The day after Labor Day, the Long Island Railroad released its new schedule. The 8:50 train that got me to work in about 45 minutes door-to-door after a luxuriously unhurried morning routine is no more. I have several remaining choices:
- take a 7:41 train, wait 25 minutes for a transfer at the not-particularly-attractive-or-
comfortable Jamaica Station, and get to work an hour after I leave the house;
- take a slightly later subway for an extra $2.50, wait a few minutes less, and get to work 50-55 minutes after I leave the house;
- take an 8:17 train, walk 25 minutes at the other end, and get to work an hour after I leave the house;
- take an 8:50 train, pay $7 for a cab at the other end, and get to work 50-60 minutes after I leave the house
Meanwhile, one of the largest parking lots on campus is closed for the next year or so to put in a new building. Which we need, and it'll include an underground parking garage, but in the interim we're down about 300 parking spaces, so driving to work is a less-attractive option than before. (The University has arranged to use the parking lot of the town swimming pool a few blocks away, which is why they didn't start the building project until after Labor Day when the pool closed.)
Graphics class: drew a diagram of a pinhole camera, with an image appearing upside-down on the back wall. Replaced the box with an eyeball. Asked "why is the image upside-down? Why not flipped left-right, or something else? Why should the direction of up-or-down be privileged? Light rays aren't significantly affected by gravity (except near a black hole, which we aren't)."
Did some more thought experiments until one student said "it's not upside-down, it's rotated." So we discussed rotation, reflection, scaling, etc. and I promised that all that stuff they learned in Linear Algebra would actually make sense and be useful this semester.
Computer Architecture class: discussed units, and why E = mc^2 makes sense but E = mc^3 couldn't possibly have been right. Word problem: I walk at 2 steps/second, each step covering 2.5 feet. I jog at 3 steps/second, each step covering 4 feet. If I alternate jogging 75 steps with walking 75 steps, how fast am I moving on average?
Solved the problem two different plausible ways, getting different plausible answers. Discussed which one was wrong, and why. What happens if I lengthen my jogging stride to 5 feet? Obviously this is a 25% increase in jogging speed, but what's the percentage increase in average speed? What if instead of alternating every 75 steps, I alternated every 30 seconds, or every 100 yards? Good discussion.
Data structures class: let's explore a vague problem. In the game of SubDivvy, the players agree on a positive integer to start with, and on each turn, the current player chooses a proper divisor of the current number, subtracts it from the current number, and that becomes the new "current number." Tell me everything you can about the behavior of this game.
Then commenced a series of student-led discussion. Debated definition of "proper divisor"; agreed to exclude the current number itself (or the game end in one turn), and negatives (or the game goes forever). Not sure whether to exclude 1. Defined loss of game as "there is no proper divisor," which means the number is 1 (if we allow 1 as a proper divisor) or prime (if we don't). Proved that current number only decreases, never reaches 0, and never goes negative. Proved that in the allow-1 version of the game, game always ends after at most n-1 turns; still working on minimum number of turns. Proved that (still in the allow-1 version) 1 is a losing configuration, 2 is winning, 3 is losing, and 4 can be won or lost depending on what you choose as the first move -- in other words, strategy does matter in this game (there are games in which it doesn't). Wait: we've been assuming there are 2 players, which I never said. What if there were 3, or 4...? At the bell, left students with the challenge of characterizing winning and losing game states. Good discussion.
If only every day of classes went this way....
So today's commencement speaker is hip-hop artist Chuck D, who was a DJ for our campus radio station before forming Public Enemy. Another honoree is Burt Young, who played Rocky Balboa's father-in-law (no particular connection to my school).
Still standing and listening to Elgar, while more people file into the coliseum. Have water bottle, iPhone, and Kindle.
12:35 PM: the last name is read, the tassels flipped. Now the aimless milling around, somewhat hastened by the fact that everybody's hungry.
I attended a live-webcast-seminar on dealing with Asperger's syndrome at the college level. I went into it thinking "I have an unfair advantage, because Aspergerish behavior is almost normal in my field; what's to deal with?" But I figured there would be some useful tips for recognition, accommodation, and referral.
On recognition: one slide showed kids fighting with boffer swords and shields; another showed a table of the Klingon alphabet; another mentioned odd clothing "such as a cape, elaborate jewelry, scarves or embroidery"; D&D, WoW, LARP, and anime were mentioned by name, as were "odd interests" such as car motors, Victorian door hinges or vintage toys. The presenter hastened to point out that not ALL Aspergerians do these things, and some are offended by being lumped in with those people. Notable by its absence was any suggestion that not ALL people who do those things have Asperger's.
[I'm trying to think of people I know who don't do any of these things....]
On accommodation: six slides in a row on being clear, concise, and consistent. Each slide was illustrated with a "do" statement of 5-10 words, and a "don't" statement of 40-60 that said the same thing wrapped in a lot of qualifiers and softening particles. Seriously, would anybody prefer the latter? I guess this is the old tact-filter phenomenon again.
We're past the one-hour mark, I can't think of anything substantial I've learned yet, and I have to catch a train. I guess I'll have to skip the "referral" section.
On my feedback form I expressed a wish that the webinar itself had been more clear, concise, and consistent. :-)
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I had eight participants -- not great, not bad (I once did a similar talk for three, which was demoralizing), and they all seemed to be paying attention and "getting" the important points. And several of them, I think, are seriously considering using this approach in their own classrooms -- or at least taking a longer workshop on it.
I walked into my 9:25 class prepared to talk about various Prolog topics: arithmetic (and the difference between "=" and "is"), modifying the rulebase to remember state information, and recursion. But before I could get started on that, a student needed some help with the Ruby assignment I gave him two weeks ago.
In the 10:50 class, I planned to contrast Java classes and C++ classes, pointing out both the syntactic gotchas and the real semantic differences. Got sidetracked into explaining some Java issues that the students hadn't learned last year (the subtleties of writing a correct "equals()" method, and the difference between overriding and overloading).
The 12:15 class is in Scheme: I was planning to introduce conditionals today, but as usual, nobody had read the assigned reading so we spent the period writing Boolean-valued functions. Some students basically got it, while others are still doing the deer-in-the-headlights, no-idea-where-to-start thing, no matter how many times I have them work through the exact same step-by-step recipe. I've been teaching this course for ten years, and have never had a class this weak: I've already lopped ten chapters off the thirty I was hoping to cover in a semester, and they're not keeping up with even that reduced pace.
The 1:40 class is the two-student tutorial. Nominally about computer graphics, which we're doing in OpenGL and C++, but the two students are working on final projects, one of which is a compiler from Hammer to OpenGL. I had pointed out to the student that if he's parsing configuration files, he should consider using lex and/or yacc, so I was helping him with those languages. He's considering doing the project not in C++/lex/yacc but rather in Java/JavaCC, so he showed me some JavaCC. Meanwhile, the other student took time out from his graphics homework to tell me about the Factor language, a sort of Forth-made-practical that he's researching for a class presentation.
Anyway, I'm outa here, catching a plane tonight to a conference. Which will be mostly in English :-)
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Sitting here waiting for the ceremony to start, listening to the fifth consecutive performance of "Pomp and Circumstance", in its entirety, with repeats.
I wonder how the musicians and conductor can maintain their focus and enthusiasm. When I'm playing for a dance with fifteen repeats, I can ornament and embellish, sometimes even in connection with the dance steps (e.g. ladies' solo and men's solo); the Elgar has to sound identical every time.
The fifth one has ended, and we're on the sixth now....
ETA: after six repetitions, they've switched to Berlioz (Damnation of Faust -- what does that say?) for the procession of the platform party.
ETA: Senator Schumer has once again shown up unannounced and put himself on the speakers' list. There will follow one of his two stock graduation speeches, both of which most of the faculty have heard... but the students and parents haven't.
Traditionally, this course has been about 50% C++, 25% Scheme, and 25% Prolog, but the C++ content has been moved to another course. After polling the preregistered students by e-mail, I've decided to fill the gap with some reasonably-modern scripting language. Leading candidates so far are PHP, Python, Ruby, Lua, Erlang, and Scala.
I can make an unbiased choice among these because I don't really know any of them (although I've written some PHP-based server-side web scripts). So I'll be learning them just ahead of the students :-)
The only way I can read this is "I'm paying you to feed me education in 2-1/2 hours a week. If I have to spend any more time on it than that, I expect to be reimbursed."
Ten years ago, we used to hold Commencement ceremonies on our own campus. After the speeches, the President would declare everyone graduated, after which things were parallelized: each academic unit (e.g. Education, Nursing, Arts & Sciences, Business) went to a different spot on campus to call individual students' names, together with any special academic honors that student had earned. I could easily mingle with students and their families over drinks and snacks in a verdant, floral setting, and it felt friendly and informal. For the past few years, we've been in a hockey stadium surrounded by acres of parking lots, and there is no place to mingle.
2) Went yesterday to inspect a cargo trailer we read about on Craigslist. We seem to be buying it, in hopes of being able to
a) pack more cool furniture, instruments, etc. for SCA events and living-history shows, and
b) pack for said events in advance rather than after work on Friday, so we can get on the road faster.
I'm not sure whether we should decorate it with Gothic tracery and/or a Latin motto around the top....
3) Got an e-mail today inviting me to join AARP. Seriously, folks, I'm 46 years old; isn't that jumping the gun a bit?
4) I think we've finished recording and selecting tracks for shalmestere's audition CD. The bathroom will no longer be a recording studio.
5) I have a bunch of homework to grade, and I need to write three final exams, in the next week.
6) Still don't know where we're going for vacation in June: it was going to be somewhere in Europe, but we're not sure the volcano will let us. We might end up in California. Or maybe Europe after all.
Today (March 2, eight months after moving in), the extra desk was removed and the wall-mounted bookshelves installed. I still haven't unpacked most of the books -- I have a lot of other stuff to do this week, including coaxing the new desktop computer to behave more or less like the old one only faster -- but at least now I have the option of doing so.
We made six batches of cookies today. shalmestere wrapped some Xmas presents and prepared them for mailing. Walked the Things twice so far (one more walk as soon as I post this), but it was raining so we didn't get to the park. I was sorta thinking of getting to greenman73's class on bow and arrow maintenance, but we were on a roll baking cookies.
Tomorrow, back to grading. Two of my students contacted me today (one by phone, to my home number, which I have not given out!) to ask questions about the take-home final exam that's due Tuesday. So I expect to see a couple of panicked students in my office tomorrow too.
Tomorrow night we might get to dance practice, if we think we'll have time to adequately clean and cook for the SCA business meeting cum Xmas party we're hosting next Saturday.
Pretty much everybody agrees, at the lip-service level, that Subject X should be taught as a voyage of discovery rather than as rote memorization, and those noble intentions frequently fall victim to the cold reality of teaching too many classes with too many students in too little time while they prepare for too many standardized tests. But even at that, I think math tends to come off worse in practice than many other Subjects X.
Of course, it means I have to be prepared to improvise a lot in the classroom, because I can never tell in advance where the conversation is going to lead. That's fun too, in an adrenaline-high sort of way....
Anyway, assessment (particularly of student work this year) was the top item on the agenda for today. We didn't actually get to any of it, as we spent the entire six hours coming up with general goals, a few words each, for each course, goals that in many cases could have been found in the existing course descriptions. What a waste of time. Not that the outcomes-assessment was likely to be any more pleasant or productive, but we're supposed to produce a report about it in the next month.
On the bright side, shalmestere and I got the house cleaner than it's been in months, in preparation for my colleagues coming over. So at least the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and upstairs hallway are more pleasant places to be.