Category Archives: Technology

Such a Long Dry Spell

My last post in May focused on a medical issue. That abated, and I was again aware that it is possible to make much ado about nothing.

School ended, camping began, summer camps and swim lessons happened. And now we are two weeks away from the new school year.

In an effort to extricate myself from the tentacles of Facebook, before our recent camping trip I decided to limit my use of it to one hour daily after Claire is in bed. Then we went off the grid for almost three weeks. I plan to come here and plunk out thoughts. Maybe share some photos from camping and of my artwork (if I make any).

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Enlightenment Through a Cat

God has come into my life. Now, don’t click away. Don’t let that word shut you down. I might not mean what you think I mean. It’s not a word I’ve used in my life for years. Stay with me while I meander through my story.

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This is Smokey. He’s been around a long time. He was in the neighborhood when we moved into the house five years ago. He belongs to no one and everyone. For years, I would scratch behind his ears and say hello, and then I’d go on with my life. Someone fed him. Someone gave him shelter in bad weather. But he was just around, and I did not seek him, nor did he seek me. (Of course, my Stella cat was still with us until January 2014.)

In January, Smokey began hanging out in our back yard. He would sleep in our garden. He liked to pop bubbles with Claire. He starting sitting on my lap. He allows me to trim his nails. Even though we didn’t feed him, he stuck around. Last month, I began feeding him. I did this after he brought me a live bird he’d caught and delivered to my feet. So now he gets two meals a day.

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I made him a little shelter when rainstorms came. But mostly, he likes to sleep on me or the mulch.

He was injured in early April, so I took him to a vet. He didn’t want to go, but once there he chilled in the exam room waiting for the doctor. I’ve never seen a cat so mellow at a vet’s office.

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My husband is not open to having another pet, so for now, Smokey is not permitted in the house. He strides right in the front door some mornings, though, clearly telling us he wants to be ours. I usher him out.

The other day as I sat on my patio with Smokey on my lap, this thought arose: “Every afternoon, God takes a nap on my lap.”

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Where did that come from? I don’t know, but it felt true and real. Last Saturday morning after I fed him, I reflected on the morning. And one sentence that came was, “I fed God breakfast, and now he has gone to stroll the neighborhood, looking after all the world.”

Oh my goodness. Yes. God sought me out. God has chosen me. God loves me, and I love God. This word — God — is loaded with so much history for me. It evokes vastly different meanings for people, and so I avoid using it. But this is what IS in my life. This cat. His arrival, his presence, is a call to sit and be quiet. An invitation to intimacy. I recognize God in my life. THIS is what it means to have a relationship with God!

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Extending that metaphor, I experience God everywhere. In every person, animal, plant, and rock. God is everything and everywhere. God is found in acts of care, and God is found in simple being. My goodness! Now I get what namaste means! Yeah, yeah, I’d always known what it meant, but now I experience it in my being.

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I have used many words to suggest what is divine in my life: Presence, the Mystery, Buddhamind, Spirit, Being, Ground of Being, Life, Chi, Love. They allude to what I mean; they can only suggest. Just as the a photo of the moon is not the moon, a word is not the thing it references. Something as multi-faceted as the Universe can be explored through science, math, literature, and art, but it cannot be totally integrated by the human mind. So we need shorthand, a word or a number, like X, to represent the holy mystery of All That Exists and our relationship with it. Lately, that “something” is the word God. So, God it is.

Math Before Coffee

Tupper's Self-Referential FormulaMath is a language. You can learn bit by bit, or you can learn by immersion. I suspect the former is a more successful process. However, this morning my brother tweeted about “fun with math” and linked to a video about the “everything” number. It’s about Tupper’s Self-Referential Formula.

Link here.

Thus began my introduction to a “simple” formula that can plot itself on a graph. It can also be used to draw any other two-dimensional image.

I mentioned this to Hub, and who looked up the term; this led to a comment, “He’s cheating! He’s using mod and floor.” WTH does that mean?

Now, this is usually where I start feeling dumb and intimidated. But I admitted not knowing, and thus learned that “mod” is short for modular. Basically, it is the remainder in a long division problem. The mod (modular operator) of 5 divided by 2 is 1. Modular arithmetic — who knew?

On to floor and ceiling. Floor refers to mapping a real number to its next lower integer: the floor of 7.1 is 7. The floor of 7.8 is also 7. Ceiling refers to mapping a real number up to its next higher integer: the ceiling of 7.1 is 8. The ceiling of 7.8 is 8. This is different function from rounding. If I round 7.1, the answer is 7; if I round 7.8, the answer is 8. I am told this is used in computer programming and math.

As for the formula, it’s related to computer graphics. Hub went on to tell me about SIGGRAPH, which stands for Special Interest Groups on GRAPHICS and Interactive Techniques. It’s a group of computer professionals who spend their time creating the graphics you see on your computer, phone, tablet, movies, robotics, in emerging technologies, as well as what is used in research. He also suggested I look up the Utah Teapot and Lenna.

Martin Newell, a graphics researcher, created a mathematical model of an ordinary teapot in order to create a 3D computer model. It has since become a standard reference object in the graphics community. Go look at it. I’m amazed.

As for Lenna… it is an image of a woman looking coyly over her shoulder, and it is used as a standard test image for high resolution color image processing experiments. Its detail, shading, texture, and flat regions make it a good subject. As for the source of the image? It’s from a Playboy centerfold. Some controversy is associated with the use of the image because of the underlying sexism. Read more here.

I can’t say I learned actual math this morning, but I did come away with new knowledge. And all before I’d had my morning coffee. (Which I still haven’t had, because I just had to sit down and get this out of my head.)

For the Love of Math

As a child, I loathed math. From the very earliest — first grade — it confounded and intimidated me. I felt stupid. My father, being an elementary teacher, sought to bolster my learning by doing flashcards for addition and subtraction. In order to perform and please him, and my teacher, I memorized the cards. I didn’t really understand 7 + 4 = 11. And so I didn’t understand the process of numbers. In later elementary grades I remember struggling with area and perimeter, multiplication and long division. I felt utterly unintelligent.

In ninth grade, I fought with algebra. It didn’t help that the teacher was an older woman who radiated vulnerability, which meant the students disrespected her and little teaching happened. I began to skip class. I would go to the resource center after school for help. When we got to word problems, I discovered I was able to do them with help from the resource teacher, and I felt a measure of accomplishment.

In tenth grade it was geometry. The teacher was a gruff old man who terrified me. I’d look at the book and none of it made sense. I couldn’t understand, and the fact that I struggled reinforced the feeling of failure. And so, I began skipping that class too. Except the school sent home a letter to my parents. I was required to stay after school to work in a small group with the teacher. And to my surprise, I found him less scary, and I began to understand a bit more. But math remained oblique to me.

I remember cramming for the Geometry Regents exam with my brother-in-law the weekend before the exam. I feared failing it, since that meant I’d have to do summer school, which would mess up the family camping plans. If I failed, I assumed the wrath of my father would obliterate me. I took the exam. I struggled. Afterward I cried, certain that I hadn’t passed. The next day, the teacher proctored the Biology Regents exam. He roamed down the rows of kids, and as he came to me, he leaned over and whispered, “You passed. You got 65%.” Oh, glory! Bless him for sparing me the torment of waiting to find out.

In our state the requirement for math was a minimum of two years. In my senior year I took “practical math,” also considered math for dummies. It was basic arithmetic, percentages, fractions, and so on. I did it to fill out my schedule.

And after that I ran from math as far and fast as I could for many years. In my mid-20s, I returned to college full-time to finish my B.A. in psychology. My first semester included a statistics course that met three times a week at 8 a.m. The teacher gave a weekly “quiz” — 30 multiple choice questions that were actually very challenging. My first one came back with a grade of D.

I panicked. I needed to pass this! So I decided I would get all the help I could. His office hours were from 7-8 a.m. So before the next test, I was in his office with questions. He patiently helped me, and suddenly the heavens opened and the light of understanding beamed upon me — wait, no. Not really. But I understood more, and I got a B on the next test. There were 14 tests in that class. I read the text, calculated the problems, and studied diligently for each test. When I received the grade of B at the end, I was really proud of myself.

The following semester I took a general math class. I learned about the Euler method, and sequencing, and a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten now. I worked hard in that class, and I earned an A.

Since then, I haven’t needed much math. And I’m still daunted by it. I can’t do basic calculations in my head; I still use my fingers, or write things down. But as a parent, I have kept my mouth shut about this. I have not talked about my dislike of math, or my struggles with it, because I believe that math can be learned. It takes effort. I know that now, and I proved in the college courses I could do the work.

The other day, Claire said, “I HATE math!!” Oh, dear. In the past we had done Bedtime Math, which she enjoyed and felt confident doing. But we got lazy about it. Upon returning to it, I noticed she was distracted, not really trying to understand the questions. She would then sense my frustration with her (for not trying) and quit, saying, “I’m stupid.”

Claire has a streak of perfectionism in her and a tendency to conclude that if she doesn’t understand something, the problem is inherent to her. She assumes math ability is a fixed quality — she is just not good at math, period. How interesting, because she is actually very bright, and learning has always been fun in our family. According to her teacher, she is performing well in math. I look at her worksheets and see correct answers. So, what is going on?

I made a comment on Facebook, and a friend of mine who is a teacher contacted me privately. She offered me some suggestions worth sharing.

First, she commented that Claire doesn’t see me doing math. I’m her biggest role model. I read avidly, but never do math puzzles, for example. Hmm.

Next, it is not uncommon for girls to absorb attitudes about math from other people — at school, peers have a lot of influence.

Then she told me about some resources:

  • I can download Noyce problems of the month from Inside Mathematics and try them myself. Last year, our school offered the Problem of the Month for kids to work on, and Claire enjoyed it. From the website, it says,

    “Problems of the Month are non-routine math problems designed to be used schoolwide to promote a problem-solving theme at your school. Each problem is divided into five levels of difficulty, Level A (primary) through Level E (high school), to allow access and scaffolding for students into different aspects of the problem and to stretch students to go deeper into mathematical complexity.”

    So, she can do the beginning levels with me, and I can take on the rest. Hey, I might even enjoy them!

  • Greg Tang Math: who on earth is Greg Tang? From the Scholastic book website, his biography says,

    “Greg Tang was tutoring math in his daughter’s class when he noticed something interesting about the dominoes they were using. Each white dot had a pencil mark on it, which meant the children had been counting them one at a time. Mr. Tang taught them to look for patterns instead, and to add and subtract groups of dots in order to calculate the dominoes’ value quickly. From there, he developed a new method of teaching arithmetic in a visual and spontaneous way. His method teaches both computational and problem-solving skills, and is so fun and challenging that children forget they are learning math! He believes that all kids are capable of doing well in math, and he has a mission to make math a natural part of every child’s life. He has successfully taught his method to children from ages five to ten.”

    Greg has a number of cleverly titled math workbooks for kids, such as The Grapes of Math, Math Potatoes, and Math-terpieces. His website offers games and puzzles.

  • Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics at Stanford University. A search for her connected me to a free online course: How to Learn Math: for Students. (There is one for teachers and parents as well, to help them provide support, but it costs tuition.) The description says, “If you have had past negative experiences with math this will help change your relationship to one that is positive and powerful.” So I enrolled Claire. She is very excited to be taking a course at Stanford University!

I read a lot of griping about Common Core math on social media and in the news. Yet the way I was taught did not teach me to understand at a deeper level. I memorized functions and did not learn connections. I learned to do without understanding the reasons. When I saw this video, Common Core Math Explained, I could see the appeal. It is my hope that I recover from my past negative encounters with mathematics by re-learning math as Claire learns.

When Claire was five months old, we started going to Music Together classes. Prior to this, I could not carry a tune. I couldn’t start a song on key without music leading me. But we listened — over and over and over, hundreds of times, to the CDs. As a result, I internalized the sounds. I learned audiation, which “takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present.” Now I can sing pretty confidently. I accomplished growth in the area of music, and I’m looking forward to the same with math.

Building With Stories and Tools

Introducing the Cat Walker, designed and created by Claire. It was engineered to exercise a cat while transporting other beings. (In this case, it’s Benjamin Cranklin the Cat hauling two Katinka the Dolphin Ballerinas.) She made this using her GoldieBlox toys.

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The field of engineering consists roughly of 13 % women and 87% men. A couple of years ago, Debbie Sterling, an engineer, asked herself the question of why more girls aren’t interested in engineering, and how to get them excited about the skills related to it. I recall her Kickstarter video mentioning that girls love stories. They aren’t drawn just to build something for the sake of building. Girls like characters and plot. So Sterling set out to create a construction toy that would appeal to girls by giving them stories that incorporate spatial skills, teach engineering principles, and boost confidence in problem-solving.

I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and ordered the first set, GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. The focus is on the skill concept of a belt drive. It contains a storybook, 5 animal figurines, 1 pegboard, 5 wheels, 10 axles, 5 blocks, 5 washers, 1 crank, 1 ribbon. Claire loves playing with it. The biggest attraction is the five animals; they excite her imagination, and she incorporates the GoldieBlox pieces in all sorts of ways with her other toys. Other times she plays just with the pieces (as shown above) and creates things on her own.

Sterling’s company has subsequently produced two more toys. One is called GoldieBlox and the Parade Float; its skill concept is wheel and axel. The other — just released — is GoldieBlox and the Dunk tank, with a focus on hinge and lever mechanics.

We’ve also been pleased with Lego Friends. Claire considered Legos a “boy toy” and avoided them. As soon as the Friends line was introduced she became eager to play with them. Again, the appeal is in the story and characters. (And it thrills her father, who loves Lego and really wanted to share it with her.)

I really appreciate Debbie Sterling’s vision and am delighted there are engineering toys with special appeal to girls. And of course, boys are welcome to play with them (and they do)! The company website states that they will be introducing male characters in the future, and that “everyone is encouraged to discover engineering with Goldie and her friends.” These toys are available at Target, Toys R Us, and Amazon.


If the embed doesn’t work, here is the link: The Launch Video.

Just Doing It

I don’t know what else to title this post. Back in the early days of blogging, people started blogs as social interaction. If the blog had a steady readership, the author would feel a need to explain any gap in posting.

Then, other writers started to mock the self-importance of those posts. Who cares why you aren’t posting? Either do it or don’t.

So I tried to avoid that habit. And while this post may sound a bit like an explanation of why I haven’t posted (and maybe get picked up by Sorry I Haven’t Posted, which, um, hasn’t posted in three years), I’m also simply trying to break the mental tomb I seemed to have sealed myself into. Well, that suggests action. It’s more like mental rigor mortis.

When I first began blogging in 2002, I updated often and at length. I was engaged this way for many years. I also posted photos of my artwork and crafts, and my poetry. When my daughter was born, I wrote about my experiences with her.

And then Facebook came on the scene. Most of my social group (online and off) migrated to using that, and I started to as well. And when Claire turned four, I decided it was time to back off on writing publicly about her in detail, and that gutted my motivation to write. I’d still post about crafts we did, and other activities, but eventually I moved it all to Facebook.

In the past year, when I sit down to write here, I fumble. I grope for something to say. I might have a wisp of inspiration, yet some part of me whispers that it’s nothing new, it’s just more noise in the world. Why bother?

And yet. Writing is how I sort myself out. How have I become so disinterested in what’s going on? One voice in me says, “It’s all ego driven.” My practice is to engage fully in the moment, with the world I inhabit and the tasks I complete. I have made a judgment that to be Buddhist requires forsaking the mind. I’ve projected that judgment onto my teacher (not that I’ve told her). In my head, Maezen says this, even though she’s never uttered those words.

Another voice in me calls out, reminding me of other reasons to write. In childhood I felt a deep yearning to know more about my parents, about their childhood experiences, about what they thought of life and current events. Now, as a parent, I understand the difficulty of dredging up memories with specifics to make a good story. Claire often asks me, “Tell me a story about your childhood,” and I simply don’t have access to the memories. Writing is a pathway into them.

I’ve also a strong desire to be known, seen, heard since childhood. I want my child to know about me, if she is interested when she is older. So there is some value in writing. I’ve approached my blog as a kind of commonplace book, where one might read and see what piqued my interest. But as I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I am tantalized by the idea of a Codex Vitae. What is that, you ask? In the novel…

The Codex Vitae is something that special members of this fellowship “earn” the right to create, after rising up in the ranks. When written, it’s submitted to the fellowship, approved, and encrypted. 3 copies are made of the book, 1 goes to the central library, and 2 others go to branch libraries in other parts of the world. The key to the encryption is only given to 1 person, and it remains a secret until the writer’s death.

–Buster Benson, The Way of the Duck

He thought this was a great idea, and so do I. What if I created my own book of knowledge? A blog is a living book. And perhaps no one will read it, or only a few. My daughter might have no interest. After all, it’s a pretty large resource already, having existed for 12 years. In the end, I’ll die and this blog will go someday, but isn’t there some value in scribing my journey?

The truth is, I miss myself. For now, I will close with a poem that captures my hope:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

–Derek Walcott

I want to give a nod to two long-term bloggers who in the past week have given me encouragement to try again (even if they don’t know it): Whiskey River and Euan Semple.

And a link to an article from a blog titled Thought Catalog about how and why to keep a commonplace book.

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Journey / 2011

Boundaries and Respect

Email is one of the few private spaces left in this hyper-sharing age. Sam Biddle at Gizmodo says, “This isn’t about having something to hide — it’s about keeping meaningful boundaries in an era when there are verrrrry few. We all need whatever scraps of privacy we have left, and your email is just that.”

Trust is an important bedrock for any relationship, but this isn’t trust. This is mutually assured trust destruction. Intimacy comes from sharing select private information with people, not giving them keys to your privacy kingdom.

When you share your password with someone, you open yourself up to the obvious downsides suggested by the Times. But you’re not just violating your own privacy, you’re violating that of everyone you correspond with. People send an email to your account assuming you’re the only one who will see it. They realize there’s a risk you might share the news with significant others, friends, family, or a random stranger on the bus, but there’s a reasonable assumption that you don’t have someone else reading your email.

–Kashmir Hill, Why Sharing Passwords With Your Girlfriend/Boyfriend Is A Spectacularly Bad Idea, Forbes

A New Year

Facebook has replaced blogging, it seems. At least for me. What to do with this little outpost on the web?

Happy new year, anyway.

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

–Pico Iyer, The Joy of Quiet

Itchy and Scratchy

I had my surgery Friday. My good neighbor watched Claire all day, and Hub took care of me at the SurgiCenter. PAMF staff continue to provide excellent care. I have relatively little pain, though the 2-inch scar and the deflated area of my breast makes me a little squeamish when I look at it. So I mostly don’t.

I’ll know the results next Friday.

It’s been a slow-mo weekend. I’m starting to feel the urge to scratch where the incision was, so healing has begun.

I’ve been nursing Claire through a cold this week, and watching with concern about the disaster in Japan.

Onward.

Upcoming

I met the surgeon Friday. He ran way behind schedule, but he was collaborative and kind. My surgery is scheduled for this Friday, the 11th. I was told to find a front closure support bra that I will wear home from the surgery, which is an outpatient procedure. They will use wire localization to find the titanium piece left from the last biopsy, and then will remove tissue around that the size of a large marble. It may take 90 minutes for this, because they need to x-ray the tissue to see if they’ve gotten enough margin around the chip. If not, they’ll remove more before closing me up.

The follow up visit is set for March 18, and he told me his practice is NOT to give pathology results via phone. But he assured me that there was a 90% chance no cancer would be detected. (Though there had been an 80% chance the stereotactic biopsy wasn’t going to show a problem, but I wasn’t in that group.) He said after we get results, regardless of what they are, I should consult with an oncologist to discuss how to determine my risk and options to reduce it. He also recommended that I talk to a genetic counselor, at least to find out whether it might behoove me to get tested.

I might very well do so. My mother is a breast cancer survivor. Her mother, however, died of breast cancer when she was in her early 50s. And her mother, who lived to her 80s, had breast cancer and ovarian cancer. In fact, I think it was ovarian cancer she died of. I had dismissed my great-grandmother, because one doctor told me years ago that it’s inevitable to die of something when you get old enough, and it wasn’t indicative of a heritable condition. In light of my situation though, I’m now thinking perhaps it is. Three generations of breast cancer — regardless of the age it developed — surely has some significance, at least to me personally.

One of my sisters is worried that if I get the test done and turn out to have a mutation, that this will cause me problems getting insurance coverage later on, if I should change carriers. Fortunately, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) was passed, which makes it illegal for health insurers and employers to discriminate on the basis of DNA information. You cannot be denied medical coverage based on DNA results. The insurance company may require additional intervention because of it (such as more frequent screenings), but it is not a pre-existing condition. Having a gene mutation does not guarantee an illness will result. So, no worries, sis!

All That Was Missing Was Incense

I’ve got to hand it to Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Almost every encounter I have with them is an interaction of efficiency and compassion, from the desk staff to the doctors. Today I had a stereotactic breast biopsy. That’s where you climb onto a table that’s a cross between a massage table and an auto shop lift, and your breast hangs through a hole, and they put a needle in to pull out suspicious tissue for testing. It’s not a Big Deal, but it’s not how I’d prefer to spend an afternoon, either.

But it was more pleasant than I expected. I checked in 15 minutes early as required. I was seen within 5 minutes, whisked back to a changing room, given a terrycloth robe, and told to wait in a little room chock full of magazines. Shortly I was ushered into the biopsy room.

The room was softly lit overhead (not the interrogation lighting common to such places). There was a 24×36″ photo of a sunset on the Marin Headlands to gaze at. And soft, new-agey music provided background ambiance. If there had been hot towels, aromatherapy, and chimes, I might have fallen asleep. (Not really.) The staff were caring. The physician made a point of talking to me before the procedure about what was coming and held my hand while she did so. The nurse periodically put her hand on my back. At one point I even closed my eyes. Aside from a sting when they put the local anesthesia in, and a little bit of tugging, I felt no sensation. They frequently asked how I was doing. I joked that with a three-year-old at home, it was actually a bit nice to lie still for awhile.

It was over in an hour. They were happy with the sample. They got 99% of the calcifications out and put a teeny titanium marker in the spot in case it turns out to be cancerous and they need to go back. It’s all over except for the results, which unfortunately take time. The earliest I will hear about it is next Thursday, the 17th. I’m a little sore and bruised, but it’s nothing compared to other medical interventions I’ve had.

Until then, I simply don’t have enough information, so I’m not traipsing down any “what if” paths. Yes, I’m a little tense about the unknown, but not in a way that’s ruining the present.