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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

100 things about me in 100 days: #20 

Well, let's see, I've got 81 things to go, and since I'm working chronologically, and I've just about finished my first 5 years of life, that means that for the remaining 32.5 years of my life, I need to have 2-3 items for my life. So let's talk a bit about me as a 6-year-old

20. (Inspired by my wife) I led the reading section for the smart kids in first grade while the teacher taught the rest of the class. Because I was reading so well, the teacher decided that the best thing to do was to have me be the teacher for the other 3-4 kids who were able to read above grade level and lead them through more advanced readings. And for some reason, a bunch of six year-olds happily sat in a small group in the back of the room and read together while the other kids had to memorize bizarre fruit-color-phoneme associations. I never understood that aspect of phonetics as it was taught in 1974, but then, since I already read, it didn't matter much.

Monday, January 30, 2006

100 facts about me in 100 days: #19 

19. I had a bizarre obsession about Burma in the first grade. I know exactly how it came about though: I had a book about cats (see fact 17) and decided that our mixed breed domestic shorthair was in fact a burmese cat.

I was so into Burma, I really wanted the continuing saga of "Happy Hippo" which we were writing in class to go to Burma, so at the end of each story, I wrote, "Next: Happy Hippo Goes to Burma". But at every turn I was foiled by the assignment we were given. When I finally did get to write "Happy Hippo Goes to Burma," I was so habituated to writing "Next: Happy Hippo Goes to Burma" at the end of every story, that I wrote it at the end of that one as well.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Moving tips from my mother-in-law 

We should take the more delicate things to the new apartment ourselves rather than let the movers take them. Like the cats.

100 things about me in 100 days: #18 

18. I've chewed gum exactly once in my life. September 17th, 1974. It was Brian P's birthday and he passed out gum to everyone. About a year earlier, my father had declared that his children were no longer going to eat candy, and being sufficiently young to consider what my dad said to be unassailable dogma, I went along with it. Except this one time. Of course having no gum chewing experience, I didn't know what to do with the gum so after chewing it a while, I swallowed it before we went across the hall for our math and science instruction.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Packing packing packing 

I've been periodically updating the totals in the progress bars at the right. In particular, the packing one is one to watch. To get sort of a live view, you can try clicking on older posts and see how much the bar goes down with each post.

100 things about me in 100 days #17 

17. As a young child, I absolutely worshipped cats. So much so, that I wanted to be a cat, and I would "comb" my hair by licking my hand and rubbing it over my head.

Friday, January 27, 2006

100 things about me in 100 days: #16 

16. I worked out the mathematics of Eenie Meenie Miney Moe so that in the hypothetical case that the two girls that I was in love with at the age of four came marching to my front door from opposite directions down my street, I could pick the one that I was really in love with while making it all seem random. Yeah, I was a big nerd already then.

Friday random 10 

  1. "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta," Geto Boys, Geto Boys: Greatest Hits (Screwed & Chopped)
  2. "Dance Me to the End of Love," Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love
  3. "Pensando en tí (Dust in the Wind)," Mägo de Oz,
  4. "Staring Into Nothing," Kevin Gilbert, The Shaming Of The True
  5. "Asleep," Adrian Belew,
  6. "I Like It," Mark Pender Band, Mark Pender Band
  7. "Est-Ce Que Tu," Dusty Trails, Dusty Trails
  8. "Georgia," Ray Charles,
  9. "Dead Man's Party," Oingo Boingo, Best O' Boingo
  10. "Atom Heart Mother," Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More classes 

I've now been to one of every class that I'm taking. One prof speaks rather quietly which is a bad match for my bad hearing. But this will apparently be remedied next week.

I talked with quiet prof afterwards because he's one of the few people in the department with any acquaintance at all with the area of mathematics which most interests me, and described the idea that I had last week at the workshop. He thinks that it shows some promise. There's at least one book that I need to pick up.

100 things about me in 100 days: #14 & #15 

Here's a couple of music things:

14. I taught myself to play the piano before I started kindergarten. Granted it wasn't much more than a single song, which I was happy to play over and over again. My parents on the other hand were less excited about hearing this particular 8-note song repeated ad infinitum, so they sent me to piano lessons, more out of self-defense than anything else, I suspect.

15. I learned to read music about the same time that I learned to read. It must have been a bit later since I couldn't have learned the abovementioned song without some reading skills, although I suppose I just needed to be able to identify numbers and connect them with the pictures. One consequence of this is that I really have no memories of not being able to read words or music (although cursive was a mystery to me until the 3rd grade).


I picked up Reservoir Dogs at the library and re-watched yesterday. Chris Penn turns up dead.

I think I'm going to go get all of their John Travolta movies today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

First day 

I've got 16 students in theory, although only 15 came today.

I really need to look over the printout of my slides before class and keep them handy while lecturing.

This group of kids is really passive. But I do already have a couple favorites who are going to be extra-motivated to do well. I've asked for some information on students which is a bit new for me, and I'm hoping that it will help build a raport. Also the smaller class size should help.

100 things about me in 100 days: #12 & #13 

We tackle some of my earliest academic factoids today:

12. I could read when I started kindergarten. I credit Sesame Street. And I suppose my mother, although my memory of my mom's teaching me to read is primarily of her lying on the couch, demanding that I recite the alphabet to her and ignoring my claims that "the alphabet is for sissies."

13. I was kicked out of the afternoon program in kindergarten because I was badly behaved. Because I could already read (and presumably do some basic math, my school had a program where the brightest kids in kindergarten came back after lunch and had some classes with the first graders. It was mostly math, but I imagine there must have been some reading. About a month into the program I was kicked out because I was a discipline problem. My mother, enragegd with me over this disgrace, didn't allow me to spend my newly freed afternoons playing, but rather required me to learn math and reading from workbooks that she'd bought at Jewel or A&P or something like that. Of course my mom, not being trained in any sort of teaching apparently bought the wrong books or did something incorrectly because when I started first grade, I was doing math at a 3rd grade level and reading at a 5th grade level.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Getting ready for the semester 

I've been busy today getting stuff ready for the first day of class (tomorrow). I've got syllabi and the first assignment copied, turned in my office hours and syllabus at the department office and cleared up most of the old cans and bottles from my desk (I'll need to offload these to the car perhaps tomorrow so that I can take them to the recycling and get some cash).

One of my courses was cancelled for low enrollment, so I've instead had my hours in the tutoring center upped. A bit of math shows that teaching two classes would have given me a total of ten hours scheduled per week. I currently have 14 hours scheduled. That carries the implication that the second section would have required four hours per week of time outside of class for everything to be equal. Not the case, so I'm hoping that I've picked reasonably low-traffic hours to work so I can get some of my own work done while in the tutoring center. Probably not though.

The big bonus is that the section that is still running only has 15 students registered. I'm hoping that it stays that low come the actual start of classes. I'm guessing that there might be a last-minute influx of students when winter intersession grades come in, but if the intersession students in general followed the advice I gave my students last semester, there should be a low fail rate for that class. This will be a pretty high-stakes semester for the students since failure requires them to attend summer school. I'd hate to teach the second summer session version of this class: That's the last chance to pass before being shown the door.

I have a notice about one student from last semester who apparently, since he failed the class, didn't drop and didn't show up for most of the semester will have to pay back some of his financial aid (!) if he didn't have some sort of academic activity for the class after a certain cut-off date. I was thinking of cutting him a break and considering his last e-mail to me as an academic activity: "advisement"), but it's before the cut-off date. Since I offered to give him tutoring and help try to keep him prepared for the re-take of the class and he didn't take me up on the offer, it looks like he owes the university some money.

A bowl of week-old carrot ginger soup in Karl Rove's lap. 

(It's a mystery.)

100 facts about me in 100 days: #9, #10 & #11 

As I crack into the double digits, a couple facts based around my earliest memories. I have no idea if any of this is unusual. When I've mentioned these to other people, I've gotten the sort of looks that cold either mean, "well, duh, that goes through everyone's head at the age of 3" or "my God, are you some sort of space alien?"

9. I was apparently a philosophical 3-year old. Because I can remember contemplating the meaning of life at that age. Of course being three, my conclusion was that I could lock myself in the bathroom forever as long as people would pass me food through the linen closet, since I would have everything that I needed in life then: Food, water and someplace to pee and poop.

10. I was aware of the aribtrary relationship between the signifier and the signified as a 3-year-old. In particular, I realized that there was no particular reason that certain words had the meaning that they did, or that certain ideas were connected to certain combinations of sound. I particularly disliked the word "hamper" and resolved that when I had a family, we would not use the word "hamper" in my house.

11. I was concerned about the reality of TV shows as a 3-year-old. I was very concerned about people dieing dying on television and insisted that my mom confirm that they were just sleeping. It didn't occur to me that they could just lie very still with their eyes closed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

100 things about me in 100 days: #7 & #8 

What I was like as a very young child:

7. I was a quiet baby. So quiet in fact that apparently my parents once forgot to put me in the car when they were leaving the house. Only my brothers' intervention kept me from being confiscated by DCFS.

8. As a young child I was apparently very gregarious. Or at least open to suggestion. I remember overhearing my parents say that I was a very friendly child, and the next day while in gymnastics class at the Y, I figured that since I was very friendly, I should start talking to the girl behind me in the line of kids waiting to do tumbling on the mats. Her name was Carol and as far as I know, I never met her again.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The patron saint of mathematicians 

Talking about saints with my wife, we started wondering if there was a patron saint of mathematicians. It turns out that there is. Actually, there are at least two, but one of them has a little problem: Apparently she didn't actually exist.

100 things in 100 days: #5 & #6 

I suppose I'm getting up to my birth in the chronology now, so here's two more about that point in my life:

5. I'm the youngest of three sons. Or perhaps more interestingly, I'm part of a family in which female births are exceptionally rare. We're currently at ten consecutive male births.

6. My maternal grandfather took an instant liking to me when I was born. Not that notable until you're aware that up until that point, my grandfather had no interet in babies at all. He didn't pay much attention to my cousins or brothers until they were walking and talking, and even then he wasn't too interested. But with me, he apparently saw me at the hospital and decided that here was a baby he could like.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

100 things about me in 100 days: #3 and #4 

Continuing on the catching up with 1B*, I offer a couple facts about my name:

3. I'm almost but not quite named after my father. Usually it's the oldest child who gets named after dad, but in my case they waited for son #3. And then gave me a different middle name, so the only way to distinguish myself from dad is to write at least a middle initial. When I started college I contemplated switching to my middle name (so I could have been V. Tony Prosciutto), and in fact, I used a sort of random selection to determine whether or not I would do this: On half of my college applications (based on whether they let me write V. Tony or Vito T.), I used my middle name as my preferred name. As it turned out, I attended one of the first name colleges and now I'm forever Vito.

4. My first name is from a language that has no connection to any part of my ethnic heritage. OK, this is a bit of a stretch on a thing about me, but it has kind of annoyed me. I really would have liked an ethnic first name (and I made up for it with my blog pseudonym, by going way ethnic). What's more, because I share a first name with a well-known cartoon character, I've endured endless jokes about it as a consequence throughout my life. And yet I would still like to name one of my children Atticus.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Unfulfilled goals 

I had set a goal for myself at the end of last semester that I would prepare beamer presentations for every class session this semester before the semester began. I start teaching on Wednesday. I've got two classes done (the second is actually the first exam of the semester, since I've decided it makes the most sense to write the tests first, then prepare the lead-up lectures.

The big things I got from the workshop 

  1. I was a fair amount out of my depth at the conference.
  2. But not so much that I wasn't able to follow the gist of most of the talks that I did attend
  3. And this is definitely a field that I want to pursue.
  4. And a part of me kind of wishes I'd stayed till the end, but there's enough to be done here that I'm glad I'm back.

100 things about me in 100 days: #1 and #2 

Because 1b* indicated some flagging enthusiasm for her 100 things project, I've decided to offer her some moral support by giving it a shot myself. I'll do two a day until I catch up with her though.

My plan, try for chronological order. I'll start with a bit of ancestry factoids, which, if you believe that genetics is destiny says something about me, and if you don't, it still is interesting that these would be the factoids that I would choose.

1. I'm a direct descendent of a Catholic priest. One of our family legends is that my great-great-grandfather was a Catholic priest. We're pretty sure that it's true, and it's a big part of why my great grandfather was bitterly anti-Catholic his whole life (he knew who his father was and hated that he never acknowledged him as his child). The family legend that we're less sure of (because, apparently, my great grandfather was less consistent about this) is that my great-great-grandmother was a nun.

2. My great grandparents, across the board, were communists. My ancestors all immigrated to the US at about the same time (the first decade of the twentieth century), and the American Communist Party was quite effective at recruiting among immigrants of this era. Apparently a bit part of their appeal was in playing on immigrants' nostalgia for the old country by doing things like putting on plays in the old language or having social activities based around the culture of the old country. My personal favorite artifact of this part of my family history is a photograph (which has my grandmother in it somewhere), of the Karl Marx Singing Society.

Books for sale at the library 

On my way back to Megalopolis from Cosmopolia, I stopped at a library which was selling some math books (they had the only copy of Projective Planes available at amazon, and I'd emailed the seller to find out where they were in hopes of sparing myself the steep amazon marketplace shipping charges). Among the books on the shelves that they were selling, Pruning Library Collections.

My church gets one right 

There'd been some nail-biting among Catholics who reject Biblical literalist interpretations of Genesis 1 (and the perfect thing to ask the creationists that you encounter: How many coats do you own? And then ask them why they reject reading Matthew 5 literally but insist on reading Genesis 1 literally. But I digress.)

So we have a report (via Palaeoblog) that the Vatican has finally reaffirmed its anti-creationist stance (and in particular has rejected the rather perplexing offering from the creationists, ID, which manages to be both bad science and bad religion in one compact package).

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Should I stay or should I go... I'm gonna go 

but a part of me regrets it. All week at the workshop, I've known that I've been out of my depth (the talks by Dr Mumbles being the low point), but I realized as I was falling asleep that I am picking up stuff. A question which occurred to me on Tuesday, I was able to formulate in the terms of the workshop topic yesterday. It probably falls into the category of really easy to state problems which are really tough to solve, but I'm cautiously optimistic that it's not (in particular, if I can find a way of eliminating one of the variables in the equation and changing its form, it becomes a well-defined equation from which I can in a well-defined way find the solutions and prove something of some significance.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The lost post 

I noticed that Tuesday's post disappeared. I'll try and recreate it somewhat: The Y has internet access. I noticed a shared playlist in iTunes, "Rose Moore's Music" I browsed through it, and discovered that Rose Moore is apparently a musician since she had some music of her own in her iTunes (labelled Rose Moore demo). Nice stuff. You can download her CD for the ridiculously low price of $1.37.

But mostly, hey Rose Moore, if you're ever googling yourself and you find this, "hey, nice music. I kind of wish you hadn't turned off your computer before I was done listening to it."

The cosmopolis curse 

I've been to Cosmopolis several times in my past. And it always ends the same. I just have to leave. Sometimes I last a week, sometimes, like this time around just a couple of days, but I need to get out of here. In theory, Cosmopolis should be my kind of place. Heck, when I arrived Monday evening, I walked around and thought, I could live here (which would be good since two of the potential good PhD institutions I could attend are in the Cosmopolis area). But it didn't last. So tomorrow morning, I check out early from the YMCA and head back to Megalopolis. I'll stop and visit some friends on the way home, so it will be a full day of travel for me, most likely stopping for dinner somewhere on the way home, but I'm done with the workshop.

Workshop observations 

Monday, January 16, 2006


Russian Violets inspired me to post a bit about packing with her tale of finally (after six months) almost finishing unpacking the books.

This is the exact opposite of my usual modus operandi for unpacking after moving: I unpack the books, the stereo and the CDs, then lose interest in the process and have boxes of stuff lieing about until the next move.

My wife, naturally, is not pleased with this state of affairs, so as an attempt at appeasement, as I've been packing for the current move, I'm also taking stuff out of boxes and throwing away, or sorting the stuff. Among some of the discoveries have been at least two brand new, never-before-worn sweatshirts, an out-of-focus photograph of me with a bird no my shoulder, some old dry-erase markers which STILL WORK (if only they would buy these for the classrooms where I've had to use a whiteboard), and some other stuff that I remember thinking that I should blog when I first saw them.

But now, I'm out of town for a week for a workshop. But I've got free internet, so I'll likely be posting more this week.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday random 10 

  1. "You Oughta Know", Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
  2. "I'm In Love With My Car", Queen, Greatest Hits, We Will Rock You Edition
  3. "Embrace Me", Gabriela Anders, Last Tango In Rio
  4. "Manteca", Dizzie Gillespie, Dizzie's Diamonds
  5. "I Cannot Believe It's True", Phil Collins, Poplar Creek '85 (Disc 1)
  6. "Rise Again", Steve Hackett, Darktown
  7. "Knock On Wood", Stone Soul
  8. "Will I Ever Make It Home", Ingram Hill, June's Picture Show
  9. "Dirt", Phish, 2000-7-15
  10. "Blow It Out", Features, Exhibit A

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Organizing my life: The 3 minute shower 

One of my chief difficulties in mornings is getting in and out of the shower in a reasonable amount of time. What's more, I'm often so tired, I don't remember things like whether or not I shampooed my hair already or not. My idea of how to get around this: Record a "song" on my computer which consists of reminders of what to do at particular times. I timed myself in the shower this morning and figured that 20 second intervals would work out fine and I could do something along the lines of:
  1. Wet body/hair
  2. Put shampoo in hair
  3. Rinse hair
  4. A bit of just basking in the hot water
  5. Put conditioner in hair
  6. Rinse hair
  7. A bit more basking
  8. Lather body
  9. Rinse body
  10. A bit more basking
If I give myself 10-15 seconds for each basking, that comes out to a 3 minute shower.

The only catch is that I don't currently have a CD player in the bathroom (and it's unlikely that I'd buy one just for this).

Or perhaps I would: It turns out that I can buy a shower CD/radio off the internet for $35!

Who do I look like? 

According to MyHeritage.com (via Marginal Revolution), I look like: I left out the links for the famous actors because, come on, you all know what they look like.

One nice thing about myheritage.com is that while it doesn't support Safari, their response is to suggest firefox for mac rather than windows and internet explorer. Two points for trying.

Monday, January 09, 2006

My dad, satellites, and Howard Stern 

Last night I spoke with my dad on the phone. At one point in the conversation, he decided to read (from the TV guide channel), all 100-some-odd music-only channels (many of which are from Sirius) that his satellite TV company (don't worry, I'm working my way to a point). Rather than interrupt him, I figured, hey, my dad's gonna be 74 this June. If he wants to read the channel guide to me, then I guess he can (he later went on to enumerate all the pornographic pay-per-view channels).

So later today, my wife and I were talking about this, and the topic of Howard Stern came up. We're both in agreement that a lot of Howard Stern fans probably went out and got XM radio to listen to Howard Stern.

Which is kind of unfortunate for them because Howard's on Sirius.

Yet another reason to love trader joe's 

I was making lasagna for dinner. And in a fit of efficiency, I cleaned the kitchen before putting the lasagna in the oven.

Cleaning the kitchen included throwing out the package from the lasagna which said what temperature and for how long to bake the lasagna. This is the part of using the oven that I'm hopeless at (and by "using the oven" I mean any dish which requires the oven, I never know how long or how hot without a recipe).

So what do I do? I call up TJ's and the manager runs to the refrigerated section and reads the directions to me over the phone. Ain't that great?

Controlling my life: Finances 

My wife and I have been trying to work out a way of being able to easily keep track of our finances in a way that gives us equal access to the data. Quicken falls sadly short on this front since it doesn't really seem to want to provide a way to synchronize between two computers (much less two different platforms, since I'm MacGuy and she's WindowsLady). After some searching, my wife found Mvelopes which we're in the midst of the free trial month. It solves the multiple-person access by putting all the data on an internet server and having (password-protected) access through a java applet.

What's also nice is the envelope-based budgeting. Rather than post-hoc analysis of your spending, you allocate your income to an assortment of different "envelopes" and then as transactions are loggged, you can assign them to the different envelopes. It's a very nice way of handling budgeting, although it remains to be seen how well this will work over multiple months, and this month will be a rather atypical month courtesy of spending relating to our move.

Another good feature: It automatically logs into your on-line accounts to get transactions for you, and seems to do a much better job of it than Quicken ever did.

The big down-side so far is that the java applet is a bit slow: It's unusable in safari, but passable in firefox on the mac. It seems fine under windows (curse those lazy developers who only test/optimize for one platform). It remains to be seen whether we'll go ahead and pay a subscription fee for the service when the trial is up at the end of the month. I'm leaning towards yes, but I think that I'd like something that was a local application and perhaps used Rendezvous or somesuch to allow syncing between different computers.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Small things I've learned in 2005: Shorter is better 

I had a very long daily routine in my initial attempts to be a good Flylady. It was too long. And it wasn't really prioritized. I never got through the whole thing, and the less that I did, the more likely I was to just blow off the routine. My new routine is about half as long. And I'm setting it up so that the first things on the list are the first things that should be done. My new daily routine looks like:
  1. Make Bed
  2. Shower
  3. Get Dressed
  4. Blinds
  5. Feed Cats
  6. Cat Water
  7. Clean Litterbox
  8. Shave
  9. Cat hair
  10. Comics/News
  11. Sink Clean
  12. Hot Spots
  13. Workout
  14. 15 Minutes of house cleaning
  15. Diary
I need to add a before-bed checklist, which will include making sure that the sink is empty and dishes are put away, a re-clean of the litterbox (yes, we're doing it twice a day now), bedtime snacks for the monsters and checking tomorrow's to-do list.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Post-travel, post-illness blogging 

Things have been a bit busy with packing up the apartment and looking for a new one on the other side of the megalopolis (which generally means that a full day has been lost on any apartment-hunting day).

A quick RBOC I forgot to blog at the appropriate time:

I'm writing paragraphs but these aren't much different than RBOCs, are they?

Getting organized has meant a new, shorter daily routine. I eliminated the divisions into morning, afternoon and evening routines, but I think I do want to bring back a before-bed routine, which will be fairly short. Mostly make sure that there aren't any dirty dishes about, the cat box is clean and who knows what else.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I have a bunny too. 

it's all about me. deal with it.

Who's Your Happy Bunny?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Starting a new year 

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