Tall, Dark, and Mysterious



File under: Meta-Meta, Hubris. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:21 am.

From my stats this morning: Successful requests for pages: 1,000,031.

Don’t know how much of that was spammers, and how much of it was just me compulsively reloading the site to check for new comments, but still! - one million pages! I never expected my little, personal, obscurish-niche blog to get so big.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting; TD&M wouldn’t be the same without you.


Back among the working

File under: Know Thyself, Hubris, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 8:48 pm.

Throughout the conference, I was trying to figure out how to blog about the conference without…well…blogging about the conference. And then, on my last night out of town, it came to me in a dream.

On my last night out of town for the business conference, I dreamt that one of my coworkers found my blog. But the blog that he found wasn’t Tall, Dark, and Mysterious as you know it; it was more like what Tall, Dark, and Mysterious would be like if 1) I worked with complete nutcases, and 2) I had absolutely no discretion whatsoever, as opposed to the small amount that I actually have. For instance, in this dream blog, not only did I routinely violate my company’s non-disclosure agreement in my posts, I also violated the non-competition agreement. On my blog. No, I don’t know how that would work, either, but apparently I was doing it.

In this dream TD&M, I was also writing at length about the accountant’s embezzling of funds from petty cash, the receptionist’s costly cocaine habit, the company’s use of migrant workers in the shipping department, and the boss’s affair with the girl who works at the taco stand in the mall. None of these, by the way, bear any resemblance whatever to fact, but the last of these in particular is something my subconscious cut from whole cloth. First of all, there is no taco stand in the mall. Second, the boss just got married, and everything’s all “new wife this, new wife that”, so as if. But third, and perhaps most important, I would bet hard cash that if ever my boss discovered that someone else was sleeping with the girl from the taco stand, he would call that person into his office and say, “I hear that you’ve been sleeping with the girl from the taco stand. It’s not for me to judge you; however, I want you to ask yourself, ‘How is spending so much time with the girl from the taco stand going to affect my performance at work? Is spending my off-time with her really the best thing for the team?’ Because I think we both know the answer to that question.” And I will say one thing for my boss: the man practices what he (fictionally) preaches.

Anyway, that was the blog that my coworker found.

In my dream, my coworker sent me an email telling me that I’d been discovered, and that the boss was on his way to the basement to check out my blog. (I don’t know why he needed to go to the basement to do this, but he did.) I had five minutes to try to delete my whole blog before the boss discovered it! But I couldn’t, and the boss read the entire blog, and I sat in my office cowering as I awaited the inevitable. Half an hour later, the boss sat down at my desk, and said, “I read your blog.”

I sat there, waiting for him to fire me.

But then my boss continued, “I was extremely impressed with your writing; I didn’t know that you could write. And clearly you know a thing or two about webdesign, and blogging software. This is excellent! We have an important project that we’d like to give you. Of course, we’ll pay you accordingly.”

And you know, that’s kind of how the conference itself went.

I am not especially proud of the way that I behaved during the conference. I was not - am not - very good at networking; I spent most of my time with the woman from accounting, with whom I’d felt a kinship ever since she started grumbling about how they were making her go to this stupid, stupid conference, the bastards. I was rather negative about things. I made snarky remarks to people who, I learned the hard way, were either less negative, or (to give them more credit) more tactful than I. In a stunning manifestation of irony, I fell asleep, so help me God, halfway through Get Energized: Developing a Motivated Workforce. In defense of the motivational speaker for that last one, I was sick. In defense of my general crankiness, the activities I was negative about included the one with the big group hug and the candies and the how did you feel when you were handed the candy? Honestly, halfway through that one, I was willing to confess to whatever feeling that that activity was supposed to induce (it wasn’t “annoyed that we have to do this crap”, by the way, as I found out when someone - the woman from accounting, for what it’s worth - gave that answer a little too loudly under her breath; the correct option was “like I was being ignored”) just to get this thing to end. I wrote down the entire activity a few hours after it happened, for my own reference in case I ever find myself wanting to run it. The only circumstance, by the way, in which I can anticipate wanting to run the hug-and-candy team-building exercise is one in which the other activities I had considered running violated the Geneva Convention, if you catch my drift.

I am an introvert, in the purest “people make me tired” sense of the word. Unfortunately, I am a snarky, aggressive, outspoken introvert, so when I am stressed - for instance, when I am being group-hugged, and yes that is apparently a verb, the HR rep said so herself - I start blathering, and I start saying things that I would later come to regret if I were a bit more humble. In other words, I am not at my best during these events, and I was not at my best during this one.

I am, however, at my best at work.

On the first day of the conference, the Supervisor3 sought me out, and told me that she’d been looking for me, because she’d personally taken a look at the project I’d helped manage during my second week of work, and damned if it wasn’t just great. Welcome aboard, she said.

On the second day of the conference, the Supervisor5 provided a bold vision for the company; among other things, he called on everyone in my position to acquire a certain set of qualifications by the end of next year. I have it on good authority that I am the only person currently working in my position who has the soft skills to acquire those qualifications by next year. On the third day, I spoke to Supervisor2 about that, banking on the possibility that he’d forgotten my whining from the previous day. (He had. Now that’s a useful managerial skill.) Supervisor2 confirmed that yes, I was indeed the only person in my position with the relevant skills, and it sure is a good thing they just hired me, because they’ll be needing me for this one.

I’m not very good at networking and schmoozing and team-building. I am, however, rather good at my job.

I hope that that continues to be enough.


Success is the best revenge

File under: Meta-Meta, Hubris. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 2:11 pm.

Daniel Lemire says I’m the funniest math geek on the web. Y’hear that, everyone who ever called me a nerd back in middle school? The funniest math geek on the web.



In spite of…well, most of what I post here, I am confident that I have done a respectable job of working with my raw material (fundamentally uninteresting and inapplicable mathematics, students who should be in grade seven instead of university) this semester and last. When I emerged from a week-long isolation grading exams, I was able to step back and realize that a healthy majority of the papers I was grading belonged to students who had known nothing about the subject three months earlier, but who now had a working knowledge of it. Because of me. And the comments I got from students, for the most part, reflected that as well, not that I am above distributing course evaluations the day after a test, when my laziest and most obnoxious pupils can be counted on not to attend class.

My negative comments, unsurprisingly, came mostly from my precalculus students. Apparently, I am “too hard” and “too abstract”; I don’t “make the material interesting enough”, nor do I “relate it to real life.” (Of course, my attempts to make the material interesting and relate it to real life (see “word problems”, September 2004-present) meet with just as much hostility (see “too hard”, above).) Guilty, alas, on all charges; but I don’t see what I could have done differently while still teaching the material I was hired to teach. In any event, imagine my glee upon discovering, last week, that my successor is apparently a newly-minted Ph.D. whose area of expertise is - wait for it - category theory. Yes, the students who barely squeaked out of Precalculus 1 because they thought that equations were boring, abstract gibberish, have spent this past term learning Precalculus 2 under the tutelege of an individual who saw fit to devote his entire life to actual boring, abstract gibberish. *

Our resident category theorist (who I’ve previously referred to in this space as “Poor Sap”, a moniker that is actually more applicable now than ever before, for reasons I’ll get into as soon as I close these parentheses) will taking leave of Island U this month, after one brief term of employment. Reason: as it turns out, his category-theoretic ways were incompatible with the pedagogical needs of mathematical illiterates. Who’da thunk it? Perhaps both he and Island U would be happier if he were to find employment elsewhere, and we wish him the best of luck in his job search. Not that we’ll be providing glowing references.

Meanwhile, I also handed in my textbooks and keys ** this week. My time at Island U has also come to an end; but unlike Poor Sap, who didn’t make it through the mandatory probationary period that precedes an offer of permanent employment, I’d actually originally been hired for a single term, and managed on the basis of good work to get my contract extended for a second one. But that won’t turn into a permanent offer, because, well, I don’t have a Ph.D. in, for instance, category theory. Really - you can’t make this stuff up. Department Head and I parted on good terms: as far as he’s concerned, he told me, I’ve done Island U a huge favour this past year and he’d love it if I could stay on, but his hands are tied. He wishes me the best of luck in my job search, and I should know that he’ll be happy to provide a good reference whenever I ask for one.

And I know he’s sincere, and I feel badly for him, because now he has to go through the hiring process again. But feeling bad doesn’t get me a paycheque next month. Still, I reckon there aren’t droves of people out there who a) have Ph.D.’s, b) have the skills and the temperament to teach mathematical illiterates, and c) are willing to move to Island Town; so I wish Department Head the best of luck.

But I think that the most ironic thing to come out of all of this is that there’s actually a real-life use for a degree in category theory.

* Yes, I have studied algebraic topology and algebraic geometry, both of which make copious use of category theory, so I realize that I owe a debt to this bizarre field. I maintain, however, that category theory talis qualis is just so much abstraction piled upon abstraction, and I have no interest in entertaining arguments to the contrary in this space. That said, some of my best friends are category theorists.

** Oh, crap, forgot about the keys.


Ten inches

File under: 1000 Words, I Made It Out Of Clay, No More Pencils, No More Books, Hubris. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 8:44 pm.

My graduate school had a pottery studio on campus. I joined the pottery club during the first year of my Master’s, but this was a full year before I’d completely lost my motivation to do schoolwork, so I spent little time in the studio.

During my second year, the only course I was taking some ill-conceived algebraic geometry class whose audience consisted of eight graduate students taking the course for credit, and eight professors and postdocs. Two months into the class, the professors and postdocs had taken leave. “No point sticking around when I don’t understand anything,” one of them told me in confidence, and I agreed. Unlike the profs and postdocs, however, I needed the credit, so I compromised by attending the class and not stressing over it. The course was cotaught by two experts, one of whom was clearly more of an expert than the other. One day, after class, as Alpha wrapped up the lesson, Beta turned to me and whispered, I am SO lost in this class.

I took this as permission to ignore all homework assigned by Alpha. A few months later, I gave up on Beta’s assignments as well. Me and five of my classmates.

That year, I was productive in other ways.

When I moved to the Island, one of the first things I did was seek out a pottery studio. I also wanted to take lessons; I felt I’d progressed as far as I could on my own. I soon discovered, to my dismay, that although I now lived in a region known for its potters, none in my city were available to offer lessons. There were two types of lessons, it seemed: ones for student artists studying to be professionals; and one for children and adults who just wanted to poke around with clay.

“We don’t usually offer intermediate-level lessons,” said the artist who apparently was the one to talk to about that sort of thing. “Not much demand for it.” He glanced over at my station, which was surrounded by small misshapen bowls, which were all I’d been able to make this first day working on a new wheel with unfamiliar clay. I can only imagine what he must have been thinking; probably something close to what I think when my C students tell me that they typically get A’s in math. “In order to be eligible for my intermediate-level class,” he said, “You have to be able to throw five ten-inch cylinders, one after another. Can you do that?”

“With certain types of clay,” I replied. “Ones with more tooth than this stuff,” I added, hoping he’d be impressed by my use of the jargon.

He looked skeptical. “There’s still room in my beginner class,” he told me.

I took this all rather personally; I’d taught beginner-level classes, after all. In any case, I knew what one did in such classes, and that wasn’t what I needed to learn. So I set out, during the ten hours a month I could get into the studio, to master the ten-inch cylinder.

They aren’t cylinders, I know. but they were originally. And before they were fired, they were ten inches.


Extremely clever joke I came up with the other day:

File under: Those Who Can't, Hubris. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 11:34 am.

If I had 3/4 of a dollar for every student of mine who can’t work with fractions, I’d have 120/160 dollars.

Thank you very much; I’ll be here all day.

Next Page »