Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Occupational Hazards

Mathematicians have the circle-squarers and angle-trisectors. These are amateur mathematicians who have heard that among the unsolved problems of Greek antiquity are creating a square with the same area as a given circle, and splitting a given angle into three equal parts, with a straightedge and compass. They play with it and work on it and eventually come up with something they are convinced solves the problem, usually unaware that it's been proven for a very long time that these things just can't be done.

And then there are those who have a new, short proof of something like Fermat's Last Theorem, which was recently proved by Andrew Wiles in something like 100 pages or so. Or maybe a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis, which is currently unproved (or un-disproved, depending on how it all turns out). Mathematicians get these things in the mail, or probably now in their email, maybe two or three a year. People hope to have solved the "big problem." They almost never do.

Writers, dramatists, producers, and publishers all have their "will you read my manuscript?" people. And there it is, in a manila envelope (if it fits in just one), full of hopes and flowery prose and reading like, well, like this blog, probably. People hope to have written the next great book/play/script. They almost never do.

And don't get me started about vitamins, strange tropical berry juices, or herbal supplements. They almost never solve any big health problems. Sorry, and sorry for your downline, but it's true.

Math Educators like me have this: "I've developed a math curriculum based on using the abacus. All the kids I've tried it on jump 3 grade levels, and their parents want to canonize me." And they can't understand why you aren't excited, getting out your wallet, writing a check or something.


Most of the time, the proofs get thrown away, the manuscripts go unread, and the juices finally get thrown away. And most of the time, the new curriculum gets ignored, because we're pretty sure that this particular curriculum, like almost any curriculum, works great on wealthy suburban kids, and somehow fails to do its magic with inner-city poor kids.

And the moral of all four stories is, unfortunately, "It really is harder than you think."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What the Well Dressed Man is Wearing at My House

Like most people who work for a living, I look forward to coming home, kicking off the shoes, plopping down in the easy chair and letting some of the day's bad mojo drip off of me. I don't have a Ward Cleaver complex or anything, but there's no doubt that the fire, the pipe (purely metaphorically), and the slippers call to me. Maybe a compressed - sawdust - and - petrochemical - log fire in the fireplace.

Man with more hair and less girth than me, but with the right idea.

So in an effort to be comfortable, of course I like to change into appropriate lounge wear. and this is where things get difficult. I imagine many men might think of donning a pair of slippers, say, like these:

But when I think of evening footwear I think more of something like this:

Or maybe like this:

These are what the well-dressed gentleman wears in the evening around my house, if he's smart, anyway. Jeeves might say, 'Not the ski-boots, sir." And I'd have to say, "Nonsense, Jeeves, they're the only thing." And it might cause some tension, but I'd have to hold fast on this point.

Why? Because of this:

A small kitty? A little kitty with a puff ball? Don't be fooled. Sure, he makes it look like he's really just interested in chasing the little puff ball around. But he's strategic. Get the ball on one side of the foot, and then you can pretty much do whatever you want to the foot itself:

Step 1: Carefully place puff ball on other side of foot

Step 2: Go ahead: Bite, scratch; rend with tooth and claw.

And pretty soon, it's everlastingly too late:

I'm keepin' the boots.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Make us Proud, Wal-Mart!

"Hey! There are hungry people all over the country! Let's have a contest and feed the winners!"

That's why we love ya, Sons-and-Daughters-of-Sam.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And Lo! The Word Came Down from On High

To simplify things and avoid my getting into trouble, let's just say that I am a level 3 administrator in the organization. Every month, my supervisor and his assistants (levels 5 and 4, respectively) call all the level 3's together to deal with problems, seek advice, and preach the gospel (from levels 6, 7, 8, 9, etc.). It's a good system, and the level 4- and 5-ers above me are good folks. We 3's don't always like what gets preached, but we're basically obedient and do our best to comply.

So about 6 months ago, in our meeting, the word came down that we could no longer do X. Sure, we had been allowed to do X in the past, but those days were over. No more X. They were serious. X causeth a multitude of problems, apparently, so just stop it. Now.

And in the months since then, we have been reminded at least a half-dozen times, in various contexts, that X was a thing of the past. Thou Shalt Not X. Remember? Remember how we said no more X? Well, better get used to it, 'cause NO MORE X.

I got it.

Only here's the problem: It soon became apparent that the best, most logical way to solve a problem in my department was to do . . . you guessed it: X. But I knew better. But I really needed to X. But I knew I couldn't. But. . . .

So I went to #5, and I said, "I know I can't do X. I know that. It's clear that X causes warts and communism, so X is Right Out. But you see, I need to do this certain thing, and is seems to little ol' me that the easiest thing to do would be XbutIknowIcan'tdothatsoyoudon'thavetotellme, so what do you think I should do instead?" Number 5 listened carefully and came up with a plan. He'd take the problem to #7.

So it turns out that #7 agreed that I was in a sticky situation all right, and maybe we could solve it by doing Y. Well, Y was actually a good idea. It was not something I knew about, and Y would work just fine to solve my problem. "So that's why #7 gets the big bucks," I thought. So I did as I was asked, and wrote up a case for Y, explaining why I needed to do Y and what a good idea it would be. And #5 added his support, and we sent it to #7, and #7 took my case to #8.

And I waited.
Then, today, I got an email from #7! And it said that #7 and #8 weren't really ready to do Y, it seemed a little drastic. No need for such draconian action. They suggested that X would be simpler. So I just needed to write a memo explaining why I wanted to do X, and that would be that.

Of course, I hit "Reply" immediately.

"But, you silly ass," I wrote, "X is what I wanted to do all along but you've been telling me over and over and over and over that I couldn't and now you say to me thas;dlkjfgaspoiuga;la;rua."

Those of you with who have trod the administrative boards will recognize the "s;dlkjfgaspoiuga;la;rua" part as where my vast administrative experience of two years kicked in and saved my backside. My instincts told my fingers to just quit working. Then my instincts told me to hit the delete key until my whole reply disappeared. And I walked away.

So I will write the memo, and get permission, and do X, and all will be well.

But the real question in my mind is, how long do you have to be an administrator before you start understanding things like this? Before you understand that Of course, you can't apply Y to a PS-55/J17, but that a PS-55/J17 is the only really acceptable exception to the "NO MORE X" rule?

Cause I have to retire before then.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I have a couple of new favorite places, both of which floated, cream-like, to the top of the milk glass of my life this past week.

Disclaimer: Madison, Wisconsin, still holds large pieces of my heart. There's still no place like Woodman's. There's still no place like Dotty Dumpling's Dowry. Or Brennan's. But thinking about that from this far away -- well, it just doesn't do any good. So I'm trying to move on and do the best I can with the cards I've been dealt.

Anyway, the new Winco opened a while ago in Orem and it's really, by local standards, a pretty nice store. Prices, selection, ambiance, all above average. Also, Smashburger, a Denver-based hamburger franchise, also recently opened in Orem and, by golly, their burgers are pretty good. Gives In-n-Out reason to fear.

But what sealed the deal for both of these establishments was what I found in the restrooms: the world's most nearly perfect hand dryer, the Xlerator. I thought perhaps I had left these wonderful machines far behind in Wisconsin, as the only other one I knew about was in Woodman's in Madison.

Why all this bother about a hand dryer? For one thing, because it actually works. It dries your hands completely. Honest. But for another thing, they're just cool.

You know how the Mythbusters always examine a myth like, "mixing gasoline and alcohol by your water heater can blow your roof clean off" and when they find out that no, it doesn't blow your roof off, it just picks it up and moves it over a few feet, they then ask the fateful questions, "Well, what would it take to blow the roof clean off?" And then the fun starts?

The Xlerator is what would happen if the Mythbusters took on the question, "Do lavatory hand dryers ever really get your hands dry? And if so, would they have to deform your hands permanently to do it? Could it actually remove the tissue from the bones?"

Yeah. I like 'em. I like 'em a lot.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just Say "NO." Or, "Eeeeew!"

I try to keep the blog more or less family friendly, so I feel the need to provide a

------------ PARENTAL ADVISORY -------------

This blog contains adult language like "athletic supporter" and "nether regions" and "the boys."


OK. So I was in Sports Authority the other day, in the area of knee braces and tape and other things needed to treat or prevent athletic (or in our case, dance) injuries. As I wandered down the aisle, I noticed the athletic cups, those used to protect the nether regions of young men from grounders that take a bad bounce, soccer balls that can't be avoided, or full on kicks in a karate class.

I saw these:

OK. Now I am NOT, like, "Mr. Athlete." But I have participated in sports, both when I have had to wear one of these and when I have really, REALLY wished I had. But I have never known anyone who needed either a "Left" or a "Right" (or ~SHUDDER~ both). So this is a very scary development, I tell you what.

I can only assume it's caused by the increased use of anabolic steroids. I've taken enough biology to know that anabolic steroids act as hormones, and hormones affect the, uh, boys. So steroids must be causing some very strange stuff.

And don't even try to tell me that L stands for Large and R stands for Regular or something. Regular is not a size for things people wear. It's a size for french fries. The sizes for things like this would be Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large, and Yeah, Right. There ain't no Regular.

So, young men, let this be a warning. When it comes to steroid use, it isn't worth it. Just say NO. Or, as my wife said when I showed her and asked why anyone would need a "lefty" or a "righty,"