Monday, February 27, 2017

When you are sick, your comfort food is

I've almost completely lost my voice, but that of course should stand as no impediment to the dissemination of knowledge, which is my primary goal. So I got miked and gave my lecture in a husky "late night radio DJ" voice.

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

When you are sick, your comfort food is:

Soup, in increasing order of specificity:
  • soup
  • noodle soup
  • ramen
  • chicken noodle soup
  • chicken noodle soup heavy on the noodles
  • chicken noodle soup and ginger ale

Other starches or sugary foods:
  • bread
  • crackers
  • triangle toast
  • cinnamon sugar toast + apple cinnamon tea
  • cookie dough
  • jello
  • Skittles

  • ginger
  • beef rice pudding
  • congee
  • water with lemon juice and pulp
  • water
  • tofu
The most extreme outlier is "hot toddies" --- someone's family has adopted the same "use alcohol to burn out the germs" approach that I've heard bandied around by half-joking grandparents.

This post's theme word is leechdom (noun), "a remedy or medicine." What a wondrous panoply of leechdoms!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Your favorite childhood memory, in one sentence:

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

Your favorite childhood memory, in one sentence:

Certain students obeyed the structure of the question, replying with a complete sentence:
  • 4 kids make a mess in a muddy backyard.
  • Carrier has arrived.
  • Summer Camp is awesome!
  • That's personal!
  • I ate a banana
  • I was bad at softball
  • A TV gave me a concussion
  • oh god why are there so many ferrets
Others only left sentence fragments, abandoned noun or verb phrases left dangling, their tenuous wisps reaching back into memory:

  • climbing trees
  • soccer games
  • breaking my femur
  • summer with grandparents
  • going on field trips
  • playing
  • figuring out how to use a water fountain
  • vacation in Thailand
  • infantile amnesia
  • video games
  • [illustration of a ghost chasing pacman eating dots]
  • corner
  • go karting
  • spending time with family
  • playing with dogs
  • scoring winning soccer goal
  • going to beach
  • carefree summers

My cold, robotic, grown-up professor grinch heart is warmed by these snippets of lives happily remembered. I'm curious about why "breaking my femur" would be one's favorite childhood memory, but I suppose context counts for quite a bit in comparing memories...

This post's theme word is defervescence, "the abatement of a fever." I vividly remember being sick in childhood, but the gradual defervescence left no distinct impression.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Your ideal pet is a ________.

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

Your ideal pet is a ____________.

  • a clabul fish (<-- a="" fish="" globul="" handwriting:="" li="" maybe="">
  • a bagumon
  • The Monkey King, Wu Kong
  • lynx
  • beagle
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex
  • Shadowmere
  • a fat cat
  • excitable dog
  • plant
  • the bird-like reptiles from Avatar
  • dragon
  • fox
  • AI
  • pug(s)
  • doge
  • fat Scottish fold
  • parrot
  • cat
  • dog
  • Samoyed
  • tutrle
  • gooden doodle
  • jerboa
  • Time lord
  • computer
  • O
  • corgies
  • fat dog named Bubba
These ranged from the general to the very specific. I'm delighted that there were animals listed that I had to look up (see links above); I'm always looking for more knowledge to absorb! (If you can figure out what a "glorbul fish" is, let me know.)

This post's theme word is secretory (adjective), "relating to the release of a substance from a cell, gland, or an organ." My secret pet was soon discovered due to its particular secretory properties.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What is the title of your autobiography?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the title of your autobiography?

I've expurgated names below to protect the innocent. As a side effect, this protects the rest, too.

Some people went with an extremely literal title:
  • A Book about ME
  • "Don't Read This Book"
  • I
  • [student's own name]'s Autobiography by [student's own name]
  • "Book"
  • A Book about [student's own initials]
  • The Life + Times
  • [student's own name]: A Life
  • "I Should Write an Autobiography -- Selected musings of [student's own name]"
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of [student's own name]
I'm a bit worried about that last one --- does that student for some reason expect to live a particularly "brief" life? Yikes.

Others made obscure references (?) that I hope would be thematically highlighted and tied together in the text of the autobiography:
  • "Thoughts About Everything"
  • "The Little Engine that Could"
  • My Life by Bill Clinton (<-- amp="" art="" cover="" have="" li="" might="" misleading="" publisher="" the="" trouble="" with="">
  • "Sir"
  • "Eh,"
  • Content Free
  • "No"
  • Untitled
  • I don't know
  • 1337
  • "ε"
Others chose something self-deprecating:

  • "Fashionably Late and/or Asleep"
  • A look at where it went wrong
  • The Science of Laughing at Yourself

My favorite was easily "A look at where it went wrong", not only because it's a good hook --- I'm interested! I want to read that book! --- but also because either this student already thinks it's gone wrong, or this student anticipates that it will all go wrong sometime, for sure, and so that's a reliable autobiography title. Plus it's already funny. The title, at least, is going right!

This post's theme word is proem, "an introduction, preface, or preamble." My autobiography consists of a series of proems --- I just haven't gotten to the significant stuff yet!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is the longest amount of time you have gone without using the internet?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the longest amount of time you have hove without using the internet?

Sorted by size, the answers ranged:

  • 0 secs
  • just now
  • dunno, let me google it
  • seconds
  • does time exist outside the internet?
  • at least a minute
  • the time it takes to use the bathroom
  • 5 days (not including before)
  • 1 week
  • 2 weeks
  • not sure; 2 weeks since starting
  • 5 weeks (not including the before time)
  • 1 year
  • age 0-4
  • age 0-5
  • 6 years
  • 6.5 years
  • 7 years
  • 8 years
  • 9 years
  • not long enough

This seems a fairly bimodal distribution, and it just tells me who took the question literally (and thus had to include all their pre-widespread-internet existence) and who took it to mean time since they first used the internet. I suspect that in a few years, this bimodality will shrink, as today's middle-schoolers could easily have been using internet-enabled devices in their preliterate days. Maybe even preverbal.

This post's theme word is apheresis, "the loss of one or more sounds or letters from the beginning of a word." A common example is the change in pronunciation of knife from (k-nyf) to (nyf) or the formation of till from until. Another meaning of apheresis is "a method in which blood is drawn from a donor, one or more blood components (such as plasma, platelets, or white blood cells) are removed, and the rest is returned to the donor by transfusion." I wonder if the written archivability of the internet means that written apheresis has slowed, or if the prevalence and ease-of-transmission of abbreviations will speed apheresis of letters in written words.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What is the name of your (future) rock band?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the name of your (future) rock band?

Students were all over the place with this.

  • Name Pending
  • Axaxaxau Mlö
  • Hello hello
  • Archangels
  • Wonder Wall (we would only do covers of Wonder Wall)
  • DM & the B's
  • Sam
  • The Rock Belt
  • Merry-Go-Round
  • The 3 [student's own name]s
  • Frank
  • Goofy Gookers
  • Leb
  • LOL
  • F2 and the Dlis
  • Select of Feed
  • The Rolling Stones
  • 101 Dominant
  • [student's own name]'s band
Some students chose to go more mathy with their band names:

  • P=NP
  • Automata
  • Nonregular
  • Current
  • The Klein V Group
I like the idea that you'd have to include a pronunciation guide if your band was named just the symbol ∅ (pronounced: "empty set"), which would in turn increase the math literacy of band-introducers everywhere.

By far my favorite --- and quite nerdy --- potential band name was "The Dewey Decibels." I don't know if they play particularly loud music, or music in a very thoroughly specified order, but I want to see their set list. Their album tracks would be titled things like "019" and would be strictly ordered by topic.

(Later in the day, a student not enrolled in the class submitted "Hooks and Mantels" as a potential band name, which I also think is very catchy.)

This post's theme word is disaffect, "to alienate the support or loyalty of someone." The disaffected fans of band "Disaffected Fans" have a lot of trouble disambiguating their messageboards from the still-enthusiastic fans of Disaffected Fans.

Friday, February 3, 2017

All the Birds in the Sky

Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky is a lovely novel about two slightly-weird childhood friends whose lives diverge and then coalesce in adulthood. Patricia finds out as a child that she has magical powers --- maybe --- or at least that magic is real, and in a merciful jump-cut, we see her as a child and then emerge from magic school as a fully-trained adult. Lawrence's life follows a scifi, not fantasy, thread, as he assembles a dynamically-learning computer in his closet in childhood. After the jump-cut, we see him as a flashy tech start-up nerd, immersed in a decidedly non-magical world of science and charisma.

Patricia and Lawrence are, by the inevitable laws of narrative necessity, entangled romantically. They are also on two opposing sides of a destroy-the-planet/save-humanity scheme wherein each thinks themself the hero and the other the villain. It's a cute setup and the denouement predictably relies on their interpersonal bond to bring magic and science together to prevent the destruction of the world. This cutesy-ness is counteracted by the fact that both characters are allowed to have real personalities, their relationship has real flaws, and in general almost nothing works out nicely even after the bow is tied around the plot.

The writing strikes a friendly tone, sort of like the kind of observations one might overhear from a late-night philosophy session in college:
You know... no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you're not. But if you're clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were. (p. 139)
It's also playful, and the personality shining through is sarcastic. Extra fun for me:
One day the Singularity would elevate humans to cybernetic superbeings, and maybe then people would say what they meant.
Probably not, though. (p.130)
And inevitably, there was that one sentence that sparkled above the rest of the book:
Even as Patricia said it back to him, she felt like her whole history was taking on a whole new focus, the landscape of her past rearranging so that the stuff with Lawrence became major geographical features and some other, lonelier, events shrank proportionately. Historical revisionism was like a sugar rush, flooding her head. (p. 214)
Historical revisionism like a sugar rush? Yes, please, more simile!

This post's theme word is scrutate (tr), "to investigate". Don't scrutate too closely, the bits of magic between the atoms are not invariant under observation!

[Update: this book was nominated for a 2017 Hugo award! Huzzah!]

What's the scariest thing you have ever done?

I take attendance --- even in my own absence --- by having the students answer a question.

What's the scariest thing you have ever done?

Swarthmore students apparently often encounter danger outdoors:

  • almost fell off the side of mountain while hiking
  • climb a mountain at night
  • walked home from my town in the dark
  • run for my life from a crazy dog through a snowy forest in Maine
  • run through a forest during severe thunderstorm
  • bridge jumping in Ecuador
  • skydive?
  • saw a shark
  • almost fell off a waterfall
  • almost got lost in a forest
  • cage dive with great white sharks

Some people accurately experience fear at physical illness:

  • been so dehydrated I had intense stomach pains and thought I was dying
  • get sick before seminar
Some people accurately experience abstract fear at political situations:
  • voted in the 2016 election
  • live in the US during the Trump presidency
Unsurprisingly for an upper-level, abstract course in mathematics and computer science, there were several who expressed introvert fears:

  • socializing
  • life
  • socializing
  • talked

Other "scariest" experiences were mixed or inexplicable:

  • been in a plane that had to emergency land and so dumped all its gas out the window
  • play League of Legends
  • I slept
  • crossing an intersection while it's covered in ice in front of a truck
  • ate wings with ghost pepper sauce
  • played against Martin
  • taken this class

This question didn't lend itself to joking answers, but one nevertheless made me laugh out loud: an answer that referred to a message from the homework-insta-marking algorithm: "1 attempt remaining."

This post's theme word is exungulate, "to pare nails, claws, etc." Beware the Jabberwock, my son, for he is freshly back from the manicurist and, though exungulated, as slashing and catching as ever!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What inanimate object would you wish to eliminate from existence?

I take attendance by having students answer a question.

What inanimate object would you wish to eliminate from existence?

Some students used their wish for the betterment of all:

  • fossil fuels
  • plastic in the ocean
  • greenhouse gases
Others clearly hold personal grudges, whose explanations and origin stories I can only hypothesize:
  • mushrooms
  • sporks
  • red onion
  • fire moose
  • sandals
  • toe shoes
  • socks
  • aglet
  • ties
  • styrofoam
  • rocks
  • my hallmates' alarm clocks
  • stickshift cars
  • SSBM
"SSBM", based on a 10-second internet search, is either surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, or Super Smash Brothers Melee. Either way, it's destructive.

Some had very specific college-student-related ideas, ranging from "that makes sense" to "that seems actively hurtful towards me, your professor, I'm standing in this room right now trying to teach you":
  • problem sets
  • math
  • final exams
  • pens
  • this pen
  • sign-in sheets
  • this question
  • Swarthmore College
My favorite was the dull, "nothing", because it supports the hypothesis that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

This post's theme word is aglet --- a new word for me! --- which is the term to refer to the metal or plastic tube at the end of the shoelace that stops it from fraying. In a world without aglets, we bungee-cord our shoes on each morning and saunter about, oblivious to the alternate realities we have narrowly avoided.