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

Monday, October 31, 2005

A day of bad colloquia 

So the mini-conference that I went to over the weekend was a series of impenetrable talks given to an audience largely too shy to ask questions (I was guilty of this myself). The first talk, I could at least follow the outline of the talk and I think that with a bit of effort and research, I can take my notes and understand the talk. The same cannot be said for the next talk: He was using a LaTeX beamer presentation and with his first slide, said, "these are a bunch of definitions which you already know," and quickly moved on. I was too shy to say something and quickly lost the thread of the talk since I had no idea what h+(m) was. I ended up leaving early, although I'm optimistic that the next time this mini-conference comes along, I'll be able to understand more of it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Random Ten 

  1. "For You," Bruce Springsteen, The Essential Bruce Springsteen
  2. "Reach Out, I'll Be There," Michael McDonald, Motown Two
  3. "Chameleon," Squint, Squint
  4. "Morning Light," Kevin Gilbert, kg-raritiesv1
  5. "Against All Odds," Phil Collins, Poplar Creek '85 (Disc 1)
  6. "Breathe (2AM)," Anna Nalick, Breathe (2AM) - Single
  7. "Lay Low," Zoo People, FM 101.9 New Music Sampler: Sketchbook
  8. "What'd I Say, Pt. 1," Ray Charles, The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years
  9. "The Night Is Still Young," Billy Joel, Billy Joel: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 & 2
  10. "H Gyala," Twelfth Night

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Complex Analysis midterm 

So I got it back today. Out of 50 points, I got 23. The median was 19. So at least I was in the top half of the class. Of course, in the process of studying, I caught up on reading the text and was able to get a little bit ahead before today's class and that's making a big difference, so this will have to continue for the remainder of the semester and perhaps I can salvage some learning opportunity out of this class.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Worse than I hoped, better than I feared 

Well the complex analysis exam, studying for which has made me largely silent here, has come and gone. I managed to answer 4 out of 5 questions (and I'm reasonably certain that I did those correctly), but the fifth, which was essentially prove a theorem from the text, I was unable to begin. But now I know to expect that sort of question on the final exam. I do have a lot of work to do to bring my homework grade up to an acceptable level, but I'm guessing that it will be a struggle to crack 80% in this class. I can only hope that that's good enough.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Happy birthday to me 

My birthday took place this past month and I just thought I'd share what I got for my birthday: And no, neither my parents nor my in-laws are necessarily that hip to my needs and desires. In reality, the in-laws told my wife that she had a budget of $100 to buy me a gift from them and I told my wife that the DVD sets would be nice. Likewise my parents sent me a check and that's what I opted to spend it on.

A question for algebraic geometry types 

Is there a higher-dimensional analog for Bezout's theorem? (To clarify, since there seem to be at least three theorems that go by this name, what I'm refering to is this:
Given two curves f(x,y)=0 and g(x,y)=0 in CP2, if there are no common components, the number of points of intersection of the two curves (including multiplicity) is deg(f)deg(g)
My intuitive sense is that at higher dimensions, instead of counting points, we count the degrees of the curves generated by the intersections. e.g., in three dimensions, the intersection of two planes will be a line (1*1=1), the intersection of a plane and a 2nd degree surface will be a 2nd degree curve or two lines. I suppose tangent points probably turn into nice surfaces once we look beyond R3 to C3. But it seems sufficiently basic that surely someone has already mapped this out and proven it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Friday random 10 

At least one of these sparked an e-mail, which has reminded me that I wanted to try and keep this habit going... A nice finish for the upcoming festivities.
  1. "Mr. Boilermaker," Sirius, Running In Circles
  2. "Supper's Ready," Genesis, Foxtrot
  3. "Go To The Bank," James, Whiplash
  4. "Concerto for Bass: 2. Andante Cantabile," Antonio Capuzzi, Music Minus One: Intermediate to Advanced Solos for Double Bass
  5. "PETER GUNN / TRIO," Tony Levin, Live Boots
  6. "Angry Cockroaches," Cooder Graw, Live at Billy Bob's Texas: Cooder Graw
  7. "When I'm Down," Chris Cornell (with Eleven), Euphoria Morning
  8. "Solomon Has Sung," Blue Lit Souls, The Stairwell Years
  9. "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," Crash Test Dummies, Live At The World Cafe - Vol. 2
  10. "Dinner With Drac," John Zacherle

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I've decided to organize my notes on complex analysis as a wiki. So of course I'm spending more time learning wikimedia than complex analysis.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I had a feeling that would happen 

I went to a grad student association meeting yesterday and I ended up as an officer. I just wanted to find out about conference funding.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Mid-course feedback survey 

I'm thinking of passing out a mid-course feedback survey to my students next week. For those of you who do this, what sort of questions have given yhou the best feedback about your teaching?

Gotta remember 

One thing that becomes very clear reading reviews on ratemyprofessor.com is that students don't want their profs to make them feel stupid. After grading this last exam, this will be a real challenge today.

What is? 

I'm planning on going to a little local conference, and in attempting to decipher the titles (no abstracts yet) of the talks, I'm left puzzled by what "gonality" is. Here's an example of its use which almost defines gonality, but then I'm left confused by Pic and all the rest of that.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Disquisitiones Arithmeticae 

A cursory search hasn't succeeded: Does anyone out there know of a source of the original Latin text of Gauss's Disquisitiones Arithmeticae? Amazon is only selling translations and ditto for the MTU library (not the selling part, but the translation part). You'd think that someone would have put this online somewhere along the line.

Joey, do you like movies about gladiators? 

By a bit of odd coincidence, currently at home from Netflix and the Library (which as its own queue): Gladiator, Ben-Hur

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spring schedule 

I got my tentative teaching schedule at MTU today. It's got so much wrong with it, I'm amused:
  1. I'm teaching a different class. So much for being able to re-use all of my wonderful class materials next semester.
  2. I teach five days a week. Since I'll be taking four classes next semester, I was planning on not teaching off campus and was looking forward to the possibility of having a couple of days without (formal) student contact.
  3. I have two sections with different numbers of meetings per week. It's enough of a hassle dealing with teaching MW and TTh sections of a course. Doing this with MWF and TTh would be a huge hassle.
  4. One section begins at 8a. In February, Mrs Prosciutto and I are moving to the other side of the megalopolis so my current commute which gets me from home to MTU in under half an hour will likely turn into an hour commute under good conditions. Driving to get to MTU at 8a is NOT good conditions. Add in the fact that I'd be teaching early and having class late makes for an awkwardly scheduled day.
On a related scheduling note, I realized that I'm currently spending more time in the classroom than all of my professors put together (3 classes being taken, 4 being taught, vs a 2 class teaching load each for the profs).

Update (10/13): Having been invited to indicate whether it was acceptable or not, I asked for a change to a MWF schedule and a later start if possible. My new schedule has me starting at 10, teaching 3 days a week and I'm teaching the same class as I am this semester. There's a part of me that's disappointed a little: It would have been nice to have higher-performing students, but I guess that'll happen some time in the future...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Reading about it on 43 Folders, I figured I'd give it a try. I'm about an hour in. The basic premise: Grab a timer. Do 10 minutes focused sustained work, then take a 2 minute break to do the fun stuff (blogging, surfing, etc.). I expect that I can get in another 2 1/2 hours before heading back to school this afternoon. It seems to work best for tasks which do not require sustained time, but I'm at least making a dent into a lot of what I'm working on.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


My wife and I went to see Proof last night. The short review: Go see it, it's good. There's not really any mathematical content, but that's ok, because a math movie would in itself be pretty dull most likely. I was the only person in the theatre who laughed out loud when Jake Gyllenhaal was trying to come up with the name of the bright woman mathematician at Stanford and Gwynneth Paltrow offered Sophie Germain. And I knew (although I didn't know how) that when Gwynneth said that there was nothing interesting about the amount of time she'd spent in bed that it would eventually end up as 1729. Great acting all around, but especially from Gwynneth Paltrow who will probably at least get an oscar nomination out of the film.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Google Print saves my butt 

I could have figured it out pretty quickly, but I wanted to look up a quick transformation on a cubic (given y=x^3+ax^2+bx+c, was it X=x+a/3 or X=x-a/3 which makes the x^2 term vanish). I knew exactly where to find it in Needham's Visual Complex Analysis, but the book was at home and I was at school. I try google print, and sure enough Needham is in there and with a quick search on "inflection" I had my answer. How convenient.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Seen on campus today 

A middle-aged man, shabbily dressed, digging plastic bottles out of the garbage cans... and putting them into the recycle bins about 6 feet away.

A test 

So I had my first test today in Algebra (the one I'm taking, not the one I'm teaching). The test was pretty simple, but I made a couple of dumb mistakes: I failed to DO 2/3s of one question (stupid, I saw it, but then forgot about the follow-up questions as I was writing the answer) and messed up on normal subgroups of D6 (this was one that I could have gotten right had I gone back and checked my work). My estimated score: 104/120, plus or minus depending on how partial credit is scored. So moral: 20 minutes is plenty of time to re-read the test and make sure that I did everything correctly. At least I didn't finish first. I was afraid of that happening. Not sure how longg of a gap there was between me and the next person though.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Why oh why? 

Is it so hard to get my students to actually THINK?

Seen on campus 

On a T-shirt: "I'm not a gynecologist, but I wouldn't mind taking a look."

On the seat of a girl's sweatpants: "Juicy."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Meet the blogroll: Ars Mathematica 

OK, now we're getting into new additions to the blog roll. What I have listed at the right is just a fraction of what I actually read, much of which is on the cusp of getting dropped from my reading list or added here. I figure one new blog on the blogroll per week is probably about right.

So the new blog this week is Ars Mathematica. Fortunately, the rather unintutive links to continuations of articles have been mostly abandoned and instead we're left with occasional discoveries of mathematics on the net and snippets of math news (like the recent decease of Serge Lang). The audience here appears to be grad students and math PhDs, as there's frequently content which borders on the abstruse, but for getting some sense of what's happening in mathematics, I find it a great read.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Book of the month club: My Freshman Year (Chapters 1 and 2) 

Let's see if I can follow through with this idea. The first book that I selected was My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student by Rebekah Nathan.

I'm picking non-fiction on topics related to academia and college life so that people can discuss even if they've not read the book (although, presumably, reading the book will make this a much richer experience).

So first, a bit of background. The author, a cultural anthropologist, enrolled in classes and moved into the dorms to study her students and find out a bit more about what makes them tick. I suppose there are interesting things to be said about the ethical dimensions of such a study and the discussion at Inside Higher Ed beats most of this to death even though the participants in the discussion hadn't read the book yet.

I'm a bit unsure of what to write here, as this is a bit of a jump from my usual writing. I have my own points of reference to compare with Nathan's experiences: First there's my experiences as a student: I did my undergrad in the late 90s at a small private college, and received my math ed degree at a large commuter university. Then there's my experiences as a faculty member: At NCC and DCC, the two community colleges where I teach, and at MTU the mid-tier public university where I'm also teaching and taking grad classes.

Of all of these, MTU is probably closest to Nathan's AnyU, although it seems that it has a much higher proportion of commuters than does AnyU. We have dorms and I'm vaguely aware of where they are, but when I asked at the beginning of the semester only 1 or 2 students out of nearly 80 actually lived in them.

The second chapter is where we start to get into things as we learn some of the details of dorm life. My point of reference, again, is 15-20 year-old memories of dorm life. Much seems similar. The rules on alcohol are a bit more stringent (in my day, not only did underage students freely drink in the dorm lounge, they bought their beer from vending machines in the dorm), but the attitudes are the same. We've not gotten to any binge drinking at all, but that was a serious and growing problem when I was an undergrad (in fact, I think that the class of '90 was really the class that won the prize for screwing things up: Prior to us alcohol poisoning incidents were a rarity: I think we peaked around 2 or 3 per semester.

The door decoration thing seems pretty consistent from my day. As a general rule, doors were decorated with messages/pictures/etc. that were intended to demonstrate the individuality and coolness of the inhabitant (the really daring chose the unhip to demonstrate their hipness. Me, I had pictures of plane crashes and the message "668 neighbor of the beast".)

I think that there's some relevance of the door decoration and something which has gotten some mention recently in the blogworld. Note for example this and this at Tall Dark and Mysterious (there was another post, "I don't heart message t's" or something of that nature that I read elsewhere which I cannot find now.

And it certainly would seem to be the case that what's happening here is really a case of the students wanting to declare themselves individuals (even as they end up conforming to a new standard, an ironly lost on them, but then wasn't it lost on us as well? Actually, by us, I mean people not me, because, after all, I doubt that anyone else has ever decorated their dorm room door with photos of plane crashes cut from the pages of the local dog trainer).

I've written a fair amount here, and I'll leave things up for discussion now. Yes, questions about the book are welcome, and there will be another installment (perhaps better-written and focused) next week.

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