My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

48 Articles Tagged with “me”

  1. Just K1, P1 for 1115 days

    I taught myself continental style last week, mostly on a whim.

    I can say things like this, because I have become fairly proficient at knitting. See, today marks exactly three years since I learned how to knit.

    Learning to knit changed my life. I never saw it coming. And since I started learning, I have never stopped.

    So, why the continental style? I’m working on a second pair of Newfoundland mitts, as a request from a coworker at the Adult Education Centre, and the first step is to do 7 cm of ribbing. Ribbing is not difficult, but the constant shift from knit to purl can be annoying and is one of the things I am still quite slow at; while I was working on this, I happened to come across an article on a knitting blog comparing styles. It claimed that continental, among other things, is faster at ribbing (I know, I know, continental knitters—you think continental is faster at everything). Until now, I’ve always been satisfied with knitting English—but I’m also interested in expanding my knitting skills. Plus, the article made a compelling point in favour of mastering both styles: you can switch between them to…

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  2. Libraries make my day

    I feel the need to make note on this blog that I’m 25 now. Since Saturday.

    I started a blog post last week about how I felt to be 25. Essentially it boiled down to “I don’t feel like an adult yet still” and then digressed into morose ruminations on the cognitive dissonance of being Facebook friends with people from high school I never talk to. It was entirely too serious and lugubrious considering that, on the whole, I’m feeling like I’m in a good place with my life right now. Maybe at some point I’ll revise the post to have a slightly more generalized, philosophical tone.

    Instead, to mark my 25th birthday, let me talk about something that has been a major factor in shaping me as a person: reading, and more specifically, libraries. It’s Banned Books Week in the United States, and that seems like as good a time as any to talk about my bibliophilia.

    I went to the library today—my second time since moving back home. The books I borrowed on my first visit were due today. I didn’t really need more books—my dad gave me quite a few for my birthday, and I bought…

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  3. Amsterdam travel diary: Monday

    Amsterdam has canals!

    We have two weeks off for Easter. Earlier this week, I went to Amsterdam for a few days with three other teacher friends. I’ve written some blog posts about our time there. We left Monday evening, and originally I wasn’t going to blog about that part of the trip, because it’s mostly travel. But Monday was a special day all by itself, and I need to record it.

    Last year, around this time, I had shingles. In my eye. It wasn’t fun.

    On the day before the last day of term, I went home instead of doing parents’ evening—I wasn’t feeling very well at all. I ended up staying home on Friday, barely able to get out of bed for the first part of the day. As Saturday rolled around, I seemed to be on the road to recovery … but my right eye started showing some signs of irritation. This worsened on Sunday, and on Monday morning, I phoned my surgery for an appointment with a doctor. I was worried the worst had happened: my shingles had come back. I wanted to get this treated as soon as possible, and I needed to know how it would affect my…

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  4. Missing winter

    I’m wearing shorts right now.

    Shorts. In March. OK, I wore shorts in March back in Canada—but towards the end of March, when the snow was actually melting. Today it’s so nice that I can go outside and sit in shorts and a T-shirt without so much as a jacket. Crazy.

    A few weeks ago, I asked my dad to send me a photo of the snow back home so I could see what I was missing:

    Snow-covered yards and a freshly-plowed street back home

    I was thinking about how students and teachers back in Thunder Bay had the day off school twice on the same week that I was enjoying a relaxing half-term break—once for Family Day on Monday, and then, as I learned through Twitter, on Friday for a snow day.

    For Canadians, snow days are something magical—maybe even sacred—particularly for children. They are a gift: an unscheduled day off school, with a fresh helping of snow, just lying there, waiting to be transformed into a fort, a snowman, or even that elusive, perfect snowball. I relished snow days as a kid.

    Last year over here in England, I experienced my first two snow days as a teacher. Now, a snow day in England is slightly…

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  5. It was my birthday and I didn't blog even if I wanted to

    I’m 24 now.

    It’s not much different from being 23. I think I’ve changed a lot in a year. Last year I felt far too young to be a teacher. Now I’m jaded and cynical about the world of work!

    It’s weird to think I’m a quarter of the way through my likely life-span. I’ve still got so much left to learn.

    My birthday was actually on Friday. Another math teacher shares the same birthday with me (same year as well), so we were looking forward to celebrating our birthdays jointly. I arrived at school to find a present waiting for me outside my classroom. It was a brand new bow-tie, covered in pi symbols. Naturally, I put it on.

    Another math teacher had brought in some store-bought cake, so we had cake at lunchtime in classroom. Oh, the joys of working on one’s birthday.

    That evening I went to Norwich. I’m rather thankful that my birthday is near (but not at) the beginning of the school year: it’s a nice reminder to relax, unwind, and pick oneself up after the first few, heavy weeks of the new school year. This was the first time a number of we Canadian…

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  6. Home for the summer

    Well, I’m not home yet. As I write this, I sit in the basement of my grandparents’ home in Waterloo, Ontario. They are a nice stepping stone between England and Thunder Bay, and I elected to spend a few days with them before flying the second (and considerably shorter) leg back home.

    But I am in the process of going home, which they say you can never do, but I’m a rebel that way. It has been a long schoolyear in many ways. In other ways, it feels like the year has gone by exceedingly fast. I am somewhat in awe that I have finished my first schoolyear as a teacher.

    Travelling home begins with a two-part bus journey from Bury St Edmunds to Gatwick Airport. This takes about four and a half hours. I was excited about returning home for the summer, but as the bus pulled out of Bury, I had a slight feeling of melancholy. I’m attributing this to anxiety around travelling itself. This attests to how comfortable I’ve become in England, that leaving it for home evokes both anxiety and relief rather than simply the latter.

    I’m not a fan of the entire process involved in…

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  7. Moving house

    At the beginning of the month, I moved. I was quite happy with my current roommate and living arrangements at the time, but for reasons beyond my control, I needed a new place to stay. So on my first weekend off in the Easter break, I packed up the kipple of my life here in the UK and moved to a different place in Bury St Edmunds. Happily, the experience has been a positive one—I don’t like change, but this turned out to be change for the better.

    An exterior view of the front of my new place

    My new place is ideally situated. It’s literally in the town centre. The major shopping centre and the high street are less than a few minutes’ walk away, as is the movie theatre and the bus station. The train station is ten minutes, if that, from my house. No more twenty-minute walks into the market on Saturdays! I didn’t mind those so much when it was sunny, but in times of rain or snow it wasn’t that much fun. And now, if I forget something, I can easily walk back to a store instead of wondering if I should just wait until next week.

    My new roommate, Julie, is a woman with…

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  8. Playing host to herpes zoster

    It started the weekend before last. I woke up with my right eye slightly swollen and a little irritated. I groaned and worried I was developing conjunctivitis. Every since the half-term, I had been battling an epic cold that just wouldn’t go away, and a few times before, the toll such a cold takes on my hygiene has resulted in a bout of conjunctivitis at the tail end of the illness. I sighed and booked my first appointment with a doctor since I moved here and registered with a surgery, wondering if I would need to take work off on Monday in order to keep it.

    Monday came round, and it brought more bad news. When I woke up, the swelling around my eye had turned into a tiny, bumpy white rash. I knew there was no way I could go in to work, so I called in sick, sent in some cover work, and composed myself for my appointment. The doctor saw me promptly, took a look at my eye, and told me I had shingles. Good thing I went to the doctor so quickly after developing the symptoms! He was able to put me on antivirals.

    Well,…

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  9. You can go home again

    I’ve spent the past eleven days back home in Thunder Bay, enjoying my break and catching up with friends and family. It has been good. I have reconnected with our cats, who began merrily disassembling the Christmas tree one ornament at a time approximately an hour after we put it up. I saw my 3.5-year-old nephew and gave him some gifts courtesy Scotland. I hung out with my mom, watching movies and drinking tea and baking cinnamon buns. And I did much the same with my dad, minus the cinnamon bun part (he did bake two pumpkin pies, though, while I happened to be in the house—does that count?). I saw a few groups of friends, learned how to play Cards Against Humanity, Munchkin, and a few other fun games. Good times.

    Now they are over, and I fly back to Toronto in slightly more than four hours. From there, I take an 8 pm flight back to England and a four hour coach trip up to Bury. Perhaps my least favourite part of travelling (aside from the travelling) is how much time it consumes! However, there is nothing I can do about that. I can only make…

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  10. Teaching and Twitter

    So, my students finally found me online.

    Seriously, what took you so long?

    Not to boast, but I’m easy to find online. There are few enough Ben Babcocks that my various accounts, not to mention my website, eventually show up sometime on a Google search. So I knew it was just a matter of time.

    Knowledge of my online presence has spread quite quickly. I’m not that bothered. Long ago I made a decision to discard anonymity. While it’s a valid option, I found that in my case I wanted to be able to keep my online and offline lives as closely linked as possible. I knew that, with my chosen profession, this might pose some difficulties. However, it also provides a few opportunities as well.

    After all, we are still figuring out privacy in the digital age. Having hit its 20th anniversary this year, the Web remains relatively new. My generation is among the first to grow up with it as a professional platform for self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and self-expression. We have to suss out what is private versus what is personal. The bottom line, though, is that we are unquestionably making more information available in public (or to…

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  11. Blaaargh. Sick.

    Being sick really throws off my routine. And I love my routine.

    I had planned to write one or two more posts about my Scotland trip. But I’m behind, because since last Thursday I have been ill with some kind of chest cold that has since metamorphosed into a head cold. I am feeling better relative to Thursday and Saturday but am still under the weather. I took my first sick day on Tuesday, and I returned today to avoid the compounded chaos of a second day of supply teachers. I don’t regret this decision—I think I did some good—but it was definitely a difficult day. I finally have some ginger ale and Sudafed, though, which helps.

    Sickness does not necessitate silence, though, so here I am! Hi. Also behind on book reviews, even though I am still reading quite a bit. I look forward to Christmas break not just because I am happy to visit home but also because I might finally have enough time to get back on my feet, digitally speaking, and stay there for most of next term! Let’s hope.

    Anyway, I’m going to relax for a bit now and then go to sleep.

  12. I'm an adult now

    I’ve had a good run. Aside from the last period of Friday last week, my last two weeks have been good. It’s still difficult and exhausting, but I’m still surviving!

    I am still coming to terms with the significance of this new chapter in my life, and last Thursday hammered this home. We had an Open Evening, where children from Year 6 and their parents tour the school prior to deciding where to go for Year 7. We teachers were expected to stay there and represent our departments, and so I ended up not getting home until around 9:30. In the hours between the end of the school day and the start of the event, I was hanging around in the staff room and my room, marking and otherwise marking time. And it occurred to me that I was actually a teacher.

    Yes, I’ve been a teacher for a while now—at least on paper, and perhaps even in practice. But it still hadn’t sunk in. With these events in the past, even if I were there helping out as a student, I was still a student. I wasn’t privy to the behind the scenes featurettes in the staff room. That…

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  13. Life in England: It goes on

    Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be more frequent (albeit probably shorter) updates! I have been meaning to write this post since the beginning of last week, but every night seemed like a good night to procrastinate. My reading is also suffering, as those of you who follow my reviews on Goodreads have probably noticed. This too shall pass.

    I’m firmly ensconced in teaching now: school is in session, I’ve learned all my students’ names (much to our mutual surprise), and I have found a few more bow ties. I’m absolutely, incredibly, indescribably exhausted almost all the time. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. (To be fair, though, it’s not like I’ve done much with my life so far.) I rather expected it would be, and I’m not trying to complain (too much). I’m just not sugar-coating it or allowing myself to have any illusions: this is a demanding, challenging, stressful job. I care a lot, which is good and is what will help me be a great teacher—but it also means I have to be careful not to burn myself out with planning and worrying. The old adage “work smarter, not…

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  14. Living in Bury St Edmunds: Arrival

    Hello from England!

    My flight to Gatwick was uneventful—I kind of knew what to expect this time. Several teachers I had met from my iday experience were on an Air Transat flight the same night, but I flew Sunwing. I met up with another Canadian teacher, Josie, teaching at the same school as me. Unfortunately, this flight was not any better than the last when it came to getting sleep. I’m not supremely tired (it’s 10:20 pm local time as I write this), but I know I will sleep well.

    Jodie (not to be confused with Josie), the teacher who put me in touch with my new roommate, is staying here for a few weeks while looking for a new place for her and her husband Ian. Ian is arriving on Tuesday with their dog. I don’t mind having extra people in the house, especially because I’ve already met them, and I think it will make it easier for me to get settled in here. Jodie, having lived for several months already, is certainly a valuable resource. She showed me the way to a nearby superstore (called Asda) so I could stock up on groceries and…

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  15. Moving preparations

    It is hard to believe, but in less than two weeks I will be moving away from Canada to teach in England. What started as a possibility in January has swiftly become a solid reality. Over the last few weeks I’ve received my visa, received my Ontario College of Teachers certification, and booked my flights to Toronto and London. I also made a somewhat unwise trip to the library, where I acquired enough books that I have to read about 1 per day until I leave—hence the marked increase in frequency of reviews lately.

    I leave for Toronto on August 21 at around 3:45 pm. We land a little after 5 pm, and my flight to London–Gatwick airport departs around 10 pm. There’s at least one other teacher going to the same school as I am on this very flight, although I haven’t met her in person yet. I’m planning to meet up with a few of the people I know from the iday who are also flying on that day, albeit with a different airline.

    I should arrive at Gatwick around 10:30 am local time on August 22, where someone from Engage Education is picking us up.…

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  16. Sailing off the edge

    Last Thursday I wrote my final exam as an undergraduate university student. This marks the end of my formal schooling (for now). I have this week off, which is a welcome break and short vacation, and then I begin my second five-week practicum. Come the last full week of April, I will be finished completely. No more assignments. No more tests. I’ll be a transcript and some bureaucratic processing away from being a certified teacher.

    I have mixed feelings about being finished school. On one hand, it is a relief. This last term of classes went by slowly. Many of my friends remarked that they were not getting much from their classes this time, that they were anxious to get back out in the field or to be done … and I can see whence this line of reasoning comes, and I agree in part. We had an intense conversation about this in my Philosophy of Education class, about how we would redesign the teacher education program if we could. All of us spoke with the voices of very tired teacher candidates.

    On the other hand, it is also terrifying. This is it. When I entered university, I entered as…

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  17. So I knit now

    So I’m knitting now.

    Katie, a friend I have made among my class of teacher candidates, is an avid knitter. (Her teachables also happen to be the same as mine—math and English—how cool is that?) Eventually our conversations about her knitting culminated in an offer to teach me how to knit. I was not digging for this—the thought had honestly never crossed my mind. I used to do some very basic cross-stitching, but my ability to do things with my hands (aside from typing) has always been minimal. Knitting seemed like a daunting skill to learn.

    So I said yes, of course. I had an ample supply of yarn left over from my cross-stitching days. When Katie returned to Thunder Bay after the Christmas break, we went shopping for a perfect set of needles and searching for a perfect beginning pattern. We eventually decided upon this hat pattern, which has the advantage of being knit flat and being done entirely in knit stitch (no purling). Another professional year friend, Hélène, deterred me from starting with a scarf: as she put it, a scarf is long and boring and repetitive; I needed a beginning project that was easy enough…

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  18. How I read so much

    The year is almost over, and unless I finish a book tomorrow, it looks like I will end 2011 with 115 books read. Not too shabby, I suppose. Far cry from my goal, which was to tie with 2009’s best of 156 books. But still pretty good, all things considered. Indeed, from time to time people exclaim their awe at how much I read. I don’t like to draw too much attention to the quantity, which is after all no indicator of quality, because it feels too much like bragging. But today someone on Goodreads asked me how I manage to read so much, and as I was composing my reply, I realized it was getting too lengthy. Lengthy enough for a blog post, in fact.

    It’s quite simple. I have a time machine, you see, and that allows me to go back in time and spend more time reading throughout the day….

    Well, I wish that weren’t so much science fiction!

    Last year, which was a very good year for me, I averaged 2.6 days per book; this year I have been slightly busier, so I took 3.1 days per book. Considering that most people, i.e., people who do…

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  19. Student teaching, come and gone

    My practicum is over.

    But you might not have known it had even started. I kept meaning to blog about my experiences in my “professional year”, and then when my practicum began, about that. Yet I never got around to it. This has been my busiest year in long memory, and my practicum kept me busier than ever. So hopefully a short recap will suffice.

    First, professional year—the first nine weeks. I enjoyed most of my classes. There was a lot more reading and many more assignments than I was used to in my previous years, which mostly consisted of weekly math assignments and the occasional essay. But my classes have raised important issues I need to consider as a teacher, and they have prepared me well for teaching. (I still hate group work.)

    Now, the practicum. I was lucky with my assignment. I went to a local high school, to the math department. In fact, my associate teacher was the same teacher in whose classroom my group had taught a “mini-lesson” for my math instruction course. So I had already met her, and she had already seen me teach (sort of). This reduced my trepidation as I went into…

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  20. Learning to look past my privilege and listen

    I keep meaning to write a more general post about my experience in professional year, but other things always seem to be happening. Such a post will happen eventually. Or maybe it won’t, and I’ll look back at this blog three years from now and wonder what I thought about learning how to teach—except that, hopefully, the threads of what my nascent personal philosophy of pedagogy will be visible in some of these posts. Now that I am fast approaching that moment when I can call myself “teacher”, I am always thinking about how I am going to teach. And everything I read or watch or see relates to that, in some way.

    Take Slutwalk, for instance. We talked about this in my Media, Education, and Gender class last week. We discussed it in relation to violence against women and how to prevent sexual assault, as well as the implications of “reclaiming” a word like slut. Indeed, we asked some very interesting questions: who can reclaim the word, and why would that group want to do so? The N-word was brought up as a comparison. So imagine my surprise when, this weekend, Slutwalk and the N-word intersected…

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  21. Why I love math

    Tonight a friend on Facebook asked me: why do you like math? I knew that any suitable answer to that question would be a long one, and as I was cooking at the time and logged into Facebook chat on my phone, and so I deferred. After dinner I began typing a response on Facebook, but then I realized that this is worth its own blog post. I think it’s evident from this blog that I do love math, but I seldom pause to discuss why I love it.

    This is what I said three years ago:

    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.

    Well,…

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  22. Updated my “About Me” page

    I have rewritten my “About Me” page. It has needed some updates for a while now. I focused on making the page briefer while keeping it informative. Now people who come to my site can know who I am in a few paragraphs. If they need to know me more deeply, they will know where to stalk me.

    Also, the page now includes an excellent photo that portrays my love of math and silliness. The photo comes from back in May. Our mathematics resource room received new carpet, so Aaron, Rachael, Tim, and I were drafted to remove all the books from the room and store them in our office until the carpet was replaced. Then we reshelved all of the books, and posed for some silly photos. I've long wanted to put a photo of myself on that page, but until now I didn’t have any that seemed adequate. I was browsing my Flickr feed in the hope of finding something suitable when this gem appeared; the moment I saw it, I yelled, “Yes!” and laughed maniacally.

  23. I am bereaved: rest in peace, my cat Marble

    My two lovely cats, Kaylee and Marble

    This morning, we had two cats. Their names were Marble and Kaylee; they were sisters. I don't remember exactly when we got them, for I was very young, but they must have been 12 years old or even older. So they have been around for most of my life now, and I have grown accustomed to their curmudgeonly feline ways. Upon moving into our newest residence in 2007, Marble took up the habit of sleeping on my bed, while Kaylee appropriated my new reading chair for herself. These arrangements continued for another three and a half years.

    As of this afternoon, we have one cat. Marble died sometime around two o'clock, by my reckoning. I am sorry to see her go, but she was old and ill, and I suppose it was her time.

    For about a year now, Marble has not been well. She was having difficulties using the litter box, but the vet could not find anything wrong with her—our options were, essentially, switch her to some new fattening food or put her down, and I think it's obvious there was only one option there. We tried this, and meanwhile Marble seemed stable—she did not improve, and despite…

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  24. Now the summer begins

    Jessica displays her raspberry pie

    Last Friday marked the end of my summer research term. For reasons I don't entirely understand and don't need to understand, Jessica made a pie to celebrate the milestone. It was raspberry (my favourite fruit) and, more importantly, it was delicious. This summer feels like it has gone by extremely quickly, and I'm not yet eagerly anticipating school. I have two weeks off now, returning early on August 29 to begin the intense final year of my concurrent education degree. My schedule does not seem all that bad, as far as classes go, but I'm not sure what the workload will be like—I hear it's heavy but not difficult.

    As far as my research goes, I can't help but compare this summer to last summer. Overall, I was not as interested in my project this time around—it's the same project, so it is no longer fresh. Working on it on a full-time basis for 16 weeks was intense. This year was also quieter around the office; Jessica was not around as much, and Rachael had a research project, but it only lasted eight weeks. Aaron came in pretty consistently several days a week, despite not being on any kind of…

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  25. Next year I kind of enter the adult world

    I'm almost finished my fourth year of university, and with it, my HBA in Mathematics. It doesn't feel like four years! It feels like barely yesterday I was a nervous first-year student trying to figure out how to get around our campus (which I now realize is tiny compared to other campuses).

    I won't be graduating at the end of the year, because I'm actually in a five-year concurrent education program. For those of you unfamiliar with it and with teaching certification in Ontario, let me give you a brief run down. Instead of completing my mathematics degree and then doing a one-year education program ("consecutive education" or colloquially known as "teacher's college" around these parts), I have for the past four years been enrolled in concurrent education. As the name implies, I'm taking education courses concurrently with the courses I need for my math degree. So at the end of the five years, assuming I complete the program, I'll have an HBA in Mathematics and a BEd. In Ontario, teachers are certified to teach in a specialization defined by grade level. Mine is "Intermediate/Senior," or I/S, which means grades 7-12. I really want to teach high school, but…

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  26. I can haz conference?

    This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I attended the eighth annual Combinatorial Algebra meets Algebraic Combinatorics Conference. No, I didn't record awesome video diaries as I did when I attended the 2010 Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference. I did meet many experts in these fields, listened to interesting talks that I didn't really understand, and gave a talk of my own!

    Combinatorial algebra and algebraic combinatorics are, as the conference's title and purpose expresses, two sides of the same mathematical coin. They are areas of mathematics that combine techniques from combinatorics and abstract algebra (notably, commutative algebra) to solve a variety of problems in algebra, combinatorics, and even algebraic geometry. Now, these fields are specialized. I got the impression that even among the thirty or so graduate students, postdocs, and professors in attendance, many of them were struggling to keep up with some of the talks, because the topics in this area, as with any specialized field, can get pretty esoteric. One fellow gave a talk on cluster algebras, and the room was rather silent when it came time for questions.

    Still, it was exciting to attend the conference even though I, as an undergraduate student with only two courses…

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  27. Swype: The compromise between QWERTY familiarity and touchscreen elegance

    Back in grade four, something miraculous happened. Our class at Isabella Street School descended down to the library, which was nestled in one corner of the unappealing, rather dingy cement and concrete basement. I already loved the library, and reading in general, by that time. It was through this library that I devoured those Hardy Boys books that my dad did not have, read my way through Nancy Drew, had my first experiences with Tolkien and Lewis and, in later years, Agatha Christie. There were several shelves full of colourful books on mythology when I went through that phase, and even a pop-up book about Star Trek, a copy of which I bought for $10 on Abebooks during a bout of nostalgia in the summer, which has not actually arrived yet, and now it occurs to me I should probably ask someone about that....

    But I digress. On that fateful day, my grade four class was not there to browse the bookshelves and sit at our octagonal tables in chairs now much too small for me. No, we instead turned left at the doors to populate the "computer lab." This must have been 1998 or 1999, so the…

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  28. Your holiday relaxation program commences in 3, 2, 1...

    It is snowing outside. This is both wonderful and terrifying. Wonderful because snow is awesome. I love living in a country, and a part of the country, that experiences all four seasons in vibrant technicolour and Dolby Digital surround sound. Winter here means minus forty below, winds, snow in the air and on the ground, and plenty of shovelling. Terrifying because this means I may have to shovel in the future--I like shovelling; I hate contemplating the future acts of shovelling. Once I'm doing it, I'm OK.

    School is over now, for two weeks. I had my last examine a week ago. It went well, I think, though I don't have my marks yet. I feel good about it (Complex Analysis), and I feel good about the one prior to it as well (Medieval and Tudor Drama). The rest of the week could have been relaxing in theory, but in practice it was consumed by invigilating an exam on Thursday and then helping the instructor to mark said exam on Friday. Oh my. Six hours of that--and yes, I know, I will have to do this when I become a teacher. But I'm not a teacher yet.

    As I

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  29. I have an Android phone!

    As I have mentioned in the past, I am a fan of Android, Google's operating system for smartphones. I'm a fan without having ever owned a smartphone, let alone an Android phone. As of last week, my friends, that has all changed.

    My carrier, TbayTel, recently signed a deal with Big Bad Teleco Rogers, in which TbayTel takes over all of the Rogers customer and infrastructure in the area, and everyone gets access to HSPA phones and a 3G network. The upshot of this, as it relates to me, is that TbayTel now has a good many more smartphones, including several running Android. Cue the drooling.

    My Samsung Galaxy S, displaying the home screen with app icons and a TARDIS wallpaper

    Last Monday, my father and I braved the crazy lineup at the store to purchase me a Samsung Galaxy S Captivate, which was $150 with a three-year contract. It is running Android 2.1, Eclair, and so far it is awesome.

    I debated getting a new phone for all of three hours when I heard the news. My old phone, which was my first phone, was an LG 6200. It worked fine, aside from some interesting glitches with the contact management, but there were two drawbacks: firstly, I had no way of connecting it…

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  30. Spontaneous snowfall, spontaneous snowballs

    I always forget that November is a busy month. October lulls me into a false sense of security, for despite its containment of midterms, it never really has much work for me. Then November comes around, and suddenly it's whoa. Where did all this homework come from? Oh, and I'm working all weekend for a fundraising event at the gallery? Great.

    This weekend was probably my busiest weekend of the year in terms of inverse amount of free time available to me. I spent the week working on an essay for my Medieval and Tudor Drama class, which I love. The prof is great, and I'm learning a lot and reading literature I probably wouldn't otherwise read. The essay was originally due Friday, but the prof extended it to Wednesday, which is a great relief. I'm feeling confident about it, but the extra time has helped.

    So yeah, this weekend was the art gallery's annual Christmas House Tour fundraiser. This consists of a self-guided tour of houses decorated by local businesses. Today was the tour proper, so we had to work 9-5 for that. Friday night was the dinner for the home owners, and I worked that with Brittany.…

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  31. Belated birthday post

    This is a very belated birthday-related blog post. I started writing about my birthday the day after the fact, but I got sidetracked and never quite managed to finish the post. I need to start blogging again, because I have plenty to say. So we'll begin with my birthday.

    Some of my birthday presents, including manly panther tea.

    I don't celebrate my birthday with a lot of fanfare. However, I also don't sweep it under a rug like the curmudgeon in me is wont to do. I enjoy getting gifts, but that's true regardless of whether it's my birthday! Still, I got some pretty cool gifts from my family members. My dad got some books, as well as a whopping stack of Chapters gift cards, which are like candy you can use to buy books. My brother got me a mug with a stylized police badge that says "Spelling Police," as well as some tea. In particular, he got me a type of South American tea called Yerba Maté; I can't pronounce that name, so I just call it "panther tea," because the box has a panther on it. Incidentally, this is also why my brother selected that tea. In his own words: "Panthers are manly."

    I'm 21 now,…

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  32. Summer endings, September beginnings

    Hello September. I have missed you. You might be my favourite among all months, but don't tell the others. And no, it's not because my birthday is in September (although that helps). Nor is it because September signals the start of fall television, with new episodes of Castle, Chuck, House, Stargate Universe, etc. More than any other month, even that notorious January, September is a month of changes and new beginnings. For those of us biased in our perceptions by our position in the northern hemisphere, summer will soon be a memory; the leaves will change colour; and I'll be back in school, where I belong.

    I spent this summer doing research and quite enjoyed it. We didn't make as much progress toward a solution as I had hoped, but I learned a lot, both about mathematics and research in general. I'm comfortable using LaTeX (which is sexy) and have had some experience with Macaulay2 (also pretty hot). I even went to a conference, something that surprised me.

    With my research finished, I have these two weeks off before school begins on September 13. Next week I return to work at the art gallery. I don't…

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  33. On romance and genre in literary criticism

    Hello, my name is Ben, and I am a genre snob. Or at least I was. I'm trying to quit, but as fellow genre snobs can attest, it is not easy to surrender culturally-inculcated notions of genre and embrace a more nuanced approach. Still, I need to try. For the children!

    This week I read Amanda Scott's Tempted by a Warrior, which I won in a Goodreads giveaway. Had I paid more attention when entering the giveaway, I would have noticed that the book is historical romance, not merely historical fiction, and passed. I didn't notice, however, and I won the book. As I prepared to write my review, I discussed the book with a friend--who, as it happens, reviews paranormal, romance, and even paranormal romance((You didn't see that one coming, did you?)) for one of those review sites to whom publishers send books with the eager trepidation marketing people perfect after too many years in college.

    I opened the conversation by quoting one of the sex scenes in the book:

    Me: There is a list of words that automatically ruin sex scenes for me, and "tempestuous" is one of them. Her: I can't imagine why. Me: Aside from

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  34. No sugar tonight

    Stanley, prior to a paint job

    Last week, I discussed how maths is hard, but I spent plenty of time solving a Rubik's cube anyway. At this rate, you are going to get the idea that I don't do any work at all. Nevertheless, a desire for accuracy and lulz requires me to remain truthful regarding how I spent this week in the office.

    We made a piñata.

    We named him Stanley the Resurrection Pig.

    I don't recall who came up with the initial idea. As with all good, crazy plots, it starts off as an innocuous hypothetical scenario: piñatas equal fun, fun equal good, we could make a piñata! This is the last week all four of us will be in the office together--Aaron, Rachael, and I are going to Waterloo next week for a conference, and Jessica is off to Ireland, returning only after Aaron and Rachael's contracts are finished. So if ever there was a time to set aside the math papers and construct a papier-mâché animal, then savagely beat it to a pulp, this was that time.

    None of us are piñata-making experts, and that was probably for the best. Rachael had some experience with papier-mâché--also for the best--so we made…

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  35. Music must change

    I like to joke with my friends about how easy I have it this summer. I'm sitting in a cozy little office with a fan, proximity to a kettle, and a high-speed Internet connection. Unlike a summer research student in, say, chemistry or biology, I don't have to manipulate lab equipment or sex fruit flies (Cassie :P). The extent of my experimentation will involve uploading programs to a high-powered computing network and asking it kindly to compute a few more numbers for me. I Google math papers relevant to my problem, try to understand what they say, and see if I can come up with my own ideas. One thing I love about math research, especially in my area of interest, is how much it's thought. All I really need is a blackboard and chalk, or pencil and paper. (That being said, the high-powered computing network does help when I get to the computation step!)

    Of course, it's not all fun and games (even though I did learn how to solve a Rubik's cube last week). Maths is hard! And right now, even though I've been in university for three years, I feel like an amateur groping around an unsolved…

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  36. Guitar and pen

    Yes, yes, I know. At this rate, my weekly recap will become bi-weekly. I didn't do a lot the week before last, owing to Victoria Day making for a shortened week. So rather than two very short blog posts, I decided to forbear and write one short blog post instead.

    The last two weeks have been more reading, more learning, and a little thinking. I hesitate to ascribe a label like "productive," since it's hard to quantify. I think I understand my problem now, but there remains a lot for me to learn in order to start trying solutions.

    I tried running the original algorithm for computing the spreading number, which was written in CoCoA, on my computer. I had hoped that my 2 GB of RAM and 1.83 GHz processor would have enough memory to compute some additional numbers. Alas, CoCoA stubbornly crashed (after several long hours) each time I instructed it to do so.

    So I ported the code to Macaulay2. It's even slower, which makes me suspicious that I'm missing something--after all, I am learning both languages, so I'm sure that in transliterating the code I managed to miss an obvious way to make it…

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  37. You ain't seen nothing yet

    Shorter entry this week, as I didn't do much new and exciting in week 2 of my research project. I'm still having fun, but because it's so early in the summer, that fun mostly takes the form of reading.

    As tweeted earlier, the secret to reading (and understanding) math papers is simple. First, always read it twice. Then read it again. But to make sure you really understand, you need to take notes. Write down what's implicit in the paper, the steps the author leaves out because "it is obvious" or "it is clear to the reader" or, even worse, "this has been left has an exercise for the reader." Once you've done that, the final step is to read the paper again.

    I spent all week reading two papers, one of which expands on the findings of the other. The first investigates the spreading and covering numbers in relation to the ideal generation conjecture. Much of the paper goes over my head. Nevertheless, there were some very useful figures, and the use of graph theory in one paper and set theory in another helped improve my comprehension of what these numbers are. The second paper, in particular,…

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  38. Start me up

    Chalk board in my office

    I am now into the second week of my NSERC summer research project. So far, I'm having a lot of fun. The subject of my research is interesting and exactly the type of mathematics that I want to study. The "daily grind," such as it is, does not grind at all--it helps that there are three other undergraduate students doing research this summer, and we all share the sessional lecturer office. We can distract each other, when needed, and pick each other's brains for help with particularly puzzling proofs.

    So what exactly am I doing? Well, it's esoteric even for those who enjoyed math up until the first years of university. I'm going to drop some math jargon in the next few paragraphs, so don't worry if your eyes start to glaze over. Photos and hilarious video will follow!

    Since my prof was leaving town at the end of the week, we met several times so he could give me some lectures and we could discuss my project. The work I'm doing relates to ring theory, which is a course I took nearly two years ago, so I have a lot of review to do. Most of the week,…

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  39. Boldly going forward, because we can't find reverse

    Last night, all four of us who work at the front desk went out for dinner and bowling. I don't go out that much--and in fact, I probably spend more time hanging out with these three at work than I do going places with my other friends. But it was Brittany's last weekend in town, because she's biking back home to Guelph next week. So we had one last hurrah--and a little bit more.

    First we went to Applebee's, which is pretty much the baseline measurement for normality on this outing. I had a steak that was supposed to be medium but was rare and soggy French fries. Thea and Dayna had more luck with their pasta dishes, and Brittany made quick work of her sizzling fajitas. Surprisingly, they appeared as advertised and were actually sizzling. There was also spicy rice, which she saved for another friend, because she didn't like it. More on that later. Many stories were exchanged that cannot, of course, be repeated here. Brittany and I ordered desserts while Thea and Dayna demurred; I got a chocolate chip sundae, and Britany made the better choice of a delectable soft brownie. That was probably the best food…

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  40. Summer scoop: I have an NSERC grant!

    This January, I applied for a summer Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Lakehead University has 20 such awards to give to applicants this year, and on Monday, I learned that I am the recipient of one!

    I was (still am) a mixture of elation and trepidation. Part of me is still in a state of shock and can't quite believe that this is real. I spend a good half hour after learning I got the grant just trying to calm down so I would not run up to everyone I encountered and yell, "I GOT A GRANT!" Another part of me is saying, "What do you think you're doing, Ben? You don't even understand what it is you're going to be researching!" As anyone who has ever looked at a higher math textbook knows, the language is just scary sometimes.

    I applied for the NSERC grant for two reasons. Firstly, it's a different summer employment opportunity than my default, which is the art gallery. Don't get me wrong: I love working at the gallery. You can't beat the hours, and I have an awesome boss--she took the news that I wouldn't be…

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  41. Battle scars

    My tape measure

    Some people I know lead off their blog posts with massive photos of the minute and the mundane, photos that set the mood for the entry that follows. So I'm going to be a copycat and do the same. Muwahahaha.

    There are some objects that, against all odds, manage to stay with us through childhood, adolescence, and into our adult years. These objects acquire and then store memories for us, exceeding their original purpose as they become receptacles for our past. And they acquire scars, reminding us that we can't travel through life unscathed, but we can always somehow emerge OK. In a society renowned for its throwaway culture, these objects might be old, battered, and bruised, yet we keep them still. They have more than a material worth. At the same time, however, they might not have much sentimental value--that is, they haven't survived all this time because we're overtly fond of them. They've just stayed with us.

    This tape measure is one such object--and a surprising one, at that, considering I'm not especially handy nor prone to measuring things. All the marks on its body tell me a story about my past, and about who I was. I…

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  42. Bring me your math! All your math!

    Tonight Stargate Universe premiered, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it. However, I feel guilty blogging about a television show when I haven't blogged about arguably more important matters, such as life.

    With a month behind me, I feel good about the school year so far. I only have four courses this year: Introductory Analysis, Partial Differential Equations (PDEs), Introduction to Mathematical Probability, and Speculative Fiction. Three math courses and an English course. All of my math courses are interesting, and I was excited to take the English course the moment I saw it offered. I'll discuss it first, since the rest of the post will be about math.

    My Speculative Fiction course is covering only science fiction this section--which is fine. Although I love literature in general and would gladly have taken something like Victorian Literature if this course hadn't been offered, the chance to read and discuss science fiction for credit is not something I was going to overlook! We're reading The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, The Left Hand of Darkness, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Neuromancer, Dawn, and Singularity Sky. We also have to…

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  43. In memoriam: Mug

    My favourite mug, Mug

    Two weeks ago to this day, I broke my favourite mug. I was heartbroken.

    I don't like calling myself a materialist, but we all place sentimental value on certain items when they become important to us. Up until two years or so ago, I rotated among three or four different mugs for my tea--yes, mugs. "Cups" are for prats and amateurs. Hardcore tea-drinkers drink tea by the mug, and the really hardcore tea enthusiasts (I am not) drink it by the bowl in elaborate Japanese tea ceremonies. There's literature about this sort of thing. But I digress.

    Then I started using only one mug. My mug. It just felt comfortable: perfect shape, an attractive colour and calm design on the outside, and a handle that didn't hurt my fingers. It held a good amount of tea. I'd use it for every single cup, rinsing it, washing it out with baking soda every couple of days. I treated that mug like royalty. But ultimately, I failed it.

    We were sitting outside; I was reading and Mug was relaxing on the table next to me, holding some tea. I went to take a sip and was pleased to discover that Mug…

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  44. Help me listen my way through summer

    During the summer, I bike to work. I could pretend that this is because I want to be green and stay in shape, but it's really because I don't have consistent access to a vehicle. Although it is good exercise, I must admit.

    The ride is about twenty minutes one-way. I usually listen to music on my 1 GB iPod Nano. Yeah, that's right: I haven't upgraded to the latest model. Shocking, I know. However, this usually means I end up listening to the same music over and over all summer. I suppose I could create weekly mixes or playlists to help keep things fresh, but I'm just too lazy.

    So this year, I'm going to try something different: audiobooks. It furthers my goal of reading more, and it's much safer than trying to read a book while biking. Rather than purchase audiobooks, I'm going to try Librivox, a crowdsourced repository of public domain audiobooks. I've gone ahead and created a shelf at Goodreads to track my summer listening. Now only one thing remains: to what should I listen?

    I'm open to suggestions. I'm considering some Victorian fiction, thinking that it may be less dry if I listen…

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  45. Push

    I'm still alive.((Although chances are equally good I'm just a component of a massive set of equations which we happen to perceive as the Universe.))

    Actually, when all is said and done, the wisdom teeth extraction was Not That Bad. I went in, the assistant hooked me up to various Machines That Go Ping!, gave me some nitrous oxide to relax, then stuck me with an IV. I drifted off to neverneverland. The next thing I know, the assistant is asking me to come lie down on a bed in a little recovery room. I do so and start to read my book. In about five minutes I'm fully lucid and feeling quite well.

    I won't rub it in, but I had no swelling, no bruising, and no pain. I took a couple of painkillers on Friday but kicked them after Saturday morning. I had pizza--in small bites--for dinner on Friday, although I stuck with yogurt, Jello, and very soft food until Tuesday. My jaw feels a bit different when I chew, but overall it was a painless procedure.((Aside from the part where I give them a substantial chunk of money, of course.)) All that trepidation....

    These past few…

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  46. Let me get this straight: time goes forward?

    I intended to post this two days ago, but somehow never got around to it. You know you need to blog more when your grandparents remark on your inactivity. So let's do this!

    The past few weeks have been, for the most part, uneventful (and that's good). I worked a bit more than I would like, but there's not much to be done. I've tried to use all the free time I have as wisely as possible, mostly reading. Now that the snow is gone--even though the frost warnings are not--I like to sit outside the front of the house on the nice days.

    Having finished playing Mass Effect a second time, I tried playing Tomb Raider: Anniversary again. Unfortunately, the controls continued to frustrate me as I fell back into the rythym of "No, Lara, jump that way--oh, and you died." So I tried Tomb Raider: Legend instead. While it's the same engine, the levels are shorter and more varied, so I'm less frustrated with it.

    I'm greatly anticipating Mass Effect 2, and a few days ago I saw the trailer for Assassin's Creed 2. I enjoyed the first Assassin's Creed, although the story was somewhat…

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  47. More narcissism and a little about you

    Sometime between November and ... now ... it became now. I'm not quite sure when this happened, or how it happened((If you know, please do explain it to me.)) ... but it happened. Now that it's now and no longer then, that which was must become what was going to be when then became now--which is now.

    In that same spirit, the university felt it right and proper to commence a second term of classes following on the heels of the first term. I have six courses this term, three math courses, two philosophy courses, and an English course masquerading under the horribly ambiguous name of "Advanced Rhetoric."

    Two of my math courses, Linear Algebra II and Group Theory, are continuations of two of the courses I took last term. Linear Algebra II is, unsurprisingly, the conclusion to Linear Algebra I. We're learning about eigenvalues, eigenvectors, and diagonalization. I'm finding this course easier than the first part, in which I struggled somewhat. Group Theory and Ring Theory are related areas of abstract algebra. "Group theory" always sounds to me like some sort of bizarre sociological phenomenon, but I assure you, it's a math course--complete with dusty chalkboard, incomprehensible symbols, and…

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  48. Further evidence that I lack common sense

    The hooks on the back of my door We all have humbling experiences that remind us we aren't as smart as we think we are. And even if we are that smart, sometimes we still lack common sense, and other times we just plain don't think.

    A couple of days ago, I woke up to the a slow but inexorable cracking noise coming from the vicinity of my bedroom door. Sometimes my cat scratches at my door in order to gain entry, oblivious as to my current state of consciousness. This sound wasn't like a cat scratching, however, which was why I had trouble placing it at first. Unlike the frantic scrabbling noise of claw on wood, this had the deliberate sound of something going horribly, horribly wrong.

    Several seconds later, the sight of the hooks on the back of my door falling out, taking my coat with them, confirmed this fear.

    My library book bag I had stupidly placed my library book bag on these hooks. When the bag is empty, this isn't a problem. Yet as I gradually fill up the bag with each book I read, it becomes heavier, adding strain to the hooks.

    My brother originally installed the hooks; he was also the one who affixed them to…

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About Me

I’m a 26-year-old math and English teacher back in Canada after two years teaching in England. In my free time, I read books! When I’m not reading, I’m writing, coding, or knitting.

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About this site

I started coding websites, in bad HTML on Geocities, in 2004 in a fit of whimsy. Since then I’ve learned PHP/MySQL, coded my own blog software, and rebuilt this site several times. With the exception of the blog, it’s currently running on the exquisite Symphony CMS. This website is hosted by HawkHost

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