Wednesday, July 30, 2003


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


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
60ยบ 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.