Monday, February 19, 2018

What is your favorite function?

An open question to my students.

"I'm a big fan of fourth degree polynomials 'cause they can look like us or ws." I don't get it; it seems like not a typo. What's "ws"?

"PBJ function" I am never letting the peanut butter jelly sandwich metaphor go. We talked about them on the first day of class and we'll talk about them on the last day.

In reply to "What was one interesting thing you learned today?", one student wrote, "Lila really, really likes functions" which: yes. If using the professor as part of the narrative helps you learn, then let's absolutely add that technique to our pedagogy. [There's a short story I'm thinking of, that I wanted to link here. I thought it was by Cory Doctorow, but I can't locate it now. The story is in the form of a history lesson, telling how humanity figured out that facts in a narrative are easier to learn and stick in your mind better than a loose collection of facts. The twist at the end is that the entire lecture/story of how the lecturer "discovered" this is, itself, fabricated to take advantage of the technique. Can you source this? I'll credit you with thanks and replace this message with a link.]

This post's theme word is dabster (n), "an expert; a bungler." It can be used both ways! What a mess this is, you're such a dabster; we'll have to call in a dabster to repair it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Write it in your dream journal."

"Write it in your dream journal" is this season's witty riposte. Please help me disseminate it by hurling it --- with disdain, if you can manage it --- in reply to any conversational foray you desire.

For example:

  • Misery poker retort:
    "I have three papers due this week!"
    "Write it in your dream journal."
  • Cut off that annoying conversationalist:
    "I had such a crazy weekend that-"
    "Write it in your dream journal."
  • Conversation ender:
    "Will you help me with this project?"
    "Write it in your dream journal." (accompanied by hair flip and smoothly walking away)

Hello, internet. I often remember my dreams, but the coolness of this is offset by the banality of the dreams themselves. Even to me, they are not that compelling; perhaps I have stringent requirements for characterization, plot, and style --- and my own imagination fails to meet these standards.

I recently had a dream wherein I kept trying to remember what happened in my dream, and almost remembering it, then feeling it slip away. When I woke up, I had this feeling... but then I remembered: that was exactly a dream! So it didn't slip away. I found the bottom of the inception stack, and what was there was, frankly, not that interesting.

I also recently had a dream where I noticed a very vibrantly-colored spider, with rectangular pastel markings that looked a bit like eye spots. It also had a very elaborate web design. (Possibly this dream comes from watching too many nature documentaries.)

... and now: they are written in my dream journal. Of sorts. May my continued public expression of private thoughts please you, my readership.

This post's theme word is: antimeria (n), "a rhetorical device in which an existing word is used as if it were a different part of speech." English is insidious about verbing nouns and nouning verbs, and mushing all together until the meaning must coalesce, as from a dream, out of a certain invoked ambiance.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey was my readerly attempt at palate-cleansing, or at least palate-overwriting, after Gone Girl. This book, too, had been in my queue for awhile, with mental annotations of "this got a lot of praise" and "might be a bit creepy", based solely on half-remembered, skimmed reviews. (And possibly associating the title with Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls, which was also --- like Gone Girl --- terrifying and tense, but which I enjoyed.)

This blog is self-indulgently about me, and my thoughts and opinions, so I have no regrets about all the first-person used in that paragraph. Or in this one. I guess this is my spurt of reading books with "girl" in the title; stay tuned.

The book starts with children, strangely imprisoned and regimented, and gradually reveals hints about the broader situation of the world and the history of steps that established this near-future post(?)-apocalpyse(?). We get the sense that all is not well --- after all, imprisoning children is wrong and cruel --- and grow to sympathize with the children, which hook Carey uses to frame a lot of moral quandaries throughout the book. Children are monsters, and these children are particularly lethal and not-metaphorical monsters; they are also the most compassionate people in the book, and the adults whose decisions we criticize are those whose thoughts we can understand.

Children are foreign, and so on, childhood is a series of awakenings to harsh adult truths, adults and children are alien to each other, ... [all the trite things you might imagine can definitely go here]. I encourage you to think of them, even without having read the book, since I can't really discuss many details of the book without ruining the creepy surprises it holds. (One surprise from Google: this book's movie reversed the skin colors of the main characters. Why? That's weird.)

I liked this book, even though by the end I was firmly rooting for every character to die, and for human civilization to end. Also it was deeply creepy, in the skin-crawling way, edging along the spectrum towards that tear-off-your-own-skin-with-your-fingernails body horror of Scott Sigler's Infected.

As a palate-cleanser it failed, since it didn't leave me with warm fuzzy feelings OR with any cool new thoughts about science puzzles. I may have to resort to Terry Pratchett to reset my internal Delight Barometer. I'll probably never reread The Girl With All The Gifts, or any of the same-universe companion pieces, but I liked it.

This post's theme word is emesis (n), "the act or process of vomiting." Literary force alone has never yet induced emesis, but the mind is a powerful thing.