Saturday, December 27, 2003

Elliptic Curves, Part I

The Directed Reading Program I took this quarter comes to an end with a presentation, Thursday of the first week of classes. So, over break, I'm preparing notes and slides for my presentation on elliptic curves. Unfortunately, to do so, I needed to find a graphing utility which can handle implicit functions, hopefully a free utility at that. Well, I can't recommend GrafEQ highly enough now. Not only does it handle elliptic curves like y^2 = x^3 - 5x +11, it can take on such bugaboos as y = x^x, as well as number-theoretical experiments like gcd(|10x|,|10y|) = 1.

As far as I can tell, GrafEq takes your relation between x and y and a 2-variable function in z, then analytically finds the zero set. It can take a while to work, if you give it a nasty function: for example, take a good implicit function 0 = f(x,y) and try 0 = cos(f(x,y)). But work it does, and I highly recommend it.

In a few days, I'll post a little explanation of elliptic curves and the group law (if I'm doing this right, it should be understandable to anyone who still remembers a good calculus course), along with a few pictures (if I can figure out how to upload to the U of C website).

And Christmas Day

Each year, the Christmas morning video shows the further development of a few cheesy traditions. We give our dog Nacci a new chew toy, and watch her rend it asunder in the space of a few minutes. Dad takes the bow from one of his gifts and affixes it to his head, acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Mom cheers over the bubble wrap in the box, ignoring the actual gift. I search my stocking for the button that plays Christmas music (a part of the stocking itself), and claim it as another present for me. My sister Katie gets increasingly embarrassed and begs us to stop.

This year added a few things. My grandma jitterbugged to her new Glenn Miller CD. Katie turned her herbal mask into a superhero's costume for the camera. Most dramatically, there was a loud crash in the living room as we sat in the family room; Dad had balanced our glass chess set atop the scanner, on the highest shelf, and eventually it slid off and shattered as we all jumped.

Later, we all headed to my aunt Jill's house for Christmas dinner (including multiple pies). For once, all of us sat at the adult table (only to discuss Hey Ya along with the Gnostic Gospels and college life). It was a nice ending to a most merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Sports, Desire and Life

Last night, I witnessed an incredible display on Monday Night Football. For those of you who don't typically follow football, here's a synopsis: Brett Favre lost his father to a heart attack the night before the game in Oakland. Brett decided to play after all, dedicating the game to his father, his first coach. Favre then performed unfathomably well, making perfect throws fifty yards out into double coverage, ignoring a fractured thumb on his throwing hand, amassing 300 yards and four touchdowns in the first half for a literally perfect rating and a Packers rout. It was incredible to watch, for just one half, this man play at a superhuman level, in the midst of all his pain.

It reminded me of a story I had seen some time ago about a high-school basketball player, whose grandfather passed away at the age of 62. The boy decided that as a tribute, he would go and score 62 points in the next game. Now, in high school, a team has to be good to score 60 points; while the player was talented, he had never before scored more than 25 in a game. But he would not be denied, making shot after shot, until he scored the last two on a layup while being fouled. With 62 points in hand, the game long won, but only a few points away from the state record, he purposefully flung his free throw twenty feet to the left, and then exited the game. He wasn't there for a record, but to honor his grandfather.

Nice stories, you may say, but so what? A sports contest doesn't really count for anything, after all. Well, the reason I found these important is because I think these are no flukes, but simply what a person can do when it's not just a game to him or her. Both athletes had something larger than their own egos and salaries to play for. It seems ridiculous to claim that most players don't want to win as much, but it's so true. Why do analysts talk so much about motivation, why can a team struggling make the playoffs destroy one who has already clinched, why do we see so many Cinderella stories of players who work their way past their more talented competitors? Because it's possible to desire victory more than your opponent does, and because that desire is as powerful as any raw talent.

This carries over into war as well as sports. A good commander makes his soldiers believe that they stand for something more important than their own lives; he makes them ready to die for the cause. If an army of 10,000 fought as hard as the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, they would have been an irresistible force in ancient Greece.

We are capable of so much more than we actually achieve; we just do not will it, because our own happiness is not enough of a justification to dig deep. Reminds me of what I said before about (mythological or Hollywood) heroes versus saints. Heroes give us the comfortable fiction that we would act like them if endowed with their gifts. We could save the world like Superman/Wonder Woman, if we had those superpowers. Saints, however, hurt our egos by doing incredible things with no more raw intelligence, stamina, or charisma than you or I have, but with the desire to do what we are reticent to do. Saint Francis was not the smartest, strongest, most handsome, or the best leader. But he made sacrifices that I would be afraid to contemplate, and he changed the world.

Shoot, don't misinterpret me. Brett Favre is not a saint (as much as I, born in Green Bay, cheer for him), but last night he showed something that the saints illustrate in a different way: the unimaginable potential of a human being, fully alive.

P.S. Merry Christmas to you and your families. Or, if you prefer, Happy Decemberween. But in all seriousness, everyone I know is in my prayers tonight.

Friday, December 19, 2003

The New Political Science: Reinterpretation

As I haven't stimulated much controversy here yet, I thought I'd take the opportunity to restate something I've concluded over the last year. I'd said before that Bush is a political genius of sorts, but in reality all I can assert is that someone who writes his speeches is a political genius of the new type: he can get a politician to say X and have the nation hear Y. This skill evolved in the Reagan administration and was honed in the Clinton years.

In perhaps the most famous example, then-President Clinton faced down a news conference in early 1998 on the Lewinsky debacle, and solemnly told the nation X ("There is no sexual relationship"). While I'd say most Americans heard Y ("I did not cheat on my wife"), Clinton could later reinterpret his statement as Z ("The sexual relationship between Monica and I is over.") This was rather adept, since saying Y would have given political opponents a bald-faced lie they could resurrect later, and Z would have admitted the truth too early. As it happened, he was able to hold up that tension till August, when Middle America had ceased wanting to hear about it anymore.

George W. Bush- or rather, someone in the Bush Administration- has been even more clever and circumspect. Raise your hand if you think that George Bush stated before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein currently possessed weapons of mass destruction. Put your hands down, because he invariably left a little room to maneuver. I've looked through a few months of his releases, and found him saying that Iraq "desires weapons of mass destruction", and that there was a "grave and gathering danger" from Saddam. He said that Iraq "likely maintains stockpiles of chemical and biological agents", and is "willing to use weapons of mass destruction" (if he possesses them). In the closest quote I can find, at the time of his 48-hour ultimatum, he told the American people, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people."

None of these are airtight or damning, however. After all, missiles are some of the most lethal weapons ever devised, and Saddam had a couple of those. Nothing I found would make a solid clip of "Bush lying" for, say, a Democratic ad. All the direct things we thought Bush said about Iraq and WMD were either set out by other administration officials, or conservative commentators, or were only what we thought the President meant. If you don't believe me, search through the transcripts yourself, looking for something that can't be reinterpreted away. (Although I thought it was a great touch that the official White House website gives these transcripts the header "Iraq: Denial and Deception"...)

Do I think that this counts as misleading? Yes. As lying? Maybe. It's saying something vague and letting the audience fill in the blanks with things you didn't say. But it's not just George W. Bush, and it's going to be the norm in government from now on. I think that nonverbal cues are beginning to lead us astray, so perhaps the best solution is to only read the transcripts of speeches and do our best to avoid leaps of implication. Welcome to post-Watergate politics: no more "plausible deniability", but it's all about "plausible reinterpretation".

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A Human-Based Animal Ethics

I'm bringing this topic up, not because I feel it's more relevant to my life than other ethical concepts, but because I had an idea about it. You see, most PETA-like statements of "animal rights" operate from the standpoint that animals are in some way morally equivalent to people, that their suffering is as terrible to them as our suffering, that they have souls in whatever sense we do, etc. I can't agree with this posture. I believe that people are of a different moral dignity, but I still (of course) think that inflicting unnecessary pain on animals is inexcusably immoral.

First off, I recognize that the pain animals feel is not quite the same as the suffering of human beings. An injured tiger may flee its attacker or respond with aggression, but neither are the human response of hatred; a bear may attack something that threatens her cubs, but will not later track down the interloper for revenge; a deer that breaks its leg does not curse its condition, nor ask why this happened. Of course, a human baby will not have adult reactions to pain either, but there are more vital reasons for protecting human children.

We recognize that animal pain is not on an equal standing with human pain when we witness, say, the widespread starvation of wild elk in Alaska. We may find that sad, but our concern doesn't extend to the level it would for an Inuit tribe starving to death in the same area. We would- at least we should- help the people in that situation, and we understand that the death of many elk is just part of the natural order in that case.

However, pain inflicted by humans on animals is a different case. Not because of some metaphysical value of animals, I think, but because we identify their agonies with ours. As much as we can reason about animal pain, the sight of a wounded animal can often move us as if it were a human who was suffering. To inflict needless pain on an animal, I think, has the psychological flavor of doing the same to a human. It's no coincidence that abuse of pets is a precursor of cruelty toward people; an abuser may "take out" his resentment of other people by attacking an animal, making it an effigy of sorts. It's as if he were hurting the person he hates.

To make my point, consider the Milgram experiment. Subjects believed that they were torturing someone else with electric shocks, although in reality the other person was an actor who felt no actual pain. A large number of subjects obeyed the researchers' commands to continue, even to the point that they were 'killing' the other person. Now, although nobody was in fact suffering, I believe that the subjects were acting unethically, in much the same way it's still wrong to shoot another person if the gun misfires. On some level, they were committing real cruelty, since they believed that they were doing exactly that.

What does this all mean? Society has been looking at animal cruelty the wrong way around; the real problem isn't that the animals feel unnecessary pain, but that people willingly inflict it, and that there is some moral equivalence on that end to cruelty towards other people. I don't have a problem with eating meat, as long as the companies are doing their best to be humane (this, of course, is a matter I haven't looked into closely yet; ah, how long should invincible ignorance last?). Am I being clear enough?

Of course, I don't think that most people would argue against my conclusion that animal cruelty is morally wrong. I suppose that makes this a philosophical irrelevancy. Oh well; I still need to practice my reasoning, even on easy targets.

P.S. The teaching in the Catechism, by the way (#339), also looks at it from the perspective of human actions, not of animal rights, but talks in terms of correctly using God's creation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

*It's been a few years since I would have identified myself as a "teen," but it still felt odd to actually turn twenty.

*My sister Katie was accepted to her dream school, NYU, for the theatre program. She hasn't calmed down entirely yet.

*My grandma has been living with us for the past month, since she's not ready yet for the stairs in her apartment. Thanks for all the prayers.

*I'm working on some of the stuff I promised, but since I have time now to edit, I don't want to throw out these ideas extemporaneously. I promise it'll get there...

P.S. I read my first Iraqi blog today. Absolutely spellbinding; check out the Dec. 12 and Dec. 9 entries. Thanks to Eve.

P.P.S. I saw "Return of the King" tonight. At the risk of sounding like every reviewer you've read, I'll tell you now: it works in just about every visceral and emotive way a movie can. Three and a half hours, and I was immersed in the world of Middle Earth for all but approximately two minutes of it. Words do not describe this experience, so I'll stop trying.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Finals Over

So now I’ll have time to write some of the things I’ve been thinking. Expect over break several of the following:

Highlights and lowlights of this past quarter

Reflections on marriage in 2003

Proposal for an ethics of animal treatment

Ideas on prayer for the deceased and on time itself

Spirit-based and rule-based Catholic ethics

Elliptic Curves and Fermat’s Last Theorem

And more!

Hopefully I’ll be coherent... and interesting...

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Disclaimer 2

I really shouldn't have to post this, but none of my religious reflections are intended as a proof of the Catholic faith or of God in general, or of my ethical and political views. Most of them are personal experience and ideas which you can peruse at your pleasure. I don't view this weblog as a vehicle to convert people (although if something you read does lead you to examine your thoughts on something, I'd thank God for it). So all comments, even "Pat, you don't make any sense here" or "I disagree with you completely", are OK with me (sans flaming and other irresponsible actions).

I Believe, Because It Is Difficult

Something recently occurred to me with regard to the Catholic Mass. I am at times capable of great focus. I can lose myself in a novel until the dawn is beginning to show. I can immerse myself in a math problem or an essay. I can focus during a completely dull lecture (modulo interrupting my notes with comical phrases once or twice). But I can't, for the life of me, keep my concentration during the Mass and particularly the Eucharistic Prayer.

What I've come to realize is that this means I must have some desire to avoid concentrating. When I can't will myself to do something I'm physically capable of doing, there is some emotional/psychological/spiritual factor at work. And the question is: why? If one suggests that somehow I know it's all empty, then how's that different from a novel I don't really enjoy? I stuck it out through Rabbit, Run, after all. That desire tells me that something is, in fact, happening in the Mass, and it's something that I don't fully like.

And humble submission to an infinitely superior God is certainly something I have desires against. I desire that submission, of course, but I also desire to be 'my own person', or more accurately 'my own God'. That's part and parcel of fallen human nature, as the Church puts it. So what exactly do I mean? I believe that the fact that I'm resisting something means that there is something- or Someone- there to be accepted or rejected. And I'm praying for a deeper acceptance of that One.

Human Dignity and Personhood Theory

A friend of mine believes that because of society's investment in education, people such as myself have a responsibility to survive that exceeds that of others. The hypothetical example that came up was that of sacrificing my life to save that of a child, which my friend thought would be morally indefensible: I'm just 'worth more', at least to society.

Somehow, I can't agree with that utilitarian line of reasoning, any more than I can stomach the 'personhood theory' asserted by people like Princeton's Peter Singer. According to it, people have no inherent worth except for their level of consciousness and productivity; Singer directly advocates infanticide, euthanization of the disabled, et cetera. Here's a link I chose because it lists his most startling conclusions without necessarily taking my side. I am trying to be balanced (if not fair). It just seems far too Brave New World to me, a new class system in the name of 'objectivity'.

But it's difficult without starting from religious principles to assemble a convincing argument in favor of human dignity. (Nota bene: last I checked, "difficult" is no synonym for "impossible".) And that's a problem. It's much, much easier to show that human life begins at conception than it is to convince someone else that we should respect that human life in and of itself. So what's a Catholic natural-law quasi-humanist to do in a post-Christian post-morality post-humanist post-post-modern world?

Finals Week

Monday was a brutal Representation Theory final. After writing out a lengthy pre-announced proof of the Frobenius Kernel Theorem, we had to choose five out of eight further problems. I couldn't understand three of the questions, and I blanked completely on two more. Thus I spent the last half-hour of the test staring at the exam booklet, wondering if everyone else had bombed the test as badly as I, and writing a haiku:

Thought I understood
Representation Theory;
Turns out I was wrong.

Fortunately, grad student Mike did the best thing any teaching assistant has ever done: he went over the problems with us immediately after the final. Turned out that everyone had, in fact, done about as badly as myself, that one of the questions I'd misunderstood was mostly right anyway, and that he'd lobby to weight the proof 80% and the rest 20%. I felt much better then.

European Civilization final was not stressful, and I think I'm prepared for Mathematical Logic. Sorry for the marathon post; good luck to all other Finals takers!

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Still Alive

Sorry for the lack of posting. I have much to say, but little time before Finals start. Of course, I just used 6 hours of that prep time on the William Lowell Putnam Exam, a completely voluntary national undergraduate math competition. What was I thinking, you ask?

Good question. I woke up at 7:30 today and headed to the math building. PS2 handed out the test envelopes. He warned us that the mean on this test is a couple points out of 120, and the median score is zero (in other words, at least half the students who take the Putnam get no points). We had 3 uninterrupted hours to work on the first 6 problems, then 3 more hours in the afternoon for 6 more problems.

Example: Let n an integer and take the sequence 1, 1/2, 1/3, ... , 1/n. Then average the adjacent terms, resulting in the sequence 3/4, 5/12, ... , (2n-1)/2(n)(n-1). Repeat this process of averaging neighbors until only one term remains; call this x. Show that x < 2/n.

I was rather proud of that problem, by the way. I know I didn’t make the papers, but I believe I scored in the low 30s, and that makes me feel good. Now if I could only understand Burnside’s Theorem in time for my Monday final...

Monday, December 01, 2003

Amusing/Disturbing: More Signs. Real Ones.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

That’s Why I Came to This School

My European Civilization class has, for the most part, not been a very interesting place for discussion. We started out on the Middle Ages, which most of my classmates didn’t care much for. The net effect: nobody but me volunteered to contribute, time and again. I felt I was boring and dominating.

All that’s begun to change in the last few classes. Today, we came to talk about Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration. About half an hour in, the discussion started to heat up; someone made the point that Locke mandates a separation of church and state (in different words, of course), yet still maintains that atheists are dangerous to society. Although the common consensus was that Locke was biased there against atheists, the class asked on what basis society trusts them: is fear of punishment the sole glue of a pluralistic commonwealth? (In other words, do we rely on legal testimony today only because the witnesses fear being charged with perjury?)

This segued into a fantastic argument about natural rights. I thought that this was the defining moment of the course: students realizing how much political philosophy they take for granted. We talk about ‘human rights’ without thinking twice, although societies until the 17th century (and some countries today, such as China) thought on completely different terms.

(For example: When the Western nations criticize China on human rights violations, we don’t understand how they fail to see these as important. It’s not simply because they’re Communist; the Chinese ideal is one of the communal good, and if thousands of dissenters are tortured for what the authorities believe is the good of one billion citizens, what’s the big deal?)

I do believe that there’s a natural law and a dignity to the human person. I just want to emphasize that these things cannot be assumed at the beginning of a discussion. They are simply not obvious.

My classmates exhausted themselves trying to define a natural right, shouted out that the idea of natural law emanating from the commonwealth is ‘stupid!’ and debated whether one can be said to have a ‘right’ to murder if one can get away with it. Students argued that it was obvious how we ought to treat other people, or that we have no inherent rights whatsoever, or that rights are an agreement or contract within society.

It was a fantastic discussion, and I only hope there are more like that in this class. It’s the point of a liberal education to bring up the most basic assumptions in conflicting terms; there’s a difference between spouting the platitude “We ought to tolerate everyone else, as long as they’re not hurting anyone,” and examining why we believe that, how that thought originated, and what are the alternatives.

Oh, I also wanted to blog today about a lot of my recent thoughts on morality, the Spirit, prayer, humility, doubt and trust. But I’ll save that topic for later when I can do it justice.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to all. I’m going home to St. Louis tomorrow, and as great as this quarter’s been, I’m glad to be spending this weekend with my family. God bless and protect everyone who travels this week.

P.P.S. Highway 61 Revisited arrived today. Loved it on the first listen. Also arrived: a collection of Mozart pieces and all 9 Beethoven symphonies. Currently in the middle of the 5th...

P.P.P.S. I haven't laughed so hard in days. Check out the Ratings of Danger Signs, Part 1 and Part 2. Check out the Generic Danger Symbol...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

My Continuing Musical Education

It seems like my music collection is just starting. Below is a partial list of CDs I want to buy in the near future. “Partial list”, here, implies “Please give me feedback and suggestions”.

Granted, my musical tastes have changed and will continue to do so, but basically I get into guitar artistry (my present examples: Santana and Clapton), creative and deep instrumentation (Dave Matthews Band, Five Iron Frenzy), brilliant lyrics (Ben Folds, Rich Mullins) and their intersection (Radiohead). And I’m just starting out on most classical composers.

So without further ado:

The Beatles, Revolver
The Clash, London Calling
The Clash, Combat Rock
Cream, Wheels of Fire
Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
Gustav Holst, The Planets
Radiohead, Pablo Honey
Radiohead, The Bends
Dmitry Shostakovich, Tenth Symphony
Dmitry Shostakovich, Fifth Symphony
Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra
Igor Stravinsky, Rite of Spring
They Might Be Giants, Dial-A-Song
Richard Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights

So what do you think? What should I add? What’s your need-to-buy list?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Argh...

1. I recently found out that Thanksgiving is next Thursday, not this Thursday. I’d thought this would be a short week, and that I’d be heading home soon.

2. I’ve apparently figured out how to turn off my alarm clock without waking up. This is not a good thing.

3. The amount of information that I need to absorb to be a mathematician is continually increasing. I was working today with the grad student who runs my Directed Reading Program:

“Okay, the easiest proof of Riemann-Roch is the Serre duality theorem. Patrick, have you heard of Serre duality?”
“No.”
“Okay, it’s related to Poincare duality. You’ve heard of Poincare duality?”
“Let me think...” (pause) “No.”
“It’s sort of like the connection between singular cohomology and... oh, wait, have you done cohomology?”
“Um, no.”
“Oh. Well, you will.”

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Modern-Day Horoscope or Virtual Psychoanalysis?

 Conscious self
Overall self
Take Free Enneagram Personality Test


Much right, a little wrong. (Rarely indecisive?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Whoa

My continued (irrelevant) tinkering with the details of this blog continues.

Coming soon: a Socratic/Caelian dialogue on the church.

If I have time.

P.S. If the intersection of music and Christianity interests you, check out the liturgical music debate at Father Keyes' blog and the "Christian Music Industry" debate at Josh's blog.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Concert Review- Ben Folds with Ben Lee

Now, of course the quality of a show depends a lot on the audience, so in all fairness I should say that this was a Ben Folds crowd. We knew the lyrics to all his songs, and shouted out the “ba-ba-baa” part to Kate without prompting. But the audience-performer relationship goes both ways, and it was clear to me that Ben Folds understood what Ben Lee did not: that this was not like most college shows, that the students were somewhat self-conscious, and that any sort of intellectual allusion would go over big.

Ben Lee was more or less forgettable. Australian, very mainstream sound, the poor man’s John Mayer really. His scripted transitions between songs fell completely flat, he couldn’t get us to stand up or scream. The guy has some good guitar skills and a smooth nasal voice- a little too smooth to convey a lot of emotion. And although I’d never heard his songs before, when he finished half a line of lyrics I had a pretty good idea how that line was going to end. Now, I know this sounds like I didn’t enjoy his performance at all, which isn’t the case; it was a good enough hour. But I’m not going to buy his CDs.

The only ones I can remember, in approximate order of performance:
Dirty Mind
Nothing Much Happens
Pop Queen
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Ship My Body Home

Ben Folds hit the best songs from his old albums (not necessarily the most played ones) and gave us just a taste of his new stuff. There was never a dull moment, as he improvised piano detours and told us the stories behind a few of the more enigmatic songs. At one point, someone on the upper balcony shouted out “Ben Folds rocks Saddam Hussein’s Ass!”, whereupon he composed a song around that phrase (eventually ending with “I don’t know where this crap is going...”).

Again, in approximate order of performance:
Fred Jones Pt. 2: About as good an opening as any, as he just shrugged off the standing ovation.
Zak and Sara
Best Imitation of Myself
All U Can Eat: This was a song off Ben Folds’ new “Sunny 16” and was a little preachy, but overall good listening about our screwed-up consumer culture.
Philosophy
Boxing
Kate: There was a girl named Kate in the audience whose birthday was today. He remembered that after the song, and sang her a special version in minor key with disturbing lyrics about getting older and dying. It was a funny touch.
Bruised: He brought Ben Lee back out to do this song from this summer’s “The Bens”. Ben Lee sounded a good deal better on this than on his solo stuff, partially because his guitar had Ben Folds’ piano to deepen the sound, and partially because the lyrics were less predictable.
I Touch Myself: Hilarious cover song, another duet with Ben Lee.
Learn to Live with What You Are: Also off “Sunny 16”; not bad.
Emaline
Selfless, Cold and Composed: I didn’t realize before how good this song is. It's going on my playlist now.
Army: Ben made up for lack of other instruments by using the audience here. Half were trumpets, half saxophones. I didn’t realize U of C students had all this enthusiasm, but we really got into our instruments.
The Luckiest
Rockin’ the Suburbs: Ben- “I wanted to call this song ‘Korn Sucks’, but I decided not to.”
Not the Same: The original finale; Ben split us into the three parts of the major chord, used us during the song, then directed the giant choir for a few final rounds.
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces: Encore 1, prefaced with the great story of the senior-year prank that inspired his ISAP rap, which eventually turned into this song.
Song for the Dumped: Encore 2, and a great climax to the show, including massive audience participation on the most memorable line, as well as his repetition of a verse in Japanese. Remember what I said about intellectual allusions?

So all in all, this concert was a great Saturday night, and worth multiple times what I had to pay for it (much of the cost was shouldered by the U of C Major Activities Board). And that’s more than enough blogging.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Machiavellian Barbecue

You know, I really meant "Mongolian Barbecue", what I had for dinner tonight. But Machiavellian works even better. I’ve just completed the gauntlet:

Thursday, 12 PM: I was remarkably well prepared for the Math Logic midterm; I finished half an hour early. So far, so good. Except that I knew how my paper had gone...

Thursday, 1:30 PM: Drat drat drat. I wrote the paper, edited it, then realized it didn’t really fit the prompt. I was supposed to answer "what does The Discourses tell us about history?" and I was too caught up in discussing what Machiavelli actually meant. Well, excuse me for actually caring about a person’s ideas, irrespective of their $@*!ing historical context...
(Nota bene the following: 1. I don't yet know what my paper was graded. 2. This is civilization class, not philosophy; it's supposed to be about history. 3. It’s really all my fault for not beginning the paper until Tuesday. 4. I do understand how important historical context can be. 5. I realized the flaws of my rant as I was writing it just now.)

Friday, 1:30 PM: The Reps of Finite Groups midterm made me wish I had back that half hour I gained on the Math Logic midterm. It required so much writing my hand hurt. Basically, I had 50 minutes to write out the full proofs for three of the most complicated theorems of the quarter. I just know I've made crucial oversights; I hate not having the time to at least think over my responses.

Friday, 6:30 PM: The reward. Six Michelsonians up to Wrigleyville to eat at the Mongolian Barbecue there. You get a bowl of stuff (a lot of meats, sirloin and calimari included, and a good number of sauces/spices) and they cook it for you, semi-Hibachi style, with sword-like implements on a big heated iron slab. It was pretty good; highlights included Russell and Dennis making each other “torture bowls” to trade, then seeing who gave up first. So the week ended well, and I should post Ben Folds/Ben Lee concert highlights after I see them tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I'm not here... This isn't happening...

Thursday (12 PM): Mathematical Logic I Midterm

Thursday (1:30 PM): European Civilization Paper (historical significance of The Discourses by Machiavelli)

Friday (1:30 PM): Representations of Finite Groups Midterm

Friday (3:30 PM): Directed Reading Program session- Elliptic Curves

Current Wish: How to Disappear Completely, Radiohead

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Surprised by Sorrow

The phrase "tug at your heartstrings" is very apt. Every once in a great while, a song elicits a strong twinge of sadness, the feeling that you're holding your breath when you're not. I hope you know what I mean. Anyhow, this doesn't necessarily mean I feel that way each time I hear the song now, and it doesn't make any of these the "best" sad songs. These are just songs that, at some point of my life, for whatever reason, brought out an intense sadness. In fact, if you've read C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy, you know exactly what I mean; it's not something intrinsic to the object, but something greater of which the object reminds you or to which it connects you. In any case...

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton
The earliest case of this reaction came when I was nine or ten years old, after my great-aunt Gertie had passed away. This was the first time I was really conscious of death. When my mother told me about it, I found the "Clapton Unplugged" CD, started this song, and only then cried. I still love Tears in Heaven; here Clapton sets aside his brilliant guitar-"God" persona and shows us a vulnerable, grieving father.

American Pie, Don Maclean
I was twelve, maybe. I think that I'd heard this at some point before, but never noticed it- it was just my parents' oldies station. But that day it came on the radio just as my family was getting ready to leave. When they tried to break it off mid-song I threw a fit. American Pie simply resonated with me. I had no idea then when or why it was written, or what anything in it meant. Something in it was just so honest that I couldn't turn it off. It was the most intense reaction to music that I can remember.

A Long December, Counting Crows
When I was a freshman in high school, I bought two Counting Crows CDs, mainly because people I hung out with liked them. I hardly listened to the music, I'm ashamed to say, but nonetheless this one stuck with me. Maybe it was on the radio too. Anyway, when 12 AM, January 1, 1998 came, I was sitting at home in front of the TV, alone for another year. I walked to my room and put this song on. Although A Long December talks about a relationship ended, the loneliness and regret applied (less deeply or poignantly by far) to me at the time. Times became happier eventually, and I put away my Counting Crows CDs. Only last year I rediscovered them and realized I liked their music after all. I still think this is their best song, and it still sends shivers up my back.

Stay, Lisa Loeb
Okay, now I'm really embarrassed about this one. Senior year, when my girlfriend was gone for a while, I thought a great deal about the relationship. For whatever reason, I heard this song on the radio and somehow it connected with my thought process. On a logical level, it doesn't match up, but the tone resonated with me. I didn't even admit to her that this was the song (I said at the time it was some country music song). I know it seems I should have my Y chromosome recalled for repairs, but this song just reflected my struggle at the time to maintain a loving relationship when I knew the strain of leaving for college was fast approaching.

Hard to Get, Rich Mullins
It increasingly irritates me when Christian music turns out judgmental or saccharine. Rich Mullins is neither; the songs he wrote were brutally sincere about his doubts, failings, and fears, and yet look to God always. This song, Hard to Get was preserved on a scratchy demo tape, as Rich died before making a studio album with it. The poor quality of the recording and the clumsy guitar only reflect the point too well- the question of suffering and weakness, asking God whether He even remembers what it was like to be a human being. But my description doesn't do it justice; check out this song yourself (album: The Jesus Demos).

The Background, Third Eye Blind
The most recent addition to this list, as Third Eye Blind was another freshman year casualty of my failed buy-CDs-to-be-more-popular scheme. I hardly listened to anything on the album until this summer, and this song hit me hard. I don't know whether the tragedy which The Background claims was a true one, and certainly I've never been through anything comparable. But it works perfectly. The song conveys a total feeling of loss and numbness- even the guitar sounds as if it's crying at the end. Give it a listen.

OK, now what about you? What songs have hit you like a ton of bricks? C'mon, try out my newfangled comments link...

Monday, October 27, 2003

1. Fun With Irreducible Characters
My instructor for "Representations of Finite Groups", Mr. Alperin, is visiting his father for the time being, so we’re being taught by Mike the grad student. Today was probably the most I’ve laughed in any class for a long time. Of course, very few people would have found it so funny.

Example: “Okay, now the first extra-credit problem is to write out the character tables for a few groups you like.”
“I call the trivial group!”

Yeah… maybe the citation leaves a bit to be desired. But if you were there, and if you were me, you’d have laughed too… because you would have been me… and I laughed.

2. De Gustibus Disputandum Est
In general, I have a problem with my own nerdiness. The worst kind of social outcast, mind you, is the one who is ashamed of not fitting in, the one who tries and fails to adapt to the people around himself or herself.

No, I’m not as bad with this as I used to be, but I’m still ridiculously self-conscious in contexts like musical taste. I become extremely flustered whenever someone praises or criticizes my music to my face. It’s particularly evident now that my tastes and my standard computer playlist are changing.

Concrete example (names deleted to protect my ego): I’m deleting song x by artist X because X’s instrumentation isn’t really that good or creative, and because the lyrics to x are written to sound profound rather than out of any honest meaning. But I also can’t shake the knowledge that I’m embarrassed about having liked X as well, seeing as those who know anything about music dismissed X long ago. Similarly, I get a CD by Y because Y is a legend and, on some level, I ought to enjoy Y’s rock and roll. But I just don’t, and I’m $15 poorer for trying.

I really need to stop thinking about commentary and enjoy the music. But I don’t.

3. All Things Must Change
I’m recognizing that the nature of this blog has changed significantly in the last few weeks, from a journal/series of updates to a sort of forum for my opinions, mostly my opinions on matters theological/ecclesiastical/sacramental. And although not everyone who reads this can relate to my beliefs, I think this is just the natural evolution of this blog. That, and my life just doesn’t seem as eventful now as it did during the carefree summer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad to be in the thick of things again. But there simply isn’t enough to report without delving into the life of the mind these days. So this will probably become in general more of a series of reflections and less of a sequence of vignettes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

While I was doing the background reading for my European Civilization class, I came across a mention of the infamous papal bull Unam Sanctum. This was the 1302 document that some of my friends had referred to, (not recalling the name) which seemed to contradict current Catholic teaching on salvation. If this bull truly were irreconcilable with the current doctrine- that those outside of the earthly Roman Catholic Church can find mercy with God as well as those within- I would be forced to alter my ideas on papal authority, at the very least.

The bull's last line states, rather infamously and rather quotably, "We declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Seems direct enough, eh? However, I read the document in light of today's theology and found the development of dogma, not the contradiction of it. The way that Boniface VIII and his contemporaries undoubtedly understood it, belonging to the Church meant being baptized, receiving the Sacraments, assenting to the creeds. The present Catholic teaching affirms that Christ saves humanity through the working of the Church, but adds a better understanding: this is not the Church as we see it, but the eternal Body of Christ made up of all the men and women who come to God.

In other words, God is not arbitrary; the sacraments and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church are full of a special grace, but those outside its communion here on Earth are not barred from God's mercy. I don't think there's any decision procedure we can apply to tell us precisely who submits to the Lord, from only what we can see externally. Thus even Aquinas states that we cannot despair of any person's salvation; we cannot place limits on the grace of God.

What does this mean for our understanding of Unam Sanctam? That those who come to God do indeed submit to the Body of Christ in their sanctification; all those who claim eternal life with Him are then a part of the Catholic (universal) Church, whatever their creed or ideas as we saw them in life. Understand this all? I haven't been explaining to well, but I've traded completeness for conciseness here. If you want me to fully explain what I mean, talk to me or contact me. But long story short, my point is that nothing about the papal bull contradicts current theology, which simply interpreted and explained more fully this pronouncement of the Church. The fact that Boniface VIII and his contemporaries did not understand their own bull as we do today doesn't alarm me any more than the fact that we have an understanding of the events of the Old Testament as the preparation for Christ- an understanding which no prophet had in full (though Isaiah came darn close). So I've avoided heterodoxy for one more week...

P.S. Ironically, one of the highest links on Yahoo! for the search on the papal bull was a website aiming to prove that Vatican II was heresy, John Paul II is an antipope and that the true Roman Catholic Church should support only Latin Mass, only Thomistic philosophy and only monarchy. Sigh...

P.P.S. Now confirmed for the U of C fall concert: Ben Folds and Ben Lee. I'ma get some tickets...

Current music:
Hey Jealousy, The Gin Blossoms
Brandenburg Concerto #3, J.S. Bach
Rain King, Counting Crows
Incident at Neshabur, Santana
Fire and Rain, James Taylor

Saturday, October 18, 2003

My Friday

Down comforter. Cinnamon Life. Warm shower. New jeans. Quiet reading. Walking to campus. Sunlight. CG-modules. Butter cookies. Elliptic curves. Rubik’s Cube. Frisbee. Music playlist. Cheese pizza. Clerks. Mallrats. Chasing Amy. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Down comforter...

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

When I talk about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I could talk about its historical evolution in the Church. I could mention its biblical basis. I could discuss the psychological importance of accountability or the need for an experienced confessor. But the best apologia for Confession I know is the effect it has on my perception and action.

After confessing today, I felt an almost physiological relief from all of the tension I’d built up inside. As I walked across campus, I heard for once the sounds in the silence- feet scraping, wind blowing, a key turning in a lock. I saw as if for the first time the fallen yellow leaves, the Gothic buildings against overcast sky, the light blaring from the windows. The simple experience of that stroll brought such beauty to me.

That relief and wonder freed me for a while of all the petty self-absorption I’m accustomed to. I had conversations I would not have had on another day, listening rather than waiting for a chance to speak. There are two things I learned this evening that I might never have known otherwise, two people I might never have known as well as I do now.

I know that the Sacrament isn’t the only way that God forgives. But the experience of it is so filled with grace that I just couldn’t do without it.


P.S. I’m now the senior math major on my floor, which puts me in the role that Josh took upon himself last year (as an actual senior). After I came home at 10, I helped Casey with limits, Peter with geometry, Russell with Cauchy’s Inequality, Kevin with a max-min problem, Erik with combinatorics, Allie with delta-epsilon proofs, and James with centripetal acceleration (physics). I just live for this...

Monday, October 13, 2003

You may have already noticed this, but I've changed the template for this blog. I like this much better already, and it allows me to add links (got a blog you haven't told me about? E-mail me!) to the page.

Sadly, title fields are no more. This means that some of my prior posts make even less sense than they did before.

Why am I writing an entry about my blog? Because it's been an uneventful weekend. A good weekend (honestly, a good weekend), but not one producing stories of note.

P.S. Go Rams.

P.P.S. I want one of these.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Ready for my Close-Up

Campus life has been disturbed to some degree recently by a movie shooting here. They’re adapting Proof for the big screen, and it happens to be set at this university’s graduate math department.

They set up star trailers and catered lunches on the quads, take over Stuart Hall (putting up signs to say “Eckhart Hall” on the outside; apparently the real Eckhart is too busy or not photogenic enough), film a stairway shot just outside my classroom. PS2 (you know, pirate extraordinare of the math faculty) coached Anthony Hopkins on how to lecture like a real math professor, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal have been spotted, and friends of mine have been used as extras.

All in all, a quite interesting diversion from doing work. I can’t pretend I’m indifferent to the Hollywood presence in Hyde Park, but the filming doesn’t really affect me in any concrete way. I will have to see it when it comes out, though.

Current Highlight of the Day: carrying a chalkboard outside to enjoy the great weather during math class
Current Music: Lean On Me, Al Green

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I Can Say I Was (Almost) There

Last Saturday, I had a brilliant social idea. I would take my friends up to Wrigleyville on the North Side for dinner while the Cubs played Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves. That way, I would be there when they clinched, and the neighborhood began to party like it was 1908 again (the last time the Cubbies took a postseason series of any kind).

Score was tied 1-1 as the elevated train pulled into the station, giving me my first sight of Wrigley Field. It's right there when you step off the train, open to the side so you can see right onto the field, sidewalk running next to the massive concrete and brick bleachers. You could hear the fans as the Cubs outfield recorded another out.

Then someone homered, and it was 3-1 Braves. I took my friends down Clark Street to a decent Mexican restaurant. A television updated us on the worsening score, till it was 6-2 in the 8th inning. I polished off three enchiladas with a hot pepper sauce (wishing I had tried the also-traditional Mole sauce). A few more of us arrived as Eric Karros sent a pitch deep into the Wrigley stands.

The newcomers got carryout as consecutive doubles brought the Cubs back to 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth. Two outs, Kenny Lofton on second, Sammy Sosa at bat. There was the pitch, the crack of the bat, Sammy's traditional home-run skip, and we all knew the game was tied. I cheered wildly, only to see the ball drop prematurely out of the sky, right to the center fielder. Game over, Cubs lose.

I had a nice time with my buddies in that neighborhood, but I didn't get to witness the "Cubs Win!" party. That was delayed till Sunday, when Kerry Wood shut down the Braves 5-1. Apparently it was wild up in Wrigleyville that night. Oh well.

Monday, September 29, 2003

It all begins again...

Today was the first day of classes back here at the University of Chicago. I’m on a kind of manic high right now, from all of the overwhelming geekiness surrounding me.

For example: The introductory session of Biology 101 devolved into a debate on whether we can create a reasonable criteria for “life” which excludes such things as certain computer programs. Reproduction, use of energy, growth, interaction with the environment- these things can happen in computers too!

For example: The reading list for my European Civilization class comes to 18 books for 10 weeks, with five full textbooks, source documents like “The Rule of St. Benedict”, “In Praise of Folly” by Erasmus, and Marco Polo’s “Travels”. This is hard-core Core class reading. If only it weren’t quite so expensive.

For example: I just finished an office-hours session with five first-years desperate to figure out Proof by Contradiction. I love teaching, or even this facsimile thereof. I’m worried about the students, as the instructor has serious problems with intelligibility and pace. But I’ll help the best I can.

For example: Today, I heard one of the most enlightening theological homilies, as the priest read from St. Gregory the Great on angels. We have so often represented angels in art and culture that we have this warped halo-and-winged idea of what Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are. Read this for the best philosophical explanation I've ever found (scroll down to the second reading).

I’m all unpacked and ready to roll, except for the backpack that I left at home. There was a lot of confusion when packing, and we didn’t leave for Chicago until 8 PM. In the driving rain. I’m glad we made it safe.

And thanks to all who have been praying for my family. My grandmother’s in the hospital, and we’re all very worried for her.

Gotta help cook dinner now. Peace.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Pray for my grandmother Joyce.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Epilogues...

* Anna e-mailed me after Monday's post:
"The democrats weren't the first to start blocking nominees to the federal bench, the republicans did it plenty during the Clinton administration.   That said, I'm sure that radical courts are always agents of bad change, take for example the activist court that decided Brown vs. Board and any number of other civil rights cases half a century ago.  At the moment, I think that the Senate happens to be saving my civil rights in this particular area (not that the members of the Senate haven't done remarkably stupic things with my civil rights lately, anyways, e.g. the "American Patriot Act").  So there's my 2 cents for the day."

* Day 5 of no TV. Without the ability to waste my time effortlessly, I've felt the impetus to actually accomplish something. TV withdrawal is waning, and I believe that I could go without it (excepting football games, of course) till school begins.

* Commenting about Katie's help shopping, I mentioned my quip, "Katie's Eye for the Brother Guy".
She: "You put that in your weblog, didn't you?"
Me: (sheepishly) "Yeah."
She: "You are so predictable."

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Katie’s Eye for the Brother Guy

As anyone who’s ever seen me is well aware, I am oblivious to what looks good on me. I don’t mean that in a self-congratulatory “I’m above worrying about my appearance” boast. I mean that I do worry, pathetically sometimes, but that I have no clue what I ought to look like. So when I realized my clothes were mostly old, worn-out, badly fitting, et cetera, I was faced with a challenge.

Enter my sister, fashion queen of the public high school. I brought her with me to a discount store, wherein she promptly seized a dozen overlooked shirts and pants and sent me off to the dressing room. She clearly enjoyed this more than I did: “Aw Pat, you look like a cute normal kid now!” “Hey, what’s taking you so long in there... and try these corduroys on while you’re at it!”

Katie instructed me in a few tips which I’ll have forgotten tomorrow:

1) I always buy my clothes too big, and that’s bad. I must accept that I can’t fill out a medium shirt, let alone large.

2) The way for guys to wear a long-sleeve shirt now is to roll up the sleeves exactly twice and to leave the top two buttons open.

3) Orange is a good color for me; tan is verboten. Black is always good, too.

4) Pants should be boot cut, or else shoes mess it all up. Pants are worn from the hips, not the waist.

5) Since I have brown hair, I can wear... wait, was that for the blue shirt and jeans, or maybe the tropical pattern with sweater over it? See, I’ve regressed already.

So I bought myself a few of the better (and cheaper) items. I should look a new man when I come back to Chicago. Of course, now I’m worried I’ll violate “geek chic” by looking too fashion-conscious, the dreaded “trying too hard”. Or something like that. I can’t win, and I can’t stop caring.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Odds and Ends

* My dog, Fibbonacci, is crazy in one respect. Normally a harmless mutt terrier, she goes berserk when she sees the UPS truck. Not the garbage truck, not FedEx, only that brown van with the globe painted on the side. Maybe Nacci was taken away from her family via the shipping company, or perhaps she’s trying to warn us that I’ll be run over by that truck one day. Or maybe she’s just a ridiculous dog.

* Our family room clock is having battery problems, and is slowing to a halt. I calculated how far off it is, and told myself to subtract seven hours or add five. Then, I became strangely enamored with the cadence of that phrase. Try it:
Subtract seven hours, or add five.
Is this just some strange quirk that’s peculiar to me? Or does everybody, once in a while, read uninteresting prose sentences as free verse?

* And yesterday, my sister and I resolved our quarrels over who watches what when, by agreeing to forego TV for a week. Today is Day Two; instead of watching SportsCenter, Robot Wars, VH1, and The Daily Show, I read from Søren Kierkegaard. Sadly, I still feel like watching television.

P.S. I know the name should be “Fibonacci”, not “Fibbonacci”. I was ten years old when we named her. Give me a break.

P.P.S. Fhqwhgads.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Political Firestorm

First, I know my comments are broken. So if you have something to say, e-mail me; if you want, I can even copy your thoughts here in a future post.

Okay, many of you know about the Miguel Estrada judicial nomination, the filibuster, the recent withdrawal. If not, you can check out the following:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24547-2003Sep4.html

Okay, so essentially the tone of the nomination process has changed. Before, Presidents needed a simple Senate majority to confirm a federal judge. Senate Democrats just began to filibuster nominees, a tactic which requires 60 votes to overcome (a process called cloture). I wonder why neither side ever tried this before.

And although I haven't read enough on Estrada himself to decide whether he'd make a good federal judge, I think that in general this is a good precedent. (Yes, I said a GOOD precedent). It means that unless some party gains 60 seats in the Senate, all judicial nominees will need to be more measured and moderate from now on. Over-politicized, overactive Supreme Court judges have caused atrocities like the Dred Scott case (to use an example we would all agree on), and a more carefully screened bench can do better in my opinion.

And, as I said above, why didn't anybody think of this before?

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

A Down-Tempo Day

I can always use music to test the speed of my mental processes. When my mind is overactive and starved for stimuli, everything slows for me. The beats of, let’s say, “Oye Como Va” are spaced epochs apart today. However, when I’m agitated, or caffeinated, any rock song becomes almost punk to me. Is this just me?

In other news, for my mom’s birthday we all went to see “The Lion King” on stage. It’s one of the most visually staggering productions I’ve ever seen, and so merits watching. The downside: the extra hour of the show is made up of filler material and a few substandard songs, not any interesting deviations from the structure of the cartoon.

Oh, and I finished “Crime and Punishment” this weekend. I thought it was great; I wanted to speed-read because I really came to care about what happened to them, and at the same time I wanted to slow down and examine the ideas and the prose. It does take about a hundred pages to get going, and the ending disappointed me a bit. So it doesn’t quite crack my Top 5, but it’s still the best I’ve read this year.

Speaking of which, my current Top 5 novels:
1. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Doestoyevsky
2. All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
3. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
4. Moby-Dick, Hermann Melville
5. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I know, first of all, that they’re not as a whole very unorthodox choices, but I haven’t read nearly enough to be snobbishly obscure yet. And second, I realize I just listed “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” above “Crime and Punishment”. Get over it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Groundhog Day in STL

No, that's not fair. Every day is not the same. There are, in fact, a number of cool things happening while I'm here at home: pool parties, running into old friends, helping out at my church, getting my sister oriented at her (dual-enrollment) college class. The interesting things just happen with very long intermissions nowadays.

It is good to be home; I think I just need a sign of progress. A month without a job, or a school term, or a continuous project, loses all shape in my mind. Earlier this week I tried a "Discover Your Genius" exercise, writing in stream-of-consciousness style 100 questions that are important to me. I intended to post them on this weblog to make up for the lack of anecdotes, but I was disappointed. My questions were far too banal and self-contemptuous, along the lines of "Will my acne ever clear up?". I couldn't subject y'all to them in good conscience.

So that's it from the Lou. I'm enjoying my time here with family, but have little to report. Sorry.




P.S. Is it really true that I resemble Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies?

P.P.S. I think my "comment" thing is broken. If I'm right, e-mail me.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Beats Twiddling my Thumbs...

Contrary to popular opinion, I am not currently touring the East Coast. That trip didn’t quite work out, for various reasons. Instead, I’m back at home in Missouri, wondering what to do with the remaining five weeks of summer break. To that end, a preliminary “To Do” list:

* Get friends together for a float trip down a lazy river, possibly capped off with a barbecue
* Finish the books I bought: A Clockwork Orange, Crime and Punishment, Lolita and Either/Or
* Order some new CDs on Amazon cheap, so they’ll be waiting for me at school
* Blog amusing descriptions of my summer compadres
* Find “Super Smash Bros” for my dorm room next year. Excellent.
* See a Cardinals-Cubs game, hopefully to watch the former obliterate the latter
* Fix my computer so it doesn’t freeze up when you select “Shut Down”
* Portray my sister Katie in a more positive light, or face the consequences
* Remove “your mom” from my sense of humor
* Learn to cook more dinner foods than chili and pizza
* Visit my old high school to lecture about some mathematical subject
* Volunteer to help with a Catholic religious retreat or two
* Continue reading the poems in my T.S. Eliot collection
* Consider becoming a substitute teacher for my old school district
* Burn the requested CDs for members of my family
* Review the material from my math classes this summer, do more of the problems

...and so on. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Humility
(with a nod to C.S. Lewis)

A truly humble person does not self-deprecate, because he or she has more important things to discuss than himself or herself. In fact, he or she is interested in you, in your life, in what you want to say. This goes beyond listening to you. He or she gives advice without condescending, disagrees without disrespecting, jokes without mocking, inspires without shaming, admires without envying. He or she never plays the martyr. That’s why you hardly ever think to yourself, “That’s humility!” Instead, you simply enjoy his or her company.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not humble. You know that already, of course, but you wondered if I thought I was. I know I'm not. It’s just that I’ve begun to appreciate it in others.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Vignettes

* Watch the movie "Whale Rider". Right now.

* With all musically gifted Catholics on vacation last week, I was left to lead the hymns at Mass. No problem; I picked a hymn, announced it, and promptly began singing a different hymn. Drat. The Mass was not lost, though, and I have to say there's something special about singing by yourself, a cappella, and then hearing one voice after another join in through the hymn.

* Flugtag. A harbor downtown with a 30-foot platform, where a crowd watches amateurs pilot ridiculous "flying" machines that occasionally make it 40 feet out, but more often simply crash spectacularly. It was a lot of fun (my favorite was the giant Pez dispenser), and I'm going to build one for next year. Right after I start the University of Chicago curling team.

* Don't play Taboo with me. I get psychotic.

*The University Theatre built a gigantic black-box stage in the courtyard for two weeks of "Taming of the Shrew", and then tore it all down. Really a shame. The show was good for student actors, though.

Friday, August 08, 2003

The Horror... the horror...

Normally, I lack a sense of smell entirely. I try to tell friends that it’s due to an unfortunate methane-factory accident during my youth. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t that gullible.

My point is, I can’t smell a blessed thing in most contexts. Perfume, food, sweat, and the like are all unknown to me, unless they’re so odoriferous that other people have violent reactions to them.

Last week, when I went into the kitchen of the house, I nearly retched. Something smelled like it was decaying, so awful I couldn’t even breathe in there. I could taste it. Imagine my surprise, then, when nobody else could smell anything wrong. Not the other people living there, not the Dutch houseguests, not the friends I had over.

How is it possible that something is there that only I can smell? And how can it be so wretched a stench?

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Spontaneous Mutants...

...would be yet another great title for a punk band or a B movie.

So, all is well in the old house. We have a set of Dutch guests, friends of the professor and his wife, so I've been booted to the small guest room filled from floor to ceiling with books. Rather fascinating it is: a vast children's collection with all the Dr. Seuss juxtaposed with postmodern historical criticism and with century-old reference texts. The closet contains a plethora of military board games, titled "Waterloo", "Battle of the Bulge", "1776", "MacArthur", "Gettysburg", "Caesar's Legions", et cetera. The room belonged to the professor's son, years ago, and between the bookcases on the wall there's a painted mural of a fantasy medeival kingdom.

The guests are pretty nice, although the two boys haven't really left their Game Boys for long enough to get to know the current house occupants. I can't spell their names, unfortunately, although this led to an amusing discussion of pronunciations between languages, and why the innocuous Dutch word "fooken" can't be used any more as English becomes more prevalent.

This past weekend, I finally succumbed to others' judgment and saw "Pirates of the Caribbean", which looked terrible to me in previews, but which everyone told me was a good movie. Well, they were right and I was wrong. It got me saying "Arr, matey" to the other math counselors I saw it with, which perhaps isn't the best effect of a movie. Oh well. I did enter an extended discussion of the logic of the curse, and of whatever happened to Bootstrap [if you've seen the movie, think about it for a second].

And blah blah lah blah blah. I think I've exhausted my daily ability to write cleverly, so au revoir.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Time Warp

The barbershop has an old-fashioned pole outside, with the spirals of color spinning upward from nowhere to nowhere. The spirals were once blue and red, although the sun has baked the red into the crayon color that used to be "flesh" until a wiser Crayola dubbed it "peach".

Inside the shop, run by a pair of fortyish brothers with hoarse, chain-smoking voices, hang movie posters from an era before theirs: Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, John Ford. A crew-cut George Washington looks out from a giant dollar bill with the inscription "Keep America Clean... Get A Haircut".

I'm the youngest customer there by far, waiting for my elementary 'one inch on top, one-fourth on the sides and back' cut. The barber thanks me for coming in the morning, right after my hair got washed. I get up, thinking he's finished after cutting, buzzing and trimming, but there's still a shave left in the deal. He takes out an old-fashined straightedge razor [a 'cut-throat britva', as Anthony Burgess might say] and shaves the back of my neck.

I tip him [you are supposed to tip barbers, right?] and step back into the 21st century, the garbage truck blocking my way past an alley bordering the new Subway, cars parked one bumper to another up the street. Maybe the 20th had something going for it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Goals

Yeah, I’m aware that I won’t get all of these [in fact, #41 and #42 are most likely mutually exclusive for me]. This is just what I thought of in one sitting...

1. Write that science-fiction novel I keep thinking about
2. Study all of the major philosophers
3. See my own grandchildren
4. Make money from honest work
5. Give away money where it will do good
6. Understand the people I care about
7. Care about the people I don’t care about yet
8. Teach students to love math
9. Discover something new and important
10. Keep a friend for life
11. Learn to really play the guitar
12. Take up tennis or soccer
13. Raise children to think for themselves
14. Go to high-school reunions without bitterness or regret
15. Forgive the people I haven’t forgiven
16. Move past my own ego for once
17. Write a book of memoirs that’s worth reading
18. Learn to read Latin and Greek
19. Love others without resentment
20. Find God
21. See beauty where nobody else does
22. Immerse myself in classical music
23. Grow to understand art
24. Understand myself
25. Understand suffering enough to relieve it
26. Find peace with what I know and what I don’t know
27. Be an answer to someone’s prayer
28. Be more honest with myself
29. Take a long road trip with good friends
30. Hike by myself to the middle of nowhere
31. Save somebody’s life
32. Learn martial arts
33. Develop a new, unexpected intellectual passion
34. Teach philosophy as an old, gray-haired professor
35. Argue about the good and the true until dawn comes
36. Laugh heartily once in a while
37. Learn how to bluff in poker
38. Get in shape, and stay that way
39. Assemble an incredible book collection
40. Devote myself to social justice
41. Go into the priesthood
42. Fall madly in love and get married
43. Surprise someone I love with a gift
44. Grow to enjoy silences
45. Think less about how I am perceived
46. Learn to cook well
47. Live in a unique house, preferably an old one
48. Spend a year in a foreign country
49. Improve my comic timing
50. Learn how to swing or salsa dance
51. Develop facial expressions that match my feelings
52. Figure out what exactly I am feeling
53. Mentor a better mathematician than myself
54. Learn to control my temper
55. Be active once retired
56. Play clever pranks on my students
57. Comfort someone at their lowest moment
58. Learn the full story of my parents’ lives
59. Make every action a form of prayer


Monday, July 28, 2003

Curses

Comments seem to have been deleted in the last few hours. Argh.
Recipe for a Pleasant Weekend

1 Friday afternoon picnic
8 counselors hanging out
4 water guns
1 Saturday at the beach
60º Lake Michigan water
4 ice cream sundaes
2 hours of Dead Man Walking
1 Sunday barbecue at church
4 novels from the Borders that just opened

Just let it all simmer over the course of 3 days...

Thursday, July 24, 2003

I Can't Believe It's Almost Over

Tomorrow is my students' last day in the YSP math camp; after that, it'll just be me and my own math classes. I've enjoyed these 4 weeks so much, it's unbelievable. Watching the four of them make friends with each other, start getting into the proofs and into group theory, put their best efforts into cutting and pasting the infernal dodecahedron, I felt a lot of joy radiating from these smart kids.

Today we had the climactic student/counselor Ultimate Frisbee match on the grassy Midway in front of the University quads. The kids won last year, apparently, but this time we meant business. It was made supposedly even by the fact that we were significantly outnumbered. We shellacked them, 13-4, on the skill of all the other counselors and... well... I don't suppose I hurt our team too much with my running about and wildly trying to knock down the kids' passes in the end zone.

And after tomorrow, I won't see them any more. I guess that comes with the territory of anything in education, but I'm gonna miss math camp.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Top 10 Things I Should Stop Doing in Math Class

10. Cracking jokes, particularly those of the bad pun variety.

9. Raising my hand on a question before I have any clue what the answer is.

8. Raising my hand on every question when it's something I already know.

7. Falling asleep. In the front row.

6. Correcting the professor, then realizing that I'm the one who's wrong.

5. Asking pointless questions on side issues to slow down the lecture.

4. Shouting the answer when another student was called on.

3. Zoning out, daydreaming about proving the Riemann hypothesis.

2. Acting as if I'm by far the best mathematician in the class.

1. Doing any of the above, AFTER I remind myself to stop.

I realized recently that I am the kind of jackass student whom I detest. Drat.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Chicago Weather

I smelled the storm yesterday before I even heard it. I stepped outside, walking back from campus. The air smelled damp and heavy with the smoke of a thousand cars. It had just rained a little, but I realized it wasn't done yet.

I heard the storm before I saw it. It was playing the steel drums, big drops hitting car roofs blocks away. The sound of a downpour on asphalt rose in my ears.

I saw the storm for a good second before I felt it. Have you ever seen rain come at you, as the cloud passes over? One instant it was pouring a block away, then the rain came up the street and hit me. It was warm summer rain, a thunderstorm breaking the back of the Chicago heat wave I had been living through. I pumped my fist in the air and ran out further into the rain, which lasted only a minute or so.

It returned with a vengeance later that day, lightning casting silhouettes on the walls and setting off car alarms. I ran out to my car, on my way to the grocery store. The 56th Street bridge was swamped with a good foot of flash flooding, and I could see about 100 yards in any direction. I had an umbrella in my car, but I ran out without it, getting soaked in the parking lot before I made it to the market.

Did I mention I like storms? Maybe someday I'll understand why.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Can't be Thursday Already...

Ah, it's happened again. My life has settled into a more or less comfortable routine, and I've ceased to notice the passage of time.

My students competed this week in the Great Polyhedron Contest, building and decorating the 5 Platonic solids in competition with the other 9th and 10th graders. They placed third, but I didn't tell them that: I'll allow only my ego to inflate on that account. They're some smart kids, and the cameraderie is starting to build between them. They joked around today as they solved the geometric problems [example: Take a rhombus and erect a square on each side. Let K, L, M, and N be the centers of the squares. Prove KLMN is itself a square] and programmed in the Scheme language [example: Given an amount of money, write a program to determine how many ways you can make that amount from pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters].

Tuesday night, I went with the other counselors to Second City [the famous Chicago comedy club] to see a monologue, "Tales From Math Camp", told by a former U of C math graduate who had since switched to acting. The monologue, and the two shows that followed [all for $5 admission] weren't spectacular, but they were enough to get us laughing. That was something I always appreciate.

More about this week when and if I feel like it. [Am I becoming a prig about this whole blog concept? I hope not.]


Sunday, July 13, 2003

Anybody Know A Good Cave?

(written July 12, 10 PM)

At the moment, I’m in ‘scenic’ Flint, Michigan, following my family reunion. My last few days have been quite interesting; I suppose I’ll take it from the top.

My sister Katie came up from St. Louis on Wednesday, one of three extra houseguests at that time. She can almost stand me by now, it seems; at least the insults were less cruel this time around. Katie got along beautifully with the other inmates at the professor’s house. After all Trey’s jokes involving my sister, he and she found a rapport with the “your mom” humor. Ariel cooked again for all the guests, and impressed me with incredible salmon [something I did not believe could be done]. Esther and Rachel found Katie’s good side by ordering us guys around. And she even thought Lam’s tarantulas were so cute.

Then, this morning began at 6 AM Chicago time. Relations removed dropped off our cousin Emily to drive with Katie and I to the reunion. Emily was glad to see Katie rather than just boring old Patrick, so the two chatted in the back seat for the first 180 miles. As we neared Flint, my sister now driving, I started asking about my cousins’ names. I’m awful with names, and I have a truckload of cousins; bad combination, eh? So Emily and Katie filled in the blanks and quizzed me as we pulled up to the park.

I began talking to my cousins, only to be met with laughter at every comment. It took a while for me to realize that Emily and Katie had combined to lie to me about all the names of the cousins whom I didn’t remember. Gabe became John while Sam became Gabe, siblings were transferred from one uncle to another, and they told me my aunt Rita’s new baby was Scott. The baby was Teresa. Terrible skullduggery. That’s why I’m going to become a hermit, and I want to know whether there are any nice caves available.

Anyhow, the embarrassment was soon forgotten, and I spent an afternoon having squirt gun duels, Ultimate Frisbee matches and a familyy-wide game of softball. I had the energy level of a five-year old, but now I’m paying for that in aches and in exhaustion. So this is all for tonight.


Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The Excluded Middle

Wouldn't that be the best name ever for a punk band? Of course, I don't think (pU~p) would make the best album cover, but there could be something there...

It's been a good week so far. The students are getting sharper, learning to visualize three dimensions, to find their own mistakes in calculation, to develop mathematical intuition. It's incredible to watch that "Aha!" moment.

Another thing that's incredible to watch is the storm system that's been all over Chi-town this week. Sadly, I slept through the 4 AM gales that uprooted trees over the weekend, and the golf ball-sized hail mostly passed north of us, but I've been around for the driving rain and lightning strikes.

My sister Katie is coming up to Chicago tomorrow to stay at the house. She's going into her senior year of high school, looking for colleges that will advance her aspiring career as a film actress. She's already decided to avoid the University of Chicago, primarily because I go there and because "Chicago's so boring!". I shan't say much more about her, or else she'll probably hurt me.

If she's nice to me, she can stay until Saturday, when we drive up to Michigan for my big fat French-Irish family reunion. On my dad's side alone, I have 14 aunts and uncles (counting those related by marriage) and (hoo boy, my family will know if I'm way off on this) nearly 30 cousins. So water balloon tosses, barbecued food, three-legged races, and the like are in store for us. Should be a blast.

If you like this sort of thing, you may find it the sort of thing you like:


Well, I'm off. Peace!


Monday, July 07, 2003

Stars and Stripes Forever

(Written at 9:35 PM, July 6, 2003)

It’s been a great weekend, folks. Started on Thursday, after my REU finished for the week, when Trey and I went downtown. We hit the Taste of Chicago event, at which every major Chicago restaurant sets up a booth to sell portions of their food. You can get shrimp on a stick, Rocky Road cheesecake, fried plantain, tacos, fresh fruit, all in a row. There were about 500,000 other Chicagoans there, by my scientific count.

Then we caught the Chicago fireworks from Grant Park, watching the explosions build to a spectacular finale, then begin again with new colors and tricks: clusters that burst into a spreading willow tree, spiraling rockets that whistle miles away, gigantic starbursts that leave you waiting for the sound wave, anticipating the deep cannon sound echoing off the skyscrapers behind you.

Then, on the Fourth, I went with Lam and his friend Victor to see “Terminator 3” before meeting up with the other housemates at the barbecue Rachel’s uncle was holding. He had a pool, which was great news, because it was hot and muggy. I didn’t bring my swimming trunks, so I borrowed a pair from their family. Of course, they were ‘70s style, so I was forced to endure taunts of “Who likes short shorts?” and laughter that lasted until I picked up a Styrofoam water noodle and began beating my verbal assailants. We all horsed around, playing Marco Polo with increasing strategic sophistication until the night fell upon us.

Saturday I did a whole lot of nothing. I kicked butt in a house game of poker [“I raise you 500 Turkish lira,” the equivalent of 1/20 US cents] and was unfortunately labeled a “drama queen” for my quite effective portrayal of a bluffing man.

And today, after Mass and brunch, I went with my friends Greg and Maggie, and her sister Cathy, to watch “Finding Nemo”. It was about as different as can be from my other movie of the weekend, but hey, the former was a good action movie and the latter was a good cartoon fish comedy. Then I came home, ordered pizza with my house (the resident chef being gone to Milwaukee for the weekend) and chilled out.

Good times.


Disclaimer Amendment 1

I realize that identifying the people around me by initials only is a rather juvenile idea. Anybody who knows me in Chicago probably can figure out who all the people are anyway, and anybody who knows me from elsewhere will likely not meet any of the people I’m with this summer. Therefore, effective immediately, I’m dropping the silly initial business. I’ll have to rely on common sense and discretion to avoid embarrassing my friends. Capische?

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

My Head Hurts

So, the 9th and 10th graders arrived yesterday and took the placement exam, which determined their small groups. I began working with my 4 teens this morning, going back and forth on some geometry problems. As a YSP counselor, I have some guidelines for helping the small group.

The first rule of Young Scholars Program is: you don't go up to the board.

The second rule of Young Scholars Program is: YOU DON'T GO UP TO THE BOARD.

The third rule of Young Scholars Program is: ask challenging questions to facilitate learning.

The fourth rule of Young Scholars Program is: don't let any one student dominate the group.

My apologies to Chuck Palahniuk [if this reference means nothing you needn't bother].


Anyhow, what's frustrating is that PS2, who's running the program, is assigning these guys a few problems that I can't do. Uh-oh.

Life is good in the house that Professor B built [no, wait... he's not THAT old]. I made a good chili dinner for all on Sunday, only to be completely and utterly outdone by last night's almond lemon chicken, courtesy of A. There are some insanely good cooks in this house.

I've been seeing some excellent movies by night, brought from home by various members of the enclave. "North by Northwest" has topped the list so far; see it if you haven't already.

And I've been spending time with some friends of mine who'll be leaving soon, one for postdoctoral work in New York, the other for a Benedictine monastery. Life continues to change, much as I'd like to keep these years on permanent loop. No, scratch that. I often dream of starting all over, picking up the talents I had the time but not desire for then, making substantial friendships in the years I neglected others, acting differently toward those I built into enemies. Life now is good, but I can't say I have no regrets.

And that's why I get angry sometimes at what I'm not doing. There are at least three people I should get in touch with right now, but I don't know whether I'll bother in the end. I don't understand that aspect of myself, why I let people, goals, opportunities slip away passively sometimes. I just don't understand.


Thursday, June 26, 2003

Written 6:30 PM, June 25

I apologize in advance:
Given a positive integer n, take the set of all the integers from 1 to 2n. Then pick any n+1 elements out of that set. One of them will be a multiple of another. Can you prove why? Can you see why it doesn’t hold if you take just n elements?

Okay, okay, no more math problems in my weblog. It’s been a tiring week, but a good one. I’m finally getting to know my housemates, a little at a time. “T” is a funny guy who nicknames everyone and everything in sight (since I plan to be a professor, I was dubbed ‘Teach’), and who keeps a baseball bat in his room in case of burglars. “R” is a sort of wild girl who also has a sewing-her-own-clothes side, but I still don’t know which of her stories to believe. “L”, the guy who set this whole thing up, has been trying to charge the rest of us $50 to use the DVD player and $25 to have the remote explained to us. I’m pretty sure he’s joking. “A” hasn’t been around much yet, because her boyfriend “P” spent the last few days here on his way from New York to a Montana ranch. And the last house member, “E”, has still yet to make an appearance.

So today, I was faced with my total ineptitude with respect to computers. We were supposed to type up questions for the 9th and 10th grade placement test, using this programming text editor to include diagrams. Not gonna happen, I’m afraid. The computer tried to crash on me three times in the first minute, but because it’s Linux it was smarter than I am and didn’t let my screwing around destroy it.

The good part about having to adjust oneself again to waking up at a reasonable hour is that when the alarm hits you in mid-sleep cycle, you remember your dreams. I’ve run from the Mafia, played some weird version of Capture the Flag where glowing sticks guide the teams along, and sat in a math class. Yes, that’s how pathetic I am. I had a dream where I was in math class. I’m going to go and cry now.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Moment of Truth...

I'm adding a comments service. This may be a tad slow; I apologize. It was free. Now tap in and see if this does anything!


(written on 6/23/03, 7 PM)
You’re probably wondering (a) “Why hasn’t Pat updated his blog lately?” and (b) “Why does this entry say it was written at the wrong time?” All the answers in good time, my friend.

Anyhow, I drove up here to Chicago on Saturday, making it in only 5 hours of driving. Cruise control was very necessary, as I was listening to my music to keep alert. There are some songs (primarily anything with a guitar solo) that push you up to about 90 MPH if you’re not careful. If you’re ever in Montana, where they have no speed limit, may I recommend Crossroads by Cream.

So I arrived here at the house of dreams, where Professor B. lives during the year. He takes a vacation every summer with his wife; he’s in England at the moment, lucky duck. Of course, since he’s never here in the summer, he never bothered to get air conditioning on this turn-of-the-century (that’s the 20th century, folks) mansion. I’m starting to feel that lack about now. It’s a beautiful house, though: 7 bedrooms, 3 floors and an extra staircase for the Irish family of servants the original owners kept here.

I started my “job” today and found it a real job. Drat. I spent the morning working on a placement exam to give the 9th and 10th graders. Then I went to class. I had a two hour class on probability theory (i.e. why not to play the lottery) which was fine. Then I had a two-and-a-half hour class on discrete math, which was not quite so fun. The professor was fine for the first hour. Then he wrote a homework problem up. Then another. Then another. The entire remainder of the lecture was devoted to giving us a pile of proofs for tomorrow.

“Okay, so this is true for any epsilon. But wait, that’s not homework. That’s a Fields medal. This one is a homework problem, though...” It would probably be less disconcerting if the two problems didn’t look exactly alike to me. Guess I have some work to do.

On the odd side of things, I was sitting next to a stranger in math class. The guy turned to me and asked, “Hey, did you fly back to St. Louis last week?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“On Southwest?”
“Yeah! You were on that flight?”
“Yeah, I was!”
Weird coincidences like that keep happening to me... That, and some people apparently have memory for faces, unlike yours truly. I’ve introduced myself three times to the same person before, much to their chagrin...

Oh, and I’m webless for the first time in memory. My classes finish at 6, which is when the libraries happen to close. So I’m typing this up on my computer back at the house. Hopefully I’ll find time to upload it tomorrow. Of course, I’d like to pretend that all my friends are checking this with baited breath. Humility never came that easily to me.

On a closing note, I’m assigning everyone to find T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” and read it aloud. I just read that last night and sat in stunned silence for a good ten minutes after the finale:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

And this is the way this post ends.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Disclaimer

Since so many websites post their privacy policy, I figured I might as well put up my version immediately, before anyone starts to wonder about copious omissions.

I do not plan to have absolute candor on every subject, in particular my personal life. Any time I mention a living human being whom I know personally, in a setting where they would not demand to be identified, I shall use initials, codes and the like. I am not one to kiss and tell; almost anything relating to my dating life is exempt from this weblog. Also exempt: tirades about people I know. My unexcerpted thoughts are hardly as mellow as the excerpts I select. That's why I keep another journal, offline. And no, you can't read it.

So there. And if I violate any of these rules, I do so at my own peril.
Benefits to Being Home for 1 Week

(1) Food. Home for a month, I get spinach quiche and salmon loaf. Home for a week, food = love. My mother cooks steaks for dinner, peach cobbler for dessert. How much better can you get?

(2) Social life. Home for a month, your friends say, "Hey, let's do something one of these days." Home for a week, your friends go with you to Denny's at midnight, invite you to their parties.

(3) Relaxation. Home for a month, you clean the bathrooms and vacuum a few times. Home for a week, you do laundry or dishes if you feel like it [which, granted, I do; I'm a good son.] [And oh, so humble, too.]

Drawbacks: I miss panicking over 7-page papers and marathon problem sets. I miss long discussions of religion, politics and sex that break down into laughter. I miss dining hall food sitting on my plate while I argue theology with my RH. I miss being forced to read the authors I really want to read. I miss not having the time to watch TV, thereby not getting sucked into another VH1 Countdown.