Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Big 035

A birthday means one has survived another year of one's life. Today is my 15th anniversary of my 20th birthday, meaning that I have survived being 34, and am ready to tip-to through year 35.

What started out on an milestone note, less than a month into being 34, I ran my first marathon in a time that might indicate that I actually trained for it. With the thrill of accomplishing something so . . . long . . . and painful, I figured the world would be mine to conquer. As did Augustus, who at age 34, defeated Antony and Cleopatra's naval forces to become the master of the Roman world, so was I ready to slay dragons and defeat my demons.

Little did I know that I was already at the apex of the year. With a torn meniscus because of a foolish act normally committed by more foolish, less seasoned individuals, running became extremely painful and unenjoyable. The pain was there to stay, and became a constant object of my solicitude as I debated to have it surgically repaired or face an infection similar to one I dealt with when I was a young, foolish fool of 30.

The surgery came, and so did the bacteria. Accumulating 6 surgeries and enough days in the hospital to have the room changed from "216" to "Kevin's Room," I was at the nadir of my year, if not my life. I doubted if I'd ever get my range of motion or strength back, much less run again. I wasn't looking forward to turning 35.

Enter today . . . .

After waking to find a special edition of my new all-time favorite movie in a handsome Batman mask case (a little odd for "Honey I Blew Up the Kids,") my kids sang that birthday song to me. The coffee tasted extra delicious too. I was soon off to physical therapy, my first as a 35-year old. There my therapist gave me two awesome gifts: an electrostimulating device to help my quads fire at home and the news that I only had 2 more visits to go and then I was DONE with PT!!!!

Immediately following, it was off to the surgeon for another follow-up visit. Would you believe that he was as impressed with my progress as my therapist that he said he didn't want, I mean need, to see me any more!!! As a bonus, these two visits were taking place while I was missing a meeting at school. Wow!! Happy Birthday to me!! I could get used to this 35 thing.

Throughout the day, my students, who were all aware that it was special day, mostly because I told them, sang to me treated me extra nice, and wrote special greetings all over my board (an unsuccessful, preemptive maneuver to deter me erasing it and teaching class). Teaching class anyway (it was MY birthday after all, not there's) I could tell they were trying extra hard to remember the cotangent value of 2pi thirds.

Tonight will be even better. A cold front just blew in, dropping the temperatures to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, my FAVORITE! Not cold enough to hassle with bringing in plants or dripping hose bibs, but cold enough to sip coffee on the lawn without sweating. It's the perfect weather for a plate of steaming enchiladas tonight at the local Mexican food restaurant.

I'll get home with plenty of time to reflect on the day and plan out a more eventful, less sucky year, hoping to be at least as successful at my new age as some other historical figures were 35.
  • Based on a nightmarish dream, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I'll just be happy if I can tame my own Mr. Hyde, or as my family sometimes calls me, Mr. Grumpy Pants.
  • Russian ambassador Aleksandr Borosovich Kurakin introduced the practice of serving meals in courses. Maybe I'll learn about fine cuisine this year, serving my own children in courses: chicken nuggets first, ketchup second, macaroni third, wash it down with Coke fourth.
  • Frederic William Herschel, an English astronomer, invented the contact lens. Perhaps I'll invent the fluorescent contact lens so that my wife can find them on the floor. Or better yet, invent a type of contact lens that fits between a wire frame with some way to hold the frames on the nose and over the ears so that they can be easily taken on an off.
  • American sprinter Evelyn Ashford won her final Olympic gold medal at age 35, old for a sprinter. I'll be happy if I can just jog again by age 36.
  • Amedeo Avogadro developed Avogadro's hypothesis. Being a math guy, I already have several hypotheses. Perhaps this year, I'll get a constant, like 6.02 x 10^23, to go with them.
  • Law School professor Anita Hill charged that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas made indecent remarks to her. Note to self: Stay away from Anita Hill.
  • Astronaut Buzz Aldrin achieved his life's ambition at age 35 and wondered, what do you do after that? If I'm so lucky to walk on the moon this year, I'm sure my wife will have a few "to dos" for me when I get back.
  • Mozart stopped composing and started, well, you know. This one's actually scary, since today is also Mozart's birthday. Hopefully, I'll outlast him. It's funny how Mozart spent his whole life composing and his whole afterlife DEcomposing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mathematical Musings: XIII

More of some of the alleged things I've said in class.
  • There will be partial credit the exam. For the select few, there will be very partial credit.
  • When my wife and I were at different colleges, she wasn’t then my wife, we were only dating heavily.
  • Your only homework is to prepare yourself for the large celebration of mathematical knowledge extravaganza which is scheduled for next time. Come early, and get a good seat. Everyone present before the tardy bell gets a free prize, redeemable for points.
  • Ok, I’m sorry for digressing there and going off on a tangent. This is, after all, Calculus.
  • I saw a box of crackers the other day that read, “Stoned Wheat Crackers.” I immediately thought to myself, “Duuuuuuuude, those sound soooooooo delicious right now, I could eat the whoooooole box, Maaaaaaaan.”
  • I think it’s unfair to name just one math course in relation to it’s preparation for Calculus. I think Precalculus is an appropriate name, but Geometry should be called PresquaredCalculus, Algebra II should be Precubed Calculus, Algebra I PretothefourthCalculus, and so on. Statistics should also be renamed “Analytic Prevarification.”
  • That comedian is just like me, only funnier.
  • Do any of y’all ever sit back, take a random object, and try to write a joke about it? For example, take this yard stick. You can say, “How do you measure acreage? With a yard stick,” or you can say, “What do you call a ruler on your lawn? A yard stick.” But the yard stick doesn’t necessarily have to be the punch line, for instance, you could say, “What did the yard stick say to the other yard stick? You rule!!” Do any of you ever do that? Or is that just me?
  • Believe me when I say that our society can’t think for itself anymore. Believe me when I say we should begin to question everything again. Believe me when I say we need to lose our collective gullibility. Take my word on it.
  • As much of a pain as it is to try to get good copies these day, with the machines always broken, it sure beats the old fashion way of copying. Just ask Guttenberg’s successors.
  • Some of you are misusing the solution’s manual. I see to many of you not using your brain, but rather just copying the steps and solutions directly out of it. If you really enjoy copying that much, I’ll start having you personally make my class set of handouts.
  • When I grow up, I want to be a little kid.
  • I tried to explain the meaning of Pi to my three-year-old son the other day. I explained to him the upper and lower bound could be obtained by dividing a circumscribed and inscribed polygon, I used a hexagon to keep it simple, by their respective “diameters.” Afterwards, I asked him what he thought about Pi. He said, “I like Pi, Daddy. I like Blueberry Pi the best.” Apparently, he didn’t listen to a word I said. He did have a point, though: blueberry pie is darned good.
  • My three-year-old son told me the other day that his favorite shape was a hexagon. Not a bad choice, I told him. The hexagon is my favorite polygon, but not my favorite shape in general. Perhaps his tastes will change as he approaches four.
  • My wife and I recently bought a King-size bed for our bedroom, so that our two kids could be more comfortable at night.
  • Our district wants each of its faculty members to be technologically proficient. That is, it wants each of us to learn how to use all the technology it cannot afford to buy for us to use. We have abacus training next week.
  • I think all bathroom doors in public should open to the outside. Here’s why? Do you know how few guys wash their hands after they use the restroom? Then they grab the door handle to pull it open. After I clean up afterwards, the last thing I am required to do when I leave is grab that handle, which amounts to grabbing a handle that has touched just about every guy who has used those facilities. It makes me want to turn around and wash my hands again, but then there’s that darn handle again . . .
  • My wife had a garage sale last weekend. Now I have nowhere to park my car.
  • Is it just me, or does it defeat the purpose to have scheduled fire drills? Are our fires going be scheduled, too?
  • I think the problem with today’s students, is that too many of them are only interested in being shining examples of the Law of the Conservation of Energy.
  • To me, a thermal mug is a picture of a guy with a full facial beard and moustache.
  • I’ll get to that idea again later when it comes to me.
  • Sometimes I have a hard time getting something out of my head once it gets there. For instance, when I was five, my brother shot me in the temple with a BB gun . . .
  • We cannot say that a function is either increasing or decreasing at a relative max or min. It is doing neither there. Consider Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest for the first time. He didn’t just climb up one side and immediately climb down the other. He probably stayed at the top for a while, catching his breath, reveling in his accomplishments, taking in the view, building a small campfire, catching a bite to eat, making some yellow snow, all before he started back down again. A relative extrema is just such a resting point.
  • I bet it would really suck to climb Mount Everest and think you were at the top, in which case you would start celebrating, but then you realize that there is really a lot more mountain ahead of you that was only blocked by a cloud.
  • I’d rather be a mountain climber than a cave explorer. When a climber reaches the apex, the hard work is over, it’s all downhill from there. It is opposite for a spelunker. Once he reaches his nadir, and then wants out, well, that’s when he actually has to start the hard work. I like to save the easy for the last.
  • It is only my own humble opinion, but I think Willie Wonka is the greatest fictional candy maker of all time.
  • He who think he can or he can’t is probably confused over the true potential of his capabilities.
  • Some scientists have now theorized that our universe is actually a large thin membrane, comparing our universe and parallel universes to slices of bread in a loaf. The proponents of the Global Warming theory have now predicted that if this is the case, our Universe is toast.
  • What the heck is the difference between jam, jelly, and marmalade? Aren’t they all made from fruit? Don’t they all come in jars and go on toast? Shouldn’t marmalade start with a “J?”
  • When I die, I want to come back as a dead guy. . . in a big, plush coffin with vaulted ceilings, on account of my being claustrophobic.
  • 99.999% of the time, a graph with both a vertical asymptote and a slant asymptote will be in the opposite quadrants, or compartments, from each other, and when they are in opposite quadrants, 99.999% of the time, they will be in the acute compartments. I guess they just like small spaces.
  • [Coughing, hacking, eyes tearing up] I guess I shouldn’t have eaten that toothpick. I should listen to my wife. [cough, hack, cough] NEVER, I TELL YOU! NEVER!! I AM MY OWN [Big Cough] MAN!!
  • I don’t know why there is a big sign in the corner saying “Room 903?” The janitor must have put it there. You would think with three permanent signs outside the door saying “room 903” that another one inside would be unneeded. I think we can begin to say, though, with statistical confidence that as more signs labeling this room as 903 appear, that there is an increasingly likely chance that this room may be room 903.
  • I like my steaks cooked medium well. I only like raw meat on rare occasions.
  • It really smells like tuna, but yet you claim that no one opened a bag of tuna. How can that be? There’s something fishy going on!
  • Here’s a nice problem. Would any of you like to take a male goose at it?
  • The next Math Club meeting will be before the one after that, but after the last one.
  • When it rains, it pours, and when it pours, it might be a pitcher.
  • Look! It’s so windy outside, it blew the rider right off the swing.
  • It's so windy out there, my lips get chapped just watching it.
  • I think being chapped to death is the worst way to die. The only thing possibly worse is if there was a tub of Vaseline intensive care just out of your reach as you were being chapped to death. That would really chap my hide.
  • The new Math Club shirts are in, so come down, pick one up and try it on, before there out.
  • I cannot stand waiting around in an upright position with no place to sit.
  • I think we should all believe in something. I believe I’ll stop talking now.
  • The other night I had a dream that I was awake, then I woke up, and it was true! It was a real Disney moment.
  • I think the food at Taco Bell is all the same. It just comes in different shapes.
  • Here let me sharpen that pencil for you. How can you expect to sharpen your skills with such a dull pencil? Sharp lead, sharp mind. That’s what I’ve always said once or twice.
  • I have good news today, kids. The fire drill was cancelled today due to the rain outside. In the case that there was an actual fire, I suppose it would be extinguished by all the rain. No fire, no fire drill. Apparently fires only happen in sunny weather!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Problem Solving

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that math teachers are the most creative, innovative people on the face of the planet (of course, it all depends who "they" are.) Just as the teachers at my high school are being reprimanded for exceeding our quota of paper for the year (as the second semester is just getting under way), a calculus teacher in California has come up with a novel, creative, and somewhat controversial way to defray the costs of printing tests at his cash-strapped school.

Tom Farber has begun selling ad space on his exams.

Farber's students can now get ideas where to get there pet groomed and cut out a coupon for a discounted oil change while demonstrating their mastery of integration techniques. For $10 a quiz or $20 a test, businesses can put a small at the bottom of the test and parents can even buy space to put a motivational quote. Can you imagine an inspirational message from Mom after problem number 6:
Dearest Phillip, I hope you get a net area under the curve of 4.635 units on problem number seven, and don't do drugs. Hugs!
or one like this
Jenny, good luck on this test. I was always so horrible at math. I hope you do better than I did. Remember that if you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough. I'm so proud of you!
or even
Have you bombed this test? Having trouble learning this stuff? Call "A-B-C Tutoring." We make Calculus as easy as 1-2-3.
I have a feeling that the students are going to be looking forward to their tests for a change. As students who come to my class enjoy reading the daily quote board (full of humorous one-liners and word puzzles) rather than doing their mathematical warm up, students will be jonesing for what ad or message awaits them. This could really end up being not only a stop-gap financial measure, but an amusing distraction as well.

For the same reason that I infrequently give bonus questions, this ad idea shouldn't be a regular, long-lasting solution to a paper-funding problem. With the prospect of bonus points pervading their every thought, I actually have students jump straight to the more difficult extra-credit problems on tests and quizzes, squandering all their time on trying to earn an additional 5 points at the expense of the not-extra 100 points on the rest of the test. Rather than try for a 100 + 0 score, they are seduced into working on the 0 + 5 route.

Now I doubt students in Mr. Farber's class are going to be captivated by the ads for the entire 50-minute period, especially since Farber has limited the ads to one per page, but like our own mindset during the Super Bowl commercials, their calculus concentration could be compromised as they think of the great deal they can get at the dentist.

All in all, I think it's a pretty resourceful idea, and I'm grateful that my paper situation atmy school isn't quite as dire as Mr. Farber's. Kudos to Mr. Farber for being an expect "problem" solver.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Do over?

How far can you stray from protocol and still be legal?? The big argument the last two days is whether Obama and Roberts should have a oath of office "do over." With millions crowding the mall and 10s of millions of more watching on TV for the historic swearing in of our first president of African-American descent and with only 38 words to memorize and over 3 years and 3 months to memorize it (He was confirmed on September 29, 2005), Chief Justice John Roberts, and young man of only 53 (soon to be 54 on my birthday) flubbed, botched, butchered, hacked, bumbled, fumbled, muffed, mutilated, and annihalated the oath.

Way to go John!

Like a nervous bridesgroom forgetting his vows on the most important day of his life, Roberts apparently spoke too much initially, going past Obama's name, causing Obama, who was likely following the rehearsed script to begin his recitation prematurely. After Barack bit off his sentence, giving Roberts a "What the hell are you doing" look beneath his big, charismatic smile, he retreated to careful listener as he now nervously awaiting for the prospectively tangled verbage he was going to have to begrudgingly reproduce.
It only got worse from there. Roberts, obviously flustered now, took the literary liberty to move a simple adverb, "faithfully", to an acceptable, though not prescribed, place in the sentence.

What should have been:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. [Please don't hate me Obama for screwing up this historic moment for you. I'm really sorry for that. Afterall, I was appointed by President Bush. It's hard for a new, young guy like be to be the boss of all the other Justices. In fact, they still tease me and don't take me very seriously. I guess be messing this whole thing up proves why. I'm going to go into the White House bathroom and cry, faithfully hiding my face in eternal shame.]

Note: italicized parts spoke as an aside, under his breath, as in a Shakespearean Play, meant only to be heard by the audience and not the people on stage. This only further complicated the isssue as Obama was squinting and struggling to make out what Roberts was trying to say.

Caught between the decision of now saying the very words Edwards spoke . . . err . . . that's Roberts spoke, and saying the oath incorrectly, probably unbeknowst to most of the masses in attendance and risking an "unofficial" swearing in, or disrupting the flow of the moment to shoot another "Go to Hell you incompetent Fool" look and awkardly trying again (at the risk of it looking like Obama himself having a HORRIBLE short-term memory), Barack chose the former.

At this point, the viewers at home were checking their clocks and calenders to verify that they were not tuned in too early only to be watching the dress rehearsal of the monumentous event.

Nope. It was the real thing, and Roberts was beginning to sweat.

With a quivering voice, he repeated the phrase with the word "faithfully" correctly positioned. Barack, in his first real display of Executive power then decided to repeat the words the way Roberts INITIALLY has spoken. That is, he said them incorrectly!

I doubt the unflappable Obama himself was flustered, afterall, he had his hand on the Lincoln Bible. So his actions must have been a deliberate, intellectually subtle, effrontery to the inept Justice.

The rest of the day, though, went smoothly, if you don't count two Senators keeling over during the Post-Inaguration Banquent (how many of you thought Ted Kennedy was just celebrating too hard???), and Obama and his wife made it to all 10 inagural balls, including the "PapaJohns.com Ball."

I'd sure hate to be in his shoes. Not only are the expectations immense, but his feet must be killing him!

So was the inauguration official? legal? Well, it turns out that some former Presidents with limited capacity to remember a string to 5 words (or in US Grant's case, have been severly intoxicated at the time), have been simply read the entire oath, to which they simply replied "I do" (or in Grant's case, "Hell Yeah!")

If all those presidencies are officially in the books, then I'm sure there's no need for a do-over in Obama's case.

As a math teacher, though, I HAVE to dwell on the little thins. Rules and order are imperative in my class. Mathematics, as well as the rules of grammar, cannot be applied arbitrarily, capaciously, or willy-nilly. Little things like misplaced grouping symbols, negative signs, or the extremely rare adverb DO cause entire calculations to fail.

I'm glad Obama didn't run on "Building a Bridge to Tommorow" platform, because in bridge building, a misplaced adverb can cause the entire bridge to collapse.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Spare Change

Very few things would ever cause me to miss the opportunity to teach, mathematics especially. My 18 days in the hospital recently physically prevented me from being in the classroom, but it didn't prevent me from tutoring students from the relative comforts of my hospital room.

When school's in session, I'm generally there. If I'm there, I'm up in front of the room pontificating precalculus, clarifying calculus, and making hilariously bad jokes often at my expense to keep the students from growing listless, apathetic, bored, or belligerent.

The only time I can remember suspending my lessons was on that fateful, unforgettable day on September 11, 2001. On that day, math took a back seat to watching the events unfold in front of us on the television mounted behind the podium, a television that had previously been reserved for morning video announcements, the extremely rare math video, and early morning Sportscenter. I felt very empty that day, and not just because of the attacks and loss of lives, but also because of the lack of math. I failed to get my required quota of instruction I need to feel good at the end of the day, like I've made a difference. I'm not saying I went home that day and worked math problems in the corner of my room (it wasn't in the corner!) or that I gave a faux lesson to the empty chairs around my dining room table (I sat my wife and son down in two of them!!), but I did look forward to resuming both of them on the next class day.

If such a momentousness, math-supplanting event took place every 8 years, it would still be too often in my book, but low and behold, in slightly less than that, it happened again today.

With a full lesson planned for my AP Calculus AB class today, I had every preconceivable notion to deliver a full 90-minute bombastic, informative, education, over-the-top, once-in-a-lifetime lesson. That was, until I realized that the Constitution requires new presidents to be sworn in at noon Eastern time (which is 11am in my Central time zone), and that today a new president was in fact scheduled to take the oath of office. Not only was this a historical occasion for obvious reasons, but the constitutional time slot was 30 minutes into my calculus class--enough time for me to squeeeeeeze in a quick review of the Intermediate Value, Extreme Value, and Mean Value theorems and still tune into the historic inauguration ceremony.

The old me deep down inside was resisting the idea, knowing that we'd hear and read about it outside of class. The new me, however, decided that the event, although not of the same caliber of gravitas of 9/11, was one that nonetheless warranted mathematics taking a back seat. The old me rationalized the decision of the softer, wiser new me and told me that shutting down the mathematics and watching the inauguration and subsequent speech was really calculus after all.
Calculus is the study of change!! Right?! Well, today's inauguration is all about change! Right?! What better way to study change than to witness it firsthand? So watching the inauguration is actually calculus after all!!!!! Clever, I know.
Thanks to my old self, and a lot of "arm twisting" of my students, who reluctantly (not really) and gleefully followed the advice and suggestion of the teacher they have come to know and trust with all their heart. And so with the approval of the students, I forewent a lesson of a lifetime (If not the lesson of a particular Tuesday) for an event of a lifetime.

As we watched the ceremonies and the speech, we all realized that we had to keep our eyes on the horizon while we also paid attention to what was in front of us, lest we trip over a pot hole. We learned that we had to continue to work hard to achieve our goals (do our homework) and that we had to open the doors of opportunity for all who are willing to try (spread the joy of math to others.) Most of all, after Chief Justice John Roberts fubbed the wording of the official oath, we learned that mistakes are just part of the learning process, and should be avoided if possible, especially if the entire nation is watching.

I hope the students absorbed the new president's message of hope, because next time we meet in class, I'm HOPING to cover two lessons to make up for the lost time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Saint Kevin?

Yesterday I had a very unique opportunity that doesn't come along very often. After getting home in the afternoon, I hit the elliptical machine for a quick 30-minute workout, then rehydrated afterward with a bottle of suds.

Not halfway through my beverage (held in one hand while playing Frisbee with my daughter with my other hand), my neighbor came rushing over in an obvious state of angst and solicitude. Always willing to help out my fellow man or woman in any way I can, I set down my longneck to listen to her distressed request. My 5-year-old daughter watched very curiously and tentatively from several feet away.

I was hoping from the tone of her (my neighbor's) voice that everything was okay with her husband, a retired, elderly man who is usually the one to rush over to solicit a favor. It was very uncommon that his wife would make the 50-yard trek through the briers and brambles.

"Is everything okay?" I asked, implicitly asking about her husband.

"Nooooooo. I need your help . . . . fast!" she said anxiously.

I immediately thought that a tree, a ladder, the refrigerator or something heavy had fallen onto her husband who now lay gasping for air with crushed lungs and broken hip unable to move. This was a "Life Alert" situation, and I was being summoned as first response. Flashes of my past experiences and math and construction backgrounds immediately flashed into my head as I developed a quick plan of attack. I took another swig of my beverage for some liquid courage to help me through this Code Red event. My daughter took my lead, as she was already putting away the Frisbees and putting her jacket back on. All this happened in an instant.

"What's the problem?" I asked with the calm, stoic confidence of a seasoned EMT.

I wasn't prepared for what came next. In fact I was rather shocked by her answer to the question.

"My cat is stuck under my deck and my husband isn't home!!!!"

Knowing her cat was very important to her, as dear to her as any other member of her family, I was relieved that it wasn't anything more serious, but much of my adrenaline suddenly left me as I realized what a non-critical, routine rescue this was going to be, even though it would incorporate more of my construction background than heavy lifting followed by CPR.

Nonetheless, I snapped into action. I grabbed my drill, hammer, and several pry and crow bars. I also grabbed my telescoping light-bulb changer pole that has come in very handy so many times before for knocking Frisbees out of trees. My instinct told me that this might come in pretty handy when used parallel to the ground as well as a "Kitty Cajoler." My daughter grabbed a few "tools" of her own: her baby doll, a flashlight, and a spare battery for the cordless drill. With a few last minute gulps of my rehydrating fluid, the three of us set off with blood in our eyes and snot in our noses (the cedar was really bad yesterday.)

Apparently the cat, which had never been out of the house for more than 10 closely supervised minutes at a time, escaped three days prior and had been missing since. With no food or water and overnight temperatures dipping below freezing, my neighbors had almost given up all hope of ever seeing their "Fluffles" ever again. But yesterday, just as I must have been finishing up on the elliptical, the neighbor's dog, while outside for its "business" began yapping at the deck. Sensing the tirade was more than just a delusional cross-eyed dog trying to ward off the benign threats of a piece of treated lumber, she investigated between the slats of the deck and discovered her beloved, lost feline. After placing a pine cone directly above the motionless kitten to mark its location, she called her husband and came to get me.

Once "Team Korpi" arrived on the scene, I was confused as to how the cat was "trapped" beneath the deck, as there were several points of entry with enough clearence between the deck and ground for the cat to simply walk out on its own, the same places that allowed me a good look underneath to reveal plenty of crawl space even for the fattest of housecats. I assumed she must have her claw, tail, whiskers, or something caught on something else, but that idea was soon abandoned as the cat was no longer beneath the carefully placed pine cone.

It became apparant that the cat was under the deck by choice, secluding itself like a troubled teenager who locks himself in his room. I asked my neighbor if she and "Fluffles" had had an argument, knowing that that line of questioning wouldn't help get the cat out. Using food and an mbarrassing high-pitched overly-dramtic sweet voice, I tried to pursuade the cat, which I now found cowering against one side of the deck well out of reach, to come out on its own. The cat appeared to be appropriately catatonic and non-responsive, but still alive.

As I tried to back out several screws from the 10-year-old deck boards, the cross-point heads either stripped out or broke off below the surface from the applied torque. As I was about to start cutting out a large square section with my circular saw, the male homeowner arrived on the scene. He preferred I pry up the length of one board. And so with his help, we began snapping off lengths of the stubborn boards until we felt we had enough exposed area to work the cat withing grasping range. This would prove to be the toughest part of the entire process.

With daylight fading quickly, I lay on my side on on side of the long, narrow deck and proceeded to extend my telescoping Frisbee retrieving pole underneath in the direction of the cat. With only a few inches of room, my arm was wedged up to my shoulder between the earth and the deck. With the pole fully extended, I swund it back and forth vigoruously trying to scare the cat into moving in the direction of the newly exposed area where the masters were waiting to scoop her up.

After almost 30 minutes of doing this, not only my my arm about to fall off from fatigue, but the cat never wandered withing arm's length of its owners. I left the pole in place and went to try to remove a few more board length hoping the cat wouldn't have the courage to run past the "monster" pole that now lay motionless.

The cat stayed put, and the male homeowner reached down to grab her, but this was enough to startle the cat a few inches out of his reach. For me, it was back to the extension pole to awaken the sleeping pole monster to scare the cat back the other direction. After another 10 minutes of sweeping it back and forth, my knuckles scraping across unseen rocks, the cat positioned itself a little closer to the opening. This time, the female owner knelt down and spoke in a comforting tone the cat knew well, even getting a couple of fingers on the cats fur, stroking gently. With limited arm span, she couldn't get a grip on the cat to pull it out. That's where I came in.

Mimicking the voice of my female neighbor, I kept up the verbal reassurance as I reached in an gently stroked the cat's head. At the near extent of my own reach, which extended beneath a 2 by 8 beam, I knew it would be tough to grab the collar-less fat recalcitrant cat between the 3 inch space between the rocky ground and the sturdy beam, but I was tired of the charade. With the quickness of a rattlesnake bite, my gentle strokes immediately changed to a strong grasp of the cat's front leg. As I pulled one way, the cat dug in the other way. I was just hoping she didn't scratch me up more than I already was.

The struggle between my 210 pound build and the cat's 10 pound frame seemed to last several minutes, but withing seconds, I had her squeezed through the beam and out into the exposed area. The female cat owner reached down and picked her with both arms and the reunion party was officially on, tear and all. The cat, however, wasn't crying, was barely moving, and noticeably freaked out.

After picking up all my tools and getting many hugs and thanks from everyone involved (the female cat owner called me a "Saint," something I suspected all my life), my daughter and I made the trek back home in the dusk. I assured her that the blood on my knuckles wasn't going to require stitches or surgery and that I wasn't going to die from it.

As I washed up at home, I realized that it was my WIFE who was really the Saint, for she had dinner ready. At that moment, I felt very proud of myself, not only for saving the cat, and marrying my Saint, but for making the decision long ago to buy that telescoping pole. It has paid for itself several times over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

King of Pop(ular Rumor)

Have you heard that Michael Jackson is dying? Well who isn't these days?

If the former King of Pop is edging closer and closer to drawing his final "Teeee Heeeee"s, I believe the term would be "slowly decomposing" as plastic tends to do, rather than slowly dying.

I've checked "Funk & Wagnalls," "Encyclopedia Britannica," and "Google", and apparently it takes only 10-12 years to decompose (incredulous, even for the most wimpy, willing plastic.)) Another source says 450-800 years (a margin of error of an astounding 78%.) Yet another source says 1000 years exactly, give or take a few hundred years. Apparently, there is some debate about the definition of "decomposed." The truth is, however, that plastic never fully decomposes, but instead just degrades into increasingly small pieces over time as it slowly loses its original pigment.

In this sense, Michael Jackson has been dying since his "Thriller" album.

Renewed interest in a recent photo, showing "Wacko-Jacko" being pushed around in a wheelchair with his face concealed behind a make-shift surgical mask and mane tamed by a trucker's hat (see photo above), has generated more publicity for the crazy man with the crazy dance moves since he clumsily dangled his small child over a high-rise balcony all while trying to conceal him with a cup towel.The fact that Michael looks so pathetic now doesn't really imply anything, though, as he has had more faces over the years than a hecatohedron and has transformed himself more than a Deceptacon with Turets. With his numerous run-ins with the law, entertaining young boys at his Neverland Ranch is no longer a wise thing to do, perhaps he has simply developed a penchant for medical mobility products and Nylon-mesh hats?

If he really didn't have the energy to moonwalk, I doubt he would have had the energy to scoot his wheelchair around with his magical feet for the reported 20 minutes or so in the store he was shopping at . . . which reminds of an old joke from my middle school day, "Why did Michael Jackson shop at K-Mart? . . . . because he ". . . well . . . you know the punchline.

This time, I believe, Jackson was shopping with the whole family, his wheelchair orderly (who looks a LOT like Cuba Gooding, Jr.), his three adopted children, and a large cardboard cutout of Lisa Marie Presley. Based on the "new" outfits they are all donning, it appears they were shopping at the local Goodwill Thrift Store.

I can't imagine why anyone would assume that the family photos indicate anything more than a happpy family outing. The only one dying would be the surrounding bystanders . . . of laughter.

On a serious note, though, it is sad to see Jackson as such a fraction of what he used to be, reduced to purchasing standard wheelchairs and house slippers off the discount rack at Wal-Mart. The same person who gave us "ABC easy as 1-2-3," "Beat It," "Bad," "Black or White," "Smooth Criminal," and so many other songs that sound the same, the person who invented a new genre of dancing zombies, the moonwalk, and exaggerated toe pointing is now relegated to hiding behind tacky threads being pushed around by a hired hand.

As much plastic surgery as Michael has had, when he finally does leave this world, it might be better to recycle rather than to throw away. We'll miss him when he goes like we miss the outcome from a Mike Tyson fight or a Tom Cruise interview, but until that day we'll all continue to be fascinated with the strange, misunderstood creature and continue to sing his songs under our breath, lest someone hear us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Save the Polar Bears

Have you ever wanted to shoot a polar bear? Well, if you have a desire to take down the largest, most powerful member of the genus "Ursa," then you not only better pack a pretty powerful rifle, but you'd better be an Intuit (a.k.a. Eskimo) as well. That's because the sport hunting of the most lovable bear on earth (what other bear lets out an agreeable moan when sipping Coca-Cola and prefers cola to fresh, available penguin?) has become increasingly illegal across the globe (especially in Southern California for some strange reason.)

The only people allowed to kill the lovable, pristine, cuddly mammals are the Arctic indigenous populations who live in the region extending all the way from eastern Siberia to Greenland (the "ICY" nation, not to be confused, though originally intended to be so, with Iceland, the "Green" nation) and anyone who inadvertently (or preposterously by insane forethought) finds himself mercilessly facing the ravenous jaws of such a beast who is dying of thirst and craving a sip of your Coke.

Recently, the Economic Union, know more appropriately as simply the EU in lazy, erudite circles, has joined the US in its support of the ban of walking in the front door of your house with a polar bear pelt (though they have yet to support the banning of "prancing" or "skipping" through the front door with the same pelt.)

This means that rich people with a penchant for killing defenseless animals (and by defenseless I mean someone who can shoot you out of a helicopter while you are quietly enjoying a sip of your favorite carbonated beverage) are no longer required to take out their expensive murderous inclinations on Ursa Maritimus. That means that the people who enjoy the look of an expensive white rug in the shape of a "spread eagle" bear and who can afford to pay someone else to take the "all too easy to show" stains out of it must now resort to sewing together the flattened tails of White-Tail Deer together to simulate the effect--that or risk imprisonment and a glass of that inferior Pepsi product.

The ban is having a noticeable, immediate, and possibly unforeseen backlash on the Eskimo community, who make a pretty penny of up to $50,000 for leading American hunters on hunting expeditions to hunt the hunted polar bear. The price includes tracking, spotting, and a free Coca-Cola (assuming the slain animal doesn't spill it all upon falling to the ground.) As a result, sport hunting is down, but just as many bears, who are apparently in danger of being put on the "almost close to being soon to be named 'Nearly close to almost endangered list' " are being killed.

What gives?

At currently estimated at more than 30,000 ("give or take a few thousand," as quoted by the official polar bear counting guy, who also admitted, "they all look the same!"), the population of white bears is substantially lower than the current population of "Rice Rats," which total only 2500 or so, sprinkled throughout Rio de Janeiro.

Well, it turns out that there is no law or rule that cannot be cleverly be circumvented. We should have suspected such a thing from a group of people that can take lemons and make lemonade (or less metaphorically: a warm ice shelter called an Igloo from nothing but ice.)

What is actually happening now is that the Intuits, who are legally allowed to kill the animal, are now offering "full service" hunting expeditions, whereby the benefactor of the hunt simply follows along and simply allows the hunting guide to pull the trigger. The result: less ammo used as natives hit the mark on the first try, and just as many bears dying.

This is still very bad for the bear and possibly even better for the aborigines as they can charge more money under the mandate.

So why all the protection? Are polar bears really endangered??

I suspect is has much less to do with the fact that there are actually a dangerously low number of the species left, but rather that political activists and reactionary groups like PETA (who are in favor of supplying all remaining living polar bears with synthetically white winter coats made from the bleached hides of the thousands of euthanized cats and dogs) and the up-and-coming activist group know as LSTPBETWSBSMI (Let's Save The Polar Bears Even Though We Should Be Saving Money Instead) think that they are "cute" animals that shouldn't be hunted. Other animals such as Panda bears (there's too much bamboo to kill them anyway), Koala bears (I think the overgrowing plethora of Eucalyptus can only be curtailed by their hunger), Killer Whales (don't they have it coming anyway?), Eagles (they might win the Super Bowl), and Reindeer (Don't shoot Rudolph!!) fall into the photogenic category. Now Polar Bears are falling into this category.

Will we ever hear about the need to stop the needless slaughter of the hideous Hyena (their mothers even think they're ugly.)

Currently, polar bear populations are robust, thriving, and at an all-time high, according to Inuit reports. The data backing up the legislative mandates are based on two different sets of computer models: one set predicts how much Arctic sea ice will melt as a result of global warming and polar bear flatulence, and the other predicts how polar bear populations will respond (move North, eat less Mexican food.) However, computer models of climate change are characteristicaly replete with errors, problems, and drastic prognostications. The case of diminishing polar bear populations are no exception.

Let's just now agree that polar bears are as equally "cute" as they are tough and ferocious. They won't think twice about tearing you apart if they want your Coca-Cola.

The current situation is a classic case of myopic legislation aimed at addressing a problem that doesn't exist brought about by interest groups with selfish, hidden agendas in order to make the world a more miserable, regulated, less-carbonated place to live.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Maths and Sex

Hungarian mathematician Farkas Wolfgang Bolyai once warned his son János about the alluring seduction of the study of mathematics. Yes I know . . . he REALLY did. He is quoted as saying

Hungarian mathematician Farkas Wolfgang Bolyai once warned his son János about the alluring seduction of the study of mathematics. Yes I know . . . he REALLY did. He is quoted as saying
For God's sake, please give it (mathematics) up! Fear it no less than the sensual passion, because it, too, may take up all our time and deprive you of your health, peace of mind and happiness in life!!
I know what you're saying, "Why didn't MY father have the courage to tell that to ME when I was younger?"

Very few people can even come close to understanding the comparison made by Bolyai the elder, much less agree with it. Most people are perfectly content with their inability to grasp the finer points of mathematics and even wear their disgust of the subject as a badge of honor. Those who actually DO like it, including me, would never go as far as to say my math "addiction" is cause my health to decline, disrupting my sanity, or sapping me of any joy, although I HAVE had a few sleepness nights because of an unresolved problem.

To put mathematics up their with sensual pleasures is a sad indictment for Mr. Bolyai and his unexciting life. I'm pretty sure he didn't get invited to too many parties.

But Bolyai the junior did not heed his father's advice. What good son ever does? In fact, he persisted with renewed determination in his studies and eventually reconciled the issue of Euclid's "Parallel Postulate," the very thing his father specifically wanted him to abandon!

Upon his victory with the math problem, János conceded, "Out of nothingness, I have created a strange new universe," something he had lots of practice with as he had created many imaginary friends along the way, friends who actually liked talking about math the may giddy youngsters talk about a dirty magazine. For his mathematical defiance, the younger Bolyai exceede his father's mathematical abilities as well as his abilities to handle a cold, isolated, boring life. It seems fitting that the Boylai crater on the cold, distant, isolated Moon bears his name.

So how many people out there feel as Farkas Wolfgang Bolyai?

Check out at Google Trends: http://google.com/trends

Type in: maths, sex

The data and graphs shows that the word "sex" is 49 times more likely to be searched for than
"maths," not surprising, yet surprisingly less of a difference than you might expect.

I this because we math teachers are doing such and outstanding job that the general
population knows more about "maths" than "sex" and hence doesn't need to search on it as often.

There was one troubling statistic. The denizens of Farnborough in the UK actually searched for the word 'maths' approximately 3 times MORE frequently than they searched for the word 'sex', clearly bucking the international trend.

What's going on in Farnborough????????? . . .

Are these the little Bolyais of the world concentrated in one area, or is something else at play?

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and fiction has to make sense.

Friday, January 9, 2009

TGIF, kind of

I know that I shouldn't complain that in the last three weeks, I've only had to go to work for one of them, but I'm sure glad it's Friday.

After a whirlwind 1st week back after Winter/Christmas/Holiday break, I'm ready for the weekend. Let's just say that two weeks is long enough to get used to sitting around on a couch in sleepwear and sipping egg nog watching back to back to back marathon episodes of "My Sweet 16." It was obviously enough to throw me out of my math game and to diminish my teaching stamina.

Add to that the fact that several things have come up a school this week that are atypical, non-routine aberrations. Call them math "emergencies." With educational and math breakthroughs coming less often than Haley's comet or a funny Jay Leno joke, you'd think the calculus teacher gig was pretty predictable, but two things have happened that are of the bi-decade variety, and both in the same 5 days, that have sapped my emotional resources. In fact, if it weren't for the math itself, I don't know if I could have made it through. Thank God for implicit differentiation.

Of course I cannot give the details of the specific events that took place out of professional courtesy, but I can assure you that it DIDN'T involve dividing by zero or taking the logarithm of a negative number.

Unfortunately, my work week isn't quite over either. Tomorrow we have a UIL math practice meet that I am taking several of my "mathletes" to. This involves loading a bus at six thirty in the morning, driving to another school, and setting up camp in the cafeteria for about eight hours. What only amounts to one hour and fifty minutes of actual testing, the remaining six hours and ten minutes involves sitting around wishing we weren't stuck on a bus or in a cafeteria on a Saturday. While waiting for one of three different events, students and I will sit around and take practice tests, play card games with made-up rules, and try to guess what the cafeteria served the day before by detecting it in the stale, lingering odor. This helps the time pass much, much more quickly--not at a snail's pace, but rather at the pace of an urgent turtle trying to make it to the bathroom.

Although I regret not being able to spend the day with my own family, I don't mind (too much) spending the day with my other "kids," and getting a chance to talk with them about things other than questions on their homework. There is a special bond that develops between mathlete and coach during these events, a bond that can only be forged in the environment of mutual captivity and boredem. We take solace in each other's predicament and reaffirm each other's decision to elect to participate in these extracurricular activities. We tell ourselves that it's everyone ELSE on the "outside" who are actually missing out on a special day. We TELL ourselves that, and we think ourselves better and more noble for the unselfish sacrifices we make to be there. If nothing else, it makes us appreciate sunshine, comfortable chairs, and clean, breathable air which we would otherwise take for granted.

For me, it will help take my mind off the math "emergencies" encountered during the week (or give me more idle time to dwell on them.) Nonetheless, I wish my "mathletes" all the best tomorrow as they take on the competition in their events. I just love it when they call me "coach."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Can you imagine how we ever wiped up spills or dried cars or blew our nose before "Sham-wow?"

What did we ever do when we were cold on the couch and wanted to read a book or talk on the phone before the invention of the "Snuggie?"

How did we ever put up with broken coffee cup handles, leaky garden hoses, and pulling 18-wheeler's with regular-strength putty before the invention of "Mighty Putty?"

And why would we ever, ever go back to exercising ever again with regular exercise balls now that we all know about the "Bender Ball?"

I'm guessing most of you have seen these commercials, and perhaps some of you have even dropped the dough (plus "processing and handling," which is the new "shipping and handling) to purchase these miracle products. Not being much of a television person, I have seen my fair share of these new, primetime, unrelenting, too-good-to-be-true infomercials in just a few hours logged on the tube. Not only are these commercial more prolific than they were in the days when Cher and Chuck Norris were trying to sell us make-up and gym equipment, they are hitting the mainstream networks, airing at hours that normal people are awake!

It also seems like every other commercial requires you to turn down the volume as that "Al Borland" loud mouth look-alike Billy Mays comes screaming through your surround sound. Selling so many products, he forgets to change out of his "Orange-Glo" as he tries to convince you that miniature burgers that come in fives are better than an acceptable amout at a more reasonable size (Big City Slider.) Why should we even trust a guy who apparently knows so much about topics ranging from clean bathrooms to master gardening to culinary masterpieces? Although we all can't grow such a convincing beard as Mr. Mays, can't we all don an embroidered shirt and yell at the camera while reading off cue cards?

I'd buy a wrench, hammer, flannel shirt, or beard trimmer from Al

The general public is oviously sold on these products, as the infomercial is now exceeding $91 billion a year!! Yes, that is BILLION . . . three orders of magnitude larger that $91 million. At $19.95 a piece, that figure amounts to 1.9 billion Ped Eggs a year (that includes the free one at that price, but NOT including the $6.99 S&H fee PER EGG!! which I doubt is included in the $91 billion, even though that's where they are REALLY making their money. Just ask the Video Professor guy, who will send you a FREE CD for only $6.95!)

It doesn't look like these commercial annoyances are going away anytime soon, so look for Mr. Mays to barge into your living room many more times in the future, especially since I don't think that "Sham Wow" guy with the creepy eye, nasaly voice and Garth Brooks headset is going to take any product endorsement opportunities away from Billy Boy.

What I'd like to see hit the market are things that would make my life easier.
  • A "Math-Wow" pill, whereby students of mathematics can "soak up" all the knowledge and skills necessary to pass one of my tests.
  • An un-microwave to rapidly cool down the food you accidentally overheated in the microwave, like Hot Pocket filling.
  • Duct tape that is insulated enough to quiet the dampened muffles coming out of a taped mouth.
  • A robot that will go to work and earn money for you so you can stay home and watch television and blog more.
  • Food that doesn't make you fat but still tasted good . . . that also makes itself and cleans up the dishes afterward.
  • Bathrooms that don't get dirty to begin with.
  • A product called the "Perfect Pushup" that actually make pushups easier and not more difficult.
  • A cell phone that doesn't take picture, doesn't take movies, doesn't access the internet, can't play music, and doesn't send of receive text messages, but only makes and receives phone calls.
  • An automatic "MUTE" button that activates as soon as a Billy Mays commercial comes on.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Anniversary Bliss

Sunday, my wife and I celebrated our 12th year of being married . . . to each other. By celebrating, I mean in the fashion that two 30-somethings with two children can do: A restaurant with a kid's menu and ice skating for three hours. It seemed very apropos.

What you might think was a very uneventful, unromantic was actually one of the most funnest days (double superlative for affective effect) I've ever had with my whole family that didn't involve someone getting their butt whipped afterward. In other words, it was at least eventful . . .

With our anniversary coming right on the heels of Christmas, it's always hard to find that "perfect" gift for the wife that Santa didn't already bring her. That means this year that pretty anything except new undergarments is fair game. But therein lies the problem. . . what do you get for the woman who has everything (and me)???? This is what made shopping for her at Christmas so difficult. As much as she likes "frugality" as a gift, it sure is uneventful to unwrap it.

That's why this year, I treated her to a day that was exactly what the kids wanted. Just seeing them smile and skate around the rink for hours meant that she didn't have to address their every need. The fact that the ice skating was such a physical activity that the children would but very, very tired and exhausted when we got home was only a bonus. Besides, what better gift is there in life than the pure joy of seeing an innocent child's genuine smile (excluding 50-inch, high-def televisions)??

To make the experience more superb, I treated her to her favorite Mexican restaurant, El Mercado, that we used to frequent way back when we were undergraduates at UT, a restaurant that incidentally served CHICKEN NUGGETS. It really was a win-win situation for me: the kids were happy, I got my long-coveted beef fajita chimichanga drizzled with sour cream like a oven-fresh pastry, and my wife got her tri-colored enchiladas (three different sauces draped PERPENDICULAR to the length of the three wrapped corn tortillas rather than one enchilada per sauce--a subtle but HUGE detail in a successful dining experience.)

Yes, I think it's safe to say the enchiladas are a better anniversary gift that that "Ab Cruncher" I gave her so many naive years ago.

Anyhow, the ice skating thing for a thrill-seeking, foolish maniac like I am (to use "myself" here, although widely spoken is irritably, nonetheless, incorrect) was somewhat muted. Because of my current bad knee, I had to stick with only doing DOUBLE axels and lutzes instead of my usual QUADRUPLE one.

Actually, I was relegated to not the "skater Dad extraordinaire", but rather the "skateless guardian of shoes and purses who takes candid photos of the happy, warm skaters who also saves enough seats during the Zamboni breaks." Because of my bad knee, I had to take pleasure in the vicarious pleasures of my loved ones. It wasn't too hard to do, although sitting inside the giant refrigerator without moving for almost 3 hours (unlike the warm skaters) made my happiness and pleasure a "numb, dull, and frozen" one. A small price to pay for being not only "Husband Supremus" but "Awesome Dad" as well.

The day ended with me thawing out in front of the air vent in the Pathfinder blowing hot air on me during the hour drive home, then carrying my sleeping kids into the house. I didn't know it was possible to smile in your sleep until both my kids helped me discover it.

That evening, in my sleep, I dreamed that I was ice skating hand in hand with my entire family, my kids on the end, an chicken nugget in their free hand. If dreams really do come true, perhaps I was just envisioning the events of my 13th anniversary (which I believe IS the chicken nugget year.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Being a math teacher, I know my conic sections. Perhaps of all the cross sections of a double-napped cone (has better hair than it actually sounds), degenerates excluded. My favorite has to be the ellipse, commonly known in less mathematical circles among the non-nerdy as "ovals." Not that the circle, parabola, and hyperbola aren't fascinating and amazingly useful conics, the ellipse has always held a special place in my heart ever since I was called weird by my 1st grade teacher, and before that by my mom and dad, but what's a newborn with asthma, pneumonia, and a giant smile to do?

Yes, the ellipse is such a remarkable section of a cone. Obtained by slicing a right circular cone at such an angle is beyond parallel to the base, but not parallel to the side of the cone, so that the slice exits the other side of the cone (practice makes perfect . . . . practice!) they certainly come in all shapes and sizes and have such fascinating reflective properties. From the smallest elliptical cam gear in an engine, to the vat of water in the lithotripsy procedure, to the semi-ellipsoidal whispering rooms ("pssssst, I like math . . . . shhhhh, don't tell anyone . . ." ) in capital rotundas, to the giant orbital paths of celestial bodies, ellipses certainly are hard to pigeonhole.

A lithotripter and a lithotriptor

It's the measure of the "oblongness" of an ellipse that has stolen my heart. Some "ovals" are almost as perfectly circular as a poorly balanced tire, while some are nearly as flat as a math student's enthusiasm in the classroom after Christmas break. The measure of this "roundness," "flatness," "oblongness," or "who cares-ness" is called the eccentricity for the ellipse, where "eccentricity" literally translates to "out of round" in some obscure, non-English language.

You see, every ellipse has two points along the longer axis set in from the edges called the "foci," pronounced "Fo-ci." The numerical signature of every ellipse is simply the ratio of the distance from the center to a single focus (singular for "fo-ci"), called the focal length to the distance from the center to one edge along the longer side, called the "semi-major axis length." The closer these foci are to the center, the rounder the ellipse and the closer the eccentricity is to zero, a number whose symbol looks startlingly like a round circle. The further these foci are from the center (and the closer they are to the edge), the flatter the ellipse and the closer the eccentricity is to one, a number whose Arabic symbol looks startlingly like a flat line standing on edge.

How "out of round" are you??

So I guess my penchant for ellipses comes from our affinity for being "eccentric," a term we prefer over "weird," or "oval," and much like the (former) planet of Pluto, whose orbit had the most eccentric orbit in our Solar System, we have grown up ostracized, criticized, misunderstood, and even castigated, abandoned, and excommunicated from our peers.

Oval Outcasts

Anyway, to make a long, boring story short and boring, I've been thinking about ellipses again recently not only because of my non-sequitur, high-brow humor among my friends and family, but mainly because of my new, low-impact ELLIPTICAL running machine.

With my bad knee and inability to pound the pavement like I'm akin to do, I've purchase an artificial running device that allows me to torture myself without leaving the relative comfort of my garage. Supposedly "better" on the knees because of its smooth, eccentric motion, the experience feels very unnatural, synthetic, and goofy. Having not exercised since July through no lack of trying, my first 30 minutes on it this morning sent me into what I called my "post elliptical cardiac infarction." I really felt like I was going to die, not just because a few of my neighbors saw me bouncing up and down in front of my table saw, but because a felt like my heart was going to explode.

But whether it's enduring criticism or exercising, if you do it enough, you get increasingly better at it.

In the case of the elliptical, I'm hoping that the more time I spend on it, ironically, the LESS out of round my body will be.

I'm not sure there's much hope for my personality (I'm an INTJ).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Start Over

Today is a day of new beginnings, the first day of the year. It is a day that brings new opportunities, new hopes, and new expectations. Although it is just another day in the continuum of our lives, January 1st is a symbolic that we, under the Gregorian Calendar, attach importance to.

Not only do we need to go out an purchase new 12-month calendars, but we are urged to rush in and buy remaining 2008 autos at never before heard of low prices in order to make room for new models. We are hastened to take advantage of 1-day only blowout, door-busting prices at local merchants, sales that won't recur until later in the week.

It's a day the local hospital and its pregnant denizens race and push and breath and push some more to be the first to give birth to the first baby of the year. It's also a day that all of our hospital insurance deductibles reset to zero, which means we all walk around a little more careful and cautious as to avoid any foolish, unnecessary trips to emergency room.

Today also marks the beginning of the end of the college football season, as we jockey for position on the sofa in front of the television to watch any of the multitude of interesting bowl games, a tune up for the NFL playoffs and the upcoming Super Bowl. But as many sit around and cheer for their favorite team, they do so with new found restraint and resolve, avoiding excessive potato chips, dips, fatty foods, beer, and other unhealthy, hedonistic habits.

Yes, New Year's Day is a day of ephemeral resolutions, a definitive day on a new calendar to start a clean slate and live more productive, salubrious lives.

Today, many vow to themselves or to others that they will eat less and exercise more. To save more and spend less. To smoke less and breathe more. To drink less alcohol and bump into fewer things. To spend more time with family and friends and blog less. To reduce stress and increase rest, relaxation, and recreation. To spend more time learning something new, like playing a musical instrument, speaking a foreign language, or how to do laundry (different colors, different temperatures, with or without bleach, . . . ) To get organized and file away all those papers on top of the filing cabinet, find that buried can of black-eyed peas in the back of the pantry, or to clean out the closet full of clothes that won't be in style or fit for a few more years, or to clean out the refrigerator and finally get rid of the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Whatever you decide to do today, be it to rush out and buy a closeout auto model then zip to the local Kohl's in time for the Night Owl specials, stay home and watch football with the family while munching on carrot sticks, or begin organizing your life by carefully writing down a few attainable goals for the year, I wish you luck and success in each of your endeavors and health and happiness on this new day, in this new month, in this new year, in this new life.

Excuse me now while my family and I gather around the TV to watch "Tinkerbell" over a bowl of "Healthy Heart" cereal wearing our matching "Hannah Montana" pajamas.

Oh, the festival of living!