Monday, February 25, 2013

Two Talks and the Parable of Minecraft

In Primary this month, the theme has been “The Earth was created for Heavenly Father’s children.” That’s why we’ve been singing the same song, over and over, about the beautiful world we live in. (It’s a good song. I like it. But it does get a little boring after forty or fifty iterations.)

For the first week in February, Daniel was asked to give a talk about the theme. I had him write his own as a homeschool composition assignment. I made a few tactful suggestions, which he pointedly ignored. I sighed but let him do it his own way: after all, if I want him to do all the work, I need to back off and let him own the process and the product.

He wrote it, but I typed it up for him. Here is a copy of the printout he took to Primary:

Daniel’s talk
[Daniel began reading at this point:]
The Earth was Created for Heavenly Father’s Children
     Heavenly Father made the Earth so that we could be born into families, make mistakes and learn from them, and be mortal.
     Think about this: if you were immortal, if you touched a hot stove, you wouldn’t get burned. But if you were mortal, you would get hurt so you would learn not to touch a stove when it is hot. There are things you can learn from having a body that you couldn’t learn if you were just a spirit. Having a physical body teaches us about rules and consequences and practicing how to make good choices.
     On the Earth, there are plants, animals, and buildings. There are plenty of things we can enjoy—like the Internet. Here on the Earth, we humans have invented lots of amazing things. This ability to create new things makes us similar to God.
     I’m grateful that Heavenly Father created this world for me, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Daniel quit reading at this point, ignoring my note below.]

--Mom is STILL sad that Daniel declined to include a paragraph about how she made a “playground” for Sam in Minecraft where he could practice navigating the game.

You can see that Daniel wrote a fine talk. Very serviceable.

Last Saturday, though, I saw a facebook post about how the Primary needed an emergency talk-giver for the next day. I pounced.

“Eric,” I said. “If I write a talk, would you be willing to read it in sharing time tomorrow?”
Eric shrugged. “Sure,” he said.

Joy! Here was a serendipitous, miraculous chance to write the talk I had wanted Daniel to give. And I could write it all by myself in clear conscience. (If it has been a regular week-in-advance assignment, I would have made Eric do it. But in an emergency, well…)

Naturally I procrastinated and was still frantically scribbling as senior primary filed into the room. (I handed off prelude to the poor chorister—sorry Courtney.) I scribbled so hard, for a moment I wondered if I would have matching hand injuries: my left, from playing too much Minecraft, and my right, from writing too much about it.

I got the script to Eric with perhaps sixty seconds to spare. He didn’t even get to read through it completely before he was called upon to speak. He did great, especially when he stumbled over a word but then recovered nicely. (I had crossed something out and revised it below the line. Visually confusing. My fault. Sorry, Eric. Good job staying calm.)

Here is the text of the talk:

The Earth was Created for Heavenly Father’s Children

     For Christmas, my dad gave me a computer game called Minecraft. In this game, I can create a fake but fun world and build things in it. My whole family tried the game and enjoyed it. Daniel even said that survival mode was like a telestial world, peaceful mode was terrestrial, and creative mode was celestial.
     My little brother, Sammy, is only two years old, but he wanted to play as well. My mom created a special “playground” for him where he could do simple things. She built a house, placed farm animals around, made the ground mostly but not completely flat, and constructed a fence around the whole thing.
     Mom decided that Sam should play in survival mode. She said he would learn more that way, but I suspect she also wanted to limit how much damage he could do.
     She created this farm as a mostly safe place for Sam to practice playing the game.
     At first, Sam had trouble moving forward and backward. After some experimenting, he got good enough to control his character and move around.
     Once he could maneuver, all he wanted to do was kill sheep. He ran around this virtual world and attacked anything that moved, shouting “ha!” [Eric delivered this line with great flair. I was proud of him.] Sometimes he attacked things that didn’t move, too.
     Mom told him several times not to knock down the fence, but he did anyway. Then he complained that all the chickens had escaped. Mom reminded him this was a natural consequence of his choice.
     As Sam gets better at controlling himself, he will learn to do more. Eventually he will be ready to leave his fenced “farm” and create his own buildings or even his own Minecraft world.
     Heavenly Father created this world for us. It is real instead of a game, but some things are the same.
     We come here to learn how to control our bodies and practice making good choices. We also can create new things by building lego models, or drawing pictures, or composing a new song.
     This entire world is a great blessing from Heavenly Father where we can learn important things.
     I am grateful for the Earth and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

If this had been a Sacrament Meeting talk, I would have expanded the metaphor and talked about some of the things we learn in this life. Now I really want to give a talk about the Parable of Minecraft…

Right, don’t be greedy. Sorry.

The talk was a hit! Kids lit up, nudging each other and whispering "I love that game!" Anyone with Minecraft experience nodded, picturing Sam running amok among the cows and pigs, slaughtering them with abandon. (Doesn’t that sound spiritually uplifting?) Lots of people giggled. Adults grinned.

Eric received lots of compliments. I felt vindicated.

Aaah. It may be another three months before I start feeling the “lesson/talk” itch again.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carpal Tunnel, Carpe Diem

Lots of people noticed my wrist brace today. This leads to an explanation and a story.

I acquired a case of carpal tunnel from [blush] playing too much Minecraft. (Not very glamorous, I know. That's why I compensate by creating glamor elsewhere in my life.)

Due to my injury (which I incurred bravely while battling
zombies toddlers balrogs), I’ve spent the last month playing for primary one-handed. For the first few songs, nobody seemed to notice, and I quickly got very good at faking things by picking up most notes with my right hand.

At first, the challenge itself was enough. Then the accomplishment itself was enough.
After a while, though, I started to get bored again, mostly because I had been playing “My Heavenly Father Loves Me” over and over. 

My mother-in-law says that only the boring are bored. Very well, I decided to do my duty to make the world a better, or at least more interesting, place.

Seizing an inspiration, I announced from the piano that if senior primary did a really good job singing, I would play the song with *gasp!* one hand over my head!!

I hammed it up, naturally, waving my left hand around and adding in little arpeggios and trills. Everyone gasped in amazement.

When I finished, they applauded. I took a bow.

The kids got some practice, followed by free entertainment. I got some useful mileage out of my affliction, plus some recognition for my achievement.

I just *ahem* forgot to mention that I had already played the song one-handed forty-odd times over the previous two weeks.

Now I’m wondering what other tricks I could try to enliven things.

Maybe I’ll practice playing the March song blindfolded. Or maybe I’ll attempt to play blindfolded without practicing at all. Or maybe I’ll cheat and make a “blindfold” that looks opaque but isn’t.

A good stage magician does not reveal all her secrets. It creates an aura of mystery. And
glamor  glamour.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sixteen Styles of Math Brains

 (Originally this post listed fewer types of brains. Based on feedback and my own penchant for complications, I added some more in for this, the second edition. Jon's original comment, which said "I'm not an 11, I'm a 13" was made when there were only 12 options. Sorry, sweetie. --Ed.)

I have concluded there are a dozen sixteen (+/-) main types of math brains in the world. One kind is not necessarily better than another. The types are also fluid. Given a different kind of problem, I might be a 7 instead of a 5, for instance. Still, I think this is useful for general classification purposes.

Let's take an example.

"How many rectangles are on this chessboard?"

People typically answer in one of the following (general) ways:

Type #1: “Huh? I see 64 squares. That’s way too hard for me.”

Type #2: “Uh…well, let me guess? 100? No? 200? 500? Okay, I give up. That’s a stupid question. When would you use it in the real world?”

Type #3: [Counts to a number, n, such that 64 < n < 1296. In other words, comes up with an incomplete (and incorrect) answer.] 
--This type was added in the second edition. I’m having trouble getting inside the head of someone who could see some, but not all, of the rectangles on the board, so I can’t model their verbal explanation. –Ed.

Type #4: “Well, let me count. For the 1x2 rectangles, I see [mumbles to self] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…56 vertical rectangles…and the same number of horizontal ones…then there are the 2x3 rectangles…um, do you have a sheet of scratch paper…?”

Type #5: “Oh, I read about this in my logic/puzzle book. The answer is 1296.”

Type #6: “This entire question is arbitrary. I mean, I COULD solve it, but why bother? Let me know if you have a specific problem you want me to work on. Preferably one that involves ballistics.”
--This type was added in the second addition. Thanks, Ronald. –Ed. 

Type #7: “Squares are also rectangles, but rectangles are not also squares. So we need to count all the squares PLUS all the rectangles…let’s multiply. We have 8x8 = 64  1-by-1 squares, plus 7x7 = 49 2-by-2 squares, plus 6x6 = 36 3-by-3 squares…THEN we need to multiply all the 1-by-2 rectangles…7x8, plus 6x7 for the 2-by-3s…oh, drat! I was only counting the vertical rectangles. I need to multiply them by 2 for the horizontal ones…”

Type #8: “Great question! I will look up the formula so I can derive the answer myself! Drat, google gave me the answer first. Ah's the formula! What does that C mean? ‘Choose?’” [Spends another twenty minutes clicking links on Wikipedia, chasing down new knowledge.] 

Type #9: “Well, for the squares, you would sum the squares of all numbers from 1 to 9. That number is 285 -- I happen to remember that because it shows up a lot in math competitions… Then for the rectangles it wouldn’t be squares, it would be a n(n-1) but multiply that times 2 since we’re doing horizontal and 0 plus 2 plus 6 plus 12 plus 20 plus…where was I? 6x5 = 30, I think…”

Type #10: “Let’s see…there would be nine dividing lines including the ones on each end, and you have to select two, one to be the left boundary of the rectangle, and one to be the right boundary. So you take 9 choose 2 squared, which I believe would be 9!/2!7! [Consults calculator] Which comes out to 1,296.” –(That was a direct Eric quote, by the way.)

Type #11: “Well, it would be nine choose two squared. Which should come out to…[ostentatiously does NOT use a calculator]…1296. [Everybody glares at #11]

Type #12: “The answer is 1,296 but I can’t explain to you how I know it. It’s kind of an intuitive autistic thing.” 

Type #13: “There’s a formula for this…I should remember it from college. It’s going to drive me crazy…no, don’t give me any hints. It will be good for me to re-derive it.” [Spends twenty minutes with paper and pencil muttering things like “for n, [n(n+1)/2]…but then for (n-1)…” Everybody else wanders off, bored. Person 11 finally surfaces] “Okay, the universal formula should be [n(n+1)/2]^2. You could use that for any n x n board. In this case, for an 8x8 board, it should come to 1,296.

Type #14: [Yawning] It’s the sum of all cubes from 1 through 8, whatever that comes to. 1300 ish? [Everybody else strangles #14.]

Type #15: “It would take too long to count. I’ll write a nifty little PERL script to do it for me.”
--This type was also added in the second addition, thanks to Jon. 

Type #16: [Pedantically] Well, there are several ways to approach this. The first, obviously, is to count, but that brute force method is inefficient. The next is to multiply, which is an improvement but still takes too long. Can anyone suggest a better way? [Expectant pause met by silence] Well, I see that Eric here did 9 choose 2, which is a good way to approach it. Let’s break that math down step by step….now, also, a few of you 11s out there might have used this universal formula, which is quite useful. But the fascinating thing is that the formula [n(n+1)/2]^2 is ALSO equivalent to the sum of the cubes of 1 through n. Does anyone have any guesses as to why that happens? [Expectant pause met by crickets chirping. The Aspie math professor shrugs and continues to lecture, unconcerned, and possibly unaware, that he is speaking into an empty lecture hall.] Here is where we get into the really gritty math, which I think is the most fun. You see… [He spends the next 30 minutes scribbling mathematical notations nobody would understand even if they were present.]

I’m a 7 or 8. Maybe 9 on a good day. Eric is a 10 leaning toward 11. ( He says he only used his calculator a little bit.) I suspected, in my first edition, that Jon would get an answer using the "9 choose 2" method or maybe multiplying, then work on deriving a universal formula for fun. His comment below disputed his tentative typing as an (adjusted) 13 and invented #15. My Grandpa Haupt, in good company with Sir Isaac Newton, was a 16.

I have accepted that Eric and Jon are just smarter at math than am I. It rankles, but it’s true.

Where all do you fall?

--My thanks to for my research on #11 and #12.