Gwnewch y pethau bychain

Tag: thoughtfood

Why Math?

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.

At the end of the day…

[I originally wrote this in 2002. Reposted with minor revisions.]

I don’t have a problem with remembering the terrible human catastrophe that occurred seven years ago today. I think it would do us all good to pause and reflect on how terrible events can bring us together, and to remember what we learned, as a nation, as a community, as a people, about the world.

But I also think we should spend more time looking forward, not looking back.

We should spend more time making grand plans and executing them, inviting our souls and being creative, and living life to the fullest.

We should spend more time doing small, special things for our friends, our family, our loved ones.

We should spend more time laughing, and making music, and increasing the joy in the people around us.

We should spend more time helping each other, and holding each other, and saying “I love you” to each other.

Because at the end of the day, each other is all we ever really have.

Yeah, i can get behind this.

Thanks to natatattat for this:

I kinda like it.  Go pomo.

On becoming a better me

bunny_hugger, who I know from else-Internet, had this to share on New Years:

On Christmas Eve, I watched Scrooge, the 1951 version with Alistair Sim. This is not only my favorite holiday film, it is one of my very favorite films. As I watched it, I realized that part of what makes Sim’s portrayal so great is that he doesn’t overdo his portrayal of “mean Scrooge.” You can still see flashes of the kinder man that Scrooge once was, and this makes it more believable when he transforms into “good Scrooge” at the end of the film.

This ties in with something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It seems to me that people almost never really change — at least, not in the sense of becoming an entirely different person. Instead, I think that people become better or worse versions of what they already are. People’s essential personality traits generally stay the same; but what they put those traits in service of, and which traits come more to the front, will change over time.

With that in mind, I offer this New Year wish. I wish that all of you will become a better version of yourself in the New Year. And I hope, and resolve, that I will do the same.

Something to chew on.

“Do you understand where you are?”

Whenever you discuss issues of relevance to a minority community, eventually the notion of privilege comes up. There are certain status that, through accident of birth, simply make it easier for you to get by in our society. Two things I’ve observed about this in the past are that 1) telling someone they have some sort of privilege often makes them defensive, and 2) it’s really hard to realize it when you have it.

I know that I’m extremely fortunate in many ways to have been dealt the cards I have. I’m a married white guy from a comfortably middle-class family with country squire roots. Double Income No Kids and good jobs means that I have a fair amount of disposable income at hand — not enough to do whatever I want whenever I want, but enough to live comfortably in a nice neighborhood with two cars and a fair number of gadgets and toys — not to mention traveling across the country just to see someone I love because I can. While there are certainly parts of my life that are well outside the mainstream, they’re easy enough to hide if I was inclined to. (I’m not, but I’ve found — and have sometimes been gently chided for – simply not mentioning things makes it pretty easy to avoid scrutiny.

Do I have privilege? I have privilege in spades. Good lord, I’m only short being rich and good-looking for a full hand of trumps. And it’s not my fault, and I can say that none of the things should matter, but they do, and when you were born able to breathe the water, it rarely occurs to you that other people are drowning.

Part of the problem is that it’s really hard to put yourself in another persons shoes. No matter how much you empathize, no matter how much you care, no matter how much you show solidarity, its hard to really grok what it means to be black, or poor, or gay, or a woman, because you just don’t have the context. You don’t have the invisible framework that exists around those things that lets you see the world the way they do. You can see the picture, but don’t notice all the colours, or the little details that are just out of your frame, but the painter was quite aware of.

Every now and then, someone will come along and tear a jagged wound in their soul so that you can see inside, and while total understanding still eludes you, something strikes you deep in the heart, and you get it just a little more. Yesterday, shadesong pointed to just such an essay, a reaction to the Jena 6 incident that is continuing to play out in Louisiana and the continuing presence of racism in our society.

A few minutes later, I was helping my then terminally-ill father to the bathroom. He had been down south for a few weeks with my mom. Back “home” was where he wanted to die. I stayed there with him, as he stood at the urinal.

“You know” he said, “I came back here to let go, right son?”

“Yes sir.”

“I wanted it to happen here…where I was born. With Mama and Daddy, and everything I knew. I wanted to go…home.”

“Yes sir.”

“And I’ll be”—he looked around to see if there was anyone there to hear him curse—“I’ll be Goddamned, if the shit I ran away from in 1948 ain’t still here.” He sighed heavily. “The same shit.”

He looked at me. His eyes wet with tears. “I swear to God son, I tried to make this a better world for ya’ll. I tried. And look at it. Coming home to this shit…I know I’m not gonna be here much longer…but coming home to this shit…it just takes it outta me that much more. I feel like I could die today.”

Read the whole thing. Walk a mile in those shoes, and see the world through another’s eyes. Understand where you are, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.

Today’s Thoughtfood: Fifty Things You Need To Know By 50.

Courtesy of aolscalzi, I found the article from the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), titled 50 Things You Need to Know by 50.

Now, you might think the AARP is going to serve up a lot of stodgy, get-off-my-lawn advice, but given that their very first tip for life includes “Do the dishes naked.”….

Engelbert Humperdinck offers advice for Karoke that’s just as apropos to filkers:

In karaoke the most important thing is to pick a song by someone you really admire, and take the best of that person while giving the song the best of you. If you are not a singer but want to be part of the fun, pick a cheeky song and act silly. If you can’t even catch a melody, let alone carry one, just speak the lyrics. Pretend you are Richard Harris.

There’s also advice from Star Trek veteran George Takai, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Seriously, there’s a lot of good thoughtfood here. Go eat.

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