpoint, that is a bad gamble because you can't control someone else's decisions, no matter how much guilt you pour on them.        

The closest I ever came to giving in was not when any of my friends had children but when L and I saw Idiocracy.  I looked at him and said, "We're intelligent.  Maybe it's our duty to Mankind to have babies."  I thought about it, a lot, even made pro/con lists to help sway me toward one or the other end of the yes/no scale.  A variety of reasons have pushed me from the halfway point to closer to choosing No.

1) I'm still in school and therefore, can't afford childcare and probably not health insurance on top of providing for the baby.  My family would offer to help, but I would refuse because it's not for them to help pay for my choice.  I would quit school and try to get a full-time job.  What's so wrong with that?  Well, I might begin to resent the baby that I had to quit school in order to support him/her.  I might not, but knowing there is a possibility that I could is enough.  What kind of asshole would I be if I resented my child for what I might see as him/her ruining my dreams and goals?  I know people who do resent their children, and I won't be like that.

Still, I should finish my degree by spring of 2012 (if the world doesn't end first), so for argument's sake, let's say #1 can be discounted.

2) L and I have been together for about 5 years and have been married for half that time.  We aren't ooey-gooey newlyweds.  We're just ooey-gooey, although we try to tone it back in public.  So part of me is afraid that, if we have a child, he will love it more than me.  To that my mother said, "Oh my God!  You're turning into your father."  Maybe so, but you must understand something...and I say with with deepest sincerity and without rose-colored glasses...what L and I have is a very, very rare form of life-altering love.  I use the term dorkmates.  I'm telling you people that I did not understand the meaning of love until I met him, and that sounds so cheesy and cliched, but it's true.  I have never uttered one serious ill word about him as a mate, and I never will because he is my mate in every sense of the word.  Period.  So, feeling that, and knowing how jealously I guard his love for me, I don't want to share it.  I know this about myself, and so I don't have children.

Segueing from #2, I am selfish. 

3) I like my time.  I like spending my time and my money on me.  I like that when I have spare time, I can write (novels or blog posts) or read or play computer games.  I know there are plenty of people who, once their children get older, go back to doing things they did before they had children, but the fun of it is gone because they are worn out from having kids.  It has been years since I've seen a woman with children in their teens who didn't look like she'd had all the life wrung from her.  My office mate is the perfect example.  She told me that all three of her children were the results of broken condoms.  All she does is run her kids around and gripe about her husband.  I do not want to be like that.  I don't want to be tired and bitter.  I don't want L to ever say, "Honey, our daughter is a bitch," and be right.

Which brings me to #4.

4) What do I do if despite all my efforts, all my love, and all my nurturing, my child is a bitch or an asshole or a shitbag or a serial killer?  Can you see how I don't want the fate of some other life in my hands?  You may say that after a certain point, the child is his own responsibility, but I don't know.  My maternal instincts are terrible.  In general, I don't like children.  Sure I love my nieces and nephews, but that's because I know them. But my gut reaction to hearing a baby cry is to get away from it.  When I hear children screeching, I want to tell them to shut the fuck up.  I don't, of course, but that is how I feel.

Now, after all that, why should I balk at my GYN's suggestion that I get my tubes tied?  Because somewhere deep down, part of me wants to be a mother?  This is one of those situations where I wish I could know the future.

Finally, I salute those of you who have children and do a damn fine job of raising them: teaching them to take responsibility for their actions and their futures and to be respectful of others.  It makes my life easier when they end up in one of my classes.                

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's in a Name?

Every instructor office in my building has one wall of bookshelves.  The full professors have exterior wall offices, so they have a window in the middle of their bookshelves, but they still have them.  For the most part, the shelves are too short for the average book to stand upright, the shelves having been built in the forties and books getting progressively larger dimensionally if not in scope of subject.  Nevertheless, in any given office, the shelves will be crammed with books, papers, and binders.  I have a shelf reserved for food and a shelf with two sets of stacked in/outbox trays to aid the organization of papers, but I too have stacks of books for the courses I take and the courses I teach. 

When I came back to school, I returned as a full-time instructor, taking a class here and there to make sure that I was still capable of doing the math before I plunged into the program as a full-time student.  Thus, I began my new career sharing an office with another full-time instructor.  My department tends to couple the teachers in that position - they all have masters in math or math ed but not PhDs.  So, they don't get an office to themselves.  The department does the same thing with grad students once they've completed 18 hours of grad classes.  Since my office mate and I get along so well and often work together on classes we teach, no one ever suggested moving me out when I switched from full-time instructor to full-time student.  This means that the other bookshelves in our office get crammed full of new textbooks publishers send out to entice us away from our current publisher.  Nothing interesting at all about that.

But in the offices occupied by graduate students, the most interesting books can be found.  This is because departing grad students often leave behind textbooks that they used or found.  The student assigned to an office inherits those books and sometimes leaves behind books of his/her own.  In this way, a grad student's office often contains textbooks ranging in age and subject. 

Case in point, L's office.  He and his office mate inherited a small zen sand garden and a wide variety of relatively ancient textbooks.  One afternoon, while killing time until the algebra seminar began, L and I sat in his office, and while he played online games, I read the titles of the old textbooks.  Baby, they don't name 'em like they used to.  Here are my favorites:

Intuitive Calculus  (There are few people, even mathematicians, for whom Calculus is innately intuitive.)
Brief Calculus  (The most ironic book because it was one of the largest and thickest on the shelf.)
Mathematics: A Practical Odyssey  (It sounds pretentious and adventurous all at once.)

It made me wonder: if the authors of scholastic books fretted and worried over picking a title the same way a fiction author does (myself included), more people might be drawn to mathematics.  Wouldn't you rather read Algebra: The Safari for Solutions than Algebra and Its Applications?  No?  Well, I guess there really is no hope then, is there?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Just a quick post hoping everyone had a safe and fun holiday season.  Now, get back to work!!