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.