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Asking For Advice

Saturday, 17 Apr 2021, 11:17 GMT-0600

Two girls giggle at their desk in the middle of the room. I look up. They are staring at me.

“Mr. Hasan,” one of them says as the other laughs. “Look at this.” She holds up her phone with a picture of a hand holding a spoon to a boy who’s about to put it in his mouth. 

“I gave him a spoonful of crushed tortilla chips,” she says.

“And he ate them!” the other one says.

They then proceeded to explain who this boy is and how one of them is trying to figure out how to ask him to prom. (Although he’s their age, he’s not a student at our school.) 

Ok fine. Except that they are asking me for advice. Not a good plan. For various reasons, prom is a blot on my memory. Whatever. I think to myself how I’ve wished someone had given me advice to just make sure your date has fun. Why was that not obvious? So I give them my answer.

“Here’s what I think,” I say. “Just tell him, Hey! I know something fun we could do…” 

The two of them immediately erupt into uncontrolled laughter.

Super Surreal

Saturday, 17 Apr 2021, 09:37 GMT-0600

Four students walked into the classroom. I recognized three of them.

“Mr. Hasan, meet Andrew.”

Andrew stepped from behind the others. He smiled and waved.

“Andrew!” I said.

“He’s just here today for the test,” one of the other boys explained. (That day the sophomores were all taking their English II standardized test.)

Andrew looked around the room as if he had never seen it, which in fact he had not. You see, he is a remote student so his view of the room is only what he sees in Zoom.

The boys picked up the handouts from the table by the door. (We have a red/blue color scheme to distinguish honors and regular classes. There are two credenzas by the door: a crimson one for the regular students and a cobalt blue one for honors. The first three boys taught him the difference between the two.) Then they walked to the back.

Andrew chose a seat recently vacated by a student who has transitioned back to being remote. They quietly talked and looked at the handouts. Then I heard chuckling and shuffling of papers.

I looked up.

Andrew was holding the handouts with one hand extended into the air and looking at them in mock contemplation as he rubbed his chin with his other hand. As a remote student, to him the notes and homework are always digital PDF files. So this was something new.

“Now this is super surreal to see these in physical form!” 

Midnight Math Mode

Thursday, 15 Apr 2021, 20:25 GMT-0600

“Mr. Hasan?”

“Yesss?” 

“Mr. Hasan, I need to do math at midnight.”

“I see.” 

“Midnight. That’s when I’m in math mode.” 

“Math mode? At midnight!?” another student said. “At midnight I’m like…” He tilted his head, rolled his eyes back, and hung his tongue out of his mouth.

No kidding.

I Feel Love #1

Sunday, 11 Apr 2021, 10:09 GMT-0600

It was a warm spring day. The sky was very blue. The temperatures were very warm.

I was riding along the Violet Crown Trail, going around a turn when I came upon a hiking mother and child. They heard my wheels, looked back, and stood aside. I winked at the boy and rode past. 

Donna Summer was playing in my ears: It’s soooo good.

I was standing on the pedals pumping as hard as I could. Then I turned off to the right onto a narrow, rocky trail that headed into a woods. I’m innnnn love.

Past Junipers. Under Oaks. And then out into a meadow.

Dried brown Frost Plant stems from last year stood five feet tall here and there amid a sea of spring green grasses and stunningly luminous Prairie Verbena. The trail wound around, undulating in tight turns through the vast green and lavender expanse. 

And as she drew out her I feel love, the trail turned quickly left and then right and left and right. Again and again, turning and turning, winding through the meadow. And as the electronic triplets beat and the droning song played I was at the top of a berm, over the top, down the other side, and into a dark tunnel as modulating electronic music took over. [1:43 in the video.] Goose pimples ran down my arms. She had stopped singing the instant the daylight disappeared behind me.

I was plunged into pitch black darkness. For all I knew there was a coyote standing in front of me. I could see nothing, squeezed the brakes, and pedaled cautiously toward the light at the end of the tunnel until my eyes grew accustomed to the dark. Then I stood again and sped toward the light, a lyric-less phase-shifting crescendo building in my ears.

Just as I broke out into day, she started singing again. Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ freefallin’ freefallinnnn’ free.

OMG, I’m thinking, goose pimples returning, sweat pouring from my forehead. 

… 

Altogether, it was a good bike ride.

Collaborators

Sunday, 11 Apr 2021, 06:31 GMT-0600

1.

“Is there anything you want to tell me, Simon?” I asked in an email message. “I would like to talk to you about your quiz, but before I do that I’d like to give you a chance to tell me anything you think I ought to know.” 

You see Simon, who is normally an in-person student, was remote that day. Strange, I thought at first without paying it too much attention. But then perhaps not unexplainable, I began to suspect later, when I saw that Simon’s quiz was virtually identical to another student’s answers. 

They are close friends, and although Simon has been in-person, Simon’s friend has been struggling as a remote student. Accustomed to making good grades and tremendously frustrated by the challenges of being remote and some other perhaps more serious challenges at home, Simon’s friend was distraught.

And they seem to have collaborated on the quiz. Not only were their answers identical, but so were their mistakes. And they both coincidentally omitted the same problem from their turned-in work.

Simon fessed up in his reply. Moments later, Simon’s friend sent a separate message accepting all blame, asking that Simon not be penalized.

2.

They were truly busted. You see, I had not told them anything other than asking Simon if he had something he wanted to tell me. 

I sent the a message to the two of them — the first time we were all “talking together”…

First of all, I just want both of you to know that I am very proud to be a teacher of two students so dedicated to supporting each other. In so many ways, you both are awesome.

Secondly, typically in this case both students get a zero. This isn’t a typical case. I’ll give you what you scored on the quizzes you submitted. The scores aren’t particularly great, so there’s probably room for … improvement.

Here’s what I ask…

And so I proposed that they collaborate on a new version of the test that I would send them. This one would have the answers (as do their homework assignments). I told them that I expected them to solve all the problems, show all their work, do the work neatly, and furthermore explain their work to me. And finally, I asked them to put a box around their answers and put a checkmark next to the box if their answers agreed with mine.

“This won’t be for a grade,” I told them. “And I don’t want it to jeopardize your six-week grades in your other classes. But I want you to learn this material. Maybe this will help.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, they took me up on the offer.

Birds Before Sunrise

Sunday, 11 Apr 2021, 06:04 GMT-0600

It is dark outside. No dawn yet in the east. But a Cardinal in the distance thinks otherwise and begins to sing. And then a nearer one. 

And now a Titmouse. I look out the back patio door. The black night is gone, and there is gray light in the eastern sky.

And now a Mockingbird whose song will dominate for the rest of the day, although the breathless Titmouse continues, undaunted.

The sun will be up soon.

An Imaginary Rabbit Hole

Saturday, 06 Mar 2021, 20:42 GMT-0600

Here is a rabbit hole for Saturday.

  • In the morning, I click on a few links that lead me to an article in Quanta magazine discussing how imaginary numbers might after all be essential elements of reality rather than mere mathematical conveniences. This is a big deal for me. It has consumed hours of my free time literally for years. I won’t go into it here (which I know you’ll thank me for). Let’s just say that I’m still shaking my head from reading the beginning of the article. I don’t finish reading because…
  • I click on a few links that lead me to Sabine Hossenfelder’s awesome physics videos, the most recent of which is (whaddaya know) “Do Complex Numbers Exist?” Her book is good. Her blog is great. Her video explanations are tremendous. I listen to her slowly, periodically pausing to do morning chores. I don’t finish listening because…
  • I stumble onto a brief (100 page) synopsis of General Relativity by Alan MacDonald. I have two his two little books on Geometric Algebra and Calculus. The synopsis is written with the intent of getting to the core ideas without too much mathematical complexity, seeking in particular to avoid long diversions into tensor analysis. I won’t go into the tensor analysis point (which I know you’ll thank me for) other than to say that my feelings on the subject turn out to be (strangely enough) tied up with the whole problem with imaginary numbers, but let’s just stop there. I don’t finish the synopsis because it’s 100 pages, and because…
  • MacDonald’s article talks about time (which any discussion of spacetime inevitably will), and I find myself browsing through links again and find a reference to Jorge Luis Borges’ essays on the refutation of time. I knew his name. I didn’t know his writing. Now I do. I love how he writes. And I find myself searching the public library hoping to find ebooks (to no avail, they are all checked out — a concept that defies rational explanation). But web searches are of course your friend, and I find the two essays I’m looking for in a PDF someone had stashed away. I don’t finish them, because…
  • In the first essay, Borges writes, “Two arguments led me to this …: Berkeley’s idealism and Leibniz’s principle of indiscernibles.” And not surprisingly, a web search of Liebniz’s principle leads me to the awesome Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for “The Identity of Indiscernibles”. But I don’t finish reading it because…

… morning had become day. Breakfast and lunch had come and gone. The yard work was finished. Afternoon ended. Dinner done. Stars shining. 

And because I started writing this story about a rabbit hole I had stumbled down.

Brown Fuzzy Jacket

Saturday, 06 Mar 2021, 20:10 GMT-0600

1. Late Thursday

Thursday after the seventh period bell had rung and the students had left the room and the hallways were empty, I walked through the room picking up the few pieces of paper and dropped pencils that sometimes decorate the place after a hard day of algebra. I realigned the tables and wiped eraser shavings from the tabletops and pushed in the chairs. Because you want your room to be presentable (if not inviting) for the kids in the morning, right?

As I did this, I found a jacket hanging from the back of one of the chairs. This does not happen often. These kids are not easily separated from their clothes, unlike the elementary school down the street from where we live, where the children seem to eject clothing onto the fences with great regularity.

It was brown and fuzzy. It was Ariel’s. I sent her an email message.

“Ariel, you left your jacket here. It’s hanging on the wall behind my desk.”

2. Early Friday

Before school started on Friday morning, I got an email reply from Ariel.

“LOL yeah that’s my jacket mister. I was wondering where it was.” But she didn’t stop by to pick it up before first period began.

The first period students came in. They sat down. I took attendance. The classroom had the hubbub of a classroom before the teacher has called the students to order. Then one of them spoke up loudly.

“Mister, is that your jacket?” She was pointing at the wall behind my desk.

I laughed and shook my head. I so wanted to reply, “LOL no.”

On the Other Side of the Storm

Sunday, 21 Feb 2021, 11:45 GMT-0600

1. Burying Compost 

The compost pile was no longer covered by a four inch crystalline cap. I was digging in the leaves burying the week’s compost.

I confess that even though I had shoveled a little snow, scraped ice off the windshields, tried (and failed) to make a snowman, and picked up slushy ice with my bare hands to boil, being able to empty the compost bucket unmolested by the polar vortex was a luxury.

2. Smelling Rotten Onions

The fair and industrious Trudy was replenishing the bird seed in the bird feeders.

“Do you smell something like rotten onions?” she shouted across yard.

I pointed at our expanse of wild onions that had begun to blossom just last week. They were lying limp on the ground, their leaves colored a wet, dank, dark green.

“Oh right,” she said.

3. Watering Winter Greens

As she pulled the shade fabric off her garden bed in the galvanized tub, Trudy discovered to her industrious delight that her Kale and Chard did fine. Although being covered they had missed the snowmelt and so the soil was dry.

She went into the house and fetched a pail of water. (Our three 200-gallon rain barrels being functional again, there is no need to melt snow in buckets for flushing.) With joy in her eyes and images of kale in tomorrow’s breakfast smoothie, she poured water on the greens.

They don’t call them winter greens for nothing. 

4. Opening Café Trudy

As I sit here writing, Café Trudy is opening for business. We have friends from across town who are coming to use the shower. We have friends from Buda who still have no water, and they will be coming by after lunch to fill some containers and for some socially distant socializing. Jennifer and Paul are coming by later just to hang out.

So Trudy is wiping down the blue and purple tables and chairs with Clorox. And she is talking to our next door neighbors. And she is preparing to take Miss Izzy for a long walk, which Miss Izzy more than deserves as she has been such a patient apocalypse companion.

And the birds are singing as she does all this. I am somehow reminded of something like this.

5. Taking Showers

We turned the water heater back on not long after the Next-door messages started flying about city water coming back on. The faucets gasped and sputtered. The aerators clogged with deposits and then flowed nicely once flushed.

“I’m taking a shower,” Trudy announced. She had a towel in one hand and clean clothes in another as she marched across the living room, her head held high.

Soon after, I did the same. And as I sit here writing, my legs are still warmer than they’ve been in over a week. And my hair, well let’s just say that my slicked-back doo is très passé.

6. Taking Stock

Compared to so many people in Texas, we had it easy. We were never cold. We didn’t go hungry. We had water to drink. We slept comfortably. Our water lines didn’t break. The Ash tree didn’t fall on our cars. Trudy found groceries when our supplies started running low.

We were some of the fortunate ones.

And I sit here now euphoric with warm legs and clean clothes, marveling at the warm sun and listening to the wind chimes singing in the wind that is blowing mercifully out of the southwest.

Morning Melt

Friday, 19 Feb 2021, 19:44 GMT-0600

The sky was clear. The ice-clad trees cracked in the morning breeze. Sunlight sparkled in the treetops. The shining sun began to melt the ice on the branches and the snow on the ground, where the green of just a week ago revealed itself.

sunlight sparkling in the frozen treetops
sunshine melting the ice on the branches
melting snow on the ground