Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ramble: Kyran Pittman (AKA Tip My Rank Tan)

Here is a recent IM exchange between me and Mrs. Kid:
Mrs. Kid: i found a new favorite blog passage-- i think you might be disguising yourself and changing genders around to fool people
Mrs. Kid: Rita Rudner said, “Whenever I date a man, I think, is this the man I want my children to spend weekends with?” I swear, there were days that the only thing holding me back was the thought that my pain-in-the-ass husband would be an even bigger pain-in-the-ass ex-husband. And I would have to have to put up with him, because of the children. As long as I was stuck with him anyhow, I might as well keep him close enough to take out the trash and help with bedtime.
me: lol
Mrs. Kid: right?!
me: who wrote that?
Mrs. Kid: kyran pittman
me: yeah, that's me. Kyran Pittman is an anagram for "Tip My Rank Tan" which was the name of the imaginary band i played in when i was a kid.
Check out Kyran Pittman's blog Notes To Self (which really is quite good). You can also check out the Internet Anagram Server for endless fun with words.

Oh, and for the record, I know that the only reason Mrs. Kid puts up with me is because she knows that if either of us leaves the other, then my Mother will find and shell out big money for a great lawyer to represent whichever one of us was wronged in her eyes.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Music Monday: Me Music

I know it's morbid, but I can't stop thinking about the music I would like to have played at my funeral. There are two parts to this.

Funeral/service: I need just a few songs that will work with an organ, acoustic guitar, or string quartet.

Vince Guaraldi: Linus and Lucy video (check out this Hey Ya Peanuts video just for kicks)
This is the easy one. I love jazz, cartoons, and Charlie Brown Christmas. If you asked any math student who had me first period what they remember about me, I have no doubt that they would remember me playing this tape before class for the entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If this song can't put a smile on your face, then I'm sorry.

U2: Where the Streets Have No Name video (still working on this one. Could be replaced with a Beastie Boys song or some old school rap)
I want something completely recognizable here. This one isn't about a deep message as much as it is about a collective moment of recognition. In this day of iPods and DVRs, we have so few synchronous moments of experiencing music together.

The Specials: Enjoy Yourself video
This is the uplifting, message-laden send-off. Love the song and love the lyrics.

Repast/wake: Coming up with a playlist for the repast/wake is a longer-term challenge, but equally important. I want three hours worth of music. The first can be jazz/mood music that I love (Miles, Coletrane, Herbie, Bill Evans, The Adderleys, etc.), but the second and third hours need to be full of songs that make people who knew me smile. Must-have artists include Led Zep, English Beat, New Order, Talking Heads, Richard Cheese, The Beatles, The Beastie Boys, and too many others to name.

BTW: I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread at any location Boy Kid and Girl Kid want to visit.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

MathEd: New Blog Idea: Real Math Applications

Here is an idea I have had for a few months, but am finally getting around to putting it out there.

How about a new blog that is all about how REAL math solves REAL problems. I am not talking about word problems. I am talking about people documenting ways that math helped them solve real problems. Note that this is not about finding applications for all the math in the course you are teaching or developing right now. This is about finding a way for people who use math to solve problems to share these problems and solutions.

Here is a statistics example from my office:

The Problem: A Project Manager at my company came to me asking how he could present data about variances from planned budgets in a way so that the big variances (both over and under) from budget wouldn't distort the data. When he used means to display the data, a few outliers over stated the degree to which early budgets varied from the final numbers.

The Solution: I first suggested that he look at a trimmed mean, but the solution that ultimately worked was using medians. Medians are less influenced by outliers than the mean, so using them got the job done.

The goal with a blog like I am proposing is to provide a rich repository of ideas for educators and learners to see how math is really used. Note that the problems don't have to come up in office settings. Some might come up at home or in sports or any other context, but in each case, math needs to be used to solve a real problem.

Any interest? Has it already been done? I think we need a set of contributors for this endeavor. I am fine being a contributor, but couldn't take the entire burden on myself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ramble: Seedless Watermelons Are Evil

OK, so maybe the title is a bit of hyperbole, but this is a moral issue. So-called "seedless" watermelons have taken over and I can't stand them.

First, just because a seed is white doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Saying that white seeds are OK but black seeds are not reminds me of the unfair sentencing guidelines for crack versus powdered cocaine. It's morally reprehensible. White seeds and brown seeds are all still seeds and should be dealt with properly. We can't give the white ones a pass while vilifying the brown ones. Calling watermelons with white seeds "seedless" is like calling a Wall Street investment bank "criminal free." Just because they snort coke instead of smoking crack or fleece high-brow investors instead of knocking over liquor stores doesn't make them guilt free.

Second, the idea that a seedless watermelon is even desirable is not something I can accept. I get that seedless oranges and grapes have their place, but they don't have seeds that are nearly as much fun as real watermelon seeds. Spitting watermelon seeds is a summer pastime that is now a thing of the past thanks to these genetic freaks with anemic white seeds that dribble out of your mouth. I want real seeds that I can send flying through the air.

In short: I like my watermelon seeds like Mrs. Kid likes her man: plump and brown. We all need to rise up and protest the de-brownification of our watermelons.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ramble: Why I Do This

This blog is certainly a great exercise for myself, as well as a way of sharing with however few people read it. But another reason I write this blog is so that Boy Kid and Girl Kid can read it and have a feel for who I was in this time of my life. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, how would they know who I was? Mrs. Kid could try to explain and other family members and friends could try as well, but I want a direct avenue and this blog is it.

Some people address this need by writing a memoir. I have no interest in delving into my past. As The Hours say in Ali in the Jungle:
... it's, not, where you're from, it's where you're at, ...
...it's, not, about the things you've done, it's what you're doing, now,
What are you doing, now?
Amen. This makes my blog very self-serving, but I'm OK with that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Music Monday: Herbie Is More Than Rockit

There are some artists who have a body of work that is far better and deeper than the average person knows about. They end up making a splash with a song that is wildly popular, but far from representative of their work.

Like many of my age, my first exposure to Herbie was with his groundbreaking song RockIt. I don't mean to minimize the importance of RockIt (which won Grammies and spawned a generation of break dancers and music that used technology in new ways), but that was a brief phase in Herbie's amazing career.

The Miles Davis Years: So What
My main MO for finding great jazz musicians is to start with Miles Davis and work my way out. He played with amazing people who went on to have stellar careers. Herbie's work with Miles was a great beginning.

Post-Davis Bop (Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles): Cantaloupe Island
These two albums are musts for anyone who wants to dip their toe in the jazz river. The hook in Cantaloupe Island is tremendous.

Fusion: Chamelion part 1 and part 2
Headhunters is accessible, funky, and fun.

(relatively) Modern Work
Rockit (love the video)
With Wayne Shorter: Aung San Suu Kyi (part 1 and part 2)

Herbie has done a ton of work since the 80's, so I have lots of work to do catching up with him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Race Bait: Slideshows From The Root

A friend from work sent me a link to one of these slideshows from The Root, but I like them all, so here you go....

Would a Black Person Get Away With This?
This is the one she sent.

I remember seeing this some time ago, but I still like it.

Nice list.

BTW: How do you like the prefix for this (and future race-oriented) post?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ramble: Prefixes

I am going to start pre-fixing more of my posts. For instance, this one has the prefix "Ramble." I already use some other prefixes:
  • Best-of-Craigslist
  • Web-Stuff Friday
  • Music Monday
To this list of prefixes, I will add prefixes to connote more topics such as:
  • MathEd
  • Geek
  • Politics
  • Race
I might try coming up with more interesting prefixes than these, but am making no promises. The point of the prefixes is to make it easier for folks to decide what they do and don't feel like reading. Most people have blogs that are more focused than this one, but I am going to keep on with my broad rambles. It's who I am, but adding prefixes should make it easier for folks to pre-judge their interest in the topic for each post.

For instance, Mrs. Kid already ignores all the Music Monday and Web-Stuff Friday posts. Now, she can easily avoid all the MathEd and Geek posts.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Girl Talk Sample Guide Videos

I like Girl Talk. Not the idle chatter of the fairer gender, but the mashup dj. His samples are wide-ranging, but it's that range that makes his stuff really work.

You might be wondering: This isn't Monday, so what's with the music post? Well, this isn't really about the music as much as it is about the video series.

I was looking for a YouTube video of some Girl Talk music to send to a friend, when I found a series of videos called Girl Talk Sample Guides. Wow. Thats' a really nice display of visual information. I think he misses some samples, but the idea is still an interesting one. I'd like to see this for any mashup and for a fair number of rappers.

The Sample Guide made me think back to the Paul's Boutique Samples and References List (which is tremendous accompaniment to one of the Beastie Boys' best albums). Having a list of where all the pieces are coming from is great, but the visuals in the Sample Guide is even better.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Geeking Out With Frink

A friend and former student tweeted a link to Frink, which seems interesting. According to creator Alan Eliasen, Frink is...
... a practical calculating tool and programming language designed to make physical calculations simple, to help ensure that answers come out right, and to make a tool that's really useful in the real world.
So as a math guy, it seems relevant to what I do. I'll check it out, but the fun part is reading the documentation. Check out the Sample Calculations section of the documentation. Feel free to ignore the math. It's all about the narrative he wraps around it. Really amusing stuff. Here is a very small sampling of Alan's comments/quips.

Sure, he's a great guy, and, sure, he's the Defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, but can't he find a better use for his super-powers than schlepping some shiksa into the stratosphere? Shovel my walk, he could, in 3 seconds--and me with the sciatica.
Fart jokes. Sheesh. If Frink isn't a huge success, it's not because I didn't pander to the Lowest Common Denominator.
The ramifications of the most famous of Einstein's equations:
Unbelievable. The energy in a teaspoon of water, if we could extract it, is equal to burning more than 3 million gallons of gasoline.
The amount of heat emmited by a human body in a day:
... your average power and/or heat output is slightly less than a 100-watt bulb. (Note that your heat is radiated over a much larger area so the temperature is much lower.) Many days I could be replaced entirely with a 100-watt bulb and have no discernible effect on the universe.
Anyway, check out the documentation. It's fun stuff and did a great job of getting me interested in using the tool for exploring quantities all around me.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Music Monday: More From The Sixty One

I listen to The Sixty One when I want to hear new stuff (which is pretty often), so here is another volume of stuff to check out:

Paul Bailey Ensemble: Retrace Our Steps, Act 2
Interesting stuff. The instrumentation and operatic sound work for me. Seems to be influenced by Philip Glass (which is a good thing in my world).

How I became the Bomb: Killing Machine
This song feels good. Nice groove. Simple. There is something about the bass line and use of the high hat that work for me.

The Upstairs Room: I Am Oz
This might be where my taste goes a bit wonky, but I gotta love the Renegade sample. First Girl Talk, now this. Maybe Styx is poised for a big comeback!

Gotta love a good mash-up.

Now to see if I can develop a system for pumping out regular updates.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Web Stuff Friday: Teacher Blogs Worth Reading

I have found a group of math teachers online who have made a really strong online community. Together, they are questioning, innovating, and making positive change happen and then sharing through blogs and tweets. It's incredibly inspiring. Anyone who is a new math or science teacher should read these blogs and follow these folks on Twitter. Get into the discussion.

Honestly, this is the best use of blogs and Twitter I have seen yet. These folks rock the house.

That said, here is a list of some of my favorite math teacher bloggers/twitterers:

Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer)
Blog: dy/dan
Dan has been featured on TED, so lots of people know who he is.

Kate Nowak (@k8nowak)
Blog: f(t)
Hers is the best subtitle out there. I will make you click the link to read it. Go ahead. I'll wait....

Sam Shah (@samjshah)
Sam's post on the Blogotwitterversphere is great, and attaining mention on his Favorite Tweets page is a goal for every math teacher tweeter.

Matt Townsley (@mctownsley)
Like me, Matt is a former HS math teacher turned curriculum dude. His focus on assessment is a good thing.

Jason Buell (@jybuell)
Jason's ideas about assessment are important (and by "important" I mean that he and I agree on some key points).

BTW: To get plugged in to the flow of the conversation, check out the mathteachers list maintained by Jackie Ballarini. Great, diverse list of folks.

Note that I have left a ton of people off this list. Check out the blogs and the teacher twitter list and start roaming to find more.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Favorite High School Teachers, Part 2

Here is the liberal arts part of my stroll down memory lane.

My mother was a math teacher at my high school. In August before my Junior year, my mother looked at the master schedule and decided that she thought I'd have a problem learning from one of the American Civilization (AC was an interdisciplinary English and History class) teachers. As a result, she wanted me to switch to a different course. All my friends were taking AC and it was supposed to be a great course, so this was a tough sell. I agreed to the switch, but only on the condition that I could have Tim Isaacs for English and Dave Roush for History.

My interest in history can be traced directly back to Dave Roush. He was funny and smart and inspired my interest in history enough that I took almost enough history in college for a minor.

When I was in college, writing was never a big problem for me, and now I earn a living writing and reviewing. Still, the dominant legacies Tim Isaacs left me with are 1) my penchant for reading existentialists such as Sartre, Kirkegaard, Camus, etc. and 2) my memory of such minutia as the meanings of litotes and consonance.

Thanks Dave and Tim. You two rocked and the influences of your teaching have stayed with me to this day.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Favorite High School Teachers, Part 1

I meant to post this on Ada Lovelace Day, which I learned about from a colleague who sent me to Finding Ada. I pledged to blog about a woman I admire in the fields of technology or science. Because I am incredibly lame and this Spring got away from me, this post is months late.

Mrs. Rowe was my Algebra II/Trig teacher. My mom was a math teacher, but it was Mrs. Rowe who turned me into some semblance of a mathematician. I still vividly remember the first day of trig when she drew the unit circle on the board. I used that same basic lecture when I taught the course years later. Mrs. Brown (Algebra 1) saved me from mathematical oblivion. Mr. Berry (Geometry and Computer Science) helped me see that learning and teaching math could be fun, but Mrs. Rowe drove it home. She batted cleanup and hit a triple. After her, Mrs. Penkunas (pre-calc and calc) had the easier job of tightening everything up. She did hard work, but all of it would have been for naught if it weren't for the sweet woman with the southern drawl who was affectionately known as "The Crusher."

Of all the courses I ever took (at any level and in any discipline), the one from which I remember the highest percentage is AP Biology. Mrs. Breznick (now Casio) taught me that course and it is thanks to her that I remember such things as rough endoplasmic reticulum (it's the ribosomes that make it rough) and the difference between xylem and phloem. It's really ridiculous. Why is it that I can still remember the cellular respiration handout she gave us that describes how we get ATP from glycolysis and the Krebs cycle? Why do I still remember the roles of FSH and LH? All credit goes to Mrs. Casio.

A heartfelt thanks to all my high school math and science teachers for training me up and (more importantly) for fostering my love of learning and sharing. I was really, really lucky to have you all as teachers.

This was supposed to be just about women in the fields of science and math, but then again, this was supposed to come out months ago. Still, I'll stop here and post tomorrow about the non-math/science teachers (both men) who influenced me the most.

Monday, July 5, 2010

TwitTalk: Who Do I Follow?

I have been doing the Twitter thing. The folks I follow fall into a few main categories.

Math teachers: This crowd will get a post to themselves, but suffice it to say that there are a bunch of innovative math teachers out there and they are blogging and tweeting and it is a very good thing.

Comedians: Some comedians write good movies, some are best with short stories, and some are good at standup. I have found several for whom 140 characters is plenty.

Sports guys: I have been disappointed by most athletes on twitter, but some columnists are pretty good.

Friends: I also follow a handful of friends & colleagues. They are fun, but their tweeting frequency isn't as high as the masses of others I follow.

George Lazenby: Yeah, he gets his own category. When reading this guy's tweets, I generally feel as dumb as a box of rocks. Still, I follow because every once in a while he recommends a great book or makes some comment/reference I actually get.

To check out all these tweeps, go to  my twitter page: @RestonKid