Category Archives: History

Mathematics #1: A Wall of Lights and Estimation Skills

Today’s post comes from NorthShorer.

Four weeks ago the night after I had the useless shots in my back I could not sleep and decided at 3:00 a.m. to take out the garbage. When I opened the door to the garbage room, I walked into a wall of lights.

The owners of our building finagled two grants to install LED lights throughout the building at only slight cost. I have been hearing about this for a couple months and imagined, I suppose, a few small boxes of bulbs, not that pile, which is only half the bulbs for the hallways, security lights, garage lights, and parking lot lights. Another pile even larger was in the other garbage room at the other end of the building. Reminded me of a few stories of people who failed to estimate the weight and volume of pennies they either ordered or amassed. To be fair these new lights are not just bulbs; they need new fixtures. For instance all the standard recessed tube lights in the three stories will be replaced by a same size fixture holding several LED bulbs.

What also is surprising is how much brighter are the LED lights in the garage and hallways. Our yard is almost daylight from the new security light above us. I have avoided LED lights because they gave such dim light.

On Wednesday they will install LED lights in the attached lights in all apartments, which is nice for me because I cannot reach the ceiling lights. They will also cart away for free all of the fluorescent bulbs we have. Our apartment is about the average. It will get 27 new bulbs. The building has 65 apartments, plus eight other rooms to get bulbs. 27 times 65 equals 1,755 bulbs. Add in another four dozen to get, say, 1,800 or so. How big a pile will that be? I bet each will come in a protective carton. I happened to be in the Batteries Plus store recently. The owner noticed my address and said he was supplying just the bulbs. He, too, had underestimated the volume. The supplier told him the bulbs would have to be shipped to the apartment building because they would not fit in his strip mall store.

All the medical facilities in this town will soon get LED bulbs under a grant from the same sources. There are six large clinics and the massive hospital, plus a couple smaller ones. What will those piles look like? I am pleased for this change because the tube lights give me a bad headache while I wait around.

Estimation is a vital skill. Schools are doing more to teach it, for one thing to try to get kids not to just accept what their fancy graphing calculators say. I am usually rather good at estimation, except in extraordinary events like these lights. I am very good at estimating distances and travel times. For weights I am usually far off. I know what time it is quite well without using a clock, a skill I developed working outside as a child. I don’t have to be outside seeing the sun to do this. Not sure if this is estimation, but I almost always know which way is north. When I do get turned around, I get agitated. I used to astound my partner with this ability plus the ability to remember routes we took on a previous visit, sometimes months before. In the post and common roads of the Northeast that is a challenging skill.

The students used to be astounded by how the chemistry teacher and I could quickly estimate calculations and come close. He was a very intelligent man and knew rapid calculation skills. His estimations were often exact..

I am intrigued byhow computers find complex answers through a series of estimations instead of seeking an exact answer when it is not needed. This shortens the time for calculation, often by days.

How are you at estimation of volume, distance, weight, time needed for a task? Do you know what time it is without looking at a clock? Do you know which way is north on unfamiliar ground? Can you guess the number of beans in the jar? Do you always measure carefully for recipes?

Checking Things Out

We are in Savannah now. The weather is sunny and in the 70′ and 80’s. I am stuck in meetings all day, so husband spent our first day exploring the historic area of Savannah by himself. He took a trolley ride that took him all over the city with a tour guide who explained the sights and scenes. Then he explored a little on his own. I like guided tours. I know some people like to explore on their own. There is sure a lot to see here.

How do you like to get to know a place?  Any memorable guides who you have encountered 

Say It Ain’t “Snow”

I moved to Minnesota in 1974 and at the end of my first Minnesota winter, it snowed 11″ on April  8.  At Carlton we celebrated by having a snow sculpture contest on The Bald Spot.  So I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that it’s snowing right now.  But really?

What trend are you just finished with?


Saints Preserve Us

I really enjoy reading about the lives of the saints.  I am fascinated by their histories, and I am also fascinated by the veneration of the saints by many Christians.  Lawrence Durrell writes in his book The Greek Islands that he observed the Greeks to have an intensely personal relationship with their saints, often chastising them for not coming across with answers to prayers. He heard one person angrily refer to their saint as “that stinking old cuckold in the niche” after being particularly disappointed by him.  I am Lutheran, a member of a church not typically associated with the saints.  I understand, though, how important the saints are to many people, and how comforting and reassuring it is to know that someone who was human and not perfect but really, really special,  has our interests at heart.

It is interesting to see  references to the saints in modern day life. Unless you know about St. Apollonia, for example, you might not understand why the new dentist office in town is called Apollonia Dental Services.

Many of the saints died horrible and violent deaths for their faith. Many are exlemplars of Christian charity.  Some saints are more difficult to fathom.  St. Christina the Astonishing is one of the patron saints of mental health workers.  Born in 1150, she was a rather alarming  Belgian woman who died of a massive seizure at the age of 20, and arose out of her casket at her funeral and floated to the rafters of the church complaining that she couldn’t bear the smell of all the sinful people in the congregation. She went on to behave in very alarming ways until she died again at the age of 74.  I don’t know if I would want her to intercede on my behalf.  She was pretty odd. I would rather rely on Isidore of Seville, who wrote the first encyclopedia compiled in the post-classical world, and who probably knows a lot about  everything there is to know.

Even if you are not a believer, who would you want to be your patron saint? 



What’s in a Name

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

Most people cheerfully accept the name their parents gave them. But not all. Some folks have strong emotions their given names . . . strongly positive or strongly negative emotions.

A Jewish friend had a teenaged daughter named Sarah. For some reason that chose not to share, Sarah came to despise her name. My guess was that she decided it was too Jewish and old fashioned. Sarah began identifying as “Daisy.” That put her in conflict with her teachers, for they knew her given name and felt compelled to use it. After months of moods and conflicts, Sarah proved she would only respond teachers called her Daisy. The teachers caved in.

Names can be difficult in several ways. My mother’s name—Charmion—was a problem all her life. The name sounded vaguely French and was a challenge to spell or pronounce. People assumed it should be pronounced with a hard “ch” sound, like the word “charm.” But my mother grew up thinking the only correct pronunciation began with a “sh” sound like the word “shard.” Later in her life my mother began spelling her name Sharm, hoping that would be less confusing. Then, in her seventies, she went back to the original spelling. She was Charmion, dammit, and if other people couldn’t deal with that it was not her problem.

I have had issues with my name, which is Stephen. While I always knew that was my name, nobody called me that. As a kid, I was “Stevie” until the day I demanded that my parents and friends call me Steve. I have been Steve almost all my life, although some people—like bankers, lawyers and doctors—insisted on calling me Stephen, for that is my name on official papers.

After I moved to Michigan about a year ago, I acquired a new team of doctors and nurses who call me Stephen. Sometimes I ask them to call me Steve, but they don’t always comply. It really shouldn’t matter if the phlebotomist about to draw my blood calls me by my formal name. And yet it does matter. When people call me Stephen a little voice in my head notes, “You don’t know me, do you?”

When I became a writer I had to choose the name I would use on published work. A writer friend who lived in Boston was Steve to friends and yet the author name on his books was Stephen. I’ve always been amused and slightly put off by that decision. And actually, he is a somewhat vain fellow who tries hard to impress others. But then, many writers present themselves in print as being more accomplished than they actually are.

I decided to publish under the name of Steve Grooms. It was an easy decision. I am a thoroughly Midwestern guy, and the core of being Midwestern is humility. My mother raised me to be modest, optimistic and unpretentious. The persona I used in print was that of a guy who was often amused by his own incompetence. For me, this Steve/Stephen thing is not trivial. I have feelings about it. In my heart, I am Steve, not Stephen.

I haven’t mentioned my middle name, and that was another easy choice. I hate my middle name. It was “given” to me by my father in a foolish attempt to flatter his father. But his father (my grandfather) was a bigot and misogynist who was disliked by most people in his family. I never mention my middle name.

Do you have any issues or thoughts about your name?

Mystery Visitor

I had some annual medical checkups recently, and I am happy to report I will be around for at least another year.  I signed up for my medical provider’s on-line medical records portal so that I could read my medical chart. I enjoy reading the nitty gritty of my lab reports and such, but I was shocked when I read a radiology report from a recent mammogram. There was a mystery woman described in the report .

“Patient is a 60 year old white female” the report starts.

Wait a minute, I thought.  Where did this 60 year old woman come from? How did she get into my radiology report? Get her out of here!  There’s no one that age around here. I’m not that old!  Well,  I was born in 1958, and I did have a birthday in February. . .But how can I be a 60 year old woman?

I don’t feel “old”. I feel like me, a little stiffer and quite a bit grayer than I used to be, but not old. I know that most of the Baboons are older than I am, but I don’t think of them as “old” either.

Maybe it is a family trait. One of my great aunts resisted  going to the nursing home when she was 95 because she “didn’t want to live with a bunch of deadbeats”.  My father was always proud of his volunteer work with RSVP.  He drove “the elderly” to their medical  appointments when they were unable to drive, and most were younger than he was.  Maybe it is all in how you see yourself?

What about aging has surprised you? What makes a person “old”?