Saturday, October 31, 2009


Baking bread was made easier to schedule through the day --- but unfortunately it was because I didn't really go anywhere.  Skibo woke up with a fever: he'd been coughing yesterday, and today it was worse.  We're hoping that it is not the flu: the fever was high briefly, but dropped enough that we are only worried and concerned, for now.

I assume that if it is flu, swine or otherwise, the rest of us will come down with it. 

Yours, not looking forward to that,

Friday, October 30, 2009

What happens?

What happens if, in the next few weeks, there is no agreement on healthcare in the senate and the house?  If the filibuster holds?  Of more interest to me: if the bill is watered down enough, will the left in the house (or the senate) vote against the bill?  With almost every republican opposed, progressives could make it die.
Could we then bring up a new health bill next term, with single payer, or a medicare+5 solution?  Could it pass?  Could it be implemented even sooner than the five+ year plans currently on the table?

I'm beginning to think that if Lieberduck makes too much of a fuss about this bill we should just cut him off at the debate, switch to a new bill, write it for reconciliation, and be done with him.

Yours, Lieberdogged out,

Allsorts of Humbugs

After a week of baking inaction, as opposed to "in action", I finally pulled the starter from the fridge this morning.  And this afternoon I fed it --- it's recovering nicely, and tomorrow I can make bread.

I will, of course, have to fit it around going to Skibo's class Hallowe'en party in the morning, coming back here through football traffic (you haven't experienced football traffic until you've lived in a town which quadruples its population when the stadium is half full: and I mean that literally) and then going to a Hallowe'en birthday party for M, one of Boo and Skibo's best friends: then braving outgoing football traffic on the way back so that Boo and Skibo can trick or treat in the neighbourhood.

Even though it's the wrong season, I'm channelling Scrooge!

Yours, kneading to say "Bah! Humbug!"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Time is going too fast

I remember when I was a child, my mother and father would tell me how much faster time passes when you are older. I believed them, of course (don't all children believe what they are told by by their parents?) but at the same time, I didn't understand.

Now I understand. And even though I'm counting down the days until this semester is over, the grades are all in, and we can fly, I know that it will be here in a blink of an eye --- and there is much to be done in between.

Next semester, I hope, is going to be a rather quieter time. Until it happens, and I over-commit again.

Yours, remembering back to the endless summers,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Getting warmed up, excited

We have already started discussing what we want to do while we are in the UK. The children have a book about dogs in artwork, based on paintings in the National Gallery, so one plan is to take them there and see if we can find all the paintings featured in Dogs' Night. They've also been crazy with excitement about castles recently, thanks to the Magic Treehouse series of childrens novels, and so a visit to Windsor is certainly in the offing.
I'd love to see Cambridge again -- but given how short our trip is, that seems to be less than likely to happen: we may just have to slum it and take a trip to Oxford instead (my cousin lives very near there, and we ought to visit).

Yours, beginning to be excited,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RH Day is just a few weeks away

I wonder if google will change their header to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the RIemann Hypothesis. One of the most (if not the most) important open problems in mathematics turns 150 next month.
On November 18th, mathematicians around the world (several, at least, and I suspect quite a few more) will turn out to talk to audiences local and global about this amazing problem. It is a strange and fascinating problem, taking a slew of completely different-looking forms, some of them relatively simple to state: (the number of primes up to n is relatively close to this simple function) or compact (the zeta function's non-trivial zeros have real part equal to 1/2) while other equivalent forms are, shall we say (even) less than transparent.
It has numerous consequences, so that theorems in number theory are often stated in the from "Unconditionally, this number is at most N, and if the Riemann Hypothesis is true, then it is at most M" (in which M is usually much smaller than N).
And of course, over the years, there has been progress, the proof of the Prime Number Theorem, the combinatorial proof of the same, bounds on what proportion of the roots can lie off the line 1/2+it. And even some claimed proofs, none of which have come close to being accepted by the mathematical community.

Anyway, it looks (for a mathematician, at least) as if this will be a fun birthday.
So, I'll sign this as.

Yours, hoping nobody solves the Riemann Hypothesis in the next few weeks,

Obligatory occasional technical post

STIX fonts will be ready in the fullness of time.

But time is beginning to look full.

Yours, wondering when DLMF's time will reach similar fullness,

Monday, October 26, 2009

More coincidences????

So now, facebook, where I am known by my actual factual name, B. Read Box, is suggesting friends for me. But the strange thing is, that unlike most of fb's suggestions, which fall into two categories, people I know in real life, or are at least friends of people I really know, and people about whom I know absolutely nothing, and appear to have no friends in common, now, there is a third category.
People are showing up as prospective friends, people with whom I have a distinct connection, but only through this blog.
So, if you get a strange facebook friend request, now you know why a stranger may be friending you. Facebook knows who you are.
And the really startling, disturbing thing? In a couple of instances, I was able to determine the real name of someone who consistently posts under a pseudonym, because I was invited to befriend both facebook accounts, the real name and the blogname. And the accounts were consecutive suggestions.

Yours, seriously disturbed by this,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Going home

at least, for a short visit. We booked tickets today to head home. A week with LOML's parents', a week with mine.

Prohibitive cost, but it's important. This will be Skibo's first trip to the UK!
We're looking forward to spending lots of time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Yours, ready to fly,

On becoming immune

You can tell that I have been in the country for a long time. I have begun to understand the language of football and baseball. And I find that I don't know a single name on one of the two teams vying for a spot in the "World" series. It's pretty strange to me that I haven't heard of a single one of them: usually, if a team is that good, at least one member of the team will have made it as a household name.

But no.

Yours, unknowingly,

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A math day

I supervise the local portion of math competitions on campus, and today was one such day. So I dutifully got to work at 8:15 on a Saturday morning, and watched the students struggle to try to answer questions. A fun time, even for the students, I think. There is something liberating for a very good student to take an exam which they know is going to be hard enough that the odds of getting a high score are slim.

And then my colleague D, visiting from out of state, and I sat down for several hours and played with polynomials. Fruitfully, I hope. There's a good chance that what we did this afternoon will lead to something worth doing.

Finally, pizza:-)
It had to come back to bread, to dough, to baking!

Yours, tempering the math with a little yeast,

Friday, October 23, 2009


I gather that there are groups on the net, on the web, on the intertubes, who decide to get together to fulfil personal goals. In particular, every November they get together to write for a month.
I promise that I'm not going to promise to join them. That's the best I can do, I assure you.

Yours, wondering what all the acronyms will stand for....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wash hands

Exhortations are all over: wash hands, wash hands, wash hands. And unlike the similar instruction to use antibacterial hand wash all the time (which annoys the heck out of me for two reasons: a) the flu is not bacterial and b) overuse of antibacterial products is training stronger bugs, not keeping us safer) I tend to think that the wash hands often is a good idea.

And of course, one should always use water at a hot temperature --- not enough to burn, but hot enough to encourage the universal solubility plus the (hopefully non-antibacterial) soap to wash off the nastiness. So, naturally enough, the hot water in the department is now not hot.
It's not luke warm. It's not even matthew, john or doubting thomas warm.
It's luke really cold. To be precise, I'd say, it's about 70 degrees. Fahrenheit.
If you let it run for long enough, that is. It starts out at about 50.

Yours, pouring cold water on this "handwashing" deal...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Evening/Morning baking

I think that I have figured out, even with the schedule I have at the moment, how to make bread during the week. Early in the morning, refresh the sourdough starter. Get in at 5:00 or 5:30, and get the starter, flour and water incorporated, and leave for the autolyse phase for half an hour, during which time I can work on dinner, play with the children, or whatever. After the autolyse, I knead the dough (adding salt, and enough extra water to get the dough to the wetness I want). Leave the dough to proof for a couple of hours, fold the dough a little to gently help develop the gluten, and after another half-hour to an hour's rest, shape.
Leave it to rise on the counter overnight (out kitchen is pretty cool), and with the oven timed to come on in time to preheat for a 6am bake, throw the loaves in the oven when I wake up.
Drink tea, wake up properly, and take the dough out of the oven.

Bingo. (not necessarily) easy midweek bread.

Yours, proofing like mad,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Sometimes things happen together. An act of seemingly miraculous coincidences. And to the casual observer, it seems almost as if there must be some reason, some hidden cause, something special about the individual to whom the coincidences are happening.
Having just had a day rather like that, I want to remind you all that coincidences happen! And in fact, the biggest coincidence would be if there were no coincidences at all.

In mathematics this sort of thing abounds. For a start, randomness often surprises us with how structured it seems. For example, the classic "birthday paradox": if you have at least 23 people in a room (chosen randomly, say) then the odds are slightly better than even that two of them will share the same birthday. This result is easy to prove, but surprising to most people when they first see it --- 23 seems like a remarkably small number of people, given that there are 365 days in the year.

To take another example: you can never destroy all structure, no matter how hard you try: if you list the numbers from 0 to 100 in any order you like, you will always find either a subsequence of at least 11 of them in increasing order, or a subsequence of at least 11 of them in decreasing order. Not necessarily together, but... Why 11? It turns out that that is the best that you can do.

So, next time life hits you with a series of coincidences, don't assume that it is because you are somehow favoured, and don't go out and play the lottery because "good things come in threes". Far more often they come in twos or ones, and it's just that you notice the threes....

Yours, as it happens,

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bad parenting

I can't believe that I just did that.
I was halfway to work by the time that I realised that I had left without giving goodbyes, hugs and kisses, to Boo and Skibo. I feel awful.
The timing was just not quite right to be able to go back and make up for it: LOML would already have had them in the car and on their way to school.

Yours, just hoping that the children weren't too upset about it,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lazy sunday afternoons

A lazy sunday all around --- we went to the botanical gardens, as is our tradition, for a walk, followed by a visit to the bookstore to buy more in the "Magic Treehouse" series of books: Boo and Skibo are totally enthralled by the adventures of Jack and Annie, and at a couple of bucks per volume, I'm more than happy to feed this addiction! (Even if, at $2 per copy, for short books, they are more expensive than many adult books!)

Naps in the afternoon, and then baking bread, roasting chicken and potatoes, and just hanging with friends for dinner.

Yours, in bliss,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Turkey pot pie

Ah yes --- turkey pot pie, finishing the last of the soup from Thanksgiving's turkey. (That's Canadian Thanksgiving for those worrying about food safety.)
The best loaf, perhaps, that I've ever made.
And my potatoes.
What's not to like? (Except, of course, if the children are the ones deciding whether they like it!

But the grown ups certainly did:-)

Yours, stuffed,

Friday, October 16, 2009


Bats! So scary in our culture, so scary in our literature, our comics, our movies. And yet, find a bunch of little children who go out on the front porch, see a few bats swirling, and what do you have?

A tornado! Oh Wow! Look at all those birds -- they're like a tornado!

Of course, they weren't birds, even though a bunch of children (and I) thought that they were. LOML explained that they were bats, that they lived in a neighbour's chimney, and that every evening you could see them swirl and dive into their home.

Well, chastened and informed, I watched (as did the children without the chastening:-)) as many thousands of bats --- I'd guess three or four thousand bats --- flew clockwise then anti-clockwise patterns around the house with the chimney. Finally, and quite suddenly, they started diving into the chimney. The whole dive took several minutes, and every second, a slew of bats --- 5, 10, 15 --- flew into the chimney.

A spectacle unlike anything I've seen!

Yours, driven batty (of course:-)

World Bread Day

Today is a day to bake. And to share a loaf. But better yet, share a recipe: to paraphrase:
Give a man a loaf and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to bake a loaf and his house will smell great for life

Yours, always happy to share,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day: thousands of bloggers have signed up to promise to post about the importance of this year's chosen topic: the perils we face with climate change.
Today there are dozens of things I'd rather talk about: tomorrow being World Bread Day (bake a loaf and share it), the boy in the balloon (or rather, the boy not in the balloon), the Louisiana (in)Justice of the Peace who refused a marriage license to an interracial couple. All interesting, important stories.

But the climate is changing: there is good reason to believe that what seem to us to be small changes in average temperature, one or two degrees, could lead to violent swings in the release of various greenhouse gases in from the Siberian tundra, to massive melting of the polar icecaps, and to disastrous changes in sea level. Even if the chances of those of us warning of this potential are low, it seems to me that the potential for disaster is high enough to make action imperative. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that chance of disaster is small. The cost of inaction far outweighs the costs of acting.

Yours, one voice in many,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Health care a possibility? or not?

The announcement by Senator Snowe that she'll support the Baucus bill is being hailed as a great thing. I'm not so sure, however: it could well be that she is trying to cement the bad things (as I see it) in the Baucus bill, by supporting now and threatening to withdraw the support later if the bill is improved.
Much depends on the compromises made now between the other four bills and this one. But it looks as if some bill may happen now.

Yours, fascinated by the games, wishing that they didn't need to be for real.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An interesting day

This morning the principal of Boo and Skibo's school held a meet-and-greet from 8 until 9: I went along, drank the coffee and ignored the doughnuts, and generally asked a lot of questions. At the end of the hour, we all stood to leave, and she asked if I would care to continue the discussions --- so we headed back to her office for another hour and a half of looking at the breakdown of statistics by grade level, seeing how good students and weak students were or were not being best served by the school, and discussing how the school was going to do in the future. A very interesting discussion indeed.
And following this, she introduced me to the art teacher, who is thrilled by the idea of having me help with a few art classes, mainly at the 3-6 grade levels, which is great, because those are levels where I've not made any connections. And she has a lot of ideas for combining origami with other art ideas too....

Yours, excited to be involved,

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Although we celebrated yesterday, today is Canadian Thanksgiving: may you all have lots to be thankful for.

Yours, in gratitude,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lettuce and Peppers and Parsnips, oh my!

Happy (early) Thanksgiving to all my friends in Canada! We celebrated a day early, since Columbus day is not a holiday celebrated by the children's school, or by their soccer team, or the daisy girl scout troop, and so there's absolutely no time for a feast tomorrow.

In spite of this weekend being fall break for me, we were able to find a friend to come over and help celebrate thanksgiving: Boo and Skibo's friend M, and they went running around the garden playing, imagining, and having fun. LOML told them they could pick some lettuce and eat it if they wished: unfortunately this led to them thinking they could pick and eat some other food too.
One taste of jalapenos later (we think that it was jalapenos, not cayenne!) they all came running, screaming, into the kitchen, downing water like crazy. Mouths afire for a few minutes (M) to almost half an hour (Boo). Fortunately, they all recovered enough to be able to state some things that they were thankful for. This culminated with M, having been thankful for some relatively mundane but nice things, declaring that she is "thankful for parsnips".
She collapsed into helpless laughter, as did Boo and Skibo. Parsnips has become the laugh-trigger of the moment, it seems.

Yours, with plenty to be thankful for,

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Distance education

One of my professional interests, albeit a peripheral one, is distance education. I have been fascinated with the concept since I was a child, reading about Australian schools held over the radio.

Now, I am helping to build a classroom designed to make use of distance tech, video-conferencing and the like (helping the US to catch up to Australia, Canada, the UK, Germany, and much of the rest of the world). But today, I realised just how important words are to teaching at a distance: a friend made bread, based on a recipe I'd sent, and with me emailing advice occasionally. Apparently the bread turned out well, which is a good thing -- and means that at some level the lesson worked --- but there were clearly lots of problems.
And so I am reconsidering my ideas about distance ed: to take into account the small lessons I learned today. This is, of course, not very different from other lessons I learn on a daily basis, but it was quite striking to hear, at 5 or so, that the bread was expected to be a disaster, and then at 9 to hear that it had been quite edible.

So I'm left considering the question: "how do you encourage enthusiasm and a sense of possibility online?"

Yours, a-learning,

Need convincing we need to get out of Iraq? Afghanistan?

This shows why we need to figure out a way to use non-military means to solve all our -- and the world's -- problems.

Yours, immensely touched by this photograph,

Friday, October 9, 2009

Star wars: a new hope!

Given that NASA was so successful at hitting the moon today, the future of the strategic defense initiative is clear: we need to figure out how to move the moon into the path of incoming missiles so that it can absorb their impact for us...
Yours, wearing a Princess Leia pair of cinnamon roll earmuffs as I type this,


Okay, colour me stunned. I'm amazed --- not that I don't think that President Obama would one day be well worth Peace Prize, and not that I'm not delighted by the way that he's trying to get the US to rejoin the civilized world --- but on this I think perhaps that the Nobel Prize committee acted a little, well, precipitously.

Yours, thinking Arizona St. should have given the honorary degree, and the peace prize should have gone to someone else this time,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I. M. Gelfand

RIP I. M. Gelfand.

One of the great quotes in relation to mathematics and the general populace:

“Mathematics is a way of thinking in everyday life,” Dr. Gelfand said in a 2003 interview with The New York Times. “It is important not to separate mathematics from life. You can explain fractions even to heavy drinkers. If you ask them, ‘Which is larger, 2/3 or 3/5?’ it is likely they will not know. But if you ask, ‘Which is better, two bottles of vodka for three people, or three bottles of vodka for five people?’ they will answer you immediately. They will say two for three, of course."

Yours, in celebration of a life,


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Change happens. And today change happened. Specifically, I got home to discover that the children's bedroom was where LOML's and mine was, and ours was where theirs was.
And when change happens, the best thing to do is to adapt to it.

Yours, adapting nicely,

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A rare day: we'd expected that the children would have football practice (yes, that's soccer, in the non-civilized world) this evening -- there has been a regular schedule of TTh practices, and when we have "matches" that usually just replaces a practice. But this week there's only one match, on Thursday, so we assumed that there's be the regular practice.
LOML took the children down to the school at 6, while I ran to the grocery store to pick up some extra food, so that we could extend leftovers to friends. I was surprised a few minutes later to return and see LOML's car, and four children in the back garden instead of the regular two.
So we had an evening without an activity, a pleasant surprise, and a pleasant visit with people we hadn't seen much of recently: a chance to chat and catch up.

Yours, in favour of gentle, pleasant surprises,

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sing, sing a song...

Boo and Skibo have music classes at school: their music teacher seems sweet, and competent, but I have to question a few of her choices. One in particular, let's say.
This evening at dinner, both children were simultaneously singing a Hannah Montana song, interspersed, for no reason apparent to me, with the theme from
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
All the while, LOML and I were exhorting them to eat.

Yours, wondering when mealtimes get easier (and quieter) again,

Happy Birthday, Monty!

Python, that is!

You're still younger, and fresher, and more popular than me. And ever to remain so, I'm sure!

Yours, poohpoohing Australian table wines,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New bicycles

We bought the children new bicycles this afternoon: we've been talking about doing so for a while, and despite the difficulty of taking two small children into the store to look at big purchases, they were (eventually) really well behaved.

And so we got a chance to watch them cycle again. Both bikes have training wheels on (Boo can ride perfectly well without them, but is unwilling to take them off --- I'll head out with a wrench sometime when she's not around and remove them. Skibo is primed to learn to ride without them too -- especially if his big sister is willing to help teach him.

Yours, with wheels turning,

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Sometimes a word can go astray. Sometimes a bit more. LOML just called through from the bedroom -- "Are you going to the kitchen any time soon?" was the message, but what I heard was rather different.
"If you get an invitation, will you dance in the nude?"

Yours, worrying about my hearing. Or my imagination.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Decline of the american empire

I'm delighted for Rio. Good luck to them! I'd have been happy for Chicago too, even if the US did have the Olympics back in '96. I'd have been delighted for Tokyo too. Madrid? Well, if they'd won it would sort have made a mockery of not giving to the US since they were here in '96.
What is this, now? Four of the five continents will have hosted the olympics? Let's hope that someday soon we'll get the other continent (I'm sure it must be tiny and insignificant) to host too.

In light, perhaps, of the news from Texas, the loss of the Olympics is unsurprising. After all, who'd want to send a cosmopolitan event to a country which includes Texas? Let's see: no, gays can't get married. That's bad enough.
But since gays can't get married, they can't get divorced? That sounds like one of those crazy ideas dreamed up at "Liberty" "University"'s "School" of "Law": "let's not let them get married, but if they are married and come here, let's not let them get divorced: that will give them an incentive not to get married in the first place!"

Yours, just astonished by the lengths folks go to be uninclusive.

Origami in the classroom again

A new term, both children in the same school -- Boo in first grade, Skibo in 5K, and I've told both their teachers that I would like to come in and do origami with their classes. (Actually, I have told the principal that I'd be happy to go into any class, and I have talked to a handful of other teachers too, but that is another matter).
Today I made my first visit: it happened to be to Skibo's class: he's in a rather large group this year (25 students!) which made me rather unsure about just going in and teaching five year olds to fold: I was, in retrospect, absolutely right: the class is still at the stage of learning to focus (which as we all know is difficult at that age) and it would take a long time to teach that many students with groups of three or four. I'll do it, but not for a few months yet, I think.

Boo's class is next week. Her class is much smaller, and older, and I suspect that it will be much less intimidating to me!

Yours, folding on one, raising on the other, for now.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not to get snotty...

although I probably will, eventually. I'm sitting at home with a sniffle, masquerading as a child. Skibo awoke this morning to the sound of barking seals. Unfortunately, the sounds of barking seals were coming from Skibo. So we've kept him home today.
We're going to read, and colour, and maybe listen to some gentle music. And probably, after that's done, we'll end up with "Please may I have some TV?" I'll try to hold off until 9am.

Yours, sorry for the little guy,