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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.



Postcard from Ohio

16 Jun
Pressed Penny machine in an Ohio rest stop along I-90. What a monstrosity! Click through to find out why!

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, Ohio.

I used to look forward to finding a great pressed penny machine at your I-90 rest areas. But this? This newfangled “penny press” machine? No.

First off, it’s electric. What a waste of energy. Traditional pressed penny machines with a hand crank don’t need electricity–people make them work! Do these break down more (I’m sure there’s got to be some issue with active kids overturning a handle until it breaks, but still)?

Secondly, pressing a button and watching the machine do its thing is boring. Part of the fun of the machine is getting to make the penny yourself. Not that you have a ton of control over what it looks like, but it’s a lot of fun to crank that handle and see what comes out. Sometimes the penny comes out long, sometimes it’s fat. It’s always a surprise. Passively watching the machine work disconnects you from the process. The penny becomes something you gather, not something you’ve made.

Thirdly, it’s a buck. I realize that pressed penny prices for the most part haven’t changed much over the years — most machines are two quarters and one penny, except for those lame machines that are four quarters, or even worse, the machines at Lincoln Park Zoo that are five quarters, one of which is pressed. Why do I want a pressed quarter? It doesn’t fit into a pressed penny wallet! A quarter is actually useful to buy other things!

At any rate, it’s expensive for a tiny souvenir. I get that people might have a dollar in their wallet versus 51 cents, but still. If pressed pennies are going to cost a dollar, that’s something I might take a pass on–well, actually, I did. My philosophy has always been that whenever I see a pressed penny machine, I get one design. If I don’t like the design (“lucky penny” and “I love you” designs are lame in my book–a pressed penny should say something about a particular place), or by some fluke, have all of the designs, I skip the machine. Driving across Ohio, I should’ve picked up three or four pennies. Instead, I got one, because only saw one design I liked enough to spend a dollar on. Who’s losing here?

Let’s not make this a trend, Ohio. Modernity isn’t always progress. Other owners of these machines, you’re on notice.

Your pal,


Color in the Stress

18 Mar

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


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

Brilliant or Bad Idea?

27 Feb

This week, one of my friends posted about the BBQ Donut Boat on Facebook. This is apparently a round motorboat with a grill in the middle, a table surrounding the grill and a bench along the outside rim. It has an umbrella to protect you from the elements. You and your friends get on a boat and BBQ in the middle of a body of water. Sounds awesome, right?

A company in Florida has these available for rental, so I shared it with the family, thinking that even though it’s nowhere near where we stay at Christmastime, it might be fun to do. But if I really ponder it, this might not be such a good idea after all.

Think about it:

  1. You’re stuck on a small boat that will have a live fire in the center of it.
  2. If you fill the boat to capacity with people (the German designers say it will hold up to 10; I think it would hold fewer Americans), you don’t have a lot of elbow room at the table. Where do you put the snacks? Where do you put the beverages?
  3. You’re stuck on a small boat that will have a live fire in the center of it. With several other people. And there’s no room to move around. And you could be out there for hours.

I have a like/dislike relationship with boats. I like other people’s boats just fine, and it’s fun to go out for a boat ride every few years (I don’t typically run with the boat-owning crowd). I’ve been on exactly one vacation cruise and don’t really feel a burning desire to repeat that experience again. I’ve also had some pretty miserable local cruising experiences. There was the time we took a fireworks cruise for Independence Day, and there was no food/drinks on board and we were dying by the time we got off.

Then there was the Arthur Murray cruise. The Boy and I took Arthur Murray lessons for a year, and they were a lot of fun. Not as much fun was the dancing cruise they put together. It featured a Mexican buffet (the Boy’s not fond of Mexican food) and an insanely tiny dance floor that we didn’t really fit on, so we gave up pretty quickly. However, we were stuck on a boat for a couple more hours. I spent most of that time contemplating whether or not I could swim back to shore if I jumped off right then and there. I’m pretty sure I could’ve made it–and I wish I had tried.

That brings me back to the BBQ boat. Man, it sounds like fun, but it also gives me that gut feeling that no matter what we do, something will not go well. We’ll light the grill, wait forever for it to heat up, then discover that the meat’s been sitting out in the heat for two hours, so it’s gone bad and we can’t grill it. Or that we do grill that meat and everyone spends a couple of hours hurling overboard. Or we’d cook everything up and chow down within an hour and still have three hours of donut boating to do, and we’d stare at each other with nothing to say. And with my luck, we’d be so far from shore, that I know I couldn’t make it.




What Does This Picture Say to You?

25 Feb

Put on your Judgy McJudgerson hats today, ladies and gents, because it’s time to rate some book cover art. We’ve all judged books by their covers–literally speaking, of course–and sometimes the cover art is what makes us walk on by, or it’s what makes us stop and take a second look. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve purchased many a book on cover art alone. The New York Times will feature the best-designed books of the year, and I’ve purchased some just because of their inclusion on that list.

Book cover art can also make you wonder what the book designer was thinking, and here’s where I’d like to get your opinion. I ordered a big stack of books from the library, and last night some of them came in. What do you think this book is about?


I’ll give you the jump to think about it.

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What’s Up With This? Shake Shack Edition

4 Feb

Time to introduce a new feature on the blog called “What’s Up With This?”, a segment where we talk about what in society I just don’t get. It might also be called the “Andy Rooney Audition,” because I’m starting to get old and grumpy. And my eyebrows are getting out of control. Grumblers, welcome!


Can someone tell me what’s the big deal about Shake Shack? Well, you don’t really have to tell me–I can read about it for myself.

I’ve been to Shake Shack once–happened to be near one, needed to eat and thought it was a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. Plus, I love a good burger joint. What did Shake Shake give me?

  • Good, fresh burger? Check!
  • Tasty shake? Check!
  • The opportunity to buy decent beer? Check (though beer + shake isn’t a good idea)!
  • Good service and a clean restaurant? Check!

So far, so good, right? But then:

  • Shitty crinkle-cut fries? Check.
  • Jaw-dropping calorie counts on the menu? Check.

Fries are a big deal. Shake Shack should know, since they tried to change them recently and all hell broke loose. However, their fries are crinkle-cut, which is the least satisfying fry experience. They have to be done just right–there’s an optimal crispness that a crinkle-cut fry can achieve. They can turn out too squishy, or they can quickly lose that crispness. I wasn’t really impressed with the batch of fries I ate, and since I consider fries as part of the burger joint package, it’s a big turn-off for me.

Likewise with calorie counts. Oh, I definitely appreciate knowing that the meal I ordered (single cheeseburger, small fries, small black and white milkshake) clocked in around 1600 calories, which is a good 100-300 more than I should be eating in an entire day. Thankfully, that meal counted as lunch and dinner, but it was still a major, major indulgence for me, one that I kind of want to avoid in the future. Granted, I rarely order milkshakes–and this one supposedly clocked in at 640 calories (think of the calcium!)–but even if I’d had water or a diet Coke, that’s still a pretty substantial meal for me. Doable, yes, but is it worth it? Eh, I don’t really know about that.

Ultimately, I probably would go again, but I’m in no rush to get in their line, which means no, you won’t see me there anytime soon. Maybe it’s me though–I’m not a big fan of Five Guys either (again, overrated, greasy fries). I like a good burger, most definitely, but perhaps most “good burger chains” aren’t my thing.

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