Friday, September 29, 2017

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

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

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

Again we had traditionalists: 0, 10, 50, 100, 101, 1000, 1001, 1024.

Also the unusual ones: 2, 4, 13, 21, 68, 751, 827, 922, 690,000.

Also those who wanted only to give bounds: "at least 10", "<1>=1", "probably like 15".

Also, or some reason, people who count to non-integer numbers out loud? 3.5 or 3.1415926535897932386424.

And of course "a millillion (by millillions)", all of which: [sic].

My favorite was the editorialized "100, the largest known number". The award for "wrote the longest reply and went over into a paragraph in the margin, but still somehow didn't answer the prompt" goes to "I was trying to break an iron ore in minecraft with my hands. It took like 300 hits. I didn't count, but I should have."

This post's theme word is adynaton, "hyperbole in which exaggeration is taken to a ridiculous and literally impossible extreme." I never needed a word for extra-hyperbolic hyperbole until I heard someone claim they had counted to O(∞) aloud; what adynaton!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What song was most recently stuck in your head?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What song was most recently stuck in your head?

Students are in a different cultural bubble than I am, so please forgive any typos I've introduced in accidentally transcribing their handwriting, and also... I can't even tell if some of these are actual songs, or just a series of words strung together.

  • Taylor Swift's new song
  • Promiscuous - Nelly furtado
  • Heart of Glass
  • Rabbit Heart
  • DARE
  • Cherub Rock
  • That one remix of the horrible meme song that doesn't have a name?
  • chocolate chip cookie
  • cold cold man
  • wake me up when sept ends
  • coconut song on YouTube
  • Diamonds
  • Anime un Po'
  • I am Moana
  • Pakkanen
  • Liang Zhu
  • My Way by Frank Sinatra
  • Wagon Wheel
  • the Schumann piece I'm learning
  • In a sentimanta [sic] mood
  • Something Just like this
  • Brite Lites
  • Super Rich Kids - Frank Ocean
  • Rich Love
  • Apartment
  • Dvorak New World Symphony
  • Despacito
The winner was "Dragon Tales", with two (!) votes, which I won't look up but will instead guess is a theme song to an animated TV show.

This post's theme word is epimone, "the rhetorical device of frequent repetiton of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point." LMFAO's iconic song "Shots" seems to have been mostly written by epimone, or a regular expression like:  "(shots)*".

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What is the punchline of your favorite joke?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the punchline of your favorite joke?

(I asked this previously in 2016 but that attendance sheet was so hilarious that it went missing, and I never saw the survey results. So neither did you.)

Some punchlines were to popular jokes:

  • orange you glad I didn't say banana
  • to get to the other side
  • A-salted
  • they always take things literally
  • a one-eyed grape
  • that's what they said
  • ba dum ching
  • awkward silence
I hear you, awkward silence, I hear you. (Someone also wrote "crickets", which could be a description of the noise emphasizing lack of laughter, or an actual punchline consisting of the word "crickets".)

Some punchlines made it seem possible to fill in the missing joke setup:

  • hose A, hose B
  • "moo"
  • mooooooo
  • "Broccoli, 49 cents!"
  • A plant!
  • Royal Executive Bond
  • Juan on Juan
  • Red Wedding [<-- dark="" humor="" li="">
  • jk, rowling
  • cheep!

Some punchlines were inscrutable:

  • It's a brick!
  • [student's own name]
  • "Not Today"
  • "Well, in the state of Wyoming, it's illegal to wave your firearm in public."
  • Tony
  • blue, blue, blue, blue.
  • suh, dude

Protest vote appeared as "my jokes are spontaneous, not scripted". Depleted imagination wrote, "can't remember, sry". One student actually wrote both the setup and the punchline, in violation of the question.

This post's theme word is persiflage (n. formal!), "light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter." Knock-knock jokes? I shun such persiflage and rely solely upon puns for my humor.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

I take attendance by asking the students a question.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

As before, many students picked onomatopoeias:
  • swish
  • poof
  • shmrshmrshmrshmr
  • boom skrrt
  • clap
  • bloooop
  • whoosh!
  • cloooop
Others chose to describe it in other ways:
  • little air molecules getting pushed off to adventure
  • magnificent
  • jazz hands
  • sound of hand and face clapping
  • like Pacman
  • nothing
  • the sound of silence
  • a very faint buzzing
Still others used their response to issue a protest against the question:
  • What is the sound of a tree falling in the woods when no one is there to hear it?
  • the answer to zen riddles must be spontaneous, and I've already heard this one
  • inconceivable!
  • clap, otherwise it wouldn't be clapping.
This week's Melancholy Monument has a plaque at the base engraved in honor of the various students who wrote, "the sadness of a missed high five", "the sound of sadness", and simply, "sad".

This post's theme word is krummholz, "stunted trees near the timber line on a mountain." The clumsy hermit's logging expedition near the krummholz avoided people but resulted in a lifelong lack of a left hand.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Give me a joke, please

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

A _______ walks into a bar. The bartender says, "______________."

This was intentionally open-ended because I want the students to be a little bit creative, and I'm not sure I've optimally tapped their creative reservoirs of energy-to-come-up-with-something-to-write-on-the-attendance-sheet. (Part of the trick seems to be starting the attendance sheet with someone who writes something witty, so that other students have an example when it gets to them.)

The traditional response, of course, is: A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?"

The literalists were there again, for example: A man walks into a bar. The bartender says, "oh wowhaha lol slapstick humor." Also "gymnast / hmmm... I should have put that higher..." and "man / Are you okay? That looked like it hurt."

There were some cute ones:
  • An electron walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why so negative?"
  • An e-flat walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve minors."
    (Alternate: A person under 21 walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Leave.")
  • A past, present, and future walk into a bar. The bartender says, "This is a tense situation."
  • A bartender walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I quit my job."
  • A bug walks into a bar. The bartender says, "#@$%(%@203åDEL▟"
  • An underscore walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Longer underscore."
  • A backpacker walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Take a hike!"
The recurring Non-SequitAward goes to: A woman walks into a bar. The bartender says quack, because the bartender is a duck.

I truly didn't anticipate that punchline.

This post's theme word is blet (v. tr.), "to overripen to the point of rotting." I'm retiring that joke; I've bletted it thoroughly.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

What is your personal motto?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is your personal motto?

This year had a different tone than last year.

The positive:
  • be happy
  • don't give up
  • You can do it.
The cultural references:
  • Hakuna matata
  • deus vult
  • That's my secret, I'm always dancing.
  • age quod agis
  • just keep swimming
  • You do you.
Those aiming for moderation:
  • no worries
  • it's gonna be okay
  • whatevs
  • Everything is okay.
  • #flawless
  • Learn. Think. Create. 
  • while (alive) { live() }
The climbing-based mottos for climbers who climb enough to justify a climbing-based personal motto, which to my astonishment is a set containing more than one student:
  • More chalk
  • Always heel hook
The unfortunate: "sleep deprived since 2014!"

The decidedly pessimistic note goes to "Never address your problems," and the could-go-either-way pin goes to "Don't care unless it helps you."

The Non-Sequit-Award is tied between "look at dogs a bunch" and simply "bird". (Is "bird" a verb now? What are these youths doing with language nowadays? *shakes fist at sky, mumbles to self*)

This post's theme word is bovarism (n), "a romanticized, unrealistic view of oneself." My motto: be the bovarism I think I am already!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Quoth the raven

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

Quoth the raven, "________________". (See previously.)

Traditionalists were numerous (four!), some with a modern take:

  • nevermore (x 4)
  • forevermore (I know this b/c the Simpsons)
  • evermore
  • never (Swarth)more
  • To Whatever End
Alternate animal noises:
  • tweet
  • moo
  • woof
  • quack?
  • "caw"
  • skrrrrt
  • caawwww
Some students apparently thought the raven was trying to politely decline something, or greeting someone, or continuing an ongoing conversation:
  • hello
  • sup
  • suhhhh
  • hi
  • no
  • eat my shorts
  • I'd rather not
  • party like it's 1999
  • I'm ravin' mad

I have no idea how a raven would pronounce ":(", but I'd like to see it attempted. Similarly, "burp" could be an interesting spectator event.

The "Modernity Makes Me Feel Old" Medallion goes to "that's so raven", for taking my highfalutin' literary reference and turning it into a pop-culture reference accessible exclusively to tween-targeting advertising conglomerates.

The Non-Sequitur Plaque goes to the student who wrote, "*drops cheese". Runner-up is "swallowing in sadness", about which I can only say: [sic].

This post's theme word is otic (adj), "relating to the ear." In a moment of otic confusion, I hallucinated a chortling, cheese-dispensing raven.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Your hidden talent?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is one of your hidden talents?

Once again, my students are brimming with talent. "Sleeping" and "procrastinating" (and variants thereon) were popular, of course --- remember, these are undergraduates. They don't yet know how to sugarcoat those as "restoring my equilibrium" and "organizing my schedule around my personal priorities".

The fundamental talents to cover the bottom part of Maslow's hierarchy.

  • guessing all the ingredients used in a dish
  • catching gummy bears in my mouth (<-- a="" addendum="" an="" disputed="" in="" later="" li="" student="" this="">
  • navigating with cardinal directions (I'm bad at left and right though...)
  • I can distinguish flavors in food really well.
  • putting too much cinnamon in everything somehow

Psychological, middling-Maslow needs might be met by:

  • Calming down a group of 30+ children.
  • appearing unexpectedly

And the only thing for self-actualization is, of course, self-reference and other circular reasoning:

  • Hiding my talents from others.
  • can't tell
  • paying attention to lecture while filling out the attendance sheet


I am most astonished by the student who wrote "flying".

This post's theme word is foozle (v), "to botch or bungle", or (n) "a botched attempt at something." I thought I could juggle, but my complete foozle indicates it's a very hidden talent.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What is your favorite kitchen implement?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. This week's question is sourced from WiCS (I want to give proper attribution, in the spirit of good citation etiquette).

What is your favorite kitchen implement?

Spatulas come out ahead, rubber spatulas in particular. Other single-handed tools are popular, too: ladle, spoon, tongs, whisk, and whatever a "flipperer" is. The two-handed "mortar & pestle" is a cool choice. Many people picked cooking vessels: pan, colander, steamer, toaster, saucepan, or the stove. One person, thinking perhaps of their value on the product of the implement, said "coffee press." The future is always automated by those who pick "stand mixer."

Kudos and the Thinking Big Prize go to "multiple sinks".  The "????" Trophy (a golden plaque covered in question marks) goes to "peanut butter stick", which I can only figure is like a glue stick, but for spreading peanut butter? I'm definitely picturing a cylinder of peanut butter which gets gradually extruded, and which you dispense by friction onto your food.

This post's theme word is kayfabe (n), "portrayal of staged events as real, especially in professional wrestling." The "Kayfabe Cooking Corner" is a little too meta for a cooking show concept --- maybe try something simpler, like: 101 uses for a whisk?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What's your favorite fruit?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What's your favorite fruit?

Students had a clear plurality winner: mango, with 8 votes. Huzzah! Tied for second-place were grapes and pineapples; tied for third place were strawberries and apples. (It's a good smoothie so far.)

Other fruits that appeared: orange, banana, dragon fruit, peach, blueberry, lychee, cucumber, squash. (The smoothie has slightly derailed.)

One worrisome student wrote simply, "nightshade." (No longer a recommended smoothie.)

One fruit-lover picked the entire category of "stone fruit."

The Professor's Apology for a Bureaucratic Mix-Up Award goes to the student who wrote, "the 'being on the list' fruit".

This post's theme word is shermanesque, "brutally thorough, especially in defeating someone." The mango's popularity was shermanesque; other fruits cower in fear.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

If you were a superhero, what power would you have?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

If you were a superhero, what power would you have?

Listed from usual to much less usual, students replied:

  • invisibility
  • flying
  • run fast / super speed
  • teleportation / being in multiple places at once
  • shapeshifting
  • time travel / ability to stop time / napping, but while I nap, time stops
  • slowing time
  • existing forever / immortality
  • I would just be Aquaman
  • superior intellect
  • honestly this might be awful but reading minds
  • rearrange atoms - make whatever I want
  • greening the world
  • produce infinite pasta

I appreciated the computer science-themed answers, too:

  • brute-force algorithms in constant time
  • moving nondeterministically
  • solving P vs. NP

The "Wait, does that mean... ?" prize for most thought-invoking superpower goes to "breaking the fourth wall". A Most Meta Medal goes to the superpower, "make one more person a superhero."

But my favorite was the keep-your-dreams-manageable student whose superpower would simply be "to not be lactose intolerant."

This post's theme word is acnestis, "the part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch." (Etymology: from From Greek aknestis (spine), from Ancient Greek knestis (spine, cheese-grater).) My superpower would be the ability to eliminate my acnestis and satisfy an itch by scratching anywhere!

Monday, September 11, 2017

What does the fox say?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. Today's timeless question was:

What does the fox say?

I ask because I actually do not know the answer --- are foxes one of those animals that emits a human-like scream? I have a vague memory of learning something like this. One student confirmed: "It sounds like children crying and is super creepy."

Many people answered with onomatopoeia or other sounds:

  • ahhhhhhhh!
  • moo
  • ughh
  • screaming in the Crum
  • meow
  • ring ding ding ding ding ga ding
  • "..."
  • qwak
  • bleh
  • oo
  • wah
  • nati nati nati noo
  • QUACK!
... of which my clear favorite is the callback reference that foxes make "Bluth family chicken noises" (reference).

Then there were the replies that suggest the fox can speak (sometimes at length):
  • noooooooooooooo
  • I'm sleepy
  • suhhh, dude
  • bird
  • Hello I am a fox
  • stop talking about me
Then there were the editorial answers, describing what the fox says rather than rendering what the fox says:
  • nothing
  • It's Monday, the fox is still sleeping
  • Too much annoying stuff
  • Isn't there a song about this?
  • This song was way too popular
  • I disagree. This song was not popular enough and we should bring it back.

This post's theme word is bombilate, "to make a humming or buzzing noise." The fox snuck up on me without bombilating! -- how is that even possible?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. I didn't manage to find her last year, so I asked again:

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

The unsure:
  • IDK
  • who dat
  • no idea
  • Wonderful question, I'm from the South.
I guess Carmen Sandiego might be a regional/cultural thing.

Some students suggested a good collection of places I'm totally willing to go in an around-the-world montage/vacation:
  • Toledo, Spain
  • San Jose
  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
  • Cornfield, USA (<-- --="" an="" challenge:="" finding="" have="" i="" li="" location="" might="" slightly="" such="" trouble="" underspecified="">
  • on Earth (<-- --="" ditto="" even="" li="" more="" underspecified="">
  • Gallifrey (<-- --="" a="" challenge:="" challenge="" distance="" expenses="" hugely="" li="" pose="" significant="" still="" time="" travel="" underspecified="">
  • Swarthmore-specific answers, of course:
    • Clothier
    • Swarthmore
    • Willets 325
    • on my comp in 2005
    • here<-- attendance="" be="" for="" just="" li="" might="" present="" registering="" someone="">
    • Bell Tower
    • in class
    The remaining answers were eclectic. On-topic for Algorithms Award goes to "unsure, but there's probably an algorithm we can use to find out." The Unhelpfullest in Searching Prize is tied between "wherever you look last" and "Have you checked under the couch?" The Trophy of Nerd Supremacy goes to "Schrodinger's Box, with the cat."

    This post's theme word is retral (adj), "located at the back" or "backward." The professor calls on the retral students first, so sit near the front!

    Thursday, September 7, 2017

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

    • As much as woodchuckily possible.
    • all the wood that a woodchuck could chuck if it could chuck wood
    • too much ☹
    • lots
    • Lot 51
    • depends on if he had a snack before
    • depends on his emotions
    • a truckload
    • a chuckload
    • O(n*n)
    • at least 17
    • 10 pieces of wood
    • some
    • 2
    • none 😑
    • *if* a woodchuck could chuck wood
    The most popular answer was "enough." Official Tip of the Cap to "to get to the other side" for making fun of the questions, and Professor's Preferred Award to "We only need to prove that the wood exists, nothing more."

    Previously on: Algorithms.

    This post's theme word is loblolly, "a thick gruel", "a mire or mudhole," "an assistant to a ship's surgeon," "a pine tree with long needles and strong wood", or "an evergreen." The lobllolly prescribed me loblolly made of loblolly while I recovered from my motorbike accident. What happened? Oh, I hit a loblolly and fell into a loblolly, then the loblolly fell atop me.

    Wednesday, September 6, 2017

    Why did the chicken cross the road?

    I take attendance by having students answer a question.

    Why did the chicken cross the road?

    Two traditional people went for "to get to the other side."
    Others made it bird- or chicken- specific:
    • to beat the egg
    • because it's a bird.
    • to avoid being dinner
    • to become dinner
    • to escape the farm
    • to get hit by a car
    • Chipotle > Chick-Fil-A
    Many people tried to make this question class-specific:
    • to study algorithms
    • to get to the other side in constant time
    • the algorithm told it to
    • to study the runtime of doing so
    • to find its friend on the trail
    • to add this class (from the waitlist)
    • I'm tired. & trying to pay attention to what we're doing in class
    ... ouch. I try to make the class fun, engaging, and interesting, but I guess there can be such a thing as too many attention-grabbing events. I'll try to rein it in.

    Others went off on in various directions:
    • deep question...
    • for cookiez
    • cuz it was bored
    • to do what it was destined to do
    • because it had a reason to do so.
    • to look at the sparkly thing
    • It's a mobius strip.
    • entropy?
    • It forgot its phone.
    • because it did
    • so that it could be right (it was on the left side)
    The teacher's favorite award goes to "motion is an illusion." I'm thrilled to hear it!

    This post's theme word is dégustation, "the careful, appreciative tasting of various foods, focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company; more likely to involve sampling small portions of all of a chef's signature dishes in one sitting." (This was one of the specific French vocabulary words I only acquired after subtly translating with my phone under the restaurant table.) Welcome to our cheese dégustation! I recommend you start at this end of the table.

    Tuesday, September 5, 2017

    I Hate Everyone But You

    Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn (comedy duo with YouTube channel Just Between Us) write/create/star in funny video sketches, and vlogging(?)/advice snippets, and also have now written a book!

    The book is called i hate everyone but you, and it is a modern epistolary novel --- it consists of text messages and emails sent between two friends (parallelling the real-life friendship and characters of the authors). The book contains some pop culture references, some timely culture references (the issues of today!), and lots of feelings between best friends attending college on opposite sides of the continent. In two completely different ways, they manage to have "usual" college first-year experiences, with the added update (from my now out-of-date memories) that everyone has a smartphone all the time, which makes documenting and contacting anyone instantaneously available.

    I liked it. The book was cute (it's marketed as YA, so it's a little outside my usual reading zone) and funny. In an amusing meta-twist, one character suggested to the other, "Maybe start a YouTube channel! Those things can blow up!" (p. 109), and later links to the Just Between Us channel and says "You're such an Allison" (p. 282) to the obviously-an-Allison-analogue character. 

    I also appreciated the overwrought, highly-dramatic versions of their lives that the characters wrote in emails; there are certainly emails in my own "sent" folder that are as ridiculous, condensed, and silly. In the midst of juggling a description of many people attending a party, we have this snippet (p. 158):
    Cassidy preferred to join a grating conversation about the semicolon. He could later be heard quoting Oscar Wilde from the other room. The night proceeded without further incident until...
    Possibly it's not as funny without the context, but I'm unwilling to type in pages of text and besides, you should read it for yourself! It's a quick, fun read.

    This post's theme word is tarnal, "damned." The comments section is full of the tarnal dregs of the internet.

    Monday, September 4, 2017

    What is your favorite color?

    Welcome back! Today we celebrated labor in the traditional manner: by laboring!

    'Twas the first day of classes. I took attendance by asking students a question. Here at the beginning, while I'm getting to know them and they are getting to know me, I try to ease them in to the practice of answering a question.

    Usually, of course, these questions are rather open-ended and have no correct answer. I ask them for the sake of amusement, and a chance to make a silly joke, and a way to occasionally learn something new about my students. However, this question has a correct answer.

    What is your favorite color?

    Among the wrong answers, "blue" was again a clear crowd favorite, with purple and gold far behind, and everything else isolated singletons. "All in the spectrum of ocean blues" covered most of this swath, plus added poetry to the otherwise terse answers.

    Two outliers liked "beige" and "gray", respectively, which seems like it might hint at a hipster trend in preference for blandness? I'm old, what do I know, these millennials, am I right? Last year someone liked "light tan", so maybe I should collect these students and help them form some sort of special interest group.

    Several students correctly answered "green", though they might have outside knowledge that informed this answer.

    The One-Quirked-Eyebrow Prize goes to the student who, following their heart, answered "heron."

    This post's theme word is handsel or hansel, which is either a noun, "a gift for good luck given at the beginning of a new venture," or "a first payment or installment", or a transitive verb, "to inaugurate or do something for the first time." Declaring "green" is a good hansel, but I will expect much more from you in the future.