Month: November 2008
“Hey sibs, it’s that time again!”
“Time to make a Babylon Five sculpture out of chocolate?”
“Time to recap scenes from last weeks episode?”
“No, no. It’s time to remind everyone that the deadline for getting memberships for Gafilk at the low, low registration price of $30 is this weekend! On Monday the price goes up, when we reveal the identities of our Super Secret Guests!”
“Is one of them Barack Obama?”
“Iiiiiiiiiiiii….think he’s gonna be a bit busy in January. But I can tell you that our already announced guests this year include:
Guests of Honour: Barry and Sally Childs-Helton
Toastmaster: Larry Kirby
Interfilk Guest: Harold Feld
Plus, of course, not one but two Super Secret Guests! It’s going to be really exciting!”
“Wow, I can’t wait”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Go get your memberships right now! Supplies are running out!
“No they’re not!”
“Ssshhhhhh. This is called marketing!”
Gafilk 2009 will be held in Atlanta, GA on January 9-11, 2009. More details can be found at http://www.gafilk.org/, including hotel information. Hotel reservations should be made by December 25, 2009 to guarantee the convention rate.
Hope to see everyone there!
There’s been a thread on rec.arts.comics.strips about the value of maths education, and how much of the things you learn in maths class are really useful later in life. Brian Fies contributed a personal essay so profound I asked him for permission to reproduce it here.
I like doing square and cube roots on a slide rule–you don’t even have to
slide anything, just read the line on the proper log scale. That’s
probably one of the few instances where a slide rule remains easier to use
than a calculator (though as Mark says, not as accurate), and I think it
instills a good subconscious feel for what logarithms are all about.
To the original question of Why Bother Learning Math: Y’know, I really do
find myself using math up through at least the high school level very
regularly. Calculating square footages of flooring, what volume of topsoil I
need to cover a yard, what length of PVC pipe to buy, how many bookshelves
to build. Figuring averages, tips, gas mileage, food unit pricing. Once in a
while I bust out the Pythagorean Theorem or the volume of a sphere. It
actually is part of the fabric of my life that makes me a better consumer,
homeowner and citizen.
What I didn’t really get until I hit calculus in college is that math (and
physics) are more valuable to me philosophically than as nuts-and-bolts
problem solvers. There quickly comes a point where equations stop being
about turning a crank to find “the answer” then modeling how an idea or
physical phenomenon works. I don’t think I actually solved a single
calculation or equation for at least my last two years of university study.
For example, you don’t take Schrodinger’s wave equation, put in some
numbers, and get an answer of “42.” Rather, you take that equation and ask,
“What does it tell me about how a hydrogen atom might act?” and then go see
if the atom does that.
Even though I don’t use that level of math or even remember how to do it
anymore, I don’t consider that education a waste. It changed the way I look
at the universe and trained my brain in ways that have been beneficial to
me. One example: calculating hundreds of integrals from zero to infinity
gave me the habit of looking at the extreme possible outcomes of situations:
what would happen if everybody did something; what would happen if nobody
did it? What if the opposite action were taken (i.e., integrating from
negative infinity to zero or positive infinity)? What if that awful thing
done by the Democrats had been done by the Republicans (or vice versa)? What
if a policy that applies to black people were applied to whites? Or women to
men? Would I feel differently about it? Should I?
Plugging in zero and infinity to see what happens is a helpful way to
analyze a math problem and I find it a helpful way to analyze life, as well.
So, if you ever wondered to yourself, “why do I need to learn this stuff anyway”, that’s why.
Various links worth reading relating to the election:
George Wallace’s daughter ponders how he might have felt about the election of Barack Obama. A blogger at TalkingPointsMemo.com ponders what this election might mean for the future of both the Republican and Democratic party. Particularly worth noting is the section on The Joshua Generation. Obama’s speech about The Joshua Generation referenced above, delivered at the Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration in March, 2007.. I think it’s good enough to get it’s own citation here. Wil Wheaton nails it. Right on the head. More or less what people like myself and kitanzi were trying to say in our posts on Wednesday, only better. A lovely poem by Suzette Haden Elgin.
Last night, when MSNBC made the call for Obama, there was a cheer, and then a stunned silence among the quartet on my sofa. My immediate thought was, oddly enough, of the musical 1776. One of the finest moments in William Daniel’s masterful performance as John Adams comes right at the end, when the motion on Independence passes. “It’s done!” he says forcefully, then, pausing a moment, he seems to deflate, and with somber realization, he repeats softly, “It’s done.”
It’s worth remembering that while we celebrate the date of the Declaration as Independence Day, it was on October 19th, 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, that the wheels set in motion by that historic document were realized. And thus, it’s important to realize that the election of Barack Obama is not the end of anything. It is the beginning of something, and there is much blood, sweat, and toil ahead of us.
There are many things that I admire about Obama that have little to do with his political leanings. I admire that he is a thoughtful man, a deliberate man, a man who is considerate of the opinions of others. I admire that he is intellectually curious, and I admire that he is willing to admit publicly that he doesn’t have all the answers, and that he will make mistakes. I expect him to surround himself with quality advisers, and I expect him to listen to them.
I know there are people who read this who are disappointed in the results. Some of them have been gracious, and some of them have been bitter and angry. I want to say to them that they are still my friends, and shall always be, no matter how we might disagree on issues of the day. I’m a firm believer in consensus, and I think that the conservative viewpoint does have merit and should be factored into the decisions that are made by the government.
To those who are ecstatic over the results, who worked hard to make this happen by donating time, money, and words to the campaign, well done. But please remember that most of the people who worked just as hard for McCain are not bad people. They love our country as much as we do, even if they disagree with us on what is best for it. If we stop and take the time to actually talk to one another rather than past one another, we may yet find that there is more that binds us together than keeps us apart.
Because I don’t just want a different government in Washington. I want a better government. Last night, we took the first small step towards what I believe will become a better government. How quickly, and how much better, will depend on how we all come together, not as liberals and conservatives, or as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans.
Well, I went and did my civic duty over lunch, and voted. The line wasn’t really bad — I was in and out of the precinct in about 40 minutes from the time I parked the time I drove off, giving me amble time to grab something for lunch and be back to work within my allotted lunch hour. (I came in early today to bank extra time in case I needed a longer lunch. Maybe they’ll let me go home early.)
It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I’m voting for Obama. I encourage others to do likewise. But if you are a fan of McCain, or Bob Barr, or George Phillies, or Cynthia McKinney or Pat Paulson or Harold Stassen, go and record your preference. Because that’s what participatory democracy is all about.
This is just a reminder that we will be holding an open election party tomorrow night at our place. There will be food and drinks, though feel free to bring something to add to the festivities. We expect people to start showing up around 7pm.
If you need directions, drop me an e-mail or leave a comment.
Hope to see you there!