Math is Delicious!

August 13, 2008 at 11:47 am | Posted in books, comics, life, math, motorcycles, technology | 6 Comments

Check out Questionable Content, one of my favorite webcomics. It’s about a bunch of 20somethings centered around a coffee shop. I’m currently wearing this t-shirt. There are others here. Good geeky stuff.

In the meantime, I’m doing math a lot these days. The REU inspired me to get this paper that I’ve been procrasti- … er, working on, out. And for a week and a half now I’ve been incredibly productive! Talk about taking the bull by the horns and running with your nose to the wheel! It’s been great, and it looks like I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline of getting this paper presentable, at least to a couple of colleagues to look over, and without qualifiers like, “Ignore the formatting errors in chapter three,” or, “I know the proof in the Hermitian case needs work.” This is going to be a no-qualifiers, one edit away from submission to a journal, state of done-ness.

This makes me very happy. It almost makes me not mind so much that my motorcycle’s been in the shop for a week and a half. I think I’ll call them. They said a part was on order last week, and that it’d take several days to get, so it’s not totally unexpected that it has taken this long, but I’m getting antsy.

What else is going on? Jenny’s tummy is unhappy, so neither of us got much sleep last night. My poor sweetie. 😦 She’s been doing lots of riding on her bike, though. Good for her! She’s taking it slow, practicing on the college campus after hours and on local residential roads. She’s concentrating on having excellent control, and building experience, and therefore confidence, little by little. We can’t wait til we can ride together, each on our own bike!

One and a half weeks until classes start. There was a recent issue with one of my textbooks. One company bought the textbook I was using from another company and raised the price by over 60% from the last edition. Then they had the nerve to ship us hardcover copies of the old edition, and were charging the inflated price! I sent one of the nastiest emails I’ve every sent, and it looks like it’s being taken care of at no cost to us. We’re getting the new editions, and my textbook manager won’t have to have our bookstore pay to send the old copies back. If it all works out, I’ll have no ill feelings about the publisher. I may not use this book again at this price (it’s a bit late to change at this point), but we’ll have to see.

Now I’m off to a clicker demo. “Clickers” are used for ConcepTests, classroom voting and such, and the college is evaluating several systems from various vendors. I use them regularly. I don’t recall if I’ve posted any entries about them. There’s lots of info online if you want to google “clickers,” or “conceptests.” Ta-ta!

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Math research is cool.

August 1, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Posted in conference, life, math | 7 Comments

This summer of 2008, I took part in an REU, Research Experience for Undergraduates.  It’s the acronym that has stuck for a summer program where talented undergraduates work with a Mathematics professor on a research problem.  The Potsdam/Clarkson REU has been running for about 11 years now. This is my first time doing it. The professors here who are involved with it find it a good way to stay active in research in a school with such a high teaching load. (The current 24 credit per year teaching load is being reduced to 21 credits per year, with plans to further reduce it to 18. But recent changes in the state government make me wary of being too optimistic.)

I was very apprehensive going into this. Actually, I was downright nervous. Finding a tractable research problem for myself is enough of a challenge, but finding one appropriate for someone with an undergraduate background, where they could learn enough of the area to understand and make progress on the problem, seemed an incredibly daunting task. Nevertheless, people do it. There are REU programs all over the country, so surely it can be done.

I prepared for this in a few different ways. I talked with professors in the department who have done it in the past. We talked about selecting a problem, getting the students up to speed, managing the group dynamics, etc. Also, I attended an excellent workshop at the spring 2008 meeting of the MAA Seaway Section by Francis Su of Harvey Mudd college. He has been doing research with undergrads for years, and he really broke it down and made seem manageable.

My biggest obstacle seemed to be how to get the students up to speed and actually working on the problem quickly. Do it too quickly and they won’t have a good sense of the context or a deep enough understanding of the problem. This could lead to initial attempts that are overly naive, or a lack of motivation. Do it too gradually, and too much of the eight weeks is taken up by learning background before they even start the problem. This could lead to a drain on the initial excitement and enthusiasm of starting the REU, enthusiasm that should be harnessed, not squandered. After all, research is hard. There will be frustration enough.

I decided on the essentials they needed to have, and to avoid too much of me lecturing, I assigned them mini-presentations in the first week. We met for the first time on Monday, and at the end of the afternoon session, I gave each student (there were 3) the equivalent of a short chapter to read, learn, and present a 10 minute talk to the other 2 students and me. It was not a formal presentation, they would not be judged on their speaking style or anything, and if they got stuck we would help them through it. It was understood that this was new material to them and they weren’t yet expected to speak as an expert, but they should attempt to do as thorough a job as they could in the time given. This was assigned at the end of our first day, Monday, and they were to present on Wednesday morning. I would be available for questions before the presentations if they wanted or needed it.

I thought the talks went very well. No one ran screaming, and they all took their assignment seriously. So I followed it up with a more in-depth talk, about 30 minutes long, to be delivered on Friday morning. They were doing pretty well by this time, so I assigned topics that, if they understood them, would enable them to understand the main question our research was to be centered on. It worked! The talks went well; they knew from the friendly atmosphere I took the effort to create for the first talk that this wasn’t something they would be judged harshly on, and they seemed much less stressed. They did a nice job, and in the afternoon session of the first Friday, we were able to state the problem in an appropriate amount of detail. I was so happy to be able to get to that point before the first week ended.

A large part of this was due to my having high expectations of them, and communicating those expectations. Also, the talks early on got them involved in learning the background more than if they were just listening to me and reading books and papers. (All these happened too, and were essential.) I think those early talks gave them a sense of teaching each other, collaborating with each other. Whatever it was, I rested much easier after that first week was over.

The rest of it was very good. They made good progress, they got stuck, they got unstuck, they went down dead ends, … in short, they got a good idea of what math research is like. They were also successful in making conjectures, proving some of them, giving a great presentation to the other groups in the REU, and writing a nice paper about it. At this point I suspect the paper is at least worthy of being published in an undergraduate journal, perhaps more. I’ll be reading it next week with fresh eyes after having put it down for a week. One of the students is giving a talk about our results at a national conference in a session on student research this week.

I am incredibly proud of and impressed by these guys. They did a fantastic job, they worked hard and long, they were tenacious and creative, and they produced a nice paper at the end. I’m also very happy with myself that I was able to provide an environment that let them achieve what they did. What a great feeling! This is one of my most fulfilling professional moments ever. I hear that not every experience doing research with undergrads is this fulfilling, but I’m so looking forward to doing it again!

Woo-hoo!

Video Games are fun again

June 25, 2008 at 8:48 am | Posted in games, life, music, technology | 8 Comments

It’s been long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time!

I used to be into video games hardcore. I was into them at the very beginning. The pizzeria by us had a space invaders machine that was replaced by Pac-man when it first came out, and later, the better Ms. Pacman. My friends had Atari and Colecovision, and I had Intellivision. Before that, we had pong. I also had the Gameboy’s handheld ancestors Merlin and Microvision. My friends and I would play Yar’s Revenge for hours until my hands hurt so much from the sucky controllers that I had to ride my bike home one-handed. And we loved it. I was there when it started. For a fantastic rant about what life was like back in 1987, listen to Ernest Cline’s “When I Was A Kid,” on http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/

When I got a part-time job and a computer in high school, I played video games less and less. I did NOT bring them to college, not because of any intelligent choice on my part, but because computer games were getting better and better and I was playing those instead. Finding out about girls probably played a role in decreasing the video game time, too.

Anyway, I found out about the next great video games to come out, the Nintendo with Super Mario Brothers. Some cousins had it. I didn’t get it, or any of its successors. It didn’t even have a joystick, for crying out loud. It was fun I guess, but I was into other things. Since then, nothing has really grabbed me. Especially since the domination of the so-called first-person shooter games that Doom started. No thanks. My favorite games were Adventure, Utopia, Tetris, Ms. Pac-man, and the like. Puzzle games, not as much the kick the other guy’s ass games. Competition was fine, but the FPS games never grabbed me. I probably would have gotten into Starcraft, but for some reason I didn’t.

Sure, the newer systems had some other games, too. The Playstation 2 had graphics better than we could have dreamed about in the 1980s, but a minority of the games were interesting to me. And they were damn expensive. Probably just as expensive as video games of old when allowing for inflation, but still.

Then, about a year ago, the Wii came out, and as soon as I saw commercials for it, something inside me said, “Video games are fun again.”

I might actually get one.

This past weekend Jenny & I played Rock Band on a friend’s Xbox. Fantastic! We just loved it. So fun. This is a video game? It’s about time. It’s about time video games were fun again.

I read the reviews for Rock Band for the Wii. Apparently it doesn’t have all the features of Rock Band on the other game systems. For one thing, you cannot download songs online. You can only purchase bundles on CDs. Not cool. That’s a huge part of the draw for us is that we can get songs that WE want to play.

I hear that Rock Band 2 is coming out in time for Christmas, and so is a competitor, Guitar Hero: World Tour. To be honest, even though Rockband is the first one I played and I love it, GHWT for the Wii looks like it is going to have the full functionality of the other systems. And the drum set looks better, too. I know that the designers of Rockband are the same folks who developed Guitar Hero in the first place, years ago, but to me it really all depends on how good the Wii version is. I want to be able to play the songs that I want to play. That’s really what it comes down to. That, and I want to have fun with friends. Right now, it looks like GHWT will do that for the Wii, the current Rockband won’t, though Rockband 2 might. So for now, it’s a wait and see.

Besides, I don’t even have a Wii yet.

I’m a trekkie.

June 14, 2008 at 10:02 pm | Posted in art, life, quirky, tattoos | 9 Comments

Ok, how many people do you know who are trekkies?

No, I mean REAL trekkies. Real science-fiction convention attending, episode memorizing, trekkies. Folks with more than just a casual appreciation for the series. Borderline fanatics, you might say.

I suspect I may be among that group.

I have a Star Trek tattoo. How freaky is that?

I watched Star Trek on Saturday afternoons on channel 11 with my Dad in the late seventies when the original series was on reruns. Of course I loved Mr. Spock. I was the logical, math, computer nerd in middle and high schools. I went to a technical college, and when Star Trek: The Next Generation started, my friends and I were glued to the TV set. We had Star Trek parties in the dorm. The first two seasons sucked, but we still watched them, because it was Star Trek. It didn’t start strong, but it had the lineage. And, by some miracle, Paramount didn’t sabotage the series in the third series like it did the original, and the third series was the best yet. They actually started writing continuing storylines and fleshing out and evolving characters. They created Worf’s Klingon heritage and the associated socio-political drama. Wesley stopped being quite so damn annoying. And Picard built up some muscle and got some of the babes instead of Riker. And there were four more awesome seasons after that, including the Borg. And three more whole series. And movies.

Anyway, the point is, I’ve been a trekkie for a long time. I don’t have a star trek uniform. I haven’t gone to a Star Trek convention. I don’t even have any cast member’s autograph.

But I think I’ve finally “joined the club.” I have a Star Trek tattoo.

Here’s the thing. Jenny, my partner/wife, first got hooked on Star Trek: Voyager, the fourth series. [EDIT: Jenny originally got into Next Gen, and followed Voyager from the beginning.] She was way into it. I didn’t like it so much. After all, the first season or two sucked. Oh, wait, but then it got good. She showed me that, and we bonded over Trek. (Among other things.) Add to it all that we have been trying to find a joint tattoo design for years. We tried infinity rings, pi symbols, celtic knotwork … and it just didn’t click. Finally, we came together on Star Trek.

Jenny saw two Star Trek tattoos online. Well, more than just two, but two of them had the insignia on the upper left chest, just where it is on the uniform. One from the original series, and one from one of the later series. Almost a year later, we decided that we would get our matching tattoos, and they would be … wait for it …

Star Trek comm badges!

I got a modified Next Gen comm badge, and J got a modified Voyager comm badge. We’re hoping they can still talk to each other. 24th century comm badges would be advanced enough to have backwards compatibility, wouldn’t they?

I’ll post pics later.

I’m so giddy! (And in a little bit of pain. Tattoos still hurt a bit.)

Bailey has joined the Wild Hunt

April 29, 2008 at 8:19 am | Posted in cats, life | 4 Comments

If you knew him, raise a glass to him next time you’re in a position to.

I’ll probably write about him at some point, but for now, I’ll just say,

Hail, and farewell.

It’s a waiting game

April 28, 2008 at 7:11 am | Posted in cats, life | 2 Comments

Bailey’s not at death’s door, but he’s not out of the woods yet. We may have gotten him to the vet in time. Time will tell.

This sucks.

My poor cat

April 26, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Posted in cats, life | 3 Comments

Bailey “threw a clot” last night or early this morning. He lost control of his back legs and his bladder and sphincter control. He made quite a mess on our sofa last night. We didn’t discover it until he didn’t come around for breakfast. I searched and found him sitting in a spot he doesn’t usually sit in. He looked sleepy. I didn’t realize at first, and I just picked him up and brought him to the food. Then I noticed he dragged himself to his water dish with his front legs. We shortly discovered the mess, and 5 or 10 minutes later he was on his way to the vet.

They say it probably happened early this morning. They are giving him anticoagulants, and are rehydrating him. Best case scenario, the clot gets moved/dissolved very soon, and he regains control of his back half. Worst case, he doesn’t regain control by Monday, by which time organs that aren’t getting enough blood will start shutting down, and we’ll have to “make a decision.” He’s staying there overnight so they can continue giving him the meds and cleaning up after him. We’re under instructions to call tomorrow morning (there won’t likely be any change today) to see how he’s doing. In the meantime, we clean up the house, try to sooth the other cats a bit, and try not to dwell on it too much.

We knew he had a heart condition, and he was prescriped Atenolol. We haven’t been giving it to him since things got crazy with Jenny’s surgery a year and a half ago. According to what the doctor at the time said, he may live a year or two longer with the medication, but this condition was probably going to do him in before he lives a “full” lifespan for cats.

The poor guy. He didn’t look like he was in pain, and he still recognized us. But he clearly wasn’t happy about what was happening. I’m sad.

Facebook

April 14, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Posted in internet, life | 3 Comments

Wow, what a time-suck. Fun, though.

I’ve been trying social networking sites on the web since sixdegrees.com. That went under. Then Friendster. Eh. Myspace? Didn’t do it for me. Livejournal … that’s more like it. Then I got my own wordpress blog, and this has done pretty well.

I must say, though, Facebook is compelling. It certainly seems to do things well that these other sites just didn’t do as well. It seems that through their concept of a “network,” it is a lot easier to find people you know. And the interface is not nearly as annoying as on myspace.

On the one hand, the stuff I see here is stuff I’ve seen elsewhere. They just seem to do it better.

For those of you not in the know, it’s not a blog site. So I won’t be replacing this blog with Facebook. That’s not what it is. It’s like everyone is in a big room, and you can see everyone and what they’re doing. You get little news updates called “stories,” and they say that so-and-so just, for instance, added this application. So you either ignore it, or you say, hey, that application sounds neat. Or a friend of yours adds another friend to their list, and you say, hey, I didn’t know they were on Facebook too, I’ll add them to my friend list.

I guess the thing is that they assume that completely open free flow of information is the norm, and it’s up to the users to limit that flow to the privacy level they want. For instance, I don’t have my email address visible there. Anyone who wants/needs to know that either already has it, or knows where to find it.

The advantage to this is that you don’t have to do much to network with people, find people you know, etc. High visibility and open exchange of information is the defualt, and you have to figure out how to limit that to your own comfort level. In these other social networking sites, you have to exert effort to figure out how to be visible and find people and exchange information. In Facebook, it’s almost effortless.

And it’s exactly what I’m looking for. I decided about a year ago that I would take steps to establish a public web presence. This is exactly what I’m looking for. That’s a good thing about livejournal, by the way. Want to look at your friends’ blogs? It’s all on one page for you. They do that well. Facebook does this well.

Another thing it does well, it integrates other web stuff. For instance, I’m posting this blog entry from my Facebook account. (If your blog is on LJ, you can post from Facebook, your friends can read your posts from your Facebook profile. I don’t know about your friends page.) I’m accessing my iLike from my Facebook account. I’m reading PHD comics from my Facebook account. (Ok, you can do that on LJ, too.)

Sorry to bore all you folks for whom Facebook is old hat. Now I have to get back to work. Criminy!

Wow

April 3, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Posted in life | Leave a comment

April is busy.  I may or may not be posting much.
😦

Spring Break

March 24, 2008 at 6:37 am | Posted in house, life | 5 Comments

Time to do stuff around the house!  New chain for the toilet handle, new spring for the garage door, scheduled maintenance on the car …

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