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Graceful Prinnia

2007_3_31_Graceful_Prinnia_files_shapeimage_2.pngSultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman. The University is laid out in grid, with covered walkways and tree-filled squares in between. I walked out in the afternoon and saw this guy fly in with a bug in beak. He makes a rapid high metallic repeated call. Also a Yellow-vented Bulbul (black head, slight crest, white eye ring, yellow rump, curved bill, black tail, light body, makes a wheezy da-de-da, about the size of cactus wren); lots of Common Mynah (noisy gangs of birds with black heads, yellow eye patches, curved beaks, white wing stripes underneath.

Sultan Qaboos University, Oman

2007_3_31_Sultan_Qaboos_University,_Oman_files_shapeimage_2.pngSpent all Thursday in Miami, all Thursday night and Friday travelling (via Paris and Bahrein). Opening ceremonies on Saturday morning, had a delicious smokey nut chocolate glop when sitting in a formal square of red chairs with the Vice Chancellor and luminaries. My quote from the Koran, provided by Adel Gamal, was well received: “Do not envy anyone except in two cases: A person whom God has given him wealth and he spends it righteously, and a person whom God has given him Wisdom and he acts according to it and teach it to others”. Vice-chancellor suggested we should have a memorandum of understanding.

Chimango Caracara

2007_3_27_Chimango_Caracara_files_shapeimage_2.pngConcepcion, Chile. He was hanging around on the beach with the gulls. Also saw some possible scoters in the water: a line of four bobbing along, dark heads and bodies, red eyes, white necks with a dark stripe down the back.

Concepcion, Chile

2007_3_26_Concepcion,_Chile_files_shapeimage_2.pngFlew in on the Sunday, met the other speakers Jose-Antonio Chamizo (chemistry educator from University of Mexico in Mexico city, advisor of Vincent Talenquer) and Carl Wenning (physics educator from Illinois State). Dinner Sunday night with Patricio Pfelmer and the head of the Chilean Academy of Sciences at a rather deserted restaurant which however had good fish, particularly the abalone-like shellfish called Locos and a good Corvina (which I think is Chilean Sea-Bass). Gave my talk on Monday morning. Very long day of talks, especially for the poor students. Had a very lively session on the Tuesday morning with the education students (I did the exercise about solving quadratic equations with them). Tuesday afternoon went to a local fishing village … long drive, short stay … with Patricio’s colleague Leora(?). Saw a sea-eagle or hawk and some floating coot-like birds. Dinner Monday night at the Concepcion Club, and old masonic lodge. Wandering round the rooms and trying to say “we are lost” in Spanish, I discovered from Jose-Antonio that perdito means fart (lost is perdido).

Santiago, Chile

2007_3_24_Santiago,_Chile_files_shapeimage_2.pngAll night flight, surprising how refreshed you can feel when there is no jet lag to contend with. Slept a bit in the morning, had a nice lunch at the hotel, a sort of salmon ceviche and a fish called reineta, like a large, tough sole. Then to the wonderful Precolumbian Art Museum. There was a collection of clay funeral figurines from the Moche culture (0-200AD) which were quite beautiful and haunting. They reminded me of those paintings of the late Roman period that you see with people gazing into some mysterious inner space. Some were people, some were animals, and one was a Maurice Sendak Wild Thing.

Another spectacular piece was a tapestry of a similar age, also for funeral purposes, which showed fantastic creatures with alligator heads, two arms on one side and two fins on the other, and feet sticking out of fish tail ends, in gorgeous colors, swimming up and down the cloth. The label said it was about 2,000 years old, which would be hard to believe, except that it is very dry here so things last a long time. There is a desert in the north which has never had any recorded rainfall.

Early morning in Atlanta

Took this photo from my hotel room in Atlanta the morning I gave my talk at the NCTM meeting. Not many people showed up because I was competing with Deborah Ball and Glenda Lappan, but there was the president of SIAM, who was about to give his talk on their new website, what is math good for.

Well, what happened in February? After the Banff meeting, on February 18, I went to the AAAS meeting in San Francisco, a session organized by Cathy Kessel about … what exactly? Some attempt to discuss the connection between higher mathematics and elementary mathematics. Tad Watanabe talked about Japanese treatment of fractions, so I followed suit with a discussion of division of fractions in various texts, and the mathematical pleasure and depth to be found in invert-and-multiply. Ours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply, goes the old saying, but ours is nothing but to reason why now that computation has been taken away from us.

On returning, on February 21 and 22, we had the Mathematician’s Corner planning meeting, where I foolishly agreed to write a grant proposal to further this activity. Had a very funny experience: the Instruction Colloquium had been Elon Kohlberg talking about Digiblocks, where I spent some time defending Investigations to him. The next day I was at the MC meeting defending the other way around. I don’t understand why two groups with such common interests—in mathematical understanding and student learning—can be so far apart. It’s like the old joke about two cultures separated by a common language.

Susan Jo Russell confirmed my sighting of Lazuli Buntings in the front driveway by saying she had seen a flock of blue birds while walking one morning in the Rillito. Abby was gearing up to leave around this time. In fact, the evening of March 1, the first night of the IME workshop on teacher preparation, we had a farewell dinner for her. She earned about $10,000 for this trip, on the higher side of what she and I had thought might be possible. On the flight over she sat next to a creep who tried to seduce her then followed her out of the airport, wanting to be her friend, but she gave him the slip.

March. Well, we had the first IME event, which went well enough, although there was too much time on presentations and not enough on interaction. But overall it was a success. Dan was there, oscillating between grumpy and engaged. He has gotten so particularly crusty bachelor in his old age, which could prove to be a real problem for the ATI. Another thing I don’t have time to think about right now. Mark, already condemned but not knowing it, hung around, not understanding his role.

March was also the time of the Arizona Winter School, much of which I could not attend because Roger Howe was visiting, also Deborah Schifter came to the Institute for those few days and Elon Kohlberg. Roger and I made progress on the MIME grant. At around this time I began to feel a threnody of regret at my slow but inexorable distancing from mathematics research. I hope I can come back to that. It was during this time also that I heard the memorable performance of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden by the Praczak String Quartet that I wrote to Pete about. The turn to tenderness at the beginning brought tears to my eyes, in much the same way as the opening pages of the Philip Roth novel I just read, Everyman, when the daughter Nancy pauses in vulnerable silence then turns to throw dirt on the coffin.

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Spring arrives

Suddenly the mesquites are putting out these green shoots. They were all quite bare from the frost. Saw a Cooper’s Hawk in the eucalyptus, and a probable Redtailed-Hawk in a tree in the wash. It must have been in transitional plumage; scalloped back, white through with red strip up the middle. In flight, notched tail, white patches on back of wing.

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Full-throated Cactus Wren

Suddenly everybody is up on wires, poles, and trees, singing away. The Pyrrhuloxias are at it too, in beautiful plumage with their elegant gray coats and red masks. The quail are up in the trees too, unusually, seeing if they can get in on the action. A quail perched on a branch has a slightly clueless, pompous air, as if he doesn’t now that topknots are decades out of style.

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Red-tailed Hawk taking off

He was sitting on a telephone pole on the way back. Nice details on the plumage.

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Winking dove

Interesting to see the diagonal slant of the eyeslit. Doves glide the way schoolchildren pretend to be airplanes; wing stiffly out, banking too and fro. The doves on the phone line were engaging in some unusual jockeying for position—spring?

Also saw a beautiful display of the Anna’s hummingbird, rising up from his perch on an acacia and turning about to show the iridescence.

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