Monday, November 30, 2009

The problem with winter

The problem with winter is wearing sweaters to church.

--Not that I don't like my sweaters. They just apparently aren't compatible with certain church-related activities.

The problem with wearing sweaters to church is falling asleep in church.

--Not that there's anything wrong with falling asleep in church. If you rest your face gently against your wrists you appear to be contemplating the universe.

No, the problem with wearing sweaters and falling asleep in church is the cable-knit-shaped red marks all over your cheeks by the time everything is over.

--Not that I would personally know, or anything....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wierd local customs

We live about a 20 minute walk away from a stadium.

A stadium, for those who don't know, is a large outdoor building which accommodates up to tens of thousands of people at a time, allowing them all to sit or stand or yell simultaneously in the cold and in the dark.

Far below, a group of people huddle around water coolers and benches on fake grass. Occasionally one or more of them makes a run for it across a small field, but that is somewhat rare, and such behavior is usually stopped quickly.

This afternoon, Jonathan and I watched from the playground on the corner as some of those tens of thousands of people parked their cars nearby in order to complete their pilgrimage to the stadium. About 80% of the people were dressed in uniforms of navy, and another 10% in red, and the rest in gray or black coats and some hats.

The day was warm -- possibly 8 degrees Celsius. Most of the people had blankets. Most were smiling.

But nearly five hours later, they have not yet emerged from the stadium. The temperature has dropped to 0. Far below, the little men will break up and run occasionally, but honestly really spend most of their time huddled in packs.

Days like this, I am thankful that I am not a follower of American college football.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

For the benefit of humanity

I feel it is important, occasionally, to write Serious Posts. A post that is Important and can change the world for the better and benefit humanity.

So here goes. Something Serious. Important. That will change the world and benefit humanity.

The cosine is an even function. That is, cos(-x) = cos(x). The sine, however, is an odd function. So sin(-x) = -sin(x). If you can remember this, and remember that
sin(a+b) = sin(a)cos(b)+cos(a)sin(b),
cos(a+b) = cos(a)cos(b)-sin(a)sin(b),
and finally that
sin2(a) + cos2(a) = 1,
then you will be able to figure out any trig identity they throw at you. It's true. Throw any trig identity at me. Double angle formula? Well sin(2a) is just sin(a+a), and I know that! Half angle formula? cos(a) = cos(a/2+a/2) = cos2(a/2) - sin2(a/2) = 2cos2(a/2) -1. Solve for cos(a/2). Ha!

You see? Five little identities and you are totally trig proof. I love it. I told you this post would benefit humanity.

For those of you still reading, I wanted to share one of my favorite stories. This is a true story, reported by my high school math teacher. When he was a young college student, he took a math exam and failed to fully simplify one of his answers. Instead of writing the correct answer, 1/2, he left the answer as cos(pi/3). His professor docked him points for this.

My teacher was annoyed. He had done all the hard work, just hadn't simplified at the end. He complained.

"You didn't simplify," said the professor.

"Why do I need to simplify?" replied the young man who would be my teacher. "Everybody knows that cos(pi/3) is 1/2."

The professor called him on it. "Ok," he said. "Let's go outside and you choose any person off the street. If they know what cos(pi/3) is, then I will give you full credit on this problem."

They went outside. My teacher reported that he picked the smartest looking person he could find, but alas. Apparently not everyone knew that cos(pi/3) was 1/2 after all. He did not get his points back on the exam.

That is the end of the story.

But I sometimes wonder who the smart looking person would have been. And what it would be like to be approached by two people and asked the cosine of pi/3. And if I'll ever get the chance to use this with one of my students. I would like that.

Thanks to this public service trig announcement, you are now prepared to help a poor student get exam points back.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting the chores done

I have invented a fool proof way to get all the chores done at home.

A few weeks ago, I looked around and noticed that my house needed cleaning. But that unfortunately, I didn't have a free weekend in which to clean it. So I stumbled upon something I hadn't tried since Texas: cleaning during the regular week. That's right, folks. The regular week.

The problem of cleaning during the regular week is where to start? And once you've started, how to keep going until it's all done? Friends, this is my handy dandy new system comes in. Rather than take on all jobs at once, my grand idea is to break the house cleaning into little pieces. One room one day, another room another. And to remind yourself of where you have been, you remember just one little word for each day of the week.

Here is how it goes:

Monday: mop day. Notice how "mop" and "Monday" share the first two letters. See? Totally unforgettable. Monday you wake up, look at the calendar, and remember it's time to mop the floors. But of course, you can't actually mop the floors unless you've swept them. And we don't really sweep here, we vacuum. So Monday becomes vacuuming day. Isn't that great? All the floors vacuumed Monday because we remember we're supposed to mop.

Tuesday: Toilet day. Because Tuesday shares the same first letter as toilet. I used to change towels on Tuesday, waiting to clean the bathrooms on a day that started with a B. Unfortunately, the bathrooms really started to stink, so I had to come up with something new. So there you go. On Tuesday, we clean the toilets. And while we're at it, the Tub and the Tshower and the Tcounter tops in the Tbathroom. Tuesday.

Wednesday: Wash day. As in laundry. Or you could wash something else while you are at it, if you feel so inclined. But for me, laundry is a nice chore to do on Wednesday. And the bonus is, you get to wear clean undies again on Thursday.

Thursday: THe kitchen day. OK, I need some help here. I could use a better Th word that means Kitchen. Anyway, right now I remember the kitchen needs cleaning on Thursday because none of the other days of the week start with K either, and there is something growing in the sink.

Friday: Front room. We tend to let things clutter in the living room, but living room doesn't start with an F like Front room does. So Friday is a good day for cleaning out that F-ing clutter, where here F is for Front room. Friday.

Saturday: Shopping day. As in groceries. Because if we don't do the shopping we get cranky eating ketchup and applesauce and whatever else we find in the pantry. I suppose I could sweep on Saturday, but why? When I mop on Monday?

Sunday: Sabbath. Dude, you get a day of rest built in.

It's brilliant, isn't it? I'm going to patent it and sell it off to the world!

Meanwhile, you probably want to know how this great idea works in practice.

The first week I tried it, I didn't get so much family time, because I spent an hour after work cleaning floors and bathrooms and otherwise playing Cinderella.

The second week I tried it, Tim was away, and there really wasn't any time to play Cinderella. We just kept on top of the dishes and called it good.

The third week I tried it, I was away. It worked really well. I sat in my hotel room thinking, Thursday. Kitchen. Gee, what a pity there's no kitchen here. I think I'll eat another chocolate.

The fourth week I tried it, by the end of the week the house was nearly spotless. Truly. Because the end of the week was Saturday, and we spent a couple of hours that day vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, washing laundry, wiping up the kitchen, and de-cluttering the F Front room. All on Saturday.

So maybe this daily cleaning strategy doesn't actually work in real life. I bet I could still write up a book and sell it, eh? At least if I could figure out how to spell Kitchen with the Th.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A resolution

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. Just a couple weeks after that, we're buried in finals. And then there are exactly two short weeks before classes start all over again.

Resolved. I will actually take a break this year. No working. No writing. No teaching prep. No pulling together files for my upcoming review. All that stuff is going to be done and I am going to go on vacation. My first time off since July.

Just a few short weeks....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who is this woman?

Just read an article about photos posted online:

Participants in the study, looking just at Facebook or webpage photos, were able to accurately describe nine of ten personality traits of the person being viewed.

I like that idea. Let's try it at home.

Looking at the following two photos, I would like you to please rate the two women in terms of these ten personality traits:

extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness (open to experience), likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.

Woman number 1:

Woman number 2:

Based on the pictures alone, woman #1 is moderately extroverted, agreeable, perhaps not highly conscientious, and has low emotional stability. However, she is quite open, moderately likable, has high self-esteem, never lonely. She is obviously strictly religious and a Republican.

Woman #2 is an introvert, albeit an agreeable one. She is very conscientious, but probably suffers from depression, so scores low on emotional stability. She is not very open, moderately likable, has moderate self-esteem, is definitely lonely, pious, and a Republican.

Both women unfortunately also appear to suffer from gastrointestinal ailments. Pity, that.

Ha ha ha. I make myself laugh.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Important university buildings

I spent the last week in the East. Not the Far East. I would actually fly West to reach that. How bizarre is that? No, I was just somewhere in the Eastern United States. Much more boring.

Anyway, it was a whirlwind tour for work, involving three universities in three different cities in three different states in four days. Plus a couple of long travel days sandwiching everything in the middle. Because I was working so much, I traveled quietly, and kept a low profile. I wore sunglasses and a hat in my attempt to go incognito, and to throw off the paparazzi and all that. It seemed to have worked. But I do apologize to all my wild and crazy fans in those three cities that I did not stop by for a book signing tour or anything. The real problem is that I haven't yet written any book.

What I really saw was the inside of university buildings, plus a bit of the commuter scene, like the Amtrak and some New Jersey turnpike. But mostly university buildings.

Anyway, I have nailed down the major differences between the three Important universities at which I spent time.

Temple University, in Philadelphia, has the best ladies bathrooms. On the other hand, they are locked. You have to ask the secretary for a key. And each floor has a different key. So if you are discussing a grant proposal on the fourth floor, say, but then run up to the sixth floor to give a talk, you need to swing by the secretaries' offices to pick up a new key during the five minute break before the second talk starts. That's pretty annoying.

According to the woman visiting from Bryn Mawr, U Penn doesn't lock their ladies' rooms, but they have alarms all over their bathrooms "just in case". Makes you think twice about exactly what might happen in a public restroom in central Philadelphia, I guess? Anyway, I cannot comment on the quality of U Penn's bathrooms, as I did not take the time to visit.

But central city Philadelphia is nice this time of year. I got to spend extra time walking as well, taking in the sites, as the public transit workers went on strike in my honor the first morning I arrived.

Second stop was Columbia University, New York. I took the speedy train up there, because I could, and it matched my sleep schedule the best, noting in advance that it would be a 40 minute walk to the train station thanks to the striking subway workers of Philadelphia. (I really must make sure to give them credit for a lovely trip.) The speedy train is the train of choice of the people in fancy suits. Serious business people. I felt somewhat under dressed, until I reminded myself that I, too, was on the train for business. My employer just happens to subscribe to a model of more comfortable business attire. So I happily pulled out my laptop and wrote up a draft of the paper discussed by my Temple colleague and I, and fit right in with the other laptops.

Columbia had the worst ladies rooms. But at least they were unlocked, freely available to a visitor like me. The campus, however, is fenced in and guarded and locked, even more so after dark. We stayed past dark, and had to backtrack to a major entrance to escape the campus. Then we headed into Harlem for dinner. I write all this to scare my mother in law. Harlem isn't really that scary anymore, though it was chilly. Plus, we weren't really out past 9pm.

Princeton University, which is conveniently located halfway between Temple and Columbia, has the most trees by far. Their ladies room seemed to be clean, once I finally found it. The sixth floor only had a mens' room. So I tried the fifth floor, and could only find a closet where the ladies room should have been. So then I tried the seventh floor and met with success. Such struggles help define you as a person, and help you appreciate the unlocked public bathrooms liberally sprinkled throughout your university building at home. At least for me.

All in all, productive visit. Grant proposal finished, two papers drafted, and all this without unduly stressing my bladder. Plus, when driving back to Philadelphia from Princeton, my colleague took me past Independence Hall and the Liberty bell. As we zoomed through a stoplight, he told me to crane my head backward at the right angle, and I might get a glimpse of the bell itself through the closed glass doors late at night. That counts as tourism.

Next time, I need to remember to crane my head for a sight of the Statue of Liberty.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Tim pointed out an error in my previous post. The tub decal offer actually expired in 1970. Thus the apocalypse toilet paper is actually nearly a decade older than advertised. I apologize for any inconvenience this error may have cause.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Apocalyptic toilet paper

18 months ago, we moved into a house that had been lived in and loved by an elderly couple for nearly 40 years. After 40 years in a house, it seems understandable that it would be hard to move. Not just psychologically hard. Think of all the crap you gather in just one or two years. Now try 40. The former owners had so many cabinets and corners and closets to store their crap in, that they did not find it all. A year after having purchased the house, the former owner came to visit and Tim offered him boxes of photos (he took), fabric (declined), toys from the 1970s (declined), and several packages of toilet paper. Declined.

The former owners of this house left two huge cabinets stocked completely full of toilet paper. The upstairs cabinet was full of regular toilet paper. You know, the kind you can buy at the store that is snuggly soft and yet strong....

The downstairs cabinet, however, was full of package upon package of colored toilet paper. The two colored options are avocado green and mustard yellow. A little while ago, Tim opened one of said packages and put the toilet paper into one of our bathrooms. The stuff was brittle, scratchy, irritating, and definitely no longer matches the decor in that room.

And yet, when it ran out, he put up another avocado roll! Why? I asked. Because we have it. We might as well use it up. This from Tim?

Opening the package, he laughed when he pointed out that we could have mailed in a coupon for free bath tub decals -- if we had acted before 1977.

That's right. Our toilet paper is over 30 years old.

This is where I put my foot down.

We are perfectly capable of shelling out a buck or two per roll of quality, modern, soft, sturdy, quilted, dye-free toilet paper rather than subjecting our tender bottoms to the stuff of the 1970s.

We can keep the other stuff in a hidden cabinet down in the basement, just like the previous owners did. Meanwhile, we will go to Sam's Club like everyone else to buy our toilet paper.

However, in the event of the Apocalypse, assuming that my college community is not among the first to be burned by fire, I'm sure that all the toilet paper will be rapidly purchased from the Sam's Club shelves. And, since it is the Apocalypse, they will be unable to stock more for our consuming pleasure.

If this happens, and we have used up all our snuggly soft stuff, then we may break into the 1970s toilet paper again. But not under any event less dire than the actual Apocalypse.

Dear Reader, in the event of the Apocalypse, if you find yourself low on toilet paper, you are most welcome to help yourself to some of ours.