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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?

 

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.

 

 

Unexpected Art?

28 Jul

found art

Found on my phone.

Likely taken at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale.

I know it’s an accidental picture, but I really like looking at it–it makes me happy.

Sometimes it’s good to be all thumbs.

This Kitchen Accessory Tugs on Your Heartstrings

14 Jul

Last weekend, the Boy and I went up to Vermont (report to come), and on the way we stopped at Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro–well, more like, we read about it at the Vermont Welcome Center on I-91, and when we happened to be driving past, we took a hard right into the parking lot.

While the Boy was talking with the owner, I wandered around the shop and saw these cutting boards on a little display with a series of notes telling the story of why a distillery was selling unbranded cutting boards.

The boards happen to the be the work of the owner’s kids, who started selling them because they wanted to get a beta fish and a hamster. “Also save some to pay for our colleges.”

In the first update, they’d ended up buying gerbils (and thank you for the help, customers); however, gerbils need ongoing care, so they’re still selling the boards to pay for their upkeep. Then in the second update, disaster! While they’re still trying to earn money for college, they need to replace one of their gerbils because their cat killed it. “So we need to buy a new one. Also buy a new lid for the cage.”

How can you not want to help?

The owner told us the backstory–The kids want extra pets, but the household rule is that they’re going to have to pay for them. He actually cuts the boards because the kids are too young to work the saw, but they attach feet and put on the finish. The gerbils are fun, but they like to chew on things and are masters of getting out of their cages, so that’s how one of them met an unfortunate end with the cat.

The cutting board itself is quite nice (cherry wood) and is a decent size–and when I use it, I think of these kids and their quest for pets (and college). Makes me smile thinking that I’ve helped a little bit–and I’ve helped a parent teach his children a good lesson about work and money, which will definitely help them in the future.

 

Waiting for the ‘Wear it Out’

26 May

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There comes a point in time when something that’s potentially embarrassing becomes an exciting challenge, and I’ve hit that point with these socks.

I’ve had these socks for a long time–probably a good 12 to 15 years, although time is relative because there were many years that I avoided wearing them in favor of other socks. They’re pretty thick, so they were too hot in the summer; because they’re anklets, they were often too cold in winter. Now that they’re fairly threadbare on bottom, they’re just about right.

The Boy saw me put them on one day and kindly suggested that I retire them. He’s one to talk, as Old Stripey still takes up space in his closet. Old Stripey is a short-sleeved button-down white dress shirt with bluish and reddish vertical stripes. It’s at least 20 years old, though I think I’m being kind with that number. The Boy doesn’t wear short-sleeved dress shirts–if it’s a short-sleeved button-down, it’s a Hawaiian shirt.

Why is it so beloved that it has a name? Well, we live in New England in an apartment with closets that any HGTV-home-searching couple would reject in an instant, so space is at a premium. We don’t really have the room to house clothes that we don’t really wear.

I was cleaning out one day, and since I’d never seen him wear this shirt, I thought maybe he’d want to donate it.

“Not Old Stripey!”

“What?! This shirt has a name? And you think it still fits?”

Gauntlet thrown, he squeezed into Old Stripey, and by some miracle, no seams ripped or buttons popped off.

“See! It fits! We’re keeping Old Stripey!”

OK, we’re keeping Old Stripey. He’s been hanging out with us ever since. Never worn, but the proof of fit still happens on a regular basis.

Needless to say, based on Old Stripey, I can keep my socks for a while longer. Sure, I don’t really need to keep this particular pair–my sock drawer is full of socks that are in much better condition. Why keep these?

Well, one day I put them on thinking that my heel would poke through immediately, and that didn’t happen. Then I thought for sure the threadbare area would rip in the wash. That didn’t happen either. Now the question is, how strong is this amazing thread?

So far, they’ve lasted the entire winter, with no signs of ripping. I wear them at least once a week–more if I do laundry more often–so they’re getting regular use. Can they go the entire summer? Can they make it to 2018? Looks be damned, that’s a challenge I want to try.

Unless I make a bargain with Old Stripey.

 

 

 

 

What’s the First Rule of Politics?

28 Oct

Because I’m working the polls on Election Day, I voted early this week. It should’ve been an exciting experience–this is the first time Massachusetts is doing early voting, and it’s a historical Presidential election–but instead, it made me so angry.

The only contested election on my ballot was the Presidential election.

That’s messed up.

What happened to the choice? I live in a democracy! We’re supposed to be about being able to decide who should be running the main offices in our government at all levels. Where’s the Green Party or the Libertarians who are making such a stink at the Presidential level? Why aren’t they running for state office or sheriff?

I truly don’t understand how alternative candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have deluded themselves into thinking that the American public would really pick one of them when they don’t bother to let the voters get to know their party on the local level. They have no chance, and even if they did, federal government would have serious issues because the legislature likely wouldn’t allow them to get anything done.

In my area, the Republicans just gave up (they gave up in the primary too). Why didn’t they throw some names on the ballot? They have to hold meetings. They couldn’t stand around in a circle and say, “OK. We have to have some people running. Larry, you good with running for sheriff? Great! DeShawn, how about you run for state representative in your district? All right, that’s two races accounted for. Let’s get some more candidates, people!”

Even if your party doesn’t put you up, you can go as an Independent. It’s not like you can’t get on the ballot. I had to look longingly at the other ballot in my city because they had a choice in one race, and that was between a Democrat and an Independent. I even decided to do a legit write-in candidate because I wanted to have options and didn’t like the one choice I had.

Maybe your part of the country is different. Maybe you do have choices in other races. But if you don’t, then let’s agree that we’re going to do something about it next election cycle. Let’s stop all the lip service. Let’s stop all of the focus on one race. Let’s give the talking heads something to really talk about and analyze besides the minute-by-minute movements of two people. Let’s choose to give our voters real choices.

Heck, you don’t even have to put a ton of money into those races if you don’t want to. Treat it like a hobby–spend a small amount of money and some time and see how you do. Even if you don’t win, get involved and make a difference at the local level, because that’s where the real races are. That’s where you’re really affecting people’s daily lives. Are there really only one-size-fits-all candidates? Surely not. So let’s have some real choices–at all levels of government.

 

 

 

Color in the Stress

18 Mar

Don’t those “anti-stress” adult coloring books sometimes make you want to do this?

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Little tiny shapes, sometimes you stress me out, man.

Weird Spontaneity

3 Jun

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Yesterday I was supposed to go to roller derby scrimmage. That’s my practice time–and I’d intended to use that time to get used to the new plates I had put on my roller skates.

Except that I needed a ride, and when I was asking around, one of the skaters said they weren’t going to scrimmage because they were going to see Weird Al at the Wilbur Theater. I mentioned this to the Boy, who said, “Weird Al’s in town? Oh, man!”

Quick, to the Interwebs! Al’s 7:00 show was sold out, but tickets were still available for the 10:00 show. I also had a Ticketmaster gift card burning a hole in my wallet, so after a little deliberation, I decided to skip practice, the Boy would hightail it home after a late conference call, we’d eat dinner quickly and head downtown. For a late concert. On a Tuesday.

We haven’t done something that spontaneous in a while, so it was a pretty awesome feeling, not to mention an awesome show. We’ve both seen Al a few times, and he really knows how to perform. Lots of new songs and parodies, several medleys, his latest polka, and a bunch of old parodies reworked (“Eat It” to the acoustic version of “Layla,” for example). Lots of costume changes, but that left room for a great video reel, including a trailer for “Weird,” the Al biopic that really needs to be produced (it was doubly funny to us because we just finished watching “Breaking Bad” and had been talking about how good Aaron Paul was as Jesse Pinkman. He also does a great Al).

After the show, I waited in line for merch, which isn’t something I normally do. I have a million t-shirts, so I don’t need another one, and the non-clothing items aren’t usually interesting to me. Except Al’s latest album “Mandatory Fun” was on vinyl, and even though I don’t currently own a record player, the second I saw it, I knew I had to buy it. Why? I had to see if he continued the tradition of putting a little message on the vinyl between the grooves and the label.

I discovered this back in junior high, when I was hanging out at my friend Tracee’s house and we were looking at an Al album. While flipping the vinyl around, Tracee noticed that it said, “Eat your broccoli!” in that little space. What?! On the other side it said, “An accordion is a terrible thing to waste.” We quickly looked at our other Al albums, and they all had a little message in that space. It was the best Easter egg discovery.

I couldn’t even wait until we got to the car before I slit the plastic wrapping and wrangled the album and liner notes out (oh, man, I forgot about liner notes! And it’s incredibly weird to see only 5-7 songs per side–it’s not one big playlist?), all with the Boy warning me to be careful and not break the record. Sadly, no such messages with this album. It’s kind of a bummer–though not a complete waste. I’ll find a way to listen to the vinyl and it came with a digital download. It’s honestly a nice souvenir too–I’d forgotten the fun of vinyl records, and I’m looking forward to listening to the scratch of the needle as it settles into the groove.

It was weird to take away a normal Tuesday and replace it with something fun, but I’m awfully glad we did it. Even though it made for a rough morning, it was a good kick in the pants to keep an eye out for those little opportunities to enjoy life a little more.

A Dog-Day Tuesday

17 Mar

I exploded the kitchen last night, doing a bit of experimenting with a bourbon bacon caramel recipe (that turned out to be more the consistency of fudge than caramel) and a bacon compound butter. I have to fit in cleaning up the kitchen around a work deadline and some physical therapy and other time-sensitive errands, so there’s not much time for a story today. I can, however, leave you with a couple of diversions.

The other day, the Boy made me think of this song. I’m surprised he wasn’t familiar with it, since he’s Muppets fan. It’s on the original Muppet Show album, which I played to death as a kid, so of course, it should be common knowledge.

if you’re going to spend a couple of minutes on a Rowlf-accompanied song, why not enjoy these Rowlf moments as well?

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