As the new year approaches, it’s a time of reflection of the past in attempts to improve the future. This year, with so much that transpired in 2017, I would like to focus on partnerships.
It was, essentially, the theme of the entire year. All the major events revolved around the concept of togetherness and helping each other out. Of supporting and belonging. Of friendships and partnerships.
To start with the most recent (and wordy) example, I direct your attention to my science website. I created it years ago and hosted it on Google so my students would have an organized place to go to for all their studies. It took time to set it all up and I only cared about the content, not the appearance. As time passed, I updated the site with more images and tried to color-code some of the notes. It got better and better. Eventually I moved it to my own site and updated it further.
Currently, I’ve been creating a Quizzler applet that lets the students study by asking them questions and showing them the correct answer. I have been creating random-question generators for each section where it makes sense to. This week’s challenge was chemical reactions.
On my own, I was able to create the program that would put together binary compounds from a list of elements. It could create four main types of chemical reactions (synthesis, decomposition, single displacement, double displacement) and display them nicely. I was even able to check whether or not the equation was balanced. What I could not do was create a way to efficiently balance the equation.
I did have one idea to use a brute force method. Because my auto-formulator would, at most, have two reactants and two products, I was able to create a nested loop to solve the balanced equation problem. There was a loop for each of the four reagents. The first loop ran 20 times for coefficients 1-20 for the first reagent. Within that loop, there was a second loop also running 20 iterations for the second reagent. So when the first loop finished its third round, the computer had gone through 60 calculations. There was a third and fourth nested loop. If it needed to run through all 20 possible coefficients, that’s 160,000 computations.
And it worked, if you were able to wait for a lengthy pause, especially if the computer chose elemental sulfur. Sulfur is able to exist as a self-bonded compound comprised of 8 atoms. This threw a major monkey wrench into the calculations, bringing some coefficients as high as 48. If I increased the loop counters to run 50 iterations, that’s 6,250,000 possibilities !!! and if the first coefficient was the high one, then it took a long time to process. It worked, but was far from ideal.
I explained this to Kevin, who then asked me to show him how to solve a chemical reaction balancing problem. We talked about it and then he offered to help with that. I’m still not comfortable with iterative functions and concepts like breadth first sesrches and having the expert offer a helping hand was wonderful.
And then he spent over 15 hours making it work. He had to parse out the compounds, find a system that balanced all four types of reactions, which he did using a system of computer-generated parallel equations (omg) which solved themselves. And he did this to support me and my students and a website that he will never make personal use of. It’s at the heart of partnership. He listened to my needs, then he offered to help, and then he followed through in a timeframe that worked for my needs.
That’s an extreme case of togetherness, but it highlights the essence of partnership. It’s not about having someone else doing work for you; it’s about working together on a task even when one of you doesn’t directly benefit except in the helping of the other.
I’ve always felt I’ve tried to be a good partner to all my friends, family, colleagues, and students. I have tried to support their needs, which sometimes means not giving a final answer but instead offering guidance. For me, I need to work on communicating more what my needs are so those who want to help are able to offer it in the best way. And the same is true in reverse. We can’t read minds and so we need to ask. It’s not always easy.
Rolling back in the year, I lost my first and most precious partner. Her first act was in carrying me and bringing me into this world. She was a support all my life, even on those tough days when I wasn’t in the mood to do homework, or by insisting we help with chores because we live in the house too. Mom fought for me in ways I never knew until later and, in some cases, will never know. And I supported her too in many ways. We worked together on major life issues and smaller events. But it wasn’t all about doing, either. We would also talk for hours about our lives and go gallavanting off to the city to see shows or head out to grab lengthy lunches. We didn’t always see things the same way, but that was healthy too because it gave us both a way to expand our thinking and ideas. It helped us not to fixate on a single problem because we were both trying to find alternate solutions.
Seeing mom always try to pitch in and guide us was a motivation for me to do more than “just enough”. She challenged me to be better and to always learn and grow. She’s a major reason I do things like create that science website, ever trying to support but always trying to expand myself. It’s a part of her that will always be with me. I will never feel like I spent enough time with her, especially in her final months before her unexpected passing. She was the center of our home and she did all she could to be a mom first, especially when we were younger, and to be partner for us as we grew older.
And to all the people who came to support us in that tragic time, from all the cards and calls, from those still reaching out, from past friends coming in and reconnecting, to my sister-in-law for coming all the way up from Virginia just to support me at the wake… It is amazing to be surrounded by so much.
In the first half of the year, we were surrounded with partnerships from all directions. As Kevin and I worked toward planning our wedding, so many people rose up and went beyond the norm to help provide us with the best experience ever. From restaurant staff at our favorite places making sure every event was done to perfection, to all the work filling sand bottles, organizing bachelor parties, to Lois and Leanne for all the details poured into our shower, to my sisters for their support, my parents for being magical parts of the day, and to my brother, my mom’s sister and family, my dad’s brother, and others from out of town for making the journey to come to the wedding. We had support from all our vendors and our officiant, who all listened to our needs, heard our responses, and adjusted as needed, seeking out and offering complementary suggestions along the way.
When I look back at it all, I’m still floored by everything. Our wedding was not a single day event. It was eleven months of friends and family coming together in support and partnership. It’s the foundation of our marriage in every way. It’s also why we wanted to incorporate everyone into our wedding plans, from the photo book invitations to the sand ceremony where every guest added to the vase.
As I venture into the new year, I’m still facing my own personal challenges and I’m physically not capable of doing as much as I wish I could. Even watching a movie is input-overload right now. But even there, people have risen up to support me and to cover for the areas where I’m struggling. My doctors are working with me, listening to my daily ups and downs, trying to find the best method of treatment to help me get back on my feet.
Life is richer when we have strong partnerships. We can try to do everything on our own, but we lose the meaning of what it is to be people. No one is really paying attention to the list of tasks we take on for ourselves. Any time I talk about all I’ve done, my friends all say, “Why didn’t you call me? We could have done that together.” I’m finally understanding that asking for help with things isn’t weakness. It’s an opportunity to let people in, to let them be a partner in my life, to enrich all of my experiences.
And in turn, I can do the same for them.
Happy and healthy new year to you and to all of your own partnerships in the days ahead.