s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: May 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

All I really need to know I learned from U2

(for Ginsberg)

You've got to cry without weeping, talking without speaking, scream without raising your voice. • A man will beg, a man will crawl on the sheer face of love, like a fly on a wall. • Freedom has a scent like the top of a new born baby’s head. • A man melts the sand so he can see the world outside. • Sleep, sleep tonight and may your dreams be realized. • In a little while, this hurt will hurt no more. • You were talking about the end of the world. • Sleep comes like a drug, in God's country. • You are such a fool to worry like you do. • Sometimes you can't make it on your own. • You make me feel like I can fly so high. • Daddy's gonna pay for your crashed car. • I can't live with or without you. • It's the blind leading the blind. • Oh you look so beautiful tonight. • Some days are better than others. • I know that this is not goodbye. • Still I'm waiting for the dawn. • I will sing, sing a new song. • One man betrayed with a kiss. • She moves in mysterious ways. • We get to carry each other. • I'll wipe your tears away. • All because of you, I am. • It's a beautiful day. • All I want is you. • I believe in love. • I will follow. • Be strong. • Stay. • I believe in the kingdom come, when all the colors will bleed into one, but . . .

I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cat. & Reference: My library, by the numbers

For fun, I decided to go through my books on LibraryThing and figure out the percentage that belongs to each of the top 10 classes of the Dewey Decimal System. (Why, what do you do for fun?) I know that Dewey's system isn't perfect, but it's a place to start, and I thought the breakdown was interesting.

Here are the classes, starting with the highest percentages (and with an explanation of what subjects belong in each class):

800s = 43%

The 800s comprise "literature," so it's no surprise that this is the largest class, since I do like reading fiction. (Incidentally, most public libraries eschew Dewey's fiction classification in favor of genre breakdowns such as "general fiction," "mystery," "sci-fi," and "romance," leaving the 800s otherwise sparsely populated with texts on rhetoric or encyclopedias of literature. However, the 800s are technically where all fiction belongs, under Dewey's system.)

700s = 18%

The 700s comprise "arts and recreation." I was actually a bit surprised that this category was the second largest category, since I don't consider myself a particularly artsy. However, books on knitting, music, bookbinding, graphic design and typography all fall into this category (not to mention my lone weightlifting book), so apparently it adds up to a significant chunk.

400s = 8%

The 400s comprise "languages," so it doesn't surprise me that this is a big chunk. I'd actually have thought that it would be a larger chunk, but a lot of my foreign language literature is classed in the 800s, even though I shelve it with my foreign language dictionaries in my home library. It's also worth noting that my LibraryThing account includes not just all the books I currently own, but also all the books I recall ever reading. I'm more likely to buy reference books and but borrow fiction, so my LT account contains a higher percentage of fiction than my home library does.

300s = 6%

The 300s comprise the social sciences (with the exception of psychology, which goes in the 100s and history and geography, which get their own class). I've got a little bit of everything in this class, including books on economics, business, and books about people who fall into specific social classes (women, the working poor, centenarians, multiracial people, and the deaf). You'll find folklore and mythology at the tail end of the 300s, including the two books I own from Time-Life's "Enchanted World" series. (I'd love to own the other 19 books in the series.)

500s = 5%

The 500s are science. This includes my physics books, as well as books I've read about mathematics, astronomy, and natural history.

600s = 5%

The 600s are officially called "technology," which works out to be applied science, more or less. This class includes medicine, engineering, cooking, and also some books on graphic design. (I'm not sure exactly why my typography / bookbinding books are falling into two different general classes — perhaps it's the difference between an art and a craft, which is more like an "applied art"? At any rate, this illustrates an ongoing problem that catalogers face: Some books fit neatly into just one place in a classification system, but some books could easly be classed in two, three, or even four different places. Part of being a good cataloger is being able to use good judgment in such situations to determine where a book should go.

000s = 4%

This class includes "computer science, information, and general works." This class, as Dewey originally envisioned it, was supposed to comprise just general reference materials. However Dewey wasn't prescient enough to leave enough room in the 600s for computer science, so it had to be shunted over here when the field became large enough. Even so, most computer science books have ridiculously long Dewey numbers, because they've been wedged into a corner of the classification system that was never intended to hold them. (This is a common problem with classification systems: No matter how well you describe the world you know, there's always something new coming around the corner which will wreack havoc with your tidy little system.)

200s = 4%

For a person of faith, I don't have a ton of books on religion. I've never really been into Mormon history, though (I find it depressing), nor do I have any great interest in Mormon nonfiction bestsellers. I do have quite a bit of religious music books, but those are all classed in 700s with other types of music.

900s = 4%

History has always been my worst subject. I'm both bad at it (it makes no sense to me) and relatively uninterested in it, so opinion of the subject is basically that it's a nasty hard thing that I occasionally have to suffer through. I do better with learning history through biographies, though, because the story of someone's life seems to give me a needed logical thread by which to make sense of everything else.

In Dewey's original system, all biography was classed in the 920s. Since then, biographies have been reclassed to the subject area for which the person is famous. E.g., physicists' biographies are classed with physics, artists' biographies are classed with their artistic specialty, economists' biographies are classed with economics, etc. Only books which are about biography, generally, and biographies of political figures are still classed in the 900s. So I've read a lot more biographies than are represented here, but they're scattered throughout the rest of my library.

100s = 3%

The last and smallest class is the 100s, which comprise "philosophy and psychology." I've got a couple of interesting books in here, such as a book on the history of IQ testing (good, but sad), and books by Descartes and Pascal that I bought for one of my French literature classes. While I like books which are philosophical in nature, I don't have a lot of use for straight philosophy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

For the baby medievalist in your life

A baby blanket based on the Chartres Cathedral Pavement Maze.

(I guess it doesn't have to be a baby blanket, but it looks like it would be a nice size for that purpose.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

S is for Sunbeam

One of the nice things about my calling is that I'm not responsible for disciplining the Primary kids or for entertaining them. This is good, because I'm not naturally good at holding people's attention and I'd have a hard time making them behave. (I get bored and fidgity, too.)

However, I do still like interacting with the kids, especially when we're doing a craft project for Sharing Time. Yesterday we were making a Mother's Day project which involved folding a paper doily in quarters, tying a string to it (to make a sort of pocket), making a paper flower out of tissue paper and a pipe cleaner, and decorating a card. Needless to say, the younger kids needed a bit of help, so I ended up hanging out with the Sunbeams and assembling their pockets while they colored the cards.

We have identical twin boys in the Sunbeam class and I've been working hard at learning to tell them apart. (I'm trying to learn the names of all of the kids, but I obviously have to work a bit harder with those two.) So I sat and talked with them as I tied the strings on their doilies. I asked Daniel if he goes by "Dan" or always "Daniel." (Always "Daniel.") And I pointed out that the string actually changed colors, so Daniel's string was white and blue while Jeremy's string was white and pink. (Jeremy didn't seem to mind; he just drew "J's" all over his Mother's Day card — I guess so she would know who it was from. Daniel colored part of his card blue and called it good.) And then I made the mistake of calling the folded doily a "pocket," which Daniel didn't think was accurate. "This is a pocket," he said, pointing to his pants pocket. So then we discussed how many pockets he had in his pants and on his shirt. (Two in his pants and one on his shirt.)

Also, I told them that if you're tying string, you have to sing the "string song," which goes like this:

"String, string, stringy string
Stringy, stringy string.

String, string, stringy string
Stringy, stringy string.

String, string, stringy string
Stringy, stringy string."

They thought it was pretty funny, but maybe you had to be there.

I realized as I was heading back to the primary room that I'm probably the goofiest of all of the adults who work with the kids — I'm perfectly willing to have a prolonged discussion about pockets and string and to invent an impromptu "string song," if the occasion calls for it. I got to wondering where I inherited this quality and then I realized, Duh!

It started when my brother turned 3 and was scared to go to Sunbeams alone, so my dad would sit in on the class with him. Halfway through the year, the original teachers moved and my dad was always there anyway, so they called him to be the new teacher. So, every Sunday he brought a laundry basket of toys to church with him — we had an awesome Little Tykes road set — and entertained the kids with songs — "Johnny hammers with one hammer" — and stories about his dad. "My dad's hair was so red, they called him Red!" (True story. My grandfather was an airplane mechanic and all of his work shirts had "Red" embroidered on them instead of his given name.)

We were in a ward with a large percentage of single-parent families, so a lot of his kids didn't have a male adult in the home. (One of his girls called him her "daddy teacher" for years afterwards.) He had the calling for seven years, until my parents moved out of the ward.

It's odd that I should realize I'm my father's daughter on Mother's Day, but sometimes that's how life is. Anyway, Happy Mother's Day, Dad!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Utah Mormon stereotypes examined: #3 Disrespectful behavior towards adults

"U[tah] m[ormon]s call adults by their first name. In the South you'd be shot for such disrespectful behavior. That would be on par with making a pass at the relief society pres; you just don't do it."

This I find completely baffling. Normally, I can kind of, sort of, at least marginally see where a particular stereotype is coming from, even if I think it's false, but I really have no clue why George from Texas thinks that this is characteristic or stereotypical of Utah Mormons. Nonetheless, he does, so I'll address it.

To reiterate, this is completely false. I spent the first 25 years of my life in Utah — in Happy Valley, no less — and I can't think of anyone I knew growing up who regularly addressed adults by their first name, let alone a core cadre who did so. (If anyone from any other regions of the state had a different experience, I'd be curious to know about it.) My guess is that this is more of a Southern / Yankee split than a Utah / not Utah one. (My Mainer roommate says she regularly calls friends' parents by their first names, which lends credence to the theory.)

My experience is that Utah Mormon youth tend to call adults "Sister" and "Brother," certainly within the ward, but even outside it, to a large extent. I grant that it's less formal than "Mr." or "Mrs. / Ms." ("sir" and "ma'am" being rarely used, except perhaps with strangers), but I don't agree that it's a sign of a higher degree of social informality, overall. If anything, the structure of the Church constantly reinforces the use of formal titles such as "Sister," "Brother," "Bishop," "President," etc., to the point that they're often used by adults when referring to or addressing each other. (I was very startled once to her our SP's wife refer to her husband as "George," mostly because I had no idea who she was talking about.) Calling someone "Brother" or "Sister" is also a nice cop-out when you've forgotten someone's first name.

Oh and, for what it's worth, it's actually OK to make a pass at the RSP in a singles' ward.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Foods I miss

Egg salad
Corn chips (both Fritos and the restaurant variety)
Potato chips (especially salt & vinegar flavor)
Creamed corn
Salad dressing

Sunday, May 04, 2008

An exercise for the student

I'm a creature of habit. There are a lot of areas in which I don't like trying new things, especially if I've already found something that I already really like. This is particularly true when it comes to music; in fact, I pretty much dislike every song I hear, the first time I hear it. (There have been some exceptions, but then sometimes I got sick of those songs really easily.)

As you might imagine, this makes finding new music to listen to rather tricky. However, I've discovered that if I buy an album which has a few songs on it that I already know and like, I can generally suffer through listening to the rest of them until I actually start liking them, as well.

I used to buy a new CD ever time I had to make a cross country trip, and then I'd put the CD on shuffle until I'd heard all of the songs I liked. (Then I'd typically take it out and put in an old favorite.)

Which brings us to our exercise.

Given a CD with m songs I like on it and n total tracks (where we assume that nm), how many songs will I have to listen to on average before I hear all of the songs that I like? (Remember that the CD player is on shuffle, not random, so each track will play exactly once before any of them repeat.)

I once derived a general solution to this, which I'll add as a comment, but I don't understand why it works, only that it does. (For low values of m and n, at least. Katya's Last Theorem, anyone?)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

All I really need to know I learned from The Beatles

She loves you. • Money can't buy me love. • You can't do that. • Any time at all, all you gotta do is call, and I'll be there. • There are eight days in a week. • You've got to hide your love away. • I need somebody. • I believe in yesterday. • In my life, I love you more. • We can work it out. • You've got to admit, it's getting better. • I get by with a little help from my friends. • All you need is love. • Take these broken wings and learn to fly. • Everybody's got something to hide except me and my monkey. • Life goes on. • Don't you know it's gonna be alright. • Take a sad song, and make it better. • Let it be. • The walrus was Paul. • Once there was a way to get back homeward. • Here comes the sun. • Come together. • The sun is up; the sky is blue. • Half of what I say is meaningless.