More results are in

The results of my Office Support Exam just arrived, and I managed to score above 90 percent in the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced levels. This means I can be considered eligible to apply for the job I’m already planning to apply for. But since the job opening hasn’t been posted yet, I continue to wait and work and study. Thank you for your support.

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Summer vacation, part 2 of 5

Part of my waiting is now over, and it was definitely not the hardest part of this semester. Grades were posted late last week, and I received an A in Astronomy and an A in Precalculus. A year ago I hadn’t even thought of returning to school, and now here I sit after 14 credit hours, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average in a physics program. Even better, the kids are still alive and well and the house hasn’t burned down since I started working on my new educational and career goals. Hooray!

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been holed up in the math building doing my self-paced study of calculus. As of this morning I’ve gotten to the Laws of Limits and the theorems about continuous functions.

I may need to start plugging away a bit harder, though, because my student job is morphing into a couple of different assignments that should keep me a lot busier as the summer passes. Also, in about two weeks the kidlets will be out of school and it won’t be practical for me to be away all day long as I have been. I’ll be working on campus in the mornings, being the mom/nanny in the afternoons, and possibly working from home in the evenings. And what a pleasure I’ll surely be to be around.

I’ve been making steady progress through No Ordinary Genius and loving every word of it. I might finish it just in time for that Green Lion Press edition of Euclid’s Elements to arrive (scheduled for tomorrow). Amazon describes it as a 576-page hardcover edition; when it does arrive I should put it on the scale.

Journey to the Center of Mathematics

I was starting to read Learn from the Masters the other day, and one writer made an offhand comment about the “geographical center of mathematics.” Well, that recalled to mind a lovely blog I used to visit called Strange Maps. I knew it as a WordPress blog; it’s now gone sort of corporate but it is still quite interesting. The blogger posts maps from days-gone-by, maps of countries that no longer exist, maps of fictional places, and all sorts of things. It’s a fascinating place to spend some time.

Anyway, I was wondering if there would be a way to construct a map related to the history of mathematics. And I visualized a map that could be made on a globe, keyed to the years, so that as you moved from antiquity to the present the globe would spin around to present the geographical center to the viewer. Because mathematics was developed deeply at different parts of the world, the globe should spin around quite a bit between China, India, Egypt, Alexandria, Greece, France, and Babylonia.

Maybe plugging in dates from a timeline into Google Earth would give the intended effect, but that raises a few more questions.

How would the center of math be determined? By the number of prominent mathematicians? By the number of proved theorems? By the hometowns of scientists with breakthrough theories? By the birthplaces of Nobel Prize winners? Where is the center now? And has the center of math ever been in the Americas? Is there a trend, a theme, a progression, or a function for where the center has been located?

Where did math come from? Many of the people who developed key parts of it will never be known to us — nor will their thought processes or deductive/inductive methods, because they didn’t write them down. Many ideas and concepts reached their fulfillment at about the same time, by people in different cultures. How does that happen? And where is math going — where is the center now, and to where is it likely to shift in the future?

And does any of this matter? Would a map such as the one I have in my head be any more than a curiosity or an amusement? Is there a way it could be a teaching tool, or serve as motivation or inspiration?

Summer vacation, part 1 of 5

Last Saturday (i.e. two mornings ago) I took the Office Support exam proctored by the State of Wisconsin. As it might be 2-3 weeks before I find out my score on that exam, and I’m still waiting for the Registrar to post my final grades for the spring semester, I’m in an intellectual and career-path limbo for a while.

Thank goodness I have devised some geeky ways to fill my copious spare time.

First of all, I’m going to campus every day to start studying for the calculus class I plan/hope to be taking this fall. Whether or not I have a brand new job, I will be working quite a lot of hours in order to continue as a student, so any means of softening the target is a Good Thing. Tilting at this windmill daily instead of whenever I happen to feel like it might actually make some progress. (I can’t evaluate this properly today. My advocate/cheerleader/former math professor is nudging me to jump ahead in the calculus book, even while I’m scratching my head over the review problems that I know are supposed to be fat, easy pitches I ought to be able to smack out of the park. Unfortunately I left the bat at home and have only the Math Hammer with which I can reduce each problem to unsolvable fragments. I shall persist.)

Being on campus every day also makes for a Regular Schedule. Call it OCD, call it a drop of Asperger’s, whatever you like, but I function best in a regular environment. It calms me like a security blanket and reduces my blood pressure. If the “outside” is plain and dependable, I am somehow freed to develop wildly creative ideas on the inside. They may not always be right, but they are wildly creative.

Being on campus every day also allows for the possibility of getting in some extra hours at the student job. I dropped the ball on claiming work-days, partly because I didn’t understand how the scheduling would work and partly because I didn’t want to take hours away from anyone who really needed them, but I can now be an on-call substitute. Which is happening tomorrow, as a matter of fact, so Plan C (am I on Plan C?) is already working.

And being on campus every day is being on campus every day. I’m comfortable here and feel that I belong here. I can wander about from happy place to happy place when I’m in between sessions of beating my head against the Algebra Wall. I look like a grownup and I function as a student and it’s all good. There are computers free for the using, couches to sit and knit on, and all kinds of neat places to explore while the campus is nearly deserted.

Another way I’m hoping to fill my spare time is by reading some books I picked up after taking the Office Support exam. I got done so quickly that I had time to swing by Half Price Books and raid the math and physics section. I snagged four little gems for myself:

1. The Bones: A Handy, Where-to-find-it Pocket Reference Companion to Euclid’s Elements (Green Lion Press, 2002). It’s kind of like an index-with-illustration to the main text (which I just ordered from Amazon.com). For studying whenever I feel like doing some geometry.

2. Learn From the Masters (Mathematical Association of America, 1995). This book is a series of more scholarly papers arguing that the history of mathematics should play more of a role in the teaching of mathematics, a proposition with which I agree. I’ll probably expound more upon this book later.

3. No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman by Christopher Sykes (Norton, 1994). This was the real gem here…. it’s like a PBS Special companion volume, distilling interviews with Feynman, his colleagues, and his family members, and combining scrapbook type elements of photographs, notebook pages, and what-have-you. Every time I read anything about or by his sister Joan, I like her even more. It’s just lovely.

4. Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen. In a startling development, there were actually Doctor Who series paperbacks for sale! At most Half Price locations there are one or two employees who snap these up as soon as they come in, but there were about a dozen of these for actual sale to mere mortals at the undisclosed location. (The cashier confirmed that this circumstance was odd beyond belief.) Because I recognized so many titles, I couldn’t remember which ones I already had. So I purchased only #1.

[link error…. I guess I’ll have to scan the cover image in myself. Sorry.]

That’s most of my leisure reading; who knows what else I might pass before my eyes this summer. I did start to put together a spreadsheet for my various books related to time travel, and might solicit additional titles and authors to add to it. I don’t want to ask for donations because I really don’t have a place to put the books, but maybe someday I will.

As the votes are being tallied….

I’ve done everything I can for this semester, and it’s almost complete.

I earned a 96% in my Astronomy course, which allowed me to skip the final exam. (Thank goodness, because it was a comprehensive test that would have taken place just before my trigonometry final.)

I took my trig final yesterday afternoon and was as well prepared as I could be, and calm and confident. My test is still being graded, but the results for the exam and the semester should be up tomorrow.

Now it’s time to turn my attention to work. I have my student job to continue through the summer, and I’m hoping to land a regular-person campus job as well. To that end, this week I’m studying Office 2007 in preparation for the state-administered Office Support Professional exam that I’m taking this Saturday morning. If you score high enough, appropriate jobs that become open are pushed to you and you are automatically eligible and encouraged to apply. I took this exam last October, but only scored above 90 percent on the Basic section — and 88 percent on Intermediate and 85 percent on Advanced, if I recall correctly. The goal this time is to get over 90 percent on each section so I can be considered for the higher paying jobs. I’ve spent a lot of time using Excel, Word, and Outlook this semester, so I’m much more familiar with the current editions of the software. Today I dedicated the morning to studying 200 pages’ worth on functions in Word. Tomorrow: Excel.