Diary 1862, Part 4: War, Words, and Silence

Click here for earlier posts about this family diary.

Given that Catharine Siglin is writing in 1862, into the second year of the Civil War, I wondered what she would have to say about it. At first glance, only one entry – the last – makes reference to the war.

Continue reading Diary 1862, Part 4: War, Words, and Silence

Diary 1862, part 3: Over the River and Through the Woods and Up to the Quarry and Over to Earlville

See part 1 and part 2 for background on Catharine Siglin’s 1862 diary.

From 1989 to 1994, I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. For the first year, I lived in Chicago, about fifteen minutes away from school via el train. After that, I lived in the western, and then the far western ’burbs. Whether by car or by commuter train, the trip was over an hour each way – a longer than average commute for the area at the time, but not wildly out of line.

Continue reading Diary 1862, part 3: Over the River and Through the Woods and Up to the Quarry and Over to Earlville

Diary 1862, Part 2: The writer’s identity

See part 1 of this story for the background on this family diary and why I questioned its authorship.

Whoever the writer is, it’s certainly not Catharine’s husband Amos, unless he’s in the habit of referring to himself in the third person.

Continue reading Diary 1862, Part 2: The writer’s identity

No, YOU’RE upside down

Prepping for a meeting on the “History of Calculus” project, I was happy to learn that this old series of instructional physics films is available online. The “Frames of Reference” episode (below) is a classic, managing to engage its audience without pandering. If we can do something similar with “History of Calculus” I will be extremely pleased.

Frames of Reference : Richard Leacock : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive

This PSSC film utilizes a fascinating set consisting of a rotating table and furniture occupying surprisingly unpredictable spots within the viewing area. The…

Grudge Match

I asked Stacey (over at the Alumnae Relations department at St. Kate’s) if they wanted any rewrites on the Mother Antonia piece before starting to rehearse it for this year’s reunion. Stacey mentioned that after last year’s performance, someone had shared the story of how Mother Antonia gave permission for the basketball team to wear bloomers, and the Alumnae Relations folks were wondering if this could be worked into the play.

By way of background, Stacey sent me a paragraph on Modesta Reichert Gamble of the class of 1920, a basketball star known for “assuring Sister Antonia McHugh that the St. Catherine’s team could beat the University [of Minnesota] if she permitted them to change the cumbersome bloomers in which they customarily played.” So it appeared that M. Antonia actually gave permission for them not to wear bloomers!

Digging for more details, I was dismayed to find in Joel Rippel’s 75 Memorable Moments in Minnesota Sports that the University of Minnesota didn’t have a women’s basketball team in 1920. The U had abolished women’s intercollegiate sports in 1908, not to revive them till 1973. So did that write-up on Modesta Reichert get it wrong?

Continue reading Grudge Match

The History of Pre-Calculus

Sunday night I attended a workshop with company members of Green T Productions, to bring them up to speed on the discussions Kathy Welch (Green T Artistic Director) and I have been having about the “History of Calculus” project. I was afraid that the company members would find the topic dry or not see any connections to their lives, but they were very articulate about their history with math. It seemed to call up some pretty deep feelings, too. One common theme was that a move between schools could seriously disrupt math learning – either you’d be thrown in at the deep end of material you’d never seen before, or you’d be rehashing stuff you mastered two years ago in the school you came from. No two school systems seemed to agree about what a third grader, a sixth grader, an eighth grader should know.

The stories reminded me of some of my own experiences with disruptions in math learning, which I haven’t thought about in a while. Midway through second grade, I was skipped into third grade. The school year that I missed evidently included long division, which I had to try to figure out on the fly (and which I still suck at). In – I think – eleventh grade, I was skipped from the first half of (I think) Algebra II into the second half of Pre-Calculus. My very first day in Pre-Cal, there was a quiz. “Just give it a try,” said the teacher, who was a kindly man. “It won’t count toward your grade.” I still remember the near-to-tears feeling of looking at that quiz and having Absolutely. No. Idea. what the questions were even asking.

Dislocations and frustrations like this seem to be common math experiences – which tells me we are on to something, here.

The History of Calculus

I’m embarking on a new project with Green T Productions. I’ll be a consulting playwright on a work developed by the ensemble, similar to my role on Silkworms, though in this case I’m involved earlier, helping to choose and focus the subject matter. The working title is The History of Calculus, but I’ve promised we’ll change it to something less intimidating. (Though in a way that intimidation is what the play’s about. The experience of being stymied by math.)

Here’s a fun quote from the research material – Voltaire describing Newton’s achievement in inventing calculus:

It is the art of numbering and measuring exactly a thing whose existence cannot be conceived.

Reminds me of the 18th century trading company created to take advantage of the South Sea Bubble:

A Company for Carrying out an Undertaking of Great Advantage, but Nobody to Know What It Is.

Calculating vulnerability

I’m reading Fred Kaplan’s The Wizards of Armageddon. Was struck by a quote from an Air Force colonel responding to projections of what might happen to U.S. bases in the event of Soviet nuclear attack.

I hope none of you are taken in by all this slide-rule razzmatazz.

Remember slide rules? I bet that only a vanishingly few people younger than me know how to use them, but (reading about the Cold War encourages this kind of thinking) it might behoove us to learn, in preparation for the coming bad years when the electrical grid is largely destroyed.

Update 4/21/2017: Last night I went to see Hidden Figures, which I enjoyed thoroughly. My husband pointed out one minor lapse in period authenticity, however: in the movie’s 1960s NASA, there was scarcely a single slide rule to be seen. I count this as evidence that only a vanishingly few people younger than me even recognize them. Or at least, it’s evidence that the movie producers believed that no one would recognize them if they were there, or miss them if they weren’t.


For Worse: When I make a decision about one thing, it sometimes cascades. Michelle (Stacey’s character) is substitute teaching. The lesson plan she’s been given includes a list of vocabulary items. The list as I first drafted it didn’t seem to be organized in any way. I make a decision about how to organize it. This allows me to cut a bunch of stuff from an early paragraph and all of a sudden Michelle speaks in her own voice.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In the middle of a nuclear war, a bunch of English schoolboys get stranded on a desert island. Hilarity ensues. Ms. Ming would like us to work on vocabulary.

This charming and helpful website, which I assume was a class project, has stood me in good stead today.

Scheduling a photo shoot to come up with our show image for the Fringe.

ending is better than mending, Mr. Darcy

For Worse: Working on Stacey’s monologue. Thanks to an article by James R. Baker, learned the startling fact that the screenplays for the 1940 Pride and Prejudice and the 1943 Jane Eyre were written by Aldous Huxley.

Got a live lead on a great stage manager. Fingers crossed.