Neil and Julian and the Exploratorium, Oh My

Via Bill Gosper and the regional math circles, Neil’s gotten to know Julian, another homeschooled boy his age who loves math as much as he does. So we naturally included him our round of adventures during Kelly’s winter break and invited him to join us at the Exploratorium on Friday.

I wondered whether they’d relate as middle schoolers or math geeks. By putting them together in the back of my car on the way to San Francisco, would I be subject to an hour of fart jokes, or power calculation? I very quickly learned middle schooler and math geek are not mutually exclusive. Almost as soon as he got into the car, Julian rolled down his window and the boys proceeded to do wind experiments half way up the peninsula. It wound down to an explanation on the science of kitty litter, at which point I saw my chance to insert a geeky fact, and informed the boys that the Middle Ages really stank. That seemed to calm the boys down for a while. Where’s the math in medieval aromatics? After a few minutes, they changed the subject to theories of what you could do with a really long conveyor belt and RC vehicles.

Finally, we arrived at the Exploratorium. Julian set me up as the straight man for a really geeky math joke involving infinity, but I got him back by telling him I love infinity, because no matter how much you add to it, it’s always the same. And, hey, kid, here’s a quarter-shaped Exploratorium sticker, now go play with the science exhibits, why dontcha?

The place was created for kids like Neil and Julian, by slightly older kids like Neil and Julian, so the boys were content. Kelly, happily enough, has matured so she can enjoy playing with the exhibits, too. Here are all three children checking out the sand disc:

Kelly and I drifted to different exhibits, in no small part because neither Kelly (nor I) were up to trying to figure out the equations for sand drawings.

The Exploratorium has a new (to us, at least) section about circuits, which had a table for making circuits. This was like a more advanced version of Snap Circuits, a toy Neil loved at an early age. When I checked in on the boys, they were creating some sort of ueber-battery, having done troubleshooting work to sort of the defective circuits from the working ones:

I was hungry for lunch, but both the boys were still riding on Exploratorium excitement, so I took Kelly over to the cafe to have a bite to eat, since I wouldn’t be able to eat on the way back home. I opened the lunch I’d packed for myself, (which involved the remnants of an ongoing field trip lunch), and discovered a biology experiment. Biology was last year for us, though, so I threw it away, and ate some of Neil’s lunch instead.

Alas, we had to leave at 3, so I could get the boys to Cupertino in time for Julian’s math club. Neil had accepted an invitation to join him, which is like accepting an invitation for a nightcap from a Russian friend. Here’s an example of one of the problems they do for fun in the math club:

You leave the Exploratorium at 3 pm, and need to be at the Cupertino library at 4 pm. Inexplicable construction requires you to reroute your way home through the Presidio, but through some wonder of space, time, and political perversion, you still end up going down 19th Avenue and have to stop at infinity red lights. There is a 10% probability that any one of the car’s 3 passengers (with a 5% probability for the driver) will throw up, a probability that increases exponentially every 10 minutes, but which will delay your trip by 5 minutes for each incident, assuming you can pull over to the side of the road fast enough (if not, add another 10 minutes). Calculate how late you will be, and which passenger gets sick.

Oh, wait, I did that problem. Neil and Julian obviously did it, too, and faster than I did, because as soon as I pulled up in front of the library, they exploded out of the car and dashed away, whereupon Kelly threw up.

After the clean up, Kelly and I stuck around in the library, until closing time, when the math club had to close down, too. I got Neil to admit to being mathed out for the day, so we just went home and watched an old Star Trek episode in which Kirk, once again, destroys a computer.

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