Set Up An Integral, and Other Good Advice We Probably Won't Take

24 August 2001

I got a webtester this morning just as I was about to begin my journal entry. This person wanted me to make up math problems for him/her to do. Since that's one of the things I'm supposed to tutor, I started to set up an integral.

(This is something they teach you at the very beginning of your sophomore year of a physics major. What do you do when you don't know what else to do? Set up an integral. It was always the answer, or the beginnings of an answer. It was my default for years. "What's the first thing you do when you want to see if your oscilloscope is working?" said Paul. "Set up an integral!" I said. He laughed, coughed. "Um, no. Make sure it's plugged in." "Well, that, too." And then, in Bible class the same semester: "So the Gospel writer here was obsessed with being filled with the Holy Spirit. We can even play a fill in the blanks game here." Me, internally: "Oh, goody. I'm paying $18,000 a year to fill in the freakin' blanks. Why am I taking this rather than 'England, Prehistory to 1399' or 'Scandinavia in the Modern Era?' Oh yeah. Graduation requirements." Dr. Meierding: "So. 'On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus --'" The rest of the class, mumbling dutifully: "Filled with the Holy Spirit." Me: "Set up an integral!" Meierding: "What was that?" Me: "Never mind.")

(I bet he did. It's useful.)

So. The webtester wants no calculus. Interrupts me when I've barely got the integral symbol entered to say "please pleas please no calclus." So I set up a quadratic to factor, a right triangle to solve (and it was only a variation on 5-12-13, so you didn't even have to use the formula), and a sine function of which to find the period.

The webtester disappeared without a further word.

I finally finished The Europeans yesterday. No Finns. Not a single one. Not even in casual mention. There was casual mention of a Bulgarian, I think. But no Finns at all. Also no Swedes, no Norwegians, no Danes, no Dutch, very few Belgies, almost no Spaniards, very few Poles, Irish, Austrians, short, this book was not about The Europeans at all. I can see considering the British Isles separately (only Britain was included), and I can see considering Scandinavia separately. But once you start getting rid of Spain and Greece and the Netherlands and almost all of Eastern Europe and...yeah, I think you need to give up on calling a book The Europeans and start calling it The French and the People Who Annoy Them or something like that.

So in a desperate stalling attempt not to figure out what to read next, I'm catching up on my periodicals. I'm almost done with that, though. Thing is, I don't know whether The Europeans should count as work reading or fun reading (it was really neither, unfortunately), so I don't know which I should have next. I'm thinking I'll start Four Finns: Political Profiles to be virtuous, and if I just can't stand being virtuous (this happens from time to time), I will pick up something I've borrowed from David or Tim.

I suppose I could read something that's research for a book I won't be writing for years now. But that would only postpone the problem.

Mostly my reading doesn't follow such strict rules, but mostly I'm not working on a great big ol' book that requires twenty tons of research, so there you have it.

One of my recent frustrations with e-mail is that people I know well and care about are using it only to deal with problems. They can read my journal to get a feel for the surfaces of my life, which is fine and lovely. But then I don't hear from them, or don't hear from them at length, until their hamster dies. (Note that I cleverly picked a problem that none of you has actually had. If you think I might be talking about you, well, you said it, not me -- but you're certainly not alone.)

It's not that I don't want to hear about the hamster. I want to hear about the hamster! I want to hear about what a great hamster it was and how sad you are and how you don't know if you'll ever be able to have another hamster who attempts to bite you in just the same way and so on. And, in fact, if you don't write me about the hamster, I will worry more, will wonder what else that's close to your heart you're not telling me. My mom struck terror into my heart by chirping at me, "Oh, good news -- that spot on Grandpa's lung? It wasn't cancer. It wasn't even a spot. It was just an artifact of the X-rays, so there's nothing to worry about." I had not, in fact, been worried -- because nobody had told me about the spot on the lung. (Sorry, Ma, but we've already fixed this issue, so you're a safer example than anybody who's currently worrying me.) (Also, most people who know my mother would never, ever describe her as chirping anything, and that was probably a poor verb choice, despite the resolute cheer in her voice at the time.) I then sat around for the next several semesters wondering what else she was saving up to tell me when finals were over.

So yes, tell me about your hamster. But tell me other things, too. If you don't have a journal, I won't be able to guess at the details of your life; and if you do have a journal, you know full well I'm only getting what you choose to show the rest of the world. If I'm close enough that I'm someone you think of when your hamster dies, please also think of me when you read a book you love, or when you get to play with your new baby cousin, or other stuff like that. And don't tell me your life is "not interesting." Interesting is what we make it. My "aunt" Kathy can make a story of how she baked muffins into the most hysterical thing you'll ever want to hear. Interesting? People, I sit in front of a screen and hit little buttons for a living. Granted, they're the buttons I want to hit rather than the buttons some boss tells me to hit. But still.

The thing that really amuses me is that I can predict at least three people who will write to me asking who I was talking about, and at least two more who will write to me asking if I was talking about them.

Anyway. I'm going to go write to a couple of people who have metaphorical dead hamsters, and then I'm going to run errands maybe, and work on the Not The Moose Book and on the short story that's been kicking my butt all week. I will triumph over the story in my head....

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