My Impressions, Upon Wearing a CPAP Machine, at Home, for the First Time

I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. As a result, I now have a CPAP machine, on me and running, for the first time at home. The headgear reminds me of the uniform Alex Summers wears, as Havok of the X-Men, except that his nose isn’t covered, as mine is. I also have shown no ability to focus the energy from cosmic rays at targets of my choice, or anything remotely like that . . . at least not yet.

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Others seem to think I look a tad more ridiculous, however.

As far as how I sound, I literally have to keep my big mouth shut for this thing to work, so my wife (without whose help I couldn’t have gotten into this contraption) always gets the last word now. (Also last snicker, etc., as she just pointed out to me, happy that she can talk, without risk of interruption, for a change.) As she was putting it on, though, I talked as much as I could, until she reminded me that I’m not supposed to talk while, um, “CPAPping.” However, my last bit of chatter for the night sounded like Darth Vader doing an impersonation of Stephen Hawking.

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My First Solution to the Zome Cryptocube Puzzle, with Special Guest Appearances by Jynx the Kitten

Last month, in a special Christmas promotion, the Zometool company (www.zometool.com) briefly sold a new kit (which will return later) — a fascinating game, or puzzle, called the “Cryptocube.” Zome usually comes in a variety of colors, with each color having mathematical significance, but the Cryptocube is produced in black and white, which actually (in my opinion) makes it a better puzzle. Here’s how the Crypocube challenge works:  you use the black parts to make a simple cube, and then use the smaller white parts to invent a structure which incorporates the cube, is symmetrical, is attractive, and can survive having the twelve black cube-edges removed, leaving only the cube’s eight black vertices in place. I had a lot of fun making my first Cryptocube, and photographed it from several angles.

imageIf this was built using standard Zome colors, the round white figure inside the cube, a rhombic triacontahedron, would be red, and the pieces outside the cube, as well as those joining the rhombic triacontahedron to the cube (from inside the cube), would be yellow.

It isn’t only humans who like Zome, by the way. Jynx the Kitten had to get in on this!

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Jynx quickly became distracted from the Cryptocube by another puzzle, though: he wanted to figure out how to pull down the red sheet I had attached to the wall, as a photographic backdrop for the Cryptocube. Jynx takes his feline duties as an agent of entropy quite seriously.

image (2)As usually happens, Jynx won (in his never-ending struggle to interfere with whatever I’m doing, in this case by pulling the sheet down) and it took me quite a while to get the red sheet back up, in order to take kitten-free pictures of my Cryptocube solution, after removal of the black cube’s edges.

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Here’s the view from another angle.

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The Cryptocube will be back, available on the Zometool website, later in 2015. In the meantime, I have advice for anyone not yet familiar with Zome, but who wants to try the Cryptocube when it returns: go ahead and get some Zome now, at the link above, in the standard colors (red, blue, and yellow, plus green in advanced kits), and have fun building things with it over the next few months. The reason to do this, before attempting to solve the Crypocube, is simple: the colors help you learn how the Zome system works, which is important before trying to solve a Zome puzzle without these colors visible. After gaining some familiarity with the differing shapes of the red, blue, yellow, and green pieces, working with them in white becomes much easier.

On a related note, Zome was recommended by Time magazine, using the words “Zometool will make your kids smarter,” as one of the 14 best toys of 2013. I give Zome my own strong, personal recommendation as well, and, as a teacher who uses my own Zome collection in class, for instructional purposes, I can attest that Time‘s 2013 statement about Zome is absolutely correct. Zome is definitely a winner!

A Recurring Asperger’s-Related Conversation

This conversation has happened more than once, since I discovered I am an “Aspie,” as many of those with Asperger’s call ourselves, and then received all the confirmation I needed from doctor of mine, without paying for expensive testing, and an official diagnosis. I did not seek testing and diagnosis because no treatement exists for Asperger’s — and I would not want one, if it existed, anyway. The conversation below is paraphrased, for the ideas involved matter far more than the exact words which were used — and, also, slightly different words were used each time this conversation happened.

Me:  “I’d like to share something with you. I’ve discovered one of the reasons I’m so different from other people — I believe I have Asperger’s Syndrome.”

Friends/Colleagues:   “Oh, we figured that out months ago! We were just afraid to tell you because we thought you’d be offended, and get angry at us, if we mentioned it.”

Me (laughing):  “Don’t worry about it at all! I’m not the slightest bit offended, nor angry. You see, I like being the way I am!”

Several of my friends figured this out before I did, it seems, but we all know about it now — and I prefer it that way. There is no shame in being open about being an Aspie — it is part of who I am. I would not want to be without Asperger’s, in fact, for a great many reasons. Other posts on this blog, in the “Asperger’s” category, explain some of these reasons, and I invite anyone who is curious to read any, or all, of them.

On Boiling Eggs, William Shakespeare, and Richard Feynman

Not long ago, I boiled a dozen eggs.

After accidentally misquoting Shakespeare, while watching these eggs boil (“Boil, boil, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble”), I then correctly quoted Shakespeare at the eggs, by shouting, “You egg!” at them, as they boiled.

What . . . you’ve never talked to your food? If not, just try it some time, for it makes life more interesting. If you’re worried about people thinking you’re crazy, I have another quote, from the physicist Richard Feynman, for you to consider:  “What do you care what other people think?”

Little seems to be going right today, for correctly quoting Shakespeare meant being, at the same time, mathematically incorrect. Twelve and one are, of course, not the same number, but I’m not willing to deliberately misquote Shakespeare, for that would be, well, wrong.

I was then asked, by someone who heard me, um, shouting at boiling eggs, exactly which of Shakespeare’s plays it is, in which the line “you egg” appears. Since I did not know the answer to this question, I immediately used this situation as an opportunity to test the alleged omniscience of Google, which I test, and re-test, frequently. (So far, Google always passes these experimental tests, but I will post an announcement here if this fact ever changes.) I also googled my earlier, failed attempt to quote Shakespeare, which is how I now know that I was misquoting him.

In case you’re wondering why I was fact-checking myself, here’s another Feynman quote, offered as explanation:  “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Those are words to live by — and I do.

Not only did Google know that the two-word quote I remembered (from 10th grade English class, over thirty years ago, simply because I found it funny) comes from Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 2, but it also, very helpfully, showed me the way to the YouTube video which you can see below.

For those few readers of my blog who have not already noticed this, I lead a strange life.

Of course, I certainly wouldn’t want a normal one, but, clearly, I don’t need to worry about that.

Do Not Drink the Twenty Proof Gasoline!

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We’ve all seen labels like this, stuck to gasoline pumps. While filling up my car’s gas tank earlier today, I felt compelled to take a picture of this familiar label — because I suddenly realized that what this small sign actually means is that the alcohol content of the gasoline being sold (in an area where liquor sales are illegal, no less) might be as much as twenty proof.

Twenty proof gasoline. Twenty proof gasoline! One never thinks of it this way, but it is both mathematically and chemically accurate. There are many different alcohols, but the one people drink for purposes of intoxication, and the one found in this gasoline, are the exact same molecule: C2H5OH. I then realized that the people who design these labels are being sneaky with the wording on purpose, for they don’t put “contains alcohol,” or anything like that, on these stickers found on gas pumps all over the place.

The reason for use of the official, less-familiar chemical term “ethanol” then became both obvious, and horrifying, all at once. Gas pumps must be labeled this way because there are people out there who are so incredibly stupid that they would actually drink gasoline if they knew it contained, well, booze.

What’s more, there is an unwritten assumption in play here, and I think (or at least hope) it is a valid one: anyone sufficiently educated to know that “ethanol” and the “the alcohol people drink to get drunk” are synonyms is also, presumably, smart enough to know better than to drink gasoline. Drinking gasoline would, of course, be dangerous in the extreme. Even inhaling gasoline fumes is hazardous, but drinking the stuff would be far worse. Consuming enough of this ethanol-containing gasoline to actually get drunk would, in fact, very likely be fatal, due to the mixture of toxic hydrocarbons present, in addition to the alcohol. The most toxic component of gasoline with which I am familiar is benzene, a potent carcinogen. Benzene is really nasty stuff, if it somehow makes it into a human body.

So, for the record, do not drink the up-to-twenty-proof gasoline — even though that is an accurate way to describe it.

The Misadventures of Jynx the Kitten, Chapter Three: Jynx Tries To Help Wash the Dishes

The thing is, kittens really aren’t very good at housework — but at least he’s trying, right?

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Of course, he might have been wanting a shower instead. It’s hard to tell what Jynx is thinking sometimes.

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This did cause a delay in the dishes getting done, for we were laughing too hard to load any dishes for quite some time, even after these pictures were taken.

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No kittens were harmed in the making of this blog-post . . . but I will admit that the temptation to close the dishwasher, and then start it, did exist. However, we unanimously decided against it.

Fort Smith? Pine Bluff? What’s the Difference?

Fort Smith is Pine Bluff

Unless you also live in the American state of Arkansas, you may not have even heard of Fort Smith and Pine Bluff. For those who grew up in this state, though, they’re considered (by our peculiar standards) to be major cities. Fort Smith is on the far West side of the state, on the Oklahoma border, while Pine Bluff is in the Southeastern part of the state, also known as the Mississippi Delta.

I didn’t learn Arkansas geography in school. Instead, when I was a child, my family traveled, mostly within the state — a lot. By the time I was ten years old, I’d been in all 75 counties of Arkansas, and knew quite a bit about where things are here . . . except for these two cities, Fort Smith and Pine Bluff.

If you’re from Arkansas, you know these two cities are nothing alike. What I noticed in childhood, above all else, was the fact that the two cities smelled so different from each other. The reason is simple:  Pine Bluff has a lot of paper mills, and the smell near paper mills is not entirely unlike being locked in a small closet with several dozen rotten eggs. Fort Smith, by contrast, is relatively odorless.

What perplexed my parents, though, is the fact that I would consistently confuse these two cities. I’d refer to the “horrible smell of Fort Smith,” or, if I knew we were going to Pine Bluff, I might ask if we’d be crossing the border into Oklahoma. My parents always corrected these mistakes, but I kept making them, repeatedly, which is not like me at all. When young, I never had more than a 50% chance of correctly identifying either of these cities. Once I figured out what I was doing, though — at around age twelve — this repeated error made perfect sense.

When I try to understand something, I examine it, and consider it, mathematically. Often, I’m not even conscious I’m doing that — it’s simply how I think. Both Fort Smith and Pine Bluff are two-word city names. To make matters even worse, the first word of each city-name has four letters, and the second word in each has five. Once I realized these parallels, though, it all made sense:  no wonder I couldn’t tell these places apart, with names which, examined through the lens of childhood mathematics, looked exactly alike.

To my knowledge, no one else has ever had a long-term problem confusing these two Arkansas cities. However, when those who know me well hear this story, they are never surprised that I would do such a thing.

My Australia Story

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I once got into a huge argument, as a 7th grade student, in a “talented and gifted” section of Social Studies. The issue:  how many countries are there in the continent of Australia?

The assignment was to choose a continent, and draw a map of it on a full-size posterboard. I had worked for hours on this map, only to get it back, ruined, for the teacher had taken a red ball-point pen, slashed through my line “state and territorial boundaries” in my map’s key, and had written, as a correction, “not states — COUNTRIES.” She also docked points from my grade, but that was a minor issue, to me, compared to her ruining my map. She could have, at least, written her incorrect comment on the back of my map!

When I confronted her about her mistake, she maintained that the political divisions you see above are independent countries. In my opinion, “Northern Territory,” especially, doesn’t sound particularly sovereign, and I said so, but she may not have understood the definition of “sovereign,” for that did not work. Confronted with this absurd situation, I proceeded to grab the “Q” volume of a nearby encyclopedia, and began reading the article about Queensland, loudly enough for the entire class to hear: “Queensland:  one of the states of Australia….” I freely admit that, at the time, my goal was to embarrass and humiliate her right out of the teaching profession — for the benefit of her present and future students. I’ve changed my approach, a lot, since then.

A huge brouhaha ensued, and we ended up taking each other to the assistant principal’s office:  her, to report a disruptive and defiant student; and me, to report an incompetent teacher, who, in my view, at that age, should have been fired on the spot. Dealing with this situation was probably one of the stranger, and more difficult, situations of that assistant principal’s career, for he knew that Australia is both a single country, and a continent — but he could not, for political reasons I did not yet understand, agree with me in front of this teacher. As for me, I was simply incredulous that someone could be a certified social studies teacher, and not know this basic fact about world geography. The whole scenario, to me, was surreal.

The assistant principal handled it well. To the teacher, he said, “You can go back to class — I’ll handle Robert.” He then “handled” me, after she left, in the only way that could have possibly worked:  with an apology, and a polite request to do my best to endure her ignorance until the upcoming end of the year. I respect honesty, was being given a request, not an order, and he had conceded that I was correct. I therefore chose to cooperate — with his polite request.

If he had not taken this approach, I likely would have added him to the list I had, at the time, of people (a mixture of administrators and teachers) whom I was trying to drive out of the education profession, for the benefit of all — but he did the right thing, thus earning my respect.

As for the teacher, I survived the rest of her class, brain intact, and assume she is now retired, this being well over thirty years ago. I’m now in my twentieth year as a teacher, myself, and am pleased to report that average teacher quality has dramatically improved since this fiasco happened. (I wish I could say the same about average administrator quality, but there are, at least, a few competent people working in that field, as well.) During my years of teaching, I haven’t encountered a single teacher who lacked this basic bit of knowledge about world geography. In fact, I count, among my colleagues, many of the smartest people I know.

I am glad, however, that I don’t have to call the teacher in this story a colleague. I simply cannot respect willful, stubborn ignorance, especially in the face of evidence that one is wrong. When one of my students catches me making a mistake, I do the right thing: I thank them, make certain everyone understands the correction, and then we move on with the lesson. That’s what this 7th grade teacher of mine should have done, as well.

On Coming Out of the Closet

I have a strong belief that asking nosy questions is an incredibly rude thing to do, and I find it particularly appalling when person A asks person B to identify his or her sexual orientation. What could be more personal, and private, than what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms? For this reason, I don’t ask questions on this subject, nor do I tell (when asked). To ask would be rude, and to answer such a nosy question would be to encourage rudeness. I don’t wish to do either.

There is exactly one situation I can think of where person A needs such information from person B, and that is if person A wants to have sex with person B. Even then, though, are there not far better ways to begin a flirtatious conversation?

At a school where I used to teach, I co-sponsored a student-initiated GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliance. On the basis of this co-sponsorship, plus my wearing a rainbow-colored wristband, many assumed that I was gay. To make a statement about how such things do not matter, I refused to ever confirm, nor deny, such rumors. On Facebook, I didn’t answer the “interested in” questions, nor did my blog reveal my sexual orientation — until now.

At this time, having considered the ramifications carefully, I’ve decided it is time to come out. I’m teaching at a new school, and am no longer co-sponsoring a GSA. I’ve kept quiet on the subject of my own sexual orientation long enough to make my point. And, now, I’m going to make another point . . . by coming out, here and now.

coming out straight

Yes, world, I admit it . . . I am a raving heterosexual, and one who has finally decided to come out — as a straight person. I’m not ashamed of it; this is part of who I am. There may be some who do not approve of this, but I do not have to care what they think.

In case my point is escaping you, please consider what it is like for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and others who don’t conform to society’s norms, to do what I just did. Imagine what it would be like, for “heteros,” if social pressure favored homosexuality, rather than heterosexuality. How many “straights,” in such a world, would be willing to risk being ostracized, losing their jobs, being shunned by former friends and family, etc., simply for admitting they have a preference for the other sex, rather than the same one? If you, yourself, are also straight, and lived in a gay-dominated world, would you have the courage to come out as one of “those people,” the “heteros,” with their allegedly-“disgusting” sexual practices?  

It’s ridiculous that anybody has to think about such things. “Live and let live” is not too much to ask — of anyone.