Monday, August 29, 2011

Kindergarten film

What a day! I'm involved with filming a series of films for kindergarten math, and today was day 1 of film 2. I spent the day at the beach with ten 5-year olds and their teachers, a colleague, and a cameraman. Making these is demanding, it takes a long time to keep shooting scenes again and again, and the kids need a lot of patience.

We got lucky with the weather, though; it was fabulous. On Friday the forecast called for rain today and tomorrow, so we were very pleased to find everything changed over the weekend and we got perfect weather instead. It will be another day of filming tomorrow, and maybe I'll have some energy to post a few pics...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sang kurs

We'd signed the kids up for classes through the Trondheim Culture School. Lessons are available in just about everything at very low prices, maximum of two classes per person. Maggie and Anna were in circus last year through the culture school, and this year we applied for music classes for each of the kids as well. There's a waiting list for the music classes so we've been keeping our fingers crossed... today Maggie got the call and she's started singing classes. She's very pleased.

I was verifying the location of the school on Google Maps and caught the cool shadows of a sculpture in the school yard:

Monday, August 22, 2011

First day of school

The kids were awake at 6:30 this morning. Screeching. Running. Laughing. Anna appeared bedside to tell me it was 6:30. And then again at 6:45 to let me know the time. I haven't seen them this excited since Legoland. Peter even left the house 1/2 hour early to go wait outside of school.

Unfortunately the excitement didn't last. They came home a bit disappointed that school was exactly how they remembered it. I imagine by next week we'll be struggling to pull them out of bed. At least I'll get to sleep to a reasonable hour!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Workshops, language, haircut

This week has kept me busy. After writing two papers, I had to prepare for a series of teacher workshops we offered over two days. On each of the days I gave two workshops and then a main lecture for about 100 teachers each day. This took massive preparations, but I put together a good show and delivered everything in Norwegian. It's become quite easy now to communicate, and I'm even following lunchroom conversations which was my original litmus test for Norwegian mastery. It still requires effort, but I can see the day coming soon when it will be easy and natural.

I started meeting with a tutor this week. We'll meet every week for 90 minutes, working on an audio book and working through a Norwegian 3 text. The lady I'm working with likes language as much as I do, so it's really fun.

Oh yes, Pam gave me a haircut yesterday. It was a one-snip, 5-second haircut, and it turned out great. We saved $50-100 (the going price of a haircut in Trondheim). Cut off 8 inches/20 cm. It had gotten so long though you really can't tell it was cut.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mini-vacation to Sweden

Getting down to the end of summer, one last trip. We joined friends Daniel and Evelina across the border into Sweden for an overnatting at Holiday Club in Åre. This is a pool/spa hotel that the whole family likes a lot. Combine the strength of the Norwegian krone vs. the Swedish krone and the money saved from grocery and wine shopping and the trip comes out costing not so much.

On the drive out we cross through Meråker, a very beautiful area of Norway. We like to make frequent stops when we travel, so we pulled off at a one-lane bridge over a river. It was a gorgeous spot to climb on the rocks and skip stones.

I spend much of the drive out writing a paper, as I had two papers due Monday afternoon to meet a deadline for publishing a book of conference proceedings. I managed to finish the first one on the two-hour drive and I was ready for swimming and beer. After several hours in the pool and the variety of steam rooms they have at the hotel, we cooked fancy sausages on the grill outside by the lake. Cheap and lovely! Thankfully, shops are open in Sweden on Sundays.

Sunday evening, Evelina taught us to play Scopa, an Italian card game that uses special cards with coins, swords, clubs and cups and all kinds of different ways to score points. It was great fun. The boys totally crushed the girls, so that was extra-satisfying!

I rode back early on Monday with Daniel, finishing my second paper on the ride home. I set a personal record for writing academic papers this weekend. It's just one week left of summer.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Geology adventure

Beautiful sunny day today. I've been glued to my computer learning to program in Flash, so I was eager to get out into nature. Following a tip from my geologist friend Allan, we drove south from Trondheim 45 minutes to go pyrite (fool's gold) hunting.

The spot was gorgeous, on a river's edge far beneath an old bridge, and we had the spot to ourselves. The sun warmed us as chipped away at loose stones uncovering cubical crystals of FeS2. Exclamations of "Oh! Look at this one!" were repeated dozens of times as we accumulated our treasure trove. A nearby trail led to some delightful discoveries including an old artistic gateway and many raspberry bushes bursting with ripe berries.

We spent far longer than I thought we would, two hours maybe. Afterwards we drove a short distance to the Horg Bygdatun, a cultural museum/farm. There is a 5 km trail that winds through the area's history, showing off buildings and artifacts from throughout the past. We didn't walk the trail (another day perhaps) but we did explore the children's trail that had a few surprises and a playground at the bottom.

It was a very satisfying day and we can add another location to our list of cool things to do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Into the Arctic Circle: Bodø

Yesterday marked my first time entering the arctic circle, even though we live rather close. Trondheim is at latitude 63° 44 while the Arctic Circle is latitude 66° 33'. Previously the furthest north I'd been was 65° 50', in the city of Mosjøen. But now I've been to Bodø, latitude 67° 16. It's 716 km / 444 mi from Trondheim if you drive.

Bodø is a very nice little city, population 50 000. I walked from the airport to city center, which is built around a lovely harbor. Bodø was the site for this year's LAMIS summer courses. LAMIS is the national math teacher association, Norway's version of the USA's NCTM. I gave a workshop on using computers with kindergartners. It was a great meeting – I met old friends and made new friends and very much enjoyed this charming little city.

Here's a sign I spotted in a window. It's impossible to read this without hearing Yoda's voice in your head. Go ahead, try:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Maggie's Birthday

Maggie needed a new bike. Pam asked her what color she wanted. Maggie in her usual enigmatic way answered: "unicorn color." So Pam and I spent the week making a unicorn bike. It's sparkly with a unicorn head, tail, bell, basket and unicorn mascot. Wow was she excited when she blew the magic whistle and her unicorn came around the corner!

Later we had cake. Maggie's favorite TV program is Bones, a show about a bone scientist who uses science to solve crimes. We made her a bone-shaped cake and a microscope made out of Rice Crispy treats. That was an engineering challenge, but it came out great. All that work and it was eaten up in a few minutes!

Happy birthday Maggie!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Portugal - Math Art Meeting

Yesterday concluded a week in Coimbra, Portugal at another incredible Bridges conference. This is the conference I look forward to the most every year, a cerebral explosion of mathematical beauty that fills my head with amazing ideas for years to come.

Too much happened to tell all, but here's a few pictures and comments...

PEOPLE: Met lots of old friends and make lots of new friends. There are some good opportunities for collaborations on projects which is something I love to do. Here's Nick, who with the help of friends tessellated his head with rhombuses. Extra credit for that!

 COIMBRA: The city was charming. It took a little getting used to getting around - much of the town is twisty alleyways that go up and down steps and make little sense. But it was easy to remember that the university was on top of the hill and the hotel was at the bottom, so as long you remember whether you were going up or down, you could get there. It was hot all week, 35°C, but it was dry. Here's a picture of a an old woman who sold me a bag of salty beans for one euro, and a picture of the fado band at a restaurant near our hotel.


Fado is a style of Portuguese music with two guitars and a singer who sings sad and beautiful songs. Our fado experience was fantastic. The first night I went out with my colleagues from Norway to find something to eat. We went into the first restaurant we came to and had a great meal. I ordered beef steak, and it came to the table as bowl of raw steak strips and a very very hot stone that I used to cook the meat. After the meal, the waitress asked us quietly if we'd like to hear some music. She led us out of the crowded eating area to a staircase and took us downstairs to a basement pub that was filled mostly with old men. "Oh, there isn't a seat," we told us. "No problem!" she said and she proceeded to push some men over at a long table. Ah! Shortly afterwards the band came on. It was absolutely beautiful and we felt extremely lucky to stumble upon this our first night!

THE GALLERY: The math-art gallery was especially impressive this year. I got to share gallery space with some very high quailty work and top artists. I exhibited three pieces of printed art (see some of my art at

SCENES: Here's a few picturesque scenes - a mansion near town, a view of Coimbra from up the hill, and the art museum all decked out and ready for our math art banquet.

HUMAN GEOMETRY: I did a workshop with Vi Hart on Human Geometry where we made all kinds of shapes and played games using our bodies. It was incredibly fun and the group of 25 participants were all both creative and enthusiastic. Vi and I came ready with a program of things to try and explore, and the group far exceeded our expectations with ideas and creations. I came out of there with a dozen new activities. Yes!

I also presented a paper in the regular sessions (my Abacaba stuff, always a good time!).

DRAMA: I was asked to participate in the drama production and I accepted. I was hesitant at first because we were to receive our scripts on Thursday, rehearse for 4 hours on Friday, and perform on Saturday. That was a lot to do in a short time when there was already a lot going at the conference. But wow was I glad I did it! It was incredibly fun and I made some very good friends in the process.

The performance was The Physicists, a 1961 play by Friedrich Dürrenmat. It was supposed to be just a dramatic reading, but we wanted costumes, props, and to move around the stage. I played the part of Sir Isaac Newton, one of three patients in a mental hospital. The play hit on the theme of the responsibility of scientists for their creations, especially when those creations can be used as weapons. We played to a full house on Saturday and were critically acclaimed.

After the play, I gave a reading of one of my poems for poetry open mike, and then later that evening I sand a song in Norwegian at informal music night.

THE SANDWICH: I found my dream sandwich, the Franceshino. It is from bottom to top: a bed of french fries, a slice of french toast, a slice of ham, a pork cutlet, sausages, another slice of french toast, cheese, a fried egg, and covered in hot sauce. Oh was I ever happy with this!

ZOME TOOL SCULPTURE: Every year at Bridges the owners of the Zome Tool company bring thousands of pieces of plastic construction components and enlist the aid of all they can to build a huge sculpture. This year the sculpture was designed by a famous sculpter, last name of Fabien. I participated in the final construction phase... it was exciting and stressful, not knowing if it would collapse under its own weight or not. It was supposed to be done by 8 pm Sunday night, but it wasn't. We took a time out for a concert of classical music then hurried back to get it together. At 1:20 a.m. we declared success! It was a brilliant way to end an amazing week.