Sunday, October 19, 2014

Amateur Genealogy

Genealogy becomes possible for everyone, these days.  All sorts of web tools, together with massive amounts of data, and millions of ordinary people sifting through it, together with the ability to automatically merge their findings, and things can happen.
Mathematically I am not surprised by this: suitable models of random graphs predict this.  Nonetheless I was quite surprised this morning to see that a few extra ancestors had been added to one root of my tree: and following back, I found it went back, and back, and back.....
It is said (with quite a lot of justification) that all people of European descent have a line back to Charlemagne: I didn't find that --- but I did find that the line went back through various people in France, back through Italy, with one branch purporting to start in 80AD.  Not sure how much credence to give to the data --- and it means nothing about who I am as a person, but it fun to pursue it back:-)

Your, in line,

Friday, May 2, 2014

And we're off....

Or will be in a few hours.  Skibo and I leave after the school day is over, spending two days at camp.
Wish me luck --- it's my first time chaperoning!

Yours, in tow,

Banding together

Last night we got to attend Boo's second band performance.  She's been learning the clarinet since last Autumn, and the progress that she (and the other hundred or so students from the four elementary schools in our district) have made since the Christmas concert is incredible!  At Christmas they were essentially playing in unison, with very few chords: today they were playing pieces in which there were more complex harmonies, and pieces with complicated stops and starts.  Mostly the tempo was still all in unison: but still, incredible progress!
We're looking forward to next year when she and Skibo will both be in band together, although we don't yet know what he's going to play.

Yours, immensely grateful for the incredible teachers giving Boo this amazing opportunity!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Huge loss to the acting world

I was very saddened yesterday to learn of the loss of one of the all-time great actors of the small and silver screen:  Bob Hoskins was so good in so many things that all over social media friends were posting their favourite movie or show or scene, and there were countless different things being chosen: Roger Rabbit, Mona Lisa, The Long Good Friday, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Mermaids, to name but a few.
Personally, I remember him best for one of his earlier stunning TV appearances, in Pennies From Heaven in 1978.  According to Wikipedia's page for the show, it was his breakout role: and even now, 36 years later, I can still recall how good he was in it.

Yours, raising a glass to his memory,

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Weather or not

For the past three days the weather channel has been forecasting that we'll get massive storms coming our way.  I'm beginning to suspect their forecasts: this year has been particularly full of dire warnings (a couple of months ago they threatened 8-10 inches of snow, and we got a dusting) which have failed to come to pass.

I don't mind the fact that we haven't had the side effects of the storm system: the tornadoes have been bad in other states, and I definitely don't miss having them here.

I understand the difficulties of weather forecasting, the inherent instability of the systems they need to predict.  But surely a forecast of "100% chance of rain" three days running should come through at least once?  Perhaps the percentages could be downgraded to 90% instead?  After all, a three day dry spell would only be a one in a thousand longshot!

Yours, probably bemused,

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I'm sure that that is what will be going through my linear algebra students' heads in a couple of hours time: I've just handed out their final exams, and they have two and a half hours to convince me that they've learned all they need to know this semester.
And it really would make me really very happy to give them all A's: all they have to do is earn it!

Yours, pulling for them (but not hopeful...)

Monday, April 28, 2014

A wonderful recipe site

Recently I happened across the vegan blog Oh She Glows, in particular to her recipe for "Rad Rainbow Raw Pad Thai" (which, containing no noodles is not in fact a pad thai, but I was intrigued, greatly intrigued by the recipe, and decided to try it.  It was sufficiently good that I immediately ordered her cookbook, now a month or so old.  We've tried a few recipes from it --- and in spite of the fact that we are not vegan, nor vegetarian, and sometimes we struggle to eat enough vegetables to classify as omnivores, we've been very impressed with her book so far.
She has a great sense of which flavors will mingle well, which will heighten the sensation of the dish, and she's a brilliant self-taught food photographer!

Hoping to be inspired to be more omnivarious,

Sunday, April 27, 2014

That time of year again

I love my job.  Most of the time.  Almost all of the time.  After all, I was just informed a week or two back that it was the two best jobs in the world combined: mathematician and tenured full professor!
But there are times, and this is one of them, when it comes back to bite me: I hate, despise, deplore, indeed, abhor setting tests.  I hate it worse, far worse than actually grading them!  This is, of course, ridiculous.  But it's true.

Yours, feeling testy,

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Losing a weekend

Fortunately, I'm about to have a few weeks of "weekends every day", so I won't regret losing next weekend too badly.  Skibo's grade at the elementary school were informed this week that they were eligible to attend a 2 day camp on forensic science next weekend.  It runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon --- and two of the three teachers for the grade apparently begged for me to come along as a chaperone.  Fortunately I've gone through the training, and am eligible to help out.  It's meant finding a substitute teacher for my tai chi class on Saturday (which I hope will work out fine), and I'll miss out on potluck on Friday --- but I'll get to participate in Skibo's education, and hopefully a good time will be had by all!

Yours, looking forward to losing a weekend,

Friday, April 25, 2014

And the semester is officially over!

Or not.  Actually, it's lectures that are officially over: my last class given until late June.  Exams next week, of course, and then graduation the following week, so it's not like I'll be at a loss for things to do!

But this has been a long semester, and I'm happy to close it out successfully!

Yours, at the end of a marathon,

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Celebrating students!

This evening was our annual event to celebrate the best of our students: the ones who have applied for national scholarships, fellowships and awards, and have either won them or have been awarded honorable mentions or finalist status: we had, for example, one student this year who was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, an incredibly prestigious award.  We had students who had won NSF graduate fellowships, Goldwater Scholars, and many other awards.
It's always a lovely event, and this year, with the President's mansion under renovation, it was held in the beautiful hall outside our theater: a delightful crowd of students, their parents and their professors and mentors.  One of the highlights of my year, even though none of my students were amongst the celebrated students this year.

Yours, in celebration,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

End of semester

As we approach the end of the semester, it becomes time to give exams: first, in class, and then finals.  It's one of the duties of a professor that I like the least.  I don't mind testing what the students have learned, it's the format of it that I hate.
I recall  in my days as an undergraduate that one of my professors offered the class a choice: did we want the final exam to be open book or closed book?  He went on to point out that he could make the final much more "interesting" if we went with the open notes option --- subtly hint (or perhaps not so subtly hinting) that we might not want to choose that option.  We went for the closed book.
These days, I always allow my students to bring in a 3x5 index card: I tell them they may write on one side of it, and it should be legible.  Apart from that, it can have anything they want written on it.  This has a pedagogical purpose: the act of creating the notecard should tell them what they know, and what they need to know better, and in discovering that, they can focus their studying more effectively.  And sometimes, it works.

Yours, feeling testy,

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Black belt club

Skibo has recently been promoted to brown belt in his martial arts: which means that he is soon to begin testing for black belt status: this takes a couple of years in this system, and has to be paid for in advance.  And it's not cheap --- hundreds of dollars (not so bad over two years, but a hunk of change to cough up in advance).
And while he is very keen on it, and I don't think that he will choose to drop out, but it is non-refundable too!

Yours, preparing to cough it up,

Monday, April 21, 2014

And this time

This time? Only three months....

Yours, neglectfully speaking,

Boo, playwright

Over spring break, Boo decided she would write a play.  Here is the result.

Yours, proud of her!

The Wizard, The Elf, and The Princess
Starring: Boo as everyone.
Narr: Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a beautiful princess named Annabella, who lived in a giant castle. Her father was very strict and would never let her leave the castle. The princess was angered about this, so I will let her story begin here.
Anna: Daddy, why can't I leave the castle? I'm almost 12 already.
Dad: (smiling) Goodness, are you really almost 12? It seems like yesterday you were only starting to walk.
Anna: (laughing) Yes daddy, I'm almost 12, but stop changing the subject. Why can't I go out of the castle?
Dad: Pumpkin, I let you go out of the castle all the time.
Anna: You do daddy, but that's only into the garden. I want to go out and explore the kingdom.
Dad: That's enough of that. We might talk about it later, but now go get ready for school.
Anna: Yes daddy. I love you.
Dad: I love you too, pumpkin. Now I must go to the market. We need food for your big birthday dinner.
(Dad & Anna leave & scene changes)
Scene 2
Teacher: Annabella?
Anna: Present.
Teacher: Good, now everyone get out your homework and please turn it in.
Anna: Here you go, Mr. Blakely.
Mr. B: Thank you. Now, get out your book and read the next chapter.
Anna: (reads quickly) Done.
Mr. B: Good. You may get out your lunch, now.
(Anna get's out her lunch & starts eating)
Mr. B: Good job today, Annabella. You are dismissed.
Scene 3
Narr: As Annabella walked out into the garden, something strange caught her eye.
Anna: Um, excuse me, but who are you and why are you in the CASTLE'S garden?
Elf: Oh. Um. I'm Rosetta Stone. I am an elf. I live in the forest, just outside of the kingdom. I assume that you are Princess Annabella. It is a pleasure to meet you.
Anna: You are correct. I am Princess Annabella, and it is a pleasure to meet you too. But, I must ask again, what are you doing here?
Rose: Oh. Forgive me, Your Majesty, but I, um, I was just, um, going for a walk, & I saw this beautiful garden,& I just love beautiful gardens, & I headed toward it & poof, I'm lost!
Anna: Oh my gosh! I'm sorry! I didn't realize that you were lost. I thought you were in here to steal our gold and jewels. I'll help you get home. But first, come inside, and stay for the night.
Narr: And so, the princess took the elf inside and gave her the guest room, for the night. While the elf was sleeping, the princess was figuring out how to get out of the castle without her father noticing.
Scene 4
Narr: It was finally Annabella's birthday, & she was so excited. Then, she remembered about Rosetta & she started worrying about how she would explain it to her father.
Anna: (pacing) Oh no! This is bad! This is really, really bad! Daddy's going to be furious! Oh, I'm in trouble now. And the worst part is that I haven't figured out a way to get Rosetta back to her home. (sits on bed & cries)
Rose: (walks in) Um, Your Majesty, is this a bad time to ask when we will be leaving for my home?
Anna: (surprised) Oh, Rosetta! I didn't hear you come in. And please, call me Annabella.
Rose: Okay. Annabella, is this a bad time to ask when we will be leaving for my home?
Anna: Well, I'm not sure of the exact time that we'll be leaving, but I can assure you that it will be sometime today. I just have a kind of busy schedule today, since it's my birthday.
Rose: Oh, happy birthday! If it's too much trouble to go today, we can always go tomorrow.
Anna: NO! I, I, I mean, um, don't you want to go back to your home?
Rose: (startled) I, I do.
Anna: I'm so sorry for shouting. I don't know what came over me. It's fine that we go today.
Rose: You're very kind. Thank you for doing this for me.
Anna: You're welcome. I'm just glad to have a friend. Now, follow me. I think it's time that you met the king.
Scene 5
Anna: Stay here. Daddy, um, I have a surprise for you.
Dad: I have a surprise for you too.
Anna: I bet mine's bigger.
Dad: No, I bet mine's bigger.
Anna: (mutters) I seriously doubt it. Daddy, here's my surprise. Rosetta, come on out.
(Rose comes out)
Dad: (jumps back in surprise) Annabella Scrollsworth! What is that and what is it doing in my castle!
Anna: Not a what, a who. Daddy, this is Rosetta Stone, an elf. I found her wondering around our garden, yesterday, and she says she is lost. I need to take her home.
Dad: Well, why didn't you take it home.
Anna: Daddy, it's a girl, and you told me to stay in the castle. Please, let me take her home.
Dad: (sighs) Where does she live?
Anna: She lives in the forest, outside of the village, so it will be a perfect chance for me to see the WHOLE KINGDOM! Please may I take her?
Dad: No! That is way too far! Ugh, shall I take her?
Anna: No, daddy! I want to take her. Come on! Please! It's my birthday!
Dad: If I get one of the knights to be your guide, then I will let you go.
Anna: Of course! Can we leave today?
Dad: Okay. As long as you are back before dinner.
Anna: Perfect! So, what was your surprise for me?
Dad: Well, you shall see tonight.
Anna: Thank you so much, daddy. I promise to be back before dinner.
Scene 6
(Anna, Rose, and knight are riding on horses through forest)
Anna: So, how much farther? We've been riding for a long time.
Rose: Not much farther, now. We're very close to my home.
Anna: Good. We don't have much longer till I have to be home.
Rose: So, do you know what the knight's name is? He doesn't seem very talkative.
Knight: My name is Vance Everheart. It is my duty, not to talk, but to protect.
Anna: Wow. What a lovely name.
Rose: Indeed. So, Vance, have you ever traveled through the forest before?
Vance: Well, once. My brothers, sisters, and I were very young, we were playing at the edge of town, my youngest sister ran into the forest, we all followed her, for it was our duty to protect her, and suddenly, we all were lost. We never saw her again. Her name was Annabella.
Anna: That's my name! Will you tell us more about her?
Vance: If that is what you wish, then yes indeed, I shall. She was small for her age. She had lovely, long, brown hair, and beautiful, eyes. She had a twin. In fact, she was very much like you, Miss Annabella. Of course, our father was never the king.
Anna: Oh, the king adopted me. I don't know who my birth parents were. But I never had a twin. The king told me that he had found me... in the forest.
Rose: I hate to inturrupt, but it seems like you're Vance's lost sister, Annabella.
Vance: That's crazy. My sister was lost in the forest.
Rose: Think about it. Both of them have brown hair, blue eyes, OH LOOK! HERE'S MY HOME! Bye! Remember, think about it!
(Rose exits stage)
Vance: You know, she may have a point. You both have brown hair, blue eyes...
Rose: Oh no! It's getting darker! Daddy's going to be so mad at me! We have to get going or I'll be in trouble!
Vance: Well then get on your horse, and we'll ride as fast as we can, back to the castle in time.
Rose: Then let's go!
(ride for few seconds)
Vance: You even ride like my sister.
Anna: Listen, I'll talk to my dad about it later.
(arrive back at castle)
Dad: Where is she?! She is supposed to be back be now!
(Rose walks in)
Rose: Is it time yet, Your Majesty?
Dad: Rosetta! You're here already?! No, they haven't arrived yet.
Rose: I think I hear their horses' footsteps!
Dad: Quick, hide!
(Anna & Vance walk in)
Anna: Daddy, I'm so sorry I'm late! I lost track of the time! I'll never leave the castle again! I bet you were probably worried sick about me!
Dad: Oh pumpkin, I'm just glad that you're home! Besides, I've got a surprise for you!
Anna: Oh daddy, what is it?!
Dad: Come on out, Rosetta!
Rose & Dad: (singing) "Happy Birthday"
Anna: Oh. My. Gosh. Daddy, you've outdone yourself!
Dad: Do you love it, pumpkin?
Anna: I do, I really love it! But, I something to say.
Dad: Go ahead, pumpkin.
Anna: Okay, here it is. I think I found a bit about where I'm from, and about my past family.
Dad: What are you talking about, Annabella? I told you we would talk about this later.
Anna: But daddy, just listen...
Dad: No! I said this conversation is over!
Anna: But listen, I think I might have found my brother.
Dad: What on earth are you talking about, pumpkin?
Anna: Vance, come on out.
Dad: What are you talking about? Vance is a castle guard.
Rose: Well, Your Highness, when we were on the way back to my house, Vance told us a bit about his past.
Anna: So, you see, he told us about his little sister, who got lost in THE FOREST.
Dad: So, you think that she is you? That's completely absurd.
Anna: No, it's not. You see, we both look exactly the same, and rode just like each other. Come on daddy, you know that this is true.
Dad: Fine. You're right. It is true. When I found you in the forest and nobody was around, I decided to keep you as my daughter. When posters started popping up over town, I couldn't let anyone find you, so I had to keep you in the castle. I just couldn't bear to let anyone take you away from me.
Anna: So, this means that Vance is the prince?
Dad: Yes, I does. It also means that he is welcome to stay in the castle.
Anna: So, what do you say Vance? Would you like to stay with us in the castle?
Vance: Hmmm... I would love to.
Everyone: Yay!
Anna: Wait, Rosetta, why are you cheering?
Rose: I just love happy endings!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger

Very sad news about the passing of Pete Seeger.  I've loved his music, and that of his half sister Peggy, for decades now.  Socially conscious, their lyrics remind us that we make choices every day, we can fight bigger authority and occasionally win, and basically, we can make a difference.

Yours, pledging to try to make some small differences,

Four months?

How did I let it be four months between posts?

Neglectfully yours,