Monday, January 31, 2011

Humor, Preschooler Style

Vinny's sense of humor continues to grow and change.  I taught him the concept of the knock-knock joke over the summer, and he loves it still.  For some reason, his favorite stage from which to tell jokes is the potty.  So in the evening, when he is sitting on the potty doing his business, he is also telling me jokes.

Most of his jokes really aren't that funny, except for the fact that he laughs so heartily.  For example, while on the potty, the punchline of his knock-knock jokes is often "[X] farted!" which gets pretty old pretty fast.  He also repeats the old standards that I taught him, such as "Boo!" "Boo who?" "Don't cry -- it's just a joke!" and "Dwayne the bathtub, I'm dwowning!"

But it can be funny when he tells a surreal, Dada joke, such as "Knock knock!"  "Who's there?"  "Bob!"  "Bob who?"  "Bob sat on a mushroom!"  and its sequel, which culminates in "Bob got off the mushroom and sat on a log!"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Adventures in Stupid Speakers

Last week, a friend of mine attended a computer science talk and was faced with the ever-ubiquitous Gratuitous Pr0n* Reference (GPR).  It made me want to FEMINIST HULK smash something to hear of yet another incident of GPR.

I am not a fan of P..n, to say the least.  I find it highly offensive and degrading to women (and to men, as well).  The reasons I believe this are long and complicated, but suffice it to say that this is based upon long hours of thinking, and studying of feminist theory, as well as my own ideas about social justice.  So when I encounter some jerk bringing a GPR into his talk, it makes me angry.  But it also makes me feel small and self-conscious, because I am often only one of a few or even the only woman in the room.  It reminds everyone that in our society, women are there for the pleasure of men, and makes them more conscious of the fact that I am a woman.

But even if you disagree with my assessment of P..n, there are a myriad of other reasons why incorporating a GPR into your talk is inappropriate.  Here are a few:

  • As the number of people in the audience grows, you are likely speaking to more and more survivors of sexual assault.  Survivors of sexual assault are often triggered by GPRs.  Why risk triggering someone's post-traumatic stress disorder for a cheap laugh?  There are plenty of other ways to get your point across.**
  • The best comedians are the ones who talk about humorous situations and use clever wordplay instead of degrading other people.  P..n jokes generally boil down to a joke about exploiting other people, which is not a funny topic.***
  • P..n is a controversial topic.  Since the topic of your presentation is computer science, why mention something that is such a hot button for so many people?  There are plenty of controversial views that I hold, such as my disbelief in a deity, but since I want my audience to learn about my topic and enjoy it as much as I do, I don't make jokes about stupid Christians or whatever.  (Not only for that reason, but also because I don't think Christians are generally stupid -- they're just mistaken about a particular topic -- and I respect believers as fellow human beings so I find jokes insulting others' intelligence disdainful.)
I've often been accused of being "oversensitive."  The problem here is not that I (or my friend) am oversensitive -- it's that others are not sensitive enough.  It would be nice if we could just go to work and be scientists instead of having to endure all this crap.

* This word altered to protect my blog from purveyors of said items.
** If you can't think of alternatives, you are seriously lacking in imagination and I feel quite sorry for you.
*** It is the same reason that jokes about minorities, the disabled, and other marginalized people are not funny.  But somehow, when it's about p..n, this no longer applies in many people's minds.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Sad, Sad Sniffer

When I learned about the five senses as a child, I remember comparing the relative enjoyment I derived from each one.  I remember thinking that as much as I enjoyed them all, I would miss my sense of smell the least.

That assertion is being tested in my life today.  You see, I have mostly lost my sense of smell.

It's not being blocked by nasal congestion.  I can breathe just fine.  But, when I inhale, my sniffer fails to register some portion of the scents in the air.

It has been a gradual process, but over time, I have been able to smell less and less.  I first noticed that I could not smell diaper odors very well when Vinny was still in diapers, but I just attributed it to olfactory adaptation.  Instead, I am afraid I am developing anosmia.

The severity of my affliction was underscored the other day when I started to eat some leftovers.  They smelled fine to me, but when I took a bite, I could tell that something was not quite right.  They tasted a little bitter.  So I asked Jeff to check it for me.  One whiff and disgusted fanning of his nose later, he informed me that the food smelled so rotten that there was no way it could have even made it into his mouth.  Thank goodness he was there to save me from certain food poisoning!

It's interesting, because there are lots of things I can still smell.  Skunk, body odor, hydrogen sulfide, and a host of other unpleasant odors are still quite vivid to me.  I can also smell some pleasant scents such as citrus, cinnamon, baking bread, and lavender.  I can smell some of the components of eucalyptus, and have relearned how to identify it.  And, on the bright side, I am almost completely immune to the smell of urine (I can detect that there is a scent but I can't tell what it is).*  But whatever was rotten in that food, I completely missed it, and this frightens me greatly.  Had I been alone the other day, I might have eaten those leftovers and made myself quite sick.**  And I probably would have just thought I had the flu or something, since that food had only been in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.

Other than that, though, the loss of my sense of smell has not been that traumatic.  So, maybe I knew what I was talking about.

* The other day I could smell something on Vinny's sleeper, and when I asked him about it he said he had dribbled a little urine on it.  So, I can detect urine but it no longer has that unpleasant, acrid smell I recall from the past.

** Maybe I need a personal food taster!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Adventures in Calendars

Yesterday I was talking about the fact that sufficient time has elapsed from the arbitrarily set starting point of our calendar system such that the date was filled with ones.  I have always been very interested in numbers, and starting when I was about Vinny's age, calendars were a big obsession.  I had my own perpetual calendar which I regularly studied.  I pored over it, seeking patterns in the days and months -- for example, my sister's birthday in April predicted the day of the week upon which both my September birthday and Christmas would subsequently fall.

That's why, when I saw the following on a Facebook friend's status, I had to respond:
I'm not superstitious, but this year July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So, copy this to your status and money will arrive within 4 days. Based on Chinese Feng Shui. The one who does not copy.....will be without money.
This July will indeed have five Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but this is a frequent occurrence -- once every seven years, on average.

If you think about it, you can see why.  The reason July will have five Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays is because the month will start on a Friday this year.  The day of the week July starts on is determined by what day January 1 is and whether it is a leap year.  There are fourteen unique calendars -- the year can start on one of seven days, and times two because it could be a regular year or a leap year.

There are 365 days in a (non-leap) year.  A week consists of seven days, so there are 365/7 = 52 weeks plus one day in a year.  This means that the next year begins one day of the week later than the current year.  The year that follows a leap year begins two days later.  So, this year (2011) began on a Saturday, next year (2012, leap year) begins on a Sunday, and the year after that (2013) begins on a Tuesday.

Non-leap years that begin on Saturday produce Julys with five three-day weekends.  So do leap years that begin on Friday (because that extra day occurs before July).  Thus there are two out of the fourteen possible calendars that exhibit this phenomenon.

But at what frequency do these calendars occur?  After all, there could be some calendars that occur more frequently than others.  Obviously, leap calendars are less frequent than regular calendars, but all leap and regular calendars occur with the same frequency as their counterparts.  In fact, there is a 28-year calendar cycle that is easily generated.

Let's code the days of the week as follows: Sunday = 0, Monday = 1, Tuesday = 2, Wednesday = 3, Thursday = 4, Friday = 5, Saturday = 6.  We can denote the year starting with a given day of the week with the corresponding number.

If there were no leap years, the sequence would look like this:
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...

However, there are leap years, so the sequence gets interrupted once every four years.  Let's denote leap years with a prime (') and the color red:
0, 1, 2, 3', 5, 6, 0, 1', 3, 4, 5, 6', 1, 2, 3, 4', 6, 0, 1, 2', 4, 5, 6, 0', 2, 3, 4, 5'
(at this point we start over with 0, 1, 2...)

If you count it up, there are three of each of the years 0 to 6 in this 28-year span, and one of each leap year.  So, if we count up the number of sixes and five-primes in the sequence (years with five three-day weekends in July), we get four out of 28, or one in seven.

So, I'm sorry, Facebook friend, but this phenomenon occurs on average once out of every 7 years, more than 100 times more frequently than you have asserted.  Your post will be as effective as all the other forms of feng shui -- in other words, completely ineffective.  But, at least it gave me something interesting to write about!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy 1/11/11!

It is a pretty exciting day on the calendar today for those of us who love numbers -- all 1's (and notice my time stamp -- 11:11 pm).  I enjoy patterns like this even though the only meaning is that sufficient time has elapsed since the arbitrary starting date of our calendar system such that there are a lot of ones in the date.

In other news, we have had a lot of snow lately (where by "a lot of snow" I mean about three inches).  This has caused sufficient havoc that they even closed my workplace on Monday, and Vinny's school has been out for three days this week (another snow day tomorrow).  It was Vinny's snack day tomorrow, and I baked up some blueberry-banana muffins for school, which I now have to do something with since school was cancelled.