Sunday, July 9, 2017

Entry 387: Deep Thoughts with DG

I had something stuck in my mental craw for a while.  I have a decent understanding of the basics of Einstein's theory of relativity, especially the "special" version.  One of the consequences of it is that time slows down and distances get shorter for objects moving at very high speeds.  At first this sounds totally insane (because it is), but once you accept that the speed of light is constant for all observers, always, then it has to follow.  The thought experiments that demonstrate this are not that difficult to follow if you're actually willing to sit down and think them through.

A further consequence is that time travel into the future is theoretically possible.  If we had a craft that could move close to the speed of light, somebody could get in, zoom out into space for, say, 16 years (their time), and then return to Earth.  Since time was moving "normally" here (not slowed down) more than 16 years would have elapsed for us -- let's say, 20 years, for the sake of example -- and thus our rocketperson would have effectively traveled 4 years into the future.  Totally trippy, but totally true.  (In fact, I believe this is how Ender time travels at the end of Ender's Game, one of the few science fiction/fantasy books I read and enjoyed -- even if the author is kind of a bigot).

So that's all well and good, but here's the part that started bothering me.  Speed is a relative concept.  In the scenario above, we think of our rocketperson as moving at a very high speed, and that's true, they are, relative to Earth.  We could just as easily think of the rocketperson as being still and the Earth moving at a very high speed with respect to them.  But if that's the case, then why doesn't time slow down on Earth?  How does science know that the rocketperson is supposed to go into the future relative to people on the Earth, rather than vice versa?  How does it know?!

This had been bothering me off and on for some time, but I started thinking about it a lot while listening to an episode of Startalk.  I was actually going to email the show to see if Neil deGrasse Tyson would talk about it, but before I did this, I thought "maybe Google has an answer for me.  Maybe somebody else has thought of this."  Somebody has.

In fact, this conundrum has a name, The Twin Paradox, and it is "arguably the most famous thought experiment in relativity theory."  Huh, how 'bout that?  (Traditionally the problem has been framed by considering two identical twins, one who stays on Earth and one who rockets off into space at a high speed before returning years later.  The traveler will be younger than the homebody upon returning.)  As I've said before, I have mixed emotions when I think of something interesting and then Google it to find out that people way smarter than me have already thought of the same thing many times over.  On the one hand, it sucks because it's not original; on the other it's cool because I came up with the same thing on my own as really smart people.  It's a weird sorta of simultaneous rejection and validation.

The article linked above does a really good job of resolving the paradox, but I'm still not completely satisfied.  I now understand (I think) how science knows the difference between the traveler and the homebody in this particular example.  The travel returns to the reference frame of the other, not vice versa.  One way to think of it (I think) is to add a third person who can observe the clocks of both twins from a stationary position in the universe.  The clock of the twin on Earth never changes with respect to this third person, the clock of the twin in the spacecraft does when he or she makes the return trip to Earth.  If the twin in space never turned around and the Earth somehow shot off into space and caught up with the traveler so that it's clock was moving at the same rate as the traveler, then (I think) the twin on Earth would be younger than the twin in the spacecraft.

But there are still two things that bother me about this problem: (1) What would happen if instead of traveling out into space away from Earth, the traveling twin just orbited Earth at a very high speed before returning -- would he or she be younger then?  (2) Why is it the traveling twin specifically who gets younger?  I understand there is a difference between the two, but why does this difference manifest itself one way and not the other way?

For (1), I really don't know, but my guess is "no".  For (2), I think I will just have to content myself with the answer "because that's how the math works".  And by the way, although that's not the most satisfying answer in the world, it's also not a terrible one.  There have been many, many times throughout my life in which I tried to conceptualize a bit of mathematics and couldn't really do it, so I just memorized the parts I needed and moved on, and then at random moment in the future, something would click, and it was like "Ah... So that's why that's like that!  That's where that formula comes from!"  As an example, I went through an entire year of high school calculus (and scored a 4 on the AP Exam, I might add) without really understanding conceptually what the derivative of a function is.  This is kinda amazing and kinda impressive in a weird way.  I knew how to calculate derivatives, but I didn't really get what they are or why they're important until I got to college and did something I had never done before -- read a calculus textbook.

This brings me to another topic, one I've thought about a lot before and probably even blogged about here before: I wonder if a "concepts driven" approach to math education is the correct one.  Back when I was a TA and taught community college, the emphasis was always on the concepts -- teach the concepts, the formulas have no meaning without the concepts, math isn't just rote memorization and manipulating symbols it's about learning concepts.  But when I think back over my own experience in learning math, it's almost the exact opposite, especially before I got to college.  I memorized almost all the formulas first and then the concepts came, usually at a much later date.

Admittedly, I'm not very well-versed in the research of math education.  It could be I'm atypical, and weighing my own experience too heavily as part of a larger group.  I'm open to being proven wrong about this, but for now I'm sticking up for memorization and rote learning in mathematics.

Okay, gotta go.  We're going to a friend's annual pool party.  Last year I jumped into the pool with my phone and wallet in my pocket.  The wallet dried out fine, the phone, not so much.

Until next time...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Entry 386: Indie 500 Tournament

I had a crossword puzzle published on Friday, so I took the opportunity to update my puzzle blog, and write about my experience at the annual Indie 500 crossword puzzle tournament, which I attended a few weeks ago.  Since I don't have time to write two blog entries per weekend (who am I Sparetime McGee?), I'm just going to put up this link and call it a post.

Oh, and here's a YouTube video of John Mellencamp's "R-O-C-K in the USA" in honor of Independence Day.

Until next time...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Entry 385: Parking and Politics

On the first day of summer school, I used the roundabout like we were asked.  It was a bit slow, but to the school's credit they kept it flowing as best they could.  The main issue was that a traffic light on a neighboring street went out and caused a jam that backed up all the way to the school.  That's just an unfortunate one-off event.  It's not the school's fault, and it's not something that happens regularly.

On the next day, however, I decided to test out street parking.  I pulled up right in front of the guy monitoring the streets, parked, got Lil' S1 out, and started to walk toward the school.  He politely confronted me and told me I couldn't park there.  I said I'd just be a minute and took Lil' S1 inside.  On the way back I went up to him and hashed out the parking issue.  It was mostly a friendly conversation.  I was probably a bit overly contentious at first because I felt like he was bullshitting me, but once he realized I wasn't going to let it fly, the conversation took a turn for the better.  Here's a pharaphrased excerpt.

Me: The thing that bothers me is that that's not how parking works anywhere else.  I can't tell people not to park on my street Sunday afternoon for church.  It's a city street.  Anybody can park there within the laws of the city.
Him: It's part of our zoning agreement with the neighborhood.  I can show your the clause in the paperwork.  It's something we agreed to with the neighborhood association.
Me: But there are no signs anywhere stating this.  If this neighborhood is zoned different for parking at this time, why hasn't the city changed the signage?
Him: It's not an agreement with the city.  It's our agreement neighborhood association.
Me: OK, then what streets are specified in the agreement?
Him: We don't have specific streets laid out.  It's just that we have an agreement that you won't park on the street to drop your kid off.
Me: I don't see how you can possibly enforce that.  I don't see how that's legally binding.
Him: [This is where his tone changed]  Well, it's not legally binding.  I'll be honest, if you continue to park there, there's nothing I can really do about it.  I'm not going to, like, call the cops or anything.
Me: Then what's the point?  Why not just let me park here without bothering me?
Him: I wish I could, honestly.  I'm the director of finance.  I'm the third highest paid employee at the school, and I'm out here doing this every morning, because if I don't people in the neighborhood complain.  It's really only two or three families, but they have a lot of pull, and they can make it hard on us.  I agree with you, actually.  I wish we could push back on this.  But we have to play nice.
Me: And these people with a lot a pull, if they go out to eat in DuPont Circle, and they park on the street in front of a bunch row houses, do you think they even consider how it affects the residents of that neighborhood?
Him: Of course not.  I'm sure they don't.  You're right.

And I figured there wasn't going to be a better note to leave on than that.  He could have just been telling me what I wanted to hear, but I took him at his word, in part because I didn't want to get to work too late.

So now I have to decide what to do.  I don't think I'm going to park on the street in plain view again, especially if this guy is out on patrol.  Then I would be directly defying him, and that's not something I want to do.  I'm not going to get on the bad side of a school administrator over this.  But I might park on the side streets out of view.  Or I might just breakdown and use the roundabout.  It's actually faster than parking.  But it's also more annoying.  So I dunno.

In other news, the Senate is posed to vote on their "repeal and replace" Obamacare bill.  It actually neither repeals nor replaces Obamacare; it just takes away a lot of its funding to pay for tax cuts for rich people.  It's an awful, cruel bill, and one that will probably disproportionately hurt people who vote for Republicans.  But I still think it will pass in some form (Jonathan Chait explains why nicely in this article), and I think the political blow back from the right will be less severe than one would hope.  I suspect a disturbingly high percentage of rank-and-file Republican voters would trade away health insurance for white nationalism.  Then you toss in the people who don't actually know how legislation works (the "KEEP GOVMENT OUT OF MEDICADE DAMMIT" people), the tribalists who would rather die than help a "libertard" win an election, and the affluent people who actually like the new law because it cuts their taxes, and you've got almost the entirety of the Republican electorate.  Man, what a loathsome party.

But if you want to end on bit optimism it's this: The Republican margin of error in elections does appear to be waning (slowly waning, painfully slowly waning, but waning nonetheless).  It often seems things will never change, but they always do.  And if this disastrous healthcare bill shaves off a sliver of the GOP advantage, it will help things change -- for the better.  It's not much of a silver lining, but it's something.

Until next time...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Entry 384: My School Parking Dilemma

I have a minor dilemma on my hands at the moment.  It has to do with school parking, which is an underrated source of consternation in many parents' lives.  My oldest son starts summer camp on Monday at an expensive private school a few neighborhoods away from us.  They have curbside drop-off, so parents don't have to get out of their car, which is especially nice for parents who have other little kids with them, but I prefer not to use it.  I always drop Lil' S2 off at his daycare first, and the school's roundabout drop-off zone always turns into a massive clusterfuck, which I do my best to avoid, so I like to park on the street and walk the few dozen yards to the school.  Some other parents like to do this too.

But this year in the back-to-school packet it says explicitly that we are not supposed to park on the street anymore due to an "agreement" between the school and the homeowners in the area, who are undoubtedly annoyed by the added congestion in the neighborhood caused by street parking.  This request, to not park in the street, has been reiterated in several subsequent emails.

My dilemma: Do I continue to park on the street this summer?  At first blush, the answer is no, because it's now against the rules.  But here's the thing: The street doesn't belong to either the school nor the homeowners.  It belongs to they city.  Anybody is allowed to park there within the confines of DC law.  The school and the homeowners have no legal right to make an agreement among themselves governing city parking.  Of course the agreement could be that the school will ask parents not to park there as an act of goodwill (which I think is the case), but unless they made some sort of agreement with the city as well (which I don't think is the case) then it doesn't hold any water beyond an expression of courtesy.

And so there is a big part of me that says "fuck it," if it's legal to park on the street, I'm going to park on the street if I damn well please.  After all, that's how it works everywhere else in the city.  I live within a mile radius of at least 20 churches (not an exaggeration), on Sunday afternoon there is never street parking on my block.  We just have to deal with it.  A prominent Jewish school is three doors down from me, and when the bus drops off kids in the morning it blocks an entire lane of traffic; sometimes I have to drive a little bit out of the way to avoid the congestion.  But that's part of living in society, especially in a big city.  Everybody in every neighborhood has to deal with a business or a school or any other establishment that attracts crowds.  Having to put up with a little extra congestion for -- what? --  a hour half?  45 minutes? twice a day is hardly an exceptional burden.

The whole thing smacks of entitlement and privilege to me -- which I hate.  The school is in a very wealthy part of town, and I strongly suspect this would not be an issue if it wasn't.  It's really rich people who are annoyed because it takes them an extra three minutes to get out of their neighborhood during their morning commutes, and they pay a lot in property taxes, dammit!  Meanwhile, I assure you, when they go somewhere else in the city and have to park on the street, they don't give a second thought as to how it affects people in that community.  It's total, hypocritical BS.

With that said, sometimes it's better to just go along and get along, even if you're getting the short end of the stick.  It doesn't behoove me in any way to get on the bad side of the people who are responsible for the well-being of my son for eight hours a day for the next six weeks.  If they ask me not to park on the street, then isn't it best to just not park on the street?  Therein lies my dilemma.

Well, I have to go now, but I'm sure you are all on the edge of your seats waiting to see how this all resolves, so I will keep you posted.  But for now, I must bid you adieu.

Until next time...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Entry 383: More of the Same

The big news this week is that James Comey testified before Congress.  I don't have much to say about it, because it was more of the same.  We all already know that Russia interfered with the election; we all already know that James Comey was investigating this; we all already know that Donald Trump didn't want him to, because (a) the interference helped him (he publicly encouraged it), (b) he or his associates have been in cahoots with the Russians, (c) he has deep financial ties to Russia that he doesn't want detailed in public; we all already know Trump fired Comey specifically because of this investigation; we all already know that this is grounds for an obstruction of justice case; we all already know that congressional Republicans already know this and they don't care; and we all already know that Donald Trump lies constantly, so it's not even worth considering what he says in his own defense.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Comey testified.  I'm glad all this stuff is on record.  I just don't think it changes anything.  I didn't understand the hype.  Congressional Republicans have made it clear that there is no transgression too egregious and no embarrassment too great for them to turn against Trump in any meaningful way.  As long as they have a president willing to sign into law tax cuts for the rich, they will put up with literally anything.  If you told Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell that Donald Trump signed over the country to Putin to pay off his debts, their first move would be to Google "What's the marginal tax rate in Russia?"

The unfortunate reality is that we are very likely stuck with Donald Trump for the foreseeable future.  We have to vote him out (and vote out his party in the midterms for being complicit).  It's our best hope.  And even that might not work.  Because Trump is shady as hell and will do everything he can to tilt any election in his favor, legal or otherwise, and even if things are on the up-and-up, he's still very popular with a sizable portion of the country.  He's certainly more popular than Congressional Republicans, which is another reason why they put up with everything he does.  They recognize that if Republican voters are forced to choose between them and Trump, it's not going to go well for them.  The only incentive they have to oppose Trump is one of dignity and patriotism, and if you think those are important qualities to Republican leaders, you haven't been pay attention for the past 25 years.

And Trump's base doesn't mind his lying and undermining of democratic norms.  They like it even.  Because they see it as pushing back against "the deep state" whatever the hell that means.  That's one thing that his election has made abundantly clear.  A lot of people aren't all that interested in things like honesty and constitutional democracy.  They have different values -- or value, rather  They're one issue voters: white supremacy.  That's it.  That's their issue.  It always comes back to this, doesn't it?

Yes, I know not everybody who voted for Trump is a white supremacist.  But I do think this is the strongest through line of his base.  A data scientist name Seth Stephens Davidowitz just put out a new book in which he analyzes behavior based on Google trends, and he argued pretty convincingly (in an interview, I just started his book, so I haven't gotten to the good part yet) that racism was the main driver of Trump's election.  Van Jones got it right when he called it "white lash."  A decent hunk of the population feels like demographic changes are being shoved down their throats (because things really are changing), and they don't like it.  So they respond to somebody like Donald Trump who says openly the things that other Republicans are only willing to convey via dog whistle.  It doesn't matter if these things are true or not.  The content isn't important; it's all about the context.  And the context is pretty clear: Let's keep America a white-dominated country for a little bit longer.

Now, the good news is that most people don't think this way.  The bad news is that "most" is only like 55%, not 95%, where it should be.  And of this 55%, a lot of them don't vote (when they do, we get Obama; when they don't, we get Trump), and of those who do vote, too many of them are congregated in the same ten or so cities, which makes winning majorities district-by-district and state-by-state an uphill battle.  So I genuinely don't know how this ends.  I think ten years from now, we'll be in a better place, thinking to ourselves, "God, I'm glad that shit is over."  But I don't think it's a sure thing by any means.

Alright, I think I have to wrap it up here.  S is out of the country for a while, so I'm on extra dad duty.  Her parents came up to help out, which I'm always extremely grateful for, but they can only do so much, because the boys will only let them do so much.  Most of it is on me, which is okay, but it means free time for blogging is even more limited than it usually is.

[S posted this on FaceBook.  An undisclosed location in Ghana, where she was stationed for the week.  Good for her.  She works hard at her job and at home.  Any amenities she gets are well-earned.] 

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Entry 382: Weekend Review

I didn't have a chance to sit down this weekend and crank out an entry, so I'll do it now, on my lunch break.  This post might have to serve double-duty, as I've got a lot on my plate this coming weekend as well.  The big Indie 500 crossword puzzle tournament is on Saturday, so that knocks out an entire day for me -- in a very enjoyable manner.  I'm not going to finish among the contenders -- there will be some ridiculously fast solvers in attendance, and I'm more into constructing than solving -- but still, it's a lot of fun to hobnob with my fellow cruciverbalists.  I'm looking forward to it.

Last Saturday, we took the kids to Sesame Place, a relatively small Sesame Street themed amusement park outside of Philadelphia.  It was fun day, but it was a long day.  We woke up early with the intent of getting to the park when it opened at 10 a.m. (it's about a two and a half hour drive), but we got there closer to 11.  The delay was mostly caused by me, but S compounded the problem.  One thing about her that drives me crazy is when she's making us run late, she flips out if I try to so much as gentle nudge her along, but when I'm running late, she has no patience whatsoever, and she does things that are actively counterproductive just because... well, I don't really know why -- to prove a point?  Because she gets antsy?  I'm not sure.

The reason I was running late is because I forgot to move some clothes from the washing machine into the dryer the night before.  Then as I was walking out the door, I remembered, and I didn't want the clothes to get that mildewy smell they get if you leave them in the wash for a long time, so I moved them into the dryer before we left.  S was already on the way to the car with the kids when I had to double back, so she was annoyed, which I understand, but instead of waiting for a few minutes, she left to get gas.  This made no sense as there is a gas station on the way to the highway we were taking, like, right on the way, like, no turns or parking lots, like, you could not have something more on the way than this -- you can pull in, fill up, and pull out, all in about two minutes, literally.  Yet instead of doing this, S got gas, and I waited for them for at least five minutes.  So we actually lost time.  But of course it wasn't really about our time; it was about S being annoyed and not wanting to wait for me.

So the drive up was a bit icy initially, but things thawed as they always do, and we had a nice day at the park.  We went on a roller coaster first, because Lil' S1 wanted to try it out.  It was his first roller coaster.  I'm not sure if he liked it or not.  He said it was fun, but he also said it was scary, and he didn't ask to go on it again.  In general, he didn't seem that into the rides, which was fine by me, as I hate amusement park rides.  At best they make me feel only mildly nauseous.  Lil' S1 was much more interested in the water-park section.

But before we did that we went to this special lunch at which you are served terrible, terrible food in the presence of a bunch of poor schmoes in oversize Sesame Street costumes.  It was pretty fun though.  The kids seemed to like it, and we got some decent pics out of it.  You can take a picture with your phone with any of the characters except Elmo.  For Elmo, you have to wait in a special line in a roped off area, where they have an in-house photographer who takes all the pics.  Then if you want one, you have to buy it.  That's how they get you -- or try to get you, anyway.  We didn't fall for it.  Cookie Monster was good enough for us.

After lunch (if you could call it that) we met up with two other families, one we were planning on meeting, the other one, some friends from school, we just chanced upon.  (I'd say it's a small world, but that's a different theme park... get it?)  We spent most the day at the water park.  The water was super cold, for some reason, and it was quite overcast, so it was kinda chilly, but it was also nice because there were no crowds anywhere.  You could go right up to all the water slides without waiting in line.  I'd trade that for beautiful weather every time.  The water there is never deeper than a few feet, but it still makes me really nervous because Lil' S1 can't swim yet.  (He's taking lessons this fall.)  We had him in a life jacket initially, but then he wasn't allowed to go down any of the slides, so we took it off, and just kept a close eye on him.  He was fine.

The demographics at Sesame Place obviously skew toward young parents, and in the water park people are obviously scantly clad, so it was tattoo central.  I usually hate it when older people rag on younger generations (don't even get me started will all the people my age and older who have never accomplished anything of not, but think today's youth is being ruined by "participation trophies"), but I have to say -- what the fuck is up with all the tats now?

When I was in high school the older brother of a friend of mine got a small tattoo on his ankle, and I thought it was a big deal.  Then the great tattoo arms race began.  People in my generation started getting tattoos, usually in inconspicuous places, like the back or the shoulder, maybe the chest or the foot, and then it moved to the bicep and then all the way down the arm (sleeves), and now it's just a total free-for-all.  You see white dudes with Ed Hardy-esque designs covering their entire legs; black dudes with cursive writing all over their bodies that you can't quite make out (is that scripture or the names of ex-girlfriends?); chicks of all colors with stars running up the napes of their necks.  And it's not just one or two or even four or five.  It's quite common to see people -- normal parents with small kids -- covered from head to toe in tats.

I'm not trying to be a hater, but I just don't get it.  Why do you want to imprint something you were feeling at 23 onto your body for the rest of your life?  The best you could reasonable hope for in that situation is that you look at it at age 38 and aren't completely embarrassed by it.  Does anybody look at their tattoos fifteen years down the line and think, "Man, this is so bad ass!  I'm so glad I got it!  23-year-old me really knew what they were doing!"  And then there is the irony of branding yourself with a symbol of individuality... just like everybody else your age.  As Lisa Simpson once said, "how rebellious. In a conformist sort of way."

Well, not me.  I'm not getting a tattoo, and therefore I'm the real rebel, right?  (At least until they go out of fashion, which is bound to happen sometime soon.)  Oh, and by the way, if you are reading this and you have a tattoo, like, say, maybe you are my wife, I'm not talking about you, of course.  I love your tattoo.  It's everybody else, not you.

[My "favorite" tattoo from this article of terrible NBA tattoos -- a guy blowing his brains out under the banner "ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE".  That's what I want on my forearm forever!]

You know who I feel sorry for, though?  The first person who got a tattoo band around their bicep.  They just thought they were getting a cool looking bit of body art.  Little did they know, through no fault of their own, they were soon going to become a walking cliché of douchebaggery.  It's similar to how I feel about parents who give their kid the new cool, trendy name just before it becomes the new cool, trendy name.  They just thought it was a nice, interesting name, and then a few years later they realize every third kid at their child's school is named the same thing.  Because it's not like you can do much about it.  It's not like you can tell people, "Hi, this is our son Max, and we thought of it first!"


The rest of the park was fun.  We lost two kids, but they were found rather quickly.  Our friends' daughter ran ahead a little too quickly and got separated from the pack.  She's a little bit older than our kids (7, I think), and so she had enough sense to find a helpful-looking woman and ask her to call her mom (she also knows her mom's phone number which is good).  But her mom knew where she was running off to, so she caught up to her as she was receiving the call.

Then, in a scarier moment, Lil' S1 took off to try to buy candy when S and I had our backs turned.  He specifically waited until we weren't looking, ran to the candy shop, and asked them for candy.  When they told him he needed money, he started asking random patrons if they would give him money.  Quickly somebody realized his parents weren't around, so they had an employee take him to Lost Children, where S was waiting in tears.  He was missing for probably about ten minutes, which, when it comes to a lost kid, feels like an eon.

I was definitely concerned, but I never got to the point of full-fledged panic.  (This is when my robotic nature is a good thing.)  I went straight to the exits.  I figured if he was in the park, he was very likely to be found by S before too long (which is what happened), as the park isn't that big, so I just needed to make sure he didn't slip out, either through his own volition, or, in the nightmare scenario, through somebody else's.  In the latter case, I was ready to put my Krav Maga skills to an early test.

But thankfully there was no need.  I laid into him pretty good about running away (after giving him an initial hug and kiss of relief, of course).  I was trying to put the fear of god into him.  I'm not in favor of physical punishment, but if I was, this would have been a good time for it.  The thing is he still doesn't totally get it.  In retrospect, I think he realized what he did was wrong, but I don't think he thought it was wrong at the time.  He wanted candy, and we told him no, so he figured eluding us and begging strangers for money was a reasonable option.  It would be funny, if it wasn't real life.

He's starting to get sneakier in general, like, he'll lie to me, and then when I call him on it, he'll say, "Ha!  Tricked you!" or "Just joking!" and act as if it was all a prefabricate gag, which it clearly wasn't.  Fortunately, he's so transparent in his antics -- "Daddy, put a chair under the place where the fruit snacks are, and then leave and don't come back until I say so, okay?" -- that he can't get away with much, but it's only a matter of time until he gets savvier.  And then what?  I guess that's a question every parent has to grapple with in due time.

And speaking of time, I'm out of it.

Until next time...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Entry 381: Taking My Own Advice

Back in the day, when I used to teach college math, one of the things that most annoyed me was when a student would come in to my office and ask for help with a problem (usually the night before an exam) without even having tried the problem on their own first.  The conversation would go something like this:

Student: Hey, uh, like, I need some help with these problems.
Me: Okay, which one?
Student: Like, any of them.
Me: Okay, well, that's pretty broad.  Which one in our latest assignment first gave you trouble?
[Wait a few minutes while student locates materials in backpack.  Student points to first problem in the assignment.]
Student: This one.
Me: Alright. What part is giving you trouble?
Student: Like, all of it.  I don't even know where to start.
Me: Okay.  This problem is a lot like the examples we went through in class yesterday.  Did you understand what was going on then?
Student: Uh... not really.  I thought I did, but not really.
Me: Okay, that's fine.  What about the examples like this at the end of the chapter in book.  Did you understand those?
Student: [Blink, blink... blank stare]
Me: You did read this chapter, right? [Feigning surprise, even though I know damn well they haven't read a word of their textbook all semester.]
Student: Uh...
Me: [Going into "win one for the Gipper," pep talk mode] Listen, the only way you're going to learn is if you try.  The main learning has to come from you.  You have to sit down with the material and struggle through it.  I'm only here to provide guidance and fill in the gaps.  I can't learn for you.  So, here's what to do.  Go to the library, sit down and read the chapter.  Follow the examples and then try the problems.  I bet if you do that you will genuinely understand most it.  It's not really that hard.  People psyche themselves out with math.  But if you actually sit down and look at it, it all makes sense.  And if it doesn't -- if you are still stuck -- then you can come see me.  Sound good?
Student: Yeah, okay.

And then 15 minutes later I would get an email notification telling me that the student had dropped my class.  Oh well.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon.  I was working from home; it was S's birthday, and she wanted me to set up this internet booster for her.  What happened is she created a little office area in a nook in our bedroom for her to work in.  She cleaned it out, rearranged the furniture, and ordered a special desk that's small enough to fit in it, only to realize that it's perfectly in a dead zone for our Wi-Fi.  She was pretty bummed about it, but she ordered this booster, which is supposed to strengthen the signal.

The booster came, and I volunteered to set it up -- mainly because I knew S really didn't want to do it, and it was her birthday.  I didn't want to do it either.  In part because I hate doing stuff like that, and in part because our cable set up is a fucking mess.  It's a byzantine mesh of cables going every direction.  Everything was wired for the previous woman who live here, and then when we got internet (and for a while DirecTV; we're still connected to two dead satellites), apparently the cable guy just ran new cable in a bunch of places without getting rid of the old cables.  So, it's just turned into a web of wires.  I had no idea what to went to what and how.  Also, I'm not exactly what you would call "handy," so I tend not to mess with any of that stuff.  I just let the professionals install everything and hope I never have to touch it.

But now I had to set up this booster, which is basically just a second modem.  So I took it into the basement and set it up right next to our modem, and it didn't work.  Well, it worked, it was emitting a second Wi-Fi signal, but it still didn't provide service to the nook in our bedroom -- which makes sense because it was basically in the exact same place as our modem, which also couldn't reach that nook.  So I shrugged my shoulders and figured S would have to call Verizon and figure something else out.  Maybe we would have run even more wire around our house.

I went to work (at my actual job) and finished up some odd tasks.  But the booster was still gnawing at me.  I noticed there was a coaxial cable outlet in the room I was in, so I plugged the booster into it, just because I wanted to see what would happen.  I didn't think it would work, and I was right.  It didn't.  There was no internet signal.  But it did make me wonder why, so I followed where it was in the wall and figured that the cable must run somewhere in our crawl space.  I looked in there (literally the first time I opened it since we bought the house five years ago), and it was obvious which cable it was, and it wasn't connected to anything on the other end, which explains why it didn't work when I plugged the booster in.  I looked at some of the other cables in there, and I could see where they went, and then I had a mini epiphany.  Maybe the wiring was actually easy to figure out, and I had just never tried.  Maybe I was the annoying student!

So I decided to figure it all out, and within a half hour or so I had everything down pat.  I simultaneously felt smart (because I figured it out) and stupid (for not realizing a long time ago how easy it would be to figure it out).  I noticed there was a coaxial outlet in our room that was connected at the side of our house to a jack for a defunct DirecTV satellite.  So I disconnected it from that and connected it to an unused cable that runs around the back of our house.  Then I connected that cable to one in the crawlspace that goes through a little hole into our basement by the modem.  I then split our internet signal so that it goes to our modem and to this other wire.  Then I connected the booster to the coaxial outlet in our room -- and bingo!  It had an internet signal, and since it is in our room, right next to the nook, it provides great service.  I did it!  S was so happy!  It was the best birthday gift I could give her (and much better than nothing, which was my second choice).

Now, if you are technically savvy, and you are reading this, you might be thinking, "Uh... D, you just set up an internet booster.  You didn't design a flying car.  It's not that impressive.  In fact, it's not impressive at all."  And you are right, but you're also missing the point.  The moral of the story isn't that I did something difficult.  It's that I did something easy, because I actually tried to do it.  That's the takeaway: Don't just dismiss things reflexively as too hard.  You should always try, or, at the very least, try to try.

[I couldn't find the clip in which Bart promises Lisa that he will "try to try."  This is what came up instead.  It turns out Homer and I do not share similar life philosophies.]


A lot of other stuff happened this week too.  But I don't need to go into that.  I'm sure you are already well aware of it.  As somebody on social media said, "It feels like Netflix bought the news and released it all at once."  Too true.  Too true.

Oh, also, I now have a niece.  On Tuesday, my sister-in-law M gave birth to Lil' Ax  (same b-day as S).  She looks cute in pics, and I can't wait to see her in person when we visit this summer.  It's the first girl grandchild (of six) for my parents, so everybody is really excited about it.

Well, I guess, that's all for this post.  Until next time...