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?

Monday, October 17, 2016

What is the most fun thing you did during fall break?

I take attendance by having students answer a question. Sometimes I try to get to know them a bit better, so that I can distinguish them from the swarm.

What is the most fun thing you did during fall break?

The typical Swarthmore student:

  • algorithms
  • slept in
  • sleeeeeeep zzzzzzz
  • sleep
  • sleep + sleep + sleep
  • sleep!
  • read Kleinberg + Tardos (our textbook)
  • getting away from here
  • sleep
  • slep [stet]
  • grad apps & Overwatch 💙
  • divide & conquer
Something that sounds more "mainstream" fun:
  • went to 
    • NYC!
    • Chicago
    • visit friends
    • Maid of the Mist @ Niagara Falls
  • gardening
  • climb a fortress
  • disc golf
  • collaged
  • watched
    • the trailer for PLANET EARTH II!!!!!!!
    • Silicon Valley
    • Evil Dead
    • a movie
  • played guitar
  • visited my girlfriend's family
  • tiddlywinks
  • swam in a glacial lake
  • ate good food
  • hung with friends
  • soccer game
"The most fun thing"? There were some... fun outliers:

  • my car was surrounded by hundreds of sheep
  • woken up by Armenian brute
  • removed 4 teeth
  • watched a kidney removal surgery
  • bees?
  • uncontrollable near explosive diarrhea
I have to ask --- "removed 4 teeth" makes it sound like you removed them from yourself, by yourself. That seems worrisome.


This post's theme word is 

Friday, October 7, 2016

What is your quest?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. This one pairs nicely with the previous question "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

What is your quest?

Not the college-polished liberal arts answers I expected:

  • i'm still waiting for the call to action tbh
  • still figuring that out
  • I don't know

Short-term thinkers and those with pretty feasible goals:
  • sleep
  • eat 2015's chocolate award winners
  • not puke after watching a romcom
  • to finish the current problem set
  • to make it through the day
  • over to the left a bit
  • sort things
  • to finally get to October break

Long-term and big picture thinkers:
  • to find a nice farm to settle down in
  • to find the meaning of my one and only life
  • to sell vacuum cleaners in n cities, driving as few miles as possible
  • find my quest
  • to make myself and others happy
  • to be the best there ever was
  • seek ultimate fun in life
  • join moon
  • to get vim commands to work in google docs

I'm not sure that "join moon" should be interpreted literally. Maybe it's a cult thing?


There were some context-free superlatives:

  • be the best
  • to be the very best
  • to be the best there ever was
This last one, it turns out, was a frequent verbatim response, sometimes extending for several more lines. I had to do an internet search to find my missing cultural context, because I am an old person and not hip or cool.


The obvious answers (I can hear it, with accent and cadence, in my head):
  • to find the Holy Grail
  • I don't know thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-----
    [ed. note: the line trailed off and upwards into the margin]
The "playing for brownie points" award goes to my favorite: "to reach node v of graph G".


This post's theme word is manumit, "to free from slavery." A valuable life's work is to maximally manumit.

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.