stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
2017-09-23 03:54 pm
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The Hardest Lesson

Someone on Facebook posted a quote from Stephen Hawking on the nature of intelligence, and it brought to mind something I tell my math students, prior to the first test in each class. I tell them that I test for three things: factual knowledge (in this context, the statements of definitions and theorems - and I tell them which they need to know), skills (and I tell them which skills I expect them to display), and understanding. Then I tell them that I can't tell them what I expect them to understand, because to display understanding is to deal with situations you haven't seen before. That generally involves word problems (at lower levels) and proofs (at higher).

Understanding is the hardest thing to teach. It may not be teachable at all.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-09-17 04:03 pm
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Current Reading

Ever since I got my Kindle, I've been making trawls through Project Gutenberg, grabbing whatever looks interesting. It's not always successful; the copy of Pepys' Diary that I downloaded was a Victorian edition, considerably bowdlerized.

One recent pickup was "Bearslayer", an epic poem by the Latvian poet Andrejs Pumpurs. It's kind of a Latvian analogue of "Kalevala"; Pumpurs gathered together a bunch of folk tales about the legendary hero Bearslayer and wove them into a single poem. I finished it the other day. It's rather interesting; the Latvian gods appear, along with devils, witches, ogres, and assorted other monsters. It's set, however, in a fairly recent time-period, during the invasion of the Baltic states by the Teutonic Knights. Bearslayer is a leader in the doomed defense. There's one bit which jarred me, though. As Bearslayer's prophesied doom approaches, it is suddenly revealed that he has bear's ears, and if they are cut off his power will be diminished. No foreshadowing at all; his bride never asks, "Honey, what's wrong with your ears?" Still, it was fun.

My current Kindle reading (I rotate through them):
Lad, a Dog, Albert Payson Terhune. Yes, Terhune was a racist, and it's very explicit when it comes up. Fortunately, it's only come up once in the first 80% of the book. Other than that, they're standard dog stories.
The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. I think this is one of the books that Jane Austen mocked in Northanger Abbey. Not too much Gothic yet, but I'm still in the early part of the book.
Sir Walter Scott's Journal. It's pretty interesting; we get glimpses of James Fenimore Cooper, the Duke of Wellington, and various other early-nineteenth century figures. There's a story of a man who'd been exiled to Australia and, feeling for some reason indebted to Sir Walter, sent him an emu. Scott accepted it, being under the impression that an emu was a sort of large parrot. He was unpleasantly surprised by the truth. (There's a later entry: "I offered the emu to Lord ####." No indication that the offer was accepted.)
Morphosyntactic Change, by Los, Blom, and Booij. This is a rather technical work on particle verbs in Dutch, German, and English, today and through history, and I'll admit I'm in over my head. But it's interesting to see what questions they're wrestling with, and what kinds of answers they give.

I'm also rereading Peter Hamilton's Judas Unchained. It and the preceding volume, Pandora's Star, are doorstops, but the story is intricate and absorbing.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-09-15 11:19 am
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A Memory

I have no particular reason to post this, but it's a memory that keeps popping up in my mind, and I thought I'd share it. It's a scene from the old Get Smart show. After Hymie the robot defected from KAOS, they sent some agents to try to bring him back. One of the agents, talking to Hymie in private, says the following.

(to Hymie): "Hymie, what happened to you? You used to love to kill, and to hellodolly, and..."
(to himself): "Hellodolly? That's not right."
(singing softly): "DUT-dut-DUT-dut-DUT-da-DUT-da-DUT-DUT, Ma-"
(to Hymie): "Maim!"

Still cracks me up, after half a century.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-09-15 08:39 am
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Elevator Incident

I'm not good with faces.

Yesterday, a little before six, I headed over to Peck Hall for my Linear Algebra class. On arrival, I went to the elevator and punched the "Up" button. (It's on the third floor, the stairs are kind of steep, and my knees are not in good shape. I'm entitled.) As I waited, a young man joined me. When the car came, I stepped in, pushed the "3" button, and asked him what floor. He replied, "Same as you." This stopped me for a moment. Hmm, evidently this fellow has ridden up in the elevator with me several times this year. Aloud: "I'll try to remember that next time." At that point he informed me that he was one of my Linear Algebra students. I recognized him then, of course.

I'm really not good with faces.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-09-09 03:39 pm
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Three Weeks In

Week three of the semester is complete. I'm teaching three courses: Math 320, "Introduction to Algebraic Structures"; Math 421, "Linear Algebra II"; and Math 435, "Foundations for Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometry".

Math 320 is a tough course for our students. The problem is that the mathematical objects we study in that class, "groups", are totally unlike anything else they've ever encountered. I mean, calculus is tough, but going in the students know what functions are and they can visualize things like tangent lines. Linear algebra is hard, but they've at least seen vectors in 2- and 3-space. Groups? Nothing like them. I have thirteen students in the class; four of them have had classes with me before. (I think all four have had multiple classes with me, in fact.) When I ask questions in class, ("Okay, what's the next step?" "Why did I just do that?") it is almost always one of those four who answers. I have to directly choose one of the others to get them to speak up.

Math 421... On Thursday, I asked my students for input on the time and content of the first midterm - two weeks hence, including the extensive review material, or a week later and concentrating on the new material. The discussion was lively, one student in particular pushing hard for the latter, but the consensus favored the former option. After class, she apologized to me for the, um, vigor of her opinions... She teaches high school math, and mentioned that her students were complaining about the amount and difficulty of their homework, saying, "Kids, if you only knew!" - the latter a reference to the homework I was giving her. I told her the story of Janis Ian and Connie Willis (subtitle, "In which the famous singer learns about fangirling from the other side"); she laughed, then caught my point. "Ok, that gives me a different perspective on my students...." That may have been the best thing I did that day.

Math 435 only has four students. It probably would have been cancelled, but V, who heads our Math Ed program, vigorously defended it before the Dean as an essential component of that program - cancel it, and the students wind up delayed a full year. I enjoy that class. The first couple of weeks dealt with familiar, high school geometry, results, but this last week we got to more advanced topics like the Star Trek and Bow Tie Lemmas, and the Cyclic Quadrilaterals Theorem. Next week we fall back to similar triangles, but then roar ahead into circle geometry - radical axes, coaxal systems, and so forth.

So that's where we stand at the end of week three.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-09-03 07:50 pm
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Time Delay, 78 Years

This Twitter account is fascinating: its posts describe events of World War II, hour by hour, seventy-eight years ago. The war started on September 1.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
2017-09-03 09:02 am
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Twitting

I don't have a Twitter account, but there are a number of Twitter feeds that I follow - Ursula Vernon, Howard Tayler, Sam Wang, my state's two senators, and like that.

The last two or three days, something odd has been happening. If I'm at a Twitter feed and I try to jump to another site - even a different feed - either the tab sits and spins or the URL changes without the site changing. Hitting the Refresh button clears the problem, but I shouldn't have to ask twice. Is this happening to anyone else? Does anyone know what's going on?
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-08-27 11:59 am
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Harvey

Three comments concerning the flooding in Texas:

1) If you're donating, remember this. A donated blanket is a blanket. Donated food is food. Donated money is blankets, or food, or whatever else is needed. Verb. sap.

2) There will be reports of horrible savagery among those stranded by the storm. There always are. They will be wrong. They always are.

3) After Katrina, Mexico sent a convoy of army trucks with food and other supplies, and a navy ship with search vessels. This is the country the current occupant of the White House denounces as a criminal hellhole and a source of great evil for this country. I hope they will be as generous as before, despite this.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-08-27 11:09 am
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Bias

Much as I am enjoying Civilization VI, I have to admit it shares one of the flaws of its predecessors. The scoring system is strongly biased towards Domination victories and against Cultural or Religious victories. I've played six games at the Warlord level (very low, to be sure), and my two highest scores, in the 700s, have been a Domination victory as Harald Hardrada and a Scientific victory as Tomyris. None of the other scores have gotten over 500, and three are in the 300s - two Religious victories (Cleopatra and Hojo) and two Cultural (Pedro II and Teddy Roosevelt), this despite the fact that Hojo and Pedro II completed their victories in the 1700s, while the two high scores came in 1874 and 2014.

I don't think this is deliberate, but total population, number of wonders, and several other late-game biased items contribute to the score. There ought to be a component favoring early victories.

(It's possible, to be sure, that at higher levels it grows more difficult to complete Cultural or Religious victories early, which might mitigate things.)
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-08-26 06:19 am
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Birthday

Happy birthday, [personal profile] colliemommie!
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-08-25 12:46 pm

Week One

I don't have classes on Friday, so week one of the semester is over. A few items of possible interest:

1) I'm very fond of Geometer's Sketchpad; it and Mathematica are core components of my research. There are two copies of GSP on campus; one, on my office computer, was bought for me by the department, and the other is on the computer in one of the classrooms, bought by the university. The advanced geometry courses, which I almost always teach, are always put in that room. So, Monday, prepping for that evening's E/NE Geometry class, I put together a couple of GSP notebooks and copied them to the network, so I could access them from the classroom. When I arrived there, I discovered that GSP... wasn't on that computer. (This is the second time this has happened; when OIT reinstalls software on the university system, as they do periodically, sometimes they forget to put GSP back on that one.) I dashed off a message to the Chair; the next day his secretary came down on OIT, and by the next class meeting, GSP was again available.

2) The geometry class only has four students - it was almost cancelled because of that, but it's a required course for Math Ed and only offered once a year, so it survived - so I'm shifting from straight lecture to something more interactive. At least one of the four is really sharp, which is a good percentage.

3) After one class yesterday, one of my students caught up with me to say I sounded (to him) like Neil deGrasse Tyson - not in voice, but in cadences. I've never actually heard Tyson speak, but I'll take it as a compliment. I am aware that butter was involved, of course. After the Linear Algebra II class, one student said, "Dr. :name:, you're making my head spin! I took Linear Algebra I twelve or thirteen years ago...." I made some encouraging noises. (We're reviewing key material from LAI at a compression rate of about 4:1. Of course she's having trouble, being that out of practice!)

4) Progress continues on my research. The idea I came up with last week definitely doesn't work all the time, but I've verified that it works pretty often. That will probably go into the fourth paper in the sequence. (Still haven't put the finishing touches on the first paper....)

All in all, not a bad first week.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-08-24 07:00 am
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Birthday

Happy birthday, [profile] coalboy!
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-08-19 08:40 am
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End of Summer Blues

Well, summer's over, as far as the university's concerned. "Fall" Semester begins on Monday. I'll be teaching three courses: Introduction to Algebraic Structures (junior-level, basically the rudiments of group theory), Linear Algebra II (we finally get to the theoretical stuff), and Foundations for Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometry (which I teach pretty much every year - I think it's been given to someone else once in the last fifteen years). The first two, I haven't taught in quite a while, and the first one in particular is rough on students - it's notorious for resulting in bad-to-mediocre student evaluations. We'll see how it goes.

It was a bad summer for the canine contingent. First Gracie developed an ear infection, and I had to smear goop in her ear for a couple of weeks. Then Buster had an allergic reaction, probably flea-related, and started chewing on his right haunch and tail. Steroids and antibiotics seem to have resolved that one, so it was Gracie's turn again, with an eye infection that culminated in a crust over her entire right eye. The vet removed the crusting (G had to be sedated), and now I have to put ointment in both of Gracie's eyes twice a day. She doesn't like it, but has stopped fighting it. I just hope I'm getting it right. I'll be taking her in again Friday.

I had a lengthy to-do list, not much of which got done. I do have a new toilet in one bathroom and a new faucet for the sink in the other; I have a new bedside lamp, but the stand I bought to put it on came missing a few pieces, and the supplier is so far unresponsive; the fence has been repaired (that one wasn't on the to-do list!); and earlier this week I came up with a new technique for my polygons project, which will come in handy in the third and fourth papers in the sequence. Still need to write a new conclusion for the first paper and get it submitted.

The forecast for Monday in these parts is "partly cloudy". We're just outside the totality zone - 99.4%, I think - and the university has a bit of a gala set up for the afternoon, with eclipse glasses being provided and a couple of video screens. We'll see how it goes; my only class that day is at 6PM, so I'm free to join in the fun.

Life goes on, even amidst catastrophe.
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
2017-07-28 11:32 am
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Country Time

The contractor just came by to look at the fence. Afterward, he suggested I should do some landscaping (which is also part of his business): "You've got this nice corner lot, and all you have is that one tree." I replied, "Used to have three, but the city took two of them. That one there was split by the ice storm back in '05."

After he left, I thought about what I'd said, and realized that all it needed was an "Ayup" and a touch of a drawl to raise the image of an old Yankee farmer....

Tempus fugit.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
2017-07-28 01:39 am
Entry tags:

Life Savers

Susan Collins.
Lisa Murkowski.
John McCain.

Remember their names. They saved lives last night.

The fight isn't over; the White House has it within its power to throttle ACA by cutting subsidies. But for now, we can celebrate a victory.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-07-27 07:15 pm
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NotFromHere

A passage from the June 25, 1826 entry in Sir Walter Scott's journal:
Another melting day; thermometer at 78° even here. 80° was the height yesterday at Edinburgh. If we attempt any active proceeding we dissolve ourselves into a dew. We have lounged away the morning creeping about the place, sitting a great deal, and walking as little as might be on account of the heat.
:blink:

Scotland is pretty far north; Gulf Stream or no, it's never been a warm place, I guess. But...

:blink:
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-07-25 05:55 pm
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Definitely Can't Be Buggered At All

This is a sculpture, in mammoth ivory, of a hedgehog. It is 40,000 years old - the oldest known sculpture of a hedgehog.

For some reason that makes me happy.

H/t to numerous people, but most immediately Dick King-Smith's twitter feed.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-07-24 07:32 pm
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Sequitur. Definitely Sequitur.

So I'm sitting at the computer, websurfing, and the randomized playlist brings up Pat Benatar singing "Out-a-touch". The song comes to the finale, as Pat warbles "I need you ... I need you!" and Buster comes up and puts his forepaws on my leg.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-07-24 04:57 pm
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Diamond Rust

For some reason, I've been thinking about Neil Diamond. It seems that when you buy a "Greatest Hits" album of a singer or group you loved in your youth, it never contains all of the songs you want (unless it's a "Complete Works", and even that doesn't always work - my so-called "Complete Diana Ross" omits several of her songs from the Supremes. I found those later.)[1]

I have three Diamond albums. Two of them - Beautiful Noise and I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight - are from the late seventies, early eighties; they're good albums (I love "Dry Your Eyes" in particular) but they're not the Diamond I grew up with. The third is The Neil Diamond Collection, mostly from the early seventies, and it has some great stuff ("Sweet Caroline", "Holly Holy", "Brother Love's Travellin' Salvation Show"), but it's also not the Diamond I grew up with. It does have one song from that era, "Cherry Cherry", but - no. That song was written for and by someone a decade younger, and hearing it sung live, by the older Diamond, complete with grunting... just no.

The songs that introduced me to Diamond were on one album, belonging to one of my sisters. (I have no way of knowing which; they themselves sometimes disagree on the issue.) It was very early, mid-sixties Diamond: "Kentucky Woman", "Red Red Wine", "You Got to Me", "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon", "Solitary Man"... Yeah, some of them have probably been visited by one of the Suck Fairies (probably the Sexism Fairy), but that's what teen heart-throb albums were like back then, and I still remember them fondly. One of these days I'll have to get the CD.

[1] I can't decide whether the period goes inside the parenthesis or outside, when the parenthetical is a sentence and a half long. My rule of thumb - if the parenthetical is entirely part of the sentence, then outside; if it's a sentence, or more than one, in its own right, then inside - doesn't handle fractions well. Probably parentheses should be avoided then, but quod scripsi scripsi. :grmph:
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
2017-07-24 04:50 pm
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An Ill Wind

I put out a call for estimates on the fence this morning, and have spoken to one contractor. His estimate, based purely on my possibly-flawed description, is something over a Kbuck, but I can handle it. I've decided not to let the mowers into the back yard until the fence is fixed; the gate is in the damaged section, and opening or closing it is likely to increase the strain. That shim won't last very long....

We had a bad thunderstorm, with much wind, the last night of the heat warning, and I suspect that wind was the final blow to an already weakened system. This morning I noticed my trash bin (about 4'x1'x1') had fallen over; there was only one bagful of garbage in it. The recycling bin, of the same size and right next to it, was still upright. It was also about half full. (I seem to generate recyclables more quickly than I do garbage.)