Monthly Archives: March 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day: Say bonjour to bon vivant and belle esprit Emilie du Chatelet … Woman of Science!

Attention! You have ZERO shopping days left until Ada Lovelace Day. Season’s Greetings!

I’m sure you’ll be celebrating today in the traditional fashion — as is the custom, you will honor the memory of Ada, or another Woman of Science of your choosing.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, because you ALL know about Ada — Daughter of Byron, mathematician, theoretician, programmer of the earliest computer and fighter of crime. (Actually that last one comes from the brilliant re-imaginings of artist Sydney Padua at 2D Goggles, which you will most definitely want to check out if you like science, alternative history, comedy, crimefighting, and images like this:)

OMG, she’s so not boring! Even so, it is not Ada herself that I honor today. It’s another Woman of Science who is possibly the Most Interesting Person in History. You know those Dos Equis commercials about the Most Interesting Man in the World? Well, sit down, chuckles.

I’m talking Emilie du Chatelet, who makes you look pathetic. Don’t worry, she makes me look pathetic and stupid. Say hello to Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet!

Look, whatever you think you’ve accomplished, you can forget it, because YOU DID NOT:

* date Voltaire,

* translate Newton from Latin,

* combine the theories of Gottfried Leibniz and the practical observations of Willem ‘s Gravesande to show that the energy of a moving object is proportional not to its velocity but to the square of its velocity,

* explore the notion of the conservation of energy, or

* influence Einstein to come up with that one crazy formula of his that everybody knows.

She also spoke five languages, gambled like a fiend, and died in childbirth at 42 with a baby fathered neither by her husband or her lover Voltaire, but a dashing captain of the guard.

What have you done? Yeah, I know, me neither. Although I do get to be all braggy that I’m taking this book along for beach reading this Spring Break:

… and you just know everyone’s going to think I’m reading something smutty. But to them I will say, “Do you have anything to say regarding mass-energy equivalence? No? Then the Marquess wants you to step the hell off, shorty!”

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone. Raise a glass of something spicy and fierce to her, to Emilie, or your own favorite Woman of Science.

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Sesame Street by the numbers: Reading good stuff to good kids

Youngest Daughter pulled an oldie but a goodie off the bookshelf. Any Muppetologists out there have this in their archives?

We bought this treasure circa 1976 in a Venture big box retailer en route to Kansas City during our annual pilgrimage from Cincinnati. There’s me, bored beyond all measure in the backseat and pining (i.e., whining) for something to do, and I recall pulling into the store for the express purpose of finding something to shut me up.

That’s when this magic entered my life.

It’s ten stories, each devoted to one number. I loved it, and I can remember turning each page over and over as we drove.

As I’ve re-discovered since dusting this book off for Oldest Boy, not every story hold up. Some of what I loved as kid is either treacly or tedious today. But there’s one story that is just as mind-blowing to me now as it was back then. I re-read “The Monster’s Three Wishes” so often the ink should have worn off the page. What’s not to love about this?:

The art is credited to an artist named Kelly Oechsli, though the authors of the book get only a group billing (Emily Perl Kingsley, Jeffrey Moss, Norman Stiles and Daniel Wilcox — whomever wrote this section, he or she got robbed of some righteous credit.) The only thing more fun than reading this story is reading it aloud to a kid. Try it:

The Monster’s Three Wishes

Once there lived a little monster
In a kingdom far away.
And a very strange thing happened
As he brushed his teeth one day.

As he squeezed his tube of toothpaste
Deepest thunder shook the skies.
And suddenly a genie stood
Before his very eyes.

“I’m the genie of the toothpaste,”
Said the genie with a laugh.
“I’ve been trapped inside that toothpaste tube
For 3 weeks and a half.
You squeezed the tube and set me free
So here is what I’ll do –
I’ll let you have 3 wishes
And I’ll make the all come true.”

“Oh boy!” exclaimed the monster,
“Wow! 3 wishes just for me!
Now let me think and then decide
What my first wish will be.”

Now my favorite thing is cookies,
Thought the monster with a grin.
But first I’ll wish for something nice to keep my cookies in.
I would like a million cookies,
But before I use that wish…
“Hey genie,” said the monster.
“Will you please bring me a dish?”

“Will I ever!” said the genie,
“For your wish is my command.”
And instantly a dish appeared
Right in the monster’s hand.

“Hey, I did it!” cried the genie.
“Wow! I haven’t lost my touch!”
“it’s a nice dish,” said the monster,
“But it won’t hold very much.”

The monster thought of all the cookies
That he’d soon get with his wish.
And he knew a million cookies
Couldn’t fit in one small dish.

He would need something much bigger.
So the monster said, “Hey, Genie!
I would like a great big box…
This plate is much too teeny!”

“You want a box? You got it,”
Said the genie with a smirk.
And instantly a box appeared.
The monster cried, “Nice work!”

But although the box was pretty big
And could hold lots of stuff –
Could it hold a million cookies…?
It just wasn’t big enough.

So the monster called the genie
And said, “Boy, am I in luck!
Since you’ll give me what I wish for …
How about a great big truck?”

And right away a truck appeared
Before the monster’s eyes.
“Fantastic!” cried the monster.
“It is just the perfect size!”

“It will hold a million cookies,
And I’ll never have to worry.
And this is what I wish for!
Give me cookies now! Please hurry!”

“I am sorry,” said the genie,
“For though cookies are delicious,
I cannot give them to you
‘Cause you’ve used up your 3 wishes.”

“Oh, no!” exclaimed the monster.
“Is it true? I just can’t tell.
For although I’m good at eating things,
I do not count so well.”

“Let us count these things together,”
Said the genie, “and you’ll see –
The dish is 1, the box is 2,
And then the truck makes 3.”
“3 things! You’re right,” the monster said,
“Now what am I to do?
I’ve used up my 3 wishes
And I’m very hungry, too!”

“Gee, that’s too bad,” the genie said,
“But now my job’s complete.”
“I’m so hungry,” said the monster,
“Oh, I need something to eat!”

“I’m sad your wish for cookies
Can’t come true,” the genie said.
“That’s okay,” replied the monster ……

“… I’ll just eat the truck instead!”

“And as the monster ate the truck
The genie disappeared
Saying, “I have seen a lot of things—
But boy …  is that guy weird!”

Yeah. Pretty great, huh? To relive it with actual Muppets (and without rhyming) view it here. And while time lasts, be sure to vote for Cookie Monster over at the Muppet tournament bracket. (Where my man Beaker was defeated in Round One. Who put him up against Animal anyway? He should be duking it out with lookalike Pepe…)


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Write away with me into the sunset: A once-in-a-summer chance to live the aspiring artist’s dream

If you’re the idyllic kind of learner who dreams of sitting at the knee of Socrates for dialog and debate and greater mental illumination … I can’t help you.

But if you’re a dude

in fourth through sixth grade

who likes to write

and you’re anywhere within commuting range of Hinsdale, Ill., this summer


Yeah, that’s right. Socrates has been dismissed, and Professor J. Drew Scott is in session beginning June 21. You can download the 2010 summer class schedule of the Hinsdale Center for the Arts, but for those with merely a casual interest:

Note that the amusing little laundry list in the middle is a coy way to say “Prof. Scott doesn’t know exactly what we’re doing yet, but trust him, it’ll be a hoot.”

One thing is for sure: we’ll talk about revising one’s own work. For example, my original draft paired the words “bad eggs” with “peg legs” because, yo ho ho, who doesn’t like pirates? Especially rhyming ones? But at the last moment, cooler heads down at the HCA realized that encouraging an interest in prosthetics was just kind of creepy and inappropriate for any artists’ summer camp.

Also? If I had it to do over again, I think it’s pretty obvious now that if you propose to show the reader “here’s how to tell if you’re a fit for this class,” you should follow with a couple of declarative sentences, not questions, as in:

“1.) You’re a dude. 2.) You have a serious interest in …”

That would have been much stronger.

Ah, the work of the writer is over in a jiff. The work of the editor can go on for eternity.

(See? That’s the kind of pearl you’ll learn if you join my class. Do it! Do it! Do it!)


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Three Word Review of ‘Man on Wire’

Capering circus noir.

Captions don't count: I'm guilty of dismissing this 90-minute documentary about that guy who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. My bad. I just didn't account for how difficult it was to sneak into that place and string a cable -- turns out the rope walk was the easy part. Amid the requisite interviews with participants of the "performance crime," the movie is filled with scenes like the one above: A re-enactment of the conspirators planning their infiltration of the roof. Yes, an arrow plays a crucial role. The thriller aspects are as fascinating as the portrait of a man consumed by a wild dream -- and what happens to all the pent up emotions and frustrations after the dream is achieved. Fascinating stuff.


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