HIS and HER

24 Oct 2014 /

I work at an educational non-profit. Whenever I type the abbreviation HSI (High School Intervention), Microsoft Word automatically “corrects” it to HIS. When I worked at a healthcare organization and typed EHR (Electronic Healthcare Record), Word helpfully “corrected” it to HER.

There’s a nice symmetry to that: HIS and HER.


Flaubert’s Prediction

24 Oct 2014 /
Gustave Flaubert

From time to time, I open a newspaper. Things seem to be proceeding at a dizzy rate. We are dancing not on the edge of a volcano, but on the wooden seat of a latrine, and it seems to me more than a touch rotten. Soon society will go plummeting down and drown in nineteen centuries of shit. There’ll be quite a lot of shouting.

— Gustave Flaubert (1850)

Blondes

24 Oct 2014 /

Raymond Chandler

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

— Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

50 Years of Solving Crossword Puzzles Finally Paid Off

23 Oct 2014 /
Crossword puzzle

I’ve solved a lot of crossword puzzles in my life with no benefit accruing to me other than personal enjoyment — until now!

Steven Landsburg, economist and author, published a crossword puzzle contest last month with free books going to the top three solvers. The puzzle was a cryptic crossword, which is typically more difficult than a “regular” crossword. This particular crossword was extremely difficult. No one was able to solve it correctly.

The winning entrant had three errors, second place had four errors, and two entrants, including me, tied for third with five errors. If you think that five errors in one crossword puzzle is not very good and doesn’t deserve a prize, you should take a look at the puzzle.


I Don’t Much Care for Coincidences

19 Oct 2014 /

I don’t much care for coincidences. There’s something spooky about them: you sense momentarily what it must be like to live in an ordered, God-run universe, with Himself looking over your shoulder and helpfully dropping coarse hints about a cosmic plan. I prefer to feel that things are chaotic, free-wheeling, permanently as well as temporarily crazy — to feel the certainty of human ignorance, brutality and folly.

— Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Common Core Testing

18 Oct 2014 /

A colleague posted this on the office discussion board:

OK. So a good friend of mine teaches Math in our Middle School and we’re constantly talking about the various standardized tests that we subject our kids too (he currently has my 7th grade daughter for Intermediate Algebra).

The students are taking ForeSight tests this week. Sort of a practice for the PSSA tests later in the year.

This morning he texted me a math problem from the 7th grade ForeSight test and asked if I could solve it.

So I solved it using simple amortization, but none of the possible answers match (or are close to) my solution. So I went online to solve it and got the same solution that I got by hand.

Anyone care to take a crack at this problem – a typical example of a 7th grade standardized test math question?

PS. My teacher friend couldn’t solve it either.

PPS If you feel like the problem might be missing some information, welcome to the club, nevertheless, this is how the kids have to solve it.

Math problem

I don’t have a kid in school anymore so I’m missing out on all the fun related to Common Core and whatever ForeSight and PSSA are. I hear a lot of parents and teachers complaining about Common Core. I know Bill Gates likes it and he’s a smart guy.

The complaints from parents, like the one above, seem to be mostly about testing. Most of the respondents on the office discussion board agreed that this was a terrible question but I don’t have a real problem with it. “Net worth” is used a little bit loosely as it doesn’t take into account the value of the car, but I think it’s obvious what the question is asking.

I remember when my kid was taking junior high math that there was an emphasis on estimation and “ballparking” calculations. Don’t do more work than you need to. So I’d expect to see someone solve the problem like this: After making 6 payments, Jessie shouldn’t owe more than he borrowed so eliminate B and C. Answer A suggests that he’s paid down 800-something dollars, which is wrong because 6 times 112 is less than 800. So the only possible answer is D. Trying to do an amortization calculation is not the right approach to the problem.


L’Affaire Winston

18 Oct 2014 /
Jameis Winston

Florida State said Friday its athletic department compliance staff is reviewing the reported authenticated signatures by Jameis Winston, but has yet to find evidence that the star quarterback accepted payment for the autographs.

ESPN reported Thursday that more than 2,000 authenticated signatures by Winston have been found on the James Spence Authentication website.

A couple of very surprising things about this:

  1. Jameis Winston can write his name. That may be a clue. Before I bought any signed Jameis Winston memorabilia, I’d insist on independent verification of his ability to write his name, lest someone be foisting some counterfeit goods on me. Caveat emptor.
  2. Florida State’s football coach — a grown man named Jimbo — believes (or claims to believe) that Winston signed 2,000 items without being paid for doing it. He signed 2,000 items for free. I wouldn’t sign 2,000 items for free, would you? How long would that take — several hours, right? I’m sure Winston as a college student has homework and classes and other things he should be doing with his time.

You’re Now the Local Computer Expert

17 Oct 2014 /


Tropical Spiders That Burrow Into Your Torso: Another Reason I Prefer to Just Stay Home

16 Oct 2014 /

http://www.9news.com.au/world/2014/10/16/17/56/tropical-spider-burrows-into-stomach-of-wa-man


Happy 170th Birthday, Friedrich Nietzsche!

15 Oct 2014 /
Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.


The Lowlight of My Weekend

14 Oct 2014 /
Robert Hass

Robert Hass

I had lunch over the weekend with Robert Hass — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, UC Berkeley professor and former Poet Laureate of the United States. When I say I had lunch with him, I mean he was one of five people seated at our table.

I asked to take a photo with him, which he graciously consented to. I don’t have any photos of myself with Pulitzer Prize winners and still don’t because the photo didn’t come out at all. I completely botched it somehow.

So that was probably the lowlight of my weekend, except for Cal getting blown out by Washington on the gridiron 31-7, while four Husky fans sat directly behind us screaming the whole game.

Football at Cal unfortunately is like academics at Washington: not terribly distinguished.


One of Those Things That You Never Forget

14 Oct 2014 /
Doe Library and Memorial Glade

Doe Library and Memorial Glade

We were walking north from Doe Library toward Hearst Ave, where we parked the car. Four girls were throwing Frisbees around on the lawn. I raised my hand in the universally understood “throw it to me” gesture and soon found myself in possession of one of the Frisbees.

I sailed it behind my back toward one of the girls, and as the disc sailed majestically over Memorial Glade I reflected that there are some things in life you never forget, and one of those things is how to whip a Frisbee throw behind your back.


Incan Gold

14 Oct 2014 /
Incan Gold

A couple of coworkers are playing a board game called Incan Gold.

“What’s the objective of the game?” I ask. “To decimate an indigenous civilization and plunder its riches?”

Evidently Incan Gold requires a lot of concentration because neither player answers my question.

“Why is ‘Redskins’ a bad name for a football team but ‘Incan Gold’ is an acceptable name for a board game?” I ask.

No response.

“Is there a board game called ‘Aztec Genocide’?”

No response.

“How about ‘Mayan Massacre’?”


Nobody Reads Books Anymore

11 Oct 2014 /

Me and Mark Twain


This New Coffee Place is Not Going to Make It

5 Oct 2014 /
What do you think?

Trying out a new coffee place by our house . . . I order an iced coffee and pay $4.50 for the only size they have, about the size of a Starbucks grande, which at Starbucks is less than three bucks.

I take the coffee over to the condiment station, taste it and decide to add some sugar.

The proprietor surprises me by walking up and saying “Taste it first before you add sugar.”

“I did taste it,” I assure him.

“Does it need sugar?”

“That probably depends on who’s drinking it. If I’m drinking it, it’s going to need a little sugar.”

I think I’ll stick with Starbucks. The coffee is cheaper and the staff lets me do whatever I want with it, no questions asked.


Teaching Computer Science: Diversity Takes a Hit

24 Sep 2014 /

They told us during teacher training in the summer not to scare off the students. But programming is difficult. There’s a lot of complexity and detail to master. The first couple of programming classes I took, we started off with around 50 people on the first day, and had around 12 left for the final exam. Entry-level programming classes have very high dropout rates.

One of our students dropped the class this week, a girl. So much for promoting diversity in computer science . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Applause

23 Sep 2014 /

Applause

We did an interactive exercise to write a simple program that prints numbers and the squares of the numbers — a for loop, basically. We went around the room with each student providing one element of the loop and me writing them on the whiteboard: for, open paren, int, i, equals, 1, semicolon, etc.

I thought it went very well. The timing was good and it was obvious that most of the class understood what was going on. When we got to a girl who’s usually ahead of everyone and knows all the answers, what we needed from her was “curly bracket” but what she actually said was “semicolon” and there was a collective groan from the rest of the class.

When the last student said “close curly bracket,” there was spontaneous applause, immediately, before I even wrote it on the board. It wasn’t like a concert at the high school auditorium where a piece ends and there’s a gap — “Is it over? Do we clap now?” It was like a classical concert with a high-brow audience that knows exactly when the piece ends and when to clap.


People I Thought Were Dead

19 Sep 2014 /
Close to You (Johnny Mathis album)

I got an email this afternoon notifying me that priority tickets are now available for a Johnny Mathis concert Nov. 8 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. If you’d asked me this morning if Johnny Mathis is still alive, I would have said “I don’t think so.”


Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

15 Sep 2014 /

I’m not sure students are asking for help enough despite my repeated admonitions to do so.

On the first day of class, I said, “Ask for help early and often. If you ask for help when you’re in trouble, you waited too long. Ask for help when things are going well. That’s a good heuristic in this class and in other areas of life as well.”

Later I said, “Learn to distinguish between persistence and floundering. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Don’t flounder.”

Yesterday I said, “You may think, ‘Well, if I was a better programmer, I wouldn’t have to ask for help.’ That’s incorrect. As you get to be a better programmer, you’re given harder problems to work on. I’ve been programming for 30 years — almost — and I ask for help every day.”

Honestly I feel like a mental case repeating the same thing over and over and yet out of 34 students in the class, 12 didn’t turn in the first assignment, most apparently because even though they finished it, they didn’t know how to turn it in (via an upload link on the class website) and didn’t ask for help or couldn’t figure out how to locate Java files in a project directory and didn’t ask for help . . .


See You in Hell, O Ye of Little Faith

14 Sep 2014 /

Satan

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

Greetings from the underworld! I was catching up on Facebook this morning and saw that a woman is going in for brain surgery and her family and friends are asking for prayers for her recovery.

Isn’t that overkill — prayer and brain surgery? Why not just pray for her recovery and if she doesn’t make it, you chalk it up to God’s will?

Some “true believer” religions, e.g., the Christian Science church, do that. They believe more in prayer than in medicine. They decline medical care because they believe that God can heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, etc. as he did in the Bible. These are the folks you hear about when they come up on criminal charges after refusing medical care for their seriously ill children and the children die.

Either God can cure a brain tumor or he can’t. Why ask a doctor to cure a brain tumor if you’ve already asked God to cure the brain tumor? Because when it comes down to matters of life and death, most people don’t really believe in God and prayer the way they believe in doctors.

Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?

See you in Hell . . .


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