Thursday, May 16, 2013

O Tau, my heart

Years ago, when Jon and I were only dating, President Anderson (then stake president of the Gainesville, FL stake) came to our single's ward and gave a talk about marriage.

He noted that although his sermon was mostly aimed at people who had been married for years and were possibly starting to take each other for granted, the most effective thing he might do that month was talk to people who weren't married yet and convince them never to take their future spouses for granted.

I only remember two things from his talk. The first was that he looked around the room, sighed, and said "You're all so well groomed because you're trying to impress each other and you never know who you're going to meet today or tomorrow. Please, please maintain that level of personal grooming after you're married..."

I decided I really didn't want to know the story behind that one. Presumably he'd had lots of people showing up in his office demanding marriage counseling and complaining about kissing (or not kissing) their spouse with halitosis. (Maybe the spouse had been eating too many stale dairy products?)

The other thing I remember is this poem. He read it only once, but it touched me. I still have it memorized:

"She gazed at him, her heart aflutter,
as he carved 'I love you' in the butter."

Isn't that sweet? Simple but profound?

Apparently Jon was listening, too, because on random occasions, I find hearts engraved in the margarine tub. (Good job adapting the principle to your personal circumstances, sweetheart.)

I found one this morning as I was making toast for the kids. It made my day!

Naturally I wished to reciprocate. Our marriage is based on romantic love, but it's also based on being geeky best friends. I'm delighted to have found a man who not only is smart enough for me, but who also wanted a wife who was smart enough for him. Too many men seem to marry "down," seeking out a wife who is less educated or geeky or opinionated. That frustrates me: don't they want smart kids? Beauty fades. Don't they want to have substantive, interesting conversations for the next ten million years?

Ah well, their loss. Jon's priorities were excellent, and he is reaping the benefits.

I carved a "Tau" symbol inside the heart.


Last night, Jon and I were watching some Vi Hart math videos. Awesome find! I love her style!

Among other things, she did a video about how Pi (3.14159...) is wrong. She advocated changing geometry and trig curricula to teach Tau (6.28318...) which, instead of calculating the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference, actually calculates the radius to the circumference. She had many fine arguments for why this would simplify math class and also make geometric and trigonometric relationships more intuitively obvious to high school kids. Then we watched a response from another guy arguing for Eta, which is actually based on right angles, or 1/4 of a circle. He also had some good trigonometric arguments, but we liked Tau better.

Jon and I debated whether and how to make the change--he saying that we should teach all three symbols and just teach the kids how to convert among them. I said certainly, fine idea, but we should start with Tau. A pleasant debate followed.

I pointed out that it would make so much more sense to teach grade school kids metric first: it is logical, standard, and scalable. It's useable. Once a kid gets the basic idea of multiplying and dividing by ten, which he can do in his head, he can go nuts with it. Later on we can mention "Oh, and you should also know the English system because some dinosaurs are still attached to it. There are 5,280 feet in a mile, just because, you know, we're feeling arbitrary. And 12 inches to a foot. Also there are 3 teaspoons to a tablespoon, and 8 tablespoons to a cup, and 2 pints to a quart but 4 quarts to a gallon....You're right, it's insane. Never mind. Here's a conversion chart. If you ever need to convert kilometers to miles or kilograms to pounds, just reference it."

A similar logic applies to Tau. Teach the form that makes the most sense. Then explain there are other variations out there, with a mention of how to convert between or among them.

Speaking of conversion, I have undergone "a mighty change of heart." We may still celebrate Pi day for cultural reasons, but I'm already planning our fabulous party for June 28th.

The bigger point, of course, is not about Tau versus Pi. What's important is that Jon and I had a fun conversation about it. We geeked out together. We argued politely. We had fun.

That's why when I found a carved heart in the margarine this morning, I reciprocated with a Tau symbol.


Tau sounds a lot like "thou," the intimate pronoun of archaic English. It also looks like a capital T.

[Side note--it drives me nuts when people say we should address deity as "Thee" and "Thou" because, they claim, "it's more formal." No; it is more intimate. It is based on the familiar pronoun, a form you use with close family and friends. In French you use "tu" for familiar and "vous" for formal. In German you use "du" for familiar and "Sie" for formal. "Thou" is related to both "tu" and "du". I haven't studied other Romance languages, but I know Spanish, Italian, and others, including the Latin from which they all derive, have similar protocols. Most Germanic languages have a similar differentiation, as far as I know.

The problem is that people 1) don't know their own language's history, 2) are blindly following the King James version even though they don't know how or why, and 3) confuse
familiar with informal. I can smell a different post brewing about this. Let me just say here that I love using "Thee" and "Thou" in prayer...but I use it correctly, and for different reasons than most people realize. --ed]

Poor Jon. Among his other virtues, he's very patient with my thought tangents. Back to Tau and thou. Or, if I'm writing directly to my sweetie, I would say, "Sorry, Jon. Back to T and thee."

I've decided to adopt Tau not only as a great mathematical constant, but also as a symbol for my favorite pronoun, "thou".

There's a sweet German song which goes "Du, du, liegst mir im hertzen..." (You, you, lie in my heart...") [Another side note: until I looked it up just now, I thought the verb was "lieben" not "liegen". I thought the song translated as "You live in my heart." I still like my version better. --ed]

I thought of that song as I carved the Tau inside the heart. "Tau liest in my heart." Or "thou livest in mine heart."

Jon and I have built a marriage of love, friendship, and intellect. Also, in my post, I brought together geekiness, romance, and language.

I love you, too, saltheart. (The margarine isn't all that sweet. And, one can, theoretically, live without refined sugar, but we would not get very far without sodium chloride. Somehow calling him "NaCl heart" just lacks a certain poetic ring, though....)

Jon--O Thou, my husband, my heart, I'm glad you listened to the stake president all those years ago.

This is for you:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mathleague State: Eric's Results

Congratulations to Eric, who came in 6th place among all the 5th graders at the Texas state mathleague competition.

Also congratulations to his team for their 2nd place showing among all the 6th grade teams, and their 3rd place overall finish. His group competed as a 6th grade team because that was the highest grade represented on the team, but there were also two 4th graders and a 5th grader.

Also, some of those problems were really HARD. I can't quote the problems for copyright and security reasons, but you'll need to take my word for it; most of the parents, even those from strong technical backgrounds, would have missed a bunch of those questions.

I don't have a picture of Eric posing with his team while holding their trophy, because Jon and I were running the awards ceremony. I'll see if one of the other parents will take mercy on me and share a picture they took.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Mother's Magnum Opus, Revised

Five years ago, I wrote this essay for Mother's Day. Today I'm taking a fresh look at it. Since I wrote it, we've moved to Austin, added Sam and Jeff to the family, and started homeschooling. And yet, what really strikes me is how little has changed. I have grown as a person, but my long-term vision is the same.  I do feel more intellectually fulfilled, though, and that's wonderful.

Jan Grambo recently suggested that I have "GADD" (Gifted Adult Distraction Disorder), meaning that I hate boring repetitive details, and get easily distracted by new and interesting things. ("Oooh, what a neat new idea! It's so shiny! I will stop paying bills and read an article about bitcoins...and another one about 3D printers...I wonder if anyone would be stupid enough to try creating counterfit bitcoins with a 3D printer, not realizing it's a digital currency? That could be funny. Also, I wonder if any 3D printer merchants accept bitcoins...?
") Oh, yes, that's me. 

Sister Grambo further added, "Best jobs for a gifted adult? Teacher and parent. You will never have the same experience two days in a row. No two children are alike, and the situations they can get themselves into are endlessly creative, leading to daily, even hourly, creative problem solving."

"Eureka!" I thought. "That's why I homeschool!

I will only add that for me it's even better. First, I parent, and the kids change a little every day. Second, I teach, and the lessons change every day. Third, I parent and teach simultaneously, which requires constant juggling. Fourth, I parent and teach brilliant, creative children, which creates this synergistic feedback loop: I design trick grammar questions; they retaliate by trying to catch me making mistakes; I try to outmaneuver them; they try to outsmart me. It's a constant cold war, an escalating arms race.

It's wonderful. With these children, I am frequently frustrated, but I am never bored.

Oh, right. I believe homeschooling benefits them, too.
When I decided to be a "stay at home mom" twelve years ago, I thought, "This is a real test of faith. I know I should do it, but I don't want to. Still, I also believe that if I live this principle, I will gain a testimony of it." Over the years, that has happened. My testimony has grown from "I'm doing this out of duty," to "Nobody else can do what I do," to "It's really not that bad," to "My child just did WHAT? That's...stunning!" to "This is kind of fun, at least most of the time," to "I love it! I just need an occasional break." Part of that is because I do better with older kids. Part of it is that I am starting to reap the dividend of my investment.

Through it all, even when I wasn't thrilled about my job, I was very grateful that Jon was providing for our family so I could do it. You see why I picked him above all others to be my partner in this challenging enterprise?

A dozen years from now, I will have survived the adolescence of the older two. Sam will be in high school, and Jeff should be in 8th grade. By the time I'm an empty nester, I may even look back on these years with fond nostalgia.

For now, let's look at what I said five years ago.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Mother's Magnum Opus

[I wrote this on Mother's Day, but then got absorbed in an anthology of best parenting quotes from the last year. Eventually I decided to split them into two separate entries.]

A few months ago, I was at Enrichment playing a getting-to-know-you game. We had to take turns answering questions like, “What was your most embarrassing moment?” or “What was your worst date?” I was asked, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” and without thinking, I said, “Eric.” I quickly amended, “I'm really proud of Danny, too; I just meant I have put an awful lot of work into helping Eric with his special needs, and teaching him skills, and I am very proud of how much progress he has made.” Everyone there agreed that I had done a good job with both my boys.
A few hours later, I realized that several years ago, I would have thought “National Merit” and said “academic achievements.”

Almost it bugs me, almost, that I have succumbed to the sugary stereotypes of motherhood. Back when I was earning those academic honors, I hated the thought of becoming a simpering Mommy, so absorbed in her children that she ignored everything else. “I will be a stay-at-home Mom,” I thought with martyrdom, “Because that is the best thing for the family. But if all I do is discuss diapers and potty-training, I will lose my mind. I refuse to let my brains rot when I have small children!”

Well, I almost did lose my mind. In part because after giving birth, it seemed like people only asked how the baby was doing, and completely stopped asking my opinion about local education, or national politics, or international relations. And in part because a baby can't provide meaningful conversation. Mercifully, my prediction that things would get better once Eric could talk proved true. He may have exhausted me with his Aspie-induced meltdowns, but at least they were interesting Aspie-induced meltdowns. And frequently funny.

My friend Aimee once remarked, “God gave you smart problems.” For this I am grateful. Both Eric and Danny have special needs which have required me to do a great deal of research. I have had to invent creative approaches to handling those problems. I have used my talents for teaching, languages, melodrama, writing, music, and imagination to enrich my children. And now I have amazing kids with prodigious vocabularies!

I do not want to be defined only by my children. I have many interests that will keep me busy long after they have left home. I will:

* Write the great American novel! 

* Earn a degree in engineering!
* Then write the great American science fiction novel!

* Build my dream castle with a hobbit hole in the backyard! 
* Get a law degree. 
* Travel the world with Jon, visiting the great castles of Europe and the bazaars of Turkey and the temples of Asia! 
* Serve a couples' mission. Get him appointed a mission president, and then help to craft mission policy. Expound doctrine at zone conferences instead of just lecturing boys about hygiene and etiquette. (Though I'll do that too, sigh.)
* Teach Institute
* Get a history degree. 
* Join the board of CES. Reform all curricula, especially boring primary lessons and fluffy Young Womens manuals.
* Become the next General Young Womens' President. Preach substantive, not simpering, sermons in General Conference. Imitate Sherri Dew.
* Become a certified ASL interpreter.
* Get a Master's degree in vocal performance. 
* Take over the world. 
* Get a Ph.D. in comparative religion. 
* Testify as an expert witness before a Senate committee. 
* Earn a linguistics degree. 
* Become truly fluent in German. 
* Study Hindi, Arabic, and Mandarin. 
* Get a degree in International Relations. (That one is optional.)
* Become an NPR pundit. 
* Take math classes with Jon and beat him on a calculus test. (Now that would be challenging.) 
* Build robots with him and win a battlebots contest. Use our battlebots in our attempt to re-conquer the world. (After I got distracted with other projects and trusted my minions too much.)
* Grit my teeth and get a degree in education. (Maybe.) (Then again, maybe not.) 
* Run for school board and/or the U.S. Senate.
* And, most importantly, subvert grandkids. [Evil cackle]

But in order to get really good grandkids to subvert, I have to raise my own kids first. It isn't “sacrifice;” it's an investment.

It makes sense that if my kids represent my largest investment of time, they should similarly represent my greatest accomplishment. Fifty years from now, I would rather look back at my family as my magnum opus, rather than an award I won at seventeen. 

I am proud--I am &*#@ proud--to have been a National Merit Scholar. But I don't want to be like the guy who says, decades later, that the highlight of his life was the year he spent as captain of the football team in high school. That's just pathetic.

I still hate cleaning the house. I may enjoy the teaching aspects of motherhood, but I don't get thrilled about the “nurturing” side, like making dinner, scrubbing toilets, bathing babies, and changing diapers. It's mind-numbing...and I HATE being bored. Perhaps my biggest goal will be to hire a maid once the kids are grown...?

I am grateful to my own mother, and to Jon's. Among my more major goals is to get thank-you notes from daughters-in-law who say, like I said to my own mother-in-law, “Thanks for producing an amazing man! He's a wonderful husband!”

Wedneday, May 8th, again.

While reading the above, I had another thought. Not only is making dinner boring, it is also a very impermanent, unappreciated creation. I make dinner; it's edible (mostly); people eat it; repeat tomorrow. 

If I give an amazing vocal solo, people might remember it for years. If I write a great novel, people might read it for centuries.

If I build an eternal family, it will bless souls forever.

Now that's an art project.

An eternal family is a mother's magnum opus.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gail's Guide to Dissecting Zombie Waffles

I'm still busy this week doing some freelance technical writing.

As a sop to all ten of my dedicated readers, I'm stealing something I just posted on facebook and putting it up in this space. 

Gail: [Once again dissecting waffles] This, class, is a waffle hand. Note the thumb and three fingers. Now, here's an interesting feature of a waffle. The second and third digits share a tendon. Let's cut a transversal here...[gasp] what's that?
Eric: Syrup?
Gail: It's waffle blood! Do you know what that means?
Eric: It's still alive?
Gail: It's a ZOMBIE HAND!!! Aaaaargh! [Gail's own hand goes rogue and starts trying to attack Eric's brain.]
Eric: [Calmly fending off his crazy mom] Actually, that doesn't necessarily mean it is still alive, just that maybe the waffle didn't completely bleed out.
Gail: [Appalled] Son, you are a sick, sick person. How can you say "maybe the waffle didn't completely bleed out" so calmly? [She proceeds to show how pulling on the "tendon" wiggles both "fingers" at once.]

For an encore, I portrayed a bumbling T.A. 

First she couldn't identify what she was dissecting, and yelled at the class for not doing their anatomy reading when they couldn't help her. 

Then she declared it to be a kneecap and yelled at the class again for asking if it was a left or right knee cap. 

Then she used a scalpel to start slicing into the structure, only to discover that scalpels (table knives) are good at soft tissue but not bone. She grabbed a honkin' butcher knife and broke open the knee with a big "CRACK!"

The waffle started twitching and laughing. The class worried that there was still nerve activity. "That just means it's fantastically fresh!" she assured them.

No, the bigger problem was that the laughing reaction meant she'd hit the "funny bone," which further meant that she was actually dissecting an elbow. How embarrassing!

That counts as "science" for the day, right? Right?

Okay, it also demonstrates the following:

1) My original idea of encouraging waffle cutting independence has backfired. Several months ago, in one of those fits of glorious inspiration that come back to haunt me like a ghost (or stalk me like the obsessed Undead), I agreed to cut up waffles only if I could turn it into an anatomy lesson. Boys. I forgot that I have BOYS. They grimaced and shouted "Ewwww!" and covered their ears...and then begged for more. Sigh.

2) Pursuing almost pure technical writing for a month is having strange effects on me. Like my German which works precisely 50% of the time, I'm having a bad reaction to the soulless part of pontificating procedures. I jotted down a grocery list for Jon last week and I couldn't make it funny or creative to save my life. I just stared at it gloomily and finally handed it over, a prosaic and depressingly dry husk of pure information. Ugh.

The other half of the time, I'm super-over-compensating. As demonstrated above.

There's only so long I can stand to write pages of documentation like this: "The exact answer to this problem was 1330. Any integer within +/- 5% of that number receives credit. In this case, any answer between 1264 and 1396, inclusive, would count."

Balance. I need more balance...

Aha! Another week of technical writing should turn me into a zombie. At that point, I would either become interesting, or I would no longer care.

Or--even better!--when this is over, I will write a lengthy, dessicated document about how to dissect zombie waffles. Perfect!

But for now, back to work.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Technical Writing

Daniel: But why is it taking you so long to write the procedures?
Mom: Technical writing is harder than you think. I'll give you a demonstration. Give me instructions about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I will follow them.

(I got this idea from my second grade teacher, Mrs. Howard. She was a fantastic educator. Let's pause for a moment in thanks to the really great teachers out there.)

We got two results. One was the sandwich I actually made based upon his constantly revised instructions. It was bad, but edible.

The other was how it would have turned out if I'd followed each original instruction without modification. (If he'd written them down and I had followed them "exactly" without patches, updates, and desperate revisions from the author.)

Below you see the re-staged results of the second option. Upside-down plate. Upside-down pieces of hamburger buns. (Daniel said "bread" but didn't specify.) Crunchy peanut butter. (Daniel prefers creamy but didn't specify.) Upside-down butcher knife. (How was I supposed to know he meant a table knife? And he didn't say which orientation to use! Can't you spread peanut butter with the handle? Except I didn't spread it, exactly. I more...glopped it.) "Put the jelly on the bread" speaks for itself.

The best moment was when I showed Daniel my smeared, oily hands and asked about how to handle the mess. "Clean it up in the sink," he said and I immediately veered in that direction. Something about my posture, or the evil glint in my eye, must have tipped him off. "Waaaait a minute," he said, authoritatively. "Put the sandwich down--on the table!--first!" Drat. I was so hoping to serve him something sopping and soggy.

After all his effort and mine, he refused to eat either masterpiece of our joint creation. Can you believe it? Such ingratitude...

I had actually canceled class today so I could focus on getting my project done. When moments like this fall into my lap, though, how can I resist?

But enough personal indulgence. The inner teacher in me is rapping her ruler. Time to get back to work.