Saturday, December 31, 2016

Watch Your Mouth

Daniel Handler's Watch Your Mouth is a decidedly adult novel. It provides a nice counterpoint in my mind to his children's books, which are sarcastic and occasionally murderous but reasonably PG.[1] Watch Your Mouth consists almost entirely of breathless sex scenes [2], with interstitial innuendo/opera crossover wordplay. The novel's first half is full of stage directions, framing the story as an opera, which devolves into less and less distinct observations until the inevitable operatic finale.

The opera-novel's first-person retrospective narrator is smart and clever [3], but the novel itself casts him into doubt: he is a self-acknowledged unreliable narrator, and perhaps even a narrator suffering weird delusions and a memory disorder. The book starts (several times, in fact) with a usual setup, a comfortable framing of the story to follow, and then gradually --- through judicious and entertaining use of stage directions and references to different leitmotifs, staging, costumes, and orchestration cues --- the story becomes more and more sinister, as well as deranged and unbelievable and nonsensical. The narrator tries to describe things he witnessed, except he can't quite describe exactly what he witnessed, so he ends up describing everything in hedged and allusive terms. This manages to be oblique about plot details while being explicit about sexual details, which is weird but not so gross and repellent that it would stop me from reading more, to see what happens. (I believe the usual mode is to now compliment the author: that was masterfully done, to describe so much while leaving everything utterly uncertain!)

The conclusion, of course, is as in every opera: a dramatic death scene.

But the story, and its light fourth-wall-breaking, does not end there. Even as the death scene denouement trickles to a feeble closure, the narrator refers to how incomplete the tale feels and how much of the novel is still in your right hand! This obviously is only true for physical copies of the book, but as luck would have it, I was reading a physical copy, so this trick landed and seemed cool and witty. Then the remainder of the book was even more disjointed and off-the-rails, with the added twist that maybe every 2 or 3 pages, Handler masterfully convinced me that either (1) it was all real, and this was a sort of fantasy-nightmare world, or (2) the narrator was having a mental breakdown, which we were seeing from the inside. The first such switch is neat. The switch back requires overcoming some reasonable skepticism. The next switch, and the next, and the next? I don't know. I oscillated between believing the book literally and disbelieving every single event, and that is a precarious balance to strike, and an astounding effect to sustain for so long.

In conclusion, I liked it, even though the subject matter was squicky.


This post's theme word is sercroupierize, "to have sex with several people in succession." (Not in many online dictionaries, apparently.) The book's sercrouiperizing narrator was very off-putting, but somehow always turned-on.

[1] Many iconic children's movies start with the double murder of the protagonist's parents, so... I'm just saying, any cognitive dissonance you may have with my downplaying of murder as on par with sarcasm, and completely suitable for children --- take it up with the culture-makers. I'm just an observer.

[2] The sex scenes may be breathless, but they are also not terribly erotic. They're just kind of... the shotgun approach to horniness, where everything gets utterly slimy and the characters have to take breaks every few hours for coitus, for no apparent reason.

[3] Well, he's either "smart and clever" or "incompetent, idiotic, and deranged". It's hard to tell. You'll see.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Needs more garlic

Like all social media, this blog too shall ultimately devolve into food and travel porn. Be glad I have decided to spare you the endless selfies.

Behold, a garlic and rosemary-speared  dough:
And, after baking, the beauty of olive-oil-roasted spices emerging from a fluffy bread base:
Gluten, your siren song wafts on currents of oven-driven air.

This post's theme word is zymic, "relating to fermentation." We are thankful for zymic advances in baking science.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Cookies

Cookies, cookies, and more cookies! Texas receives a special shout-out for being the most fun cookie cutter to use. The pi/2 fork rotation is also pretty fun. 
The fuzzy focus is a side effect of lens smudging, not postprocessing filters. (I'm traditional that way.)
Rolling crumbly cookies by hand is my least favorite, as it involves a lot of labor per cookie.


This post's theme word is girn (verb intr.), "to snarl, grimace, or complain" or (noun), "a grimace or snarl." The plethora of dessert options brought nary a smile to the family gathering.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ramen

I am able to supply an approximate of authentic ramen on-demand (given certain supplies and materials).
Photo credit: M.
Properly, the egg should be soft-boiled. And kimchi is a nonstandard variant.

Welcome to vacation: a designated period when there is enough spare time to chop lots of tiny pickles and engage in fancy plating and food-photography.


This post's theme word is xerophilous, "adapted to a very dry or desert environment." Soup is not popular in xerophilous societies.

Feedback

'Tis the season to review the year and my performance. What skills have I improved? What lessons have I learned? What have I achieved? What mistakes did I make, how did I recover, how will I avoid them in the future?

For your reading enjoyment, here is some feedback regarding me:
I'm sure you're well aware that Lila is intelligent, talented, vivacious, and enthusiastic. And these qualities shine forth every day. Lila's abilities are considerable, but what I find even weightier is the wisdom, grace, and poise she demonstrates in managing them. While Lila probably has an interesting and well-reasoned opinion on almost any class topic, she offers these only at the appropriate time and when they are of general interest. Lila has an unusually developed sense of audience. She knows what the moment requires and considers the needs of others. This perspicacity will always serve Lila well. 
I am fortunate to teach many very bright students, many very talented ones, and a number of students who are thoughtful beyond their years. But I have few students for whom all three may be said. Lila is certainly among these. 
... from my seventh-grade English teacher.

I find it interesting to hear (for the first time) this précis of my personality; my memories of seventh grade are not tinged with wisdom, grace, and poise. I do remember worrying about whether my clothing was cool enough; maybe this "sense of audience" extended to other realms. These positive behaviors and this pattern of thoughtfulness in engaging with others is something that I hope I have preserved and carry forward into my daily life, where perspicacity is required and poise is necessary.

I have more recent feedback (from students --- hello, students! I hope you are enjoying your break), but I will not share it here, as it was elicited with promises of anonymity. Suffice it to say that I am carefully considering how to incorporate feedback to make the 2017 release of Lila an even better one. I aspire to be worthy of the same praise that I received in seventh grade.


This post's theme word is blandish, "to coax with flattery." Blandish all you like, these grades are final.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is large, interesting, and fronted by an extremely imposing set of steps and vista.

I quite enjoyed one of Picasso's paintings entitled "Female Nude", which absent the title I might have guessed was "collection of brown and off-brown rectangles in a stack". This sort of extreme distortion of a representation is very appealing; partly for the puzzle (can you find the female nude in there?) and partly for the aesthetic joy of stacked rectangles.

Frits Thaulow's "Water Mill" is incredible:
... as in, I do not credit my eyes. The painting is playing some incredible brain-perception trick, in that the water reflection looks photoreal in the center, yet just off-center it is clearly impressionist, with fine details merely suggested by broad brushstrokes. And the water mill building itself at the top of the painting is a low-polygon-count-style backdrop, reminiscent of a video game level. (I'm thinking of Braid in particular, but maybe Braid was just done in a style reminiscent of Thaulow's "Water Mill"?) By brain reads the whole thing as a photograph, but when I closely examined any detail (in person these are much more easily perceived than in this photo of the painting), I could clearly see that this was the result of paint applied to canvas. Mystifying. Cool.

This is also one of the unusual paintings of water in which the water is not predominantly blue, but still looks obviously like water.



This post's theme word is mazarine (adj), "a deep, rich shade of blue." The churning bubbles lightened the mazarine of the depths into a foamy whiteness in the shallows around the mill.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Reunion summary, part II

Months of persistent nagging, often several times a day, was insufficient this time. Most of the class defaulted and failed to submit any self-summary for our next reunion (and accompanying book). This forced the alumni office to give us an extension and step up the guilt-tripping to previously-unexplored reaches of extremity.

Lo! and behold: it worked. Well, a bit. I'll admit that I didn't put as much pizzazz and creative obfuscation into this one as the last one. (In my defense, I now have a job which offers me a lot less free time for creative writing projects on the side.)
My quest for evil mastermindhood continues apace. I have maximally levelled up on the education ladder, and collected one degree of each type (arts, science, philosophy); I now demand to be addressed by my full title ("Professor Doctor Master..."), which is becoming an onerous time-delay during dramatic entries.

Since last we met, I moved to Canada, and then, when that proved insufficiently French, I moved to Paris itself. O! that epitome of French stereotypes: the glorious boulevards, the wine/bread/cheese, the magnificently sneery accents. Many truly marvelous adventures were had, which this margin is too narrow to contain. After nearly a decade abroad, I reluctantly returned to domestic shores in pursuit of that most elusive of quest objectives: tenure.

I return to the US a well-travelled, multilingual, and even-more-highly educated person, all things which serve me well for making small talk and getting pigeonholed. As a professor of computer science, I know a lot about both pigeons and holes. Ask me sometime.

I promise to give you homework. (Due date: the next reunion.)
If unnamed editors change anything, that'll pretty much determine my non-participation in future editions. (Last time they threatened that editors might take action, but the final version was what I had submitted, ridiculosity unchanged.)

These periodic check-ins seem decreasingly relevant in the networked social media sphere in which I dwell: everyone I want to hear about, I already do hear about; we are already in touch. And everyone else? Reading about them in the paper-printed book (!) will be useful, but mostly for tracking how many future CEOs and congresspeople I knew in their early 20s.


This post's theme word is aesculapian, "relating to medicine," or "a doctor." I usually introduce myself as "a doctor, but not the type that helps people", but I am considering condensing this to "a non-aesculapian doctor", to alienate all but the most erudite.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How should groups make decisions?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. Today's lecture was on Arrow's Impossibility Theorem so I quite reasonably asked:

How should groups make decisions?

I framed the question as a group deciding where to go for dinner, given the individual ranked preferences of each person over all the dinner options. So one student, confronted with impossibility, wrote, "just starve, we're going to die anyways. ^_^". Another summarized national exhaustion with "I don't like decisions" and yet another echoed the first with "why bother, we will all die anyways".

Others took a more whimsical approach:
  • anarchy
  • define a "mom"  friend, listen to them
  • attendance sheet surveys
  • attendance sheet popular vote
  • separation of power
  • choose 50 US residents at random (with replacement), repeat sample 100,000 times, choose most popular winner
  • a long and indecisive debate
  • only consult those with the loudest voices
  • not first past the post
  • dictatorship
  • elect a dictator
  • math
  • select the most privileged person, ask them
  • compromise
  • hand raising
  • someone should make an impassioned speech
  • oracles
  • trial by combat
  • long discussions
  • flip n coins
  • throw questions into the void and wait
  • Quaker Process (Organized Consensus)
  • no groups; return to hunter gatherer society
  • debate
  • pick the best one
  • rolling dice
  • compromise
  • capitalism!!
  • by assuming I'm always right
  • alphabetically

A subset of students were excited by the idea of a dictatorship, but wanted to further specify which dictator in particular:
  • politburo with Josif as head
  • establish [student in class] as dictator
  • Option 1: oligarchy consisting of Ina Garten, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Amanda Freitag
    Option 2: The Purge

In the margins of the attendance sheet, students sketched political signs and placards and then later students annotated them (by adjusting the name) or voted (by writing "+1" nearby).

I don't know what a "complementary probabilistic majority" is, but it sounds neat. Gold star for piquing professorial curiosity.

By popular vote, "compromise" was the only method which received more than one vote. But several other votes were similar (the above, two voting to "die anyways", and several picking debate/discussion).


This post's theme word is consonance (n), "agreement or accord" or "a combination of sounds pleasing to the ear" or "the repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the ends of words, such as st in the phrase first and last." Consonance and assonance together underlie many tongue-twisters.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What plague do you wish on your enemies?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. As we near the end of the semester, I am asking the truly deep and personality-revealing questions:

What plague do you wish on your enemies?

Traditionalists:
  • darkness
  • bubonic plague
  • bugs (pun intended)
  • boils!!
  • locust swarm
  • black (bubonic) plague
Tradition with a bit of a twist:
  • really cuddly locusts
  • flaming dog rain
  • hairless cats
  • bees?
Dark or too honest:
  • endless Mondays & cumulative finals
  • long Sharples lines
  • my life
  • misery
  • life
  • perspective
  • classes where you learn nothing & never get any grades back
Not really feeling malicious today:
  • teddy bears
  • plague them with love
  • none
  • happy and healthy lives
  • pass
  • N/A
  • no plagues
Earnest and unsortable plagues:
  • having to deal with people like them
  • P=NP nightmares
  • man-eating snowmen
  • piece of hair always stuck in mouth
  • very droppy icicles form around them and often lightly stab them
  • eternally dry eyes
  • your face turns into a plague doctor mask with the beaks and stuff
  • a case of mitosis, aggressive osmosis

I am fond of "piece of hair always stuck in mouth" as a low-level continual irritation which is not directly harmful, but definitely the sort of thing to wish on an enemy. The icicles also earns points for convoluted (preplanned?!) detail. However, the winner must be "eternal ear wax" which is something we all have, but I guess as a plague it would be unusually bountiful?


This post's theme word is vouchsafe (v. tr.) "to grant or give something as if as a favor" or (v. intr.) "to condescend." I vouchsafed to post the homework several days early, to raucous applause.

What is the most interesting weather?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. The questions are informed by recent events, course material, and whatever else bubbles out of my mind. It's been raining here, so...

What is the most interesting weather?

This question turned out to be an interesting survey of basically "what is the most interesting weather you have witnessed?" for many people.

Among the actual-weather/climate answers, artisanally hand-sorted by semantic nearness:
  • sunny
  • sunny rain
  • warm rain
  • raining when I know I'm gonna be indoors
  • pouring rain
  • light snow
  • snowing
  • fluffy snow
  • lake effect snow, i.e., a mile wide band of several feet of snow (with areas on either side getting nothing)
  • falling ash / magnificent sunsets during fire season (the closest SoCal gets to snow)
  • hail
  • "wintery-mix"
  • thunderstorms
  • thunder
  • fog in the daytime
  • dense fog
  • cloudy
  • partly cloudy
  • when there are wavy lines on the horizon
  • the season of inverse monsoons
  • hurricane season; sometimes you get hail
  • tornado; -- sky turns green
  • all weather's interesting
  • lava
I am astonished to learn that there is something real called "fire season". It sounds straight out of fiction. I'm not sure if "inverse monsoons" are real, but on balance the term seems believable so I've grouped it there. (If it's a cultural reference I've missed then... oops.)



The non-literal answers were fun, too.
  • when justice rains from above
  • the day I find my dad (<-- a="" across="" answer="" attendance...="" cropped="" days="" enough="" feel="" frequently="" has="" i="" is="" li="" many="" narrative="" student="" tell="" that="" the="" this="" to="" trying="" up="">
  • bees
  • oobleck (ooblick?)
  • the heat death of the universe
  • cats & dogs
  • raining cats and dogs
  • blood
  • whether or not P=NP (<-- 5="" another="" hand-annotated="" li="" on="" one="" stars="" student="" this="">
  • the dying hurricane on Jupiter

Several of these elicited guffaws, in particular those which played on the expectation that weather falls from the sky: blood?! bees! lava?!?! 

The teacher's preference award is tied this time between the weather/whether-P=NP joke and lava.

Congrats, everyone! Come back later this week and the beginning of next for the final two rounds of our silly contest.


This post's theme word is inspissate (v. tr., intr.), "to thicken or condense." The fine droplets of lava were manageable weather until they began to inspissate and collate, at which point the danger escalated quickly.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Family quips

Gather sufficient clever and verbose people together, and the resulting tumult of verbiage will dazzle and astound. And, I hope, amuse. Here is a selection of quotes from a recent family gathering --- keep in mind, these were only in conversations I witnessed*, and these were only the things I remembered long enough to jot down. I've interspersed other notes, not quotes, of things that happened.

"I made it sweet for you! ... sweet with chili beans."

"Why is your foot so far away from your body?"
"... I don't know."

"Look, you have all these ingredients, you have to use them all..."

"They made that noise, you know, like when someone chews with their mouth open the week before you get your period and you just want to smack them like aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa."

A rederivation, on the fly and from first principles, of cold-smithing techniques for certain metals.

"I'm telling you, Mom, I'm not going to adopt a child this fiscal year."

"No, no, it's a theoretical machine that I carry around in my brain."

Regarding sourdough starter:
"You feed the baby, but first you discard half the baby and make sure the other half hasn't died."
"I think nurturing a baby and yeast are a little different."

There was a point in the evening when all the some adults took out their smartphones and installed Snapchat, and then started trying to have snapchat interactions. Hilariously. (I think the youths did not appreciate the situational comedy.)

Pedantry about "=":
"Ernie's mastery of breads and baking! ... it's unequalled in the Western hemisphere. But you don't know how many decimal places we're using to measure."

"That just looks like something you took out of a dumpster."
"Initially, yes, but..."

"It was so nice to see you --- I was so impressed that at one time I fell asleep." (Said without sarcasm.)

Just before the (brief) break for this USian holiday, the students on my course message board asked, "What is a Fontes Thanksgiving like"? These same industrious and forum-using students also posted a poll whose results revealed that several of the students read this blog. This post goes out to you, then, my students: you are almost done with me (this semester), but for now you remain in my pedagogical clutches and I remain tethered to your minds, trying to squeeze in more knowledge in the scant remaining weeks.

*I'm a possible confounding factor here, I acknowledge that.


This post's theme word is fissiparous (adj), "tending to break into parts" or "reproducing by biological fission." The Fissiparous Fonteses are feared far and near.

Monday, November 21, 2016

If you were a superhero/villain, what would your catchphrase be?

I take attendance by having students answer a question.

If you were a superhero/villain, what would your catchphrase be?

Halfhearted heroism:
  • I tried :P
  • I feel like I need to say something but I don't really know (<-- about="" an="" anticlimax...="" li="" talk="">
  • You stop that!
  • Save me.
  • Life is so complicated. (<-- a="" and="" arriving="" at="" chaos="" himself="" i="" imagine="" just="" li="" madness.="" of="" ongoing="" scene="" superman="" surveying="" the="" to="" tutting="" wreckage="">
  • "And have a good day!"
  • No.
  • Ugh, I guess I'll help you if I have to.
  • "I'm not that kind of superhero; please stop asking me to fly."
  • eh, maybe tomorrow
Mathy (and I'm not sure what the accompanying costume or scenario is):
  • min flow
  • P = NP
  • "If a vertex cover is polynomial time reducible to..."
  • I am a CS major
Onomatopoeia:
  • Give me the meatloaf, pow!
  • beep boop
  • meep
  • swagsauce swagu
  • Bananana
  • pow
  • Gotcha!
Entertaining:
  • "CATCHPHRASE!!"
  • Student X wrote: "ITS helpdesk, this is X how can I help you"
  • "I'mma let you finish... but Beyoncé had one of the best music videos of all time!"

The winner was a repeat-offender-for-sarcasm, whose catchphrase, "a pun so infuriating it distracts my enemies," leaves a lot to the imagination while still conveying the right smug tone for a catchphrase. And not really committing to heroism or villainy. (Although some might argue that the entire punnish approach puts it squarely in "villainy".)


This post's theme word is desuetude, "a state of disuse." He heaved himself out of the recliner and said, in a voice cracking from desuetude, "If humanity needs me again, I can come out of retirement and be Superman. Again." then sighed melodramatically.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pride in teaching

SCENE 1: to the victor the spoils, to the curious the puzzles

Interior hallway, mid-day. LILA is walking purposefully to a meeting.

STUDENT 1: Will you be around later? I think I solved that puzzle you told me but I want to check and see if you can break it with more counterexamples.

STUDENT 2: How are you giving out secret puzzles? This seems unfair.

LILA: Anyone can come ask me for puzzles, I have a lot of problems I want to solve. Come to my office hours!

SCENE 2: wherein educational goals are satisfied

The scene is set: office hours, Friday afternoon. The campus is quiet as students flee for the weekend. Only the truly education-seeking students remain, winnowed down to their scholarly core.

ENTER a student.

STUDENT: I am confused about topic X which we learned two weeks ago. I remember it was confusing then and I'm not sure what to ask you, but I'm confused.

LILA: [quick explanation of topic X, reframed in terms of what we've done in the past two weeks]

STUDENT: Oh, it seems so simple now! I have no idea how I was ever confused, this is totally straightforward and easy.

LILA explodes in delight and absolute teaching fulfillment. Bystanders are scalded by beams of pure joy, campus security must be called, paramedics are deployed, the area is cordoned off and several students are rushed to emergency medical services.

Humanity i love you because

I take attendance by having students answer a question. This week (and most of last) the questions have been expressions of dark emotions; this week in particular has been expressed as poetry references. The final highfalutin' poetry reference was today:
Humanity i love you because


... which on the surface seems sort of positive and upbeat (unlike the earlier ones).

Many students took it in a positive direction:
  • there is so much potential
  • sometimes good things happen?
  • you're so funny and adorable
  • Pokemon comes out today 😍
  • I was loved first
  • just cuz
  • they gave me phones
  • we are all part of it
  • everyone who I like is one of you
  • we are kind
  • most people are nice-ish
... while others were, seemingly unintentionally, much truer to e. e. cummings' original tone:
  • of the Anthropic Principle
  • wait, no, i take that back
  • all of Earth is Stockholm, and I have a syndrome.
  • i have no choice.
Today's prizes go to the students who pushed back on the poetry theme, including "nope don't know this one", "don't get it", "what???", "poetry is not my forte", and the pretty amusing answers:
  • Let me count the ways no that's not it
... which is pretty funny, and equalled for entertainment value by:
  • tl;dr this week: 2 pretentious 5 me
... which is not a typo, that is actually written on the attendance sheet. Note that the author was not brave enough to attach a name, so it was just written down the margin. Still pretty funny, esp. the usage of '5'.

Gold stars to the Shakespeare reference, though. Gold stars!


This post's theme word is macher (n), "a person of influence, one who gets things done" or "a self-important overbearing person." Our professor began the semester as a good macher, and gradually transformed into an unbearable macher by the end.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

And what rough beast

I take attendance by having students answer a question. This week's pop-quiz on dark poetry continues, as for afternoon labs I asked:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
... which I figured left itself open to some interesting answers, even if students didn't recognize the reference or felt overwhelmed by the current political situation falling apart.

Silly answers:
  • the second one
  • man bear pig
  • Jabberwocky
  • any beast
  • the flamin' hot cheeto
CS-themed answers:
  • computer scientists
  • the ghost of the traveling salesman
  • Lila
Yep:
  • I still don't know
  • literature is for NERDS
  • ..??
  • what book is this!
  • idk lol
Today's clear winner goes to the most extremely specific and literal response to, namely: "pregnant Jewish woman who's jetlagged from the flight back." Take that, Yeats --- this student answered your rhetorical question!


This post's theme word is orgulous, "haughty". The usually-silly questions have been recast as a confused flurry of orgulous literary references.

What are the roots that clutch

I take attendance by having students answer a question. This week's emotionally-dark-poetry theme continues, as I explored my students' ongoing liberal arts education by asking:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?
A couple students answered, "hope."

Several other students answered in a more literal direction:
  • a tree!
  • BST?
  • an AVL tree
  • weeds...?
  • Evil Trees (of Rowan and Rin)
  • the roots of trash trees?
  • some kind of moss probably

Most students expressed confusion and lack of understanding, for example "I just don't know", "I'm confused", "I give up.", "I'm a CS major for a reason...", and "Sorry, bad liberal arts student!"

From this I have learned two things. Firstly, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land is not as widely recognizable as I assumed, and secondly and less-surprisingly, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land does not make for a good joke setup.

Ah, well.


This post's theme word is lobolly (n), "a thick gruel", or "mire; mudhole," or "an assistant to a ship's surgeon," or "a pine tree with long needles and strong wood (Pinus taeda)," or "an evergreen, loblolly-bay (Gordonia lasianthus)." The lobolly stuck in a lobolly full of lobolly used lobolly branches to climb up to refuge in his lobolly-house, perched on the side of the stony cliff.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Walkout

The students organized a walkout today, coincidentally right in the middle of my lecture. It was fine, as I was well-warned and the walking-out students left respectfully. (I gave them a preplanned lecture-pause in which to pack up their things and exit.) I didn't feel personally disrespected --- how could I? they're taking a political action having to do with the national election. If they had walked out because they didn't like the algorithm I was presenting, that would have been a different matter.

About half the class walked out.

One interesting after-effect of the walkout is that one of the non-walkout students posted complete lecture notes on the course messageboard. (Hooray for students helping each other to study and learn.) This is the first time I've seen the notes taken from one of my lectures, and I was amused to find out how much of my ongoing colorful aloud monologue made it into the notes, interspersed with and surrounding and annotating the mathematics that I wrote on the board.




This post's theme word is epanalepsis (n), "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated after intervening text. Example: "The king is dead, long live the king!"" The protest was very positive, with pleasant parlance and paucity of epanalepsis.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sinkhole in the adjunct faculty lounge



The season has rolled around again, just as you thought that maybe your soul had renewed slightly, your skills increased, your experience enriched, your knowledge expanded... but no: here we stand again, upon a heaping mound of the corpses of our colleagues' academic careers, desperately seeking future employment.

"About the sinkhole in the adjunct faculty lounge, and other mid-semester announcements" strikes the tone perfectly.

For the record, I think computer science departments treat their employees well, because computer science departments comprise genuine and nice human beings (and also because qualified computer scientists are able to seek well-compensated employment elsewhere).


This post's theme word is sprattle (noun), "a scramble or struggle" or (verb intr.) "to scramble or struggle." Though I sprattle day and night, yet the sprattle never ends.

Monday, November 14, 2016

What happens to a dream deferred?

I take attendance by having students answer a question. (The questions/answers from the rest of last week were too melancholy, dark, bitter, and depressing to bear repeating in this semipermanent venue.) Today I echoed Langston Hughes in asking:

What happens to a dream deferred?

To their liberal-arts-education credit, many students were exactly on-point:

  • it shrivels like a raisin in the sun
  • shrivels up like a raisin in the sun?
  • it shrivels up like a raisin
  • or does it explode
The hopeful:
  • deferred and rejected usually, but a second choice school hasn't killed anyone. probably.
  • 2020
  • fight or flight --> you go 100% to get it
  • do something to make the dream come sooner
  • Delayed but queued.
  • It generates art, hope, and wonder for further than a dream achieved.
  • It's still alive at the bottom of your heart.
  • It will stick around and be fulfilled.
  • It waits to be realized anew.
  • It gets passed on.*
  • It grows & inspires & drives everyone to action.
The not optimistic:
  • it vanishes
  • usually bad things, I'm really afraid to defer anything important; this meager existence is too short, man.
  • gone, gone
  • you don't want to know... :(
  • gets a 9-5 office job, wants to travel but never does. gets a dog
  • It dies a slow death.

The literal or extremely abstract:
  • you dream it later
  • Certainly science will never give us an answer.
  • you wake up, then get to dream again later
  • it becomes a ghost
  • keep on sleeping keep on dreaming
  • it gets caught in a dreamcatcher
  • it goes to dream heaven
  • It comes back night after night, tormenting you.
  • It haunts the dreamer and drives a certain mania until the dream is reached.
  • it will haunt you
The... rest of the answers:

  • It goes into a black box.
  • Tape storage.

Today's Prize for Uncategorizability goes to "the same thing that happens to all your dreams". Vague and yet descriptive enough that it lets the reader find whatever answer the reader seeks. A perfectly dithering response for a divided populace.


This post's theme word is today's Word of the Day, kakistocracy: "government by the least qualified or worst persons." We have recovered from our shock enough to teach and etymologize as usual, but the themes are indisputably colored by recent kakistocratic events.


*Depending on your interpretation of "passed on", could be good (the dream is passed to another dreamer) or bad (the dream is passed over and never dreamed again).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Course message board

There is a homework due this morning.

The single most popular post on the course message board occurred last night.

1:10am: "do we have to finish the problem set even though Trump is winning? we have no will to continue."

Follow-up comments throughout the night:
  • "please, I second."
  • "Well with the way things are going, will there really be a GPA left for this to ruin anyway? "
  • "fourth'd. why is this happening."
  • "Murica is now NP Complete"
  • "Please Lila"
  • "make my GPA great again"
  • "Not gpa that doesn't matter right now as much as general health and sanity"
  • "not that wall street doesn't matter as much as minority citizens"
  • "please reply, we're crying"
My reply upon waking: "It is very important to be educated, as this election highlights." We'll see if  I can remain as anodyne in my not-on-the-permanent-and-searchable-record aloud delivery of lecture this morning.

I'm considering scrapping my network flow lecture to discuss social choice theory and voting (lecture tentatively titled: "Arrow's impossibility theorem, or how math is the reason why we can't have nice things"). On the other hand, the problems we face in the real world are usually not theoretical problems of design and feasibility, but implementation detail problems (e.g., how to check election results) and issues arising from grandfathered-in historical systems which had no rational design to begin with.


This post's theme word is peripeteia (noun), "a sudden or unexpected change of fortune, especially in a literary work. A classic example is Oedipus learning about his parentage." Too crushed by peripeteia for cleverness, the characters shouted "I want out of this novel!" in a fourth-wall-breakingly desperate plea for clemency.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Six-word autobiographies

I take attendance by having the students answer a question complete a very brief creative writing assignment.



Today they wrote six-word autobiographies.

Many were school- or study-focused, to no one's great surprise:
  • Majored in chem, not gonna chem.
  • All the labs all the time.
  • Too many interests, what I do?
  • Work hard, algorithm harder. Word. Word.
Here we see the beginning of the recurring theme of "six, you say?"
  • Naive ambition tempered to quiet hope. Rebel.
  • Potato, banana.
  • Went into math, forgot how to count.
And of course the silly:
  • Thank gosh I'm the sane one.
  • Thinking about this, unlearning network flow. (<-- lecture="" li="" of="" s="" today="" topic="">
  • I tell lies all the time.
  • Question: why is it a giraffe?
  • Hello darkness, my old friend. [bum]
And the profound:
  • Trying to do ok & stuff.
  • Once upon a time, I was.
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • I am my own worst enemy.
  • Six words is simply not enough.
  • Regret for yesterday, hope for tomorrow.

I liked "Just passing this sheet along. Cool." for being six-words, self-reflective, and descriptive of the student's life without actually saying anything nontrivial. This is the kind of answer I attempt to head off at the pass on homeworks...


This post's theme word is nimiety (noun), "excess or redundancy." Homework solutions should be sufficient, and absent all nimiety.

Friday, November 4, 2016

More like MadLibs

I take attendance by having the students answer a question fill in MadLibs.

A ____________ walks into a bar. The bartender says, "___________________"

This one was a bit open-ended and I'm not sure it sparked the students' witty creative-writing skills optimally.

The traditionalist: A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?"
The context-aware: A college student walks into a bar. The bartender says, "ID?"

The literalists: A man walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Ouch." Also appeared as "man/hello"
and "man/try the soup" and "really tall guy/that must have hurt" and "person/yo" and "man with an orange for a head/you have an orange for a head?!"

The animals that appeared were commented thusly: "dog/impressive" (not sure why; dogs walk normally), "bear/welcome", "parrot/This is it." (bartender with no patience left), "cat/hi", "puppy/This is the best day ever.", "caterpillar/You'll be a beautiful butterfly one day.", and the masterpiece of absurdism which is "very very very small horse/hello".

The jokey: A law student walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Walking into too many bars will not help you pass it."

This makes very little sense, but: A foo walks into a bar. The bartender says, "foo-bar."

The minds of mathematical bent:

  • A graph walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why so edgy?"
  • A triangle walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Looking sharp."
  • An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The bartender says, "Got it --- 2 beers." (I'm guessing this is a joke about infinite sums with finite limits?)

Today's Pandering Prize goes to:

A theoretical computer scientist walks into a bar. The bartender says, "That's strange, most of our customers are travelling salesmen."


This post's theme word is clerihew (n), " humorous, pseudo-biographical verse of four lines of uneven length, with the rhyming scheme AABB, and the first line containing the name of the subject." I would like to see what my students create when prompted for a clerihew or a six-word autobiography, but creative writing attendance questions distract students from paying attention to the lecture.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What is your personal motto?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is your personal motto?

The earnest take several forms, the positive charge:

  • always be the best version of yourself 
  • channel negative emotions into something productive
  • live happily
  • live slow
  • enjoy
  • work smarter, not harder
... the negative (admonitions):
  • don't be afraid of anything
  • don't worry about things that don't matter
  • don't leave yourself with any regret.
  • don't disguise your fear as impracticality
... and the neutral mottos which are not commands:
  • all life/sentience is sacred
  • resilience
  • truthfulness forbearance compassion
  • time wasted doing something you enjoy isn't wasted
  • non nobis domine

Then there are the cultural references:

  • just keep swimming (<-- li="" popular="" response="" this="" was="">
  • get schwifty

Then there were the stalwart replies, dependably occurring for every question. No matter what question I ask, someone answers with "sleep" (in this case, the motto "sleep is important".) Someone else always writes answers that center on the class (motto: "do algorithms"). At least one person goes for maximum psychological darkness (motto: "society sucks and everyone dies"). There's always at least one person who goes full-throttle academic (motto: "intuitions without concepts are blind"), who is counterbalanced by the jokers ("what's a motto with you?" and "Born too late to explore the seas, born too early to explore the stars, born right in time to browse DANK MEMES.")

I was amused to see both "moderation is boring" and "everything is good in moderation." This duo of answers wins the synergy award.


This post's theme word is triffid, "an out-of-control plant that overruns everything around it (also, anything that behaves in this manner)." The triffids' motto is, "go, go, go!"

Monday, October 24, 2016

What is your greatest victory in life (so far)?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is your greatest victory in life (so far)?

The physical accomplishments:

  • made into a cup one time for pong but no one was watching
  • learning to touch my nose with my tongue
  • eating a large pizza by myself
  • complimented by my high school rugby coach
The recurring theme of sleep marked many of these students' greatest victories in life (!):
  • getting out of bed every morning
  • waking up early
  • I slept 18 hours once
Accomplishments that could be a line on a CV:
  • finishing military service (<-- li="" wow="">
  • published a first-author paper (<-- li="" wow="">
  • got an hourly wage of $100 (<-- li="" nice="">

And then there are the others. Some people noted an interesting event that they really had no choice in ("being born" or "I won $50 in a scratch-off lottery"). Also, I find it very culturally revealing that many of these smart, academically-accomplished adults mark their greatest achievement as "maintaining a committed X-year relationship".

The dependable brown-nosing answer this time was "not getting lotteried out of [this class]".

The absolutely, utterly nerdiest award goes to the student whose greatest victory in life so far is "apperceptive unity."


This post's theme word is hayseed, "an unsophisticated person who comes from a rural area." The hayseed's victory over the urban gentleman was an utterly magnificent sight to behold --- you really should join debate team next year!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What is the worst account security question?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

One of my peeves is very, very stupid account security questions, and the fact that the questions are so ubiquitous that anyone who knows, for example, the street where I grew up (which is by no means secret information!) can get access to a plethora of information. (N.B. I give incorrect answers to such questions on purpose; if you truly are me, you know how I would have answered such drivel.)

What is the worst account security question?

There are many possible stupid questions. I liked and appreciated the students who went the extra distance to make the question truly execrable. My commentary below.

  • What is your dream job?
    What number is Steve thinking of?
    What is the most forgettable thing you can think of?
    (I liked these because the answers will clearly change over time.)
  • How old were you when your first pet died?
    (Not only have you forgotten your password, but now we will force you to remember a sad memory.)
  • What is your password?
    What is your social security number?
    (Well, sure --- look how secure it is! Only someone with the password/SSN can use the security question to access the account!)
  • What color is your soul?
  • What is your favorite childhood memory?
    (I like to imagine that this one requires a full paragraph of answer. Yes, it is case-sensitive.)
  • no account security question
    (Yep, that's pretty bad.)
My favorites ended up being the ones that went for really bad by asking yes/no questions. "Are you human?" ranks pretty highly, but the cake was taken by "Have you stopped drowning kittens yet?" which is not only a yes/no question but also suggests a horrible backstory of the account owner.


This post's theme word is opprobrium (n), "strong criticism" or "public disgrace." Only widespread opprobrium forced the company to modify its website and default account parameters.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What is the worst food additive?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the worst food additive?

  • sugar
  • salt
  • coloring
  • oil
  • that thing in cheetoes that's killing orangutans
  • "artificially flavored" anything
  • MSG
  • aspartame
  • sugar alcohols
  • creatine
  • bacon
  • mustard
  • pepper
  • carrots
  • durian
  • insects
  • beetles
  • maggots
  • bricks
  • cement
  • cyanide
I have taken the liberty of sorting these from most likely to be added to a food to least likely. For some pairwise comparisons, I guessed.

I have no idea what the deal is with orangutans, but you can find out.


This post's theme word is olid, "foul-smelling." What olid horrors have you added to this soup stock?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What is the largest number you have counted to out loud?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. (This question was student-generated, too!)

What is the largest number you have counted to out loud?

Usual answers: 100, 101, 125, 200, 400, 999. "I don't remember."

Unusual answers: 7, 20, 42, 54, 117, 267, 723. Why stop at (1) such a small number, and (2) a non-round number?

Impressive answers: ∞, 5000, "1000 (My parents wanted to keep me distracted and I was 8.)" (note: it worked, and this student is now a math major!).

Answers I, personally, found confusing: i, -1, √115, 0, "2 grillion", 17 1/2. I'm not sure what increments you are counting in to get to -1, or i, or square roots, or fractions. Actual theoretical issues of countability (in the technical sense) come into play here.


This post's theme word is plangent, "loud and resounding," or "sad or mournful." The plangent dirge counted onwards, never ceasing, its rolling tones reverberating down the valley, but I had come to suspect that the Plinker Monks would never reach "square root of 115 bottles of beer on the wall"... (-excerpt from My Life Amongst Mathematical Entities from Thought Experiments)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Your hidden talent?

I take attendance by having the students ask a question.

Of course, the class is full of very talented people. In addition to a slew of musical instrument and dancing skills, my class harbors many unusually-talented students. Parse that as you will.

What is one of your hidden talents?

  • vaguely ambidextrous
  • hiding my talents
  • eating copious amounts of food
  • tying shoelaces
  • can make a bubbly noise in awkward silences
  • sleeping
  • Bejeweled
  • I have 3 arms.
  • hiding

Today's prevention of semantic/logical loops goes to: "It wouldn't be hidden if I told you."


This post's theme word is sub rosa, "secretly, privately, or confidentially." The students submitted their homework sub rosa; I have no idea why.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

This one might have been very cultural-reference-specific, but... I honestly want to know.

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
  • African or European?
Okay, I deserved that. Other answers included:
  • 2
  • 3.00*10^8 m/s
  • 3
  • 50 minutes (one algorithms class)
  • c=2.78*10^8 m/s
  • 10mph
  • 574mph
  • -9.8m/s
  • 5
  • 12 knots
  • 20mph west
  • depends on mass of coconut
  • 25mph, depending on African or European
I'm worried by the units (or lack thereof) on some of those answers.

And on a less quantitative level:
  • What's an unladen swallow?
  • as fast as it can dream
  • The swallow is the center of the universe. All moves relative to it.
  • very fast
  • Will this be on the exam?
  • faster than me
  • impossible to measure


This post's theme word placentious (adj), "pleasing or inclined to please." The students are placentious indeed.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Quoth the raven

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

Quoth the raven, "_______________."

  • Join Bird Club!
  • 'sup
  • Hi, how are you?
  • suh dude
  • I can fly.
  • Can I fly?
  • Fantastic!
  • hey wassup hello
  • nooooooooooooooooo
Many followed the reference but with variations:
  • n3v3rmor3 xD
  • never ever never no matter what forever (more)
  • not the "n-word"!
  • NEVER EVER MORE, EXCEPT SOMETIMES MAYBE
  • "Quoth the raven, "Quoth the raven, " ... " " "
  • What, the poem by Edgar Allen Poe? The super dark one? :(
I appreciated the close-quotes which matched on the recursive answer. The most popular answer was, of course, the simple "nevermore".


Many people picked onomatopoeia:

  • caw
  • woot
  • hey
  • cacaw
  • yo
  • yo yo
  • chirp
  • KAA KAA
  • Squahk


Today's winner was:
"A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. And I knew if I had a chance that I could make those people dance and maybe they'd be happy for awhile. [piano]* And February made me shiver, with every paper I'd deliver. Bad news on the doorstep I couldn't take one more..."
* pronounced "bracket piano bracket" 
-- I promise I'm listening to the lecture.

This post's theme word is frowsty, "musty; having a stale smell." The frowsty classic poem was rejuvenated by students' colorful edits.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

  • for an insurance scam
  • Caged animals have no freedom in 'murica.
  • Her mission is classified.
  • Why not?
  • Because it's entitled to do so.
  • To sing Adele's "Hello (from the other side)"
  • the other chicken
  • to find his home

It's clear that students have food-as-motivation on their minds. It was a popular theme:
  • probably food
  • b/c there was food?
  • to get Chinese food


If not food, then they have deeper existential questions:
  • intention
  • What is a bird?
  • to find purpose in its life
  • to run away from its problems
  • The road is a metaphor. The chicken is not.
  • Why not?
  • Why didn't the chicken cross the road?
  • Death is an illusion.

And also darker and more pessimistic interpretations:
  • To die by its own choice.
  • It was an exorcism.
  • "NOTHING IS WRITTEN!!" (<-- future="" lawyer="" li="" possible="">
  • or else I would've killed it.
  • It has accepted its mortality.

And today's honorary brownnoser award goes to, "because it wanted to go to algorithms class."


This post's theme word is malinger, "to feign illness in order to avoid work." That malingering chicken, always visiting the across-the-road doctor and never clocking in to the same-side-of-the-road henhouse!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

  • Standing right behind you.
  • not here
  • I just saw her the other day
  • PASTA BAR
  • California
  • up and to the left
  • I'll never know
  • Mars
  • Australia / down under
  • MATRIX :(
  • Where in time is Carmen Sandiego?
  • with Waldo
  • San Diego
  • Antarctica
  • really far away
Australia and California had more than one vote each.

Swarthmore-specific references:
  • McCabe
  • According to cygnet, Willets.
  • Econ 01 (she got lotteried out of Algorithms)
"I don't know" and "idk" and "??" were popular answers; maybe the cultural reference is not universal. Similarly, "Who's Carmen Sandiego?" Alsa, hilariously, "Literally (not figuratively) no idea."

My CS-professor heart was won by the student who answered, "in the heap."


This post's theme word is gleichschaltung (n), "the forced standardization of political, economic, and cultural institutions, as in an authoritarian state." The non-ubiquity of Carmen Sandiego, despite her extensive travels, indicates an absence of gleichschaltung in the student body.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
  • very quiet
  • waft of air
  • om
  • a friendly wave
  • Basically that of 2 but quieter.
  • whoosh?
  • flap
  • whoo
  • blob


This post's theme word is crural, "relating to the leg." The crural version of this puzzle is much easier; one foot stamping is coherent on its own.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Nitpicking metaphors with modern engineering

"Jesus had said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven, but rocketry had thirty years of practice working with astonishingly small tolerances and rose to meet the challenge." - Scott Alexander's Unsong, chapter 39

The swoop from cultural highbrow to literal engineering terminology tickles my sense of humor. Is there a name for this genre? "Nerdbait"?


This post's theme word is ultracrepidarian (n/adj), "(one) giving opinions beyond one's area of expertise." Which is truly the ultracrepidarian, the literary scholar with opinions about engineering  details or the engineer who obliterates a metaphor with a cleverly-designed tool?

Monday, September 26, 2016

James Joyce

"In attempting to be completely faithful to real life, in all its true confusion and complexity, Joyce ended up writing a book that is fascinatingly, instructively unreadable." - Professor Eric Bulson, for The School of Life on Joyce's Finnegans Wake

This is serious. I have tried several times and I just keep putting Joyce's books back into the queue. Listening to this framing of Joyce's work makes me think I should bump up its priority and try to read it again.


This post's theme word is frustraneous (adj), "useless, unprofitable." The exercise of reading was frustrating but not frustraneous.

Friday, September 23, 2016

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

How much would would a woodchuck chuck?

  • 10k
  • chuck
  • 18
  • 2
  • Well a woodchuck could chuck as much as a woodchuck could chuck hard.
  • hello chuck
  • n
  • 3.50
  • O(nn!)
  • a good amount



This post's theme word is gnathic, "of or relating to the jaw." The proverbial woodchuck is frighteningly gnathic.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How many cats is TOO many cats?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

How many cats is too many cats?

Many people picked an integer from 1 to 20.

How many cats is too many cats? Negative-attitude answers included:

  • "1 (I'm allergic)"
  • "0 --> there needs to be less aka cats--;"
  • ":("
How many cats is too many cats? Positive-attitude answers included:
  • "∞"
  • "does not exist"
  • "when you run out of space"
  • "cats, 10 -- kittens, "
  • "when nN""
How many cats is too many cats? I'm not sure how to interpret:
  • "2"
  • "-1"
  • "7.53689243781197942"
  • "log(cat)"

This post's theme word is apricate (v), "to bask in the sun" or "to expose to the sun." The apartment was draped with apricating cats.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What color is your favorite color?

I take attendance by having students answer a question.

What color is your favorite color?

Most popular answer: "blue". Black was a close second, and several varieties of purple were described.

Answer from student automatically my favorite: "blue green :)".

Intriguing answer: "light tan". Unusual color, and very specific about it.

Made the CS professor laugh: "#ffffff".


This post's theme word is puce, (n.) "a dark red or brownish purple color" or (adj) "of this color." The school sweatshirt is not puce and silver, it is garnet and gray!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Professorial cackle

"This problem seems to be really hard."

"..."

"Is it going to be on the homework?"

Exit Professor Lila, cackling.


This post's theme word is mythomane (n/adj), "(one) having a tendency to exaggerate or lie." The mythomane response to all questions is, "Yes, thanks for reminding me --- I'll definitely include that on the exam!"

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Compare/contrast: support spouse

We all know that I am magnificently interesting and lead a charmed and wonderful life.

That's why we're here, reading this self-indulgent blog.

When introduced along American smalltalk guidelines, my interlocutors are wowed that I lived abroad. I am often asked to compare cultures/cities/lifestyles. There are many interesting and conversation-enhancing topical paths that this can lead to.

But now, for me, there is only one: I have, inexplicably, moved to a place where the default expectation is that I will have a full-time stay-at-home spouse to manage my life for me. This is a bizarre expectation, since AFAIK most people do not have this. I have repeatedly run into the wall of "oh, just get your [full-time support-partner] to deal with that". Apparently it's what everyone else is doing (<-- and="" heavy="" irony="" judgment="" of="" p="" tone="">
It's garbage. It's stupid.

I am familiar with the practices of making people feel like outsiders for their gender, sexuality, physical size, educational/social/cultural background, language fluency, or any other number of things. But outright societal difficulty coming from partnered status is completely new to me. And it's ridiculous.

Somehow, in slightly-more-socialized countries where I have lived, the expectation is that each person is a person as a unit and that is completely reasonable and fine and no one even thinks to talk about it, because why would you? It's obvious. The atomic unit of personhood is one person. Of course. But here, the atomic unit of adult personhood is two people, one of whom manages all logistics and this is stupid and offensive. I may be small, but I'm not half a person.

In my next job negotiations, I will include a personal secretary. It's no wonder people like me choose to "drop out" of academia, if their lives are twice as hard because they have to do the full work of two people in order to achieve one unit of adulthood. If this is true in other job paths, then I marvel that there has not been an exodus from this country of everyone educated and employable enough to move to a country that treats people as people.

Also, the weather is too hot and this renders me surly.


This post's theme word is disprize, "to disdain or scorn." I disprize your social norms. I take no leave of you, I send no compliments to your mother; you deserve no such attention. I am  most seriously displeased.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Secret knowledge

Yesterday a student asked me, "What is the meaning of life?"

This was unexpected, but because it occurred during office hours, I was already in question-answering mode.

I replied, "I'm not allowed to tell anyone under 30."

"Wow, that's the best answer I've ever heard!"

Of course if you come ask me the answer to a homework problem I'm not going to tell you. But I am generally happy to answer questions about anything. As you see, my evasion skills are advanced.


This post's theme word is ineluctable, "impossible to avoid." Outside of law courts, there are no ineluctable questions.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Things I miss about Europe

Things I miss about Europe (month 1, withdrawal edition).

Accents, and the mental work of untangling them.
Beautiful and old architecture.
Having the best baguette in Paris available, at my doorstep, baked fresh thrice daily.
Free blank-faced eye contact in public, with no requisite smile or interaction.
The added level of mental friction and difficulty of doing everything in another language. Things here seem easy (which is not to say straightforward or simple).
Being able to attribute any social misstep to my incurable Americanness.
Freshly-imported Italian delicacies.
Everyone expects to go to public parks to socialize, so parks are frequent and pleasant.
Inexpensive Swiss chocolate.
Being in a time zone ahead of GMT, so: always living in the future.
Children speaking foreign languages with perfect accents.
Reliable, fast, inexpensive internet connectivity.
An electrical wiring standard which does not threaten electrocution at every plug/unplug.
Cheese.
All my friends.

Those last two rank very closely. I'm not sure which is the more acute pang of separation. (Just kidding. It's cheese, of course.)


This post's theme word is escutcheon,
  1. "an ornamental or protective plate surrounding a keyhole, light switch, door handle, etc."
  2. used in the phrase: blot on one's escutcheon (a stain on one's reputation).
  3. "a shield or shield-shaped surface bearing a coat of arms."
The buildings look naked without the usual crust of escutcheons to mark their history, ownership, and affiliation.

Blandness is contextual and waning

It was always temporary, of course.

For those keeping tabs, I am more bland at faculty meetings and less bland while teaching. Evidently I am more comfortable being myself in a setting where I am in control.

... surprising absolutely no one.


This post's theme word is exuvia, "the cast-off outer skin of an arthropod after a moult." Beware the professorial exuvia, it's gross and very common on college campuses.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

I become bland

Unsure of myself with new colleagues and a new position, and wanting to maintain a certain dignity and thus obtain a level of respect (and respectability), I find that I am curbing most of my sotto voce comments and asides.

I want to appear pleasant and personable. (I am in fact pleasant and personable, although the way in which I express it is different from others... more prickly and dry. My personality is a cactus.)

Perhaps all my stifled remarks will harden deep in my core, and form an iridescent pearl of sarcasm, glistening with wit, and at some future date, a metaphorical conversational trawl will haul it up and expose it to the world.

In the meantime, I am content to be a little bit socially quiet, observant as usual, and with a vibrant inner life of narration and context-driven jokes.


This post's theme word is hebetate, "to make dull or obtuse." My temporary period of retirement from society shall not hebetate me.

Invisible catnip-cloak

Certain sentences can grind my brain to a halt, demanding attention and completely derailing the reading process, whether by tone, word choice, lyricism, or utter rhetorical madness. Witness:
This amalgamated aesthetic is catnip to a significant portion of American listeners but functions like an invisibility cloak against music writers.
This sentence, appearing in Jia Tolentino's "The Slippery Appeal of the Biggest New Band in America" in The New Yorker, compels further contemplation.

Partly I perform a readerly revel at the idea of an aesthetic which can simultaneously be catnip and and invisibility cloak. (Or at least, catnip which "functions like" an invisibility cloak. Is it worn? Eaten? Brandished?) Partly I cringe at this strangely not-quite-metaphor. Partly I am ready to accept any sentence beginning with the awesome and alliterative "amalgamated aesthetic".

But the biggest part, and the final one for me, is the sheer audacity of writing a sentence about "music writers" in an article about music; this is an incredible feat of non-self-recognition on the part of the author, who surely must be labelled as a music writer. And to whom this band is --- as the feature and focus of this article-let --- definitely visible.


This post's theme word is  eclose, "(of an insect) to emerge as an adult from the pupa or as a larva from the egg." Twenty One Pilots' hit song "Stressed Out" focuses on the difficulties and angst of eclosure.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Leave-taking

An era comes to a close with the end of the month. It's weird to experience a life event with the full awareness that, in the mythology of my life, it is significant. It feels like graduation. It feels like being a character in a novel. It puts me a bit on edge (what if a climactic supermonster is about to invade the city?) with a countercurrent of calm (ah, at last my life momentarily makes narrative sense).
I am anticipatorily sad, for in the future I will miss the view and the light and the fresh bread and the sphere-induced jump-start on the day (relative to North Americans) and many, many other things.

The neighborhood has been lovely.
The bakery is magnificent. I had a farewell croissant this morning.

But this is not a sunset on the most interesting, exciting period of my life so far. Because my life becomes ever more interesting and exciting as I progress!

This is, however, a sunset on the Seine, under the Pont des Arts, with the Louvre across the river and a glorious cloudbank illuminating everything like a Renaissance painting.

This post's theme word is attorn, "to turn over rent, goods, etc. to another," or "to agree to be a tenant of a new landlord of the same property." I do not attorn, I simply move.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Arts et Métiers

I'll probably never stop singing the praises of this museum, it is delightful and its subway stop is decorated to match.
Oh, the riveted faux-brass panels were not enough of a clue?
The entire thing gives the steampunkiest impression, and it is heightened by the fact that all the M11 trains that pass through the station carry the smell of burning sawdust. Mental associations to workshops, handmade items to solve technical problems.
Apparently I always take a photo from this exact location.

To go with the everything-is-gears theme today, I bring you this: a thrilling printing press, I believe in several colors, on display in the museum.
If ever I possess property, space, and money to spare (any eligible landed bachelors out there?), this will get a high priority. Although of course it comes after my Jacquard loom, which I'll be building from first principles (until it becomes ridiculous, then I'll look up historical examples).


This post's theme word is agglutinate, "(verb tr., intr.) to form words by combining words or word elements; to join or become joined as if by glue; to clump or cause to clump, as red blood cells" or "(adj.) joined or tending to join; relating to a language that makes complex words by joining words or word elements extensively. For example as in Turkish." What agglutinated monstrosities, what delightful conglomerations of gears and mechanisms you have!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Gendered bathrooms

Paris is notoriously dense. Building footprints and space in the (x,y) plane are coveted and extremely valuable. (Bear with me.) So it is curious and inventive that the city of Paris manages to squeeze a lot of public-accessible spaces in around the private, closed buildings --- a masterful but slow game of tetris to improve the quality of life of all the inhabitants. I had heard that there are many public swimming pools, but the only one I've seen is the Piscine Joséphine Baker, visible because it is floating, exposed, on a barge in the river.

The weather is hot and that swimming pool is currently closed, so I sought out a different one --- Piscine Georges Drigny, which I must have passed every day for several years without noticing. Density. Tetris. It's squeezed in underneath a high school, and the space-saving is extreme: an entry desk, a locker room, showers on the side of the pool. That's it.

One locker room. Just one. There is no gendered separation of spaces, there is hardly any division of spaces at all. The entire facility has only three toilets. There's no space wasted, and space-wastage is not possible.

As with all things, I observed how the locals were behaving and just went along with it. No one was nude in the locker room (there is a handful of private changing stalls in niches in the wall), and post-swim I saw a fair number of people reaching inside their bathing suits to wash what was covered from sight --- everyone washes with soap and shampoo, bathing-suited, out in the public area. The entire thing is a public area.

And it is not a big deal.

No one was creepy in the communal locker room. It was not weird. Everyone just wanted to swim and then go to work, so the entire process was businesslike and smooth. Huge illustrated signs everywhere reminded patrons of the rules (cleanliness, no running, etc.) and the lifeguards were reading newspapers.

This was completely practical and a simple way to ease the space requirements for a public pool. I'm in favor of this being implemented everywhere. I'm also in favor of French manners, politeness, and public rules-conformity being broadly implemented, as this attitude makes for a much more relaxing public experience than the brash, self-interested American style, IMHO.

I'm enjoying the calm rationality while I can, here in a member state of the EU, where civilization, and its concomitant steady supply of fresh bread year-round, still persist.


This post's theme word is parastatal (noun or adjective), "a company or agency owned wholly or partly by the government" or "relating to such an organization." The parastatal pool was packed, but the process ran placidly.