# A Question About Algebra II

This happened over twenty years ago, and it still cracks me up. I’m not going to name the student, but I did provide a clue by using the appropriate school colors.

# George Carlin, on Change

On numerous occasions, I have repeated this experiment, in keeping with the scientific method. I have obtained the same null result as Carlin obtained, each and every time.

# Amazing Discovery! Gasoline Smells Like . . . .

In this source, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp72-c3.pdf, on p. 109, the CDC oh-so-helpfully describes the odor of gasoline as a “gasoline odor.” Yes, really. They even cite a source for this fact, as if it were ever questioned by anyone. I’m glad to see my tax dollars going to such ground-breaking research — aren’t you? Here’s a screenshot (I added the red ellipses):

# The Misadventures of Jynx the Kitten, Chapter Four: Jynx “Helps” with Grading Papers, and Discovers a New Talent

This is the last day of Spring Break, and grades for the third quarter are due tomorrow, so it should surprise no one that I’m grading papers. Things were going well, too, until Jynx the Kitten decided to “help.”

I told Jynx that I did not need his “help,” since I already know how to grade papers; I even told him that I very much needed not to have his “help.” Jynx did not care. Papers were there, and he was determined to grade them.

The only problem (for Jynx) was that, before Spring Break even began, I had sorted all the papers to be graded, folded each set separately, and fastened each bundle shut with a separate rubber band, simply to organize the papers to be graded. Some of us in education call this sorting-process “pre-grading,” or something like that. Jynx didn’t like it, though, for the rubber bands kept him from getting to the papers he so desperately wanted to grade (or eat, or shred, or something).

He could, of course, get to the rubber bands, for they were on the outside of each of the bundles of papers. He has claws to pluck them, and did so. He also started trying to pull off the rubber bands with his teeth. Each time a rubber band got plucked, by tooth or claw, twang! Different rubber bands on different bundles were stretched with varying tensions, producing rubber-band-twanging sounds of varying frequency. In other words: Jynx played different musical notes.

Soon, Jynx had forgotten all about grading papers, and was simply having fun playing music for the first time. He was delighted to be playing music . . . or frustrated that he couldn’t get the bundles open . . . or possibly both.

I had also forgotten all about grading papers, and simply sat, listening in amazement, for I’ve had cats all my life, and, aside from the familiar “cat on a piano” song many people have heard, I have never before heard a cat, nor a kitten, attempt to play music.

Jynx’s improvisational rubber-band piece started to improve rapidly with practice, and soon Jynx’s music was much better than even the best-rendered version of “cat on a piano” I have ever heard before — and he’s still a kitten!

Unfortunately, I was not able to open software to record Jynx’s music in time, before he moved on to other things, as kittens do fairly often. As a result, only my wife and I know what Jynx’s music actually sounds like. I did manage to snap the picture above, of him looking up at me from his “musical instruments,” before he moved on to the next of his hijinks for the day, of which there are always many.

And, now that Jynx has decided it’s nap time, I’ll get back to grading these papers.

# 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.

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.

# 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.

If 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!

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.

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.

Here’s the view from another angle.

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!

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.