A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back to My Day Job

Today, after I dropped off a load of mulch in Arlington -- 8 bags of 3cu. yds of shredded hardwood, and 2 bags of 3cu. yds. of cypress -- mom reminded me of her opinion that my writing skills are diminishing. She once again reminded me how bothered she was that I had  mispelled "gnawed" as "knawed," blaming the error on the fact that I rarely read the printed word anymore, but have come to rely instead primarily on audio books. Phonemic awareness is a comparative strength -- I am not "learning to read," but in a position where I "read to learn," and write for a variety of purposes. In short, I am operating at a higher cognitive level, which is what makes what I write sometimes interesting, if frequently flawed.

Like my son Joseph, I too was chased around the house by my mom at age 3, and forced to read a collection of Dr. Seuss books. Unlike Joe, I came to enjoy reading and have generally had little need for extrinsic motivation. Spelling, I consider to be a matter of form, not of substance, not entirely trivial, but of secondary importance. Likewise, I never worry about Joe's spelling. My aspiration has never to become an editor but to become a writer, somebody who creates, somebody who has a purpose for creating. From childhood, whenever I have written, I have explored concepts, connections, syntheses -- I have always been a bit of a risk-taker. Literacy, at some point, became the price of admission in a grand conversation which spans across the ages. When I write, I am perfectly okay with coming to questionable conclusions and having other people question me.

Mom criticized my most recent posting, in which I described what I considered a hilarious radio bit based on an improbable winning streak by my Washington Nationals. Mom said that I was "all over the place," i.e., inferring either that my thinking was random, or that I had done a poor job of communicating my point. My point in blogging, has always been to spark conversations.

In attempting to make real life connections to one of the few print books I actually "completed" this summer, much of which I only partially understood, Here's Looking at Euclid, maybe I didn't follow the dictum of Strunk and White: "Pity the reader." Evidently, Mom was unable to fathom the spirit in which I wrote, so it is likely that most others probably were not able to fathom that spirit either. Without putting too much effort as I blogged, my intention was to "draft" a developing theme, real-life mathematical connections, something I plan to continue to write about. I did not care that I didn't have a solidified formal thesis, one that might generate a structured essay at this time. I have always considered my blog to be like an artists sketchpad. Imperfection, for me, is part of the fun! We all have a morbid fascination with train wrecks.

Let me once again briefly explain the spirit in which I blog. What I was attempting to do was connect what I was reading about data and probability to a real life example of a high risk wager that was occurring as I was reading -- two disk jockeys, Grant and Danny, had risked their jobs by declaring that they would not talk about anything else but baseball as long as the Nationals continued winning. Everybody knew that a continuation of the streak was highly unlikely. The mere suggestion of not talking about Washington's football team, however, was highly provocative. I thought it was a funny radio bit, which why I shared it, but I was not so invested in the bit that I wanted to spend a lot of time writing an essay about it. Thus, I probably did not provide enough context to make the joke understandable. The post was not simple, which violates a good rule to follow: keep it simple.

Mathematics has always challenging for me, which is why I have difficulty writing about it, and why feel I must continually be reading about it. I consider myself to be a "muscular mathematician," one who has always relied on drill, pattern, and procedures -- hard work -- rather than somebody who has gotten by with any genuine finesse or talent, particularly when compared to a truly innovative mathematician such as Gausse, one of my intellectual heroes. In Here's Looking at Euclid, the author's description of Daina Taimina's hyperbolic crochets, which I had read about in Science Magazine when she first published her findings in the 1990's, made it possible for me to visualize non-Euclidean geometry. Through the model of expanding curved space, I was able to comprehend how an ancient Euclidean axiom was shattered: given a line and a point, there is exactly one line parallel to the original line running through that point. What must be true about parallel lines in 2-dimensional space turned out not to be true in curved space, in which multiple parallel lines running through the point were possible. I was also able to follow explanations of the golden ratio, phi, which is based on the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ...), particularly since I had become so familar with the sequence through repeated viewings of Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land, which I first enjoyed when I was in elementary school, and now show every year to my current students. Even though mathematics is challenging for me, I am okay with revealing a little vulnerability and my continued struggle.

Tomorrow, the faculty will convene at 8 am. It's back to the day job.