Nina's Stillwater Calendar

Tuesday, January 29

Today's Weather Report

8:00 am
60 degrees, light breeze. Blithely throw a light leather jacket over a knit shirt.

10:30 am
34 degrees, wind at 25 mph with gusts up to 34 mph, windchill 19 degrees. Curse whatever gods can hear me over the wind and the chattering of my teeth.

32 degrees. Thank whatever gods invented corn chowder and hot cocoa while ignoring the howling wind rushing by the window.

Monday, January 28

Experts Debate Whether Christians & Muslims Can Coexist

Seriously. At the Tulsa Convention Center a debate was held between a Muslim scholar who said yes and a Christian pastor who said no. They had an entire debate on whether people with different ideas about God can possibly manage to leave each other alone. The Christian pastor had such deep thoughts as "If the Quran is the word of God, then why did God reveal it in a language that only 20% of people understand?" and "Muslims don't believe Jesus is the son of God so either the Bible or the Quran is lying." And an audience member had this epiphany: "The debate was an eye-opener...there is nothing wrong about a Muslim befriending a Christian or vice versa." We needed a debate for that?

Sad News

President Gordon B Hinckley, prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, passed away last night. I was sad when I heard the news. Not that his passing away was really all that sad. He was 97. His wife passed away several years ago. He had traveled, shared, worked, uplifted, and loved much. Who wouldn't be happy to rest a little after such a life? But I was sad because I'll miss him. The gospel was always full of love and hope and humor when he spoke it.

p.s. Sorry I've been AWOL. Won't happen again. Okay, maybe it will. But I'm still sorry.

Tuesday, January 15

Math Wisdom

Today a professor said something that almost made sense in the real world:

If you don't have an identity element then its hard to be a group.

A group is a set (e.g. the integers) with an operation (e.g. addition) that behaves nicely. In particular, it has to have an identity. In our example, that would be zero: zero + something gives you something back again.

In the real world, groups are made up of people who want to change. Political groups want to change government, churches want to reform individuals, clubs want to learn new skills. But to be successful every group has to start with a baseline something that they share in common. Alright, so this isn't a really deep thought or anything. But it was something in a topology class that almost made sense. It deserved to be remembered.

Thursday, January 10

Real Boring Analysis

I'm a topology kind of girl. There are pretty pictures and shapes and the Snake Lemma and the Ham Sandwich Theorem and Escher drawings and diagram chasing. What's not to love? Real Analysis on the other hand, puts me right to sleep. I start reading a problem and suddenly I am snoring. It takes most of a day's willpower just to focus long enough to understand the problem. I don't know why. It should be interesting. If I think about it later, without the book or my notes in sight, I think integrals and derivatives are kinda cool. You can calculate areas and averages and get a feel for what a function is up to. But somehow the class and the book conspire to take all the fun out of it. Maybe it's the professor's extremely dry manner. Sometimes he says something funny and it takes me a moment because he delivers a joke in exactly the same deadpan he delivers lecture. Maybe it's the book's extremely dry text. No excitement. Just "we start with a technical lemma that is interesting in its own right." Yawn. Maybe it's the total predictability of the notes. I have my officemate's notes from this class when she took it, and the notes are identical. The same variable names, the same word choices, the same homework exercises. And the same yawning stupor lecture after lecture.

Wednesday, January 9

Signed a Contract...

We finally signed a contract to sell our house. And if the sellers of the house we want to buy sign an addendum to change the closing date, we'll have a contract to buy a house. And that means we will really truly finally be moving during Spring Break.

The neighborhood we are moving into is really nice. The houses and yards all look nice and well-maintained. And we've only met a few people, but I am already intimidated. The previous owners of the home we want to buy were a math professor and a history professor. Jeanne Agnew, the math professor, got her PhD from Radcliffe in 1941. The next door neighbors have PhD's in chemistry and biochemistry and homeschool their four children. I haven't met the other neighbors yet, but I assume they know seven lanugages or something else impressive. At least living there is sure to be interesting.

Tuesday, January 8

History of Geometry

Some of you may have heard of Euclid. As in Euclid's Elements which set forth the axioms of Euclidean geometry which you should all have learned in high school. You know parallel lines never meet and in fact are equidistant, meaning two parallel lines are always the same distance apart. You know the angles of a triangle total 180 degrees. You know you can draw a square, which is a 4-sided polygon with right (90 degree) angles. You know a triangle has unbounded area, meaning you can always draw a triangle as big as you want. And since you know all this you are probably feeling very clever now. Enough of that.

You probably don't know that none of these statements can be proved on its own. One of them has to be assumed. Euclid assumed one, called the parallel postulate. For the next 2,000 years, mathematicians assumed they knew better than Euclid and could prove the statements without assuming any of them. After 2,000 years of failure, it occurred to someone that maybe Euclid was right after all. Why did it take so long? Well, if we don't assume the parallel postulate we open the door for some weird geometries. We all like Euclidean geometry because we can draw a picture and see what happens. There's no mystery. The next geometry people got happy with was spherical geometry. Spherical geometry is what you were doing when you learned in high school that the shortest distance between any two points on the globe isn't a straight line; it's a great circle on the surface of the planet. (Feeling clever again now?) As Dr. Maher said today in class:

Why were they happy doing spherical geometry? Well, they could draw a picture and this cheered them up!

In fact, drawing pictures cheers everyone up. As Zhenyi, another topology student, said:

That's why I chose topology. I like to draw beautiful pictures.

There you have it, folks. Mathematicians like topology (top picture) for the same reasons that 5-yr-olds like crayons and people with questionable taste like certain selections from the Museum of Modern Art (bottom picture).

Monday, January 7

Random Quote of the Day

Undergrad in hallway spots a Math TA and shouts: Hey, I'm gonna be in your class again this semester!
TA who failed the undergrad last semester says in a total deadpan: Yay.

Saturday, January 5

Back to school

School starts on Monday. So today Scott wanted to clean up around the house. Since I spent yesterday watching Hitchcock movies and the day before organizing the photos from the past year and the day before playing cards at a friend's house and the day before at the zoo...Basically, I didn't clean or grocery shop or wash laundry all break. So today we cleaned and organized and straightened and got ready for the semester. Since we'll probably be moving mid-semester we are trying to get everything ready so it won't be too painful. We could move this summer. That's what we were planning actually. Maybe we still will. But I am applying for programs that take me out of town for a few months (again). Scott indicated he wanted me there when we move so we'll move before I leave.

"Babe, it's not like you don't have plenty of guy friends to move everything. You don't need me here."

"It isn't the moving part I want you here for."

Oh yeah. He doesn't know where anything goes. One year I came home after three months to a bag of what had once been potatoes in the pantry. Potatoes I bought before I left. Point taken. We'll move before I leave town.

Day at the Zoo

We went to the zoo last Monday and spent almost the entire time in the Oklahoma exhibit. It was built to coincide with the centennial is is very cool. On this particular chilly and windy day, the Oklahoma animals apparently felt right at home because they were up and playing. All except for a black bear that just wanted to get some sleep. He laid down in a little cubby. Another bear came and routed him out and took the cubby. Then he went and laid down on a rock to sunbathe. The other bear came over and bit him on the neck. Some other favorite sights: Two turtles sleeping on top of a coiled snake and a bison trying to scratch the top of his head.