Happy Dance!

I just got an informal acceptance notice for my article to PRIMUS! Backstory here and here.

I’m a little embarrassed that this draft was riddled with typos. But, accepted! Happy dance around the house! This is what I’m doing tonight:

Dancing around the house
(Ally McBeal animated gif with the dancing baby is shamelessly stolen from the internet.)

The small mistakes can be fixed, and I was tired, stressed, getting to the end of my rope, and grateful for some help from a very kind colleague and mentor with the final revisions on it. That minor issues were missed shouldn’t surprise anyone.


  1. Have an idea? Write it up and submit. Just try. And try not to worry that it won’t be good enough.
  2. Stuck on revisions? Little bits of effort, epsilons, can move you forward.
  3. Still struggling? Ask friends, colleagues, mentors for help.
  4. Finally success? Celebrate!

…but first thing tomorrow, I get to work on those last revisions and resubmit.

I am grateful, grateful, grateful to see this through and for all the help and encouragement I got along the way.

Epsilons and all the Little Things that Make Me Happy

I just looked back at http://drjinx.com for 2013. I made 101 posts. There are 52 weeks per year, that is almost 2 posts per week. I a pleased with the result. I updated regularly. I think my writing improved. I know some friends, at least, read my posts here regularly. I spent time thinking about and writing about things I needed to think through. Often it helped. It always felt good to put something up. I think that is success. I won’t make a formal resolution, but a goal for 2014 is 104 post, or exactly 2 each week for the year.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I think I am going to make one. The most powerful lesson I learned last year was the power of the epsilon > 0 philosophy ([1] and [2]) and the 15 (or 30) minute rule. I’ve been preaching the 15 minute rule for a long time, at least when my kitchen has become an OSHA hazard and something must be done to fix it. This year I broadened its applications, and I saw good results. There are a lot of things I need to do that I am scared of. I faced them with the thought that I would just try for 15 minutes. There was a lot of work I despaired getting done, and finding time to get done, but when I decided to just get after it for 15 or 30 minutes, I made progress and I saw it done. So my resolution is to use the epsilon is greater than zero (something is better than nothing) philosophy along with the 15 minute rule this year soon after I realize that my problem is that I’m feeling stuck. And to tell students how this has worked for me when I urge them to try it.

It is both this easy and this hard. Some jobs are so big they overwhelm me. Break them into smaller pieces until you get a piece you can deal with, and then go after that. And then look for another piece. Repeat as needed.

These little pieces of progress make me happy. As do many other little things in my life. On a day to day basis, I think it is the littlest things that often make the biggest difference. Of course it would be wonderful to win the lottery. Or to be offered my dream job. Neither of those is likely to happen to day. But I can buy the ticket and embrace a little bit of unreasonable hope. I can spend 15 minutes on my job application materials, write a cover letter, send my things to someone else to look at and critique, and feel good about getting that done. I may not get started on that book I want to write some day, but I can write a blog post (200 words. Your goal is 200 words. And 100 or 150 is just fine in a pinch). I will be satisfied that I got that done.

1. My original post on the epsilon > 0 exercise plan

2. And a post about an application of the epsilon > 0 philosophy to getting things done.

Picking Green Beans

Green beans

Green beans

Picking Green Beans.
Wow, a lot! From this plot I threw together back in August.
In Texas there are two growing seasons,
Spring and Fall, with everything dying off in the heat of summer.
It is trite but true that hope plants a garden.
Hope looks to some reward in the future,
some uncertainty and tries anyhow.

Recent years have been a long, hot, dry summer,
and parts of my heart and hope feel withered, barren and dead.
Pain and despair are familiar companions.
Do I cling to them, keeping them near, fearing to be alone?
Or is everything that has happened happenstance?
Probably a mixture of both; we work to make our own fate,
but fortune intervenes, sometimes for us, sometimes against.
And there are long runs of good luck and bad luck.

May the good luck not go to your head,
not make you think that you are the deserving, the special,
the one who cared the most and worked the hardest.
For surely you did care much and work hard,
but fortune helps.
Those who didn’t succeed may have cared just as much or more,
tried just as hard or more, only to see their hopes crumble.
If you succeed, nurture compassion.

May the bad luck not go to your heart,
not throw you into despair or the feeling of worthlessness.
Take stock, by all means, of how you got here.
But do not blame yourself for mistakes,
not even if they are truly yours. Accept.
Forgive. Correct. And keep going.
Try to find the strength to hope for a change in fortune.
Bad luck must eventually turn, right?
If only you can stay in the game. But sometimes it doesn’t
turn fast enough, and we have to accept the aftermath.

Our gift is compassion, and our challenge is to apply it to ourselves.

This green day, this blue sky, the sun warm on my shoulders,
and a breeze caresses my skin. Green beans for dinner soon,
because hope planted a garden and won this time.
Breathe in this temperate moment.
Try to bring it to the hot to the cold
to the hurting place inside.


I have a prize student. Some insane luck brought us together. I got assigned to teach a class no one else wanted to teach and decided to make the best of it. He happened to be in the class that first semester when I didn’t know what on earth it was I should be doing. Since I didn’t know what I should have them do, I threatened to make them do two final projects unless they came up with one of their own. I didn’t need threats on this one, to be honest, he had an idea for me. I remember looking at his project proposal, with the professional looking diagrams, and thinking, “Oh my gosh, look at this.”

Thus began a great run for both of us. I thought his work was pretty cool, so I asked him to submit it to the local journal of undergraduate research. He got that published. He made a video for my class that blew my mind, so I had him enter that in another contest. Won that one too.

I saw an advertisement for the undergraduate thesis program. He seemed interested in doing more with his project, so I asked him to apply. He did. Got in. Wrote an undergraduate thesis, and was named runner up for outstanding STEM thesis. He got the nomination for the Goldwater Scholarship and picked that up ($7500!) He went to MathFest this past summer, and walked away with another $150 award.

Now, my student is amazing, but the #1 reason he’s won all this stuff is that he’s had things he wanted to do, and when he was encouraged to apply for things he went out and did it, bringing all of his diligence and conscientiousness into play.

My job has been to stand behind him and cheer, see the opportunities, and apply the professorial push when needed.

He’s the nominee for the Marshall Scholarship, which is one of the 2 year fellowships to do graduate study in the UK. I was proud of that. Today I found out he’s also going to be the nominee for the Churchill Scholarship, which is similar to the Marshall, and maybe slightly better known. Why? Because the original nominee wasn’t working on the application materials, and he was.

So, lesson: Apply. And when you apply, be conscientious about it. Do the work in front of you. I don’t know if he’ll win either scholarship, but in my mind, he just improved his odds. And by doing nothing more than keeping on top of the things he needed to do.

I hope he knows how proud of him I am. Watching all this evolve is more than I ever thought I’d get to see as a teacher. I’m going to miss him when he graduates. What a ride, what a ride! these last 2 years have been.


I was about to give up on this little cactus. It grew well, then it got sickly. I figured it had outgrown its pot. I have little idea of what I should do with it. Toss it? Give up?


Then, I notice it is blooming.

Life is full of unexpected gifts. It is up to us to pay enough attention so that we notice them.

Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.

(Attributed to many: Joan Rivers, Bil Keane, Babatunde Olatunji, Eleanor Roosevelt, and maybe others. I got it from Kung Fu Panda.)



Things to Appreciate

There’s nothing quite like seeing one of your former students give a seminar to current students, especially when she does a great job. She is now a graduate student with a friend and colleague. I was able to help put those two together in what has been a good collaboration. I am proud of that! The colleague gave the other half of the seminar. He always does a good job; I enjoy his talks. About half my current students were in attendance.

It was fantastic to see my current students asking tons of questions in the seminar tonight. #1 thing I want to help give them is the courage to ask their questions. Okay. I can’t give them courage. I want them to know they have my approval and encouragement for asking their questions. That, perhaps, I have managed to do.

I really was lucky last year in all the things my students accomplished. I was really lucky in having two of my students come with me to MathFest last August. It was so much fun to seeing the world through their eyes.

Sometimes things work out really well, and when they do, you should treasure it. Because there are plenty of times when they aren’t going to work out so well, and you are going to have to use the emotional fuel you are storing to get through it.

I hope I get to bring some of this year’s students with me to MathFest again. I know, I know, it won’t be quite the same as that first time, but I hold out hope that it will be nearly as much fun.