Math Dreams

A few weeks ago I came across this graphic on social media sites and in messages a few times:’s Most Common Dreams by Country based on search volume.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had any of these dreams… at least not that I remember… Teeth falling out? What happened to being in school with no cloths on? Never had that dream either, but I thought that was the dream everyone had. Snakes I can understand, snakes are creepy, snake can be dangerous, lots of people are afraid of snakes. Makes sense that people living in South America and Southeast Asia are having dreams, or nightmares about very large snakes.

For myself, I rarely remember dreams more than a few minutes after waking up and even then they are broken and disjointed. I can’t piece them together. They sometimes includes people I know or have known, but things are always all kinds of fucked up. Funny that I remember that but not clearly what was fucked up. One period of my life including people who are anachronistic; walking through doors into unconnected buildings continents away. That kind of thing.

There is, however, one dream that has reoccured many times over the years, though it’s getting less and less as times goes on. I remember this dream, or at least the theme, the details are different each time but the basic story is the same and I aways wake up in a panic. And the disorientation can last a few minutes, sometimes I even have mini flashbacks to the dream in the first hour or so of the morning while I’m going about my morning routine.

The basic plot of my dream is that I have skipped or missed most of the lessons of a college math class and I am going to fail the exam, which I’m rushing to get to class to take because I forgot it was today because I usually skip class because I didn’t do the homework or studying because I skipped the previous class… and so on and so forth.

There is some logic to this dream. I was not strong in math coming out of high school and into college. And the first two years of college I goofed around, a lot. I was not studious, most of the classes I took were basic, general requirements that I didn’t need to put much effort into. And towards the end of my second year I got worse as I started to work more and more at the fish store till I eventually dropped out to work full time. I even audited a couple of classes my last semester, having to come up with good excuses for my teachers to get their permission. It was during that last full semester that I took calculus 1. I passed but didn’t score great. And I promptly forgot everything. I was more focused on fish and coral.

When I went back to school full time, after almost two years and transferring to George Mason to get out of my hometown. I had to start over on math. As an Computer Science major, I was in the engineering school and they had serious math class requirements. Based on my transcript I went directly into Calculus 2 my first semester at Mason. And it quickly became apparent that I knew nothing about calculus.

When I was at Mason I was determined to do well. From the start. And there were a lot of math to come so I had to get my shit in order. It was either audit Calculus 2 and go back to Calculus 1 the next semester or find some other way to dig my way out. Repeating Calc 1 the next semester was going to put me even further behind than I already was having transferred in. As it was I was going to have to take some summer classes to catch up to where I should be as a third year engineering student.

So… I went to the book shop and purchased the companion books to the text book. There were two book; one with worked solutions to all the problems in the textbook (I think it covered the first half of the book only, but given that that textbook —Calculus, 5th Edition by James Stewart, I still have it!— was used for Calc 1, Calc 2, Calc 3 and DiffEq 1 and DiffEq 2 the first half was enough to start with…) and one with extra problems, with solutions, for studying or practice.

I spent night after night over the rest of the semester sitting in the library working my way though every page and problem, starting with chapter 1. Working the examples, homework and extra problems out of the additional book. I made it through all the chapters covered in Calc 1 and then continued on with the chapters covered in Calc 2 until I finally caught up with my class just in time for end-of-semester exams. I passed, in fact I got a good grade, a B I think, somewhere I have my transcript.

I kept it up all the way through Calc 3 and in many other math classes beyond. I managed to keep all my grades up, I graduated with a GPA of 3.8 (transfer credits from my first couple of years don’t count in the official GPA thankfully).

I think it was this first semester of Mason, and how many hours I spent sitting, by myself, struggling to catch up on my math. Racing against the coming exam, that seared into my brain a panic of not being ready for my exam. My mind somehow combined that with the stress, and shame for auditing so many classes, from that last semester before I dropped out back in Charlottesville, too cook up this reoccurring dream —this nightmare— of not being ready, having skipped too many classes and unable to audit the class because it’s too late…

So other people are having nightmares about loosing their teeth or snakes while I awake in a panic about not being ready for my math exam.


Wild Singapore

The other day I was walking to the local coffee shop about 7:30 AM, which has become my routine since lockdowns ended but I amd still working for home, just to get out of the house before the full day of meeting in front of the camera starts. As I walked along the Park Connector (Singapore’s name for it’s extensive, and growing, network of walking/biking paths) that parallels the Sungai Simpang Kiri drainage canal I was lucky enough to see a family of otters playing and hunting fish in the canal:

Otters playing in the Sungai Simpang Kiri drainage canal, between Canberra Drive and Yishun Avenue 2

My older daughter said she saw a single otter here a few months ago; this time I have seen any, and a whole family of them.

Otters have been an increasingly common sight in Singapore over the past decade. Based on several articles online I understand that otters went “extinct” in Singapore in the early 1970’s driven out by pollution and urbanization. Otters were once again spotted in Singapore in 1998 but became a big deal in 2014 when a family moved in to the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio area. Today there are some 10 families living around Singapore, many in densely populated areas and even downtown amid the skyscrapers. Singapore’s policy of greening the city, to achieve Lee Quan Yew’s vision of a “city in a garden” is, apparently, working.

There is a lot of green in Singapore, many streets are lined with trees and bushes and though these are manicured they do provide a home for many small animals. If you keep your eyes open you can spot changing lizards among the flowers. The drainage canal and the green around it is where I see the most wildlife when I’m on my way for a cuppa or to the train stop or out for a walk to get some exercise.

Over the years I have seen a lot of wildlife along the canal. There is a family of parakeets that I see some mornings, a big kingfisher, and lots of other long necked fishing birds hunt in the canal. I’ve even seen an owl at night sitting on the railing by the canal. On several occasions I have seen a large monitor lizard swimming in the canal or walking in the grass along the side of the canal opposite the Park Connector. I once saw a horseshoe crab in the canal.

When I walk at night further along the Park Connector there is a small open field that is filled with the chorus of crocking frogs and buzzing cicadas. So loud you can hear them over the nearby traffic:

It’s one of the benefits of living in Singapore, despite it being one of the most densely packed places on earth and a modern city (or maybe because it’s “modern”) there is a lot of green. There is significant money put into planting and maintaining green spaces. That means they are all groomed spaces, plant trimming along the roads is a major cause of traffic jams on a weekly basis. A few years ago there was a factoid that Singapore spent over $50 million on maintaining the trees and other pants along the roads every year, almost a million dollars a week. But it does make for a much more pleasant city.

Supporting wildlife does occasionally lead to some conflict though. The otters do get some negative press as they have grown to be a larger presence. Also a woman was gored by a wild boar a few years ago in the same park that the otters first became famous in. The boar most likely wandered into the park from the larger central catchment area which is mostly unmanaged jungle in the heart of the island. I’ve only ever seen a boar on Pulau Ubin, one of the small, mostly wild islands around the main island of Singapore.

The central catchment is also famous for it’s long tailed or crab eating macaques. I’ve taken a few photos [] of them.

During the COVID19 lockdowns the people who do this work, foreign workers from China, Thailand and South Asia mostly, were locked away in their dormitories and all work stopped. The suffering of these migrants is another story, but… as far as the green spaces and the wildlife they support the months of no maintenance was a boom time. Plants that are normally trimmed or mowed down every month were left to flourish on their own. In some places along the Park Connectors near my house the foliage grew to such a height that it formed a wall on both sides. grasses and bushes grew over my head, more than 2 meters tall.

Insects and birds took full advantage of the growth. Butterflies and bees became a much more common site. The smell of booming flowers was heavy along many paths. Swarms of caterpillars and millipedes covered the sidewalks in the late summer of 2020; crunching under foot if you were not paying attention.

When the workers did return it was a shock to walk down the Park Connectors again. I had become used to the wall of green that separated me from the roads, blocking more of the light and sound. When the pants were cut, from two meters down to half a meter it was jarring.

Today the plants are cut back regularly once again in most places, but the government seems to have decided to leave some of the medians along the road and less populace areas to grow, allowing the small grasses and wild flowers to boom and support the bees and butterflies which in turn support the birds.

I wish the government would find some way to remove some of the concrete that lines all the waterways in Singapore. Since seemingly every waterway is a concrete lined canal there are no fireflies in Singapore. I heard that 50 years ago they were a regular part of the hot humid nights and I would love to see them again.

Overall Singapore has done a good job. It’s greener than most any city I have ever been to. And even if on going construction leads to many large trees along the roads being cut down there is a concerted effort to provide open and green spaces, and not just in parks, but along the roads and smaller plots of government land. Being able to see green plants and wildlife every day make life in the city much more pleasant.

Featured image includes screenshot of Singapore from [], a photo of the downtown Singapore showing the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay from Adobe Stock and various icons from Adobe.


Not dead…

I Realized I have not updated since I posted about having COVID19 []. If you only got to know whats going on with me via my blog you might think I got really sick due to the lack of updates. Not that anyone actually reads this regularly, but a theoretical person who only read the blog might think that. It’s been six weeks since I posted the positive ART test. But I got over being sick in about 3 days… though it took 12 days to get a negative test result… as I posted on Facebook on day 12:

On the twelfth day of COVID
My infection finally gave to me
A negative ART 
Twelve days of ART

Even though the protocol here in Singapore is (or was) that you don’t need to test after day 7, you can go out as normal if you are symptom free after that. But I wanted to see how long it took after talking to a lot of colleagues in Singapore and other countries that all said it took a few weeks to get over the cough. And, yeh, it took me about 3 weeks, so even longer than I tested positive I was still coughing when I would talk for very long in meetings and such.

Anyway, I have other things I want to post, I’ve just been too busy. So, hopefully I can get back to a close to weekly posting schedule after my almost 6 weeks hiatus.


Stay Positive

Myself and both my daughters have tested positive for COVID19 in the past few days. Contrary to what I’ve been told, despite being fully vaccinated and boosted, it has been more than a “mild flu” for myself and my older daughter. We seem to be on the mend now. Vector seems to have been school, someone in my younger daughter’s class speed it to her and three other classmates. C’est la vie.

quotes ranting

The Why

I’m an atheist … [t]his means I follow a well-thought moral code religiously, because it is very personal and meaningful to me—having deeply understood why I follow it; not because someone wearing a robe told me I should.

Tom Murphy, in Human Exceptionalism [], posted on Do the Math

I too am and atheist, and I too follow a moral code that, I think, is well through out. I think most people don’t take the time to think about, to examine what they think is fundamentally important, what is right and wrong and why they make decisions the way they do. What are the axioms of their beliefs? Where did those axioms come from and do they think those axioms are the right ones? Most importantly, are they actually following them in their personal and political life?

At it’s core it’s an old idea, going back to Socrates; the unexamined life is not worth living []. There is a lot of Kant [] and Singer [] in my answers to those questions (it’s telling that I have posted about two books by Singer here on Confusion; Practical Ethics [] and Animal Liberation []) and a bit of the Dalai Lama [].

I don’t think people necessarily need to read famous philosophers to examine their moral code, but I do think that exposure to different thoughts is a good way to understand your own moral compass and to help you think about it. I think studying and reading western ethics was important for me, but it was equally important studying eastern religions and philosophy. If you only know one line of moral thinking then how can you evaluate it what can you compare it to? The most important bit is the Socratic method, having someone to challenge you and just ask the right questions to help guide you.

I grow up in “middle America”, meaning a predominantly white, Anglo Saxon, Protestant America where the common moral framework was a Christian one informed by a Protestant work ethic and ideals of independence and self-reliance. Despite growing up in that environment I’ve always been an atheist, I never attended church or any other religious institution. Neither of my parents were church going having stopped attending church when they were young; my grandparents on both sides had fallen out with their churches over something and they stopped attending church.

My first introductions, at least that I can remember, to anything specifically religious were both in school; in the 4th grade Ms. Ackerman taught us about Chanukah, I learned what a dreidel was, though there was no moral or ethical teaching, only a high level “its a holiday of the Jewish faith” and some basic info on the menorah, traditional foods and games. My first insight into a larger world of religion.

Then, in the 5th grade, Ms. Venning started the day (actually I can’t remember if it was daily or weekly) with reading from The Bible Story [] books. I think she was reading stories from Genesis, I vaguely remember she read about Noah and the flood. But very quickly some parent must have complained and she had to stop. I remember her siting in front of the the class and explaining why she had to stop. That people had different religions and that since the Bible was part of a specific religion it was not supposed to be taught in school, that was for church. My first introduction to separation of church and state. I can’t imagine how this whole thing would go down today…

So no strong religious background, no preachers telling me what morals were. I guess I learned from imitating my parents and TV. I never though about it. Of course you don’t have to make many moral judgements as a kid. There was no discussion about the morals or ethics of things. The one thing that might have been a place for a discussion was during the first Iraq war – Desert Shield and Desert Storm. War should be a place to discuss morals and ethics, but I don’t think it came up. Too busy dealing with the fact of my mother being recalled to active Naval duty and therefore being away from home for almost a year. And also getting caught up in the patriotism to some degree, you could not escape Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and yellow ribbons on cars and lapels.

My real journey of self-examination started, like I think many people’s does, in college. I started to learn about ethics and morals in two classes in my freshman year; introduction to philosophy an a survey of eastern religions. Those classes gave me some background and information but self-examination and an understanding of morals started specifically in another class and because of one teacher.

The teacher was Marietta McCarty [] at the local community collage. I took her class because it was highly recommended by two of my best friends at the time who were older, J███ and D██ of fish store fame. I was working at the fish store with J███ and D██ was a frequent visitor/customer. Even beyond class Marietta became a key presence in our circle of friends; dinners and scrabble at her house were a thing. We named the corner of the store where an old coffee table, chair and sofa were set up the “philosophy corner” and we had many a discussion with and without Marietta about ethics and morals and other philosophical topics, along side a lot of nonsense that a bunch of young guys talk about too.

It was because of Marietta’s class that I read Practical Ethics, [] for the first time and then Animal liberation []. In class but more often over hearty dinners, or a game of scrabble, and in the philosophy corner on slow days we discussed moral and ethical dilemmas; racism, and speciesism; the death penalty and inequality; euthanasia, abortion and gun control.

Hard questions were asked and debated; do you believe in the sanctity of human life? What about life in general? Why should human life be precious? Is it because God said so? How do you assign a value to a life? Is your family more important than strangers? Does age make a difference —is a child’s life more important than an old person? Why?

Is war every justifiable? When? Is patriotism any batter than racism?

Is being rich moral? How much better off than others do you have to be for it to be a moral sin to not donate money and time to helping others? Is capitalism and spending morally defensible while hunger and poverty persists in the world?

How can you be pro-life and pro-death penalty? If you have enough money to meet your needs and those of your family do you have a moral duty to volunteer your time or donate your excess wealth to charities helping those less fortunate than you?

I spent a lot of time thinking about these and debating different answers with my friends. Later when I was full time in George Mason I continued the discussions with new friends. And again while in London.

After college it was harder. People were less interested in hard discussions about morals or ethics; I didn’t work with people who wanted to ‘change the world’. Sure there were some people who could and would talk about such deep thoughts but most people out of college barely wanted to discuss the news in depth much less their reasons for why they reacted to stories in the way they did.

It’s been incredibly hard to keep myself surrounded by people who want to have these type of discussions. I am glad that I had the chance, the opportunity to spend so much time on it and develop a firm view. I think it has faded over time and maybe it’s time to revisit my core beliefs again, what you believe changes as you experience life so reexamination is as important as that first examination.

I suspect that many people out there, railing against things they don’t understand or disagree with on social media don’t understand their own belief systems. It’s not inherently wrong to have a view of the world based on your religion or the ideals of your home country, but to blindly try and apply those rules to everyone and everything when you don’t understand why these rules are your rules, is as wrong as “just following orders”. Blindly following some vaguely understood set of moral or ethical rules that often conflict themselves is no better than anyone who was “just following orders”. The culture wars are driven by people with agendas not ideals who are giving orders, but they are fought by everyday people trying to impose moral and ethical views because someone has told them that others views are incompatible with theirs, not because they themselves have though for themselves. Without understanding ourselves, how can we ever understand others? Without understanding others, how can we live together in any kind of peace?

Featured image uses The Death of Socrates [] by Jacques-Louis David, photo from Wikimedia Commons. Book covers from Goodreads [].