I just went on a little spending spree on, mostly for the math and physics shelves of my personal library. It’s a library that needs more shelves; yet, my ten-year-old daughter has already volunteered to catalog it. I am not quite sure she understands what this will mean, but I’m all for it. It’s a big project that will require steady and thoughtful work over a sustained period of time, and it will be good for both of us.

A Quilted. Card. Catalog. I’m not worthy!

My late former husband left behind a computer that will make a perfect “card catalog” — it’s a 2006-era iMac with a hemispheric base. I didn’t even know he had owned one until I was helping to pack up his house after he died. I saw it and was instantly charmed. I have it in storage in another state, so I won’t even be able to pick it up, plug it in, and install any software until the summer. By then, there will probably be several more books to catalog.

It just looks like a kiosk, doesn't it?

It just looks like a kiosk, doesn’t it?

I just ordered five geeky books from Amazon, after I made the remarkable discovery that some people are willing to sell a used copy for one penny that goes for more than $100 new. Try it — search Amazon for textbook, and sort from low to high. Check it out. Amazing, isn’t it? How bankrupt could you be if you didn’t know how to filter?

So I bought…..
• Volume 2 of the study guide for Physics for Scientists and Engineers (Serway et al., 2000) for $0.01 used [as much as $97.60 new]
• Vector Calculus (Marsden, 1976) for $0.01 used [could have paid as much as $106, and the study guide is even more expensive!]
• Knotted Doughnuts and Other Mathematical Entertainments (Martin Gardner, 1986) for $0.80 used [could have paid, but didn’t, $87]
• and I purchased my personal Holy Grail, Volume 2 of a mid-60s edition of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, for just $16.96 including shipping. Considering I bought Volume 1 for 50 cents from the local thrift store (I am CONVINCED someone is stacking that particular deck) and Volume 3 for a song from Half Price Books Online, I firmly believe I have finally gotten the deal of the century on a matching-enough-for-me three-volume set. [Don’t even guess how much this would go for if “new”.]

I said I bought five items. I did.
On the recommendation of a friend, I also purchased “Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer” for less than $10 including shipping. I trust him, so I’ll check it out.

All items are arriving at random before January 23.

As I think I’ve previously stated, I will need more shelving. And soon.


Trouble with the curve

Sometimes, when a curveball comes at you hard enough, all you can do is duck, dust yourself off, and try again the best you can.

Due to pressing circumstances in the non-scientific and mathematical portion of my life, I have altered my course once again. I have been away from school for three weeks taking care of other business, and my new course entails finding a full-time job, developing extraordinary gifts at managing a household budget, and taking an incomplete in Calculus I until I am able to finish it over the course of next semester. Physics 190 I think I can finish.

It’s all good now… and if it doesn’t look good yet, just give it (and me) a little time. It’s going to be all right. And even if I never get back to school to finish the degree I started, I may possibly have enough math and physics texts to last me the rest of my life (even if I live as long as I want to, which will take a while). I also have enough supportive friends to see me through to the end of my days. (And enough knitting projects, but I said at the inception of this blog that I wasn’t going to talk about knitting here.)

I’m still resolved to go forward. Maybe I’ll have time for those Boy-Scientist experiments now. My kids all demonstrate scientific curiosity, and they need mentoring. (There’s an honest to goodness SCIENCE FAIR coming up in two months and it’s time for Jack to pick a project.) There is still plenty to do.

Trials and error

I’m not really sure what week it is any more. The schedule has been rearranged so many times that it doesn’t matter. I keep revising my deadline dates in my planner, I tilt at the Windmill of the Evening until further effort is useless or needless, then I crawl off to sleep and take up a different lance the next day.

The pace of each course is fast, and I knew that going in. And each week, each professor reminds us as a class, “The pace of this course is fast, and there’s basically nothing we can do about it.” In physics, for example, the goal is to cover all of physics in one year. Then, as Professor Benjamin says, “You spend the next three years covering it all over again.” Keeping pace with it is similar to filing paperwork in a wind tunnel.

Kind of makes you wonder why that cat keeps jumping back on the treadmill, doesn’t it? Motivation towards a goal is often mysterious. It’s quite possible that even the cat doesn’t know for sure. (And if he does know, he’s certainly not going to tell us.)

I haven’t had much time for recreational reading (or recreational much-of-anything; sorry, knitting group!) lately, and to tell the truth I really should be reading physics or studying derivatives right now, but a few weeks ago I found a lovely little volume at Half Price Books called “Einstein and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings” (ed. by Thomas McFarlane, 2002) and I pick it up and read a couple of pages every once in a while. Today I read a pair of quotes that really resonated with me, perhaps because we’ve been discussing the concept of Error in physics lab.

Experimenters search most diligently, and with the greatest effort, in exactly those places where it seems most likely that we can prove our theories wrong. In other words we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we make progress.
—Richard P. Feynman

In our world error is continually the handmaid and pathfinder of Truth; for error is really a half-truth that stumbles because of its limitations; often it is Truth that wears a disguise in order to arrive unobserved near to its goal.
—Sri Aurobindo

I have spent a lot of my life being afraid of Error, and trying not to bump into him in the hallway. I was afraid of what people would say if they saw us hanging out together; I had a reputation to think of! Conversely, I have made a living by finding Error where no one else could. Without him, I had no other marketable skills. Perhaps it is time for Error and I to rethink our relationship to be, shall we say, less confrontational. Maybe we can find a way to work together.

“Umm… Houston…..”


Summer vacation, part 4 of 5

I did get myself a few nice things for my 45th birthday — all additions to my geeky-ass bookshelf.

First and second of all, I searched the Half Price Books website on a whim, looking for the other two volumes of the physics texts I’ll need for Physics 181 in the spring. Did you know they have an online store, listing books from all sorts of locations? I found one for 99 cents (the first edition, but it should do), then searched for “Feynman” and found Volume III of his Lectures on Physics for 99 cents as well (a library discard — shame on them!). Coincidentally, it was printed in July 1966, just the same as my Volume I that I found at a local store for something like 25 or 50 cents. I love getting every volume in the same edition in a set. Look out, Volume II!

Collect them all and get a free set of bongo drums!

I also found a used copy of the other Physics 181 text that was missing, from While I was there I picked up a lovely-looking book, Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character, that is not only a consolidation of two Feynman texts but also includes an audio CD of a talk he gave in 1975 about his time at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project.

One more Feynman bio — really two in one.

So yes, I treated myself. I also received a Kindle Fire and was pleased to see that everything I had on Kindle 1 was, magically, already present on Kindle 2. Hello Newton, hello Copernicus; good to see you again. I will try to spend as much time with you as I will with Angry Birds.

Work-wise I’m staying busy at my student job. All chaos broke loose on my missed opportunity for full-time work in terms of it being offered to me again, but since I had already registered for all those classes in the fall and agreed to take on some really interesting projects with my current employer, I decided to stay the current course and gear up for finishing the degree on time rather than in 20 years.

94-year-old college graduate Hazel Soares

Geeky-ass bookshelf, Part Two

I have added several new items to my book collection, and reorganized my bookshelves. Here are the books on my textbook shelf:

  1. The Ideas of Algebra, K-12
  2. College Algebra (Lial and Miller, 1973)
  3. Modern Algebra: An Introduction (Durbin, 1985)
  4. Intermediate Algebra (Clark and Anfinson, 2012) and Student Workbook. Also my folder and notebooks for Math 141.
  5. Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus (Stewart, Redlin, and Watson, 2007) and Student Solutions Manual. Also my folder and notebooks for Math 152.
  6. Analytic Trignometry with Applications (Barnett, Ziegler, and Byleen, 1999)
  7. Calculus with Analytic Trigonometry: Functions of One Variable (Taylor and Halberg, 1969)
  8. A First Course in Differential Equations with Applications (Zill, 1986)
  9. Foundations of Astronomy (Seeds, 2007), plus my folder and notes for Astronomy 112.
  10. Cosmos (Sagan, 1980)
  11. Comet (Sagan and Druyan, 1989)
  12. A Brief View of Astronomy (Pasachoff, 1986)
  13. Chasing the Shadow: An Observer’s Guide to Eclipses (Harris and Talcott, 1994)
  14. The Binocular Stargazer: A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring the Sky (Peltier, 1995)
  15. Observing for the Fun of It (Melton, 1996)
  16. Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity (Kotz and Purcell, 1987)
  17. Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life, (Starr and Taggart, 1984)
  18. Fundamentals of Physics (Halladay and Resnick, 1988)
  19. Physics for the Utterly Confused (Oman and Oman, 1999)
  20. Six Ideas that Shaped Physics: Units C, N, R, and T, by Thomas Moore, 2003 (these are the texts for this fall’s Physics 180 [C, N, R] and next spring’s Physics 181 [T; if anyone has units E and Q, give me a call! — Never mind, ordered them from Half Price Books online for, get this, 99 cents each!])
  21. Student Solutions Manual and Study Guide for Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, Volume 2 (Serway and Jewett, 2004) — on the lookout for this textbook, but only for the sake of completeness. [I just looked this up on Amazon — what I bought used for 25 cents you can buy new for $77.]
  22. Schaum’s Outline of Engineering Mechanics: Statics and Dynamics (5th edition, 1998)
  23. Schaum’s Outline of College Physics (6th edition, 1961)
  24. Bonus volume: the 2011 catalog for the Carolina Biological Supply Company.

As noted in a previous post, this list does not include anything from the history of math or science, anything related to Richard Feynman, anything related to time travel, or any science fiction or general-interest math or science. But it probably will be a complete inventory by the end of this summer.

In other news, I was bypassed for the real-person full-time campus job that I took the Office Support Exam testing for, so I’m back to Plan A — at least, I think it’s called Plan A — of being a full-time student with a regular student job in every spare hour. Tomorrow I should be able to make the last payment on my Spring tuition and finally be able to register for the Fall courses I’ve had sitting in my campus shopping cart since early April.

I’m still doing a pre-study of calculus so I won’t be overwhelmed with it in the fall. I need to add a pre-study of physics so I have at least skimmed all three volumes of the text before classes start. The other physics course is a one-hour Topics class that meets only on Fridays, so no preparation is needed. I sat in one it for about half the sessions last fall, just to get the flavor of it. Oh, and there’s also a massive physics lab that will take all of each Wednesday morning. Woo hoo!

It’s pretty busy for me this summer, what with the part-time job and managing the kidlets through their summer school sessions, vacations, and other explorations, but it will be worth it. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

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 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.


This morning I added to my personal mathematics and science library by purchasing the two-volume set of “The Alternate Current Transformer in Theory and Practice,” 1900, third edition, by J.A. Fleming. The volumes are discards from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater library, and were donated to the library on December 8, 1966 and entered as items 119198 and 119199. Maybe I’ll just have to have an antique barrister’s bookcase in which to store them with honor. Someday.

I also bought a used trigonometry textbook – a considerably younger volume – for a quarter. It looks like something that will be useful to look at this summer, as I make the move from algebra and trigonometry to calculus.

It’s almost time to list some more of the geeky books I have on the shelf. And this week I finally finished one.

The Calculus Wars was probably the most annoying nonfiction book I have ever plowed through. The proofreading and copy editing was, hands down, the worst I have ever seen in a published book. I know, in one of my lives I was a professional editor. But I am talking about double periods at the end of a sentence, or no period at all. Typos. Using the wrong word in a way that the spell checker won’t catch it (like “were” instead of “where”). Mentioning a scientific text but not giving the title. Or, giving the title but not including it in the bibliography. Or, mentioning a work but making it clear that you didn’t take the time to read it yourself but are only passing along the opinions of others without attribution (“Some say….”). Or, using anachronistic examples to explain yourself, like suggesting that calculus was invented to describe the path of a pitched baseball.

I started attacking it with pencil and red pen as I read it, and I NEVER write in books like that. I was in it to finish it for the purely historical information, and I did. And I’ll give the author credit for the work he had to do to even find the core documents. That being said, once he had that access, I think (I hope) he had it in him to write a much better book. And I’m professionally disgusted by the poor editorial work of the publishing company. They really made themselves and their author look bad, and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want to do.

Anyway it’s done. So is my second precalc exam, on which I made some stupid errors and cost myself what would have been a pretty spectacular grade. As it was, I got the fifth highest grade in the class and I’m currently third highest in the class overall. But it’s time to knuckle down and get thinking in trig so I can get my numbers up. I think I’m starting to get it, but there hasn’t been much time to really study lately rather than just keep up with the homework.

The presentation at the Physics Department meeting went well, and I’ve already gotten to go over one technical paper. It felt just the same as when I did this job for ASNT when I was 24, but now some of the text is material I can actually understand. At least until it goes all “calculus” on me. But I am getting little bits and pieces figured out.

Astronomy is focusing on the life cycles of stars. And next Monday after class there will be a presentation by a Wolfram rep on their Mathematica software. Apparently I can purchase this at a staggering student discount. If they throw in one of their old Einstein posters, resistance will be futile (it always is).