Author Archives: Ben Trube

This we don’t need

It’s been a week since the attack on OSU campus. As you might imagine this particular act of violence struck a little closer to home than most. I’m an alum of OSU and live a few miles north of the campus.My dad is involved with campus ministry, as are some people I used to go to bible study with. While I don’t go down there as often as I used to, I did see a game with my wife earlier this fall, and I sometimes go for a sentimental walk to No. 1 Chinese, Used Kids Records or just down the Oval. I think of OSU as part of my home.

I’m grateful that people were not more seriously hurt and that the situation was able to be resolved in a short amount of time. Though things certainly seemed uncertain for most of Monday morning (I spent the day trying to get work done while listening to 10TV news feeds and Facebook Live press conferences) the actual incident was only about a minute.

Not long after the attack a friend of mine said on social media that he wasn’t looking forward to whatever hateful thing the President-elect was going to tweet on the subject. And sure enough, the Donald delivered:

ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet. For starters, the motive of this 18 year old student will likely never be firmly known, and speculating is a destructive activity. Of course ISIS claimed credit. The attacker isn’t alive to contradict them, and it makes them look like they have more influence. Second, Columbus, Ohio has a thriving Somali community (who were among the first to condemn the attack). We have a legacy of taking in refugees for over 25 years. The president-elect may have won Ohio, but he didn’t win Columbus and he doesn’t know this city or have a right to speak for it.

But honestly it isn’t even Trump I want to talk about, but the people who are using this attack as an opportunity to advocate for a concealed or open carry policy on campus. This culminated today in a group of people parading around the campus carrying guns. Let me repeat. A week after a violent attack on a college campus, a group of non-students organized by a gun-rights activist from Cincinatti decided it was a good idea to march around with guns including assault rifles.

Now to be fair the students were notified, and the advocates were escorted by police the whole way. But this was far from a calm discussion of gun rights. When a professor questioned the group’s presence and said this wasn’t what the college needed, the gun-advocates questioned his citizenship. Lot’s of students are still dealing with the trauma and the fear of the last week. This community is still healing.

There was a lot of luck and providence in last Monday’s attack. A gas leak meant that an officer could be on the scene in less than a minute, and good training resolved the situation quickly. The school’s alert system notified everyone almost as the attack was happening, and the run-hide-fight protocol probably kept a number of students safe. One of the people injured by the attacker had military training, and even tried to grab the knife. There were heroic and well trained people on scene. The students were as prepared as any student population could be. And I believe God was there as well.

Here’s what a someone with a concealed carry permit would have added to that situation. Unless they had hours of extensive training dealing with active-attacker situation, there’s a decent liklihood they would not have drawn their gun, or fired it if they did pull it out. If they drew their gun and fired there is no guaruntee they would not have injured people besides the attacker. And when the officer came on scene they’d be adding another confusing element to a hot situation. Unless they were immediately compliant with the officer’s commands, they’d stand a decent likelihood of being shot themselves.

You may disagree with my assessment, and that’s fine. I know a lot of reasonable people who are gun enthusiasts. Maybe we can discuss it calmly in a month or two. But for right now, why don’t we spend our time having a national conversation about what OSU did to prepare for attacks like these, and praising the work of a fine young officer. Let’s not tar an entire community because of the actions of one person, and let’s stop waving guns around for a while.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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New Release: Fractals – 2017 Adult Coloring Calendar

frontcover

I know how it is. You get to the end of November and you realize you forgot Mandelbrot’s birthday (it was Sunday). Or your friends ask you to come over for Pi day and then laugh at you when you bring pie instead (which they eat without thanking you). Well don’t worry, I’m looking out for you.

Introducing Fractals – 2017 Adult Coloring Calendar.

Did you know that you can make up math holidays just by choosing the right numbers? I mean, tomorrow is Fibonacci day because it’s 11/23 (it’ll really be cool in 42 years when it’s 11/23/58). I even made up my own holiday on January 26th: Koch curve day (because the approximate fractal dimension of the Koch curve is 1.26. It’s also E. H. Moore’s birthday apparently).

kochtricurve1l4

Feeling stressed? Why not color in some fractal bubbles or a cozy quilt? And take some time to marvel at the clean numbers and lines of the calendar template I created using a python script. There were definitely at least five tiny pixel adjustments to make sure the numbers lined up in diagonals just right.

Perfect for the math geek who also enjoys trivia and pretty colors. But even if your name isn’t Brian Buckley this calendar is a great for someone looking for something just a bit different in their date tracking this year. Available now on Amazon from the good people at Green Frog Publishing.

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Keep your eye on the ball

The last two weeks have been anything but boring. The pace of news seems designed to keep us off-balance. It can make it difficult to find what is worth our attention. If a story is from a few days ago, it can feel like it’s already old news and not part of the conversation we’re having now. Often we gravitate to the things that are easily digestible, that we already are inclined to care about, and that don’t challenge us to do more than give the post a like.

In this post-election season we need to fight this tendency.

Take this weekend for example. On Friday the President-elect settled three lawsuits that were brought against him over the fraudulent practices at Trump University, to the tune of $25 million. Trump did not admit to any wrong-doing in the settlement. Despite his tweet that “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U.” the settlement figure (as well as the instructor’s handbook) suggest the case was not a slam-dunk for the President-elect. The settlement also spares Trump the embarrassment of showing up in court, giving him time to “focus on our country.

And this would have been an embarrassing case. Instructors at Trump U were told to encourage students to put themselves in substantial credit-card debt to pay for courses containing information you could easily find on the internet. This is also the case where Trump questioned the abilities of a US born judge to try the case fairly because he had Mexican heritage. Burrito bowls aside we know Trump’s comments about Mexicans have been a bit… controversial to say the least. This situation is unprecedented for a President-elect, and this is not the only lawsuit Trump will likely have to settle. So you’d think that this story would be the top trending topic in my news-feed all weekend.

But as it turns out, Mike Pence got booed at the theater.

Now don’t get me wrong. Both the audience’s reaction to Pence, and the cast’s later words to him were deeply satisfying. There was a throwaway joke on SNL that Pence is the reason Trump will never be impeached, and any democrat who’s taken a closer look at Pence would be forced to agree. Hamilton has a diverse cast and they rightly called out the inconsistency of his views with his attending the show. And Trump’s reaction to the whole kerfuffle shows that he has not abandoned his reactionary twitter habits. The other trending story this weekend were some Trump supporters making Starbucks employees write “Trump” on their cups. This was accompanied by some footage of one such supporter being a dick. Personally, I think it’s nice that Trump supporters like this self-identify. I mean, a barista would never do something to your coffee after you’ve been a jerk … right?

drumpfcup

Both of these stories tickle me in one way or another. But they’re dessert, and you need to finish your meal before you get dessert.

Here’s what I mean. There’s nothing wrong with clicking the links to the Hamilton footage, and smiling at the video. You can spend some time thinking of Pence musicals and share your favorites on Twitter. But that can’t be all you do. There are cabinet appointments being made, there are policy directions being discussed, and there events that continue to speak to the character of the man we just elected. I know we all need a laugh, and I love the Joe memes too. But as John Oliver said last week, we can’t let any of this seem normal. We need to do a little digging to see what’s passing us by in favor of what is shiny and easy to understand.

Here’s an example from my own backyard. The day after I attended the rally in Clintonville, a seeming Trump supporter tackled a speaker at an anti-Trump rally. The tackler was quickly led away in handcuffs to a crowd of people chanting “shame shame.” This clip made me angry. I still think of OSU as my home in a lot of ways, and after the encouraging night I’d had the day before, this felt like we were backsliding. But a few days later we found out that the tackler has aspergers syndrome, that the tackle wasn’t even politically motivated, and that the speaker wanted the police to drop any charges of assault. I could have let the incident play as just fuel on the fire, as a way to get myself mad at Trump supporters, but that would have been missing a larger part of the truth.

We can’t afford to get distracted, and we can’t afford to just take fleeting looks at events. We’re in this for the next four years.  Seeing something that bugs us or delight us and sharing it on social media isn’t going to be enough. It certainly wasn’t before the election and it’s not going to be in two or four years.

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What to do with old video games

This is a great idea! There are probably a lot of us who have things just sitting around the house that could be put to good and purposeful use. If you agree please share this post or pictures of your own under the hashtag #gamesforliberty. Thanks Brian for the good example.

Brian D. Buckley

Step 1: Find old video games you weren’t playing anymore.

wii-u

Step 2: Sell them.

gs-receipt

Step 3: Donate to the ACLU.

donate

Done!

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No Place For Hate

I love living in Clintonville. I love the owner of my local deli, Smith’s, who’ll sell me a $6 Reuben even as he’s preparing to marry off the 3rd of 7 children. I love the community center and art fairs. I love living in a place with trees, even when my house is being hit by acorns. I love the hole-in-the-wall Chinese place on Kenny that I’ll be eating from later tonight. I love my neighborhood full of dogs and little free libraries, and the bookstore just up the road. And I love the people of this community, now more than ever.

Sunday night my wife and I attended a candlight vigil. This wasn’t an anti-Trump rally, or a group of people out to abolish the electorial college. It was a group of our Clintonville neighbors coming together and saying we will look out for one another. Walking from the Whetstone Community Center to North Broadway we were surrounded by people of all ages: from families with young to children, to college students and retirees. My wife and I didn’t have mason jars for real flames, so we brought some battery powered candles (just as well since I probably would’ve set my notebook on fire).

The walk was pretty quiet at first, the group of us moving at a slow shuffle. Somewhere between Smith’s and Torrence things started to get a little more lively. Cars honked in support as they passed, marchers across the street cheered “this is what democracy looks like,” and local businesses made a show of support (the Global Gallery handed out coffee on a cold night).

On North Broadway there were drums and carhorns and cheers of “Love Trumps Hate.” A small group of police showed up to help people cross to the other side of the main road. As I stepped into the crosswalk I heard an officer remark “you guys keep being this cool we’re never going to make national news.” In truth the whole evening was pretty tame. There were a few people who shouted their support for Trump (more as a matter of fact than anything else). There some individual calls of “not my President” and “we reject the President-elect” but these were the outliers, not the rule. Mostly we chanted about protecting the rights of women, of minorities, of different relgions and love in all its forms. The police were respectful and helpful, and the mood anything but antagonistic. Frankly it was a welcome change after the strange week we’ve all had.

My favorite moment of the night was walking back to the car. We were a few steps behind a mother and her 6-7 year old son. The son was holding a big “Love” sign while his mother explained the right to protest and how it can be important to show people how you feel. There’ve been a lot of people saying that we shouldn’t protest, that we need to accept the results of the election and give the President-elect a chance. I do accept the results of the election, even if I have a hard time typing the words President Trump right now. That’s not the issue.

If you take the President-elect at his word then you have to take on board the policies he said he would enact. This is a man who advocated for war crimes, who called for a total ban on muslims coming into the country. He has appalling attitudes toward women, and only a passing relationship with objective facts. Maybe once he realizes what the job actually entails he’ll change. A lot of people who’ve sat in that office certainly have. Being President is an awesome responsibility, but we have responsibilities too. We have a responsibility to protect the rights of the people around us from those who might seek to take them away. That starts at home, in the places we love.

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What I never expected

I’ve been off WordPress for a while and so it’s been a while since I checked my stats, and I was surprised to learn that I had something like a 200% increase in traffic last week, and for the best reason.

My “Fractals You Can Draw” posts have always been the most popular ones on the site. In general I think the writing life is weird like that. You never know what 20 minute or hour long effort is going to be the one that really lasts. I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing this blog, but that week I spent getting my wife to draw fractals, building a Sierpinski triangle out of marshmellows and toothpicks, and frantically trying to update by C++ skills has been one of the more lasting efforts of the last five years for me.

But the best thing is every year around the spring and fall I get new referrals from schools. WordPress does a pretty good job of letting you know where traffic is coming from, and every year I find some new class, ranging from grade school to college that references one of my fractal posts. That’s really the reason I’m doing any of this. What I’ve learned since I started blogging and especially in the last year working on the “Fractals You Can Draw” book is that I really want to teach people. I like writing fiction, but I love writing about math.

Honestly I’m as shocked as the rest of you.

Right now I’m working on Chapter 5 of the new book (or trying to, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks). I’m learning about new ways to use the Fibonacci sequence to draw fractals, and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned. I’m so excited about this stuff I even snuck in a half an hour to write on Monday night while I was waiting for my mom to finish her grocery shopping.

If you’ve found this blog through one of your math courses I’d love to hear from you. To all the teachers who included links to my posts in their courses, thank you. And thank you for teaching people about fractals. It’s one of the best ways to build a love of math.

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What’d I miss?

About two weeks ago I pulled my back out and between that and the fact that my software project has kicked into high gear, I’ve been a little out of the world lately. So … what’s going on?

Seriously.

What just happened?

I was up until about one last night after waking up that morning at 5:30am (which is about an ahour and a half earlier than usual). I actually walked to my polling place which is a school just around the corner from my house, in part to loosen the aforementioned back, though I didn’t factor in what standing in a line for 25 minutes might do to it. Ah well, that’s what ibuprofen and the oddly spelled supplement turmeric is for.

I got back to the house around 7 and actually took a second to enjoy one of the benefits of reverting from daylight savings time, watching the sunrise. Just taking a minute to bask in the joy of God’s creation. If only the rest of the day had been so calming.

The coverage on all the channels was really something to see. We have a tradition since the 2008 election of watching the Daily Show’s live election special. In 2012 I’d had to watch it in a hotel room in Cleveland with my wife on the phone while we watched Obama be reelected over a Republican we didn’t like, but not someone who seemed unqualified.

The mood this year was frankly somber, correspondants stress-eating and pounding back shots of pepto bismol. @midnight’s Chris Hardwick was more of tugging at the shirt collar “I don’t know” variety of anxiety. But my favorite part of the evening, or at least the one that encapsulated how I was feeling was Rachel Maddow. In the middle of reading some of the latest results she just *sighed*.

For myself I was feeling equal parts depressed and angry. I sent this to my friend Brian at about 11:45 which summed it up pretty nicely:

At the urging of my wife with things looking uncertain but not completely lost I went to bed around 1am, then woke up around 4am which I’ve been doing the past few nights, needing to roll over to spread some of the tension in my back around. I argued with myself that I shouldn’t check the results, that I should just roll over and go back to sleep. I lost that battle, but fortunately I was too exhausted from the short night the day prior to spend much time thinking about it.

A lot of people on social media today have been saying the depressing thing is not that Donald Trump is going to be our President, it’s what his being elected means about us. There’s certainly a part of Trump’s constituency that has said some pretty hateful, misoginyst, bigoted, anti-intellectual, xenophobic, homophobic, anachronistic, jingoistic, and yes deplorable things. But the truth is I think the majority of these people have just felt left behind by the world. They felt that neither side was listening to their concerns, or doing enough to help them, and they finally made their voices heard.

There’s a part of that frustration I will never understand because it’s just not the kind of life I lead. I can sympathize. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve worked in the auto industry or in steel, or out on the factory floor. In my parent’s day that was a good middle class job, and something to be proud of, and whatever the cause of it, it’s something we’ve lost in today’s America. It makes sense that that’s frustrating.

If I’m honest, I’ve lived a life of relative privilege. I’ve worked hard, but I had a lot of opportunities. I’ve pursued a career that hopefully will remain relavant throughout my lifetime, though automation and best cost countries threaten programmers as well. That’s why life-long learning to me isn’t a cliche, it’s a necessity. But my ability to say that has largely been the product of parents who valued higher education and my own interests and passions. And there are plenty of vital industries that can’t be outsourced, like senior care, that get crap wages for crap work (literally sometimes). We need to do better for everyone.

Some of this frustration turns into implicit racism, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or any number of things, and I could tar these people with the brush of being intolerant and dismiss them. It seems like that’s what the democrats did in some ways. You don’t change anyone’s mind by unfriending them, or blocking them, or telling them they’re a monster. You get to know them, you try to understand where they’re coming from, and you have a honest discussion.

I want to call everybody useless. I want to be mad. And there are a lot of hateful things out there to get righteously angry about. But honestly that feels like I’d just be sinking to the level of that man who will be our president.

I’m not leaving for Canada or any nonsense like that. I actually think God doesn’t smile to fondly on people who leave the mission he’s set out for them. Let’s remember that a whale swallowed Jonah when he tried to run. If I’m sad or disappointed in what America seems to be, then I need to do something to make it better. That means writing about wrongs I see happening in the world. It means talking to people and finding out what they really need. And maybe it even means getting politically involved in the next seasons. I still need time to reflect, to mourn, to vent my anger in productive and not destructive ways. I’m still figuring this out even as I write.

I don’t know what the next four years are going to bring. None of us does. But I’m going to spend them being an American. I’m going to spend them as someone who greets others with love, who is loving of those with different colored skin, or religion, or sexual orientation, or class, or even political party. If Donald Drumpf seeks to enact policies that hurt people I love, I will do what I can to protect them. But I admit to being a little heartened that Mitch McConnell and a lot of other Republican senators have made it clear they want to defend a lot of what makes America what it is as well.

We’re all in this together. We all have ownership of this moment, no matter how we voted. If America isn’t the place we thought it was, then let’s do what we can to change that.

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