Wednesday, July 30, 2014

ARR, MoAR!... in which i don't know what to say ..

.. except that something has to change; this shouldn't happen in a country that calls itself a democracy.
Urban teachers have a kind of underground economy, Cohen explained. Some teachers hustle and negotiate to get books and paper and desks for their students. They spend their spare time running campaigns on fundraising sites like Donο, and they keep an eye out for any materials they can nab from other schools. Philadelphia teachers spend an average of $300 to $\$$1,000 of their own money each year to supplement their $100 annual budget for classroom supplies, according to a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers survey.

~ from "Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing" @theatlantιc

Monday, July 28, 2014

ARR, MoAR!... a digital version of synesthesia?

as the washingtonpost calls it: "paris with an echo"

idle movements.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

ARR, MoAR!.. on the downside of passion.

this article is about how programming, despite the call to arms about learning how to code, is a low-status job.

when i read this post, though, it funded more like the plight of teachers:

.."that we allow “passion” to be used against us. When we like our work, we let it be known. We work extremely hard. That has two negative side effects. The first is that we don’t like our work and put in a half-assed effort like everyone else, it shows. Executives generally have the political aplomb not to show whether they enjoy what they’re doing, except to people they trust with that bit of information. Programmers, on the other hand, make it too obvious how they feel about their work. This means the happy ones don’t get the raises and promotions they deserve (because they’re working so hard) because management sees no need to reward them, and that the unhappy ones stand out to aggressive management as potential “performance issues”. The second is that we allow this “passion” to be used against us. Not to be passionate is almost a crime .."

~ from "How the Other Half Works: an Adventure in the Low Status of Software Engineers" @Michael0Church.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ARR, MoAR!.. on risk-aversion.

from "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" @NewRepublic:

So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

like any news article on education, one should take this report with a reasonable amount of skepticism ..

.. but being a university educator myself, there's some truth in it. generally my students are uncomfortable when i ask them problems in the exam that don't match up with their textbook problems (even though they are usually combinations of the same problems). the risk of a new obstacle, of not having seen something on which they will be evaluated .. it seems to really affect them.

for instance, last semester i think i spooked most of my linear algebra class with one geometry problem on each exam. [1]  at some point several students asked for practice geometry problems.

"everyone's worried about the geometry problem," one of them admitted. i tried to point out that it was only one of at most five problems and that i generally curve the scores ..

.. but (s)he didn't seem convinced.

[1] e.g. "Determine, if it exists, an equation for the sphere passing through the following four points." (i even reminded them what the equation of a 2-sphere in 3-space was!)

Friday, July 18, 2014

highly irrelevant, but ..

.. once, at a party full of mathematicians, a friend was trying to formulate this one lemma. [1] he drew a shape and said ..

.. "ok, so this is a triangle .."

.. but at that point i had one too many and suddenly blurred out ..

.. "no. that's just an approximation of a triangle!.."

.. at which time everyone around just just burst into hysterical laughter.

terrible, unrepentant mathematicians, we were .. :-)

[1] yeah, we were that far in. i truly suspect maths is a language, because many drunken mathmos i know still revert to their mother tongue, after one too many ..

Monday, July 14, 2014

ARR, MoAR!.. on picking-&-choosing.

now i don't feel so bad about not caring about number theory problems.
In one letter he even displayed contempt for the problem. His friend the German astronomer Heinrich Οlbers had written to Gaμss encouraging him to compete for a prize which had been offered by the Paris Academy for a solution to Fermαt's challenge: "It seems to me, dear Gaμss, that you should get busy about this." Two weeks later Gaμss replied, "I am very much obliged for your news concerning the Paris prize. But I confess that Fermat's Last Theorem as an isolated proposition has very little interest for me, for I could easily lay down a multitude of such propositions, which one could neither prove nor disprove."

~ from "Math's Hidden Woman" @pbs
so i suppose that even the best of us should pick and choose the tasks best suited for ourselves. i wonder, though, what Gaμss thought of the Rιemann hypothesis ..?

also, to explain the title of the cited article, Gaμss isn't its main subject .. but the French mathematician Marιe-Sophιe Germaιn.

it's quite an account! i wonder sometimes how many women in history have kept to the academic shadows because of a lack of social tolerance and the societally-induced hardships upon them.

if the best minds of their time, such as Gaμss as well as Hιlbert (in the case of Emmy Nοether) could see the potential of these scholars, then you'd think that others would be willing to listen .. \-:

Friday, July 11, 2014

on an unrelated note, Ctrl-F is amazing.

.. not that this is of any real importance to post about ..
.. but i don't know what i'd do without the "find-&-replace" command that is standard on most text-editors now. ("copy-&-paste" has been indispensable for checking long chains of estimates, too.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the next generation, part 3*: possibilities.

you know, today's meeting was pretty fun.

the student, having had a few days to think about a few concrete aspects of the problem, was a lot more comfortable showing me things that he thought about, telling me claims that he suspects are lemmas .. and why he thinks so.
what really helped, i think, is that it became clear to us that there was plenty we could learn, just by computing explicit configurations.

the student seemed to feel both awed and excited, that these were strange, interesting, yet accessible things for him. i think he realised today some scope of what was possible for him, that he started to believe in himself.
this isn't to say that i didn't guide the discussion, but i felt like the back &-forth today is suggestive, and this laissez faire style might actually work.

* .. and no, you didn't miss part 2; i haven't posted it yet.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

training the next generation (a first post in a potential thread)

so i finally have something ready to write about [1]: i'm advising a former calculus student of mine on a summer (undergraduate) research project .. and (for me, anyway) it's a scary thing.

many of my colleagues are old hands at this, i know;
so if i seem naive, it's because this is the first go and i don't know any better.

i worry, for good reason: he's studying a topic i know little to nothing about. in particular, it's not clear to me how easy or hard the problems i pose to him really are .. and as a result, i don't know how much frustration i'm throwing his way.

it depends, of course, how much the student is willing to work. if i give him a badly-posed problem, then a good work ethick can actually be bad .. in the sense that, by working with abandon for too long a time, he burns out and gets turned off by pure maths in the future.

in case it's not clear, i'm encouraging the student to make his own conjectures;
of the established theorems whose proofs he can easily understand,
i'm suggesting him to try his own variants.

in other words .. and for better or worse ..
i'm insisting that i don't give him orders;
he'll have to train himself to think like a pure mathematician,
but i'll be there if he needs advice or guidance.

i was worried about his technical chops before .. until i realise that if his proof-writing skills require work, then this is potentially the best way that he can practice them: by working with a topic that interests him.

let's hope these aren't another example of famous last words ..!

[1] as you can see at the end of this post, i'll be tagging these thoughts with the handle "Σ:nextgeneration" .. and the usual disclaimer follows: unlike other maths blogs out there, i'm not out to train or educate maths-inclined people out there, at least not directly. instead, i'm going to show you, through my mistakes, what not to do.