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Lately I've been finding religious inspiration in science. Read more... )
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I'm in the middle of planning my classes, and I'm struck by how much this process depends on my trusting my future self to figure things out. Particularly for this "bridge" class I'm teaching, where I'm teaching calculus-based physics to students who have had algebra-based physics before-- it's a new course for me, not particularly well-defined (there's no textbook, for instance) and I'm adding topics to the outline that I haven't taught before, that I'm not sure I could teach well right this minute, counting on my ability to figure it out at the appropriate time.

This is hard for me. In my quest for a more structured work environment, I think it would be a good practice to separate planning from execution, to have some periods devoted strictly to planning, and other moments devoted to carrying those plans out, and thus separating the anxiety over what I should do from the anxiety over how I should do it: the theory being that the individual anxieties are easier to handle on their own. But doing so requires me to trust my ability to carry out the plans I make beforehand.


Aug. 14th, 2009 01:27 pm
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As full-time employment makes its reappearance in my life, my thoughts turn towards setting up some sort of weekly schedule. I think a fairly strict schedule would be good for me. I'm not really fond of spontaneity:
* if Jen suggests that we go do something unusual on a given weekend, my first reaction is mild panic, even if I'm really bored and it's something I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy.
* I drive Jen nuts by wanting to plan things in excruciating detail.
* When I'm making plans with other people (like in a group), I have to pin down exactly what is going down, even when it's fairly obvious.
* When I have a whole day free, like a Saturday, I usually get nothing done. While I look forward to large blocks of free time, when I get there I feel overwhelmed and spend the time numbing myself with web or books or tv. I'm often (though not always) more productive in shorter blocks of time. The end result is my feeling like I never have enough time, even when I was unemployed, even BEFORE Miriam was born.

And yet, I've never been at good at maintaining a schedule. I don't even keep calendars well; I have a number of old calendars with notes written in the first two months, and then blank afterwards. Why not?

One reason, I think, is that I WANT to be spontaneous, a free spirit. It's probably the reason I went barefoot in college: thought it might bring out my inner hippie (or my inner Doone maybe). I associate creativity with spontaneity, although that isn't necessarily so: one can be creative within strict limits, as sonnet writers demonstrate. :)

Another reason is that I am a perfectionist. If I make a schedule, and then break it, I feel like I've failed and I give up entirely. Or I agonize over exactly how much time to schedule for class preparation, instead of allowing for flexibility.

Third, schedules feel like traps to me. I'm afraid that if I don't have enough free time, then I will burn out. I feel like the schedule will be hovering over me, judging me, all the time. Each scheduled block of time is one more opportunity to fail.

So in short, I think I'll need a lot of structure this semester if I don't want to be miserable and totally sleep-deprived: a certain amount of scheduling is necessary just to coordinate with Jen and our childcare folks, and I'd like to have the whole week planned (with time set aside for vegging and reading and playing and whatnot). To make it work, I need to (a) accept that I'm a person who needs structure, and that doesn't make me stodgy or boring or uncreative; (b) occasionally re-evaluate the schedule; and (c) cut myself some slack: to paraphrase the New Testament, the schedule is made for Scott, not Scott for the schedule.

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I have to start thinking about how to teach this large introductory physics class, so I'll do a little brainstorming here and see what everyone thinks.

I've been thinking a lot about incorporating video podcasts into the class. First, I would like to videotape all class periods and put them on the web. This serves multiple purposes:
* Students who are sick or otherwise distracted can do what they have to do, and not miss out on class time.
* Students who take poor notes can double-check what they wrote.
* When a student asks me "What did I miss?" I can point them to the web.
* Students who would normally sit in the back of the classroom and look dreadfully bored can just stay home and watch from there. That way their glassy eyes won't sap the energy out of me.

There's a danger of course that students will use this as an excuse to skip all classes, and then try to do a marathon viewing before the exams; that would be dumb, but students have to learn not to do dumb things. :) (Also, in this class it's traditional to give students a test or quiz every week, which alleviates some of that danger.)

My second thought is to do additional video podcasts covering material I can't or don't want to cover in class. Some of this may be review-- for example, a math review for weaker students. Some of it may cover topics or derivations I think are really cool, but would be harder to follow for weaker students. My crazy dream is to end up doing podcasts of most of the material of the course, for the following reason: current physics education research suggests that the standard method of teaching physics, where the professor simply presents material already found in the textbook to the class, who write it down and use it later on to do homework problems, doesn't work very well. It's kind of a waste of time to make students write down equations and derivations in their notes that they already have in their expensive textbook. A better way is to devote class time to asking students questions, making them think about the consequences of what they've read, and defend their thoughts with other students. I'd love to teach a class that way. However, that requires that students actually read the textbook, and I am mindful that math-heavy textbooks can be a slog to read, particularly for students who are timid about the material, or who learn better in an audiovisual context. So I'm thinking that I would like to put together a series of podcasts in which I basically present the material in the textbook, just as I might do in a normal lecture. Students can watch the podcasts, or they can read the book, or both, whatever they like. I don't know if I'm ready to try that this semester, but it's in the back of my head.

There are technical questions, of course. Would I have access to a videocamera to film my lectures? Can I get a vantage point which shows everything I'm writing, without it being illegible because it's too far away? For the supplemental podcasts, I can use my computer's built-in camera, but where will I record them? How much work will they involve, and am I up to recording them every week? (Of course, I can reuse them from one semester to the next. Since I'm teaching the same large class in fall and spring, maybe I can start making these podcasts this fall, but only rely on them in the spring.) And do I have a good video presence, or will I look stupid?

Job offer!

Aug. 7th, 2009 03:22 pm
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I don't know if I mentioned it here, but back in June I saw an opening for a visiting assistant professorship at the University of Toledo. It seemed like a gift from Heaven: full-time academic jobs don't grow on trees (I haven't worked full-time since Rhode Island four years ago), yet here one was, literally a mile from our house, and the late advertisement meant much less competition (all the best candidates already got their jobs). However, I was anxious about the job too: I *haven't* worked full-time for four years and I know how teaching can expand to fill all available time; I had thought I might expand my research work this year and teaching might thwart that idea. Furthermore the classes at UT tend to be large (80-200 students), something I'm not used to and don't really approve of. So I applied, but thought to myself that I would feel an equal ambivalence no matter how it turned out.

Well, I got the offer today! :) And while the ambivalence may kick in later, right now I just feel happy-- I forgot the whole ego boost part. :):):)

Random thoughts about it:
1. The courses I'd be teaching are actually more interesting than I thought they would be. They have me teaching two sections of introductory E&M for engineering students and physics majors: big classes, but more mathematically sophisticated students. That's cool. I'm also going to teach a "bridge class" for students who started out in algebra-based physics but really should have taken calculus-based physics-- it sounds like a math course, sort of. In the spring, they have me actually teaching a mathematics methods course for physics majors, along with a thermodynamics course. That's three upper-class courses over the year: I did *not* expect that, and I'm happy about it.

2. Jen and I are working for the same university; haven't done that since Williams. We're on different campuses though.

3. The one question we have to resolve is childcare. Miriam has a babysitter for 15 hours a week, and I think we could probably continue something along those lines. We also looked at the day care center the University runs, but neither of us are comfortable with Miriam in daycare full time. I think Miriam would be fine with it if it were our only option-- she is pretty open about new people these days, and she doesn't require my constant full attention-- but we don't know that it would benefit her yet, maybe not for another year. Jen's looking into the daycare on HER campus, which is better set up for part-time kids, but the added distance to her campus makes logistics a little trickier; the one on the main campus is within walking distance, but it's more set up for full-time students, you pay a fixed amount per week, and you are locked in for four months.

4. I have some neat ideas about how to approach these large classes. I've been thinking about video podcasts: both videotaping each class (for students who would normally slouch in the back of the room in case I say something important), and supplemental video podcasts addressing remedial topics or things I don't cover in class. I don't know how much I'll be able to implement in time for this semester. Maybe I'll write more about my ideas later, to see if they sound sensible or insane to other people.
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While getting our drivers' licenses the other week, I figured out that I've had licenses from five different states (PA, IL, MA, TX, OH), and have lived in 9 different cities (Easton PA, Williamstown, Chicago, Evanston, Lowell MA, Boston, Dallas, Irving TX, and now Toledo). Each new town meant meeting new people, making new friends, joining new communities. During my first move, to college, I was excited by the prospect of new surroundings, and in my ebullience I met my future wife and joined the a cappella group that has given me most of my friends. As the moves have added up, however, I've gotten tired of having to start all over again. I'm really not very good at it: I have a terrible time remembering people's names (outside of the classroom), I'm not good at smalltalk, and I'm terribly self-centered. So somewhere along the line my subconscious has decided to look for shortcuts, and has been on the lookout for the friendship equivalent of "love at first sight": meeting someone and immediately hitting it off with them. That's great, but it's probably rare; making friends is normally a more gradual process. The problem with focusing on the shortcut approach is that (a) I'm inclined to make snap judgements about people when I meet them, (b) I obsess about the people that I would like to be friends with, which makes me feel awkward around them, and (c) it makes me feel disappointed by the more traditional methods. When Miriam and I attend the weekly storytime at the library, and see the same people there, I should feel good that I'm slowly building a sense of familiarity, instead of being mad at myself for not striking up a great conversation.

Maybe most people learn these things from dating; since I never dated anyone besides Jen, most of my friend-making woes sound remarkably like dating woes, at least to my ears.

Another problem is that when I was in Easton, I was a big fish in a small pond: the "smart" kid in elementary school, valedictorian, etc. Being a big fish meant I was a big target, so it wasn't always a joy, but I never felt anonymous, and I was used to it. I wasn't such a big fish in college, but I had some prominence in my circles. When I moved to Chicago, however, I was reduced to insignificance: such a large city, such an intimidating department. It's a feeling I hate. It's why I hate large cities, why I hate large crowds, probably why I didn't do well in choirs. It sounds selfish of course, but it's not that I want to be THE important person in the room; I just want to feel like I matter. Maybe that I'm contributing. That I'm appreciated. Some acclaim would be nice too. :)

(And yes, I matter to Jen and Miriam, but that's a different feeling, I don't know why. Maybe it's just "pessimistic thinking", always ready to make excuses for good things that I already have.)
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1. When I was in 3rd grade (1983-4), I hated Michael Jackson, for the simple reason that everyone else loved him. That might have been the height of Jackson's popularity: Thriller came out in 1982 (so says Wikipedia) and the Motown special was in early 1983, so he was a big deal. And since I had already developed an adversarial relationship with my peers, whatever they loved so much must have been bad. I'm sure a big chunk of that was sour grapes, with a dash of sanctimoniousness thrown in. That said, songs which I might have treated with scorn back then, like "Billie Jean" or "Beat It", give me nothing but happy nostalgic vibes when I hear them now. I avoided 80s music in general during the 80s, but I couldn't keep it from seeping into my soul. :)

2. I only started appreciating MJ in the early 90s, once his popularity was on the wane naturally. In high school I went through a phase where I watched VH1, and so I saw his videos from around that time, "Remember the Time" with the Egyptian setting, and "Black or White" (though without the car-bashing section at the end). Part of what I liked, which hasn't been mentioned in the tributes I've seen, is the dancing; I thought the tightly scripted choreography was really cool, along with his jerky, precision movements.

3. Though while I say that, I should point out that my *dad* owned the Thriller album, and we used to listen to it with him in his room when we were kids (i.e. before the 90s certainly). I don't know how I reconciled my MJ-sucks attitude in school with my listening to MJ at home with my family. Still, my *dad* had a copy. :) Mind you, he has a huge vinyl collection going back to when he was in high school in the 60s if not before that, but I have a sneaking suspicion (based on little evidence, mind you) that Thriller might be the "newest" music in his collection (newest stylistically; he's bought CDs and whatnot since then).

4. I have been very surprised by the overwhelmingly positive treatment Jackson has received this past week. Granted, it is generally considered uncouth to speak ill of the dead, but after years of ridicule, it was a surprise to see the amount of genuine affection that exists for him out there; maybe people were afraid to express any approval for him during his later years, until now, when the eulogizing speak-no-ill spirit frees people from the need to deal with the negative aspects of Jackson's life.

5. Speaking of the negative aspects, the biggest of course were the accusations of pedophilia. I admit that I don't know all the details and the revelations, and of course I don't know what really happened on the Ranch, but I've always been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. First, I find it believable to think that Michael Jackson liked to spend time with kids merely because he liked to spend time with kids, and maybe even pretend that he was a kid again. He certainly didn't have a normal childhood; maybe that lack bothered him. And of course, he clearly had mental issues of one sort of another, which led to bizarre and inappropriate behavior. But I see no reason to think that sex was involved; our culture sees sex everywhere, and pedophiles are the great boogeymen of our age (countries around the world are in the process of censoring the Internet, always under the guise of hunting down child pornography and pedophiles), so any high-profile man who likes to spend time with children not his own inevitably gets the pedophile label attached to him at some point. I wouldn't stake anything on MJ's being innocent in that regard, but I'm comfortable looking past the allegations and seeing him as a brilliant, tragic, bizarre figure.
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I just read an odd little advice column about what introverts should do in social situations.

The advice-seeker is an introvert who wants to know how to deal with social situations; some books he's read suggest he focus on the other person, while others suggest he should "be himself". These are contradictory pieces of advice for an introvert.

The columnist's response is initially oddly poetic, repeating the phrase "holding your space". His advice is to go to the party, seek out other introverts, and hang out near them but don't say anything. It's implied that the other introvert will appreciate the silent company and the protection from extroverts roaming around. The columnist describes this as an aggressive (even combative) act, of being stubbornly introverted and not buying into the extrovert's need for chit-chat or appreciative laughter. I like the idea of seeking out other introverts and having a guilt-free non-conversation, although I'm not so comfortable with his battle-of-the-personality-types vibe.

He then says this, which is very interesting: An introvert who does not care to be noticed has an easier time of it.

That describes the difference between Jen and I very well. We're both introverts, and while neither of us are hermits, Jen is much happier when she can fade into the woodwork, while I crave attention.

He then goes on to make another great point:

Wanting attention is not the same as wanting interaction. Performers who are introverts can get attention but avoid interaction. The stage keeps the audience at a distance. Backstage only a few are admitted. One can have some quiet time. You can also get attention without interaction by jobs such as teaching and lecturing, which put you at the center of the room but do not require you to be all palsy-walsy with folks. You do your thing and then they leave except for maybe one eager introvert who stays after class to help.

This describes me very well, and I had never thought of it this way before. I love performing as a soloist, but then I get really uncomfortable when people come up to me afterwards and compliment my voice or my singing. I've come up with other explanations for this in the past, but I think this comes closer to it: I crave attention, but not necessarily interaction. It's not the full answer, though-- I'm uncomfortable with general compliments, but I would be thrilled to discuss specifics of interpretation and whatnot after a performance, particularly if it was someone whose musical opinion I respected.

It seems greedy to seek out attention without being willing to reciprocate, but maybe I'm assuming that everyone else is like me. Maybe there are people who prefer to give attention over getting it, and are perfectly happy with such an exchange as this.

Very interesting.
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From [ profile] kcobweb, a meme: comment on this post and I'll tell you five subjects/things I associate with you. Then you post them in your lj and elaborate.

I was given Composition. Shyness. Feminism. Singing. Parenting. I did feminism back in March (!), and have been kinda busy since (moving and all). Since it's Father's Day, thought I would do Parenting next.

Read more... )
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This is Day 4 in OH (either Ottawa Hills or Ohio or both). We left Dallas on June 2nd, spent a week driving up to Toledo (a whole nother story), met the moving truck last Tuesday to unload boxes, then left the same day to go spend time with my parents. (Actually, we started that visit by dropping Miriam off and spending a couple of days at a bed and breakfast in Jim Thorpe, PA, just the two of us. A nice break for us, although it did end up with me doing genealogical research while Jen spent some precious fun time on the Internet, something she hadn't been able to do for a week or two.) We got back to Toledo on Sunday, which was the first night we actually slept in the new house.

Jen started work on Monday, and as we haven't lined up a babysitter yet I've been in full-time Daddying mode. This hasn't been too bad, since there have been little chores to do, like running to the bank or the insurance agent or the grocery store. Our house turns out to be pretty well located for walking: we're within a mile from the University (though not Jen's campus), from a couple of grocery stores (in two different directions), a bagel restaurant, a bookstore, a Sears, a Home Depot, a Costco, our bank, and a pretty big playground. When Miriam is tired, it's been easy to pop her in the stroller and walk somewhere or other (I like to have a destination when I'm walking). Pretty good for a house in a village which has zero businesses within its borders. And for the most part, the walking terrain has been pretty good, unlike times in Dallas where taking a walk meant walking on a crummy narrow sidewalk next to a busy four-lane road, or walking along the shoulder of a busy road with no sidewalks. It's not a pedestrian's paradise, but it will do very nicely.

We've met a few of our neighbors; the family from next door even came to our door and brought us flowers and chocolate. Our neighbor on the other side introduced me to her daughter who was a "Red-Cross certified babysitter" which sounds good. Mind you, Ottawa Hills was hyped up to the point that I'm a tiny bit disappointed when I see someone on the street who *doesn't* immediately come over and introduce herself, but of course as an introvert I'm also relieved that the neighbors aren't TOO friendly. :)

What has occupied my thoughts as I've walked through the neighborhood is a feeling of specificity, of a nebulous future beginning to gel. Although we did spend 5 years in Chicago, 3 years in Boston, and 3 years in Dallas, life since college has felt peripatetic, and I felt like I didn't want to get too comfortable in any one place because it would be temporary. But we've bought a house here, and we're probably staying here at least until Jen gets tenure, which is 6-7 years from now (the rest of our thirties, I realized). We could be here until retirement or even the rest of our lives. The neighbors we're meeting now will most likely be our neighbors for years, not months-- hope we get along! In the past, I've mostly ignored (or, occasionally, loathed) our neighbors. Miriam has changed that, so that in Irving this past year we got to know several of our neighbors pretty well, but since we were there for so short a time it didn't proceed beyond "new family on the block".
Being the sort who has trouble living in the present, it can be kind of overwhelming to try to imagine how we're going to get from that stage to being an integrated part of the community. It's something I've actually longed for for a long time, but it's intimidating too.

This feeling of specificity is particularly strong when I think about Miriam growing up here. This house is going to be her template of what a house should be. The way we lay out our furniture and decorate will probably invoke feelings of nostalgia for her for the rest of her life. She'll know these streets like the back of her hand. A little kid in a stroller might be her best friend in a few years. I took Miriam over to the elementary school, and it was amazing to think, not just that Miriam would be going to kindergarten someday, but that she would be going to kindergarten in this school, right here.

Overall, it's looking like a really good place to live. The house will be good once we get these boxes out of here (a scary prospect in and of itself; big stuff is easy to place, but then we have boxes with all of these niggly little things which don't have a home-- where do they go?) Neither of us have felt like unpacking very much in the evenings. I suppose we should devote the weekend to that, but I also need some time to start doing some research stuff again; it's been hard to jump back into it after a tiring day. It will help when we get a babysitter lined up; I have to remind myself at times that this week has been an anomaly in terms of watching Miriam all day 5 days a week. Which is actually kind of neat: the last two weeks in Dallas I had to do this, and I was agonizing over it, but now I'm apparently confident that I could watch her full-time if I needed to.

Well, enough for now.
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So we have one more week to go in Dallas. Travel plans )

These last two weeks have been rather stressful. Jen is desperately trying to finish an experiment before she leaves, and she also agreed to write a review article due June 1st (when she agreed, she had thought we were going to move in early May). She is staying up until 2am every other evening to work on the article. What makes matters worse is that our babysitter is out of the country this week and last, so I've been on full-time Daddy duty, and I can't (and don't want to) ask Jen to take any time off to cover the slack. And it seems like Miriam has been somewhat clingier in the past couple of days, less content to play by herself, and she gets very upset when I leave the room. (Actually, she's actually just starting to treat me the way she treats Jen. Don't know what that implies.)

I've slowly developed a habit of going out to eat when I'm not watching Miriam, for the change of scenery; these past two weeks I've taken this to the extreme, and have been out every night (although occasionally I eat at home first, and just buy a soda.) In the past, my excuse was that I worked better at restaurants, but this past week I haven't been able to do anything productive. I've spent most of the time reading (WARNING: if you have an obsessive personality, this site will steal your life-- it's like Wikipedia on crack.) which is occasionally fun but more often just mind-numbing. That's kind of what I've been doing: self-anesthesia. Mind-numbing activities are great if your day job is mentally or physically demanding, but watching a toddler is neither really; the proper recovery activity for daddying would be something intellectually stimulating, but I can't bring myself to bother.

Oh, and did I mention that we STILL haven't closed on the house yet? We are at least "cleared to close", but the bank still hasn't sent the paperwork to the title company yet; once that happens, the title company has to prepare their own paperwork and overnight it to us, at which point we go to a local "sister" title company and sign the paperwork, then overnight it back to them. If we're LUCKY, we'll close by Friday, which is two weeks late. If we're unlucky, then we'll have to close on Monday while the packers are packing, or worse, close while we're on the road, while our possessions are in a truck headed for a house which we don't yet own. Fortunately the sellers, whom we met during our visit, have been very understanding, and aren't in desperate need of the cash-- we're not starting a late-closing cascade or anything like that.

So there's that uncertainty, on top of the demands of full-time daddying, and the vague feeling that, even with people coming to pack, I should be working much harder to prepare for the move than I am, although I don't know how. And I'm the LUCKY one, because all I have to do is survive the week, which I know I'll do; Jen actually has to accomplish something.


By the way, our new address, in case we ever get to live there, is
3435 Brantford Road
Ottawa Hills, Ohio 43606 (although Toledo OH will work too).

I'll give it again when (if) we finally close.
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In my monthly group of liberal Catholics, we've been listening to two lectures by the retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. I agree with a lot of his positions: I agree that the view of Christ's death as a human sacrifice is problematic and outdated (what keeps God from simply forgiving us? why is he required to have a sacrifice?), and I am intrigued by his theological adoption of Darwinism: rather than seeing human beings as "fallen", he views us as incomplete, but growing towards our full potential.

Reading the Wikipedia page, however, I see that he is particularly anti-miracle and especially anti-Resurrection. Both violate physical law, and therefore neither could have happened, he says. He's not alone or new in thinking so; Thomas Jefferson for one wrote his own translation of the Gospels in which he removed everything supernatural.

He's perfectly free to believe this, but I don't find his argument justified, based on my perception about science. As I may have written about before (and if not, you can find my thoughts in detail on Street Prophets), science is about predictability and consistency, not truth (or TRVTH, if you like). Evolution is a great example: scientists embrace evolution primarily because it has great predictive power. Whether it's true or not is irrelevant. If God created the world 6000 years or 6 minutes ago, but in such a way that it behaves as if it is much older, then science will not be able to tell the difference unless God made a mistake. But if the world behaves as if evolution works, then evolution is a perfectly useful tool, and whether it is "true" or "false" is a matter for philosophers, not scientists. (Some scientists are philosophers as well, of course, and some people have developed a notion of TRVTH based on science, but that itself is not science.)

So let's get to the case of Jesus. Suppose you believe that Jesus is God made man, and that his incarnation was a singular event in the history of the world. In particular, Jesus' resurrection (if it occurred) would have been a unique occurrence, the only time in the history of the world that God incarnate recovered from death. As a unique event, science does not and CAN not say anything about this. What does predictability have to do with something that never occurred before and will never occur again? Nothing. There is no model to construct here, nothing to measure.

Of course the Resurrection violates our notions of physical law-- heck, they violated the Jews' notions of physical law 2000 years ago-- but for someone like myself, who is a Christian and a scientist, that's the WHOLE POINT. Madeleine L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time but also a very thoughtful writer of Christian theology, said that the important thing about the Incarnation was its specificity: God became part of history, not in some nebulous omnipresent way, but in the form of a specific person, in a specific location, with a specific upbringing and a specific gender and race and culture. The Incarnation was a very specific, one-of-a-kind event. If God decided to bend or break the rules for this one-time event, even to the point of reversing death, how would we as scientists know? What test can we do to prove that this didn't happen? Line up a bunch of incarnate deity corpses and show that they never regain life? As I mentioned, we can't even prove that the world existed last Tuesday.

Now of course, one may find the Resurrection or the other miracles in the Gospels or the Bible to be highly unlikely, given that such things don't happen now. That's a reasonable belief, and I would never imagine that I could dissuade someone like Spong from such a belief, certainly not with the argument above. But it is a *belief*, something arising from philosophy. It is not science.
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On Thursday we fly to Toledo, so that on Friday we can sign all the paperwork and buy our house. We didn't technically have to be there; the real reason I'm going is because I want to take another look at the house again-- not because we're going to back out, but because I don't remember the interior very well at all, and it was (ironically) one of the few houses that I didn't videotape on our house-hunting trip.

We're not actually moving until June. Packers are coming on June 1st (Jen's a big shot and gets a moving allowance-- yay!), and then the truck comes on June 2nd to load. It takes the truck at least 4 days to get to Toledo (union rules), so we're going to take four days to drive to Toledo in our '94 Ford Taurus (assuming it doesn't fall apart halfway there). Doing it in four days means we only drive 4 hours a day, which hopefully will be light enough to keep Miriam and Jen from going out of their minds.

As eager as I've been to escape Dallas, I'm starting to get nervous about Toledo: will I like the house? will it feel "big enough"? Will I like the neighborhood?

I thought a useful exercise would be to list the things I'll miss about Dallas, and separately, the reasons I'm looking forward to moving.

Read more... )
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I'm on Hulu time (we dropped cable TV when we moved to Irving, and between Hulu and Netflix-on-demand we haven't missed it at all) so I just watched last week's episode of House.

Spoilers )
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Interesting idea from Bennett Haselton on Slashdot, for a way to more objectively determine what constitutes child pornography (and more generally, to make the judicial process more objective through scientific methods like double-blind tests.)

Note particularly to those readers who work for state legislatures and/or on judicial matters. :)

Being male

Mar. 26th, 2009 03:43 pm
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This is a followup to my previous post, since it's not really about feminism.

I recently read the book Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent, in which she recounts her adventures while passing as a man in various male-dominated scenarios: a bowling league, strip clubs, a monastery, a high-pressure door-to-door sales job, etc. What surprised me a little, as I turned the pages, was that while I recognized the types of men she was describing, they really had little to do with me. Now, one could argue that she was aiming for the most masculine environments, but then again there aren't a lot of women physicists.

Now, in a lot of ways I am undeniably, stereotypically male. Physical appearance for one: I'm 6' and big with a beard: hairy and proud. :) I'm often loud and unempathetic. I have the stereotypically male disregard for housework or grooming; I am glad as hell that I don't have to contend with hairstyles, uncomfortable footwear, makeup, or shaving. Everything in my wardrobe matches, by fiat. My wife isn't particularly feminine, and yet I can't understand why even she feels the need to own and wear six pairs of shoes. In short, this isn't some sort of transsexual coming-out post: I like my gender as it is, more or less.

But I've always had more female friends than male; in fact, I would feel intimidated about hanging out with a group of men. It's not just the jocks either; even at Bethans reunions, when the guys (Z and C and C and H etc) get together, I feel a certain awkwardness, as if I'm trying to pass.

At the risk of sounding prejudiced against my own gender, my guess is that a lot of male bonding occurs through playful insults, practical jokes, and friendly competition. Unfortunately, those same things can look like unplayful insults and unfriendly competition when turned against someone you dislike, and I got my fair share of them when I was growing up, as a priggish nerd whom the teachers and other grownups adored. I associate these things with hatred, not pal-ing around. I HATE practical jokes, I get royally pissed off if someone throws a snowball at me, and I dislike my competitive side so much I swore off board games for years and play racquetball by myself (though some of that is shyness, to be discussed in another post). My theory is that guys go through a transition period where they learn to give as good as they get, they see past the hazing and whatnot, and they end up bonding with other men who have been through the same rituals and harrassment. I, on the other hand, decided at some point that the whole thing was childish, and refused to play, and so I was never really inducted into "male culture".

There was an article I read a few years ago (2006), in an online magazine called the Escapist, about guys who play as girls on MMORPGs. One part stuck with me:

The archetypical male heroes, from the big blonde swordsmen to the plucked-from-obscurity, chosen-by-fate losers, have gotten old. But the age of Buffy and Veronica Mars has just started, and they make much more exciting heroes. Geek guys don't look up to the high school quarterbacks that smacked us in the locker room; we're more impressed by the complicated but confident geek girls, who actually talked to us in the library and always seemed more sure of themselves than the rest of school, no matter who teased them. And now they can slay giants. Who wouldn't want to be one of them?

That's it: I've hung out with the geek girls, ever since high school.

Which could be fine and good: it's who I am, no biggie, right? Well yeah, except that I end up seeing my gender as an obstacle rather than as anything positive (outside of my marriage, that is). Being the one man in a group of women (at, for instance, a playdate) can feel kind of awkward, like I have a big beacon strapped to my head. If I invite a new female friend to have lunch sometime, will she be suspicious of my motives? And there are certain topics I have to tiptoe around with women I don't know well, particularly anything to do with feminism (other than saying "Rah rah rah!").

I had a chat with a female physics student at UD last semester about gender. She said that while she had a number of male friends, and she got along with them just fine, it was often easier to talk with her female friends, because of the shared context. That sounded really nice, and really alien to me. One might say that this is due to women's supposed superiority with language or empathy or what have you, but Norah Vincent described the same sort of comfort in the bowling league she joined, among blue collar men. And so I've been wondering recently whether I'm missing out on something, if maybe I'm suppressing some part of who I am-- not that I'm going to start drinking beer and playing poker tomorrow, but is there *something* I'm missing? I've been thinking about those banners that would fly from Chapin every year: "Women's Pride". Pride? I can understand contentment, but pride in one's gender is a foreign concept to me. Is there something I'm missing? I haven't figured that out yet.

EDIT: I should have added that I don't feel particularly unique in this regard. I know plenty of men who don't fit the general stereotypes, whom you could never picture heckling someone or being overly competitive, let alone drink beer and watch football or something. And I get along with them. But I don't feel any particular connection with them because they are guys. Maybe we are all exiles from traditional male culture, and most of us have just made our peace with not having a gender culture. I get the impression, on the other hand, that even nontraditional women feel a bond with other nontraditional women. Maybe I'm mistaken there. Or maybe this is part of "male privilege" that I am able to ignore gender, just like I can spend most of my life oblivious to race. But maybe it's also due to the fragility of the culture of boys: boys are terrified of being labelled as girls, so there's not a lot of flexibility in the definition of "boy". This doesn't leave a lot of room for alternative definitions of masculinity, in the way that feminism has created a number of alternative definitions of femininity.

EDIT 2: Now I'm worried that this sounds like an existentialist crisis, and it's not really. I've gotten along pretty well with my equalistic approach, and will continue to do so. Maybe I'll learn to embrace my competitive side, or at least not feel so awkward in all-male company.
lihtox: (Default)
From [ profile] kcobweb, a meme: comment on this post and I'll tell you five subjects/things I associate with you. Then you post them in your lj and elaborate.

I was given Composition. Shyness. Feminism. Singing. Parenting. I could write an essay on each, so I'm splitting them up (plus maybe I'll get more comments if I do so...I like comments.) I'll do the dangerous one first: feminism.
Read more... )
Addendum:On men's rights organizations )
lihtox: (Default)
I've posted some minor details about Miriam etc but I haven't said anything about the major ones.

So we're moving to Toledo in May, and we're looking to buy a house! We're going to be there for at least seven years while Jen aims for tenure, and with the market what it is it seems like a good idea to buy-- although we're certainly okay with renting if we don't find anything we like. (The problem with renting first is that the move from Dallas to Toledo is being paid for by the University, including movers and all; a second move would not be. Would hate to have to move twice, particularly carrying all the boxes around ourselves the second time.)

We're in contact with the real-estate agent in Toledo who has sent us 230 listings. :) We've pared them down by how well-rated their elementary school is rated ( and how walkable the neighborhood is (, and gotten a list of maybe 20. In two weeks we'll be going to Toledo to look at the properties and the neighborhoods and so forth. A walkable neighborhood is really important to me: I hate relying on a car for everything. If there's a park and a library and a restaurant/coffee-shop and a grocery store within a mile of the house, I will be much happier. While I hate urban environments, I do prefer the small town setup over a suburban or rural area.

I really wish I knew what it was I would like in a home that would make it easy to work in one. Since Chicago I've gradually become more and more inclined to get out of the house as frequently as possible, to work. Granted, a lot of that time was spent underemployed or unemployed, and now that I spend all day with Miriam, getting out of the house is even more reasonable. Still, it feels like there should be some sort of setup or floorplan or something which would make the place more appealing to me, if I could figure it out. One thought I've had: we're looking for a 4-bedroom house, with a master bedroom, bedroom for Mira, bedroom for guests/other child, and one room as an office. The real estate agent wanted to know if we'd accept 3 BR and a finished basement, and that really has a certain appeal to me: a large room with a desk in the corner, maybe blackboards along the walls (I'm thinking blackboard paint), plenty of room to pace. It might really work; it's certainly different than anything else I've tried to use as an office.

Anyway, that's the news. :)

(Oh, and I still owe [ profile] kcobweb the five-word meme (my words: composition, shyness, feminism, singing, parenting), but I could write essays on most of them so this could take a while).
lihtox: (Default)
There's this webcomic called Geebas on Parade ( which is all about Live-Action Role-Playing; I restumble across it every few months. Not particularly well-drawn and the spelling is atrocious, and it's obviously intended for people who actually LARP, filled with inside jokes and so forth, but the fun of it is that, by the time I've read through the whole archive, I've got a great picture into the LARP culture, and I start to get all the inside jokes. I have a couple of regular reads that are like that, websites about cultures I don't really belong to, but I read anyway because I understand just enough to get a feel about what they're talking about. One example is The Daily WTF (, which is meant for professional programmers and sysadmins and so forth: I do write computer simulations but I'm not really in the same league, but I think the programmer culture is pretty interesting. I also enjoy reading about Dungeons & Dragons etc-- although I've never played a real game of it, I used to love reading the manuals when I was a kid, and I know enough of the lingo that I will, e.g., mumble to myself "successful saving throw" when I don't eat that last donut. Order of the Stick ( and the (since-ended) DM of the Rings ( are examples of webcomics which wouldn't make nearly as much sense to someone with no knowledge of D&D.

I suppose that I get a feeling of satisfaction (probably exaggerated) that I am able to understand the jargon of a group I don't really belong to, but part of it is peering longingly into the window: I don't really want to be a professional programmer, mind you, but D&D's something I've always wanted to do and never did, LARP sounds kinda fun from what I've seen in Geebas, and just in general I miss being part of a community. I have all my physicist jargon of course, but physics doesn't really have a clubby atmosphere, not that I've seen; although it certainly sounds like it DID when I read books by Feynman and others.


Feb. 20th, 2009 07:00 pm
lihtox: (Default)
Watching Miriam is hardest when I'm trying to do something else, when I decide that, to help pass the time, I'm going to read the web or listen to my iPod or read a book while watching her. She's really very good at entertaining herself, but when she reaches her limit she notices my lack of attention, and wants what I have, wants to do what I'm doing. That's when I get the most frustrated, and the most worn out. What I should do instead is to give her my whole attention, to focus completely on her, and then I can give her what she wants and she is happy and I can enjoy her too.

The same thing is true with my work: I would work best if I could become completely absorbed into it, and get into the "flow", but for some reason, whenever I sit down to work, I feel like I need something in the background-- music, radio, TV, whatever-- to "make it easier" to work, even though it doesn't make it easy to work.

I am afraid of boredom, I think. Afraid to be alone with my thoughts? And because I avoid the risk of boredom, I lose the chance to experience flow. When I was a child, I was very good at becoming completely absorbed in projects, and was notoriously oblivious to my surroundings. I don't know what happened. Maybe it happens to everyone when they grow up. Maybe I was so often accused of being oblivious that I'm afraid of the flow, afraid of losing track of time (this was particularly true when I was working somewhere and I needed to take the train home-- the fear I had of missing my train kept me from concentrating on my work). Maybe time seems more precious to me now than it did, and so I'm less willing to let it slip through my fingers, which paradoxically tends to make me waste more time as my fear overcomes my ability to concentrate.

I've recently started playing racquetball (by myself) again, once a week, and the local courts are wonderful: almost always empty, and very well soundproofed. In other places I've played, I've been distracted and annoyed by the sounds of other players, or music from a nearby weight room or aerobics class. Here, where there's none of that, I've discovered that I can get into "the zone", hitting the ball off the wall repeatedly until a half hour has passed without my realizing it. It's amazing. And yet every week, as I get ready to go, I think about bringing along my iPod and speakers, feeling this dread that the trick won't work this time, that after 10 minutes I will be painfully bored and unable to go on. "Flow" seems like such a magical event, and therefore not something to be counted on-- but fear is certainly an obstacle to it.

My conception about meditation is that it is meant to overcome this fear of doing nothing; by forcing yourself to sit still and do nothing, you prove to yourself that "nothing" does not hurt you, and once one is comfortable with nothing, it is easier to build something on top of that nothing. Sounds great, but it will take a great effort of will to overcome my fear in the first place, in order to take up meditation as a regular habit. But perhaps parenting could be a type of enforced meditation, and bring me to where I want to be.


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