Thursday, August 31, 2006


WritersBlock of Pereiraville has tagged me with a meme. Alas, she knows not what she asks. In case there were still people in the world with lingering doubts, this will disabuse the last of them of the notion that I might not be a total nerd. I don't usually pass chain-mails on, but I'm going to make an exception for her... but only because she has a Portuguese-sounding name and I've been really craving linguica ever since Colosimo's sold me some linguica-flavored pork sausage. It was definitely NOT linguica, but it tasted enough like linguica that it gave me saudades.

1. A book that changed my life:

Where to start... there have been so many. The scriptures, of course. But also many other books. A couple that come to mind: Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, Excursions in Modern Mathematics by Tannenbaum and Arnold. (Yes, it's a textbook.)

2. A book I have read more than once:

Hands down, the entire Harry Potter series. I have them on audiobook and we listen to them every day. We own four of the six current audiobooks (we're still missing Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban). As big a HP fan as I am, I still have never read either Goblet of Fire or Order of the Phoenix all the way through in hardcopy form.

3. A book I would take to a desert island:

A desert island survival manual, of course! Preferably one with step-by-step diagrams on how to build a raft.

4. A book that made me laugh:

The last book I can remember that made me laugh was a math joke book I had when I was a kid. I know I've read at least one book since then that made me laugh, but I can't remember anything about it. Most of the books I read are serious books.

5. A book that made me cry:

I really don't cry much, except about my own life. I don't read sappy romance novels. So I don't think I've ever read a book that made me cry. But I did read a very scary book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics by Liping Ma. I found it rather shocking at the time.

6. A book I wish had been written:

Fair Division: A Practical Manual by Sarah B. Natividad, or

What To Do About Bagel When He Bites, Kicks, Screams, Refuses To Eat Or Sleep, And Thinks You're Getting In His Way, or

the novel my friend Sid Fallon is writing, called Behold The Elect. It's the best fantasy novel I've ever read. Most fantasy novels have me skipping to the totally scripted ending by the middle of the book. This one made me complain loudly to him to write the rest of the book so I could find out what happens next. If I had a bunch of money I could devote to being a patron of the arts, I'd pay him to finish it, it's that good.

7. A book that should have never been written:

Gosh, I'm really not the kind of person to say "The world could do without X," since we all need examples of what not to do. Also because I suspect that as a math teacher I'd make the "little list."

8. A book I am currently reading:

There are three books with bookmarks in them right now:
Kicking the Sacred Cow by James P. Hogan
Sprawl: A Compact History by Robert Bruegmann
War of Honor by David Weber

I know, you can only read one book at a time. But since a lot of my reading time comes in tiny, one-to-two-minute chunks, I have a book on each floor of the house and whenever I get a minute I pick it up.

9. A book I am planning to read:

You want a comprehensive list?

10. Five people I will send these questions to:


They say there are three kinds of mathematicians: those that can count, and those that can't. Sue me.

Cell Phones Should Be This Easy

Today I called to cancel my old cell phone service with Consumer Cellular. It's been a really great service. My mom told me about it. They have reasonably priced plans with no contracts and a free phone. I almost wish I hadn't had to cancel it, but FH had some technical considerations that required him to get a different phone service, and it's cheaper to add a second phone to his plan than to keep a second phone through Consumer Cellular.

So I'm telling everyone who wants a no-fuss keep-it-simple cell phone to get one through Consumer Cellular. We've never had problems with coverage, billing, changing plans, or even ending the plan. Some places if you call to close your account will give you the third degree and beg you to return, but all they said was "Sure, we'll take care of that for you today!" I'd go back to them in a heartbeat. But since I can't, I'll do the next best thing and tell my blog readers about them.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What Teenagers Are Good For

I got a new cell phone! It's one of those camera phone thingys. FH had to get a cell phone for work, so since it was now cheap to add one on to the plan for me, I got one too.

I have a Master's degree in mathematics. I can make my own candy, my own diapers, and my own herbal medicines. I do brakes and windows. Frick'n Martha Stewart watches my TV show. But for the life of me I cannot figure out how to use this cell phone. It's just got too many features.

I ought to hire a teenager to show me how to use it. They have to be good for something, after all.

Momma Always Said

My daughter had a bit of a disappointment today-- her swim party was cancelled-- and I overheard her saying to her friend, "My mom says, 'Life sucks.'"

For the record, the full quotation is "Life sucks like a Hoover, but it's the only game in town."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sonshine at School

Sonshine had his very first school lunch yesterday. I gave him his lunch money in the morning and sent him off.

When he got home I asked him how it was, and he told me about how wonderful it tasted (!) and how he was looking forward to buying lunch again. This morning, though, he revealed that one of the things he liked most about it was that it was free.

Trouble is, we don't qualify for free lunch.

Somehow he managed to get his lunch without paying for it. So I told him that wasn't right, that he was to take the money I'd given him yesterday and pay it at the office, since if he didn't, I'd be getting a note saying that he owed the money. And I sent Princess to supervise his paying of the money. She called me from the school to let me know that he just left the money on the counter and ran for it (and would I please bring her lunch since she left it at home). He was scared and ashamed that he had done it wrong his very first time. So when I brought Princess her lunch, I asked about the money and they gave it to me and told me they didn't know who had left it, and I told them what happened. I took the money to the lunch room and paid for the lunch.

Aside from the Great Non-Paying Lunch Debacle Of 2006, Sonshine is having a great time in school. He likes his new teacher and loves that he can walk home with Princess now. Princess is not so thrilled with that particular development; she's used to walking home exclusively with her friends. But she'll get used to it.

In The News

So, Pluto is now too small to be a planet.

In related news, Wal-Mart was recently declared a planet, as it is now bigger than Pluto by almost every measure.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cookie Genocide

A dozen or so scruffy-looking cookies are herded into the refugee Tupperware. Even though they're freshly baked, they have a sad, stale, world-weary air about them. They are all that's left of a vibrant batch of cookies that, just hours before, was alive and warm and fresh out of the oven.

That was before a mysterious group of children preyed on their cookie village. All the cookies that were out on the cooling rack were horribly eaten. Pools of crumbs, not yet even dry, mark the spots where they perished, and trails of crumbs can still be seen on the kitchen floor. Even those still on the cookie sheet were not spared. Some were mutilated, half their bodies chewed away by kids wielding cruel metal spatulas or picking them apart piece by piece with their bare hands.

"This is nothing short of genocide," said Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer Sarah Natividad. "These cookies were targeted simply because they were cookies. It's just inhumane."

Food critic Bagel disagrees. "Yummy cookie," he said earlier today. Bagel has been implicated in the slaughter, although it is believed he is not one of the ringleaders as he is too short to reach the counter.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Problem With Remedials

So, in a little more than a week, I'm going to be teaching Math 0900 (remedial pre-algebra) again.

About a month ago a neighbor of mine that I'm really not fond of (for reasons I won't go into here) stopped me as she was driving by and told me she was enrolled in my class for the fall semester. She said she'd "never been good at math" (oh, if I had a dollar for every time I'd heard that and five dollars for every time I'd heard it from someone who never said it again after being in my class). But then came the kicker. She told me, in almost a bragging tone, that she didn't even know her multiplication tables. So I told her, "Well, that's the very first thing I'm gonna have you do then, is learn your multiplication tables, so you might as well start now and get yourself some flash cards." And she waved it off with a noncommittal noise.

This, my friends, is the problem with some remedial students. They've been so bad at math for so long that they have made it part of their identity. Part of them wants to take this math class and pass it, but part of them wants to do it without learning any actual math, just like they did in all their other math classes. Kind of like the guy who dreams of being president of the company but shows up late to work every day. This wouldn't bother me so much except that these are the same people who will take it out on you if they don't pass. You, as the person who enters the F on the grade sheet, will be the whipping boy for the collective rage at every bad math teacher they've ever had, every administrator with an asinine social promotion policy, who got them into the habit of failing at math. Or, what might be worse, they will take it out on themselves in a self-defeating frenzy that will ensure that future efforts to teach them math will be cut off at the knees.

Now, this isn't all remedial students. Some small fraction of them (10%?) are there for a refresher course; maybe it's been 2 years or 20 years since they last learned it, but if they ever learned it to begin with, it'll come back to them. Some similarly small proportion of them are there because an advisor suffering from "rectal-cranial inversion" assured them none of their credits transferred or no, there isn't a placement test. The rest of them are all there because they never learned the math in the first place, and I'd estimate about 30% never learned this math at all (you'd be surprised how many people have graduated high school without it, even though it's nominally a requirement, or blew off the class and still got a good enough grade). But it's the remaining 50% that are there because they mis-learned math at some point: either they missed some crucial lessons when they moved or their parents divorced, or they had a bad teacher who taught them to add fractions by adding the denominators, etc. ad nauseam.

Somewhere along the line most of these people became attached to (or, in some cases you could call it "obsessed with") doing math the wrong way, figuring that if they only did it this way it would all magically be right. I have literally seen people who are so devoted to a particular technique (one of the most common is "adding something to both sides") that they will do it on EVERY problem, even if you explain to them what that technique really means and when it's appropriate and when it's not appropriate, even if FIVE SECONDS BEFORE you've just walked them through the reasoning of why it's not appropriate to use in this problem, they will STILL go back to trying to use that technique. If you've never tried to break someone of a mental habit like that before, you have no idea how hard it is. It almost makes me want to get a job making smokers quit smoking, just so I can catch a break. Smokers at least have an open-ended timetable. I have eight weeks, because if I can't break their bad habits before about halfway through the semester, they're not likely to be able to catch up before the end.

I never want to teach adults remedial math again, or at least not until I feel I'm up for an extreme challenge. But hey, it pays the bills.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Recipe: Siopao

Siopao (pronounced SHOW-pow) are these yummy little round meat-filled steamed buns that my mother-in-law makes. She's Filipino, but I understand the Chinese make something similar and serve it as dim sum. It's an excellent way to use up a few pieces of leftover chicken. In our house we use these as lunch, especially when the kids have invited all their friends over and we don't have enough of what we were planning to serve for lunch to serve to all their friends; but you can serve them with a dinner or for appetizers. I also use it to destroy the evidence of chicken dishes that nobody ended up liking and nobody but me will choose on leftover night, like the chicken in curry sauce that I thought was divine. Besides curry, barbecue pork and many other flavors make excellent siopao. If I have time I fry up the chicken for a minute with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chopped green onions. If you're a vegetarian I don't see why you couldn't substitute leftover tofu or a veggie mix. As long as it's chopped you should be fine.

A quick note about steamers: if all you have is a tiny bamboo steamer, you're gonna be there forever. Try to use a steamer that can take at least half a dozen siopao at once, even if you have to improvise one. If you're going to try to cook batches in parallel, set up two steamers rather than trying to stack more than one steamer over the same pot of boiling water. For some reason the siopao take longer to cook that way, just as long as if you'd done them in sequential batches.

You can make them larger or smaller according to your taste; larger ones will take much more filling. These end up about 2 1/2 " in diameter.

makes about 20 buns

2 meaty pieces of leftover chicken or equivalent amount of leftover cooked pork, with or without sauce
approx. 1/2 stick butter
2 10-ct. packs refrigerator biscuits OR 1 double recipe of your favorite baking powder biscuit dough
wax paper
steamer (I use my pasta pot with the pasta insert inside)

Shred the meat; if desired and available, mix with sauce. Cut 20 squares of wax paper approximately 2" on a side. Cut butter into pats and cut each pat in quarters.
Take each biscuit* and flatten it into a circle with your hands. In the center of the circle put one quarter-pat of butter and about a tablespoon of meat. Gather edges of circle together and pinch to make a ball. Place ball seam-side down on a square of wax paper. Place wax paper side down in hot steamer for 10 minutes or until surface of ball is shiny and springs back when touched. Remove wax paper before eating.

* if working with homemade biscuit dough, break off and roll balls of dough approximately 1 1/2" in diameter.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Shop Class For Grownups

When I was in junior high and high school, I had a totally academic program, so I never took any shop classes. If I could go back in time and have 27 hours a day instead of 24, I'd take shop classes too. In the meantime, I've added shop to my remedial education list.

So, where do grownups sign up for shop classes? Any kind of shop (metal shop, plastic shop, etc.) will do, since I know nothing about any of them.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I Got Bit By One Of Those Lousy Muses

OK, you're all going to think I'm totally nuts (if you don't already) but I have been possessed by a burning desire to make rosaries. One rosary, in particular, that's sort of a whimsical rosary for girls, with large glass bird beads for the Our Fathers and glass millefiori-style flower beads for the Hail Marys. Kind of like what a rosary would look like if it were made by Gymboree.

I have no idea where this comes from. I have Catholic relatives, but I'm not Catholic and while I've always been fascinated by Catholic ritual and I think beads are cool, I have no idea why I would become obsessed with a desire to make a rosary the likes of which nobody has ever seen before. All the rosaries I've ever seen are staid, serious rosaries with little monotone beads on them, not humungus glass monstrosities grown wild with colors. And yet something inside is telling me that kids don't like those grown-up rosaries and would probably rather pray on something colorful and exciting.

What should I do? Should I give into the muse and make this rosary? Should I go all-out and use the most colorful beads, or should I make it get a little more serious (as serious as a rosary with bird beads can get) and use some more mundane beads for the Hail Marys? Should I abandon the idea altogether?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why Do You Copy Crochet and Knit Patterns?

My sister and I were having an interesting discussion about copying patterns. She's recently posted on the topic, and I guess a lot of people weren't aware that copying patterns is illegal. I imagine that this is because the practice is so widespread.

I got to wondering why that is, and if having a Netflix-like service for borrowing patterns would help at all. I thought about the reasons why I've copied patterns even when I knew it wasn't kosher, and here were some possible reasons I came up with:
  • I don't know when a pattern will come my way again, so I copy it to add it to my file in case I decide I want to make it (although I almost never do make it).
  • It's cheaper to copy the pattern than to buy it.
  • And if you want to buy it, where would you go to buy it, especially if it's a hard to find or antique pattern and they don't have a website?
  • There's a whole book of patterns, 29 of which are hideous and 1 of which is not, and I don't want to buy a whole book.
  • My friends want a copy of a pattern I have, so I copy it for them. (This gets back to the first point as well.)
Here's why I think a Netflix-like service for renting patterns would work:
  • If I come across a pattern I might like to do later, I can add it to my wish list instead of copying it.
  • It would have to be priced cheaper to rent a pattern than to buy it; that's something that would have to be worked out, and it might end up not being cost effective.
  • I could borrow the pattern book, make the one pattern I like, and send it back for less than the price of the book.
  • I could get a bonus for referring my friends to the service, which would incentivize me to refer my friends instead of making them a copy at my own expense.
My sister is going to put up a poll about it. What do you think? Are there other reasons why people would just copy a pattern? If there was a service like this, would you subscribe? If you subscribed, would you stop copying patterns?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

See All The Pretty Colored Ribbons

Scenes from the Tooele County Fair Home Arts exhibit:

This turkey dish scrubber got a second place ribbon.

The turtle scrubber is almost entirely obscured by a first place ribbon.

The brand new penguin scrubber got a second place in its category.

Organic cotton baby booties: first place.

Rainbow dish scrubber and "hot pads" (you can only enter one item per category) have first place ribbons. The "hot pads" blue ribbon says "First Premium". I think that means they won an actual prize (not just a ribbon), although the only mention of premiums I could find in the entry guidelines was that the winners in categories like jams and bread win 10 lb. bags of sugar or something.

Skillet handle cover gets first place.

The three dishcloth set in a color combination I call "Fire" gets first place.

The poncho has a pretty green ribbon that says "Sweepstakes" on it and is displayed among other items with the same ribbon on it. Damned if I know what that means though.

Tie-dyed onesies and bibs; the green and black one on the right has a "First Premium" ribbon, while the other ones are missing even their entry tags.

Not pictured because it wouldn't upload for some reason: the blue turtle soap holder won another first place ribbon. I couldn't find the hat or the pink flower scrubber, so I think maybe they didn't win anything.

Oh, and by the way, I made all these items. Not gloating, of course; I just enter these things so I can see all the pretty colored ribbons. I like ribbons, they're really shiny and have sparkly gold letters on them. And blue just happens to be my favorite color, so I really like it when they give me ribbons in my favorite color.

UPDATE: The hat got a blue ribbon and the flower scrubber got a red ribbon. Oh, and the sweepstakes ribbon means an extra $5 in cash for the prize. Yay, cash! And, I got $26 for prizes! Yay, more cash! Maybe now I can go buy Sonshine all the breakfast foods he likes that he was whining that we didn't have this morning (I guess cereal and toast aren't good enough for Mr. Restaurant Patron).

Friday, August 04, 2006

Community Property

I suppose I should just resign myself to the fact that for the last thirteen years I have not owned a computer, nor will I ever own a computer until the day my Favorite Husband dies.

Oh, sure, legally I own a computer. Legally, I own at least four of them. I'm not entirely sure how many computers I legally own, because many of them are in a state of disrepair. And I know there's a collection of computer guts in my basement worthy of a cyber-Jeffrey Dahmer. But none of them are mine, even in the looser, toddler-derived sense of the word. All our computer are belong to Favorite Husband.

The last time I had a computer was when FH set me up one in my office at school. That was back when I had an office, before they moved me to the "office" in the basement of Lund Hall, which is an office only in the sense that it contains desks. It was so nice to have a computer of my own. While FH's computers were crashing like a five-year-old's bike with the training wheels removed, I could rest secure in the knowledge that if I had something that absolutely needed to be done, I could just leave early and do it tomorrow morning at my office. That was such a nice feeling. Too bad it didn't last.

In theory, I have a computer now. In fact, it's a very nice laptop that my dad gave us. FH fixed it up, and I've just bought a quite expensive battery for it with my business funds. But this morning when I woke up, after several nights where FH was up until the wee hours of the morning playing with "my" computer, FH said, "Look ! I put dual monitor on the laptop!" Not only did he do that, but he was also using the second screen to download stuff that will literally take a week to finish. And that's when I knew that no matter how much money I invested in the laptop, no matter how vehemently FH insists the computer is mine, it's not.

See, I have never asked for dual monitor. All I've ever asked for is a computer that runs and has all the software I need installed, and can print to a printer. I don't particularly care how fast it runs, as long as it runs fast enough. I don't need quadrophonic surround sound speakers. I don't need a DVD-ROM burner. And above all, I don't need a computer to be tinkered with until Windows goes berserk. That is the primary reason we own so many computers-- because once FH has a computer up and running, he just has to mess with it until it crashes, so at least with some redundancy we have one computer available for me to monitor my eBay auctions, print shipping labels and exams, and work at my online tutoring job. He's often been known to mess with more than one computer at the same time, too, via something called "Remote Desktop". With Remote Desktop, he can crash two computers at the same time! Talk about increasing productivity!

The worst part about it is that he honestly thinks he's doing all this for me. After all, what sane woman wouldn't want her laptop computer attached to a clunky second monitor? Who wouldn't want her computer tweaked and decked-out and... whoops, there goes the power supply. I think I'd rather he gave me a bowling ball with his name on it. At least I could still bowl with it.

Just once before he dies, I would like to own my own computer. And while I'm wishing, I would like to own my own CD's, too. Every time I have ever bought a CD, it has been whisked away from me and put in an inviolate stack for him to "rip" as part of some long-term archival project. Inevitably he stores all this ripping on a hard drive that subsequently crashes without backup, so my CD stays indefinitely in this stack, waiting to be ripped or re-ripped. If I ever do get it back from FH, my kids will steal it, take it outside, rip up the liner notes, bring it back inside and set a chair leg on top of it, all because it's Mommy's Favorite CD and therefore special enough to be worth fighting over.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Famous Siblings

My sister was favorably linked by the Yarn Harlot, who is only, like, the world's most famous knit blogger. And my brother is going to attempt to break a speed record at Bonneville.

I am very proud of them both.