mathNEWS Issue #500: Friday, September 25, 1998

In this issue:

Myth-Remembrance and Confession
An Editor's Epiphany

By W. Jim Jordan (wjjordan, dwarf, Weird Jim Jordankovic and various other pseudonyms)

August 1981, Cochenour, Ontario. A suspicious package is placed in the Jordan family mailbox at the post office on Lakeview Avenue. The package bears innocent-enough markings: a blurred, machine-printed postmark from a place with a postal code beginning with N, and the logo of a reputable university. One member of the family picks up this package, and, seeing that it is not addressed to either himself or "Occupant," tosses it in a pile for the addressee to handle later.

The addressee arrives, sits down to a carefully prepared meal, and eats. After supper, he reaches for the package, unaware of its contents. The telephone rings. He puts the package down, ensuring that his sanity survives a few moments longer.

After hanging up the phone, he picks up the package again and opens it. Nothing happens. He pulls out the contents, and again, nothing happens, at least, not until the stuff from the Federation of Students is recognized for what it is (pre-printed fish wrap), the goat-vomit green sheet of useful formulae is stashed away in a pile of other papers not to leave behind, and a couple of booklets and other papers containing strange markings are examined for relevance and handled appropriately.

Then, staring him in the face, is an item that would change a life forever. As the addressee stares at it, enraptured by the light emanating from the circled logo that ripped through the rest of the cover art (a portion of the lexicon found on the Honeywell 66/60 printed on a DECwriter), overwhelmed by five melodic notes repeating and rising to a crescendo that resonated and reverberated within his soul, he realizes, "It needs me!" Forgetting all else, he sets out on a trek, accompanied by his father, to find the source of the compelling, burning summons. When he arrives in the general vicinity of where he is to carry out his calling, he bids farewell to his father, and begins to look for the meaning of the summons.

Quickly locating the place where the ritual gatherings are held, he finds himself serving an apprenticeship under the wise and Blue-Jay-fanatical dwtill, serving as an annoyance to the misunderstood outcast plragde (himself thought to be masquerading as E. Siastes), and gaining a level of mastery over the mythic beast known as Photon.

His confidence increases, but his pride increases more, for the new apprentice had yet to understand the significance of the Fifth Rule, a wise saying which had been communicated to him before: "Do not take yourself too seriously." He begins to scheme about how, one day, he will be master of the thing that has called him.

May 1982, the ritual gathering place. The forced exile and re-entry offering of a work term report have not diminished our fool's zeal. He discovers that zeal also abhors a vacuum. The wise elders who carefully attempted to teach him had crossed into the land reserved for Alumni. Even his beloved Photon had moved on, though to a different realm called Scrap.

Nothing remained from the previous gatherings. And yet the call still burned. "Keep me going. Find the other followers. Keep me alive!" Forgetting the lessons of the elders and of integral calculus, he engages the services of grmcfarlane and djcleibold (among others), and begins shaping that which called him in his own way, for he had been entrusted with the most noble title "Editor." Few so young have been granted a title such as this one, and even fewer have carried it well. Those who have carried it well remembered early, and remembered often, the Fifth Rule.

I am tired of writing myth. This is mathNEWS, not mythNEWS. I am also getting tired of taking myself too seriously. Yet there was something compelling about that 1981 mathNEWS Frosh Issue that said, "Hey, I should get involved with this." It might have been the mix of information and humour, or that these mathematical minds could write and draw (creativity is never in doubt, but the ability to express it constructively might be).

So it was with the hopes of finding like-minded folk that I showed up at the first production night 17 years ago. I met and was encouraged by people such as the now-famous Dave Till (you are famous for that Perl book now, aren't you?), the insightful William Hughes, and the multi-talented W. Ross Brown.

I was also challenged by Prabhakar Ragde to write something meaningful, to think about what I would write before I sat down to write it. Even though I ignored his one-time, one-sentence rebuke, he was right: Don't be so full of yourself. Think. Appreciate other ideas.

And so, in ignorance, I went off and edited mathNEWS the following summer. People like David Leibold, Glenn McFarlane and Tom Haapanen provided most of the good stuff, while I wrestled with the low-tech daisy wheel replacement for the higher-tech, but more expensive and odiferous Photon typesetter. All the while, I thought it was my paper, and they were the helpers.

Only after the term was over, and I was recovering from my failed calculus course, did I realize that the position of editor is really one of facilitation. I had shortchanged, at least in my mind, their contributions. At times it seemed like their work was fodder for me to play with as I saw fit, while my own work was beyond their questioning and suggestion for improvement.

Gentlemen, I apologize and ask your forgiveness. I forgot the Fifth Rule, and hereby propose a Seventh (since there is no Rule Number Six): "Take other people more seriously than you take yourself, particularly when you are supposed to be leading them."

The terms between the summers of 1982 (my first as editor) and 1987 (my last) are a blur. Thankfully, my last stint as editor was better than the first one. I think I held a looser hand on the reins then, and was able to let the staff set the content and layout. I never worried about how the issue looked that term. The staff did such a superb job on laying out their work that, really, all I had to do was monitor taste, make suggestions (without rewriting things myself), check spelling and grammar, and make sure that stuff was formatted correctly. Everyone spent some time proofreading and soliciting each other's opinions on how various bits worked. That summer held the most fun I had ever enjoyed as an editor. Why? I let mathNEWS be the team's paper, not mine. (Rather, I think I did. Only the staffers can tell, since editors' opinions are always biased in their own favour.)

mathNEWS again was a shared venture, like it was when I first joined the staff. I wish I had remembered that the first time I served as editor.

I sought honour for myself, and gained instead frustration. Only when I had let go of the honour of editing and instead began the labour of facilitating did I find satisfaction. Still, I am richer for the experience, both the good and the bad. Now, I wish to give the honour to the ones to whom it rightfully belongs--the staff members with whom I worked. Some of the names are forgotten (11 years will do that), but I remember fondly Paul Obeda, John Omelian, Stuart Hodgins, Frank Letniowski, Camille Goudeseune, Tom Ivey, Ron Pfeifle, James Puttick, Dan Schnabel, Cary Timar, and Jan Gray, in addition to the people mentioned earlier. mathNEWS faithful of F'81 through S'87, I salute you.

Jim came to Waterloo from Red Lake District High School, Red Lake, Ontario, in the fall of 1981. He edited mathNEWS in the summers of 1982 and 1987, contributing to it in every school term and sometimes during work terms. He took 1B calculus three times, was registered in four different programs, played through a lot of 0-7 football seasons with the Warriors Band, completed nine work terms, and finally got notification that he could either graduate or return on probation after ten school terms.

Since he had a job offer from Bell-Northern Research in his pocket, he chose to graduate in 1988 with his B.Math (Hons. CS) and enter the working world. He later took a similarly circuitous route to his M.Div (Canadian Theological Seminary, 1996).

Jim is now working in Ottawa as a senior designer on the ServiceBuilder intelligent network project at the part of Nortel/Bay Networks formerly known as Bell-Northern Research, and is teaching a course at Algonquin College. He and his wife Shelly are the keepers of four cats, an overgrown back yard, and many vitality-impaired plants.

Copyright © 1998 mathNEWS.