Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

9/16/2004

Are there are any registered vaginas in the house?

File under: XX Marks the Spot, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 11:24 am.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried:

[In Eve] Ensler’s final explosion…she read the dictionary on the spelling of VOTE: “Voracious! Vociferous! Vitamin! Vehement!” “Oppose! Out of office! Overcome, overflow, orgasm!” “Talented! Tantalizing! Turn out! Texas!” Mysteriously, she didn’t shout any e-words, instead returning to her favorite letter, and yelping in alphabetic ecstasy, “Vulva! Vulva! Vulva! Vote!”

That’s it, I’m convinced; Eve Ensler is a creation of misogynist Republicans, deployed to discredit women’s concerns.

Yet another reason, alas, to be grateful that I’m living in a country in which election campaigns run for all of five weeks, which doesn’t leave much time for either the “where was YOUR candidate in 1972?” ads and interviews or for the “LISTEN TO MY VAGINA” counterarguments.

9/15/2004

March 1934

File under: Home And Native Land. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 4:36 pm.

In March of 1934, the steamship Adriatic made its final voyage, from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the boat were over five hundred immigrants, mostly Poles, who stepped off the ship to make Canada their home. Few had money; presumably fewer still spoke English. The Adriatic sailed back to Liverpool, remained there for a few months, and then left for Japan, where it sat for half a year before being scrapped.

My grandfather, Szmul Raby, was aboard the Adriatic on this last trip, along with his parents and his younger brother. They left because taxes were rising to the point that my great-grandfather could no longer make a living off his farm. His brother paid for their tickets on the boats, and my family boarded the ship with $10 in their pockets and the name of a relative in Montreal. They spoke only Yiddish and Polish, no English or French.

My family did not know that their ship would be scrapped less than a year later. They did not know that after their voyage, the number of Polish immigrants to Canada would drop to double-digits; few of those immigrants, I would guess, arrived with $10 to their names. Four of only thirty-six Jews aboard their ship - and with country of citizenship abbreviated as “HEB” and not “POL” on their immigration form - they had no inkling of the horror that was to befall the rest of their Jewish family back in Poland, including the relative who had funded them. They had no idea that a fifth of Poland’s population, including nearly all of the Jews, would be slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis over the next decade. They had no idea that Prime Minister Mackenzie King would close Canada’s borders to Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

9/9/2004

More from that stupid finite mathematics textbook:

File under: Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 3:40 pm.

77. Weight-height Relation in the US Army. Assume the recommended weight w of females is linearly related to their height h. If an Army female who is 67 inches tall should weigh 139 pounds and an Army female who is 70 inches tall should weigh 151 pounds, find an equation that expresses weight in terms of height.

Source: http://www.nutribase.com/fwchartf.shtml

God, I hate this book. Are they really so desperate for applications that they need to use this claptrap - obtained from a source that debunks the methodology employed in obtaining the above data? I’m so skipping this. I’m also skipping the example about how disease spreads linearly. The HELL?

Also - my kingdom for a first year university text that uses the metric system.

9/7/2004

This isn’t a good sign.

File under: Those Who Can't, Talking To Strangers. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 8:53 am.

Just arrived for the first day of school, and asked one of the secretaries to show me to my office.

“What are you teaching this term?” she asked as she led me down the hall.

“Two sections of precalculus, and…”

“Precalculus?” she said, making eye contact. “Oh, dear god, you saint. You absolute angel, bless your heart. You know that -”

And at this she paused open-mouthed, held my eyes for a second, and must have decided that I looked too fresh-faced and innocent to continue, because she then shook her head and said, “Oh, never mind. You’ll find out eventually.”

9/3/2004

The term ahead

File under: Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't, Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 2:23 pm.

Headed over to the island yesterday to get my teaching schedule, find a place to live, and to touch base with the other instructors. Succeeded on two and a half of those counts: most of the other instructors weren’t around, but I am allowed to work rather autonomously anyway, so I’m not terribly worried. I shall spare you the details of the apartment-finding process is one I shall spare you, save to say that it resulted in me finding an apartment and was therefore worth the encounters with crazy landlords, the “oh, no one told you we’d rented that place out a month before you phoned us?” waste of time, and the broken-down car. I have an apartment. Furnished, above ground, and cheaper than the one I’m in now.

I got my hands on the two textbooks I’ll be working with. The precalculus one is shrink-wrapped, and I haven’t opened it yet, because precalculus textbooks are like mint-condition comics, though the reason they depreciate as soon as you open them are different. The finite mathematics text is Sullivan and Mizrahi’s book of the same title, and I hate it already. The first section leads the hapless reader through a ten-page song-and-dance about how to graph a straight line, complete with the now-ubiquitous sidebars exhorting students to get out their graphing calculators and see for themselves what the graph of 2x+3y=6 looks like. I weep. I reckon the authors are being paid by the word (with the word-equivalence of the pictures computed as per usual); how else to explain the ten-question symposium on how to compare rental-car rates, or the section devoted to families of lines passing through a single point? Really, WHY? I read through the thirty-five-odd pages on line-graphing, and by the time I was done, I no longer understood the concept. The authors, sadly, seem to have bought into the idea that the more little tricks students have to remember, the better they’ll understand the material. Hogwash. I’ve had far greater success - both in teaching and in learning - figuring out how to motivate the material, and stopping short of the rules and mnemonics that treat half a dozen almost-identical cases separately.

Anyway, it’s a pity, because the last month of the course is probability, which is fun and relevant, and there are some business and economics applications pertaining to matrices sprinkled throughout the book, but the first month seems to be designed with the intention of losing everyone. I remember questions like the ones in the first chapter: questions I’d been able to solve ten years before, and ones that hardly lent themselves to the tools presented in the chapter. One imagines the authors agonizing over the layout of the text:

“Applications; we need applications! I know - you could use linear algebra to compute the number of ten-cent cups of lemonade Little Suzy has to sell in order to recover the $1.50 she spent on the can of Country Time mix!”

“Hey, and what about if the cost of paper cups goes up! Or if half of the lemonade spills? I think you’re onto something!”

Point is, I have the freedom to teach as I see fit, using the textbooks as much, or as little, as I want. Needless to say, I’m gravitating toward the latter. I plan to incorporate a lot of stuff about estimation into my precalculus class, as too many students are graduating from university (well, from high school) with no concept, let alone motivation, of how to figure out if their answer makes sense. Distance travelled in ten seconds by a car starting from rest and speeding up to 20 m/s? One kilometer. Or negative eight meters. Which leads to law students, like one I met last year, accepting uncritically “statistics” such as the one revealing that twentysomethings’ income has declined by 95% over the last two decades. 95%! In two decades! (”Are you denying the facts?” he asked me when I, well, apparently denied them.)

My question for y’all: can you recommend any good supplementary texts, or other books, for precalculus and discrete math classes? For the latter, I’m planning to use John Allen Paulos’ Innumeracy for real-life examples involving probability and the consequences of trusting intuition. His A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper might be worth dusting off as well. Any other suggestions?

Precalculus is a bit more difficult; Amazon.com lists 933 books under a search of the term, and unless the field has been revolutionized recently, they’re very similar. Still, I’d love to hear some ideas.

9/2/2004

Not sure why you’re still here

File under: Meta-Meta. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 3:00 pm.

I sure haven’t been in, what - more than two weeks? Bunch of reasons for that - hectic end of camp (though no more hectic than usual), followed by a relaxing vacation in the Maritimes during which I used a computer for all of thirty minutes, followed by some time in Toronto, followed by a mad scramble to find an apartment in a new city, move in, and start a new job - yeah, that’d be now.

See you in a bit.

Lots to write about, but someone from Seed Magazine emailed me a few days ago for some comments about women in math, so I think I’ll take that topic off the back burner and write about it next. It ain’t gonna be pretty, I’ll tell you that much.

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