Postcard from New York City

13 Oct

MoMath exhibit on Moebius strips.

Have you ever been really disappointed in a museum? Not a, Man, the Louvre is a crowded place at the height of tourism, disappointed, but a, Oh, there’s a museum about X? That might be cool! Let’s go in!…..30 minutes later….Well, that was a waste of $20.

The Boy and I felt that way after a quick visit to the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. Taking a cue from the Modern Museum of Art, it’s nicknamed itself MoMath, and I think our MoMath, MoProblems joke was just about the best thing we got out of the place.

We went because we happened to be walking by and thought that a museum about math had a lot of potential to be cool–and the Boy likes math. We had an hour to kill–why not?

When we walked in, we found out that it was just two small floors, which turned out to fit in nicely with the specs of my ideal museum (smallish, and just when you’re about to get museum fatigue, you’ve reached the exit/gift store). Every exhibit was interactive, so there were some kids running around playing with everything. That also was cool and gave the place a lot of energy.

The problem came in with the “so what?” factor. We’d go to an exhibit and try to figure out what we needed to do. Turned out you needed to go to a monitor to pull up information about it. I personally don’t do that well with screens in museums — I get bored with them really easily, and while just playing with the exhibit was fun, I got nothing out of them. The worst was when I rode the bike with square wheels and asked the exhibit minder what the point of it was. She said something about the fact that you can use square wheels if you have the right bumped surface, but there was nothing really mathy in her explanation. I definitely know that there’s math involved with that, but it can’t be math magic or the math fairy waving a wand around. What’s the principle? What’s important about it? What else does it apply to? How do I do that math?

OK, maybe that last one is a little too complicated to show in a museum, but still. Giving me different patterned disks and telling me to cover parts of them to get a pattern mesh just shows me that that can be done. There’s math behind that phenomenon too? Really?

The Boy was also pretty disappointed, so I was comforted in the fact that I wasn’t alone. But maybe the museum ultimately really wasn’t for us. Maybe it’s designed for kids to play around, and for their adults to watch and remember to look up the principles later, if they want to know more about the math involved. Or maybe it’s just really hard to communicate math principles while you’re engaging with them.

Sadly, our experience here also made us leery about going to the Museum of Sex, so we skipped it and just hung out instead. Good choice?

 

Make It With Love

6 Oct

This is a cucumber martini I had in Washington, DC, this week. It was delicious — gin, elderflower, cucumber and black pepper. So tasty!

So tasty that the next night, I talked the Boy into taking me for another. Only this time it wasn’t as good — tasted like it had been made at a sports bar or beer-and-shot place (where you shouldn’t order cocktails).

I understood — the place had been busy, the bartender seemed a little harried. But I also then understood how much of a difference it makes to take a few extra seconds and focus on making the drink in front of you — measuring it out right, shaking it just so, straining it, making sure the garnish is on (I’d had to ask for the pepper the second night, which I wasn’t thrilled about–and neither was the bartender, who had to trek around the restaurant to find the pepper grinder).

It’s that kind of deliberation and focus that makes everything better–not just cocktails. A lesson for everything in life, I think, especially when it’s so easy to be harried and fractured with every other part of life these days.

Of course, as I type this, I’m not really even taking this lesson to heart, since I stopped typing to look at an incoming email on my phone. But I can try to improve, to make what I do cucumber-martini-better. Hold me to that, OK?

This is What a Podcast Looks Like

29 Sep

My podcast!

Making a podcast–at least the way we want to do it–is tough. As I mentioned before, my fellow Olympic fan Alison Brown and I have started an Olympics podcast called Olympic Fever, and we’ve finally launched. This week we dropped episode 2 (“Who Wants to Host?”), and while it’s exciting, my head is swimming with everything we need to do for future episodes–and more importantly, everything we need to figure out.

Take recording and editing, for example. I took a low-key online self-study class through MediaBistro to learn about podcasting. Good move on my part–it taught me what tools I’d need to record, edit, mix, host and publish; in short, all of the technical stuff I really had no idea to do. Best $20 I’ve spent in a long time.

That said, once I had the tools in place, I had to learn how to use them. That learning is a little more complicated and who knows when I’ll actually master them.

Still, I’m having a blast, and I’ve learned that I love looking at sound. That’s us in the picture, talking. My track is on top, isolated because I discovered a nasty hum on my end after we finished recording (which I think I’ve figured out how to solve for future episodes, thank goodness). Anytime I’m not talking, I’ve cut my sound down so it’s not audible. But still, you can see on the front and back of my line where the light purple is a bit lighter–that’s the hum.

I’ve learned what laughs look like. I’ve learned what stutters look like and how long pauses are. It’s all so very fascinating to me right now, as is learning the art of where and how to edit. We make mistakes as we tape our story segments, and those need to get chopped out. We (mostly I) get cotton mouth and forget how to use our words.

But, we’ve gotten two episodes done and posted and have had fun doing them. My learning curve is decreasing dramatically, which is nice (episode 1 involved a very long Sunday learning how to split tracks and envelope sounds). Every day we get new ideas and opportunities for pieces that we’ll do on upcoming episodes [SPOILER ALERT: We’re going to Lake Placid this weekend to work on a few pieces], and we’re so excited about what’s in store!

I hope you’ll consider tuning in–and tell a friend and/or review us on iTunes. We’ve also got a Facebook group, if you want to chime in with your own two cents!

The Fine Line

22 Sep
giddy-up!

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s exercise horse

This week I have (so far) seen the homes/museums of four U.S. Presidents, four authors and one eccentric art collector. I have learned that the lines between “eccentric” and “crazy” and “collector” and “hoarder” are either “becoming President” or “publishing a bunch of books, at least one of which is a huge success.”

I ponder this idea as I finish eating some leftover mushroom risotto for breakfast because this week I’m storing the delicious restaurant leftovers for three people, two of whom are tourists and don’t wish to eat them (but none of us can let that food stay on our plates). I’m also thinking about where to store the five new books that have entered the house this week. They may be used to finish creating a bedside table for me, as my current next-to-bed pile of books-I’m-definitely-reading-next is getting pretty high.

I hope to publish a book soon. Because I can’t really imagine running for elected office at this point in time.

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My Saturday Plans

15 Sep
Obi Haan Kenobi grout kit

The great Obi Haan Kenobi sent me some gear to prepare for the arrival of Ma Jaracz.

 

(sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”)

 

You better not shout

You better clean up

You better scrub grout

And wash all of those cups

Ma Jaracz is coming to town

 

She’ll walk through the house

To tell if it looks nice

Though she can’t really see

She’ll know if there are mice

Ma Jaracz is coming to town

 

She sees the books are dusty

She knows you don’t wash walls

She’ll run her finger over the shelf

And she’ll really be appalled

 

You better not shout

You better clean up

You better scrub grout

And wash all of those cups

Ma Jaracz is coming to town

Coming Soon: Olympic Fever Podcast

8 Sep

Olympic Fever Podcast

We’re about five months out from another Olympics, which means that my case of Olympic Fever has been quietly raging for a while. If you remember, for Rio I tried having a blog, which while fun, was a lot of work and missed one essential element: The conversation.

One of my favorite things to do is talk about the Olympics, and without that element, it’s been hard to maintain the blog in the way that I’d like, which is namely, not a rehashing of the most recent news that’s posted as quickly as possible in order to get the most hits. Good research and writing takes time, and while I want to do that about the Olympics, that outlet became less and less of an ideal place as time went on. Also, posting is kind of one-sided. Blog comments just didn’t replicate the energy and excitement I feel when I can jaw about the Olympics with friends.

So I’m turning the blog into a podcast and calling it Olympic Fever. Each week my lovely co-host Alison Brown and I will be posting a ~30 minute episode that explores an Olympic story, includes some conversation, and preps you for the upcoming Games. We aim to find the unusual stories that make the Olympics what they are and why we love them–even if we know that there are tons of problems with them. We’re really excited about what we’ve got on tap so far, and we hope you’ll take a listen (if nothing, listen for the theme–I’m really proud of how that’s turned out)!

Does the Week End?

1 Sep

It’s a three-day weekend here in the US, which for me begs the question, does the week ever really end?

Yes, I love my job–I’m extremely lucky to be able to do something I love and make a living doing so. However, the work-at-home aspect and the fact that I am my own business means that the pressure to work is always there.

Work late? Wait, it’s past six? I’m in a groove though! I’ll just keep rolling! Two hours later, and then I’m looking at a late dinner, late bedtime, and what, I meant to exercise too?

Work on the weekends? Well, I see my desk….don’t mind if I do!

Snow day? What’s a snow day? My office is right here!

Plus, there’s always something to be done–if I’m not writing, then I’m supposed to pitch articles or invoice or file or do promotion or work on a side project or…..the list goes on to infinity.

Lately though, I’ve been trying to bring some sanity and structure to my schedule. If I shut down the computer after work in order to do some errands, it doesn’t come back on that evening. I try to have at least one weekend day where I’m not mostly in front of my laptop (because I am still working on a stack of books). And with a holiday this Monday? Maybe I’ll just go crazy and not even go near my desk at all!

I’m not holding my breath on that though–I’ve got a pretty sweet side project I’d like to tackle.

Math Is Important, Because….Toilet Paper

25 Aug

Shopping for toilet paper is confusing these days.

These days, there’s nothing I like less than having to go to the toilet paper aisle at the grocery store. I love grocery shopping and I’m a user of toilets, so replenishing the toilet paper stocks shouldn’t be such a problem.

Yet, it is.

That’s because every brand of toilet paper wants to create the illusion that you can get a deal. Why buy a regular-sized roll when you can buy 2x rolls? Why settle for twice the toilet paper, with you can get a megaroll 4-in-1?

Invariably, I spend far too much time examining the total length and calculating price per roll or price per sheet (and it’s rarely the breakdown per unit that the store gives you on the shelf price tag). Then I have to figure out whether a megaroll will actually fit on my toilet paper holder. Then I have to consider how much storage space we have at the moment and whether it will hold 24 super gigantic rolls, or if I should go with 16 quadruple jumbo rolls (we do not have warehouse-club-sized storage at home). Or maybe just a four-pack double roll is all we can get on that trip. There are calculus problems that are simpler than this kind of math.

The choice is paralyzing and anxiety-inducing — and it’s weird because having some choice is good. I like having different flavors to choose from. I appreciate finding low-sodium options or lactose-free options or new brands. But toilet paper doesn’t have that same excitement–or maybe it’s because their sizing just doesn’t make sense. It’s not small/medium/large; it’s 12 rolls = 24/6 rolls = 24 rolls, etc.

What you never see? A roll.

[There are also no triple rolls, which makes me even more suspicious–and sad, because a triple rolls, I think, would really be the sweet spot for having fewer rolls and being the optimal size for my toilet paper holder.]

Everything’s a multiple of a roll, so that you’re getting some multiplied deal, but you never actually get to see on what the companies are basing these so-called deals. Trust us, they say, we’ve done the math for you!

But I don’t trust them. They’re trying to make money, not lose money by giving me a sweet deal, and that’s part of my frustration. I just don’t trust the packaging, so I have to do the math myself, which takes far longer than I want it to, which just adds to the anxiety and frustration around making a choice.

I don’t quite understand why it is that way–once I get it home, it’s still just toilet paper. But now it’s got an aura of resentment. Have I made the right choice in sizes? Do I have to put it back on the list almost immediately and go through the process all over again?

I’m looking forward to the day where I stop caring about this so much–or maybe I just send the Boy to get the toilet paper from now on.

 

 

FONT, not FOMO

18 Aug

Today marks the beginning of the 2017 WFTDA tournament cycle — D2 Playoffs in Pittsburgh this weekend, then a week off before D1 Playoffs in Seattle, Malmö and Dallas, and ending with Champs in Philadelphia at the beginning of November. For the first time in my nine-season officiating career, I’m sitting them out.

For the last several years I’ve been trying to balance my non-skating officiating (NSO) with my skating officiating, and on-skates took a back seat to NSO placement. But as I’ve gotten more comfortable on skates, I’m really growing to like the challenges of those positions. Meanwhile, I’ve done pretty much everything I want to do as an NSO–sure, not every box is getting checked, but enough of them are that I’m satisfied, and it can now take the back seat.

This, of course, means that I don’t feel that my NSO skills are as good as I’d want them to be for the highest level of play, so I didn’t think it’d be appropriate to apply to Playoffs just because that was a thing I had to do every year. There are plenty of qualified NSOs waiting in the wings for their chance to work at the big show, and it’s time for me to step aside and let them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my reffing skills and experience are quite up to being where they need to be in order to be a Playoffs-level ref, so I decided not to apply for those roles either. Not a big deal–I know what it takes to get there, and I just have to buckle down and work hard to improve.

Surprisingly, the idea of missing Playoffs hasn’t bothered me at all this year. I’d wondered how I would feel when I talked to fellow officials who were going, if I’d feel regret when I saw the list of crews without my name on it. And I haven’t (and least as of now–I haven’t started watching them yet). Wow! Who knew that an eight-year habit could be broken with no regrets!

What did hit me a couple of weeks ago was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be traveling this fall. If it’s August, I’m supposed to be preparing to go somewhere, right? In previous years, I’ve traveled every weekend in September. It’s the time of year where the airlines toss around my suitcase so much that it breaks and they have to get me a new one (not a joke — I think I’m on my 3rd replacement suitcase). It’s the time of year where I learn new airports and airplane seating configurations. See new skylines, find gems of restaurants and stock up on hotel shampoo/conditioner.

But not this year–and when I think about it, I get kind of panicky. It’s as if I have Fear of Not Traveling. Rationally, I don’t think there’s any reason to fear that I’ll never travel again if I miss this Playoff cycle, but man, the possibility really, really freaks me out. Might be time to plan a non-derby getaway. Got any ideas where to go?

Excuse Me, It’s Baking Time

11 Aug

Apple & Oat Muffins

In the US, we get new seasons of “The Great British Bake Off” a long time after they air in Britain, which means a couple things:

  1. I spend weeks ignoring the “GBBO Bakers: Where are they now?” articles my British friend Angcha sends me because she’s already seen them.
  2. I have bursts of binge baking, which during summer is not the best idea.

The binge baking is good for my friends though–a few years ago for Christmas, I started giving friends empty mason jars. The deal is that I fill them with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try. They eat it and give it back. I refill them throughout the year–usually this is randomly, and sometimes I go for months without doing anything, but then Bake Off is on, and out come the baking tins and GBBO-related cookbooks. It’s a decent system though–the jar method of sharing certainly makes it easier on my waistline, and it’s fun to share the bakes.

Over the last few weeks I’ve made my first tart, done my first blind-bake of a pastry crust and made English muffins. Last night I did my first hot water crust and put together my first meat pie (we’ll find out tonight if it’s any good). Today I’m attempting meringue for the first time as well.

Some friends have asked if I’d ever want to be on a Bake-Off show, but honestly, I’d be petrified. I’ve been a “tried and true recipe” kind of baker. When I make cookies, it’s pretty much just chocolate chip. For bread, I stick to pretzel. For cake, I use the Boy’s vegan chocolate cake recipe, which is plenty tasty and gets around a lot of allergies. It’s not that I don’t mind trying new things–I ventured out into whoopie pies, for instance, but even then, I haven’t ventured into the pages of the whoopie pie cookbook I got as a gift. Yet.

While it’s easier to stay with the tried and true, sometimes they become tired and true (which, incidentally, is how I typed it at first). Sure, I know how to do them well, but it really is exciting to attempt a new recipe–which, even if it fails, is fun because then the challenge is figuring out where it went wrong and correcting those mistakes.

So, maybe I would do Bake-Off someday, given the chance. Just not today–I have a lot more to learn before I’d consider myself an all-around Star Baker. And that starts right now with Italian meringue.

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