Jun 22, 2009

Mathematician's Lament

This is a wonderful article about the beauty and art of mathematics. It's a 25 page PDF document, so go grab a cuppa and prepare to have your concept of 'maths' turned on its head.

This is an absolute must-read if you're planning on conveying any sort of 'maths-learning' to anyone else, and an important read even if you're not!

The Mathematician's Lament, by Paul Lockhart, 2002

Short bio of Paul Lockhart here

Don't

Jun 17, 2009


It would seem that mice like nice warm houses as much as we do. Go figure.

It would seem we are a trifle over-run. (Apologies to all those who have already heard me go on at length about our mouse issue - there's nothing new here, but I still have a need to get it off my chest!)

I knew we had a small mouse problem - the odd dropping here and there, the occasional full trap, that sort of thing. I figured this level of rodentry was acceptable, given that we have active compost heaps, chicken food, and a lots of hiding spaces in the garden. And no cats or dogs. Some mouse encroachment was inevitable, I figured, so long as it didn't get out of hand! About a month ago I made sure all the food was in mouse-proof containers, found one open box of cornmeal that was well-moused (which I got rid of), and figured that would keep their numbers down, or at least, easily managed by the one trap in the kitchen.

How wrong I was.

Our living area is semi-open plan. There are double french-type doors between the living room and the dining room, and an open doorway from the dining room to the kitchen. The french doors are usually kept open, except in really cold weather when we shut them to keep the heat (from the heatpump) in the living room - usually in the evenings and overnight. Yesterday these doors were closed pretty much all day as I and the girls kept the living room toasty warm. They stayed shut overnight too.

I have once seen a mouse run from the kitchen, through the dining room, into the living room and along the living room wall behind the sofa. I have no idea where it went after that - I couldn't find it. I didn't think much of it (except to go re-load the trap) - just "gosh the mice are getting brazen, time to step up the trapping". It never occurred to me that I had just seen a mouse using one of their super-highways.

This morning while sitting in the dining room with my morning coffee I noticed a large amount of carpet-fluff in the doorway to the living room. "That's odd," I thought, and went closer to inspect. Mixed in with the fluff was a considerable amount of mouse droppings. And on closer inspection I found that the little blighters have chewed the carpet bare along where the french doors close - apparently in an attempt to dig through and re-open their super-highway. I then noticed a similar, but much smaller, bare patch with associated carpet fluff at the other door out of the living room.

"How big is my mouse problem?!" I muttered to myself, and stalked through to the kitchen to investigate. One clean and empty trap. The mice have (once more) successfully removed the bait from the trap without springing it. Great. What about the bottom cupboard where the cornmeal box used to be? Oh. Oh dear.

There was a whole layer of mouse droppings in this cupboard (despite there being no available food in it), and in the adjacent cupboard (which has never had any food in it).

With brush and shovel in hand and droppings and carpet fluff cleaned away, I went on a further investigation of the super-highway.

The rubbish bin and paper-recycling area yielded further copious quantities of mouse droppings, and some nibbled cardboard.


I turned to the internet for advice. It is not comforting. A house mouse can have a litter of up to 6 pups, each month. One mouse usually means a nest. They don't usually range far from their nests, so if you see a mouse the problem is likely to be yours - not your neighbours (not that I thought for a second that my neighbours, all of whom have large dogs, and are more obsessive about their sections than us, were the source of our infestation!). The advice boils down to: seal up all holes larger then 1.8cm (a U.S. dime was the 'measurement' given - so then I had to look up how big a dime was - annoying), trap, trap, trap the highways, poison in the roof and floor cavities, get rid of clutter (which is a nesting place haven) and if that fails, call in the professionals.

So we went out. I needed to run away from the problem for a little while.

And then we came back and the day continued along its happy course. We had dinner, we said goodnight, we put the kids to bed. I availed myself of the bathroom...

A mouse ran into the bathroom.

I could do nothing except lift my feet off the floor and squeek "eeek mouse! go away!" (I didn't want the kids to leap out of bed to investigate). It ran behind me, and I couldn't see it! And I am now hugely pregnant and can't twist around at all, so I was just stuck there with my feet in the air hoping the mouse would get back where I could see it, because I knew there was no exit at ground level behind me and I sure as heck did not want it climbing...

Fortunately it ran out to behind the door.

I made my escape with all due haste, leaving it an escape route into the laundry (and thence out the back door, I hope!).

I have since set all the traps we have - 4 of them - mostly in the kitchen and one in the living room.

I do not know the exact route the super-highway takes - it concerns me that there were scratchings at both living room doors - trying to get out of the living room. I have no idea where an entrance point in that room might be - unless there is a largish gap in the floorboards somewhere behind the couch or piano, or possibly through our disused fireplace. At 30 weeks pregnant, however, I am not shifting the piano to find out! (Merl can do that this weekend).

There is no earthly way of effectively sealing the underside of this house. We know one entrance point for the mice is in the kitchen, where the sink and dishwasher pipes exit the house, but there are nooks and crannies everywhere for them to come in.

Properly ridding the cellar of clutter is on our 'list of things to do'. The underneath of our house is packed to the brim with hoarded building, gardening, painting, you name it supplies from the previous owner. Loads of stuff that is just junk - it might have 'come in handy one day' if it hadn't been stuck in a damp mouldy cellar for 40 years. Now it's all just a rusted, rotted pile of junk. Which we bought with the house. At some point we will get around to hiring a skip and clearing it out, but thus far that has fallen into the 'not this weekend' category. This provides nesting-sites aplenty for mice - right beneath our floorboards.

And that's pretty much where our mouse situation is at. I heard one of the traps go "sproing" while I was typing this, and I'm in two minds as to whether to go investigate it this evening - giving the trap the chance to trap another mouse overnight - or to wait until morning and check all the traps at once.

I'm also not that keen on actually handling dead rodents. I don't know what diseases they commonly have in this country, but I doubt that they can be good for unborn babies (given that we're not supposed to deal with cat faeces, I can't see that dead mice is any better).

I'll need to find my disposable vinyl gloves.


Jun 16, 2009


Some photos of last night's snow at our place. I took some at 7.30 this morning while it was still dark (and the kids were miraculously still sleeping!).

And of course, there's the compulsory "children enjoying snow" photo...


Jun 14, 2009

Outdoor Hour #6 - Collections

Okay, so we did this nature walk a few weeks ago. It turns out I'm even slacker about blogging them than I am about doing them!

I've decided to relax about our 'chosen subject' of rocks and minerals, and just keep it to being a simple walk while keeping our eyes and ears open to the world around us. I was starting to 'over-plan' and then not go out for even a simple walk, because I didn't have time or energy to execute 'the plan'.

Typical perfectionism. Which I am learning to recognise and roll my eyes at.

We are still using the Outdoor Hour framework as a guideline, so I'll give you the short and sweet summary for week #6

Read with your child something about your chosen area of study
Take your walk
Note in your notebook anything you saw that is related to the study topic
Give an opportunity to draw or make some other notebook entry
Start a collection, if appropriate

Well, we really just needed an outing in the fresh air. We had had endless days of rain and grey skies and suddenly were blessed with a fine, clear, breezy, crisp winter's day. I suggested a stroll around the neighbourhood to keep an eye out for interesting rocks, and Miss5 asked if she could bring her kite.

So, after a very brief internal struggle ("if we fly kites, we won't be looking at rocks... oh who cares? So long as they are outside and enjoying it!"), we popped the kite into the pushchair, wrapped up warmly and ventured up to the playground.

Let's go fly a kite...
It was wonderful!

We didn't open the nature journal at all once we got home - just snuggled in the warm indoors with chamomile tea and bikkies. (Since reading that Madeline had chamomile tea after falling in the water, Miss5 has taken a liking to it. And whatever Miss5 does, Miss2 will copy, so I've got two little herbal tea drinkers!). And that was the end of our 6th Outdoor Hour.

However, since this is the 'collections' post for the Outdoor Hour, it is a good time to show you our rock collection
Miss5's rock collection
We use an egg tray to keep each rock separate and cushioned a little from its neighbour. Under each rock is a slip of paper giving the date and location we found it, and its identity, if we know it.

The rock on the far right is there because Miss5 likes the white circles on it. They are paint or glue or something like that, but since collecting is as much an aesthetic exercise as a scientific one, the painted rock has its place here.

Jun 9, 2009

Why Jesus never married

I'm sure this has been a burning question for you. Certainly Miss5 was pondering it on our way home from church on Sunday.

Here is the dialogue that ensued...

Miss5: Jesus never married

parent (can't remember which of us said what, but its immaterial): that's right

Miss5: 'cos Jews never married

parent: Ah, no. Jews get married. It's just that Jesus spent all his time telling people about God.

Miss5: Yeah. Instead of getting married and getting his wife to do it.


So now you know.

As I recall, we were both laughing too hard to set her properly straight on this one, although I think we did make an attempt...


Jun 6, 2009

Found it!

Or rather, the internet has told me where to look for it, and I will do so as soon as the weather stops being truly awful.

Found what? you ask... The dipstick! Of course.

It's in the most logical place imaginable.

Under the front passenger seat.

How silly of me. Of course I should have looked there.

Apparently the Toyota Estima/Previa/Tarago (depending on which country it is sold in) is a "mid-engine car". So the engine is mounted under the front seats, not all out the front under the bonnet. Which makes sense when you actually look at the vehicle - there isn't enough room out the front for an engine.

But does make it an exercise in lateral thinking when looking for things you would normally find under the hood!

On the plus side, my Owner's Manual should arrive this coming week, so hopefully it will hold the answers to all future questions of this nature.

Jun 4, 2009

Go greased lightning!

Or, perhaps not quite greased lightning. I somehow can't see John Travolta and his greasy crew getting very excited about our new people-mover. But I'm pretty excited. And off the top of my head, that song from Grease was the only car-pride anthem I could think of.

We are now the owners of a 1999 Toyota Estima Emina. Yep. We decided that a station wagon just wasn't going to be big enough for our growing family. (Well, not when relatives come to stay or we want to take a friend somewhere). As an aside, try saying "Toyota Emina" 5 times fast. Do you hear it? Worlds worst marketing decision.

But this post is not just about showing a photo of our new vehicle to our out of town relatives. It is also a book-review in praise of Auto Repair for Dummies, by Deanna Sclar.

Not that our car needed repairing at all - it survived the trip back from the Lakes District (where we bought it from) very well.

No, what I like about this book is that it starts with you as an absolute beginner (it explains, with diagrams, the difference between a standard and Philip's screwdriver, for instance), and walks you step by step through the whole shebang of car maintenance and repair.

I bought this book about 10 years ago when I got sick of suspecting I was being ripped off by my mechanic but having absolutely no idea whether I was or not. Being completely and utterly ignorant of the workings of my car meant that I couldn't tell the difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, or between a necessary repair and a waste of money.

With the help of this book I became quite proficient at the (very very) basic level of DIY car maintenance. Although I never got around to doing an actual oil change, I did replace the fuel and air filters and just generally took better care of my machine - making sure the tyres were properly inflated, being able to replace windscreen wipers, that sort of thing.

Once our first child came along and we replaced my old faithful hatchback with a sensible stationwagon I stopped doing the car repairs. For one thing, I was heavily pregnant at the time and just couldn't face getting down on my hands and knees in the garage. For another, the newer car had more stuff under the bonnet to get my head around - and everything just looked different. And once the baby was born I simply didn't have a couple of hours at a stretch to potter under the hood of the 'new' car to work out where everything was. So it just became easier to just rely on the mechanic again. We knew we had a good one, so that was alright.

When Merl drove our new beastie home, however, I was itching to get under the hood. You see, we bought this car via TradeMe (New Zealand's version of ebay), and didn't get it mechanically inspected or anything first (though we did get a VIR to check it was free from finance claims etc etc). I know. I know. Madness. But it was a very very good buy and even if it needs a couple of serious things done to it, we'll still be paying less than we would if we'd bought it through a dealer.

To set my mind at rest, I turned once again to my trusty Auto Repair for Dummies and performed the Monthly Under-the Hood Check. To see what I could see. Basically, all was more or less well, but there were a few things that I noted. Despite the car having been 'serviced' 2 weeks ago, the air filter was utterly filthy - so I can conclude that the 'service' was probably just an oil and filter change, and she's probably due a proper tune up. The hoses and wiring all looked in good nick, but the battery housing is quite corroded and the battery looks like it might even be leaking a little (despite it being new last year). So I think their mechanic was crap. The tyres were also horribly under-inflated - instead of being at 2.3kg per cm3 (approx 230kPa) - as specified on the little door decal, it looks like they were at 23 psi - not at all the same thing!

The one thing that completely stumped me was the search for the dipstick! I have no idea. I looked and looked and looked, and couldn't even see where I might add the oil itself, let alone find the dipstick. So if you know where to find such a thing on this model vehicle, I would be very grateful for the information!

By the end of yesterday, I'd inflated the tyres to their correct pressure, replaced the air filter and worked out how to use the CD changer (very important). I feel quite chuffed with myself. I'm sure it's driving better already, but she's still making the occasional funny noise. I'm now thinking that we might take it in for one of those 'pre-purchase inspections' just so we know what we're looking at. And then book her in for a full service and tune up, because I am, of course, heavily pregnant once more and am not going to do it myself.

One last word in praise of the Monthly Under the Hood Check-up. These things are really easy to do, and the very action of looking and seeing how your car is doing means you are far more likely to take her to a mechanic when something starts to go wrong, rather than waiting until it is very expensive and inconvenient.
  • Check the air filter
  • Poke all the belts to see if they're frayed or loose
  • Inspect the battery for corrosion/leaking
  • Check the levels of all the fluids - coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, windscreen washer fluid etc - in new cars these mostly have see-through reservoirs that you can just look at and see if its between 'max' and 'min' level
  • Squeeze the hoses to make sure they're neither spongy and bulgy nor brittle
  • Check the oil
  • Inspect the wiring to see if anything is loose
  • Check the windscreen wipers
  • Check the tyre pressure
  • ta daa!
Deanna Sclar of course gives detailed instructions on how to do each of these things (including how to open the bonnet of the car...), and although the first time I did it on my first car it took me a good hour, once I knew how to do everything it only took 15 minutes. Not a bad time investment when you consider that "taking care of these things can prevent 70% of the problems that can cause highway breakdowns".

All good.
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