Friday, April 27, 2012

A Physicist and a Cellist: The Netherlands

Dear Helen, Dear John,

I love learning how to learn. Learning how Harvard Physics Professor Eric Mazur learned to teach more effectively was enlightening and exciting to me.

In his presentation he even piqued my curiosity about physics and how fun it must be to understand how circuits work and be able to apply that understanding to lights going out on a Christmas tree. Perhaps after I feel confident in math I'll pursue that avenue further. In the meantime Mr. Mazur has my admiration on many levels, most especially for his willingness to be open to truth even when it is hard to accept and requires different action on his own part and in his refinement of the art of asking questions.

His fellow countryman, Pieter Wispelwey, opened my ears and my heart to the Haydn Cello Concerto in C several years ago.

Now I don't just listen to music I study the composers, the performers, their times and influences as well. This is in part due to him and how he studied music growing up. I love the seeming ease of his fingering as he plays. I've promised myself that I will be able to play this piece on the cello at some point in my life, even if it takes me years and years to do so. I already have the sheet music for it and I caress it longingly with my eyes now and then to inspire me to keep trying when I get discouraged and resistant to practicing.      

Ah, me. There is so much to learn and so many good questions to ask and to seek answers to all the rest of my life. Thankfully there are many passionate people who help keep me motivated along the way, including these two from the Netherlands.



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Hand Game from Pakistan

Dear Helen, Dear John,

It's wise to have a handful of activities in your head that require minimal supplies to keep kids occupied when you are stuck somewhere waiting. Last week my mom and I had the opportunity to turn a few pieces of scratch paper into magical toys for a little boy and his mom who were waiting at the same doctor's office with us for nearly three hours (yes, the wait was absolutely ridiculous). His giggles of delight over what we had created lifted the spirits of everyone in the office. When a bureaucratic mess required us to go in again just a few days later, some of our frustration melted into smiles when this little boy and his parents greeted us enthusiastically there. Little kindnesses make a difference. In this case they helped lift everyone and crossed language barriers in the process.

It's for this reason that I found a game from Pakistan intriguing. In Play with Us 100 Games from Around the World by Oriol Ripoll there is a description of a game called Up and Down that requires three players. It is a variation of Rock, Paper, Scissors that is great in part because it is simpler, allowing younger children to participate.

All players extend their left hands with their palms facing up. Players then place their right hands over their left hands at the same time with their palms facing down or up. The player whose hand is held in a different position from the other two wins. That's it. Simple, easy, quick, but a bit of a mind game because you have to guess what the other two players are going to do. It's a perfect way to occupy kids of various ages for a few minutes in a grocery store line.

On an olympic note, Pakistan will be competing in field hockey. There is a great article about how Pakistan celebrated the 100 days to the Olympics mark here. I've never watched field hockey before. I'm thinking this is an event I'll want to catch this year.

Celebrating games of all kinds that elevate and bring people together,


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Atacama: Chile

Dear Helen, Dear John,

The one thing that every friend of mine who has lived in Chile has had in common is that they each have individually brought up the Atacama Desert with me. Part of the reason for this is that it is difficult to picture a desert alongside tons and tons of water but that is exactly how the Atacama is. That's interesting, but it still surprised me that with their different ages and backgrounds that it was this aspect of Chile that they most wanted to talk about. So I looked into it further and found this Exploring the Atacama site.

It's fantastic: a quick introduction to the Atacama as well as a quick tutorial in reading and analyzing satellite pictures of geographical and man-made features. There is a puzzle to it that you are supposed to save until last and surprise of surprises, I actually got it right!

For me this exploration has highlighted an aspect of myself that instead of being unique to me, must have a certain human universality about it: the desire to be special and separate yet connected at the same time. The Atacama is that way for my Chilean friends: it's special in all the world and a common connector among them. I guess in some ways we are each a little like the satellite pictures of man-made roads seen from space: we have different lengths and traverse different terrain but connect in crossroads with each other along the way. Some of us choose to live our lives as thoroughfares, helping others to get to their next destination more quickly over paved ground; some as detours that keep others safe and refreshed when life doesn't go quite the way they had planned; some as deadends. We work within the areas where we begin and are somewhat limited by space and time, but there will always be some who will get creative and determined and push their boundaries beyond most, like those who build roads under rivers and over chasms, or across the Atacama, into terrains barely inhabitable but with a beauty and ruggedness never experienced in exactly that way anywhere else.

Your road builder with daring aspirations,


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Rhind Papyrus and How Papyrus is Made: Egypt

Dear Helen, Dear John,

Math is an area I'm working to get comfortable and competent in. Yes, I did make it up through Algebra II in high school, which was remarkable under the circumstances, but I haven't felt comfortable and confident in math since elementary school- something as an adult that I'm trying to rectify.

Math really is everywhere and a part of everything. It was developed to solve problems from how to share food fairly and equally among odd numbers of people to how to build a structurally stable house. The Rhind Papyrus is an ancient written example of how they solved the math problems commonly encountered in Egyptian daily life.

Something I enjoy about math problems is that they have clearly defined and consistent answers. Everyday life can get messy with problems that may have several good answers, many less-than-stellar ones, and perhaps a few better and best ones. A frustrating aspect of this is that often you don't know when you are getting things really right in your life until much, much later. More than once I've thought I've really blown something only to discover that I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what I needed to do. Math is pattern and order hidden in what may appear to be chaos to the naked eye. I like that.

I also happen to like what the Rhind math puzzles and equations are written on: papyrus. I thought papyrus was one of the coolest creations ever when you (John) and Grandma brought some back from Egypt thirty years ago. I'm not sure what happened to them, but watching how papyrus is made brings all the magic and wonder of that experience back to me:      

I'm obviously not alone in my awe because from pyramids and mummies to ancient manuscripts and the Nile, Egypt has been capturing people's imagination for centuries. For me it is making my quest to climb Mt. Math more enjoyable.

Puzzling and calculating,


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Desperate Hours: Turkey

Dear Helen, Dear John,

I studied rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust a great deal when I was in high school. It made me braver at a time when I was really scared and it helped keep my focus on how good people act in extremely difficult circumstances.

That there would later come a time when a family would hide my brothers and sister and me in a room hidden away in the middle of their house from the men threatening to kill us while my parents testified in a murder trial, putting their own children at risk, was not something I could have foreseen, but it is an experience I will never forget.

I know what it is like to have those around me living fairly normal lives while my own family was being sent into hiding because of evil men. It is perhaps for this reason that documentaries like Desperate Hours  mean so much to me. The role Turkish diplomats played in saving Jews in Europe during WWII shown in this film was a revelation to me. I have new heroes in my life. One of them is Necdet Kent. His choice to board a train bound for a concentration camp in order to save those on it is one I hope to remember for the rest of my life.

One person can make a difference. One family didn't just protect my family physically, they protected my soul. That's what good people in difficult times can do- even when they are not successful in their original efforts- because they leave a legacy of kindness and light that can make us braver and that can give us hope.

Still grateful to those who protected me,