barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
There's a new bar in Ashland called Oberon's Three-Penny Tavern. It's themed around Shakespeare's faeries, of course, with a very Gaiman flavor. It has carved wood decor and bartenders that could have just stepped out of a Fantasy Faire (and probably did). The whole effect is very much like the "inn between the worlds" that shows up from time to time in modern fantasy (see Sandman vol. VIII) and perhaps a bit like Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. It apparently began as a Kickstarter project, it's been open a few weeks now, and it is probably the best bar on this planet at the moment. Yes, even better than the Three Cripples Pub (but only just). You simply must visit next time you're anywhere near Oregon.

Anyway, I got to play music there last Sunday. The Newcastle English Country Dancers were the Green Show that day; I said hi to the musicians after the show (I know them from Dickens), and they invited me to join them in a tune session at this cool new bar. We ended up playing there for two and a half hours, though at the time it felt no longer than a standard half-hour Brunos show at Dickens. Fantastic music with great people in a wonderful venue.

While I was playing and watching the drinkers and the dancers, I started thinking about the "inn between the worlds" idea again, and imagining roles and origins onto the people I saw: this bartender is an elf paying her way through Faerie University, that muscular fellow in the tank top works in a steel mill in the 1890s and comes here at the end of his shift, those folks in Hawaiian shirts are lost tourists who stumbled in from the 1950s, and so on.

Then I started wondering: what sort of a fantastic visitor am I? and immediately I knew: I'm a math/physics teacher who steps in to play music and have a great time. What could be more fantastic than that?

It's nice to realize that I'm finally at a point in my life when I don't need to pretend I'm something better.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
My grandmother had a lot of children's books about peace and cooperation that I read often when I was young, and (since normal is what one grows up with) I did not realize until much later that most of them were books from the 1940s that nobody else had ever heard of. One of them is called The Goolibah Tree, by Joe Gunterman. There is very little information about it to be found on the internet, and some of you have expressed an interest in hearing what it's about, so here's what I remember about the plot.




Mr Spinglespangle went on a walk through the forest, and found a tall goolibah tree with plenty of delicious-looking fruit. He piled up a bunch of empty crates to form a stack he could climb, and sat on a branch picking fruit and eating his fill.

Presently he heard footsteps approaching, and saw two others, Mr Krinkle and Mr Wrinkle, approaching the clearing. He worried that they might climb the tree and eat some of the fruit, and he wanted it all for himself, so he kicked down the pile of boxes and continued eating.

Messrs Krinkle and Wrinkle noticed Mr Spinglespangle in the tree, and asked if they could have some fruit. Mr Spinglespangle apologized and explained that there probably wasn't enough fruit for everyone, and besides, there was no way up the tree. Messrs Krinkle and Wrinkle noticed the boxes, realized what was going on, and started to stack them up again.

However, some of the boxes had broken during the fall, so Mr Krinkle walked off to search for more boxes. While he was gone, Mr Spinglespangle began convincing Mr Wrinkle that Mr Krinkle should not be trusted--don't you see that he's different than you? have you seen how krinkly his hair is? do you imagine that perhaps he wants all the fruit for himself?

By the time Mr Krinkle returned with some boxes, Mr Wrinkle did not want to cooperate with him at all, and told him that maybe they'd better just divide up the boxes and each work separately to build his own pile. Mr Krinkle was confused but agreed, and began building his pile with the new boxes while Mr Wrinkle walked off to find more boxes for himself. In the meanwhile, of course, Mr Spinglespangle ran the same lines past Mr Krinkle to convince him not to trust Mr Wrinkle, with similar effect.

Messrs Krinkle and Wrinkle continued building their separate piles of boxes, each worrying (and rightly so) that he didn't have enough, and then began to argue about which boxes were whose, to the point of fighting. Meanwhile Mr Spinglespangle sat up in the tree, eating more and more fruit and watching with amusement.

At some point a dove landed on the tree and asked "What are you doing?" Messrs Krinkle and Wrinkle explained the situation (while Mr Spinglespangle tried to get the dove to go away), and the dove laughed and said "You're all being silly. Mr Spinglespangle, there's plenty of fruit for everybody; stop being so greedy. Messrs Krinkle and Wrinkle, if you work together you can easily build a pile of boxes high enough; don't let Mr Spinglespangle play you for fools."

Messrs Krinkle and Wrinkle looked at each other with guilty embarrassment, worked together to build the pile of boxes, and there was indeed plenty of fruit for everyone, even Mr Spinglespangle.




I didn't realize until YEARS later that the whole thing is a rather obvious metaphor for the wealthy overlords kicking the ladder out from underneath themselves and pitting the lower classes against each other. I suppose that makes May Day a good time to post this. :-)
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Long ago I stood on the balcony of a physics lecture hall, watched the leaves of a nearby tree shiver in the wind, and pondered the physics of their chaotic dance. Today I passed by the same building, watched the leaves dancing again, and thought:

Twelve generations of leaves have grown and fallen since I last paid them any mind, but the tree remains and each new leaf can still dance.

Twelve generations of students have passed through this hall since I learned physics in it, but the building remains and the class is still taught.

Twelve years of experience have shaped me since I first watched this tree, but I remain myself and I still think these thoughts.

These moments of clarity--these deep connections that grow between my memories, the land's memories, my future, and the land's future--are among the best things about returning to teach in the place where I once learned. Would that everyone had such opportunities.
barnabas_truman: (army)
Today in my physics workshop I taught about some water flow stuff, some electrical flow stuff, a lot of heat flow stuff, and an introduction to an equation that ties all of them together. I love covering topics like this because much of it is new ideas that the students are seeing for the first time, yet can be related directly to their everyday experiences.

In particular, I was discussing the idea of thermal conductivity--a measurement of how easily heat can pass through a material. "When would you want low conductivity?" I ask the class; "what's a situation where you want heat to flow very slowly?"

Silence. Somebody ventures "Chemical reactions?"

"Stop thinking about the lab for a minute," I say. "What's an *everyday* thing that you want to stay hot for a long time?"

Thoughtful silence for a second or two. Then, all at once, half the students in the room say "…Coffee!"

(Why yes, it is midterm season; how did you know?)

So this leads into a great discussion of the sorts of materials that are used for coffee containers and why they work well and others don't. Good times.

Even better: the heat transfer stuff lead to some examples with exponential decay, and investigation about why the energy vs time graph follows exponential patterns. After the workshop, two of the students asked for some clarification about exponential growth and decay--why does it do that? Why is the number "e" so important? It's not like the bacteria know about "e," do they? So I went into my usual explanation of what the derivative really means, how it relates to the basic prealgebra definition of slope, why it all works, how that applies to exponential functions, and why we use "e" as the base (short answer: it makes derivatives easier). The students just ate it up. One of them even showed up to my office hours later, asking if I could go over the meaning of a derivative again so she could think about it some more and make sure she's got it.

It took a while for that to really sink in: two students who have already been through calculus, and never need to take a math class again, voluntarily stuck around after an optional workshop because they wanted me to explain derivatives.

Sometimes I forget that my teaching skill really has improved quite a bit since I first started seven or eight years ago. It's nice to get a reminder of that every once in a while.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
This morning a cashier at the Coffee House cheerfully informed me that she and her boyfriend first met while discussing the mysterious Man In A Cape, and now they apparently see my presence as a good omen.

The legend grows. Mwahahahaha.

Print Shop

Nov. 28th, 2011 03:48 am
barnabas_truman: (Default)
When I was very young my grandpa, who spent much of his life in the newspaper business, bought a small print shop and hired his sons (my dad and my uncle) to work for him. This was in the early to mid-1980s, when hardware capable of running powerful word processors had become affordable to small businesses but not yet affordable to the average customer--an interesting window of opportunity for this particular industry.

Meanwhile, I was in preschool and often spent days hanging out at the shop. It was great fun--I could hide behind the front desk and read books, play with Lego on the floor, try out a primitive dungeon crawl game on the big computer in Grandpa's office, go out for lunch with Dad, examine the posters about the history of printing (and dinosaurs) decorating the walls, flip through Uncle's tomes of clip art (and learn what "copy-paste" REALLY means), mess around with novelty fonts (stored on glass discs), or try to untangle the Gordian knot of remote-control toys that Grandpa had bought at a swap meet. Later on Dad taught me the basics of typing and paid me a dollar a page to help him with his job (or rather, I now realize, to keep me busy). Later still Grandpa taught me the basics of BASIC. A kid can learn a lot in a place like that.

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