barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
Today's staff meeting was more exciting than usual: a group discussion with administrators about recent occupations of Dutton Hall and the plans they're developing to deal with future protests.

While I am glad that they are putting a great deal of thought into the issue, I am concerned about a couple of things. First, I'm not convinced that the administrators truly understand the mindset of the "new protester"--at one point in the meeting it seemed that one administrator was under the impression that the first Occupy Dutton (which was obnoxious but allowed classes to continue) and the recent pro-Palestine takeover (which chained the doors closed and allowed no-one to enter the building) were the same group.

Second, it sounds like all of the plans are *reactive* measures ("What can we do WHEN Dutton is occupied again?") rather than *preventative* measures ("What can we do to make it less likely that Dutton is occupied again?"). I'd love to see more communication with student groups to send the message that this sort of protest is NOT effective. It does not sway the opinions of policymakers, it does not provide good publicity to anyone, it disrupts education, and it makes students and staff angry--not angry at the subject of the protest, but angry at the protesters themselves.

The university ought to be saying "We know you have serious concerns. Taking over a student services building isn't going to help. Let's work together to find productive ways for you to voice your concerns."
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
What a day. We were a little late getting out the door this morning and were pretty much on schedule for getting in to Napa JUST in time for me to start my class, but as we pulled onto Hwy 12 a CHP car in front of us started flashing its lights and slowing down, soon coming to a complete stop and directing all traffic on a detour back to Hwy 80. We took the long way around and I arrived in class 15 minutes late. Learned from the radio that there had been a bad collision involving a bulldozer-toting truck, three cars, one death, and eight injuries a mere ten minutes before we got there, and that entire section of Hwy 12 was closed for the rest of the day.

Classes felt rushed and hectic--the first because I was late, the second because there were a lot of questions on the homework and I had a lot planned in addition to that. After finishing up we decided to wait a couple of hours before heading out to ceili in hopes that the traffic would settle down, but no luck there. Every other route out of Napa was clogged horribly by traffic detoured off of Hwy 12. Some of these ALSO had fresh collisions, presumably due to a combination of too many cars on the road and drivers suddenly forced onto an unfamiliar route. Chain-reaction disaster dominoes.

We finally got to ceili around 8:30. Had a lot of fun playing music (with a mandolin player this time!), and tasty BBQ dinner, so at least the day ended well.

Some thoughts in retrospect:

* If we'd left ten minutes earlier, that could have been us. Of course, if we'd left twenty minutes earlier, we would have missed it entirely. More pragmatically, we need to leave earlier.

* Special thanks to CHP for handling an awful situation as promptly and efficiently as possible.

* Hwy 12 really needs two lanes in each direction all the way from Hwy 80 to Hwy 29.

* The entire Napa Valley really needs a passenger train line stretching from a parking lot off of Hwy 80 up to St Helena or so, preferably with stops at every major winery so the drunk tourists don't feel like they have to drive.

* I really need to find a new job close to home so I can quit this stupid commute.


Jul. 1st, 2011 03:50 pm
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Yesterday morning while cleaning out my desk I found a very nice letter from a former student telling me how his conversations with me had influenced his perspective on life.

Yesterday evening I learned that he had "died suddenly" just over a week ago.

Still feeling shocked and bewildered.

On energy

Apr. 23rd, 2011 06:43 pm
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
You can use the word "energy" to describe anything you want; I don't mind, really. But the "energy" that physicists talk about refers to a specific thing (the capacity to do work, which itself also has a specific meaning), and that specific thing is what the laws of physics mean when they say "energy." So don't assume that statements like "energy cannot be created or destroyed" or "matter and energy are really the same thing" apply to whatever you think your aura is made of.

General rule of thumb: if it can't be measured in joules, then it is NOT the "E" in the equations.
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
I have a message but I'm not sure who the message is for. Here is the message:

To whom it may concern:
You appear to be under the impression that when I see an ad for a product, I become more likely to purchase that product. This is not the case. In fact, when I see an ad for a product, I become less likely to purchase that product--significantly less so. For your own benefit, I suggest that you cease showing me all ads at once.
-=-Barnabas Truman

So to whom can I send this that might actually be able to do something about it? A few years ago when The Onion ran the "Pepsi to Cease Advertising" article I really wanted to send my message to the guy in charge of Pepsi, who was retiring soon anyway and I thought maybe he might do this as one last blast before he goes, but I couldn't find any way whatsoever to contact him. It feels like the people who run things are completely insulated against the possibility of hearing any public opinion.
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
I just realized that "Body Mass Index" is defined as mass divided by height squared;
BMI = m / h^2.
This leads me to wonder if Adolphe Quetelet was an idiot (hint: certainly not, but I can't think of a better explanation), and, more to the point, why anybody ever thought his formula was a good idea.

Allow me to explain. This is going to involve a bit of math and physics, so buckle down and be prepared to look things up or ask questions as needed.

Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that every body has the same proportions and the same density.

Then the mass of a body is its volume times density:
m = d * V
where d is density and V is volume.
But volume is proportional to height cubed:
V = k * h^3
where k is some proportionality constant.
We're assuming for the moment that both d and k are the same for everyone.

If we substitute these into Quetelet's formula, we find that
BMI = d * k * h^3 / h^2
Two of the h's cancel out, leaving
BMI = d * k * h
In other words, BMI is equal to a constant times one's height!

Body Mass Index is a measure of height, not of obesity! What were they thinking??

Of course, the assumptions that d (density) and k (proportions) are the same for everyone isn't true at all in reality. So BMI is really measuring the product of density, height, and a constant involving body proportions. But why allow height to be a factor? The end result of this is that, all other things being equal, tall people have higher BMI. Isn't the whole point of dividing by height to cancel out the influence of height entirely?

On the other hand, if BMI is defined as mass divided by height CUBED, the extra h-factor also cancels, and BMI becomes the product of d and k, which actually means something. Why isn't it defined this way to begin with?

Alternatively, mass divided by (height squared times shoulder width) might work even better--that at least attempts to scale it individually for different body structures, something that BMI ignores entirely.

P.S. It should also be noted that Quetelet's goal was to apply rigorous methods from statistics to the study of populations, and that he never intended BMI to be used to diagnose individuals. However, I still can't imagine why he wouldn't at least take the square-cube law into account!
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
I just watched Disney's Hercules and found it very disappointing. I knew it was going to flay the mythology alive, set it on fire, and then roll around in the remains, but beyond that it was also a really bad movie. Anyway, it got me thinking: what if Disney made a movie applying its usual plot-butchery to, say, American history?

Opening Narration:

One fateful Fourth of July in 1776, beneath a night sky lit by fireworks, our great nation's four fathers--Presidents Lincoln (Tom Hanks), Washington (Billy Crystal), Jefferson (Jeff Goldblum), and Columbus (Danny DeVito)--convened in the National Archives to inscribe the Declaration of Constitution. The magic they bound into this powerful scroll raised the lost continent of America from below the waves and freed all the slaves that had been trapped therein. One of these was a young monk of royal birth known as King Martin Luther (Eddie Murphy). This... is his story.
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
This morning I tried using DiskWarrior to rebuild (i.e. defrag) my hard drive. Doing so requires starting up from the DiskWarrior CD rather than from the hard drive, because it can't make such drastic changes to the current startup disk.

Starting up a Macintosh from a CD is quite easy: simply hold down the "c" key while the computer starts up. I did so, and nothing happened--it just started up from the hard drive as normal. After several identically unsuccessful tries, I instead used the system preferences to set the CD as the default startup disk, which worked.

So I was able to rebuild the hard drive using the CD as the startup disk. Problem was, said CD was now set as the default startup disk, and I had no way of accessing the system preferences from it.

I tried restarting while holding down the Option key, which allows changing the startup disk. No effect. In desperation I tried restarting while holding down the mouse button, which ejects any disk present. No effect.

Time to go to an expert. I happened to have an appointment at an Apple store's Genius Bar today already for an unrelated problem that had gone away on its own, which was a fortuitous coincidence. My assigned Genius tried the same startup commands I had plus a few more, all to no avail. If the computer is not recognizing startup commands at all, that's a rather serious problem. His initial suspicion was that the main logic board was gradually failing, a serious problem which would cost a few hundred bucks to replace.

Fortunately this particular Genius was an oldskool sort of Genius, and, on a hunch, went to the back room and returned with an older model keyboard. After plugging it in, suddenly all the startup commands worked perfectly! CD out, startup with hard drive, everything works fine.

So what was the problem? The new keyboard. Apparently the new keyboard BIOS works differently in such a way that it cannot give commands to the computer during startup. Holding down the mouse button presumably didn't work because the mouse was plugged in to the keyboard. I love the new Apple keyboard, and it's increased my typing speed by about 10 wpm, but this is a SERIOUS problem. Without the ability to give startup commands I cannot use DiskWarrior, or a bunch of other stuff either. Good thing I still have my old keyboard on hand in case this happens again.

TL;DR: The new Apple keyboard is mostly great but apparently shipped without the vital ability to issue commands to the computer during startup. WTF, Apple? Are you not testing your new products at all anymore?

(On the plus side I had a nice conversation with the Genius about the joys of being oldskool, and recommended he try out Lost Vikings and Dwarf Fortress.)
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
Ugh, what a rotten day. Nothing in it was especially bad; it's just been the sort of day where everything goes wrong in tiny ways and it all adds up.

I was awakened about an hour before I intended to get up by the Angry Shouty Mom in a neighboring building yelling at her toddler again, and couldn't get back to sleep. I made a worksheet that I'm rather proud of, said goodbye to Hazel as she left for the Student Activities Fair, and left for campus myself.

I got to campus about 25 minutes before class started, which should have been just enough time to park, walk to the faculty office building, make worksheet copies, and walk to class. The main parking lot was full (no surprise there). The secondary parking lot was full (not unheard of either). I resigned myself to overflow parking and a walk across the sports fields.

Except that the entire overflow lot was CLOSED all day today. Due to flooding maybe? Nope! The police training program was using the whole lot for vehicle training. Now I'm all in favor of well-trained police, and I certainly acknowledge that knowing how to handle a police car in adverse conditions is a very important skill for police to have, but this was a really bad time for it. Tuesday or Thursday would be fine; there aren't anywhere near as many classes. But on Mondays and Wednesdays, the parking situation is ridiculous enough as is.

Anyway, I found another parking lot out by the back end of the neighboring golf course, walked most of a mile into campus, and arrived five minutes late with no worksheets. Apologized to students; told them I'd put worksheets up on course website. (Speaking of, I'd better go do that now.)

(Okay, website updated.)

While I was setting up for class I also noticed that the dragon button on my custom-made abacus holster had fallen off at some point, and I have no idea where. Arg. That was a cool button, and it could be anywhere between the parking lot and the classroom, or half a dozen other places. Does anyone know if Oberon Leather will be at Folsom Faire?

I spent about half of the class time answering questions on the most recent homework assignment, which, to be fair, did have some rather tricky word problems. Then I gave the students (the 16 of them that showed up today) to take a five minute break, then come back, get into three groups of 5 or 6, and get out some graph paper.

I had been planning to do a really awesome group graphing activity to help the students investigate what happens to the graph of a parabola when its equation is changed in certain ways. It's probably the lesson of which I am most proud; it's also quite probably what got me the job at the awesome high school I worked at for two years (it was the sample lesson I gave during my initial interview).

Of course great lesson plans aren't as useful when the class size has shrunk to SIX STUDENTS by the end of the five minute break. Arg. Why do students leave halfway through a class that they've already paid for? It's like buying a movie ticket and then going home. No wonder so many of them flunked the first midterm.

Fortunately the rest of the lesson did go very well for the six students that were actually there for it. I wonder how the rest of the students think they're going to do a homework assignment covering material they weren't even here to learn.

After class I went back to the faculty office building, and made copies of the worksheet for a couple of students who had tagged along. Microwaved a frozen burrito for lunch, sat down, worked on tomorrow's lesson plan for an hour without much progress. Distracted somewhat by frequent tire skids from the police training. Eventually packed up, walked most of a mile back to the other parking lot, failed to find the lost button, and came home.

Tired. Legs and heels somewhat sore. Miss the awesome rain from yesterday. Still no sign of button, still need to finish lesson plan for tomorrow, still not king. But I'm home at least.
barnabas_truman: (Default)
Okay, I gotta ask this, because otherwise it's just going to keep bothering me.

What the hell was going on with the dragons?

Seriously. Sure, come to Faire, have your fun, even dress up like a stupid barbarian or a "pirate" if you must, but dragon fursuits? TWO of them? Faire is not FurryCon. Faire is not Disneyland. Some of us are trying to do some historical reenactment and two people dressed like theme park characters and acting like cartoon anthro-dogs does not help. Were they patrons or participants? I can't imagine management would be crazy enough to deliberately bring them in, but they were being followed around by a photographer with a participant wristband, and they were there all day, so I'm really not sure.


Also this was Pirate Infection Infestation Invasion weekend. Which also doesn't make any sense. It's like a historical reenactment group in the 25th century having a 2000s Faire, and including a Terrorist Invasion Weekend wherein kids can run around in robes, turbans, and eyepatches, waving their plastic uzis and shouting ARRR! Not only that, but in the opening festivities some noble or mayor or whoever announced that it was Pirate Invasion Weekend and, as far as I could tell, introduced the pirate leaders. (Imagine the actor playing Bush at the 2000s Faire cheerfully announcing Terrorist Invasion Weekend and introducing the actor playing bin Laden!) Introduce? Why not just arrest now?

Yes, Secret of Monkey Island was a brilliantly awesome game, and Captain Jack Sparrow was pretty cool, but hasn't this whole pirate fad kinda run its course?

Anyway, other than that Faire was a lot of fun. I played plenty of music with Minstrels and Pryanksters both, saw a neat new juggling/music/acrobatics family act (the pennywhistler also has a Copeland!), bought a new belt pouch and a couple of shirts, ordered a pair of boots, and got a list of tunes from Siamsa (thanks Richard!) to practice so I can jam with them next time. I also told a story on stage to amuse the audience while waiting for the other Minstrels to show up.
A ducke did once walk into an inne, and did aske the innekeeper "Innekeeper, hast thou any grapes?"
Fun times indeed.
barnabas_truman: (recycle)
I was in the process of being frustrated yet again by the new hellhole version of Microsoft Word when I had a sudden insight.

I have not seen significant improvements in word processor software in the last 15 years.

Seriously. ClarisWorks on my parents' old Performa 400 let me type text, edit the font, line spacing, justification, paragraph style, page layout, spellcheck, mail merge, insert graphics, print preview, print, etc. in 1993. AppleWorks on my college iMac could do exactly the same things in 1999. Pages on the new Macs seems pretty much the same, but stupid. MS Word 2007 doesn't seem to be able to do anything new either; it just has a smooth-looking title bar, a new file format to prevent backwards-compatability and force everyone to upgrade, and, inexplicably, a complete lack of menus.

So I have a few questions. Please answer if you can.

Is there really any significant difference between word processors of 1993 and word processors of 2008?

If not, why (apart from the obvious "making money" answer) do software companies keep making more versions?

Is there really any significant difference between .doc and .docx file formats?

Is there any reason why we shouldn't just use .rtf for everything?

Is there any reason why I shouldn't just give up on all word processors except TextEdit and vi?

Now that AppleWorks has reached "end-of-life" status and is no longer being sold, does that mean I can consider it abandonware and hork it for free somewhere?

weird week

Mar. 17th, 2007 04:46 pm
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
So first the computer crashed. It's been running pretty slowly for the last couple of months, and freezing up more often than usual for the last week or two, but Thursday morning it just wouldn't start up at all. Press button, get the usual startup chime, it shows the usual grey Apple logo startup screen... and nothing beyond that. Restarting doesn't improve things. Took it into a nearby Apple store yestereve to get some help; they took a look at it, decided the directory file was probably corrupted, and recommended DiskWarrior. Bought a copy of same, tried it out, didn't help. Called Apple store back, explained results, they're now thinking directory corruption is a symptom of hard drive mechanical failure. Will be going back to Apple store this evening for them to take another look. Will probably need to replace hard drive; could possibly lose all files. Arg.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, I had an awesome lesson planned out for the Geometry classes--take class outside, distribute clinometers, measure angles and distances of various windows, drainpipes, etc., go back inside, and calculate their heights. Worked really well for one period, mediocre for another period, and the other period was so rowdy and talkative that I couldn't even explain the directions to them, so I just kept them inside and gave them a worksheet.

Also on Thursday, the assistant principal called me in for a meeting. Said she has been getting numerous complaints from parents and students in my geometry classes that I'm not following the curriculum, my lessons are confusing and disconnected from the textbook, and my tests are not reflecting the material they learned from the homework. In my opinion most of this is nonsense--I am using the textbook as a guide for what material to present in what order; I do add supplementary material because this textbook is, in my professional opinion as a mathematician, horrible, and, in my professional opinion as a teacher, does not cover the standards. My tests are challenging but never have anything that wasn't covered in class; anyone who was paying attention should be able to do fine on them.

She didn't buy it. I am now under strict orders for the rest of the year to teach exclusively from the textbook without adding anything at all. I am to explain the new material as it is explained in the textbook, demonstrate examples from the textbook, assign homework problems from the textbook, and give tests from the textbook. With emphasis on review so that my many failing students can catch up. Looks like my geometry class is going to be boring, lifeless, and non-standard-covering for the rest of the year.

With all this talk of parent complaints, I really wasn't looking forward to Open House that very night. It turned out to be much better than I expected, though. I think 20 or 30 parents came in altogether, and overall had very positive comments. There were parents of low-scoring students asking for advice on how their students could do better in class, and parents of high-scoring students thanking me and encouraging me and letting me know how much their children appreciate the fact that they're actually being challenged and learning in my class. So that was very good to hear. Also, another geometry teacher told me later that evening that she suspects that the "numerous parent complaints" business was primarily the result of three of my failing students who happen to be from rather influential local families; they're supposed to be on the fast track to college, so naturally if they're failing it's my fault, and nothing makes administration bring down the hammer on teachers like parent complaints, especially influential parent complaints. Knowing that it's political rather than personal makes me feel a little better, but it still sucks.

Needless to say I won't be working at this school next year. I'm really hoping that it's just this district that's so badly corrupted, and not the whole public education system. It'd be really nice if I could find a better place to teach next year. Long-term, I'm thinking of teaching community college instead, but I'm willing to give public high school at least one more year.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Now that I'm looking back at the Chronicles of Narnia with more of an understanding of what Lewis was really writing about, I've found that I identify a lot more with the villains, because I realize they're meant to be symbolic of non-Christians like me. :-\


barnabas_truman: (Default)

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