Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Experiences II

Boo and Skibo have gone off to their first baseball game this evening: the local AAA team has a lovely stadium, and their friends decided to catch tonight's game, and asked if Boo and Skibo would like to go along.  And then they'll stay over with their friends for a sleepover.

Yours, hoping that they enjoy the game!

New Experiences

Boo and Skibo got to do something new today (well, not quite new, but they'd only done this once before, and it was a long time ago).  One of LOML's friends, Pat, has some horses, and invited us over this morning so that the children could ride them.
When called, the horses came thundering in from the field, cantering around us, finally slowing and coming in for a visit.  Almost as quickly, they cantered off again.  Pat finally walked off after them with a halter, and led one into the paddock, then led the other two into a fenced off area, and the children got a chance to try riding.
Boo was first: we lifted her up onto the horse, she grasped a hunk of mane, and Pat led her round in a circle.  She was rather nervous at first, but after five minutes or so she had relaxed and was enjoying it thoroughly.
Skibo took his turn, also a little nervous, and also soon enjoyed himself.
For a good part of an hour, they took turns, more and more comfortable.
We're really looking forward to the next time!

Yours, really grateful to Pat for this wonderful opportunity!

Friday, April 29, 2011

cogito ergo minus

I am now the happy user of an ergometer: a Concept 2 (B)  (i.e. rather old!) rowing machine: thanks to my friends in the rowing club -- who use newer machines for their exercising, and have seen fit to lend this to me on a long term basis --- I can now practice rowing on dry land for the first time in a long time! 
Now the only difficulty is going to be keeping the little ones from clambering all over it: they are absolutely fascinated with it!

Yours, hoping that this will help me to shed a little extra (of which I have a little extra)

Picnicking by the lake

Not really a picnic, and not really by the lake --- but they call it the spring departmental picnic, and the lake is only a few hundred feet downhill, so....
A very nice time this evening: the children ran off and played --- mostly well, and mostly nicely: LOML and I chatted with colleagues of mine from work who we see but rarely -- usually at this sort of event, and all in all had a nice few hours.  We hadn't been sure that we wanted to go, but we thought the kids would enjoy it: I think I can say that, happily, LOML and I both did too!

Yours, having enjoyed a gentle evening

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prior to potluck

Prior to potluck, I went to a reception for students who have won, or gained honorable mention in, national scholarship competitions: since a student of mine won a rather nice one a few weeks ago, I was invited to attend.
Unfortunately, he was not able to get here: he's off in Eastern Europe for the semester, studying harder than he would ever be made to study here.  I'm looking forward to seeing how much he's learned while away: I'm hoping for good things from him in the future!
Yours, congratulating my student,

Chilli, soup, for potluck

I made a chilli and LOML made a west african curried peanut and squash soup for potluck this evening.  Everybody raved about LOML's soup --- perhaps the biggest hit we've had all year! 
It was, though, a smaller turnout than some weeks --- friends were sick, or cut off the tip of a finger, or had to work on presentations for their daughter's school project the next day: but nonetheless, a pleasant crowd, and another lovely time was had.
Next week, we head over to E&C&M&A's house for a Cinqo de Mayo celebration!
Yours, already planning on making something appropriate,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I've been exercising, exercising a lot, recently.  Turning the corner, age-wise, inspired me to try and make sure I'm in shape to stay around a little while longer.
And as with cars and odometers, or people and ages, there are significant weights: lines one has to cross, lines which are like the equator, or the meridian.
Today, I cross such a line, for the first time in years.  I'll probably oscillate back and forth across it for the next few days -- almost certainly so! -- but if the recent past is a prologue for the near future, in a week or three my weight will be stable and below the line.

Yours, very pleased that my driver's license now overstates my weight!


When I was in high school and when I was an undergraduate, I read a lot of Robert Heinlein: I enjoyed, and perhaps still would enjoy his writing a great deal.  I also read Richard Bach: in particular Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions.  One message I took away from those books is the importance of recognising that everything that we do that we claim we are doing for whatever altruistic reason, at some deep level, we are doing for selfish reasons.  I still think that this is true: when I help people out, when I volunteer in the school, whenever something like this makes me feel good, I'm doing it because it makes me feel good.
I never got the Ayn Rand cult, though.  My take on the whole issue differs from hers and from Heinlein's in that I think that society can make decisions as a whole to help us all feel good about helping the less fortunate, rather than relying on individuals' atruism.
We can choose to make sure that everyone has health care.  We can make a similar choice to make sure that children don't go to bed hungry.  We can make the world a better place.

It's why I consider myself a progressive rather than a libertarian.  It's a choice I want our society to make: it's a good choice, and I'll argue for it!

I was inspired to think about this by the fact that people have apparently chosen to vote with their dollars to not support the new movie of Atlas Shrugged.

Yours, shrugging,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The advantage of a night class

One course is over!  Except for the exam period, that is.  My origami and math class is finished, except for next week when the students have to turn up to hand in final projects.  I've told them to wow me.  I hope that they do!

We're constructing a Menger Sponge as a class, and I hope that we'll be able to finish it next week, although I expect that it will take a good while after that to get it done.  But we've got enough units folded, and a good chunk of it put together already: enough to make me think that it may happen sooner rather than later.

Yours, having enjoyed the folding again this semester,

Monday, April 25, 2011


the waiting game.  Three weeks, nearly (more than three weeks since the request, and slightly less since the order was placed) and I am still waiting.
Yes, I'm becoming one of the Pad people.  They are like Pod people, but slightly less tied to a 1960's sci-fi/horror flick.  But to assist me in retaining my sanity, at least temporarily, Apple is helpfully taking their own sweet time in delivering said object.

Yours, thinking "tant pis: I have not time for it at the moment anyway",

ps I think that "tant pis" is a rough translation in this instance for sour grapes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boo and jump

Boo and I sat down to do a couple of pages of JUMP math today as well: I want to make sure that she and Skibo are at the same stage when we do the worksheets (even though she's nearly two years older, he's very advanced, and it will be better if they are learning together, I think).
I was slightly surprised to see how hesitant she was with the worksheet associating fractions with shaded portions of geometric figures: however, once she got over her first qualms, she proceeded apace and did well.
I am very impressed, more so every day, with this whole JUMP math project.

Yours, contemplating ordering more workbooks,

Saturday, April 23, 2011

JUMPing for joy

I decided to try out some of the first worksheet from JUMPmath: I downloaded both the teacher's guide, and the workbook.  After reading the instructions fairly carefully (since this does seem to be a program in which the instructor's role and attitude is critical), I printed out the first couple of worksheets.
Skibo had been misbehaving this morning, and as a consequence was not allowed to go along with Boo and a friend to an easter egg hunt: so he and I sat down with the worksheets, on fractions, and did some mathematics.
We started with a review of multiplication, which he's just started to do (I think on his own, but it may be in class): he did very well at that, and so we moved on to fractions.
Now, Skibo is in first grade, and I'm fairly sure that he's not doing fractions at school yet: nonetheless, he took to the worksheets like a duck to water, immediately getting the idea of what the fractions represent, pictorially representing them as segments of a circle, subtriangles within a big triangle, and other sorts of shapes.  (As an aside, I was pleased to see that the worksheets didn't just use circles, as is common here: using a variety of shapes to represent fractions really helps instill the idea).
He then went on to adding fractions with a common denominator, getting the idea really quickly. 
Not wanting to push him too quickly, we stopped after four or five worksheets.  Best of all, he loved doing it, learned it well, got all the concepts, and wants to do more.  I now need to give Boo the same worksheets so that she can catch up, and they can work them together.

Yours, thrilled by the care taken in designing this programme,

Friday, April 22, 2011

In Mississippi, everyone has access to health care

According to the Governor of Mississippi (as we say here, thank heavens for Mississippi!) everyone in the state has access to health care.  I assume that he means by that that anyone can turn up at the emergency room and get care.
I'm sure that that is true: emergency room doctors and nurses do indeed take care of people.
But having visited an emergency room a little over a year ago --- with a pain that I didn't think was anything (and the doctors quickly agreed) but was in my chest area, I know that there are issues here.
For example, I had insurance: so they were happy to treat me.  But before the doctor came out and told me the good news that I was right to think that I shouldn't be worried (which is, of course, very different from not being worried!) I was greeted by a representative of the business office, asking, "as a courtesy" whether I had a credit card with me, and would be willing to pay for the other charges.

Getting scared by a chest pain that was nothing cost us a lot of money.  Do I regret getting checked out?  Of course not!  But at the same time, it might be nice to live in a civilized country, which recognized that prevention is a lot cheaper than cure, but that multiple insurers have "tragedy of the commons" incentives against any one of them providing prevention, and so the country as a whole ends up paying for the cure.  When the cure is possible.

Yours, thinking that it's sad that we have to mourn the remainder.

A jumping off point

Maths is hated by many, reviled, and it is acceptable to say to a random stranger, "I was never any good at maths: I just don't get numbers".
So read this article.  Find out more.  And get your school to consider this approach!

Yours, inspired by this,

Exercise, the wii, and a personal trainer

I don't think that I need a personal trainer: perhaps it would help, but it has always seemed rather like an extreme luxury.  A buddy system for exercising? Perhaps: but I haven't had the exercise buddies since my days rowing as an undergraduate.
But the Wii fit?  It tracks days I miss, and days I don't: it graphs my weight, and tells me when I am -- or am not --- obese:  and it shows how many hours I've put into exercising with it: and it's ridiculous, but knowing that I've been doing this for 84 days, and have accumulated a little over 81 hours is driving me to want to do a bit over an hour each day, just to get the average up.

Yours, recognizing that this is in spite of recording no exercise for 6 days when I was in India, and hence the average is ridiculous,

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The light at the end of the tunnel

There is light at the end of the tunnel.  I can conceive of having a day, in the foreseeable future, when I don't feel that there are seventeen things going on that need handling all at once.   And it may even be only weeks, a couple of dozen days, away.  And I have to say, I am looking forward to it!

That said, every spring, as graduation approaches, I realise that I'll have students, friends, move away, and each spring, it brings a little sadness to me, although, of course, I do share the joy they are, justifiably, feeling.  Of course, the perfect remedy is to listen, once again, to Salad Days.

Yours, gently humming "if I start looking behind me, and begin retracing my tracks..."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Krugman said!

As Paul Krugman said today: patients are not consumers.
And not only that, it's wrong to see them that way.  Consumers who are trying to cut costs spend less, it is true: but often in health care that is spending that is spent less wisely.  It's better to go for a regular checkup, a relatively cheap procedure, than to get extraordinarily expensive care once a bad situation develops.  But in the US today, even those with so-called "gold plated" policies face punitive fees for check-ups, and are discouraged from making sure that they are healthy.

Yours, thinking that "What Krugman said" could be a regular blog heading,

Taxing questions

If most of our jobs come from small businesses, and the problem with taxing the rich is that most small businesses are taxed in the same grouping (leaving aside whether a business that is reporting an income for an individual in the millions is efficiently creating jobs), perhaps there is a simple solution.  Let's correct the tax code so that it distinguishes between the following: an individual making millions of dollars; an individual who, say has written a book or done something else independently, and is earning millions of dollars, but is not an employee; and finally, individuals who actually are running a small business, employing a few dozens or scores of people, and truly creating jobs.
Then we can discuss whether a reasonable tax rate on each group could help the economy, and perhaps create some more jobs.  And cut the deficit.

Yours, thinking that this is just one way things are really messed up,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Menger sponges

I'm finally getting around to getting a class to fold a Menger sponge (Wikiread about them -- they are fun): we're going to fold the level 2 sponge, since it only requires a few thousand business cards, rather than 60 thousand for the level 3.  I do know of some people who have folded the level 3 sponge, notably Jeanette Mosely, who has observed that folding a level 4 sponge from business cards would be impossible: it would weigh a ton (literally) and would collapse under its own weight.
We folded two level 1 sponges at the end of tonight's class, and will fold the remaining level 0 cubes to make the 18 level 1 sponges remaining next week.  I hope to have some photos soon!

Yours, fractally speaking, approximately,

Monday, April 18, 2011

A call for a new Robin Hood!

In the current state of affairs in this country, watching what is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and New Jersey is depressing.  But tonight, Michigan takes the cake.  Michigan's governor pressed for, and obtained, a law allowing him to essentially strip the local government of their powers, appoint a representative to take over from them, and force them to do whatever the hell he wants them to.

In the case of Benton Harbor, they were given the rights to a beautiful sandy beach a long time ago: but a corporation who makes kitchen and laundry appliances, and whose name might rhyme with curlcool, who used to employ a lot of people there, has a plan.  Seems they own a lot of land where they used to put people to work and they want to build an entertainment complex, golf course, etc, there.  That is fine.  The problem is that they also want to take the beach from the city and make it for the use of their members.

The city objected, and the previous governor pointed out that there was nothing that she needed to do --- the city government runs this, and they don't want it, so it won't happen.
But now, there is a law in place, which has been implemented in this instance, whereby the governor can declare a municipality fiscally at risk, and appoint his own representative, who has, essentially, Sheriff of Nottingham powers over the town.

I'm not calling for slings or arrows against this outrageous fortune. 
But I'd love to see a few righteous judges slap this down!

Yours, frustrated enough to snap a quarter staff,

Not quite wet-folding

I've been meaning to try wet folding (an origami technique) for a while now, and have been waiting for the right impulse: it's right round the corner, I can tell, but not quite there yet.
However, I did get to work with wet paper on Saturday for a while: we'd had a massive storm Saturday morning, and after it was over, Boo went outside to discover that she'd left a book outside.  It being a book she was very interested in, she was naturally rather upset: so I spent some time thinking about the best way to dry out the pages: the paper is quite glossy, so there was a good amount of water just sitting on each page, and the paper itself was perhaps a little less soggy than if the pages had had a more matte finish.  I took some paper towels and wiped each page dry-er, then put a sheet of paper towel between each page. 
By yesterday morning, it appeared to have been working, to an extent: the pages are separable (my biggest concern was that they would end up glued together) and now feel only slightly damp.
The spine will probably fall apart, but at least Boo can still read the book and do all the activities in it.

Yours, thinking that this one might just possibly work,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And the results were delicious...

Well, the results of yesterday's breadmaking class were delicious.  And gone in a flash, along with the bread that I made at the same time.  Of course, it didn't hurt in the slightest that there was also stuff to go with it.
We started with a chinese corn and shrimp soup: not bad, but I'd have liked a bit more thai flavour to it: some lemongrass, perhaps, and fish sauce.  Definitely a recipe to try again, though.
Next we had tapenade, red pepper hummus, sriracha allioli, smoked trout pate, smoked mackerel pate, and slices of each of the smoked fish (I used half of each pack to make pate, and had half left to use as a topping: it goes spectacularly well with the allioli. 

Yours, having felt like cooking again!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Impromptu breadmaking classes

Friends came over this evening to make bread.  Now, I don't usually have friends over to make bread at my house (I usually do that myself) but in this instance, they were welcome: they'd expressed an interest in learning how, and since I've been making the no-knead recipe, it's the sort of thing that one can teach in a matter of minutes.  And so I did. 
And then, of course, rather than kick them out and on their way, we all sat down and had a glass or two of wine, and enjoyed the evening.  Tomorrow they will bring the bread back over, and we'll bake it, and have it for dinner.

Yours, looking forward to seeing how it turns out,

Friday, April 15, 2011

Happier news

We had friends over for dinner this evening: two of Boo and Skibo's best friends, and their father: their mother was off with her parents; her father has had stem cell replacement, and today was the make or break day: would the cells show signs of grafting.
And fortunately, yes, they did, his white blood cell count is back on the rise, and things are looking positive.

Yours, very much relieved for all concerned,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Death of a great person

Sidney Harman has died.  He is most famous for his audio equipment -- I remember years ago coveting my friend's fabulous Harman Kardon receiver and amplifier.  But his contributions were far bigger, and far greater.  He provided education and training for the workers in his factory: he taught black children in Virginia in the sixties when their schools were closed to try to avoid desegregation: he gave his employees stock ownership, and progressive policies.  If only all corporate leaders would take his point of view and follow his example!

Yours, celebrating a life well led!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holey Balogna!

I've just bitten my tongue, the inside of my mouth and my lip.  I've just watched a segment, on the Daily Show, in which Jon Stewart played Bill O'Reilly saying a bunch of statements about President Obama that I agree with.  My goodness, does this mean that the end of times is indeed here?
O'Reilly pointed out a bunch of rubbish that has been claimed by the wrong-wing-media, and pointed out that it's rubbish.  Obama was indeed born in Hawaii, not Kenya, Michelle Obama does not have the largest number of aides of any first lady, etc, etc, etc.
Yours, wondering what the world has come to when O'R is sounding saner than the "mainstream" republican candidates for president,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Having travelled Air France recently

Having recently formed a poor impression of Air France's service, I was, nonetheless, horrified when I finally saw the video of their plane "clipping" a smaller jet!

Yours, seriously considering never travelling Air France again!

Blowing my own trumpet

or rather, my own trombone....
I was invited a few weeks ago to a banquet honouring a handful of the very best students at the university, those to whom we have given a free ride -- full scholarship, tuition, room, board, interesting academically relevant trip each year, books, you name it.  And each year there is a banquet.  But to my surprise when I read the invitation more carefully (yes, I know, I tell my students all the time, read things carefully --- all I can say is that I eventually did, and it was not too late!) the banquet was not in my student's honour.  Each of the ten or so students was invited to nominate one person (professor or otherwise on campus) who had had a huge impact on her or his experience here. 
And my student picked me --- which makes me very pleased!  She's done a fantastic job here, and is off to graduate school next year, and I expect great things from her in the future.

Yours, honoured, and proud, both as the honouree and of the honourer,

Monday, April 11, 2011

And I'm back

Just a day trip: a great talk by a great origamist, plus an informal folding session first.  Nice to see some former students too!

And afterwards, dinner with other friends at an Ethiopian restaurant: not a cuisine I've eaten a lot, but it was very good (and very inexpensive!) 

Yours, back to get on with the rest of the week,

In the morning

I'm off tomorrow, off to see one of my all-time favourite origami artists and scientists give a talk on the things he does!  What a thrill!

Yours, thinking how lovely it is to be able to hang out with the superstars in your field,

Sunday, April 10, 2011


We spent a lovely morning today, exploring a local park, in the "big" (rather small) city forty-five minutes from here.  There's a stunning suspension-style bridge (stunning unless, like me, one suffers from oh-my-god-I-have-to-walk-down-the-middle syndrome:-)) and waterfalls, vistas and scenery galore.
Then we took a walk downtown: Boo and I were particularly taken by the quotations in bronze embedded in the sidewalk (or as I used to call it, pavement): ranging from anonymous, to Yogi Berra to Mark Twain, a lovely selection of quotes.
We had lunch at a chain not-quite-fast-food restaurant: decent enough, quite tasty, in fact: but I'm suffering from taking this whole getting-healthier thing seriously, and decided that no, I couldn't have a burger, no, I couldn't have fries, and no, I couldn't have chicken wings.  The thai salad was not too bad, but I resented every minute while eating it the fact that it wasn't wings!

Yours, attempting to make healthier decisions, and resenting myself for it,

Smoke free

Nine years and counting.

Yours, cleaner for it,

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Trout for dinner tonight: no almonds, unfortunately, but I made something akin to a stuffing of brown rice, mushrooms, onions, garlic and lemon juice, pan-fried the trout, removed the bones, and then spooned the mixture into the fish.
Yours, happy with the result,

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wonky political stuff

At this point,  I think that I'd rather that the republicans shut the government down for the day, or perhaps the weekend, and then arrive at a compromise to open it up again.  At which point, everything should be back on the table, including all the cuts agreed to by democrats.  There's a tentative, fragile recovery going on right now, and cutting spending is almost the worst thing to do at this moment.  We'd be far, far better off getting employment numbers way up, so that tax revenues go up, than cutting stimulating spending right now.  Of course, I'm on the losing side in this argument.
After all, what do I know.
Yours, feeling that most republican elected officials know even less.


For the second time in about four weeks, I made burgers: I've discovered that if you mince very finely a small onion and half a red pepper, and saute them until the moisture is gone (and usually a bunch of garlic too, though tonight I neglected that ingredient for some reason!) and then stir it into a beaten egg, with just a little cumin and coriander, salt and pepper, and some ground beef, it makes a magnificent burger.
You can cook the burgers so that they are cooked through ---leave a little pink if you choose --- but it's not necessary: the vegetables keep them incredibly moist and juicy, even though they are not pink inside. 
And tonight's burgers were perhaps the best I've ever made!
Yours, joyfully singing my own praises,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Another cranes project

I discovered yesterday that there was another group on campus folding cranes: and in the case of this group, they're actually getting donations for every crane folded; so I diverted a good number of cranes to them instead: none of the ones that we'd strung ---- those I've already promised, but perhaps another hundred that were, as yet, uncommitted.

Yours, loving that origami can be a part of the reconstruction process,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand


Yours, not just stringing you along,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A thousand cranes

My class and I strung cranes on wool this evening: we are ready to send twenty strings of fifty cranes (that is, a thousand cranes) to Princeton for the million cranes project.  Over the next week or two, I hope that we can commit to another thousand -- we've got 150 strung already towards it, so it's not beyond the pale!

Yours, happy to help this worthy cause,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring break for children

Spring break comes but once a year.  Unfortunately, the one time it comes is different for me than for the children.  Consequently, I enjoyed my spring break a couple of weeks ago, and Boo and Skibo are off this week.  This makes it impossible to go anywhere as a family.
LOML has a class on Monday mornings, so I'm staying home until lunchtime with the little ones.  We've been exercising on the Wii (I've already managed to shed a pound or two of the extra I was showing yesterday, which is reassuring), although it's hard to call what they are doing "exercising": they are doing the island run game: they are supposed to jog on the spot, but they've discovered that if they gently shake the remote it works better.  So that's the way they insist on playing it, much to LOML and my amusement.

Yours, wishing the schedules could be better aligned, but knowing that wishing won't make it so,

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Exercise and diet

 A lesson in exercise and diet today: for various reasons, I didn't exercise on the wii as much early in the day (read: at all) as I had intended: this is okay, since I was able to do a fair bit late in the evening.
However, for other reasons, I ate rather less healthily than sometimes too, and as is often the case, the reason for the unhealthiness also makes it the sort of food that I want to eat more of.  And I did.
Somehow, according to the wii fit boards weight measurement, I put on about six pounds during the course of the day.  Now, I intend to make them vanish as soon as possible, and some of them may have been fluid retention.  Nonetheless, I didn't think that I had actually taken in that much weight in food and drink!

Yours, thinking that it is nice that even when I do something like that I'm still well under my previous weight,

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A bunch of cranes

In support of the Million Cranes project, I taught a bunch of girl scouts, from daisies to juniors, to fold origami cranes today.
This was a bit of a challenge: daisies are in kindergarten or first grade, and I've never faced teaching cranes to anything lower than second grade before.  But I precreased a bunch of paper for them, so that they could focus on folding and creasing, and not finding the right place to fold, and thanks to a lot of enthusiastic (if inexperienced) volunteers helping me, they did a fantastic job!

A decade or so ago, I asked a colleague, an expert at origami, for any suggestions as to how to teach origami cranes to second graders: the response was "Wow!  You're ambitious, aren't you?"  Nonetheless, I think that it can be done quite successfully, and the fact that even the littlest ones were able to contribute cranes today means a lot to me!

Yours, proud of all my junior folders,

Note to self #2

When leaving girl scout camp to return home, don't leave pillow on the bunk.  Even if the camp is only an hour from home.

Yours, even more stupid.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Note to self

When going girlscout camping with Boo and LOML (Skibo staying with a friend for the night rather than being the only boy there), if you are going to forget the suitcase, do so when the camp is only an hour's drive from home.
That way, as today, you and LOML can drive back pick it up.

Yours, feeling really stupid,