With the first term nearing its end, here’s a little review of my second year so far.
That is the best way to describe how I spend most of my time now. With three math classes, I spend nine hours a week listening to math lectures. I have three assignments due each week, so I work on those in my time between school and work. Every second week until the middle of November, I went to a practice sessions for math competitions for an hour on Fridays. Even when I’m not doing my own math, I like to help other people with their math. I am living and breathing math.
AND IT’S FRELLING AWESOME.
For those who don’t understand how someone can be so excited about math, the best way I can describe it is like being closer to God. I don’t necessarily believe in God, but I imagine that what I feel when I’m exploring mathematical concepts is the same feeling pious people get when they do whatever it is pious people do to feel closer to God. And math truly is the language of the universe. If God does exist, in one form or another, then understanding math helps one understand the universe and, in a way, get closer to God and creation.
When I first started university, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I had this deep, dark fear that I’d fail to understand crucial concepts and I‘d never be able to graduate in the math program. Fortunately, so far that isn’t the case. I am learning, and it is a challenge—some of these concepts are really complicated! But I build on what I learned before, and that allows me to understand concepts that a year ago I would have been unable to grasp.
The more I learn, however, the more I‘m able to comprehend just how much more there is I don’t understand yet. I‘m starting to get an idea of where my interests lie, however. I’m really enjoying ring theory—we’ll see if my interest continues next term, when we learn group theory. Abstract algebra appeals to me because it focuses on the reason I love mathematics. Abstract algebra involves constructing and proving the fundamental aspects of math. It’s the fundamentals of the fundamentals. I‘m discovering that I love doing proofs.
I’m getting the sense that most of my peers don’t have the same white-hot passionate love for math that I do. But that’s fine. I’ll show them. I’ll show them all! Muwahahaha! Muwahaha—er … right. Moving on.
When I tell people who know me that I want to teach high school, most of them react with scepticism. Apparently I walk around with the word “Professor” stamped on my forehead. Working for the first time with a new hire at the gallery, I made an allusion to Sisyphus, and my boss said, “Ben’s our resident Einstein.” And the new girl replied, “Yeah, I’m getting that vibe.”
Apparently I give off a vibe now….
I have wanted to teach for as long as I can remember. As I got older, however, the age group I wanted to teach got older as well. So I can’t deny that now that I’m in university, I‘m starting to understand why I would want to teach at a university. My main reason for not wanting to become a professor is that I don’t want to write math papers and do research into theories. I just wanted to do math. Now I‘m realizing that I actually like doing proofs, and it’s scary! :whoa:
Will I stick with my original desire to teach high school? Or will I fulfil everyone else’s predictions? Tune in for the exciting conclusion over the next three years!
Either way, I’m going to be a math hermit for a very, very long time.
Compared to the rest of the week, Monday and Tuesday play host to an inordinately large number of cultural attractions. Yes, there’s Doctor Who on Friday nights and Smallville on Saturdays, but
Ever since school began in September, I’ve been cooking dinner on Mondays to practise my rudimentary cooking skills. While preparing dinner, I like to listen to podcasts. This schedule works nicely, because The Vinyl Cafe podcast is up by Monday at the latest, and I prefer to listen to the podcast, as I can’t catch it every Sunday; sometimes I‘m at work. I love the on demand convenience of podcasts. In addition to Vinyl Cafe, there’s a new podcast of Search Engine every Monday. Lastly, if I have any left over interviews from Spark’s enhanced podcast feed, I’ll listen to those. Occasionally I listen to an Ideas podcast, but not regularly.
After dinner, my dad and I watch a couple of TV shows if we‘re both home. First there’s Stargate Atlantis, then Chuck, and finally Heroes—sometimes we save Heroes for Tuesday if we don’t have time to watch it. This week’s episodes of Stargate Atlantis and Chuck were particularly awesome! I loved seeing Bill Nye guest star on Atlantis—he got several great comic relief lines. Then, of course, there was the kiss! (Oh, by the way, that was a spoiler alert…). Similarly, Chuck continues to wow and astound me. Although the episodes are often predictable, it’s just so enjoyable to watch them. The lines are witty and delivered perfectly by the stellar cast. I love that show.
My opinion of Heroes is that the writers are squandering a good concept by producing inconsistent episodes. They still have too many characters, so it’s hard for them to integrate these disparate elements into a coherent storyline, resulting in continuity errors and flat moments in episodes that really detract from the better parts.
We record Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles later that night to watch on Tuesday. Earlier during the afternoon, since I‘ve been lucky to have no class on Tuesdays, I usually listen to the week’s episode of Spark as soon as it’s available for download.
Now, however, I have an additional show to watch on Tuesdays: The Guild, Felicia Day’s webseries about a group of gamers who spend waaaaay too much time gaming. The first season, originally available on YouTube, was a set of 10 hilarious 2-5 minute episodes. This season, the show has partnered with Microsoft to make the series available on MSN Video and for download on Xbox Live—in HD, no less! So now I can watch the episodes on my shiny HDTV. I love technology, and free stuff….
Then after my dad and I catch up on leftovers from Monday night, including Terminator, I get to watch House. It apparently perplexes my dad why I enjoy House; I just love Hugh Laurie’s character. His performance is entertaining, and some of the scenarios in that series are just so absurd—clearly no doctor could actually act like House and keep his or her license, but since when has TV had anything to do with reality?
Lastly, The Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes are on Tuesday nights. Since the CBC kindly makes these available online, I don’t always watch them, and sometimes I don’t even bother recording them. But it’s fit to include them in my Tuesday night of culture osmosis, since I could watch them on Tuesday if I didn’t have math homework….
Now I must try to complete my ring theory assignment so I can hand it in tomorrow. My ring theory assignment and the education paper I must revise and print out before going to bed are my last assignments of this term. Next week, exams begin—one next week and two the week after. Then I get a nice break before the second term plunges me into a new scheduling hell!
I need a haircut.
It’s already been over a year since we moved into our new house. Since moving in, although I’ve been very happy with my room on the whole, I have wanted to do three things: get new curtains, get rid of the wallpaper, and paint the white walls.
Classes end next week, and my exams are over by December 12, which gives me a nice break before the start of next term. This is a perfect opportunity to paint my room. I need to do it soon, too, because I’ve already run out of space to shelve my books—and once I put up more shelves, they are never coming down.
Over the course of this year and a month, I‘ve adjusted to the curtains. I asked one of my coworkers (who is an artist, so I figured she could suggest some good colours) what I should do with the room, and she said she liked the wallpaper. It’s certainly not Mario wallpaper1 … but then again, if I don’t tear it down, I only have to paint three walls, and I don’t have to take down one set of shelves.
So I’m asking for your help with these two questions:
- Should I keep the wallpaper or tear it down?
- What colour should I paint my walls (bearing in mind your answer to question 1)?
I‘m not very good with colour, so I appreciate any suggestions you have, whether it’s just a word or if you link me to a specific ID number or swatch. Here are some recent photos of my room so you can get an idea of how everything is laid out:
- [ 1 ] For those of you who don’t stalk me, I used to have Super Mario wallpaper on one wall of my room in my old house.
I have previously talked about how amazing I consider the human body, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Yesterday, a 14-year-old girl finally left the hospital after living for four months on an artificial heart.
This event reminded me how amazing the heart is. Your heart is the one muscle in your body that, if you are lucky, never takes a break for your entire life. It keeps pumping, whether you are awake or asleep. It works harder to get you up the stairs or to help you see a marathon through to the end. Yet some people—people who have healthy hearts free of unavoidable defects—reward this hard-working muscle with a megadose of calories and cholesterol in the form of unhealthy foods (particularly fast foods).
I‘m not trying to pontificate about the evils of fast food here. I love eating burgers! This is just a friendly reminder that, if you haven’t thought about it lately, think about your heart now.
Your heart is important! Love it, and it’ll last just as long as you! (Which is kind of the idea.)
For the second time this year, anti-gay group Westboro Baptist Church is planning to come to Canada to stage a protest, and people want to put a stop to it.
Every time this sort of controversy comes up in the news, I have to stop and consider it carefully. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2) guarantees us the following basic rights:
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association
At the same time, however, we also have legislation in place to protect people from hate-crimes and hate-speech. So the question is, do anti-gay groups like the Westboro Baptist Church violate this anti-hate legislation? And regardless of this first question, are we violating their rights to freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association? Freedom of peaceful assembly is a separate issue—whether or not this group is “peaceful” is subject to debate altogether, and I would probably say that they are not.
I like to pride myself in being open-minded enough to truly believe in free speech for everyone, even if I think they are idiots. Yes, I will fight for your right to say something, even if I disagree with what you want to say. Yet when we enter controversial territory where the freedom of expression can be abused in order to hurt other people this admirable sentiment is put to the test.
So my answer is no, this group should not be allowed entry to Canada. Their goals and actions are appalling. I understand that some people find homosexuality morally objectionable. I even understand if some people believe that gay people’s souls are in peril of eternal damnation and they should repent now to be saved (I don’t believe that, but I can understand how others might). However, there is a large gap between holding an anti-gay opinion and inciting hatred of gays.
If you did not follow the link at the beginning of this post, stop now to read the article or at least look at the included image. Check out the signs that the leader of the group was carrying at a protest in 1999—look at the one on the right: “God hates fags.”
I did go to church as a child, and that’s not the Christianity I was taught. I’ve been under this impression that the Christian God loves everyone, and that if one repents, one will be saved.
Theocratical dogma on homosexuality aside, consider how this reflects one’s religion! Islam has often received criticism as of late because of the actions of a minority, those radicals who form Muslim terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. That is a concrete example of how the actions of a minority can harm the reputation of the entire religion. Likewise, Fred Phelps’ church shames his religion. I’m well aware that Christianity in general does not burn people at the stake anymore, but if all I knew about it came from that article and that disturbing image, I might jump to that conclusion.
Returning the sign for a moment, notice the pejorative term for gays. This is exactly the same as the dehumanising labels applied to minorities we oppressed and hated throughout history—some of which are still regarded with such shame and disdain that they are not repeated on television before the watershed hour. We pride ourselves so often on having “moved forward” and having put racism, anti-Semitism, and the like behind us, closing those chapters and contenting ourselves to teach them in history classes with various degrees of accuracy.
We haven’t moved forward. We’ve just switched targets for the time being, like a bored kid with BB gun.
We haven’t moved forward, and we won’t move forward until we stop trying to make people feel ashamed of who they are, until we stop teaching other people that it’s OK to hate somebody simply because they are different from oneself. ’Cause guess what? You are different from them. And what if they started oppressing you? Yeah, you wouldn’t like that too much, eh?
Sadly, those people who believe that inciting hatred is fine tend to do it because they believe they have some form of objective justice on their side (usually “God”, but sometimes it’s just personal conviction). They believe that they can do it to other people because they are right and others are wrong. And that’s the point where a government should step in, to protect innocent people from those would abuse our great freedoms for ignominious ends.
Back in June, my friend blogged about people showing off their Wikismarts to him. I envy him, because on the other side of the coin, there seems to be a plethora of people with zero initiative.
You know who I‘m talking about. The people who seem to have no filter in their brain and ask you every question that bubbles up to the murky surface of their minds, even if the current discussion has nothing to do with the question. These people regularly lurk on message boards and in IRC channels, just waiting to begin asking questions that would be better answered by a trip over to Wikipedia than waiting for someone else to prepare a (probably inaccurate) explanation.
There’s no excuse, really. Most browsers come with search forms built into the browser chrome itself. Even if not, Google (or one’s favourite search engine) is a single page-load away. There is no excuse to derail an existing conversation by asking for someone to explain what the topic of the conversation is all about. Go find out, come back, and show off those Wikismarts.
This isn’t much more than a short rant. It just flusters me, because I applaud those people’s curiosity, but I deplore their lack of initiative in an age where information access is literally at people’s fingertips.
Last updated Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 11:57 PM
Today in Canada, as well as in many other countries around the world, we celebrate the end of World War I and remember those soldiers who gave their lives serving their countries. In Canada, we wear a poppy to show our respect for those who have fallen; the Royal Canadian Legion makes them available in return for small donations. It is of course associated with the Remembrance Day poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian soldier John McCrae, who served in World War I.
World War I was known then as “the war to end all wars.” Yeah … uh, that didn’t really work very well, did it? In fact, sometimes it feels like we have even more strife than ever. We learn about the two World Wars in school, study their causes and their aftermaths, but do we really learn from these wars? Do we take to heart their morals and stay firm in our resolve to never again lead the world over that terrible precipice? Sometimes, I have my doubts.
I’m not very into nationalism. I‘m proud of my country and proud to be Canadian, sure. But I have no intention of serving in our armed forces, and if we had conscription again, I’d be a conscientious objector. Nationalism can be dangerous, as World Wars I and II demonstrated.
Yet even though I do not agree with military actions, I respect those men and women who put their lives on the line to serve. They are standing up and fighting—literally—for what they think is right. They demonstrate their courage, conviction, and desire to see change. Can you say the same? How many of us have blogs, talk about change, but don’t actually do anything about it? For this reason, if for none other, soldiers deserve respect and admiration. And that is the soldier that should be celebrated, not the gun-toting action heroes we so often see in movies.
I learned today, listening to the CBC radio coverage of the 11:00 ceremony at the National War Memorial, that there is only one Canadian veteran of World War I who remains alive. He didn’t actually see combat, and he has lived in the United States since 1920. We even share the same last name, although we are not, to my knowledge, related. John Babcock is 108 years old. Ninety years ago, when the armistice was signed, he was serving in the Canadian corps at 18 years of age.
Which brings us to now. The present. World War I had a tremendous effect on development of the entire twentieth century. It ended only ninety years ago—a brief time considering the entire span of the history of human civilization, but a lifetime for a single human being. Soon, all those who lived during the war will be gone, and all we’ll have are our memories of them, as well as whatever testimonies we could record. We owe it to them to never forget their legacy. We owe it to ourselves to never forget, to learn from our past, and to strive to improve the world.
I‘m sitting here, still full of endorphins after SNL’s Presidential Bash, watching a rerun of Stargate SG-1—“Line in the Sand,” one of the final nine episodes of the series. And watching it, I’m coming to this realization that I may have given the final two seasons of Stargate SG-1 shorter shrift than they deserve.
I mean, yes, the storyline sucked and the themes were flimsy and transparent. The injection of two actors from Farscape as series regulars was suspicious and also somewhat funny. But let’s back up for a moment. This is Stargate SG-1. It’s always vacillated between the absurd realm of Farscape and the lecturing tones of Star Trek, erring to the side of humour wherever possible. That’s what made it a great show. So to criticize the last two seasons on those grounds is rather hypocritical.
So rather than criticizing the last two seasons and harping on how much they jumped the shark, here’s a couple of things about seasons 9 and 10 (especially 10) that I love:
- Daniel and Vala.
- Need I say more? These two have great chemistry. Both Claudia Black and Ben Browder (more so Black than Browder, however) demonstrate that they are versatile enough to transcend their former Farscape characters and inhabit new ones.
- As his performance in Stargate: Continuum demonstrates, Cliff Simon plays a great megalomaniacal villain who shows us why every evil overlord should follow the Evil Overlord list. Ba’al’s ability to adapt makes him the most enduring Goa’uld (and most enduring villain in the series), even more so than Anubis (who seemed to think everyone else should adapt to him, i.e., he was going to destroy all life in the universe and redesign it to his wants). More than anyone, Ba’al carries the show over from season 8 to season 9, and then continues to be an excellent guest character in season 10, serving as a link to Stargate past and a source of comic relief.
- This episode captures the spirit of Stargate SG-1. Throughout its entire run, the show was never afraid to make fun of itself or engage in meta-references.
- “Bad Guys”
- Similar to “200”, this show temporarily suspends the threat of the Ori to bring us some “SG-1 Classic”: SG-1 gates to a planet without a working DHD, where the Stargate is in a museum, and get mistaken for rebels who have taken everyone at a museum gala hostages.
- The Ori arc.
- No, seriously. The story itself may not have been Stargate SG-1’s best; however, the arc itself is enjoyable to watch now that I know how it turns out. Taking a second look at the development of some of the recurring characters (like Tomin and Adria) and anticipating that twists and turns is what made me re-evaluate my opinion of these two seasons.
So there you have it. Stargate SG-1’s television run is over, and maybe its last two seasons weren’t the best. But they had their good moments, so I think I’ll focus on those.
Lately Merlin Mann has been helping Spark listeners build their “Digital You.” Implicit in this new series is the fact that technology is now an ingrained part of us—how we appear online is as important as how we dress in public. Your online presence, like your personality, can be diverse: open and inviting, cold and formal—whatever works for you and gets you the audience you want.
The era of ubiquitous technology is upon us. Smartphones are getting smarter, the Internet is (at least in places other than Canada!) getting faster. And thanks to this ubiquity, we can always be connected.
Often people claim, however, that disconnecting is the best way to improve productivity. Close all those email programs; close the chat program; don’t go on Facebook; don’t update Twitter. Multitasking, after all, makes us lose focus and be less productive, right?
Those people are right. When it’s possible for anyone to reach you, anywhere, at any time, you’ve become too connected. I love technology, and I love the Internet, but there is a point at which immersion makes it harder to sit down and focus—or even just relax.
But I said that this was an argument for immersion, so here it is: immersion eliminates temptation by the simplest mechanism possible—giving in.
If you disconnect, unless you physically remove your ability to use the Internet (which probably isn’t practical if you’re working at the computer anyway), you will be tempted to reconnect before your work is over. Perhaps exhausted and frustrated, you’ll rationalize that a little break is in order—what harm comes from checking Facebook? Before you know it, two hours have gone by, and your essay still isn’t done.
On the other hand, if you are constantly online while you’re working, you can turn the immersion into background noise. That’s the key. I agree that immersion is no good if you are one of those people who has to read the email the moment you know it’s there. Perhaps disconnection is your only option. But for those who can acknowledge (or even just ignore until you want to acknowledge) the alerts without jumping to read the emails … immersion works. At least it does for me.
I don’t drop what I’m doing to read my email. I just want to know it’s there. That way, while I’m doing homework, I won’t be tempted to check if I have email. I’ll know I have email. But it can wait until I‘m done. Remove the temptation to distract yourself by collapsing the universe’s wavefunction1 and confirming one of two possibilities: either you have email, or you don‘t.
Now for heaven’s sake, go open the box already! Poor cat.