Dining In


Christine's parents gave us a another night of Personal Chef service last Christmas. We held out until June so we could dine on the back deck. It was worth the wait.


Arthur Benjamin's formula for changing math education

As a high school Calculus student I remember asking "When am I ever going to need this?"  The  answer turned out to be first year college Physics, but its usefulness stopped there.

In this 3 minute TED Talk video Arthur Benjamin makes a powerful argument for replacing High School Calculus with Statistics.  I think he's right.

With an undergraduate degree in Biology, a Masters Degree in Information Technology and 10 years' work experience in a technical field I can honestly say I still haven't found a practical use for any of the Calculus I learned in high school or college.   Statistics skills, on the other hand have been vital to both my degrees and are frequently needed for my day job.
I just looked at the high school syllabus for our town and was thrilled to see they offer both a Calculus and Statistics course of study in grades 11 and 12.  Even though none of the kids are in 1st grade yet, it's nice to know I'll be able to give them a good answer when they ask "When am I ever going to need this?"

Gravity at Conner's School

This year I spent my birthday at Conner's School.  It was similar to my previous visits to Alex's when I showed the kids some  musical instruments. The big difference with Conner's school is visiting parents are expected to stay for the day, help the teachers with the kids and clean up tasks.

The day started with some organized arts and crafts but quickly migrated to free play time.  Free time seemed like a bit of a nightmare to me.  Every kid wanted my attention and was pulling me in a different direction.  Conner had the brilliant idea to play with an enormous wall of wooden blocks.

Together we built a small ramp with a pillar of blocks at the bottom and started rolling toys down the ramp to see if we could knock down the pillar of blocks.  Within a few minutes most of the class was crowded around our ramp taking turns rolling toys down the ramp.

The night before I had just finished reading a great book called  Work Hard Be Nice : How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America which I learned about watching Bill Gates' latest Ted talk.  One of the most successful teaching techniques described in the book is high energy repetition.   Getting the kids to repeat or chant specific phrases in a fun environment is a powerful way to help them learn those concepts.

So there I was gathering an increasing crowd of surprisingly attentive 3 year-olds, and it struck me that this level of prolonged attention probably constituted a teaching opportunity.  So I gave it a try. I asked the kids a simple question.

"What makes the truck go down the ramp?"

I wasn't expecting any answers.  They thought about it for a second and one kid said "The wheels?" but I could tell from their eyes that the window for holding their attention wasn't going to last so I jumped in with "Gravity!!!" 

They made faces at me; the kind of faces you get when you ask a 3 year-old to explain geopolitics.

"Can you say gravity!?!" I asked. They responded with a mixture of mumbled "Gabbery" and "Gabity".  Gravity is apparently not a common household word.

I encouraged "I can't hear you... Say it loud with me... Grrravity!"

"Gravity," they said. They were starting to get it and I saw a few smiles.

"That's it! Say it again. Gravity!"

"GRAVITY!" they chorused.

"What did you say?" I asked, pretending to strain to hear them.

"GRAVITY!!!" they chanted. If the neighbors were napping, those kids woke them.

I picked up a block of wood, "Now watch this!" I said. I held it in the air and dropped it. It crashed into a bunch of other blocks and they laughed. "What makes the block fall to the ground?"

One of the girls got it right away. "Gravity?" she half asked.

I did my best impression of a lotto winner "That's right!!! Gravity!" I picked up and dropped the block again. "So what makes the block fall to the earth?"

"GRAVITY!" they chanted.

"That's right, gravity is the force that pulls things to the earth!" I stated definitively. (For all you physics nuts out there, I appreciate the technical incorrectness of this statement, but I figured it would at least meet their needs for the next 10 years.)  "So who wants to show me how gravity makes a truck roll down the ramp?"

The kids were hooked. They took turns playing with the ramp, trucks, blocks and gravity.  We talked about how gravity made the toys roll down the ramp and how gravity made our pillar fall down. I kept the kids chanting "gravity" every time a toy rolled down a ramp or something fell over. We had a blast for about 30 minutes, straight through to the end of free play.

After we cleaned up the massive pile of blocks it was time for snack.  We had cupcakes and the kids sang me Happy Birthday.  Finally it was time for show-and-tell and I showed the kids my saxophone. As I put it together I showed them how the neck-strap holds the saxophone up and asked them what would happen if I forgot to hook it to the sax.
Conner's School
One girl knew the answer right away, "It would fall down."

"And what makes it fall down?" I asked.

Every single kid in that room responded with excitement. "Gravity!" they all chorused.

I went on with my saxophone demonstration. Conner was my helper. He showed the other kids how to press the keys.  As is typical for Conner his excitement was palpable in all of the surrounding US states.

To finish things up I played the kids a few songs.  At the end they all got up and danced around while I played (at Conner's request) the theme song to Bob the Builder.

Spending my morning with Conner and his class was a really fun way to celebrate my birthday.


It's been more than 2 months since my birthday visit to Conner's school. This post was delayed while I finished up my masters thesis.

In that time I've run into a few of the kids from Conner's class and my curiosity got the best of me. I really wanted to know if the gravity repetition had stuck.  So when I saw the kids after that day I've found ways to test if the kids remembered. Sometimes I drop my keys, other times stuff falls over on its own. (That happens a lot with 3 year-olds.)

And when it does I ask them. "What made that fall down?"  To this day every one of them has responded matter-of-factly: "Gravity."

There's definitely something to the ideas in that Work Hard Be Nice book.

Canadian Wedding and Coming Home

Note (June 2009): I just discovered this entry completed and yet un-posted. This is one of my many activities that was neglected as I focused on finishing my thesis.

The post is horribly out of date, but seems silly to throw it away as it is the third in a three part series on our trip to Canada. The first two parts Driving to Canada and
A Day in Montreal's Olympic City were posted in January 2009.

Paul and ChristineThe wedding was at night. It was a really cool Jewish wedding. They had a guy singing throughout the ceremony and he was spectacular. Right after the ceremony we headed off to the party.

This is what Christine and I look like after 24 hours without the kids.

This vacation was perfect. 2 days. We were away long enough to relax, but not too long that we missed the kids so much we wanted to be home more than on vacation.

Christine's cousin is an amazing artist. She and her husband made this awesome cake topper. A pretty good likeness of them.

The Cake Topper

We had a great time at the wedding but the next day it was time to head home, and as with all of our travels since Alex was born fate tried to get in the way of us getting back to the kids. A big snow storm was heading into Canada the next morning so we hauled butt out of there as fast as we could.

And for the first time, we made it. We beat the storm! The weather on the way home was great (see the end of the set).

On the way home we saw the strangest thing... Two whales. I'm not sure how they got there, but I guess they're not going anywhere.

Whales on Land Closer

I Endorse the 72 Hour Rule

Great news! Readthebill.org and the Sunlight Foundation are making progress in getting Congress to read what they vote on before they vote on it! If that sounds crazy it's because it is. Our congress frequently votes on non emergency legislation without providing time for the public or themselves to read it. Find that hard to believe?

Remember the stimulus bill we passed in February? You know, the largest stimulus bill ever passed in history? Love it or hate it, you have to admit there is something very wrong with asking people to vote on an 1,100 page bill to spend 3/4 of a trillion dollars and giving them only 11 hours to read it before they vote.

Think about it... 1,100 pages in 11 hours, and then vote yes or no. That's like trying to read Moby Dick 2.5 times, in a single workday and then being expected to have the energy to effectively debate Ahab's state of mind!  It's impossible to read that fast, let alone comprehend... 

Congress is getting ready to vote on House Resolution 554 (full text) which would require Congress to post legislation 72 hours before they debate it. That gives you, me, the sunlight foundation and our congressmen and women a reasonable amount of time to read it before voting!

I just signed the petition.  It's worth a minute to check out the readthebill.org website and if you're interested, sign the petition.

Read The Bill from Sunlight Foundation on Vimeo.

Michigan Moondance

A few months back John and I went to visit Reza in Michigan. While we were there we at a lot of meat. So much so that the receipt from our weekend grocery shopping read like this:
Jack's Fruit Market

Meat... 7.87
Meat... 9.52
Meat... 6.75
Meat... 13.55
Seasoning... 2.59

Total... 40.82
To distract ourselves from the pain of the resulting meat sweats we played music. Reza has a nice studio in his basement. He recorded some of the sessions on a single mic hooked up to his Mac.

This recording of Moondance is one of my favorites from the weekend. It has John on rhythm guitar and vocals, Reza on lead guitar with the standard/required awesome solo, and me playing bass. It sounds best with a set of headphones.

Moondance as played by John, Reza, and Paul - January 2009

John & Reza @ the Moondance Recordings
John and Reza in the studio discussing chord changes