I voted

Another election has come and gone, but I wasn’t really tuned into it.  A large part of it was the reason mentioned here, namely that voters can’t rely on candidates or their supporters to give reliably factual information either about the candidate or their opposition.  Perhaps it’s the downside to living in the information age that there’s so much information that disinformation is prevalent, and trying to call anyone on it just gets lost in the noise anyway.

When I’m listening to NPR during my commute, I find I have to check myself to giving into confirmation bias when I readily accept statements that confirms my world view and doubt statements that do not.  (On the other hand, when Putin says he supports peace in Ukraine and is not sending in tanks, I find it really hard to believe him or his foreign ministers.  I bet Putin has a good laugh every time he lies about what’s going on under the table because, even if the west denounces his actions and Ukraine throws accusations every other day, what does he care when Russians believe his propaganda.)

Anyway, the only election that really interested me was California State Superintendent for Public Schools.  (Okay, that’s not the only election I cared about.  But even though Obama’s approval numbers are in the 40’s, the GOP congress’ numbers are in the 20’s.  Yet they increase their number of seats?  That’s a serious WTH moment.)

Okay, okay: Torlakson vs. Tuck.  The contest was billed as a mirror of the battle over education in country, with Torlakson representing the establishment (heavy backing from teachers unions and incumbent democrats) and Tuck representing reform.  Except with his charter school and business school background, Tuck represents a very particular type of reform centered around test scores.  I want reform, but not one where students are reduced to test scores and teachers are paid and fired based on test scores, especially since I believe the tests are fundamentally flawed.

I recently bought a kalimba, specifically this one.  I wanted a chromatic kalimba because not having accidentals really restricts what songs you play.  My kalimba has an alto tuning, meaning it has exactly two octaves from G3 to G5, which is enough 99% of time, but…

Currently, I’m working on two songs:

Transcribing the songs for alto kalimba has been a fun little music theory project.  Turnabout Sisters can be played C4 (a fifth below G4) and G5, which fits in my alto’s range.  But at the end it modulates up, and the new high note is now out of range.  (Maybe I should have gotten the chromatic treble kalimba instead, which has two notes above the highest tonic.)  Anyway, I solved this by shifting down to the key of D since I didn’t use the low part of the range.  And since that’s the dominant (right?), there’s only the occasional note from the chromatic notes on the back of the instrument.

Time Travel drives me crazy though.  The piano version above, which I adore and is my ringtone, has a huge range.  The right hand covers 3 octaves plus a fifth below and a couple semi-tones above.  And then sometimes the left hand has the melody.  In order to fit these excursions above and below the tonic, I again transcribed the song in D, but now I only have 1 octave.  I’m not sure if it would be any better with the extra range offered by a treble kalimba; I haven’t tried transcribing it yet.

Anyway I shift up and down whole octaves, sometimes in weird places, to make some passages fit.  Then the song modulates to E… Kalimbas are not scale agnostic.  Playing notes in the tonic scale just uses the thumbs.  Playing in the dominant or subdominant scale is still pretty easy because there’s just one tine on the back so you can keep a finger there.  Deviating further means hunting for tines that you can’t see on the back of the instrument.

Anyway, the kalimba is fun, but it has limitations.

The game I’ve played the most recently is Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager.  It’s is very much a successor to Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space, which has the far catchier name.  However, X Manager and Y Simulator seem to be all the rage these days, and BASPM is very much a manager game, what with carefully cultivating three different staffs (engineers, astronauts, and flight controllers) while picking projects to earn prestige but not going overboard (read: overbudget).

I have to say that the first time I sent humans to the moon (it was a Gemini direct ascent), I got goosebumps.

The game’s interface sucks though.  I really hope they rethink it before the next module, which is supposed to cover space missions between the moon landing and current day, things like the space shuttle and space stations.


30 Aug – 1 Sept: Three day weekend

While it is nominally Labor Day weekend, I did do some work, mainly because students find Labor Day weekend the perfect time to catch up on assignments and, when they get stuck, to ask questions.  Lots of questions about sticks & stones in counting and file i/o in Python.

On Saturday, I made dark chocolate coconut macaroons because I was in a chocolate mood.  I’ve been popping one of these every few hours.  I reduced the sugar a smidge but maybe put too much coconut as it’s not really brownie levels of chocolate like I was hoping.

The rest of the weekend was lots of small things related to moving in: turn in keys to my old place; play mortgage and HOA dues; place another Amazon order, including a shower caddy and stuff to go in it; sort through stuff on the bedroom floor so the roomba can vacuum; create a home maintenance calendar… that I’ll start next week.

I tried DDP Yoga for the first time.  It’s a mix of yoga and dynamic tension.  I did work up a sweat, and my heart rate is higher than normal yoga.  We’ll see how it works long term.

27 Aug: A new beginning

I’ve finally moved into my new place.  Let’s dust this blog off.

Today, I was greeted at work by donuts.  Nice!  As compensation for an all-hands-on-deck Python grading session.  Meh.  So I got to learn tkinter in order to grade homework.  We also got a free lunch out of it.  Who says there isn’t a free lunch?  Oh, right… the grading.

Look, freakin’ Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukraine.  Can this farce end already?!

I let Bunbury into the living room again today to explore a bit.  It was cute to watch him hop around, exploring and rubbing his chin on everything.  But he was also hungry and wanted to test everything to see if it was food, so back he went with his salad.

We lost another war in Clash of Clans.  But now I have permission to kick out some inactive people, so I expunged 5 people who I’m not sure even play anymore.

I made this recipe for dinner.  I paired it with leftover Lucky Lemongrass from Loving Hut (soy protein fried until it’s crispy, and I have no idea what spice mix they used, but I need to find out) and quinoa cooked in chicken broth.  It was so so good.

The Top Gear guys appeared on Phineas and Ferb.  Ha!

13-14 Oct

13 Oct: Sunday I played more Civ5: BNW.  2 civs, Duel-sized map.  The other civ, whoever it is, is really annoying about poaching wonders.

We went back to the Rabbit House Society to get tips about bonding.  They didn’t particularly like the ride there in the carrier, but they tolerated each other in confined quarters.  They started off manageable, and the RHS people gave me some tips.  Mostly I have to stop fighting behavior much faster.  I can also try the banana trick.  After an hour and a half, however, they had enough and had their worst fight yet.  I took them home in separate carriers.

I got an email saying that Papers, Please is on sale at Steam, so I started watching a Let’s Play.  It’s pretty amazing that someone could turn being a customs officer into a engaging game.

14 Oct: First time teaching Algebra 2.  Wow, I am not used to such a torrent of activity.  I’ll just have to learn to process faster.  My students are super excited though.

Came home, fed the bunnies, ate dinner, then tried another bonding session.  I tried to banana trick, though I put it on before getting them into starting position.  They didn’t leave much real estate for petting them.  I also kinda ground the banana into Bunbury’s head, and I may need to give him a good cleaning later.  I don’t think they liked having their head messy, and it took them a long time and a lot of calming to get them into position.  Then Bunbury ate a bit of banana off Penny’s face.  You know, that was good progress for today, really.

No song stood out for today.

9 Oct


Today at work I was caught.  Working.  On the Python course I should have let go of last month.  Whoops.  I’ll have to keep working on it in secret.

I was more talkative at lunch than usual.  Probably because there was a lot of politics.  I realize that politics frustrates me because, despite being a citizen in a democracy, I feel powerless while bad things happen.  Education feels like that sometimes, but I at least control a (very) small corner of it.

Bunnies are still scrapping when they get too close.  I tried switching their pens today so they get used to each other’s scent.  It’s making them act a little weird.  I still don’t know if Kaley/Penny will work out.

Today’s songs stuck in my head:

It feels weird using YouTube, a video site, to link to music tracks, but that’s how it’s done.

3-year bachelor’s?

University of Toledo offers 3-year bachelor’s degree in certain majors

So here’s an interesting development: A university is offering a 3-year degree.  At least, it’s a plan for a student to complete the requirements of a 4-year degree in 3-years, not a watered-down degree.

My gut reaction is this isn’t good.  This seems designed to appeal to people who think the certification is the goal, and they want to get their bachelor’s as fast as possible to move on.  I’ve had a lot of students who treat courses as a motions to go through to get that diploma rather than an opportunity to expand their knowledge, and this programs seems to reinforce this idea rather than deter it.

On the other hand, the university says up front that this is designed for motivated students (they have to work through their summers, possibly take an increased workload) and come in with credits.  So this isn’t a way for slackers to dodge work.  That said, the students I mentioned above weren’t slackers (Berkeley students, whatever their pedagogical faults, aren’t slackers compared to the average undergrad); they just couldn’t or wouldn’t spend enough time and energy to understand the material rather than absorb enough to pass (by which I mean a B, because that’s the new passing grade).

Now that I write this down, it seems my main beef is student’s attitude toward learning, especially if they really understand what “learning” means, or if our school system has trained them to equate learning with being able to do X on the midterm, and I’m not sure what impact this program will have on that.  University of Toledo says this was motivated by a desire to save students money, not necessarily provide a better education.

Another consideration is, if you’ve got tunnel vision to finish in 3 years, you won’t take the time to explore all that a traditional university campus offers you.  I know I regret not exploring more when I was an undergraduate.  A 3-year program also doesn’t leave room for internships and job experience.  And considering the majors they are offering this program in, barring economics and political science, I think these students will have an uphill fight finding a job in the new economy.

Yeah, let’s just say I’m skeptical how this will work out.

Math celebrities

Why Nate Silver Can Save Math Education in America

I heard somewhere that Nate Silver is thinking of analyzing teacher assessment at some point.  It’s a big problem, there’s no definitive answer, and there’s lots of data (though since most of it is standardized test scores, I find much of it questionable).  Sounds like a place he can have fun.

That’s not what this article is about.

This article is about having math superstars being rolemodels for kids, to answer their questions of, “when am I ever going to use this?”  I feel this is treating the symptoms rather than the disease.  If math was taught as a way to solve problems and explore the world around us — as opposed to drilling computations — students’ curiosity will be a natural source of motivation.  “I want to understand” is a better driver than “I want to be a celebrity.”

The article’s secondary point, that the current curriculum sorely lacking in some departments (like statistics and finance), is something I agree with.