April Fools

It’s April Fool’s Day. It snowed during the public schools’ spring break. We think it’s all very funny. This happens every other year. It’s spring.

The rest of this is completely true, too.

Today I picked up the poet laureate of Oregon from a hotel lobby here in Utah, drove him to campus. Had a lovely conversation. He met with my class, a couple of honors students, one additional student from the writing student, the Chair of the English Department and a faculty member for the History Department and Library. Lawson is a Japanese-American, and as I introduced him I said that he’d been to Utah several times, but that this was his first time to Ogden. He quickly corrected me: “My second time to Ogden, but my first to this campus.” Those were profound words. Later, I asked him to elaborate, as I didn’t think that others would appreciate what he was saying.

Lawson Inada’s first time in Ogden was via the train, the Union Station. When I asked him to explain an hour after the introduction, he said, yes, of course; and he pulled out a poem about Ogden that he’d written for exactly this occasion. The verse was about his first trip through Ogden, the one that was via the rail, transporting him from one of the internment camps he spent time in as a child during World War II. Ogden is a railroad town, and we celebrate this; but we forget about the others we transported through that station. Lawson remembers clearly the meaning of Ogden and the railroad as a crossroads from a place of imprisonment to a return home. He wrote and spoke of the Great Salt Lake and its shores as opposing lives, one of confinement, one of freedom.

From a different shore: Today I finished writing, obtained signatures for, and turned in two grant proposals. They’re modest by university standards, extravagant by my standards. One asks for a device to help our science teachers develop an understanding of the technologies that are used in K-12 classrooms all around. The other asks for a stack of iPads, eReaders, and other technologies whose second letter is cApitalized. It was the most fun and funniest grant proposal I’ve ever written, I think.

In lab today, I was putting some stuff away and was flicking at a cheap, plastic cylinder. It made a satisfying “tonk” with each finger flick, and as my students were doing a sound lab with microphones, computer-based oscilloscopes, I did a flick and a “tonk” right into the microphone and computer to produce a neat waveform. And then I asked out loud, “What’s the speed of sound today,” since this was the goal of the day’s lab. About 340 meters per second, it turned out, according to lab group #1, which rang true to my own mind. So, based on the waveform on the oscilloscope, the 340 m/s, and what we know about resonance, I figured out (took me about 3 minutes) that the length of the tube was 21 cm. Right: I measured the length of a tube with a microphone and an oscilloscope. I managed not to say “holy shit” when I measured the tube and it turned out to be almost exactly 21 cm long. Physics works.

Sometimes the world isn’t understandable, but we make sense of it. Lawson, as a five-year-old, had to spend time in a prison in his own country because his grandparents came from somewhere on the other side of the Pacific. Today, he laughs heartily. Other times, when the world is supposed to be understandable, it doesn’t let you down. You can measure the length of a tube with an oscilloscope and labgroup #1. Somehow we have the human capacity to forgive, nature’s adherence to understandabilty, and the world is okay. It’s okay. Maybe. Maybe everything’s going to be okay.

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