Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Planning for next fall already 

Well I'm officially signed on for at least one section of math for liberal arts majors in the fall. I will have a second class, it's just not yet clear whether I'll be doing another split-campus thing this year, or if I'll be teaching both classes at the same school.

I have another FT application in at another district and two more in the works. I keep checking for others, but so far little of interest. I guess I should get some resumes out to department chairs for adjunct work to make sure that I have something approaching full employment in the fall.

Thursday soup 

Return of an old feature. Today I made St Lioba Beer and Mushroom Soup. It had a bit of a bitter aftertaste, I think largely because the beer that I used was nearly a year old and was probably a bit bitter under the best of circumstances. My wife didn't particularly care for it, but she seldom likes my soups. I think with fresher beer, it could have been pretty good soup.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Organizing My Life: The flylady experience 

Well I've got roughly one full week of flylady time in now and I'm getting pretty well into the routine. There's a very good value in doing things exactly as prescribed at the beginning. Yes, I know it seems silly to shine your sink, but one thing that I've learned from teaching is that it pays to strictly follow instructions at the beginning of the process so that you understand why they're done before modifying them. That said, there are some things that I have had to modify. Like the make-up. I've interpretted that as shaving every day (something which I've allowed myself to be quite lax about). And for now the 27-fling boogie is just throwing things out. There's too much junk to worry about giving things away. I am thinking though that I want to institute 27-fling boogie for my e-mail inbox (currently at 392 messages!)

Changing the teaching routine 

I've got grading a bit more under control now, so now it's time to tackle another aspect of homework: I've been a bit bothered as a grade homework, thinking, "this question would have made for some good class discussion,"1 so I've started building this sort of thing into the class planning. I'm going to pick at least one question from each section to ask about in class so we can reinforce the concepts just a bit more. I'm hoping this will lead to better learning.

I'm also thinking that I may start doing classes using powerpoint (or perhaps Acrobat/pdfLaTeX so I can do real math). The big problem is how to handle some of the purely pictorial things that I do. I suppose with a bit of effort I can make my pdfLaTeX output readable in Illustrator and thence readable in PowerPoint (or I could splurge and get iWork so I can use Keynote for the presentations which reads PDF directly).

1 Or more realistically, me talking to the students. Sigh.

Netflix Reviews: To Kill a Mockingbird 

After a couple false starts during a busy week, we finally got to see the end of the latest Netflix film. At the beginning of the year a visitor suggested watching "Stand and Deliver" once a year to be a better math teacher. I would have to add that people should watch "To Kill a Mockingbird" once a year to be a better human being.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Frazz grocery shopping system 

Courtesy of Frazz:

Which interestingly is how I do my grocery shopping already. My last batch of groceries: * Not on the outside of the supermarket.

The downside is that cooking from fresh ingredients takes more time than just popping a frozen dinner in the microwave, and I have to shop more frequently (and I suspect that not buying processed food is also a bit more expensive). I've not really seen any obvious signs of weight loss, but I think that this is at least partly attributable to lack of exercise.

Organizing my life - Daily exercise 

I've been trying to get this habit going for a while. And my wife has talked about how she used to jog every day, so over the weekend, I told her, let's start then: We'll get up earlier each morning and go jogging. She demurred, but this morning, my sheer force of will and persistence won out. We woke up at 5.40a and set out to begin our every-other-day jogging practice. (One of the gay guys on Bravo, incidentally, says that just 15 minutes of aerobic exercise first thing in the morning will leave you feeling energized for the rest of the day).

Monday, March 21, 2005

Ordering my life 

I'm working on some more getting my life in order. The flylady routine is actually showing signs of progress. It's amazing what you can accomplish in 15 minutes of focussed work.

For grading and planning, I've found that I work best if I go some place like Border's to work. OK, then if that's the case, I guess that will be my new routine.

Which of course that brings up the possibility of a new recurring feature: Interesting people I've spotted at Border's. Today, it was an old man (I'm guessing in his seventies) reading what appeared to be a racy novel about cheerleader sex.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What I left out of yesterday's experiences 

  1. The young man outside Mervyn's selling bootleg CDs and DVDs.
  2. The salesman at one furniture store who stalked us the whole time we were there. Shortly after our arrival, he approached us and asked us if we needed any help. "No thanks," my dear wife said, "we're just looking." We looked at a variety of bedroom sets, some looking an awful lot like they came straight out of the Jetsons, others like they were meant to emulate the Fountain Valley Fry's with its classical ruins theme and others which were just plain ugly. And everywhere we went, there was the salesguy (who looked exactly like Ben Stein--hmm, what is Ben Stein doing these days?) lurking about 20 feet away. We even tried losing him a couple times to no avail.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Small victories 

What I did today
  1. Correctly signed up for flylady. That's Mr Flylady to you!
  2. Cleaned up a bit under the bed.
  3. Washed dishes and scrubbed the sink.
  4. Went shopping with my wife and found her a dresser that she liked (at the Robinsons-May clearance center),
  5. Made dinner (salmon, rice and sauteed vegetables).
  6. Went grocery shopping
  7. Cleaned the litter box
Still to do: Watch a movie, clean the dishes from dinner.

Netflix Reviews: Lost Boys of Sudan 

Another of my wife's picks. Not so crazy about this one, although it does raise the interesting question of what sort of financial aid resources are available for refugees who want to go to college in this country. I would guess that their visa status may make them ineligible for most standard financial aid. Doing a quick search on refugee scholarship didn't turn up anything that looked like it would help the boys depicted in this film, although I didn't look too deeply.

It occurred to us that there would be a real need for a scholarship for refugee children that would be based strictly on academic ability and promise. No requirement that the student be desirous of returning to their homeland to fix things, no leadership test, no restrictions based on country of origin. Just an opportunity to deliver on the promise of America.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Test-generating software 

Last year, I found myself thinking that some test-generating software could be nice. I've installed, but not used the software which came with the textbook, but I decided it would be more "fun" to write my own. And so I have. I had an early version for the first two tests which could only shuffle the questions. For the third test, I wanted to have a section where all students would have to do some calculations on a dataset, so I decided that it was time to incorporate the ability to select between alternate versions of a question. Mission accomplished. Next up is the ability to shuffle the selections of multiple choice questions and I may (assuming I can figure out how to do so) post the program here. It's a fairly simple perl script and takes ugly text files as its mark-up and I use it to output LaTeX. I suppose it could also do troff assuming anyone still uses that. Or even XML.

My wife thinks that the question and template files should be XML and she's probably right, but I learned to program in the 80s and old habits die hard. It's also not object-oriented code. And the whole program is just over 100 lines. So it doesn't fit any contemporary programming paradigms at all.

Celebrity Justice: Robert Blake 

Talking with my wife about the Blake acquittal yesterday, I put forward my basic theory of American justice: Rich, white guys don't get convicted. In fact, the whole drama surrounding O.J. Simpson's trial really boiled down to which would be more powerful: Rich guys don't get convicted or Black guys do (as it turns out it was a split decision: The Juice won the criminal trial but lost the civil trial). I think it was a Du Pont who killed his neighbor, cut him into pieces, admitted it and was still acquitted.

My wife then asked about Scott Peterson, but I was quick to point out that Peterson wasn't rich (no one seems to know why this particular spousal murder has been such big headlines while many others get quietly prosecuted).

With Michael Jackson, my prediction is that he'll be found guilty because being a disturbingly frightening freak will outweight all else (including, even, innocence).

Netflix: Pennies From Heaven, Disk 1 

This is the reason that I signed up for Netflix. Access to some of the more obscure titles in their library.

I first watched this mini-series almost ten years ago when I had cable. Unfortunately, I had a cable outage when the last episode was aired, so I never got to see how it ended. I've been patiently waiting for it to come out on DVD or video orbe re-run on cable or whatever. My wish is finally granted.

The first episode is a bit slowly paced and my wife gave up on it about 10 minutes in, which means that I can watch the rest of it whenever I want and get through my queue that much faster.

The format is a bit odd, with the characters periodically breaking into fantasy lip-sync routines with more than a few really wonderful, if surreal dance routines along the way, but I'm definitely hooked. It's off to the mailbox so I can get disk 2 that much sooner.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Netflix reviews: M, Dance With Me, Promises 

My wife and I signed up for Netflix and we've been busy watching movies ever since. I figure I may as well report on the films here.

The first of the lot was M, which features a young Peter Lorre as a pedophile serial killer. An interesting film to watch. It was Fritz Lang's first talkie and there's absolutely no music in the soundtrack at all, not even during the opening credits. It's an imaginative plot and Lorre's acting as the killer is quite amazing.

Dance With Me was my wife's choice. Pretty awful, I thought. For some reason, they cast singers as dancers, and even a non-dancer like myself could see that the dancing was pretty poor. There were only two dance scenes worth watching and the story itself was so weak that it was completely dispensible.

Promises was another choice by my wife (although it was in the "us" queue). This is a fantastic documentary with interviews with Israeli and Palestinian kids in Israel. Better still, amongs the extras on the disk are some follow-up footage of the kids (first at the Oscar ceremonies, then more recently, just last year before the DVD release). This greatly enhances the film as the first thing my wife and I wondered at the end of the movie was what happened with the kids. Now we know.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The state of the internet 

It occurs to me that I've been on the internet for nearly 20 years now (since back in the days when we talked about EARNET and BITNET and ARPANET and all that). During some talk about the future of the internet on NPR today, I found myself thinking about the blogosphere and what is really its most direct predecessor, Usenet News (see Google Groups to get some idea of what it is/was all about). I eventually gave up on Usenet for two main reasons:
  1. Any e-mail address attached to usenet posts gets stuffed full of spam
  2. After a while the discussions all become the same
It's that second point that's the bigger concern, I think. I was, for a while, an active poster on soc.religion.christian, but then I realized that it was all polemic and apologetics. Predestination vs free will, works vs faith, bible vs tradition. And while this is interesting, it didn't really hold my attention, especially once I realized that not one person would ever change their views. I see some of this same sort of thing happening with the political blogs.

After all, it's far easier to be polemic than to be constructive. I'm not going to change my political views because of something that I read on Little Green Footballs, so I'm not going to read Little Green Footballs. It turns out that this can be empirically demonstrated (the figure at the right comes from a study by Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance and is just one of their notable findings, the other being that political blog posts tend to be more about being critical of figures on the opposite side of the political divide than being positive about figures on the same side. It's the old s.r.c debates all over again, but in politics. It wouldn't surprise me, in fact, that there are religious blogs out there which are all about why the Catholics/Lutherans/Mormons/Jews/Muslims/Buddhists/Whatever have it all wrong.

Is there hope? Maybe in small ways. I guess, from my e-mail, that some prospective teachers were able to get a (perhaps frightening) preview of what teaching life is like. But the fact of the matter is that even the top dogs in this more social and supportive area of the blogosphere (Ms Frizzle comes to mind as probably the queen of the edubloggers) don't get the kind of readership that some of the third-tier political blogs get.

8 weeks in 

So having completed 8 weeks of teaching community college, my thoughts thus far:

In other news, I turned in my application for the F/T position. I'm thinking that I should make a point of getting applications and resumes out for any other F/T or P/T positions that are out there. Especially with the very real possibility that my wife might take another job and we would move from one side of the megalopolis to the other, which would mean that I should be looking at those possibilities myself.

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