Monday, November 25, 2019

Are you, in fact, here?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. Usually I try to make it something creative or interesting, but sometimes I, like everyone else, just time out on creativity and come up entirely and completely blank.

Are you, in fact, here?

Everything along the spectrum of yes-to-no:

  • Yup
  • yea
  • I was here on time :)
  • alarm broke but I'm here
  • shockingly
  • yes
  • contrary to popular belief, yes
  • basically lol
  • physically, yes
  • briefly yes, from 9:30-9:30.5
  • Just so I don't get fined
  • Yes (probably not when you're reading this)
  • Yes. maybe
  • I hope
  • I don't know
  • physically, yes, mentally, maybe
  • perhaps?
  • Well. Maybe. I don't know. I don't know anything
  • in theory
  • No, I'm [first name]
  • NO
  • we are not here
  • No, my soul is somewhere else
  • No, I was here.
  • No one is here
  • 24 hours late
And then the other sort of answer:
  • are you?
  • who's "here"?
  • carrot
  • VC \leq_p WVC
A lot of existential waffling this morning.


This post's theme word is Bulverism (n), the logical fallacy of assuming that your opponent is wrong and explaining their error. Some uppity students are verging into brief Bulverism with their responses to attendance questions.

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)? (Previously asked in 2016.)

(I want to give them the leeway to still be aiming for an even greater victory!)

Many students replied in earnest celebration of their victories:

  • ran 2 marathons
  • being the 1st in my family to go to college
  • getting into Swarthmore
  • becoming a zygote
  • making it through 2 years of college
  • going abroad
  • making it to senior year
  • being born
Others were more creative in their replies:

  • I solved Independent Set
  • solving 2+2
  • I solved SAT
Some were more unusual:
  • "stealing" 6 mattresses
  • can't think --- concussed
  • please let me know when you find out
  • nothing so far

To all the tired, striving brains out there: good luck with the end-of-semester, and try not to bonk into anything!


This post's theme word is contund (verb tr), "to thrash or bruise." Please do not contund your noggin.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What social convention baffles you?

I take attendance by having students answer a question.

What social convention baffles you? (previously I've asked this but don't seem to have blogged it)

Some responses were understandably baffling IMHO:
  • not putting elbows on table. why??
  • jaywalking >:(
  • why do people do absolutely stupid dares?
  • starting school at 8:30am
  • pretending to work 8 hours a day 5 days a week

Others were for pretty reasonable social conventions that (I hope) students actually do understand, they just... choose not to participate in... I guess?
  • small talk
  • lying
  • washing hands after using the restroom
  • sleeping
  • a lot of things, saying bless you? "thoughts & prayers"...
  • TikTok
  • most things young people do. Also, eating cereal as a meal. It's literally like eating chips as sustenance.
  • using chopsticks to eat chips, ice cream, etc.
  • talking to strangers


    Many students just outright want to be socially bizarre and asocial/prosocial in unusual ways. I get it. They're all great. I enjoy being in a community that intentionally accepts students who tend this way, and cultivates their eccentricities. College is fantastic and I'm extremely lucky that I never have to leave it.

    • social cues
    • socializing
    • quiet floors at Swat libraries
    • Swarthmore misery poker
    • asking "how are you" and always responding with "good, you?"
    • saying "how r u?" and not finishing interaction
    • socializing with people you don't like
    • pretending to GAF
    • "You should go outside once in awhile"
    This casts a pretty dark look at the mindset of students in my class. But more unusual and weird is what emerges from my favorites:
    • walking using two legs
    • everything
    • all of them I was raised in a barn
    • feudalism
    ... students are wonderful, unique balls of curious accumulated behaviors and thoughts and they are utterly, utterly fascinating. And apparently one was raised in a barn.


    This post's theme word is

    Monday, October 28, 2019

    What is the best time of day for studying?

    I take attendance by asking a question.

    What is the best time of day for studying?

    (I've asked this previously but apparently not posted about it.)

    Sorted by time, we can almost patch together a round-the-clock vigil for the class:

    • definitely not afternoon
    • 12:00am
    • past midnight
    • 3:45am
    • night (4am)
    • early morning (7am)
    • 7:30am
    • 8am
    • morning
    • 10am
    • between lunch and dinner
    • sun time
    • 1pm
    • afternoon
    • 2
    • after dinner
    • evening
    • 8pm
    • honestly, 8pm-10pm
    • 10:00pm - 10:05pm
    • night
    • late night
    The big gaps in our coverage are the midafternoon --- apparently everyone's busy then and no one's studying, even though that's when all the office hours are? --- and midmorning, which makes sense, because that's during our lecture. The studying is compulsory then, but it's more learning and less revising.

    Additional nods of the head go to "3:00pm, Monday" (the exact time I asked the question) and "carrot" (absurdism always welcome). Slanted eyes of judgement to "never lol".


    This post's theme word is orexigenic (adj), "stimulating the appetite." Late night studying can be orexigenic, resulting in lots of snacking.

    Monday, October 7, 2019

    What song was most recently stuck in your head?

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    What song was most recently stuck in your head? (previously 2017)

    Most of these were new to me. I'm not in touch with the music scene. Some of them might as well be purely invented by smooshing words together. My apologies for misspellings, I have tried to interpolate letters of the Roman alphabet from handwriting scratches.

    • Going Bad
    • False Confidence
    • Rome
    • Truth Hurts
    • Your Man - Josh Turner
    • Autumn Breeze - Jida
    • lose my mind
    • Singh is King
    • Feel Special - TWICE
    • Sight and Shadow (Hiroyuki Sarrano + Gemie)
    • Listen
    • Just like you
    • I Will
    • All My Exes Live in Texas
    • Good as Hell
    • Plastic Love
    • Beam - 88 rising
    • Run Away - Ben Platt
    • Listen.
    • Surf
    • Born in the USA
    • Z3
    • hotline bling
    • staying alive
    • crazy
    • love my way
    Then there were some opt-outs:
    • *silence*
    • The 7th mode of the melodic minor scale
    • what does the fox say (re last lab)


    This post's theme word is demit, "to give up an office or position; to dismiss; to resign." After several consecutive days of fox screeching, we demitted from the campsite and vowed never to return.


    Friday, October 4, 2019

    What is the unluckiest thing that ever happened to you?

    I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

    What is the unluckiest thing that ever happened to you? (previously 2017)

    Actual luck:

    • winning 1 cent
    • fantasy football
    • an acorn fell on my head
    • I think I'm kinda allergic to popsicle sticks :(
    • west nile fever
    • stub my toe
    • losing stuff
    Referencing or at least very close to referencing their luckiest things from earlier in the week:
    • taking algo :( jk
    • going here
    • getting sick from Sharples dinner 5x now this semester
    • chicken nuggets deemed unhealthy
    Some were just extremely unfortunate or saddening.
    • near brush with death
    • *sighs*
    • 6 month long concussion
    • *breaks into tears*
    • being
    • I don't want to think about it.
    • getting my heart broken
    • my hamster ran away when I was little
    Kudos to "sleeping in on the day of my good life choices" --- very confusing. Does this mean that sleeping in was a good choice, or that sleeping in caused you to miss the opportunity to make good choices?


    This post's theme word is blate (v intr), "to babble or cry" or (adj), "timid." The succession of so many unlucky events spurred an outburst of blating across campus.



    Wednesday, October 2, 2019

    What is the luckiest thing that ever happened to you?

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    What is the luckiest thing that ever happened to you? (previously 2017)

    Traditional:

    • got into Swat
    • life!
    • opportunity to go to college
    • born in a first world country
    • winning Harry Potter Broadway tickets
    • I once found two packs of gummi worms in a vending machine
    • that I was born at all (the odds were against me)
    • my cat wandered onto our porch
    • won a raffle
    Some people wanted to defer the question:
    • hasn't happened yet
    • opportunity met preparation
    • idk I'm grateful for most things that have happened to me
    • lots of things
    • don't believe in luck
    • TBD
    • can't think of just one
    • not sure
    • yes
    • not lucky
    Begrudgingly I acknowledge that yet again someone claimed that taking this class was their luckiest life event. I can't be bribed! ... at least not so openly.

    My favorite was definitely "Fell backwards off Willets bannister, landed on feet" --- whoo, what luck!


    This post's theme word is hotsy-totsy (adj), "just right; perfect" or "haughty; pretentious." That is my preferred hotsy-totsy way of descending staircases.

    Monday, September 30, 2019

    What does the fox say?

    I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

    What does the fox say? (previously: 2017, wikipedia)

    Not very many onomatopoeias this time:

    • woof!
    • meow
    • ka ki ka ki (x3)
    • nya, ring ding
    • yip
    • Meow Meow Meow
    Many people who gave the fox the ability to speak full sentences:
    • How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?
    • Elvis is alive in Chicago
    • Cancel Futurama Again
    • "I don't like Chrome"
    • here we go again...
    • "I am a fox."
    • "I wish I wasn't a fox :("
    And ... a third category of "other ones":
    • run it through valgrind
    • whatever sound fox make
    • nothing
    • noises
    I appreciate the student who just wrote a long squiggle. Is it a noise? Is it an approximate signature? Is it just a symbol to register "I was here"?


    This post's theme word is whigmaleerie / whigmaleery (n), "a whim" or "a fanciful contrivance." Foxes speaking? What whigmaleerie!

    What is one of your hidden talents?

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    What is one of your hidden talents? (previously: 2017 2016)

    A surprising number listed sleep-related talents. We are mid-semester, so perhaps students' minds are a bit focused on this now.
    • sleeping through anything
    • I can sleep
    • I am good at stealing mattresses
    • I nap very well
    • I can sleep through 5 alarms
    • Not sure if it's hidden but I can sleep all day long.
    Others had performance skills:

    • I am a great singer in the shower
    • juggling
    • I can sing??
    • I can spin a book.
    • oboe
    • I play a mean kazoo
    • I can climb trees real good
    • playing guitar behind the back
    • marching
    • I can do a split
    • bending my thumb backwards
    • I am quite flexible
    • I can write with both my hands
    • I'm somewhat ambidexterous
    • I can't get dizzy
    • getting injured
    • burping on command
    • eating a lot
    • drinking copious amounts of coffee
    • procrastination



    Some were unusual:
    • smelling fire
    • hair!
    • naming English monarchs
    • crying silently
    And others took the "hidden" quite strongly:
    • wouldn't be hidden if I told
    • N/A
    • couldn't tell you
    The phrase "a mean kazoo" will stick with me.


    This post's theme word is trombenik / trombenick (n), "a lazy or boastful person." The trombenick never practiced trombone, but claimed to be a virtuoso.

    Friday, September 27, 2019

    If you had to organize a parade, the theme would be

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    If you had to organize a parade, the theme would be: ________. (previously)

    Some sort of traditional or otherwise straightforward suggestions:
    • floats
    • pirates
    • latinidad --- with lots of latinx artists
    • sharks
    • fantasy
    • clouds
    • candy
    • happy
    • guava
    • turkey
    • seasonal I guess?
    • puppets
    • [assorted suggestions of trademarked characters, by name]
    Suggestions became increasingly wacky:
    • astronaut penguins
    • baby shark
    • cheddar popcorn
    • running (so it'd be a marathon)
    • guava
    • ME.
    • apocalypse
    • parade-themed parade
    • weather
    • awkwardness
    • Turing Machine
    Frankly these parades seem aggressively impossible:

    • food allergies
    • algorithms
    • topological sort
    • Agoraphobia Awareness
    That last one... wow. I guess we might be able to schedule a parade indoors, like in an enclosed mall space? Agoraphobia does seem to be inherently at odds with parades, which take up a lot of space and are usually held outdoors.

    The "most reasonable impromptu declared parade" award goes to the "People who are reasonably competent at walking" Parade, which ... could be happening right now! It's low-key, so you'd never know.


    This post's theme word is bathophobia (n), "a fear of depths or falling from a great height." We should not have hired the bathophobia support group to steer the parade floats from the in-cockpit controls...

    Wednesday, September 25, 2019

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck? (previously 2017 2016)

    Many people picked just a number. No units, or at least no helpful units.

    • 3
    • 5000
    • 2
    • 5
    • 0
    • 4 wood
    • 7
    • like 8 woods
    One person said "1 lbs", which wins them the Accurate and Valid Answer Award.

    Other people went with heuristic amounts:
    • how many it wants
    • many
    • enough for the winter
    • enough lol
    • not enough to feed its family
    • as much as it could throw
    • go ask the woodchuck (on Google)
    The Tautological Award for Those Awarded for Their Tautologies goes to:
    • a wood chuck would chuck as much wood as a wood chuck could chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood
    And the creativity awards go to this collection of replies:
    • A woodchuck doesn't have time for your silly games
    • Probably a couple trees but don't hold me to this
    • segfault
    • As much as Chuck Norris wants
    • It wouldn't
    • Honestly chuck should cut back...

    This post's theme words are asyndeton (deliberately chopping out the conjunctions between successive clauses) and polysyndeton (adding more than necessary). The woodchuck's poetry featured many asyndetons, placing it opposite the purple Lovecraftian polysyndetons at the poetry symposium dinner.

    Monday, September 23, 2019

    What is your favorite kitchen implement?

    I take attendance by having students answer a question.

    What is your favorite kitchen implement? (previously)

    Small implements: fork, whisk, spatula. Also some people listed food (?) as an implement: cucumber, carrot, rice.

    Medium-sized implements: oven, kitchen stand, stove, stir fry pan, blender, rice cooker, microwave, dishwasher, lemon juicer.

    Unreasonably large to call it an "implement": countertop.


    This post's theme word is binnacle (n), "a container for housing instruments on a ship's deck, in a car dashboard, etc." My stand mixer deserves its own binnacle!

    What plague do you wish on your enemies?

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    What plague do you wish on your enemies? (previously 2016 2017)

    Many people wished "kindness" or "none" or "peace" or "probably nothing, that's too mean for me :)". They were very nice with a potentially mean question. Kudos to them!

    Some were traditional: "locusts", "the bubonic kind", "small plague", "big plague", "black plague", "Swat plague", "the worst kind".

    Other people went more devious and unusual: "almost going to sneeze feeling", "inability to not forgive", "inability to be punctual", "balding", "chronic toe-stubbing", "no more printer ink", "constantly stepping on Legos", "saying everything they're thinking". The Most Sinister Award goes to "loss of hope :)". Yikes.


    This post's theme word is eucrasia (n), "a normal state of health; physical well-being." Contrast eucrasia with dyscrasia to figure out if you've been cursed with a plague!

    Friday, September 20, 2019

    Fill in the blanks

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    A _________ walks into a bar. The bartender says, "________". (previously 2016 2017)

    The basic was "A sad horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?""

    Many people said "A person walks into a bar." The follow-up bartender lines were:

    • "you look like you need a drink"
    • "hey"
    • "woof"
    • "hello"
    • "what's up"
    There were some unconventional ones: "fish/what's up", "bear/bear", "lemon/hi", "chicken/how'd you cross the road?", "duck/no", "mushroom/hey fun guy", "horse/hay".

    I appreciated "A Turing Machine walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Am I also a TM?"" And I found this reasonable for our setting: "A university walks into a bar. The bartender say,s "you are an institution that perpetuates privilege".

    Today's Professorial Raised Eyebrow Award goes to the several students who wrote each other, by name, in to the prompt.


    This post' s theme word is flapdoodle (n), "nonsense". Sometimes the prompts elicit only flapdoodle.

    Wednesday, September 18, 2019

    What is the punchline of your favorite joke?

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    What is the punchline of your favorite joke? (previously)

    • everything was covered in "de-brie"
    • "You're funny... funny looking"
    • "Maybe next time you should estimate me!"
    • drum noise
    • laugh (hopefully at others)
    • lmaoooo
    • A grasshopper walks into a bar... find me for the rest
    • "It's you guys, the audience"
    • lol
    • You are a joke
    • Yo' mama
    • dab
    • fshhh
    • porcupine
    • gottem
    • Don't leaf me I'm bushed!
    • ketchup
    • this suit is black not
    • I don't remember
    • uh... I forgot it
    • that's what she said
    • Stone Cold Steve Austin
    • You're bad.
    • gottee
    • Deafening Silence
    • I don't have any favorite joke
    • Babanana
    • "forcefully ejecting air out of my nose"
    • that's it
    • Told you so
    • hole in one
    • N/A
    • 189
    Some of those were mysterious.


    This post's theme word is robustious (adj), "strong and sturdy; boisterous; coarse or crude." I suspect some robustious jokes are hiding in there.

    Monday, September 16, 2019

    Your supervillain/hero catchphrase

    I take attendance by asking the students a question. Today's afternoon session was thematically linked to the morning, though I don't think anyone submitted answers that used that link.

    If you were a superhero/villain, what would your catchphrase be? (previously)

    Lots of noises:

    • woo-hoo
    • Oh no
    • yo yo
    • wee woo
    • nothing
    • Silence!
    • *silence*
    • none -- I would keep myself "mysterious"
    • ummmm.
    • badda bing badda baah
    • HaHaHaHaHaHa
    And then some, nefarious or virtuous depending on how you read them / how they are delivered:
    • gonna hack em all.
    • I'll be the God of the New World
    • "seize the means of production"
    • Here goes
    • "the end"
    • Aight I'm a head out
    • Run it through valgrind
    • Never fear, is here!
    • Please don't fight back
    • Gotta Catchem All
    • Not on my watch
    • Listen to my full monologue!
    • I'm sleepy :(
    • lol good luck guys
    • Too much sauce
    • Big O!
    I definitely can see a sinister cackle following "Listen to my full monologue!"


    This post's theme word is skail (verb intr.): "to scatter out, spill, or disperse." The assembled crowds skailed before the doomsday machine.

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

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    If you were a superhero, what power would you have? (previously)

    Traditional:

    • invisibility
    • fly (x3)
    • mind control
    • telekinesis
    • teleportation (x4)
    • time travel (x2)
    • painless and instant shapeshifting
    • technically you can shapeshift into a version of yourself with every power ever, so is that cheating?
    • all possible powers
    Extremely traditional award goes to "water to wine". Less traditional but reasonably-scoped version of "time travel" is just "actual ability to use time management", which might be my favorite low-stakes superpower.

    • power to defeat all LeetCode hard questions
    • A in this class :)
    • The Gardener - plant communication
    • cloning
    • to always have exactly as much money as I need
    • food generation
    • eating w/o negative effects fooood
    • to teach PA drivers how not to be completely incompetent
    • no sleep
    • be good at math
    • super cool breath
    The Professor's Side-Eye award goes to "using hash maps in class" because we just talked about this and no, you absolutely may not.


    This post's theme word is yentz (v tr), "to cheat." Shapeshifting to a "form" that has different powers seems like a wish-for-more-wishes sort of yentz.

    Friday, September 13, 2019

    What is the most useless technology ever invented?

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    What is the most useless technology ever invented?

    Lots of disdain for Apple products:

    • AirPods
    • iPhones without headphone jacks
    • iPod
    • iPod shuffle
    Some people listed general one-purpose or unnecessarily one-purpose-plus-SMART things:
    • blenders
    • hand-dryers (x2)
    • carbonation machines -- just deal with drinking "flat" liquids
    • glasses headphones, but they cool
    • smart fridge
    • an iron
    • any unitasker -- see Alton Brown's Good Eats
    • fidget spinners
    • juice keurig
    • toasters
    • toaster-oven (inspired)
    • juicers
    Some people took issue with the question or tried to hedge:
    • I don't know (x3)
    • probably something I don't know about
    • any answer I give would probably upset someone
    • How do you define technology?
    • all technology is useful
    Other people seemed to have a grudge, and express it via this question:
    • those rainbow chairs on buses
    • eye massager
    • gunpowder
    • AI
    • Yahoo
    • the U.S. Senate
    • cars
    I'll award the "yep, definitely" prize to "eye massager", which is certainly useless and probably also unwanted.


    This post's theme word is rowel (n), "a small spiked wheel at the end of a spur attached to the shoe of a horse rider; used to goad a horse" or (v tr), "to prick, to vex." The attendance questions seem to rowel certain students.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2019

    What do you know to be true that others would not believe is true?

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    What do you know to be true that others would not believe is true?

    Some focused on stories/mythology:

    • Santa Claus (x3)
    • magic (x2)
    • Mary Poppins
    • Easter Bunny
    • the  fae
    • God
    • Atlantis
    • all the stories are true
    • people with spiritual powers
    • They walk among Us
    • aliens
    • The show Jessie is based on Angeline Jolie's kids.
    There was a notably early-in-the-semester focus on sleep:
    • those who sleep more live less [a later student added the annotation: "wrong"]
    • sleep is for the rich
    • sleep is boring
    • I can pause and resume dreams.
    Then there were people focusing on concrete ideas:

    • tortoises can't swim
    • Cares are inherently bad/unsustainable even if electric or self-driving, only a switch to a bike-centered infrastructure will work.
    • I can bend my thumb backwards
    • snakes are scarier than eagles
    • I'm cool
    • Marx was not Marxist
    • P ≠ NP
    And then a cohort of nihilists:
    • Only the good die young.
    • probably nothing
    • everything will be fine
    • good
    • I just want to say "I was here" for this one
    • literally nothing

    This post's theme word is euhemerism (n), "a theory attributing the origin of the gods to the deification of historical heroes." The mythology class discussion degenerated into euhemerism and grasping at historical anecdotes.

    Monday, September 9, 2019

    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? (previously: 2017 2016)

    • tap?
    • skrrt
    • snap
    • slap
    • crakc!
    • yes
    • uwu
    • whoosh
    • a hand puppet
    • nothingness
    • the sound of silence
    • emptiness
    • category mistake
    • nothing sadness (2 votes)
    • no sound
    • owo
    • a snap?
    • uwu

    This post's theme word is potch (v tr), "to slap or spank," or (n) "a slap or spanking." A solo potch is silent patter?

    Why did the chicken cross the road?

    I take attendance by asking the students a question.

    Why did the chicken cross the road? (previously: 2017 2016)

    • idk
    • no idea
    • not sure
    • I don't know
    • I don't know
    • why not?
    • exercize!
    • to cry
    • the chicken saw a sale
    • Because why wouldn't it?
    • to find its friends
    • can't I just say "to get to the other side"?
    • to lay an egg
    • to chase innocent children
    • Colonel Sanders was in pursuit
    • it wanted a Popeye's chicken sandwich on the other side
    • to run away from the Chic-Fil-A
    • you tell me
    • or did it?
    • because the chicken has no free will
    • determinism
    • because it wanted to
    • to be part of The Beatles
    • to solve algorithms problems
    The "non sequitur" award goes to "cuz 7 is a prime".


    This post's theme word is slue (v intr), "to turn, swing, or slide in a particular direction" or (n), "such a turn, swing or slide." The chicken sped across the road and slued into the neighbor's coop!

    Friday, September 6, 2019

    What is your quest?

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    I previously asked them their names (so that I can identify them correctly). Today:

    What is your quest? (previously: 2017 2016)

    Many people gave pragmatic answers:

    • to get a job (4 votes)
    • to change stuff at world
    • to find the holy grail best Sharples meal
    • to prosper
    • to retire
    • to sleep
    • to become an invaluable engineer
    • I have too many to complete
    • to graduate
    • to be the very best
    • happy ending
    • to get 8 hrs of sleep
    • to get through it all
    • to live my life
    • to try
    • to enjoy my life
    • to travel
    I have follow-up questions for "to find something big" --- anything big? Like, a dinosaur skeleton? An aircraft hangar? A deep-sea gyre? A star system?

    The trifecta of "Lila does not think these are compatible":
    • financial stability
    • happiness
    • CS grad school

    The closest we came to "to seek the holy grail" was a tie between:

    • to catch 'em all
    • to destroy the one ring
    ... so I award these the Cultural Reference Award for the day. Since zero people are grail-seekers, I'll skip the question about airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow and ask them something else next.


    This post's theme word is dree (v tr), "to endure or suffer" or (adj), "tedious or dreary." Some quests are rather dree, but grand overall.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2019

    If you were transformed into an animal, you'd be a:

    I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

    If you were transformed into an animal, you'd be a:

    Many people picked mammals:
    • polar bear
    • flying squirrel
    • dolphin (x2)
    • wolf
    • panda
    • otter
    • capybara
    • sloth
    • dog (x3)
    • human (x3)
    • bushbaby
    • [own first name] (x3)
    The surprising-to-me frontrunning category was birds. Birds!
    • penguin (x3)
    • bald eagle
    • duck
    • eagle
    • owl
    • bird (x2)
    • Big Bird
    Kudos for picking "birds", but the specificity of mammals was lacking here.

    Then, as always, the outliers:

    • shark (x2)
    • stable matching
    • meal
    • dragon

    I'm not sure that "stable matching" is an animal, so there's a type error there. Who wants to be a meal? At least one student in my class!


    This post's theme word is infundibuliform (adj), "funnel-shaped." I'd be an infundibuliform sponge; it seems meditative.

    Monday, September 2, 2019

    What is your favorite number?

    I take attendance by asking students a question.

    What is your favorite number? (previously: 2017)

    Everyone picked an integer, it was not a very interesting question for the first lab. I guess I should have primed their imaginations with weirder questions before giving them this one.


    This post's theme word is ergophobia (n), "abnormal fear or aversion to work." Welcome to your laboratory session on Labor Day! I hope you don't have ergophobia.

    Tuesday, August 13, 2019

    Philadelphia Zoo

    The Philadelphia Zoo is a delightful hotel for assorted animal creatures. It has a lot of humane features, too, like sky-highways of netting that allow the various animals to wander outside their enclosures, wander the zoo, look at other animals and humans, and nap in the sky above the ice-cream stand.

    The greenest animals I saw were these green anacondas, shockingly muscular and large and right there, waiting for the Potter-esque disappearing glass to give them an opportunity to frighten humans.
    Green anacondas (2) lounging at the Philadelphia Zoo.


    This post's theme word is obdormition (n), "numbness in a limb, usually caused by pressure on a nerve. also known as falling asleep." Seek immediate medical assistance if you feel the sudden or gradual onset of serpent-related obdormition.

    Sunday, August 11, 2019

    This is How You Lose the Time War

    This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is an epistolary romance novel(la) between opposing time-travel agents. The premise is cute, a little dashed-off letter here, a twist in time there, and it builds to an entirely forseeable end, which was the most surprising thing about the book.

    It had some nice turns of phrase --- "apophenic as a haruspex" is truly outstanding (p. 100) --- and plays out a budding relationship nicely, albeit with a flourish only available to truly ridiculous time-travel narratives. The summary "I love cities, To be alone in a crowd, apart and belonging, to have distance between what I see and what I am." (p. 87) resonated with how calm and happy I feel in some city-crowd situations. And the silly-serious "I have built a you within me, or you have. I wonder what of me there is in you." (p. 113) is definitely a feeling I've had, and shared with others, before; it's a nice summary of how it feels to think theory-of-mind thoughts.

    Overall, though, the book was not nearly as twisty timey-wimey as I expected. There were certain conclusions that seemed pretty obvious to me, and were delivered as if revelatory. But it's a cute, brief read, and reading fictional characters assigning each other a beloved book and then discussing it has added that book to my list. Plus there were several literary references I appreciated, and others I was sent scurrying to reference material for. And I always appreciate a book that forces me to perform outside study.


    This post's theme word is apophenic (adj), "perceiving or believing in connections and meaningful patterns among unrelated phenomena." "I am yours in other ways as well: yours as I watch the world for your signs, apophenic as a haruspex; yours as I debate methods, motives, chances of delivery..." (p. 100)

    Monday, August 5, 2019

    Empress of Forever

    Empress of Forever is Max Gladstone's doorstop-sized foray into science fiction. It tells the story of Vivian Lao, a tech CEO/brilliant executive coordinator-and-person-reader, who is trying to use her wits to make things better for the people around her (and, ultimately, all people everywhere: "for the liberation of all sentient beings." p. 982 in the novel & p. 1041 in the acknowledgements). This opening of philosophy --- "wealth was the only real freedom left. Get money and you could do what you wanted, help your friends, pile cash and power as a wall against the world." (p.7) --- is one I read a lot of in certain online circles, and it seems both relevant to modern discourse and incredibly depressing. It's clear why Gladstone chose this as the starting point, not the conclusion, of the story.

    This book, however, is trying not to be depressing. The first chapter reads like the climactic chapter of a William Gibson novel (action-suspense-technology gizmos); the second chapter reads like Philip K. Dick (surreal-trippy-helpless in the face of a powerful incomprehensible system). Thereafter, it goes a bit more on the rails, and sticks to an optimistic tone which alternates between joyous nonsense wordplay (describing fractalline spaceships as "whirling furious Mandelcontinents of Pride set against a regimented vast and glistening phalanx", p. 168) and serious well-adjusted grown-ups dealing with feelings and relationships; overall the theme of the book emerges as:
    Viv was used to this split-heart feeling. Most of the time the calculative half bubbled out, seizing control. The interpersonal details, your own emotional well-being or your friends', could wait until after you figured out how to solve the problem at hand. (p. 916)
    This resonates for me with all sorts of writing around rationalism, adulthood, science, and community-building. (See for example this post, selected arbitrarily from what I read around the same time as this book.) There is a certain philosophical, a-little-bit-cold approach to being a functioning social person, which hits a lot of familiar notes for the educated-techie-rationalist set; even some of the book's one-liner jokes are in this zone: "the human mind had assembled itself haphazard from spare parts meant for something else." (p. 750)

    Overall I thought this book was fine, but a bit overlong (how many times will we cycle through "the team was split up, everyone was sad, then someone had a realization that friendship and caring and communication are the solution, then they miraculously get out of a bind!"?), and it didn't hit that magical sweet spot of Three Parts Dead, which had BOTH a protagonist I identified with (as did this book), AND a really cool mechanic/worldbuilding/storytelling aspect. This one felt more plodding, and the long-building climax felt less climactic, for all that it tried, with strenuous adjectives, to stress how incredibly important and galaxy-spanning the repercussions would be.


    This post's theme word is circumvallate (v tr), "to surround by a defensive structure, such as a rampart" and fuligin (n), "dark". The hyperspace circumvallations were a bit strange. "Vantablack statues looked like this in person. Fuligin, but green. The light that came off her throbbed." (p. 54)

    Saturday, August 3, 2019

    The Nightmare Stacks

    The Nightmare Stacks is the seventh book in Charles Stross' The Laundry Files series (previously: 1 2 3 4 4.5 5 6). It is the second book to feature a different narrator (#6 also did this) --- this time, a new and mostly-unwilling recruit, a math PhD who has been turned into a vampire by an unlikely theorem discovered while researching esoteric topology for high-frequency trading banks. This character first showed up book #5, and is a good bumbling nerd.

    TL;DR: I loved this book!

    (Stross is nominated for a Hugo for "Best Series" this year for The Laundry Files, and I absolutely think he deserves it. We'll find out in a few weeks.)

    The world of The Laundry Files is much like our own, up to some point in the 90s or 00s where it started diverging because it turns out that Lovecraftian horrors are real and are accessible to those with enough computational power/acumen/idiocy to summon them.  You'd think that it is good to be a computer/math nerd, then, since those are the people with the acumen to control Actual Magical Power, but with great power comes great mandatory bureaucratic machinery to control that power. Nerds are now double-burdened, firstly with the standard dollop of social marginalization, and secondly with the mandate to Save The World (and not let anyone find out they're doing it), and since most of Stross' nerdy characters are lawful good, they actually try to follow rules, limit civilian casualties, and get their stupid make-work done so that they can get to the real work in their off-hours.

    The Lovecraftian descriptions include mention of Lovecraft, of course, because in the books' universe, Lovecraft was the same author as in ours (albeit much more accurate-to-reality). This means that characters can openly observe that certain monsters are Lovecraftian, or certain encounters have a DnD-ish flavor, and so on --- they are able to see how much their reality looks like a crafted fantasy story from our reality. This has some fun applications, as characters who e.g. play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons end up describing their encounters in DnD style. It also means that the reader can consider whether, and how, Stross' creations fit into the bigger fantasy pantheon, in the terms that his characters use for understanding their own experiences.

    Apparently this setup is infinitely enjoyable to me; certainly Stross' tone, a wry sarcasm, is able to make descriptions of otherwise-mundane tasks a fun read. Plus it is peppered with the technical language of computer science, academia, and geekery. For example, describing the protagonist math PhD/social bumpkin: "Alex doesn't so much wonder about sex as have a fully developed five-year post-doc research program in mind, assuming he ever finds a willing collaborator." (p.195) Or referring to The Royal Armouries as "one of the largest collections of murder cutlery in the entire world." (p. 265) Or using the word "deterministic" for its technical meaning having to do with probability in "they make the entirely predictable and deterministic trip south to the big IKEA warehouse store" (p. 190).

    This dry and skeptical tone is somehow shaped into a thrilling, electrifying read that had me shouting in excitement several times throughout the book. I read most of it in the period from midnight to dawn, because I got to a point and thought, no, Stross wouldn't possibly do that... how could he do that... how is he going to do THAT? I had the sense that Stross, as an author, is willing to make big and irreversible sacrifices for the sake of story, and I could not believe how much he chose to make this not another installment in an endlessly-extensible franchise. This is the book where Stross, Dungeon Master Extraordinaire of the Laundry-verse, makes it clear that he is not going to DM this game forever, and he is not afraid of the Total Party Kill. (I am slightly concerned for books 8 and 9, in my to-read queue.)

    I am not sure how to convey how utterly stunning and brilliant a book this is, since the heavy plot choices and the sheer importance of what was happening are based on the many, many hours I have sunk into reading all the preceding books in the series, and immersing myself in Stross' dry and withdrawn attitude towards bureaucracy, tech support, and nerds with feelings. Overall this book was a virtuosic demonstration of Stross' command and control of narrative, his incredible attention to story beats, and the unrelenting and fantastic way that his cleverness will sneak up behind you and BOP you on the head with a pun that has been several pages (or chapters... or books!) in the making.

    Conclusorily, this book was excellent and I recommend it --- but you might need to read 6 books' worth of prelude to enjoy it as much as I did.


    This post's theme word is fuliginous (adj), "sooty", or "colored by soot, or having the color of soot." "Over it all she wears a black hooded cloak, fuliginous and dull as death." (p. 218)

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    National Moth Week

    It's National Moth Week, as you surely already know. I observed the ... week... by going to a moth-viewing event. We heard a little lecture about moths and then a brief lecture about ticks (summary: "It's Pennsylvania. There are going to be ticks.") and then we were lead out into the woods to view some moth-baited sites.

    I learned that there are moth fanatics, a conference called Mothapalooza!, and that moth enthusiasts are called "moth-ers" and are, generally, into very fancy camera equipment that can take high-resolution digital photos for instant viewing in low-light conditions.

    Here's the best my equipment could do: 
    A white-with-black-spots moth and a cricket of some sort.
    The Audubon Society --- which hosted this event --- is generally pro-nature (moths included), not just pro-birds (though now that I think about it, their interests might be limited to "flight-capable animals").

    No moths were harmed in the making of this blog post, though ticks were strongly discouraged, sprayed against, and then minutely searched-for in the aftermath.


    This post's theme word is acarophobia (n), "an extreme fear of small insects", "the delusion that one's skin is infected with bugs," or "a fear of itching." Watching a swarm of nighttime insects creep across a high-contrast white sheet ticked both the formication and acarophobic boxes of my brain.

    Sunday, July 21, 2019

    We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

    We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler was recommended to my by some friends who said it was good and that they didn't want to say anything more, in order not to spoil it. They even recommended that I not look at the cover of the book, in order not to spoil it.

    It turned out to be a good book!

    I appreciated the various literary, linguistic, and scientific references, including the surprising Ozymandias deep-cut. The twist/secret/spoilable content wasn't what I expected but wasn't unreasonable, either.

    Spoilers below the break.

    Sunday, July 14, 2019

    Bunny zone

    Frequently spotted on the block are an unnumbered collection of bunnies. These are not just my neighbors, but also my non-tax-paying non-consensual garden trimmers.

     There are certainly at least two of them at the full size:

    Additionally, there is at least one (but likely many) tiny bunbun, waffeting around in the yard and being frightened of things like "local residents watering flowers" and "door opening noise".

    Given the local paucity of hawks, I suspect that the bunbuns are numerous, though I do not suspect them in The Matter of The Blueberry Thief.


    This post's theme word is cynophobia (n), "fear of dogs." The itty-bitty bunny-wunnies exhibited cynophobia, having not yet learned the lesson of dog leashes and recalcitrant suburban humans.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2019

    Blueberries

    I am a notorious blueberry-lover. 'Twas with great anticipation that I received the housewarming gift of someone planting blueberry bushes for me, just outside my window.

    One plant even came with a blueberry, already there!
    ... unfortunately, this blueberry only survived two days in the yard. I checked on it lovingly each morning and evening, keeping in touch with its gradually blue-ing hue; then it mysteriously vanished. According to leads and the berry investigator, local birds are the leading suspect.

    A very close inspection this evening revealed that the bush is trying again with a second berry.
    This berry will be closely guarded, from its current green state to its future and fully-ripe state. I already have a plan to encase it in mesh to protect from bird incursions.

    I note that the plural in the title of this blog post is, in fact, accurate: there have been two berries. A third will be just as welcome!


    This post's theme word is fabian (adj), "avoiding direct confrontation; cautious; delaying." The fabian approach to berry-harvesting requires protection against impatient berry-eating competitors.

    Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Happy birthday, Turing!

    Today is the 106th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing. (Of course, at birth he was probably very bad at abstract reasoning and proofs, like most babies, but he overcame these difficulties and grew up to be truly excellent at math.)

    Just in case you haven't seen this yet (HT: I saw this on Twitter several times, then on slatestarcodex), it is amusing and recursive and cultural and involves computers:

    Humans often post on the website reddit, which hosts many, many different message boards and oodles of subcultures and conversations on specific topics. Each specific message board is called a subreddit and has its own adherents, community standards, topic(s) of conversation, style, level of activity, etc.

    There is a subreddit called r/totallynotrobots where the posts claim to be written by humans, but are written in all-caps and a style suggesting that they are actually written by robots. Redditors writing these posts are humans, so these are humans writing as if they are robots who are unconvincingly trying to pass as human.

    There is a recent and extremely impressive system called GPT-2 which unsupervised-ly learns English and performs some really impressive computational linguistic feats, including writing mediocre high-school-style essays and writing very interesting and totally feasible poetry.

    There is a subreddit called r/SubSimulatorGPT2 which trains GPT-2 on subreddits and automatically writes "coherent and realistic simulated content" for each subreddit. Of course, this subreddit is just going through other subreddits, training GPT-2, and writing new (automated, simulated) posts for that subreddit.

    Now the subreddit-simulating robot has trained on r/totallynotrobots, which means that there are posts on the internet which are written by a robot imitating a human writing in a style pretending to be a robot who is unconvincingly trying to pass as a human. (Or, as slatestarcodex put it, "a robot pretending to be a human pretending to be a robot pretending to be a human.") You can see those posts here.

    It's turtles all the way down, and every. single. turtle. is a Turing machine!


    This post's theme word is anastrophe, "the inversion of the usual order of words or clauses." Silly grammar mistakes and anastrophe are used to denote unfamiliarity with human language.

    Thursday, June 20, 2019

    Neuromancer

    This classic recently bubbled back to the forefront of my attention because of its lovely new reissued cover art (bright green), so I reread it. It is one delicious sip of a novel, an elongated sluuuuuurp of a read, and impossible to read over more than maybe 2 sittings. The story just zooms along, eschewing the verbose detail of a more "deep worldbuilding" authorial style, and its protagonists' often drug-altered state comes through as confusing flashes of detail, occasional emotional insights, and unforeseen but interesting choices.

    I've read this book several times, and this time it was no clearer --- the confusing bits were just as confusing (perhaps because I conflate this with several other Gibson books), and the payoff was just as flashy:

    • navigating "cyberspace" described as if a physical reality
    • networking and AI work unbelievably smoothly, but no one has a garbage Internet of Things device
    • the motorcycle chase scene was missing --- I misremembered this from Stephenson's Snow Crash, I think
    • going to a permanently-inhabited space station was a tourist-level outing; going online requires specialized equipment and training
    • lucid dreaming-like sequences that feel very accurately described to my own perceived sensorium when dreaming
    • AI police are called "Turing" and have legal jurisdiction above the level of states?!? I didn't remember this from my last reread, which may have predated my now-extensive knowledge of Turing and computational theory
    • basically zero discussion of the educational system, which I find I have a lot of lingering questions about

    I recommend this book as still-relevant and -interesting, for any reader of any background; I suspect that different backgrounds/ages/"digital native" readers will have very differing receptions of what this book predicts, from the past, to be the present/future.

    The recent edition I borrowed from the library included substantive front- and back-matter discussing "cyberpunk" and Gibson's relation to it. I've always thought "cyberpunk" was a marketing term for "William Gibson or an imitator wrote this", and I haven't updated my opinion.


    This post's theme word is enantiodromia (n), "the tendency of things, beliefs, etc., to change to their opposites." While temporary, drug-induced enantiodromia is common amongst the drug aficionados in Neuromancer, most characters emerge from the haze with their core tenets intact... perhaps the titular *mancer is the only one to undergo a major change. 

    Friday, June 14, 2019

    Anxiety dream unfairly early

    I am rushing to get to the first lecture of the fall semester and make sure there is chalk in the room, the students are all there, and nothing is yet on fire. I get there just in time, greet the new students, then look down at my lecture notes and ... I've brought the wrong lecture notes. For the wrong class, the wrong topic. My notes are useless. I flip through the first few pages anyway just in case the correct lecture notes are in there somewhere. They are not. No problem, I think, I've taught this several times, I'll just wing it... but then I forget how the setup goes, I forget the important beginning-of-semester announcements. I am flustered, and I know that I seem flustered, and this enhances my flusteration. I have no choice but to lecture off the top of my head. I just plunge right in with the crux of the lecture and I can tell, from the moment I open my mouth, it is not going well.

    The students start to be unruly. Now it is a nightmare.

    One student is --- loudly, and frankly with excellent diction and vibrato --- standing on a wheely chair (danger!) and singing an aria from The Barber of Seville. Other students are just on their phones. In the corner, it looks like maybe some of them are catching Pokémon. Some of them are openly working on homework for other classes. How do they already have homework in other classes? --- it is the first day of class!

    I cannot regain their attention, somehow. My usual classroom demeanor is not working, everything is out-of-control, I make a math mistake on the board and now even the handful of students who were following are confused and starting to check out.

    Aaaaauuuggghhh....

    ... then I wake up and it is still JUNE, how dare my brain already have this anxiety prepped, this is outrageous. I flatly refuse to experience waking anxiety about the next semester when the entire summer is still ahead of me. It. is. not. fair.

    (I blame this on residual anxiety from my extremely dramatic late-to-my-own-final-exam event last month. I will have anxiety dreams about that for the rest of my life.)


    This post's theme word is squirl (n), "a flourish or curve, especially in handwriting." I compliment you on your elaborate and expressive squirl, which I assure you is NOT a Pokémon.

    Sunday, June 9, 2019

    New neighbor

    I have a new neighbor. Can you spot them in this picture?
    They were nibbling on something in the lawn, but I am not yet familiar with all the plantings so I had no objection. My guess is that any dogs visiting Camp Lila over the summer will strongly react to the neighbor, possibly encouraging the neighbor to relocate.


    This post's theme word is Struwwelpeter (n), "a person with long, thick, disheveled hair." Quoth Flopsy to Mopsy and Cottontail, "Have thee spotted our Struwwelpeter blue-haired new neighbor?"

    Saturday, May 25, 2019

    Spring semester 2019 quotes

    The wide-open, glistening white expanses of floor-to-ceiling whiteboard in my office beckon; now there is a regular practice of students (majority: taller than Lila) writing quotes of things said in my office on the top of the whiteboard. This is high above the daily-usable part.

    Here is the spring 2019 haul of quotes. Note that most of them were not said by me, even some attributed to other "L" initials. Not all quotes come with attributions. Many different people have initial "A". This is the semester's-end contents of the board, parentheticals and quotation marks included.

    "We can't make her not win; though, if she were to have some medical emergency..."

    M: "Extend the yellow."
    L: "Die a fiery death."

    A: "I'm not blaming you. Git is blaming you."

    L: "I promise not to beat you with a rubber hose... I reserve the right to other implements."

    "this is among the tubes" (in reference to the internet)

    "You should hold your cards... better."

    S: "I should probably stop procrastinating my real homework with fake homework I create for myself."

    A: "My counting's not so great."
    L: "You only got up to 2... !"

    "I feel strong enough to handwave this." -M

    [uncontrollable laughter]
    A: "I didn't know Theory of Computation could be so fun."

    A: "What a day to leave the stabbing knives at home."

    K: "Start stabbing. We got to hurry this up, kiddo, I want dinner."

    "[I'm] only as insane as a Turing machine can be"

    D: "I don't understand why you have the mallet."
    L: "Would you like me to demonstrate on your body?"

    A: "I mean, I'm all for your insanity. BUT."

    (indignantly) "I don't have an off-by-one error. I was RIGHT."

    L: "I voluntarily did this in grad school for 7 years, so parts of me are broken and can't be repaired."

    L: "Fuck the Axiom of Choice. There's nothing I can do about it now."

    [image of a sheep] BAAA is a string in the regular language Σ*

    Tuesday, April 9, 2019

    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 gone without using the internet?

    Heuristic answers:
    • during class (sometimes 😉)
    • a little while
    • not long


    Time to first computer usage from birth:

    • ~4 years before first using a computer
    • probably the first 6-7 years of my life
    • 9 years (the first 9 years of my life)
    • 14 years before I got my first phone
    • 30 years (<-- 30="" a="" aged="" could="" editor="" have="" how="" i="" idea="" li="" no="" note:="" person="" reply="" s="" this="">

    Time of longest non-internet "break" since first computer usage:

    • one hour
    • a day
    • 21 hours, cross-continent flight
    • 2 days
    • maybe like 48 hours?
    • 4 days
    • a week
    • two weeks
    • 2 weeks (summer camp in a mountain)
    • A couple weeks? But I'd love to try going w/o it for a longer time.
    • 3 months
    One student wrote "∞". I have corresponded with this student by email; I wonder if, on their end, they had the messages transcribed and then read aloud to them by a personal, permanent "internet secretary"? Actually, I'm pretty sure I have watched this student load a webpage during class in a computer lab, so maybe this is just reporting error...

    Winning comedic/situationally-funny response: "The times that eduroam is out..."


    I previously asked this question in 2017.


    This post's theme word is floccipend (v tr), "to regard as worthless." They floccipend internet downtimes.

    Saturday, April 6, 2019

    Peter and the Wolf

    Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra's presentation of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf was delightful --- playful, cute, fun, and with an auditorium full of children who shrieked at the scary parts. Like many others in the audience, I brought my parents, and we all had an enriching time. I particularly appreciated that we were invited onstage after the performance to chat with the musicians and look at their instruments up-close.

    We later in the afternoon remembered that the iconic wolf music was the "bully" theme music from A Christmas Story.


    This post's theme word is exclosure (n), "a fenced area, especially in a wide open area, to keep unwanted animals out." The wolf was captured outside the exclosure!

    Wednesday, April 3, 2019

    Crisp clear spring sky

    When I walked to work this morning the sun had just risen and it was cold, so I wore my jacket and mittens. But it turned out to be a warm, clear spring day, and my outerwear is overdone.

    Just look at this cleanly blue sky, framed by local spring-ready trees:

    This post's theme song is Ben Platt's "Better", which has been on a loop in my head all day. It is sad and angry and an emotional wreck of a breakup song, but the self-echoing refrain scratches a mental itch and is immensely satisfying to hear. (Plus there are tons of repeated lyrics and they follow standard rhyme patterns, so it's quick to memorize.)

    Monday, April 1, 2019

    April Fool's?

    These posters mysteriously appeared on April 1 across campus.


    They are expressing ... something ... stridently.


    It's just not entirely clear what.
    And there's no call to action, or url, or reference to a student group... The posters are handwritten in marker, mostly all-caps, on scrap paper. (At least, the pages I read were unrelated middle pages of math or biology articles.)

    Is this an April Fool's joke? If so, ... what is the joke?

    [Update April 2: posters still up, so reduce the probability estimation of "this is an April fool's joke".]

    [Update April 3: found a poster with slightly more context.
    Updated my weight for "this is a protest or other political movement" with some connection to climate activism.]


    This post's theme word is ekistics (n), "the study of human settlements, drawing on such disciplines as city planning, architecture, sociology, etc." Climate scientists of the future will focus on ekistics as a subdiscipline.

    Giant beer pong

    The ingenious engineering students organized a fun, interactive "prank" accessible to every student at the college and harmless, while also being college-themed and lightly edgy. I admire the design, style, and execution of this idea.
    Beer pong, but: giant. Sober. With enormous slingshots firing volleyballs into red-cup-clothed garbage cans!
    It turned out to require a lot of knowledge about current wind conditions. Many trials were necessary to figure out a good angle and distance to get an even reasonable-looking parabola towards the targets.
    In conclusion, this was an Extremely College "prank", more like an interactive performance art piece or, frankly, a game. No binge drinking required, all daylight-hours wholesome fun. Adorable. Students here are fantastic.


    This post's theme word is endogenous (adj), "originating from within." I admire and am impressed by students' endogenous creativity and ability to execute ideas.

    Monday, March 25, 2019

    If you could give Turing machines one bonus feature, what would it be?

    I like to give students the opportunity to be creative. Partially this is because I am noble and committed to good pedagogy practices and all that; partly it is for my own amusement. (Students had to create Twitter bots for my amusement, too --- you can see them here, Twitter login required.)

    If you could give Turing machines one bonus feature, what would it be?

    Some people were practical:

    • I would add a more streamlined ability to count.
    • Ctrl-F find value
    • Writing proofs for me.
    • remember marked spot (instead of needing to mark)
    • Its head can go to any position on the tape instantly without having to step through the middle steps.
    • to be able to jump to a location in the tape not right next to where the head is

    Others were silly:
    • snack dispenser
    • a cool spoiler (illustration below)
    • funny hats (illustration below)
    • dance a jig


    Some were infeasible:
    • Always halt for every problem. [editor's note: provably impossible, you impertinent youth!]

    And some were downright haunting:
    • Express feelings. It would be nice to know how TM feels when in runs forever. Would it be sad? happy? bored? [editor's note: how would the TM know it is running forever? it could just be churning and doing real computation...]
    • consciousness

    By far the one that struck the deepest chord and has followed me, hounding me into my dreams, was: "teeth." Yikes.


    This post's theme word is stenophagous (adj), "feeding on a limited variety of food." The zookeeper found the dietary needs of TMs a challenge; they were among the most stenophagous charges at the mathematical-hypothetical petting zoo.

    Sunday, March 10, 2019

    Don Giovanni

    Opera Philadelphia's production of Don Giovanni offers a very minimal staging and scenery; the stage is draped, from the high ceiling to just above head height, with shimmering golden curtains. Between the curtains and the floor, a bevvy of upright pianos ring the stage. Throughout the production, these pianos were wheeled across the stage and served as scenery, as prop storage, as trees in the garden, as indoor furniture, as walls, and as miscellaneous stationary objects to swoon against.

    The performance was lovely and the music was as melodic, and crunchy, and satisfying as Mozart always is. But the plot was inescapably gross, as it centers on a serial sex offender who won't take "no" for an answer and whose every action is manipulative and dismissive of other people. It's hard to see the plot in any other light, and even the mild opera-style staging of the scenes made my skin crawl, as Don Giovanni continually pressed against women and called to them from across the stage and in every way maneuvered the people around him to match his will.

    (I recently sat in on some interesting lectures re: Don Giovanni, so I recognize that even at the time it was composed, part of the point of the plot was how noblemen could manipulate people of lesser status in this way. Thanks, Prof. Blasina, for letting me crash your class!)

    ... and so it was satisfying enough, I suppose, that in the final scene, Don Giovanni is literally dragged to hell, though my reasons for wishing him ill may have differed from original audience's reasons. But overall I'm surprised that this opera continues to be the most-performed opera in the world; perhaps momentum will take it awhile to lose that status? In any case, I've seen it several times now and don't feel any desire to ever see it again.


    This post's theme word is nuncupate (v tr), "to solemnly pronounce," or "to declare a will orally." She resolved and nuncupated, and only listened to the audio for evermore.

    Wednesday, March 6, 2019

    What is the title of your autobiography?

    I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

    What is the name of your autobiography?

    I've edited to remove students' names; this means some titles are fully expurgated, since a lot of people were not satisfied with a byline and needed to include their name in the title of their own autobiography:

    • [name]'s shared thoughts
    • My autobiography
    • [name]? More like [pun on name]
    • [joke about first name]
    • [joke about last name and studiousness]
    • [pun about name]
    • [joke about name's pronunciation]
    • [name]'s book
    Only one person self-aggrandized with "A Great American Novel"; many people went the other direction:
    • Why am I like this
    • I wrote some words here
    • That Berpy Specy Person
    • I smell
    • a guy does stuff and has fun (maybe)
    Some people only loosely followed the prompt, and their replies mostly reflected what they were thinking about during this lecture on Turing machines and finite automata:
    • Am I a finite automaton? Why I'm so forgetful??
    • I should NEVER have taken 5 classes in one semester
    • TM: Nobody wants ALL The Details
    Several students's titles followed a theme:
    • How to sleep + eat a ton
    • How to sleep more + eat a sh*t ton
    • How I sleepwalked through life
    • Life Goal: sleep like a kindergarten kid
    The cutest one by far was today's winner: Existential Mathematician: Always Looking for "y". (To see previous students' replies to this question, go here.)


    This post's theme word is lection (n), "a version of a text in a particular copy or edition; a selection read in a religious service (aka a pericope)." The second printing lection of my autobiography contained a number of typos; the publisher would like to apologize for the particularly egregious typos on the cover, including the author's name.

    Thursday, January 31, 2019

    Incredibly retroblogging

    An honest assessment indicates that I mostly want this blog as a post-dated account of things I once did, some time ago. Want up-to-date Lila information? want breaking Lila news? want to know where Lila is, what she's doing, and what she's thinking?

    ... well, you won't find it here.

    On the other hand, you will find all that information, edited and curated as usual, for past iterations of Lila. In particular, starting with the "Repatriation Phase 1", you can now find the following new old posts:

    The tiniest steamroller
    Purple tree
    Sky in mirrored skyscrapers
    Ithaca is gorgeous
    Bring Up the Bodies
    License to Quill

    Just so you know, my sycophantic readers, my curious future students, and my intermittently-checking-in relatives, I have made a resolution in 2019 to blog more consistently. And I've beeminded it, so if I fall off from my goal, the sharp sting of a penalty will (maybe) prompt me to post more frequently. I've successfully managed my akrasia on several other topics using beeminder. Here's to 2019, and the 11/12ths of it that remain!


    This post's theme word is nuncupate (v tr), "to solemnly pronounce," or "to declare a will orally." Long-time readers considered Lila's nuncupation as tenuous and tongue-in-cheek, which it probably was.

    Monday, January 28, 2019

    In which "snake" is not a valid proof technique

    Non-proof techniques that students tried today in lab, hesitantly, knowing that I wouldn't buy it:

    • proof by picture
    • proof by snake
    • proof by interpretive dance

    This post's theme word is satisfice (v intr), "to satisfy the minimum requirements in a given situation." Your snake is very clever, but it does not satisfice in this class.

    Thursday, January 24, 2019

    Mathematical property of friendship

    As part of my lecture, I ask interactive live-polling multiple choice questions. Today, one of those questions was:
    Let S be the set of Swarthmore students. Consider the binary relation "is a friend of" defined over S x S. This relation is symmetric.
    (a) true
    (b) false
    The point of this question was twofold: first, I wanted to confirm that everyone was on board with the notation, vocabulary, and definitions involved in reading the question. Second, I wanted everyone to laugh --- the joke is that either answer can be correct, depending on your attitude about friendship. (The class was pretty evenly split across (a) and (b), with one outlier protest vote for (d).)

    Imagine my complete and sheer delight when one student's defense of answer (a) was "This is a Quaker school, so we are all friends."

    HAH

    It is utterly, totally perfect as a response: it confirms that the student understood the concepts AND that they got the joke AND that they joked right back, indicating they're comfortable with the classroom environment already, in week 1.

    Dear student: you made my day, 'twas a stellar reply, thank you very much for your in-classroom participation today.


    This post's theme word is breviloquence (n), "speak briefly and concisely." English humor favors breviloquence.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2019

    What is the silliest nickname you've ever had?

    I take attendance by having the students answer a sign-in question.

    What is the silliest nickname you've ever had?

    Because answers to this question are fairly identifying, I'll just highlight some non-name-based nicknames that stood out for their silliness and their non-identifying-ness:

    • couscous
    • Baracuda
    • sea cow
    • Anpanman
    • extra toppings


    This post's theme word is endogenous (adj), "originating from within." There is no such thing as an endogenous nickname.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2019

    The Favorite

    The Favorite is a movie that tells the (fictionalized, edited) story of a snippet of the life of Queen Anne (of England) and two ladies who are vying for her attention and the political and social power it confers. This move was advertised at me with what was surely targeted ads online... and they were right, it's in my wheelhouse: a British Period Piece Featuring a Strong Female Lead.

    And which of these tremendous actors is the "lead"? The plot allows all three of them space and time onscreen to develop an inner world, and they have the breadth of real people. No one is single-minded, no one is consistent, no one's inner monologue is transparently interpretable by the audience. I really enjoyed that the audience was left space to feel sympathetic, or outraged, or critical, of the characters at different moments. I did not emerge from the movie with a clear hero in mind, or a clear villain, or even a clear moral. There was no overarching lesson, as far as I could tell.

    This movie passed the Bechdel test in a ferocious way. Most scenes featured only women, talking about whatever topics they want. Occasionally men were allowed to be furniture, or backdrops; when men were permitted lines in scenes, they discussed women. The single two-man scene consisted of them desperately discussing how to change their behavior to get women to notice them. It was fascinating to watch this happen, so naturally, and to notice when I noticed that men were being so sidelined.

    The Favorite featured what I am sure will be my favorite sex scene of 2019. Possibly of the decade. (I am confident I can say this because popular culture's take on sex scenes is so skewed. I don't want to spoil this one for you, but it really stands out as unusual and memorable.)

    We left the theater and immediately read the Wikipedia articles for Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill. Then I requested Churchill's book --- an after-the-queen's-death smear job, reportedly --- on interlibrary loan (full text here with OCR errors, scan of the physical book here).

    In summary: of course I recommend this movie. I left it and assigned myself reading homework! Some days I truly am living my best life.


    This post's theme word is desacralize (v tr), "to deprive of hallowed status." A falling-out between friends can result in desacralization and loss of peerage, if the friends are royal.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2019

    Boston Molasses Disaster

    Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Boston Molasses Disaster, wherein a giant tank of molasses burst and caused immense destruction.

    Fluid mechanics are fascinating. Here's a quick video with some light information about viscosity and the disaster:


    This post's theme word is cunctative (adj), "delaying; slow." While the initial pressure drove a powerful and quick-moving wave, viscosity made the residue a cunctative challenge for rescuers.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2019

    Merry non-Christmas!

    In the spirit of un-birthdays, merry non-Christmas to you!

    Today's a pretty unexceptional day, so it's a great time to contemplate the infinite possibilities happening in parallel universes not our own.
    Cartoon by Tom Gauld


    This post's theme word is pernoctate (v intr), "to stay up all night", or "to pass the night somewhere." I passed the time with phantasms of present, past, and parallel realities, pernoctating while pondering possible payoffs.

    Monday, January 7, 2019

    Family joy

    'Tis the season to ritually retreat to the place of your birth (or at least wherever your strongest familial anchor is) and Spend Time Together. Hooray!

    An upwelling of goodwill and warm familial emotional comfort to you, to me, to all of us. Here in my snowy childhood retreat, I am surrounded by snark and sotto-voce comments and offhand references to literature and clever puns about math and it is like being immersed in a warm, soft pool of almost-mirrors of myself. In the least egotistical way possible, it's delightful and I love all these people intensely.

    Here are some amusing and mostly out-of-context snippets of the family holiday season, which as usual, extends well into January.

    "Every pushup is like 10^{-6} points. It's like mining Bitcoin."

    "There's a microbrewery like every 3 blocks in Ithaca now." (originally tweeted)

    Re: wisdom teeth and roommate
    "Sarah won't let me decorate with them."
    "First strike."
    "She's a sensible girl."

    Alert: we've had to unfurl the backup cheese board for auxiliary cheese feasting. (originally tweeted)

    "Shitty superpower: the Man who Makes Women Menstruate. ... maybe there was a local election. A school board election? Those happen every year."

    "If you just WATCH me do the chores, it doesn't count towards your chore wheel, Jayjay."
    "Lila, usually dogs don't HAVE a chore wheel." (originally tweeted)

    "I know there's a cure for hepatitis C, but there's no need to jump headlong into it."

    "You might think there is a time signature. There is not."
    "This is a seal attempting to play an electronic harmonica. Underwater."

    "These tights are the #1 bestseller in beekeeping supplies!"
    "Beekeeping tights are NOT a thing."

    Suave pickup line, delivered slimily: "You might not know this, but the real numbers? They're ordered."

    "What the hell is that thing, Ernie?"
    "It's hair containment. You might not be familiar."

    Regarding his own conception: "I'm sorry, that was the best sperm I could get, Andrei."

    "I don't see the sloths."
    "The sloths are right in front of you!"
    "Those are 100% rhinos."
    "Oh, yeah."
    (originally tweeted)

    "My boobs are so low now, they can't hold anything up."

    Attempt and failure at generating a pithy saying: "If wishes were fishes, then... dishes... would... britches?" (originally tweeted)

    "He's bludgeoning the cheese into slices."

    Someone left on Google voice assistant, which chimed in, unexpected: (originally tweeted)
    "Can I help you find something?"
    "Find the yeti!"
    (it did not oblige)

    "Isotropic pressure!" (re: hats) (originally tweeted)

    On e-shopping as you fall asleep: "... it's very hard to get the best price." (originally tweeted)

    "Just think, if that had been a rink, you'd be wearing sequins to work." (originally tweeted)

    ... now, back to work, one and all!


    This post's theme word is exeleutherostomize (v intr), "to speak freely." The pithy, flippant people exeleutherostomize when amongst family.