Wednesday, April 23, 2014

End of semester

As we approach the end of the semester, it becomes time to give exams: first, in class, and then finals.  It's one of the duties of a professor that I like the least.  I don't mind testing what the students have learned, it's the format of it that I hate.
I recall  in my days as an undergraduate that one of my professors offered the class a choice: did we want the final exam to be open book or closed book?  He went on to point out that he could make the final much more "interesting" if we went with the open notes option --- subtly hint (or perhaps not so subtly hinting) that we might not want to choose that option.  We went for the closed book.
These days, I always allow my students to bring in a 3x5 index card: I tell them they may write on one side of it, and it should be legible.  Apart from that, it can have anything they want written on it.  This has a pedagogical purpose: the act of creating the notecard should tell them what they know, and what they need to know better, and in discovering that, they can focus their studying more effectively.  And sometimes, it works.

Yours, feeling testy,

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Black belt club

Skibo has recently been promoted to brown belt in his martial arts: which means that he is soon to begin testing for black belt status: this takes a couple of years in this system, and has to be paid for in advance.  And it's not cheap --- hundreds of dollars (not so bad over two years, but a hunk of change to cough up in advance).
And while he is very keen on it, and I don't think that he will choose to drop out, but it is non-refundable too!

Yours, preparing to cough it up,

Monday, April 21, 2014

And this time

This time? Only three months....

Yours, neglectfully speaking,

Boo, playwright

Over spring break, Boo decided she would write a play.  Here is the result.

Yours, proud of her!

The Wizard, The Elf, and The Princess
Starring: Boo as everyone.
Narr: Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a beautiful princess named Annabella, who lived in a giant castle. Her father was very strict and would never let her leave the castle. The princess was angered about this, so I will let her story begin here.
Anna: Daddy, why can't I leave the castle? I'm almost 12 already.
Dad: (smiling) Goodness, are you really almost 12? It seems like yesterday you were only starting to walk.
Anna: (laughing) Yes daddy, I'm almost 12, but stop changing the subject. Why can't I go out of the castle?
Dad: Pumpkin, I let you go out of the castle all the time.
Anna: You do daddy, but that's only into the garden. I want to go out and explore the kingdom.
Dad: That's enough of that. We might talk about it later, but now go get ready for school.
Anna: Yes daddy. I love you.
Dad: I love you too, pumpkin. Now I must go to the market. We need food for your big birthday dinner.
(Dad & Anna leave & scene changes)
Scene 2
Teacher: Annabella?
Anna: Present.
Teacher: Good, now everyone get out your homework and please turn it in.
Anna: Here you go, Mr. Blakely.
Mr. B: Thank you. Now, get out your book and read the next chapter.
Anna: (reads quickly) Done.
Mr. B: Good. You may get out your lunch, now.
(Anna get's out her lunch & starts eating)
Mr. B: Good job today, Annabella. You are dismissed.
Scene 3
Narr: As Annabella walked out into the garden, something strange caught her eye.
Anna: Um, excuse me, but who are you and why are you in the CASTLE'S garden?
Elf: Oh. Um. I'm Rosetta Stone. I am an elf. I live in the forest, just outside of the kingdom. I assume that you are Princess Annabella. It is a pleasure to meet you.
Anna: You are correct. I am Princess Annabella, and it is a pleasure to meet you too. But, I must ask again, what are you doing here?
Rose: Oh. Forgive me, Your Majesty, but I, um, I was just, um, going for a walk, & I saw this beautiful garden,& I just love beautiful gardens, & I headed toward it & poof, I'm lost!
Anna: Oh my gosh! I'm sorry! I didn't realize that you were lost. I thought you were in here to steal our gold and jewels. I'll help you get home. But first, come inside, and stay for the night.
Narr: And so, the princess took the elf inside and gave her the guest room, for the night. While the elf was sleeping, the princess was figuring out how to get out of the castle without her father noticing.
Scene 4
Narr: It was finally Annabella's birthday, & she was so excited. Then, she remembered about Rosetta & she started worrying about how she would explain it to her father.
Anna: (pacing) Oh no! This is bad! This is really, really bad! Daddy's going to be furious! Oh, I'm in trouble now. And the worst part is that I haven't figured out a way to get Rosetta back to her home. (sits on bed & cries)
Rose: (walks in) Um, Your Majesty, is this a bad time to ask when we will be leaving for my home?
Anna: (surprised) Oh, Rosetta! I didn't hear you come in. And please, call me Annabella.
Rose: Okay. Annabella, is this a bad time to ask when we will be leaving for my home?
Anna: Well, I'm not sure of the exact time that we'll be leaving, but I can assure you that it will be sometime today. I just have a kind of busy schedule today, since it's my birthday.
Rose: Oh, happy birthday! If it's too much trouble to go today, we can always go tomorrow.
Anna: NO! I, I, I mean, um, don't you want to go back to your home?
Rose: (startled) I, I do.
Anna: I'm so sorry for shouting. I don't know what came over me. It's fine that we go today.
Rose: You're very kind. Thank you for doing this for me.
Anna: You're welcome. I'm just glad to have a friend. Now, follow me. I think it's time that you met the king.
Scene 5
Anna: Stay here. Daddy, um, I have a surprise for you.
Dad: I have a surprise for you too.
Anna: I bet mine's bigger.
Dad: No, I bet mine's bigger.
Anna: (mutters) I seriously doubt it. Daddy, here's my surprise. Rosetta, come on out.
(Rose comes out)
Dad: (jumps back in surprise) Annabella Scrollsworth! What is that and what is it doing in my castle!
Anna: Not a what, a who. Daddy, this is Rosetta Stone, an elf. I found her wondering around our garden, yesterday, and she says she is lost. I need to take her home.
Dad: Well, why didn't you take it home.
Anna: Daddy, it's a girl, and you told me to stay in the castle. Please, let me take her home.
Dad: (sighs) Where does she live?
Anna: She lives in the forest, outside of the village, so it will be a perfect chance for me to see the WHOLE KINGDOM! Please may I take her?
Dad: No! That is way too far! Ugh, shall I take her?
Anna: No, daddy! I want to take her. Come on! Please! It's my birthday!
Dad: If I get one of the knights to be your guide, then I will let you go.
Anna: Of course! Can we leave today?
Dad: Okay. As long as you are back before dinner.
Anna: Perfect! So, what was your surprise for me?
Dad: Well, you shall see tonight.
Anna: Thank you so much, daddy. I promise to be back before dinner.
Scene 6
(Anna, Rose, and knight are riding on horses through forest)
Anna: So, how much farther? We've been riding for a long time.
Rose: Not much farther, now. We're very close to my home.
Anna: Good. We don't have much longer till I have to be home.
Rose: So, do you know what the knight's name is? He doesn't seem very talkative.
Knight: My name is Vance Everheart. It is my duty, not to talk, but to protect.
Anna: Wow. What a lovely name.
Rose: Indeed. So, Vance, have you ever traveled through the forest before?
Vance: Well, once. My brothers, sisters, and I were very young, we were playing at the edge of town, my youngest sister ran into the forest, we all followed her, for it was our duty to protect her, and suddenly, we all were lost. We never saw her again. Her name was Annabella.
Anna: That's my name! Will you tell us more about her?
Vance: If that is what you wish, then yes indeed, I shall. She was small for her age. She had lovely, long, brown hair, and beautiful, eyes. She had a twin. In fact, she was very much like you, Miss Annabella. Of course, our father was never the king.
Anna: Oh, the king adopted me. I don't know who my birth parents were. But I never had a twin. The king told me that he had found me... in the forest.
Rose: I hate to inturrupt, but it seems like you're Vance's lost sister, Annabella.
Vance: That's crazy. My sister was lost in the forest.
Rose: Think about it. Both of them have brown hair, blue eyes, OH LOOK! HERE'S MY HOME! Bye! Remember, think about it!
(Rose exits stage)
Vance: You know, she may have a point. You both have brown hair, blue eyes...
Rose: Oh no! It's getting darker! Daddy's going to be so mad at me! We have to get going or I'll be in trouble!
Vance: Well then get on your horse, and we'll ride as fast as we can, back to the castle in time.
Rose: Then let's go!
(ride for few seconds)
Vance: You even ride like my sister.
Anna: Listen, I'll talk to my dad about it later.
(arrive back at castle)
Dad: Where is she?! She is supposed to be back be now!
(Rose walks in)
Rose: Is it time yet, Your Majesty?
Dad: Rosetta! You're here already?! No, they haven't arrived yet.
Rose: I think I hear their horses' footsteps!
Dad: Quick, hide!
(Anna & Vance walk in)
Anna: Daddy, I'm so sorry I'm late! I lost track of the time! I'll never leave the castle again! I bet you were probably worried sick about me!
Dad: Oh pumpkin, I'm just glad that you're home! Besides, I've got a surprise for you!
Anna: Oh daddy, what is it?!
Dad: Come on out, Rosetta!
Rose & Dad: (singing) "Happy Birthday"
Anna: Oh. My. Gosh. Daddy, you've outdone yourself!
Dad: Do you love it, pumpkin?
Anna: I do, I really love it! But, I something to say.
Dad: Go ahead, pumpkin.
Anna: Okay, here it is. I think I found a bit about where I'm from, and about my past family.
Dad: What are you talking about, Annabella? I told you we would talk about this later.
Anna: But daddy, just listen...
Dad: No! I said this conversation is over!
Anna: But listen, I think I might have found my brother.
Dad: What on earth are you talking about, pumpkin?
Anna: Vance, come on out.
Dad: What are you talking about? Vance is a castle guard.
Rose: Well, Your Highness, when we were on the way back to my house, Vance told us a bit about his past.
Anna: So, you see, he told us about his little sister, who got lost in THE FOREST.
Dad: So, you think that she is you? That's completely absurd.
Anna: No, it's not. You see, we both look exactly the same, and rode just like each other. Come on daddy, you know that this is true.
Dad: Fine. You're right. It is true. When I found you in the forest and nobody was around, I decided to keep you as my daughter. When posters started popping up over town, I couldn't let anyone find you, so I had to keep you in the castle. I just couldn't bear to let anyone take you away from me.
Anna: So, this means that Vance is the prince?
Dad: Yes, I does. It also means that he is welcome to stay in the castle.
Anna: So, what do you say Vance? Would you like to stay with us in the castle?
Vance: Hmmm... I would love to.
Everyone: Yay!
Anna: Wait, Rosetta, why are you cheering?
Rose: I just love happy endings!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger

Very sad news about the passing of Pete Seeger.  I've loved his music, and that of his half sister Peggy, for decades now.  Socially conscious, their lyrics remind us that we make choices every day, we can fight bigger authority and occasionally win, and basically, we can make a difference.

Yours, pledging to try to make some small differences,

Four months?

How did I let it be four months between posts?

Neglectfully yours,

Monday, September 9, 2013

What should children play?

I chose a deliberately ambiguous title for the post: I'm thinking right now of musical instruments, specifically, but it occurs to me that the title can be interpreted in in so many ways.

Boo has the opportunity this year, as a fifth grader, of joining the band.  This is, of course, something that is unknown to us, having grown up in the UK, where the orchestra was for years 8 or so up (not that we called it that then there).  Her teacher strongly suggested the oboe as an instrument for her, though Boo had been saying for days that she wanted to play clarinet.  I'd have been fine with the oboe, as a purer instrument, though I think that the clarinet is a far more versatile instrument: and one who plays clarinet can participate in far more styles of music.
The kicker, though, was the price.  Oboes seem to go for four digits for cheap versions.  Clarinets, decent ones, it seems, can be had for a little less.  Or is that a lot less?  Yes, a lot less!  I didn't order the cheapest model, but went for one with great reviews from (self-proclaimed) professionals.  Hopefully, I won't regret the decision.

Yours, planning more on other interpretations of "what should children play" later,

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Somehow, I've let a few days go by without blogging (or faking it by putting up blogs a day or so late, and faking the timestamp --- yes, I do do that sometimes....)
Such is life.  Fortunately, there are only the three of you reading ( "hi there!").

I'm hooked currently on the series Silks, the latest Masterpiece Mystery series on PBS --- from Britain, of course, as are most of their MM series --- but I was delighted, thrilled, almost enough to squeal, to discover that next week the MM spot will be another episode of Foyle --- but not Foyle's war!  They've continued the series after the end of the war!

Yours, thrilled!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Topaz it may be.  For now, it's a working name for him.
Our kitten is getting a little bigger --- he's up to about a half a pound now: that's two stick of butter here in the US.  Still very sweet, except when he's peeing on my clothes.   I'm looking forward to the day --- coming very soon --- when he doesn't need to be fed with a bottle, but can lap up kitty-formula, or softened dry food.  At the same time,  I love taking care of such a tiny, vulnerable creature.  It's like having babies all over again.

Yours, melting,

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


I've signed up for a community rowing event --- I've been a little nervous about it: after all, it has been thrumpty-sevix years since I was fit enough to do something like that.  Fortunately, I gather that the race is only 500 meters, which makes it realistic: plus I went to a training session this evening for all of the other other rowers (or as many of them as could make the time): and I think that I'm on a par with most of them, and perhaps more prepared than some.
Now, since our first race is at 9:45 or so, and the final is not until about 3, there's a definite incentive to come in second in the heat!

Yours, planning on trying harder than second,

Monday, September 2, 2013

Another Labor Day

Another day in the classroom at 8am.
As much as I love teaching, I do think that a day off here or there for a Federal Holiday would be nice.

Yours, laboring away,

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Combinatorial fun!

Thanks to my cousin, Mike, a week or two back, I heard about the game Dobble, which over here in the US is marketed as Spot It.  He gave it such high praise that I immediately ordered a set.  It arrived well over a week ago, but the past ten days have been so hectic with the start of school, the start of classes for me, Skibo's testing, etc, that today was the first chance we'd had to play it.
Skibo was away on a sleepover, so it was just the three of us playing: and it was fun! And after seven or eight rounds, Boo was just not ready to put it away.  It almost led to an argument, she was so determined to keep playing.  Tomorrow we need to play again, with Skibo involved as well.

Yours, loving that a game can have so much deep mathematics hidden behind it (even if the manufacturers only put out 55 cards, instead of the 57 they could have made!)