Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"I Just Have to Stay One Lesson Ahead of the Kid"

Once on "The Simpsons" Marge said she'd teach piano lessons to bring in extra money. When reminded she doesn't know how to play the piano, she said, "I just have to stay one lesson ahead of the kid!"

I thought of that when I read this article. It's a good thing people like me, who have actually learned high school math, are basically barred from ever teaching it, and instead they have a bunch of moron teachers who are learning the material the night before. That must be a really effective way of teaching, since every state in America practices it. I'm sure it has nothing to do with cynical teachers' unions using children's educations as bargaining chips in a bid to increase their own power and influence. Of course not. It's all about teaching our precious children. Because, in the words of world-class educator Whitney Houston, "I believe the children are our future." And by "our future," she obviously means, "teachers' futures as boat owners."

Monday, November 24, 2008

This Linear Algebra Test Just Keeps Getting Better

Okay, two weeks ago I had an exam in linear algebra. This class is sort of interesting, but at the same time very boring. Every day in class I make a little countdown in the margin of my paper, where I list five-minute intervals between 1:00 and 2:15 and then cross them off as they go by. Every day I do this.

Well, I blew off my first two classes of the day to study for this exam, then I went to take the test. For some reason when I got to class I immediately began thinking it was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday 50-minute class and budgeted my time accordingly. I finished the first problem and thought, "Man, that took me longer than I wanted. I only have 40 minutes left." The professor kept writing the time on the board, but not the time remaining, so I kept thinking I had to finish at 1:50. Eventually it was 1:40 and I had three problems to go. I flew through two of them, looked at the last one and saw I might not know how to do it, and decided I'd better turn in my test since it was 1:50. A lot of times professors will let you work later, since the next class to use the room doesn't start right away, but I had to get across campus, print out some stuff, and get to my next room in that ten minutes, so I turned in my test and left. However, I made sure to write in the empty space for the last problem, "I think there was too much material here for a 50-minute exam."

When I got outside and saw that no one else was walking around campus, I realized what I'd done. I said a sort-of prayer: "Where were You on that one?!" I couldn't really go back in and start working again, since I could have gone out in the hall and consulted my notes. Besides, I only had one problem left and I wasn't sure I knew how to do it. But the other six problems that I had answered could have had errors since I had been working so quickly.

I went to my next class, which I teach, and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I had some numbers on the board I was trying to add. All I could think was, "I can't believe I did that." Eventually I drew a squiggly line and said, "This is a column of numbers, but I don't know what they are." I explained what had happened to me and my students were merciless. "Didn't you realize what was happening? Didn't you notice no one else was leaving?" Thanks for the constructive criticism, guys.

I e-mailed the professor to explain the little comment I'd written, since it was me being an idiot and not the length of the exam that was the problem. He e-mailed back and told me I could have an extra half-an-hour in his office right then, but I had another class I had to teach.

This exam was on Thursday. It ruined my night. I just stayed up late watching "The Simpsons" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" on DVD. It ruined my Friday, and then the rest of my weekend. Monday was the last day to drop a class, and I wondered all weekend if I should drop and take it again next semester. Since I couldn't drop without the professor's signature and I was too embarrassed to go see him, I decided to let it ride. When I got my exam back on Tuesday, I'd scored 82/100. (The class average was 73.) The question I'd skipped was worth 12 points, so of the answers I'd supplied, I got 82/88 (93%). Next to my note about there being too much material for a 50-minute exam, he'd written, "Because it was a 75-minute exam," but then once he got my e-mail, he crossed that out.

Well, it just keeps getting better. Because he'd messed up some of the notation in class prior to our exam, he gave us a curve. In true math professor fashion, the curve is an addition of (500-5p)/17, where p represents our score. This means my 82 became an 88. Now he's e-mailed us again and said the curve is an addition of the greater of 13 or the previous curve, which means my 82 is now a 95. Maybe I should get confused about the time on all my exams!

Friday, November 21, 2008

BCS Problem

Here's the biggest problem with the BCS format: it tries to force a dynamic environment into a static system.

Who knew the ACC and the Big East were going to suck this year? Wasn't Clemson ranked higher than Alabama when they met in the first game of the season? But now it's obvious that those two conferences are horrible, yet they still get their automatic bids this year. The Mountain West surprised a lot of people by sticking it to the Pac-10 this year, but they have to have an undefeated team to get a bid.

Bowls have eligibility requirements, and the BCS should, too. Just because your conference has an agreement with the Crazybusinessmodel.com Bowl to take their fourth-place team, if that team hasn't won at least six games, they don't get to go. Well, a conference's "automatic" bid should be subject to some sort of oversight. If you win the ACC but aren't ranked in the top 20 (using humans or computers), your bid should go to a conference champion who does meet those requirements. Under that system, this year the ACC and the Big East could lose their bids to the champions of the Mountain West, the WAC, or the MAC without requiring these champions to be undefeated.

I think the Mountain West is in a great position to demand inclusion as a major conference, especially if they steal Boise State from the WAC. The BCS would actually win in that scenario, since it would get rid of most of the "BCS crashers." Boise State, Utah, Brigham Young, and Texas Christian would all be included in the system, and the crashers would then be teams with great records from truly middle-of-the-road conferences. I'm not dissing Ball State or Hawaii, but their conferences aren't as strong as the Mountain West, so it's harder for them to dispel the criticisms they receive. And maybe Hawaii deserves some dissing, since it was Hawaii's blow-out loss in a BCS bowl that gave credence to the idea of discrediting perfect records from smaller conferences.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Words I Hate

The verb “to put” has a present participle. I just don’t know how to write it. “Puting" would have a long U and be slang for “computing,” basically, while “putting” looks like the present participle of the verb “to putt,” and would be used to say, “Last week on the golf course I did a lot of putting.” So how do I spell the present participle of “to put”? And if it’s “putting,” like my word processor is forcing on me, how does one distinguish the type of putting that happens on the golf course? Three Ts, or just context? Imagine you’re making a list of skills required for golf success and there’s some debate between you and a friend about whether a golfer needs to be able to putt. You decide to add it to the list and you say, “I’m putting putting on the list.” Confusing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bailout Boogaloo

Hey, it turns out the bailout is just $700 bil. of "walking around" money for the government. Good thing Congress took its time to ensure there are plenty of oversights in the final legi--oh crap, I forgot, they were in a hurry because they "had to do something." Well, they've done something, all right.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Cures

Erin mentioned that she's disappointed that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn't have any real cures. Well, one cure of hers that my kids wish we'd try is Lester the Pig. In that chapter the kid has horrible table manners so Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lets his mother borrow her pet pig, Lester, whose table manners are impeccable. Since we read that chapter, our kids are fascinated with the idea of Lester the pet pig. Just a few nights ago I said something along the lines of, "Why don't you kids clean up after yourselves?" and Crazy Jane said, "Get Lester the pig!" I said, "He was a cure for bad table manners, not for messy living."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Story

Persephone request that I write about this:

Election morning I took my two oldest kids with me to vote while Persephone and Baby-X were still asleep. When I finished voting we went over to the kids' voting area. I don't know if they do this other places, but in our town they let school-aged kids vote for president and then they announce the results. Anyway, as I've written before in this space, both Crazy Jane and Articulate Joe are big John McCain fans, and they had planned for weeks to vote for him. (In contrast, I voted for Bob Barr and my wife didn't decide to vote for McCain until she was practically in the voting booth.)

The volunteers running the kids' table told my daughter to write her name, school, and grade. That's a problem because Articulate Joe isn't in school yet. I said, "He's in pre-school," which is sort of true in that he should be in pre-school. I asked, "Can he still vote?" The volunteers hesitated, so I said, "I can just say he's in kindergarten." They said okay, so I signed him up as a kindergartener. I said, "He's getting his first experience with voter fraud." The volunteers didn't think that was too funny. (It's not like they were running a binding election; what's a little voter fraud to them?)

Crazy Jane filled out her ballot, which to her meant filling in every box except McCain's. I told her, "You've voted for too many people. Only mark the box you want." So she erased them all and put a checkmark in the box under John McCain's picture. Except the box labeled with McCain's name was above his picture; she'd voted for Charles Baldwin. I said, "You've voted for this guy," pointing to Baldwin's picture. "Here are the boxes," I said as I pointed to each box and said whose it was. She then, on her third try, voted for McCain. (It only took her two tries to vote for McCain when she made us vote at home.) This entire process made it look like I was browbeating my daughter into voting for McCain. Really, I just knew who she liked and wanted to help her vote that way.

Articulate Joe, who can't read, asked me what the words said. I pointed to each box and read each name. He immediately voted for McCain, all by himself on the first try. Then he drew some hair on McCain. 'Cause that dude is bald.

I took the kids back home, then walked to the bus. On the bus I listened to two girls talking. One was registered to vote in Johnson County (we live in Douglas County), but she planned to vote at the polling place across the street from her apartment here. She told her friend, "I should be fine because I have my ID and I have my registration card to prove I'm registered in Johnson County. I mean, they can't really expect me to drive all the way to Johnson County [30 miles] just to vote!" (Meanwhile, an informed if somewhat paranoid friend of mine, fearing her county election officials wouldn't count her Barack Obama vote otherwise, drove 60 miles Monday night after her evening class, voted Tuesday morning, then drove back before school that morning.)

I realized on the bus that the idiot to whom I was listening had just as many votes to cast as I did, and that is the problem with democracy. I voted against both state supreme court justices on our ballot because I disagree with the court's ruling in Montoy v. State (2005), but many more voters made their decisions based on Justice Lee Johnson sharing a name with a former NFL punter. The good news, though, was that this bus girl would find out later in the day that she wasn't, in fact, "fine" with just an ID and her registration card, so at least one fewer idiot got to vote.


I actually DON'T have that much in common with SuperDell, Cristin.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Election News SHOCKER

In my diligent effort to fill the work day with things other than work, I was reading election results on the New York Times website when I came across this stunning bit of news: Super Dell (or, as he prefers, SUPERDELL) was the Libertarian candidate for governor of Utah, and received nearly 23,000 votes. Why must Super Dell destroy my new party? I wish he'd go back to what he used to do: selling totally awesome computers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book Reviews

All right, fools, I've recently completed a few of the books on my long to-read list.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic

I suspect our kids get ideas on how to misbehave from the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. Within days of reading a chapter, our kids exhibit the same symptoms as the kids in the book. When I unveiled this theory to Crazy Jane, she said, "I don't act like the boy who doesn't like to go to school." But the rest of it (refusing to clean, talking back, not eat, not going to bed) gets worse right after we read about it.

(ASIDE: Why do I call her Crazy Jane?)


This book was pretty good. (That's a good thing for me, since it's the first of a series I will almost definitely be reading aloud.) I guess Crazy Jane is growing up, because it was the first book we've read together that has a "message" (unless you count Stewart's Cape when he's worried about not making friends). I remember getting suckered into reading some "message" books when I was a kid, and I was furious. Like when my parents gave me Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball, which seems like it should be a zany, screwball type of book, only to find out it deals with depression. The same thing happened when they gave me There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. When I read those books, I felt like I did when I watched the dance scene in "First Kid." Why does every kids' book have to have a message? No wonder our kids are so militant these days; they're always on with the substance and meaning. Luckily, girls love that kind of crap in their books, so Crazy Jane enjoyed Clementine. Just as long as Sara Pennypacker puts the series to rest before Clementine starts dealing with bras, I'll be fine.

Cricket Explained

I have two Indian students this semester. A few weeks ago they had cricket bats with them. I asked a little about it and they both offered to teach me to play. (I think it's because they are poor students who hope to get better grades by becoming my friends. The jokes on them, since I'll be their friend and still fail them! Ha!) Anyway, I read this book so I have a general idea of what's going on when I step onto the pitch (if that ever ends up happening). I expect to bowl all kinds of googlies from silly mid off, or whatever.