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.

Learning to fly

I really wanted to put together a post before I had taken any of my fall courses, in an attempt to capture the pre-semester jitters of a 45-year-old physics fan. However, that just didn’t work out. NOW is when I have a few spare minutes, so NOW is my writing time.

I have a busy schedule. I am working 16 hours a week in my student job. Part of this involves helping faculty members pack for a move into a renovated building; part of it is helping move my own office stuff into the new building. We’ll be on the fourth floor of Laurentide; that’s a lot of stairs involved in my anti-elevator vow.

I am also taking Calculus I, Physics 180 (intro to physics for engineers and scientists), and Physics 190 (current topics in physics) for 11 hours of coursework. Each contact hour of class implies another 2 hours of time necessary for studying and doing homework, so that’s 49 hours of university contact time every week. If I don’t see anything to do, it means I’ve lost my glasses.

My goals are to stay on top of the reading/study schedules for each class, and to watch other people silently wash out as I make my next sets of flash cards. I have a pleasant commuting companion in the late Richard Feynman, whose mid-1960s physics lectures I am accumulating on my iPod. He is awesome and funny, and listening to him will help me be able to attack physics from all sides.

Wil Wheaton loves this book, too!

In the background of my regular course reading, I’m almost done with a book on the discovery of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. In contrast to some of the books I read last year, this one is very cleverly written. The author’s asides on the private lives of some of the world’s most esteemed physicists and mathematicians make me want to hole up with a year’s worth of biographies and just read, read, read.

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.