Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Visit to the Library

This last Saturday, I wanted to visit one of the local university libraries.  Ever since graduate school, typical public libraries have lost their charm (Where are those book in French about quaternions?  And why doesn't the "new books" section have anything on Relativity, or Commutative Ring theory?) so I thought I'd take a visit, look up a few books, and investigate checkout policies.

I wanted to make this a family outing, but circumstances prevented that.  Saturdays are naturally busy, and time was eaten up by chores and grocery shopping; and seeing that there was some sort of event (likely basketball) that overwhelmed the roads, pushed me to go in the evening, after putting the children to bed.

Nonetheless, I made it!  I stood at a catalog computer, and looked up whatever topics came to mind (Yes!  They have Arithmétique des Algèbras Quaternions!)...and then I went down to the Science Collection (QA), where I breathed the air that that contained distilled mathematics.  I occasionally pulled out a book or two to thumb through it, but I didn't have time to do any reading.  I don't yet have the ability to check out books, either.

As much as I enjoyed this, I paid a heavy price:  my church meetings started early, and so I didn't get much sleep.  This, in turn, made the entire day a bit miserable.  On balance, though, I think the price was worth the trip!

This trip was sort-of "reconnaisance" for something I've been thinking about doing:  I've been toying with the idea of taking a half-week off, to pursue some sort of project.  I don't yet know what that project will be, but I want to have access to a book or two (likely on quaternions, or on Lisp, or on differential equations) before I begin it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Freedom to Do Laundry

Joe Huffman quoted an editorial that compared gun owners to rabid dogs, and advocated for removal of freedoms, in the interest of public safety.  The subject made me think of the circumstances of my Dad's death--it seems that so many things do right now--so I made the following comment:

I lost my father about two and a half weeks ago, and I've been through a lot of grief since then. He fell down the stairs and hit his head, and then died from hemorrhaging of the brain. He had a stroke four years earlier, which probably contributed to his loss of balance, and he had blood thinners, which made it difficult to control the bleeding.

It is natural to rhetorically say "we should ban stairs!", to mock gun-control activists. Obviously, we shouldn't, because stairs give us far more convenience than the danger presents.

But, in my grief, I found myself asking "What was my family thinking? Why were they allowing my Dad to carry his laundry up the stairs?!? With his stroke, it's practically inevitable that he'd fall down like he did!!!" It can reasonably be argued that, because of his stroke, he shouldn't have been allowed to take risks like going up and down stairs, or exploring the Salt Lake valley via walking, bus, light rail, and train.

Then again, after his stroke, my Dad lost the ability to work--to design, build, and repair electronics circuits, in particular--but even to write computer programs, or to tinker in general. In many ways, simple things like doing his own laundry, or wandering the Valley, were the last few dignities that my Dad still had. And I'm inclined to think that, had we taken even those away, he may have simply just lost the will to live...and whether or not he would have lived longer, it would have been even worse for him.

It seems that too many people are eager to take away our freedoms, so that we could all be "safe"...but these people never seem to consider what the removal of these freedoms will do to our dignity, or our will to live--or even whether or not they actually make us safer.

And I, for one, am tired of sacrificing liberty for the illusion of security.
In the debate on gun control, it seems that gun-totin' folk are so ready to say things like "Should we ban stairs, to keep people from falling down them?"; the question is usually rhetorical--and it's easy to forget, in its rhetorical nature, that sometimes banning stairs isn't always rhetorical!  We have to ask ourselves:  is the risk that we may get hurt, worth the freedom to take that risk?

If I remember correctly, something like this is written in my little notebook--the one that contains "stream of consciousness" thoughts about my father's death--so this may be the first such thought shared from those little bits.  Ironically, I expected my first such posting to be cynical thoughts about health care!

As a side note:  in my observations, I noted how my Dad went up and down those stairs even before the house had a first story.  The house was built over twenty-five years ago, and while we were waiting for it to be finished, my Dad would take us to see it, and took pictures of it in its various stages.  I was about 8 or 9 at the time, and I enjoyed these visits.  Oh, how life has changed since then!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Dad Passed Away

Two weeks ago today, my father passed away.  He fell down a stairway while trying to bring his laundry up the stairs, and hit his head on the landing below.  About four years ago, my dad had a stroke, and so he was on blood thinners, to prevent other strokes.  Because of those blood thinners, surgeons were unable to control the bleeding in his brain, and he was declared brain dead the next day.

It's been a rough two weeks.  My dad had a great influence on me--indeed, he was a tinkerer, and an innovator, and much of that has rubbed off on me.  I sometimes wonder if I should have pursued an Associates in Electronics, or a degree in Electrical Engineering, to follow in his footsteps!  But perhaps, by deciding to become a mathematician, I have followed in his footsteps in a way that neither of us yet understand.

Having said that, despite pursuing pure mathematics, I still have an interest in experimenting with all sorts of things.  Tinkering is in my blood.  I don't think I can help it!

I have written a lot of thoughts about my dad's death.  Those thoughts started with a cynical observation about the health care debate, but had grown to cover all sorts of memories.  I haven't yet decided how much I will put on this blog.

Even before my father passed away, I was contemplating what directions I wanted to go--both with regards to this blog, and with regards to my own life and career.  My father's death postponed somewhat what I planned to write; it has also increased my personal introspection.

Sadly, I won't be able to ask for my dad's advice--I probably wouldn't have anyway, because I'm lousy at asking for advice!--but even if I didn't, I'm sure my dad would have appreciated knowing my thoughts, and I would certainly have liked to talk to my dad about them.

Dad, I'll miss you.  May we meet together again someday!