ursula: (icosahedron)
My university's student body president made national news this morning, which means it's time to make that essay I've been writing about tenure public:

ursula: (Default)
Does this make sense if you don't know who Sophie Germain is? Is it interesting if you do? What should I change?


Boundary Conditions
Royal Academy of Science, Paris, 1823

This is her moment of triumph:
a seat at the center, a node.
Mademoiselle Germain sits silent,
head upright, chaperoned.
Academy members rise
or dip; the speaker drones.

Steel plate hums to the bow
like silk stretched tight.
Who grasps the edge controls--
she claims-- the waves inside.
She makes her hands unfold.
Her lips taste dry.
ursula: (Default)
I've been teaching a half-semester differential equations class, which means that as of today I'm finished teaching for the year (except for grading).

Our final homework assignment was, "Summarize this course in a creative way." One of the submissions was this surprisingly sophisticated music video:

ursula: (Default)
. . . I'm posting as myself. Questions from [livejournal.com profile] rivendellrose follow. As always, comment if you want five of your own.

1. How did you decide to go into math as your primary focus?

One answer is here, in a previous interview. Earlier influences were Halmos' Finite-Dimensional Vector Spaces, which I worked through with a professor at Reed in the spring and early summer of my junior year of high school, and The Thread, which is about a math professor who travels the world looking for people named Pafnuty. I don't think I was terribly impressed by The Thread the first time I read it, but it grew on me slowly.

I should note that I don't think of myself as especially mathematically talented-- I think of myself as a generally smart person with a bit more patience for mathematics than many other smart people. This made me slow to make up my mind about math, and it means that when I angst about grad school I angst about whether I care enough, rather than whether I'm smart enough. One of the conclusions from the latest round of philosophizing is that the clarity and inevitability of Finite-Dimensional Vector Spaces and its ilk are achieved by art (formal linear algebra isn't always beautiful? who knew?), and that one of the things I want to do when I grow up is write math texts.

2. What's your favorite (or just plain wackiest) memory from the SCA?

The strangest memory is Border Raids in Kentucky, on a gorgeous site among rolling hills. I sat by myself watching the fighting. Behind me, a woman in a lovely green cotehardie and a lot of eyeshadow argued with the man next to her about which of them was the most authentic hillbilly.

My favorite SCA memories are sitting around the campfire listening to my friends singing (yes, [livejournal.com profile] hanksan, that includes "If all the young lassies were little white rabbits . . .")

3. I don't think I've ever heard you talk much about music - what singers/bands/groups do you like best?

Er, yes, uh, notice that I didn't say "sitting around the campfire singing myself." If you asked me this question at a party, I'd tell you that I've always had a soft spot for "Lithium", and then name some subset of the Velvet Underground, the Beatles, the Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian, and the Bats. Lately, though, I've been more curious about stuff in the blues/bluegrass/folk/early country range.

4. What knitting project have you been the most proud of to date?

I'm proud whenever I finish something at an insanely fine gauge-- the Egyptian socks I made for [livejournal.com profile] glasseye long ago seemed impressive to me then, and the relic pouch for [livejournal.com profile] alaric and [livejournal.com profile] thechemgoddess still feels like a major accomplishment. In terms of design, my favorite project is a pair of black merino gloves I made for my sister, with cuffs of angora I'd found on sale, one blue-gray, one blue-purple. Those gloves are lost, alas, but [livejournal.com profile] gwacie should have a similar hat.

5. Which of Ursula K. LeGuin's books is your favorite, and why?

I like Tehanu and The Dispossessed and any number of short stories (you could probably map my childhood by determining which parts of Compass Rose I understood on any given reading). I might pick "Another Story" from Fisherman of the Inland Sea.
ursula: (sheep)
Questions from [livejournal.com profile] alsoelsewhere.

1. What was the subtle boredom you've occasionally mentioned?

A lack of focus: that is, a failure to focus my attention sharply on any one thing, which is restful at first but eventually produces a generalized feeling of aimlessness, and an inability to engage in distractions more complicated than interpersonal politics or video games or endlessly hitting refresh. I have a certain mental cycle: stressed and working hard, and also procrastinating in elaborate ways, followed by a deliberate attempt to block the world out (beat a game, read a book a day), and then an increasing sense that I ought to be getting back to work and doing something real; but when I don't have something which feels real to do I waffle about aimlessly.

I'm in rather an odd state at the moment, in that I think I'm just at the leading edge of the working-hard-and-procrastinating-interestingly state, but I'm also still dealing with my chronic Victorianate illness (it seems to involve a sensitivity to mold?), so that some days even making tea is hard, and I exhaust my store of motivation before I reach the projects I care about.

2. Do you put much effort into avoiding pretention? What is it really and why is it bad?

Pretending to wisdom or originality one doesn't possess makes for bad writing and tiresome public speaking. I avoid some sources of irritation unconsciously, and I try not to commit pretention by mistake; but as for effort, well, I'd rather make more tea. *

3. Your dreams. Recurring images, distinguishing features?

I have a large number of intensely everyday dreams-- that S. returned an e-mail about a (possibly trivial) presentation in Morse Theory with the remark that of course! I would be the natural person to do this, since I presented the very same thing two years ago in Manifolds, to pick a recent example-- some nightmares caused by sleeping with too many covers, uneasy dreams about wandering through airports-cum-shopping malls, and then the rarer and more treasured story. The most recent dream of this sort involved running from the head minion of an evil enchanter. I tried to escape by transforming myself into a white dress shirt in a closet full of identical white dress shirts, but she discovered me by analyzing the cut: "It would be all natural fibers . . . And a classic design . . ." Running from the enchanter or enchantress is a recurring plot, but more often those dreams become all about the running, scrambling up and down streambanks, twisting through woods.

4. What needs to change? What must be preserved?

Those dreams about whether I'll miss my flight; and ginger.

5. What is to be done?

It has to do with teaching in a building covered with white plastic, penguins marching, and Tukwila. And then there's finding a thesis problem.

* The would-be pretentious reader may compare Edith Wharton's Summer.

November 2016

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