chaos and dropcloths

I have spent a number of years studying chaos theory, a special branch of mathematics — I have even worked in the field, briefly at the Center for Nonlinear Studies and Los Alamos National Laboratory over a decade ago. This area of mathematics primarily looks at describing the amount of chaos in a system, and is used to find areas of stability in the midst of the chaos.

Despite any of my previous experience, I was totally unprepared for an actually experiment in applied chaos theory. Part of the problem was that I did not understand that getting one’s house repainted and carpet replaced actually was such an experiment. The least pleasant bit was coming home after the ceiling had been sprayed, and white paint dust shrouded almost the entire house. It seemed as though my home had undergone a little death. But, true to the nature of chaotic systems, as the work progresses, beauty has emerged, and the house is looking less and less like a house decorated over a decade ago and more and more like a new home. Tonight when I arrive at home, the carpet will be in, and with a bit of furniture replacement and unpacking, life will be almost normal again.

Should you ever contemplate redecorating, consider the implications of inviting a chaotic dynamical system into your home — a houseguest you will not be sad to see leave. I think we weathered it well.

marshmallow theology

You know, it is very hard to blog when your computer is in the basement, unplugged and unusable. We’ve been having the house painted, and the floors redone, so, for those few out there who actually read my blog, I apologize for the delay.

Two days ago, Carrie (5 yrs) and William (3 yrs) were playing, and Carrie was being quite mean to her little brother. A great deal of ordering about and shouting of “No, William!” was accompanied by his sad whining, and in frustration, we sent them both to their rooms — William crying.

We decided that he was not at fault, and it was decided he should get a treat — marshmallows. He loves marshmallows.

“William,” we called out, repeatedly.

He didn’t hear us because he was carrying on so loudly.

When I get upset, sometimes I start whining, crying out, and complaining to God. That day I started thinking — He knows my pain, He knows about the injustices I occasionally suffer. Could I be carrying on so much that I can’t hear Him calling out my name, waiting lovingly to give me marshmallows?

I think I had better quit whining and listen.

identity crisis?

Consider an odd premise: Could it be possible for a computer to accurately determine the gender of a writer of a piece of prose? Well, a couple of researchers claim to have figured out an algorithm that is 80% accurate at doing just that–well, for book-length works anyway. The two use stereotypes about gender language usage to make a prediction, to wit: females use more pronouns, males use more words that identify or determine nouns.

Of course, I couldn’t resist. Using cut and paste, I tried every single one of my prose blog entries into an implementation of a very similar algorithm and the results are in.

I type like a girl.

[1] Try it yourself at the Gender Genie.

learning to walk

Yesterday we went to the Golden Gate Canyon State Park. All summer, my daughter has been begging me to “take us to the mountains,” referring to her little brother and herself. And we were planning on spending this weekend at a camp in the mountains, so, sure, no problem. But after last weekend, we were still exhausted. So we would go on a picnic. But it rained on Saturday. And on Sunday.

Sunday night, Carrie woke up after having been asleep a short time, and she was crying. She had realized that summer was over, because she had started school, and daddy hadn’t taken her to the mountains. Needless to say, I felt about two inches tall. I explained that we would try and go on a picnic the next day, and hopefully it wouldn’t rain again. But I knew that we would be going even if the weather was not agreeable, because I had given my word.

Thankfully, the weather cooperated, and we fed trout and saw beautiful panoramas that included Longs and Torreys, two of the fifty-two peaks over 14,000 feet here in Colorado. They met a man who had two black horses and a carriage and he had them sit up in the carriage and talk to the horses. Then we had lunch and took a short hike.

It was interesting helping them discover how to walk on a mountain trail. For some reason, until that moment, I did not realize that, in a way, you have to learn to walk all over again. Lift you feet a little higher, so not to trip over the tree roots or rocks. Test your balance more deliberately before committing your weight fully to a step. At one point, Carrie tripped on a rock and fell fully prone, ending up with scuffed hands and knees. Will, on the other hand, seemed more natural with the whole process. In my mind, it became a metaphor for all the new things we encounter in our lives, and the attitude best adopted as we tread the new ground before us. Hopefully we are able to teach the little ones to go forward, but also test the experience before plunging in and scuffing up who-knows-what.

We all had a wonderful time in God’s great creation. As Amy said, “I think we’ll come back.”