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Why should I vote for Bernie? February 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in Politics.
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I don’t too often veer into overtly political topics, but I keep getting this question and this seems as good as any place to discuss my views openly.  (If you’re a republican or non-American and couldn’t figure it out from the title, this post will most likely not be of interest to you.)  I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter (having been a fan of his since his early days in congress) and I’ve been asked why I would vote for him rather than Clinton.

Don’t you want the US to finally have a female president?

Yes, I do.  But in this case, principles are a bit more important than a uterus.

Now that we have that out of the way, I want to make one thing expressly clear:  I think both of them are immensely qualified. They both vote similarly 90% of the time.  I don’t think either of them would be a bad president, but that’s not the issue in securing the nomination.  The question is, in my mind, which one would be a better president?

In my mind, the biggest difference is their definitions of success.  Bernie wants to be a public servant, and Clinton wants to be elected.  I’m not saying it’s bad to want to be elected, but I don’t think that should be the primary driver for a public servant. Bernie is extremely constant in his views and that hasn’t changed over the tenure of his time in congress unless his constituents have requested something to change.  Clinton has made a lot of very good career moves, but I really think they’ve been a lot more about securing her position than about the people she serves.

For instance, it has always bothered me that she went to New York to become a senator rather than back to Arkansas.  It was no doubt a smart move, but it wasn’t a very principled one.

Another example is the Trans Pacific Partnership (which I am very disappointed that Obama has signed).  This was something that Clinton had been pushing for when she was in congress.  Bernie has been against it since day one.  However, with it becoming clear that Bernie was going to be her main competitor (and to some extent, O’Malley), she waffled for a while and then finally came out against it.  It isn’t just a shift: it’s a complete 180 from her previous position.  It’s become clear that Clinton has been making a swing to the left to get primary voters.  Guess what she’ll do for the general election to pick up undecideds from the republican voters: shift to the right.

I would like to know what I’m voting for, for a change.  And I suspect that Bernie isn’t going to change his views just to pick up voters.  He doesn’t need to because it’s pretty clear he has most voters’ interests as his primary concern, unlike most politicians who are encumbered by the lobbyists.

A pretty common critique is that Bernie is unrealistic and because he is so principled, he won’t be able to get anything done while Clinton is claiming that she’s “a progressive that gets things done.”  I can’t vouch for the Clinton claim (though I don’t personally agree with it), but I can say that the criticism of Bernie is completely uncalled for.  All you have to do is look at the fact that he’s a democratic candidate.  If he was so principled as to not accomplish anything, he would’ve run as an independent and you probably wouldn’t have any idea who he was unless you belong to that particular group of fringe voters and politicos.  His existence as a democratic candidate upends that argument.

The final consideration is what you’re hoping to get out of a democratic nominee should s/he become president.  The political winds, in congress at least, are blowing to the right.  Obama certainly hasn’t accomplished what he wanted.  I don’t suspect that would change for either Bernie or Clinton.  In fact, I actually think Clinton will be at a disadvantage relative to Bernie on this front.  Clinton is…well…a Clinton.  All of the vitriol that the right had for Bill Clinton is going to be aimed front and center at his wife.  Bernie has an advantage in that he has learned over a few decades how to deal with congress.  He also has a strong set of principles.  Conservatives typically appreciate that more than compromise, something that the left tends to underestimate.

By having a strong set of principles that, to some extent, appeal to the right (particularly veterans) as well as an ability to work with congress, Bernie is set up to be able to get at least some legislation through.  Clinton could do the same but her approach will be to move to the right in order to do so.  This means that the things we could see coming from a Clinton administration will be very much in line with what has been coming from the Obama administration.  While that’s better than what would happen should a republican presidency take place, I think Bernie could actually shift the center just a bit farther away from corporate interests.

Meet the old math, same as the new math January 22, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, younger son.
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The younger son is beginning adventures in algebra, and I had a hard decision to make.  He’d been using computer-based programs to learn math, but Mike and I decided we didn’t want to go that route any longer.  I had spent a lot of time looking into curriculum with the older son, so I already had a textbook available (Jacob’s Elementary Algebra), and it’s one that has received excellent reviews.

It’s also 37 years old.  Apparently there’s a newer edition, but that’s not the one I bought.

I had one concern with using this book.  A lot of the standards surrounding math curriculum have changed and become standardized.  There are a lot of texts available that have been evaluated and measure up to those standards.  I was worried that by going with an older book, I was going to shortchange the younger son in his education.  (I think that’s something almost every homeschool parent worries about.)  The problem with a lot of the modern curricula, though, is that  I really don’t like it.  While I think the sciences generally benefit from taking a problem-solving approach, I’m not so sure that’s the best way to do it with math.  Sure, I think there are ways to teach it more effectively, especially in terms of using active learning strategies and hands-on learning.  Reasoning is important, but so is process, and kids need to come out of the classroom very fluent in process and computation.  I’m one of those old-fashioned types that thinks you’re better off giving your kids a multiplication table than a calculator.

I had issues with one curriculum that was being used locally, for instance, because it taught division as repeated subtraction without teaching long division.  It also taught matrix math and repeated sums without teaching the standard multiplication schemes.  For those who are familiar with all the controversy over curricula and math standards, I’m sure this is old hat.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that this 37 year old book assumes that the student knows long division and standard multiplication.  However, in the first chapter (which is review), it introduced both matrix multiplication and repeated division as alternative methods.  Repeated division was done side by side with long division as a way to show how long division works.  However, it was not suggested as a good way to do division but to augment student understanding of long division.  Matrix multiplication was proffered as a bonus problem, but I made sure younger son understood how to do it.  I found with the older son that he was less likely to stumble on multiplication problems if he used the matrix method but would have a hard time keeping things straight with the standard method.  It’s a good tool to have in your toolbox, and I have even pulled it out when I had to do a fairly large problem by hand despite only having learned it about 10 years ago.

This left me feeling like this book was going to work just fine.  In fact, I’m rather disappointed that I didn’t get to use this book in high school.  (It was already out of print, sadly.)  Apparently, though, Amazon reviewers, internet philosophers, and other homeschooling parents really do know what they’re talking about.  Feynman may even have approved.

Adventures in high school classes January 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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The younger son was very adamant that he wanted to take high school biology this year.  He wasn’t in my face about it, but whenever the question was put to him about whether he was sure he wanted to do that, he was pretty firm.

My approach to dealing with this, after seeing he was sure was, “What the hell?!”  Worst case scenario is that he fails and has to retake it in four years with his age mates.

The first couple assignments were great.  However, when he hit the second unit of the class, I started having second thoughts. It wasn’t going well.  And would failing a class leave a long term scar on his academic record?

He was worried, too, but he started asking me how he could improve things.  I noted that he started saying he needed to “study harder,” but when I asked him what he meant, he wasn’t sure.  I started giving him specific suggestions and pointers and told him that doing those things is what “study harder” meant.

I learned a few things from this experience.  First, younger son didn’t know how to study when he started this class.  To anyone who has ever dealt with a bright kid, you’ll identify this as a common problem.  It’s hard for kids to learn how to study when the subject matter they’re tackling is relatively easy and doesn’t require the type of effort that a seriously challenging class does…or any other life obstacle.  I think we’re all convinced this was a good experience in that regard.  Second, I’m probably more worried about his grades than I thought, but I think I’m managing not to be a helicopter parent.  There were some assignments he submitted that he didn’t ask me to review.  Some came back with really good grades and some didn’t, but I really wanted this to be his own work.  Honestly, it’s a bit more stressful to be hands off than I thought.  I keep reminding myself that I should be celebrating a good effort instead of relatively effortless higher grade (that probably indicates he wasn’t seeing anything new).

To all of our surprise, he pulled his grade up to a B- for the first semester.  This guarantees he won’t be a straight A student in high school, but I personally think he got a lot more out of it now than if he’d taken it when he was supposed to.

Theme for the year January 4, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal.
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The past few days, I’ve seen a lot of posts about New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve never been a big fan of them.  When I decide I want to change something, I usually just decide to do it then and there.  Wanting to make more than one change can be tough, and doing so on an arbitrary date makes no logical sense to me.

I felt, however, I like I wanted to do a close examination of my mindset and see what it was I wanted to accomplish this year.  On my friend’s Facebook pages, I’ve been seeing a lot of “getting out of my comfort zone” and “trying new things.”  Reading those resolutions and goals kind of made me wad up into a bundle of wobbling anxiety.  No, the idea of trying news things right now makes me feel overwhelmed as what I’d really like is for things to settle down a bit.

Last night, it finally came to me: I want to finish things.  Lots of things. I have too many balls in the air and don’t feel like I’m handling them as well as I could.  (You’ve probably heard the analogy that life is like juggling glass balls.)  I know the answer to that dilemma: the best way to ease that situation is to remove some of the balls from the balancing act.  Some of those balls are small: I have several craft projects that are sitting half-done.  (And it didn’t help that I found more yesterday when going through a couple old boxes.)  I have some writing projects that are yet unfinished.  And there are a LOT of house and yard projects.  And a couple major life goals.  You know…the normal stuff.

I’m starting my list of things that I want to finish.  Over the next few months, I’ll be working on getting those big goals done.  The smaller goals will probably fit nicely in my 15 minute breaks.  At least that’s the hope.  And I plan to come back next year with a list of things I have finished this year.  I hope that once I finish, maybe I will stop feeling like I’m in danger of dropping all my balls.

So what are your big plans for the new year?

Fun conversations with younger son December 16, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, science, younger son.
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Part of the fun of hanging out with my offspring for part of the day is the entertaining conversations we get to have.  When he was younger, he had some awfully adorable misconceptions that resulted in a lot of fun.  Now that he’s older, his discussions have become more sophisticated.

Younger son: “Mom, have you ever wondered how Thor’s hammer generates lightning?”

Me: “Not really.”

Younger son: “It’s Asgaardian science!”

Me: “I bet they took a giant tesla coil and shrunk it down to fit into Mjolnir.”

Younger son: “But can Tesla coils create thunder clouds?”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

Younger son: “Oh.  I suppose that’s just for dramatic effect.”

Me: “Maybe the hammer has some kind of weather control device?”

Younger son: “I bet it has something to generate static.  That’ll attract particles and cause condensation in the air.”

Me: “That might work.  It’s amazing how the Asgaard figured out how to shrink all that stuff down into a hammer, isn’t it?”

I think we need to work on doing a Mjolnir prototype for a science fair project.

World’s Worst Officemate November 23, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, research, science, younger son.
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I have been working at home, trying to finish up this PhD thing once and for all.  Earlier this year, the place I worked was shut down and so I figured that if I had any desire to stay in academia (which I do), the PhD thing is kind of a necessary evil.

Because of the job situation, however, I also ended up with a new officemate: my younger son.  It was actually a combination of factors: private school is expensive, middle school is a cesspool of derision and contempt (and therefore not the best place to develop social skills), and, finally, the younger son really wanted to take high school biology and no one would let him.  Except me, being the overindulgent parent I am.

I have to admit that he’s been a bit easier to deal with than his older sibling.  It’s amazing how much easier this education thing is when you’re not dealing with ADHD.  The younger son is amazingly self-sufficient and does a good job of keeping a schedule.

I have, however, discovered one major flaw in this plan.  I had no idea how much middle schoolers talked.  Mostly, he gets excited about the things he’s learning in his class, which really tickles me.  However, he wants to share everything with me.  Every. Thing.  I have learned more about genes and cell processes and reproduction in the past two months than I probably did during my own high school biology class.  I have learned about social and mental and physical health.  I am beginning to speak Spanish with a level of proficiency that has not been present since my teens.  And mostly, I see him being happy and excited about learning again.

Unfortunately, he’s not quite so receptive when I begin to talk about coding and arrays and debugging and compiler issues and, especially, writing.  I have begun, as of late, to tell him that while I’m glad he’s learning, I really need him to let me focus on my work, too.  Someday, if he has to share an office with someone, this will be good real life practice for not making them insane.  At least he’s not asking to go out every ten minutes, like the dogs.

End of the season  November 12, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in running, Uncategorized.
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I had plans to do 7 half marathons this year.  Unfortunately, I had to scrap 3.  I injured myself and couldn’t do one of them, the second revised its time limits to significantly below my estimated finish time, and the last ended up being financially problematic after our old car kicked the bucket.

But it is two more halfs than last year and four more than any year before that.  I still often wonder how I ended up becoming a runner.  The medals are a nice reminder of that huge change.

How fast does an (unladen Blue) Angel fly? July 26, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, math, younger son.
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This weekend, the Blue Angels were in town to perform at the Fargo AirSho.  While we were watching them today, I made some comment about how amazing it is that they can keep such perfect formation despite the high speeds.  The younger son asked how fast they fly, and I responded that they could go up to a few hundred miles per hour.  He came back with:

I bet they’re flying at a trillion nanometers per second.

I honestly had no idea since that required not only a conversion to more reasonable units for such a measurement as well as the fact that we’d have to hop between metric and English units.

I decided to check it out, and it turns out he wasn’t far off.  The Blue Angels use the F/A-18 Hornet, which wikipedia gives a top speed of Mach 1.8 or 1,190 miles per hour.  The equivalent speed in nanometers/second is 531,977,600,000.  In other words, it’s half a trillion nanometers per second, so the younger son was only off by a factor of two when they’re traveling at top speed (which they obviously weren’t).

That’s a wee bit faster than an unladen European Swallow, which has an airspeed velocity of about 11,176,000,000 nm/s (based on Wolfram Alpha’s estimate of 25 mph).  I’m sure you were just dying to know that.

Friday Fun: Things you can microwave July 17, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in Friday Fun, homeschooling, science, younger son.
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Most people are familiar with the concept of microwaving a grape to make an arc.  If not, the procedure is very simple: cut a grape in half but leave just a small bit of skin to connect to the two halves.  Put the grape on a plate in the microwave, turn it on, and watch the sparks fly.  (As a side note, I’ve been able to replicate this on a smaller scale when microwaving green beans.)  This video explains it fairly clearly:

This week, we discovered another fun microwaving activity: soap.  I can’t be just any soap: it specifically has to be Ivory soap.  Apparently it gets hot and the gas bubbles expand causing it to create a hot foam which grows fairly quickly.  You can’t do it with other soaps, however, because they’re too hard and will explode.

We used a whole bar of soap with our experiment, but the younger son told us later that the demo he saw only used a smaller chunk.  Be careful after you pull it out of the microwave: it’s hot!  Also, once it’s cooled, you can use the soap, although it may be more useful to stick it into a soap sleeve than try to use it directly.

It looked like this when we were finished:

Ivory soap that has just been microwaved.

Ivory soap that has just been microwaved.


To see the whole process, the video is here.


Wordless Wednesday: Space CRAFTS! July 14, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in photography, science, teaching.
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