Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2nd Annual Shinoda (Slot Car) Reunion!

It's almost time for the 2nd Annual "Shinoda Reunion", to be held at Downriver Speedway in Lincoln Park, Michigan.  Saturday, December 16.  Doors open and Noon.  Racing begins at 5pm.

Here is one of the entries that has been sent in to be raced by proxy.  This is a scratch-built, period-correct "Detroit Slider" style Thingie slot car.  The body is a Shinoda "Bullet" created by Gene Adams.  I've seen this in person, and it is exquisite!  It belongs in an art museum.

Lindsay Shepherd - Canadian University Goons Deny Her Free Speech

This is long, but SUPER important!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Poem - Beatrice Does My Laundry

Beatrice Does My Laundry

More than other men, grief-torn or merry,
That history has thought worthy of note,
I honor and adore great Alighieri,
And not alone for all the poems he wrote,
But for his tears of ecstasy and grief,
Which Dante wept and distilled into verse.
Of sufferers-from-love he was the chief,
His depth of feeling both blessing and curse.
I used to call on Dante, in the past,
For intercession in some special case.
For years, he made no answer, but at last
He spoke as clear as one speaks face to face:

“Look here, my son, what does this madness mean,
That you, the rich, play supplicant to me?
To watch my love, I had to find a ‘screen’,
But you can watch your love completely free!
For you have wife and muse in self-same soul,
And every poem you write her, you can sign.
Your love can both fulfil the Beatrice role,
And kiss you as the clock is striking nine.”

I took his sense, and troubled him no more:
The wealthy must not beg alms of the poor.

© 2017, Paul Erlandson

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Eliot Erlandson Interviewed about Thingies and the 2017 Shinoda Reunion!

My son Eliot is becoming a big wig in the sub-sub-subculture of vintage Thingie slot car racing!  Check out this interview with him:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Top 10 Ways My Parents Gave Us the Best Childhood EVER

I was thinking this morning what a great childhood I had.  It made me want to capture some of the things that my parents did well in raising us four kids.  So, here are my Top 10 Reasons my parents gave us the greatest childhood.

1.  Raising us in Champaign, Illinois.  Okay, this one may have been partially just luck.  But I have to say that Champaign was the optimum place to raise kids, because of the diversity of experience it provided.  Just across Duncan Rd to our West was a vast cornfield.  It's still there, in fact.  A few miles to the East was the University of Illinois with all of its rich cultural opportunities.

2.  Books!  Our parents had books all over the house.  It was like living in a library.  I could just wander along a bookshelf until some title captured my imagination, take down the book, and begin reading.  This was how I came to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X at age 9.

3.  Exposure to Dad's work colleagues.  My dad had some interesting, brilliant, and quirky friends at work.  Often they would come and visit our house.  Sometimes, we would visit their homes.  I never felt as if my parents were chasing us away when they had adult company.  We got to be there, and had equal access to these fascinating people.

4.  Music.  Mom and Dad had a pretty decent sized record collection.  It had a fairly wide range, so that we were exposed to multiple styles:  classical, jazz, pop, folk, and country.  They also paid for me and my sister to take piano lessons.  

5.  Hosting missionaries in our home.  Several times, Christian missionaries (mostly ones supported by the local church we attended) were guests in our homes.  This gave us a look at the larger world, and an inside view of the work of Christian missionaries.

6.  Hard work, competition, and capitalism.  My dad was an officer in the USMC, so he had very stringent standards about shining shoes and boots.  He set up a competition between us kids.   Every week, one of us shined his left work shoe, and the other one shined the right shoe.  We got paid 10 cents for this.  But it was also a contest.  After we were done, he judged who had done the better job.  That kid got to shine one of the shoes the next week (and thus, keep earning dimes).  The one who didn't win had to step down and make room for another challenger the following week.  This one simple exercise taught us so many life lessons.

7.  The Gospel.  Before all else, our parents were Evangelical Christians.  So they were careful to explain the Gospel to us in ways we could understand.  Their care and concern for our salvation was continuous and obvious.

8.  Anti-Racism.  Our parents had friends of other races.  They were welcome in our home, and we in theirs.  For a while, we drove the kids from a black family across town to Sunday School and Church with us.  I had no idea that this kind of thing was rare in 1967 or 1968.  Once, after dropping this family off at home after church, I made what can be considered a racist remark.  I was about ten years old.  The gravity and almost violence of my father's response against this (as well as his detailed explanation of why I was wrong to say what I did) shaped the entire rest of my life.

9.  Poetry.  For a Marine Corps officer, my dad sure had a lot of poetry memorized.  He understood it, too.  But most of all, he made us know that poetry was not some unmanly pursuit.

10.  They stayed married.  Of course, they had their difficult moment, like any married couple.  But they got through them and stayed together.  They're still together.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Jagged and Smooth

This is the closest account I am able to give of a very complex dream from which I have just awaken.  I know that many details are wrong, but I hope to catch the essence of it.

As soon as I was "in" the dream this morning, I realized that it was a repetition or continuation of the same dream I had had once before.  I don't know how we know that in our dreams, but I knew it.  The rules of the thing were at once familiar to me.

I am sad that I cannot remember the exact two words or phrases used in the dream, so "Jagged" and "Smooth" are only approximate substitutes.   The dream revolved around an anonymous fiction-writing site.  The site was a collection of stories, each published under a pseudonym, and each purporting to illustrate either the principle of Jaggedness or the principle of Smoothness.  I was one of the authors.  I believe that I had authored about three stories (say, Jagged 13, Jagged 37, and Smooth 40).

To try to get your story added to the Jagged and Smooth website, you had to electronically submit your manuscript (from 400 to 10,000 words) and the webmaster decided whether you made the cut or not.  The stories were posted chronologically from oldest to newest.

I couldn't be sure, but I think that at the end of some period of years, there was supposed to be some kind of party at which all the authors could meet each other.  But one of the author's works were so compelling to me that I wanted to meet him without having to wait that long.  It was some of the most amazing writing I had ever seen.

I don't know how I found the author, who turned out to be a woman in her late twenties.  I met her out at her farm in the country, and we spoke outside.  She had a few small creatures (like large insects, but I don't think they were insects) that I had never seen before.  She seemed a little distressed to be talking to me before the date on which the authors were supposed to be revealed.  But she also seemed flattered by the things I said about her writing, and she somewhat excitedly answered my questions about her stories.

So, now I wonder:  Could or should such a site be created?  It wouldn't have to be Jagged/Smooth.  It could be Bitter/Sweet or something similar.  I think the problem would be getting good authors to contribute to it.  And then, even if good authors were to find the site, they'd have to be willing to work on the writing with no immediate accolades.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Electronic Screens, Adventure, and the Cultivation of Intuition

It is all the rage these days to cast aspersions on the ubiquitous electronic screens that seem to rule our lives now.  Often, we write them down and then post them via those same devices, that others may partake of our rants.  But, contrarian that I am, I would like to say some things in defense of the screens.

When I was seeking my Texas Teacher Certification back around 1984, I took a class in Math Methods from the department head of the School of Mathematics at Texas A&M.  It turned out to be one of the most revolutionary courses I ever took, not only for my teaching career, but for life in general.  The professor spoke convincingly about the efficacy of guessing in Mathematics (though he recommended we use the word conjecture in place of guess, for pragmatic reasons).  Often, the best and fastest way to solve a problem is to adventurously step out into the void with a guess, a first approximation of the answer.  How that approximation stacks up against the constraints of the problem (e.g., governing equations) very often leads to a way to achieve a much better second guess, if not an exact solution.

Later, in my automotive engineering career, it occurred to me that (though powerful computers now did most of the "thinking" for me) nearly 100% of the problems I solved at work were solved through making an initial guess, and then making successively better approximations to the solution.  The world is a complicated place.  Engineering school (even at the graduate level) can give you a false impression of this, because an inordinate amount of time is often spent on one or two of the very few problems which have derive-able, closed-form solutions.  In truth, it is a statistically insignificant number (i.e., basically 0%) of the world's problems for which a closed-form solution may be found.  Almost always, engineering problems are solved by some method of iterative guessing (I mean, conjecture), such as Newton's Method.

In that Math Methods class, our professor emphasized the importance of developing mathematical intuition.  This cuts against the grain of the old, now largely defunct "just show me the exact steps to solve this kind of problem" approach, and you can see this in the obscene anger expressed against (so-called) Common Core math methods on the internet, from people who are apparently too timid to guess, or whose Math teachers a few decades ago told them never to do so.  But intuition is extremely powerful.  It can be developed.  But you have to be brave, to get out of your comfort zone to do so.  You have to have the temerity to experiment, to guess.  You have to risk being "wrong."

If you are old, as I am, did you ever stop to wonder why four-year-olds seem quicker to pick up new technology and more agile at operating electronic devices than we oldsters?  It is often chalked up to the idea that young people have more nimble minds, and I won't try to dispute that.  But I think there is a greater reason:  kids are not afraid to guess.  They are not afraid to push the wrong button and see what happens.  And what happens, eventually, is that they develop very good intuitions about how the electronic world operates.

Or, if you will, consider the opposite end of the spectrum.  Have you ever had occasion to help an elderly relative adapt to a newly-acquired electronic device?  I have a friend whose parents didn't understand where to type an internet address into their internet browser.  Instead, they made Google their home page, and then typed the web address into the Google search field.  It worked often enough that they could usually find what they were looking for.  But any four-year-old could have shown them a better way.  It is even worse if you need to teach a complex, multi-step task, such as:

1.  Go to a certain website.  Fill out the fields there.
2.  Use a button on the website to export your answer to a PDF file on your computer.
3.  Find the PDF file in your Downloads directory (wherever that is!) and move it to another directory.  CTRL-C and CTRL-V may help here.
4.  Rename the file.  Click the current name until the entire name is highlighted and then type in the new name.  Hit "RETURN."
5.  Open Outlook and send the renamed PDF file to two different addresses in your Outlook address book.  (Oh, but you'll have to know how to navigate to the folder where the PDF file now resides.)

Depending on the task at hand, there can be dozens or even hundreds of steps.   If one does not develop an intuition about these things, complex tasks can be very daunting indeed.  And that's for identical, repetitive tasks.  When faced with a brand new task, and without calling someone else in to help, you have nothing but intuition upon which to rely.  Your screen is filled with a few hundred tiny icons, perhaps, some of which may not be visible at first.  Where to begin?  You just have to make a guess.  You have to adventurously click on something, do some poking around, and see what you can find.

I submit to you that all of these electronic screens have done a fabulous job of developing our intuition.  They have made our minds more nimble, more resilient.  They have required us to be better problem-solvers, braver souls, better at guessing.  This leads us to be better thinkers in the final analysis.  It can help us to find a globally optimum solution rather than being satisfied with a locally optimum one.  In some of the Math and Physics classes I taught, I used an exercise that works to do this same thing.  There was a problem.  Say, estimate the height of a tower.  The students were required to come up with the craziest, zaniest ways to do this.  There is the obvious Trigonometric method.  There are Physics-based solutions (e.g., drop a ball from the top of the tower, and time how long it takes to hit the ground).  Maybe you chop down the tower and stack pennies from one the base of the tower to the tip.  Then, you multiply the number of pennies by the diameter of a penny.  There are so, so many ways.  And humanity is greatly enriched by cultivating the kind of imagination that does not stop at the first method found.

So, I submit to you that all of these electric "screens" everyone is so distressed about are actually making us better thinkers, and giving us more agile minds.  It is something to be thankful for.