Did I mention that I’m keeping track of my practice? Ridiculous track. Obsessive track. I’m treating my violining like I treat my running. Log everything. Track everything. Math it up in ways never before seen in the history of mathing things. (Well, maybe not that nuts.) So, I just thought I’d make a note about some random stat. It’s truly meaningless for anyone but me, but it is an odd sort of confluence of numbers. As of today, I have logged exactly 140 hours and 20 minutes of violin practice since starting in September: 70 hours and 10 minutes of that was in 2016, and 70 hours and 10 minutes of that was in 2017. Even split. See… I warned you it was pretty meaningless.
The results were posted for Claire’s run club track meet. I was curious to see if she had actually improved over the race a couple weeks ago, so I pulled out my calculator and crunched some numbers. Here’s how it breaks down: so, the first race was a little longer (1.415 km versus 1.28 km) and overall she placed better (132th/191 –or 31st percentile– yesterday versus 145th/177 –or 18th percentile– two weeks ago). Her pace was also a little faster, running at a 6:51min/km pace in the first race and 6:37min/km in the second race. Thus, yeah: not Olympic athlete material, but improvement, I’d say. And for reference, these are roughly my long-slow training paces… the paces I would run on a 16+km run. Now, the interesting thing is her competition… because there were some fast kids. The fastest grade three girl from her school ran at a 4:42 min/km pace, and the fastest girl overall in her category was running at a great clip of 4:23 min/km. To make most of us even more jealous, the fastest grade three boy recorded an impressive 3:54 min/km pace. You’ll see him in Boston in about ten years.
Twenty-Fifteen: I’m doing something I’d been putting off for far too long. I’ve gotten serious about reading, again. I’ve dusted off my paperbacks and charged up my Kindle. It has been a year to take the time to feed my poor television-adled brain with a selection of healthy, nourishing fiction. So, read on, little brain. Read on. We’ve been going Book to the Future!
At least three people have recommended that I read Andy Weir’s “The Martian” before the film comes out in October, and at least one of those (positively) recommended the book to me by saying this: “You know that scene in ‘Apollo 13’ where the engineers on Earth are trying to fix the CO2 scrubber before the astronauts die of carbon dioxide poisoning? It’s like a whole book of that.”
Which, tellingly enough, didn’t turn me off. Geek bait.
The First Few Pages
I had ordered a copy of this book and it shipped while I was on vacation and thus waiting in the box when we arrived home. I’ve been mixing it up between Kindle and paper, and oddly –sadly, too– been finding that Kindle new releases tend to be a few bucks more than their dead-tree counterparts. Dead tree it was. Amazon isn’t doing much to encourage me to upgrade my Kindle. I’ve been eyeing the newer models, but if all the new books are cheaper in paper what’s the point?
I’ve seen the previews for the aforementioned film adaptation of this novel. Matt Damon is starring as (I assume) protagonist-astronaut and stranded-on-Mars in media res Mark Watney. Within the first paragraph of the first page we learn that the wryly witty Watney is seemingly doomed by an unforeseen accident that left him stranded-presumed-dead on a NASA Mars mission.
Through a narrative journal-style accounting of his survival efforts the story starts to unfold chronologically with already enough maths and chemistry to keep me glued to the plot. Enough so that it was an effort to pull myself away long enough to write this… much… [hits publish and goes back to book]
At the tone, the time will be 3-14-15 9:26:53… That is all. Carry on.
a mash-up of mechanisms & nature
On the second day of February each year a vast cultural mechanism spins into gear as humanity pauses for a few minutes to celebrate the meteorological prognostication of a rodent. Groundhog day, according to various sources, traces its origins back to an odd sort of collision of culture, religion, dual calendar systems, and some pagan ritual mixed in for good measure. In modern incarnations, it involves a tongue-in-cheek reference on the morning radio to the various official shadow-spotters, and (if one is a true fan of the quasi-holiday) a re-watching of the Bill Murray feature film of the same name.
Predicting the weather (as the author has been not-so-subtly informed by personal conversations with actual human meteorologists) is hardly as simple as sky gazing. It continues to improve technologically, to be sure, with the expansion and use of vast satellite networks coupled to incredibly complex computer modeling systems harnessing the power of historical data and climate analysis. Yet, for all that technology, predicting the temperature a few days into the future is still mostly a blend of chance and educated guessing.
There is a part of me that has been feeling really fast lately. Mathematically, this perception pans out: my average pace is faster by about ten to fifteen percent since the summer. Part of this is due to one simple fact: the members of the group who were most dedicated for the latest iteration of the half marathon clinic I’ve been leading are faster. They just go, and at first I needed to push myself hard to keep up. So I ran faster on my solo runs and pushed harder on my group runs. It paid off, but there has also been a bit of a side effect. I go faster but I feel less fit. Just feel. Like I said, the math implies measurable improvements which itself implies better fitness. But it’s like that old saying says, ‘the more you know the more you know you don’t know.’ I guess it’s like that. The faster you go the slower you realize you are when you slow down.
Picture it: two parents sitting quietly in the living room while the seven year old sits at the kitchen table, laptop computer open, and working on her math homework… willingly… for forty-five minutes… and kicking some serious math backside. Claire came home with a username and password for a math education site subscription the parent council fundraising paid for, and she loves it. She worked through thirteen lessons and a test… so about 150 questions… and only got two wrong answers. A dad needs to brag up his daughter on occasion, right? Good thing we’ve already started saving for college.
There has been a lot of chatter on social media in the past few weeks about Alberta’s new math curriculum. Folks have been arguing in Facebook forums, posting links to angry op-ed tirades on the changes to the “tried and true” system in their tweets, and in hushed conversations over coffees have often suggested that we’re leaping blindly into an “experimental system” that treats students as “guinea pigs” for math education.
It’s simply not the epic failure some are making it out to be.
In fact, it actually seems rationally thought-out and forward-thinking.
For all the opinions and all the rants from both sides, I think the perspective that locked it into place for me came from a principal’s blog called Unraveling New Frontiers, and specifically a post titled: Going “Back to the Basics” or “Discovery Learning” in Mathematics? The Wrong Question to Ask…
I’m not going to re-iterate his points, you can read the post yourself, but I will perhaps just poke at the analogy that clicked it into place for me. Look at it this way. A thought experiment for you:
Imagine that I told you that all the minor sports leagues –y’know, hockey, soccer, baseball, etc– had got together and decided to update their “curriculum” that took young kids and taught them their respective sports. Hockey clubs would focus on skating and stick-handling skills. In baseball they would practice pitching and really knuckle-down and learn all the strategies and rules of the sport. In soccer, it would be all about dribbling and practice shots on goal to make sure kids really understood the objective of the sport. BUT… because it was too abstract, too wishy-washy, too unstructured for kids to really be “learning” anything specific, all those leagues would eliminate actual games until, say, the age of sixteen when kids could prove that they knew enough of the fundamentals of their sports. That’s right: in this imaginary new curriculum, the “fuzzy” learning of actually playing the sport against another team would be deemed too experimental and too unstructured and so… gone.
What would happen? I can tell you right now:
Parents would go ape-shit. Can you even imagine? And, I hate to say it, but probably some of the same parents who are now arguing against updates to the math curriculum would be the most vocal about such a preposterous hypothetical change to sports.
But, sadly, their point would be absolutely polar opposite on these two questions: sport and math. Because from how I understand it (in an analogous sort of way) that is exactly the change –in other words making it more like how we teach sports– that is being made to the math curriculum. New supplementary tools are bringing that “play” into the learning equation, making it real-life applicable and yet game-like-abstract in a way so that learning multiplication tables or memorizing formulas is only setting up the field for the real stuff… the fun stuff, that makes it interesting and applicable and useful for kids.
So, while some folks are getting all up-in-arms when they read the cherry-picked examples of convoluted problem solving techniques, take a step back and compare it, perhaps, to how you’d view the last ten seconds of a minor hockey game: that’s not where the kids are starting their learning but I think we can all agree that it’s the “play” part which makes it the reason they are learning.
Celebrate geek culture and eat a pie today. March 14th is Pi Day. Eat well, my friends, eat well.
I wake her up with a math joke. “It’s going to be Pi Day on Friday. Just four more sleeps. Should we get a pie for dessert?”
For the less nerdy among us, Pi Day is the celebration of (nearly) everyone’s circle-based constant pi, 3.14, celebrated on March 14th, 3-14.
“You should tell your teacher.” I suggest, at the same time still trying to nudge her into getting up and joining me for breakfast.
“Yeah!” I say enthusiastically, “And you could tell her that you know the pie secret.” I am improvising here, trying to pique her interest at quarter-after-six in the morning and knowing full-well that I was fighting a losing battle. Engaging a six-year-old on any topic is like pulling teeth… an apt analogy given that six-years-olds tend to do a lot of that, too.
“What’s the secret?” She asks, only one eye open.
“Remember I told you before?” I suggest. “The secret is that that two pie are square.”
Ba-dum-ching! She giggles.
I’m almost certain that she doesn’t get-it-get-it, but her reaction is priceless nonetheless. I mean, sometimes she repeats this stuff in school, or on our car rides, and I know that it’s stuck in there somewhere. On rare occasions it bursts out at a perfectly timed moment and it gains the both of us some nerd-cred. My daughter does math tricks. Cool.
“What kind of pie do you like?” I ask.
“I told you already.” She insists, and rightly. She has already told me, many time before. “Blueberry.”
fostering independence, rule 001
be mathmagical: celebrate math culture
Math is a foundational skill for future independence. It let’s us measure, value, weigh, and budget. It is a core skill for doing science, building things, and computing. It opens doors. It frees the mind.
So, do your daughter a favour, and teach her some math. And have fun with it by celebrating something completely nerdy that will stick with her forever.
I was curious, so I counted the number of steps that I climbed between my car and my desk this morning. And just to be clear: not ledges, curbs or bumps… actual staircase-steps. Y’know, like climbing up into the train platform, ascending back out of the LRT tunnels, changing floors between buildings as I walked to my office… that sort of thing. The final tally: 170 steps. 170 repetitions of lifting my foot the standard seven and a bit inches and planting it on the next tread. And that’s approximately what I’m climbing every morning… only mornings. Not counting the rest of the day. Now, if we can agree that your average flight of stairs is approximately 10 to 12 steps then some simple math tells me that I’m climbing something like 14 to 17 flights of stairs every morning before work. I only mention it because I’m kinda wondering something: I mean, y’know all that running? Is that’s what’s kept me in shape or is it the daily stair climbing?
Ah, June… Summer is at our doorstep, the days are (almost all of them) seeming to get a little bit longer, and for the second year in a row I am partaking in my daily blogging exercise, marginally focused along a theme I’ve simply called Those 30 posts in June. No planning. No writing stuff days ahead. Just this: each day a meanderingly vague prompt drives a meanderingly vague post… and today that post just happens to be:
June 13th // Something You Are Reading
Sometime in the last couple days I passed yet another content milestone on this blog: Six-hundred and fifty-thousand published words spanning nearly one-thousand nine-hundred and fifty posts. For those into certain kinds of meaningless statistics, if we assume that an average paperback novel consists of two-hundred and fifty pages (on average) of three-hundred words per page (on average) then this blog is something akin to eight-and-a-half novels worth of text. All of that is spanning a little more than eleven years. Like I said… meaningless statistics.
I only mention it because my query for the day is to write about something I’ve been reading,
and what I’ve found myself reading a lot of lately is this blog.
See, thanks to a variety of content sorting techniques and tools that I’ve integrated here over the years, I can dig through various archives, look back “on this day” or scour through computationally-related posts. It tends to leave me wandering through these many, many random bits of writing that I’ve done over the years, picking through parts of my life that I’d forgotten or that for some reason don’t stand out significantly in my mind.
Unless you have such an archive for yourself — and I’m really coming to understand that it is a rare and precious thing — it is a difficult experience to describe. (It’s never really too late to start, by the way.)
But I’ve been reading those old posts… a lot. I don’t think a week has gone by in the last ten or fiften when I haven’t polluted my own analytics data with dozens of my own page views and awkward wending tracks through these pages. It’s curious. And it’s curious not because I was (or am) a great writer. It’s curious because of the nature of memory and self-understanding. It’s curious because there is this guy writing those posts that I barely recognize, but somehow share all these whisps of recollection with. See, I don’t think I’ve come across a post yet where I’ve read and said to myself “gee, I don’t remember doing that…” I remember it all — at least, I remember after the memory has been sparked by the post. But so much of the context has blurred into forgotten history and so much more was trivial to begin with. And much of those fleeting vacancies of context, you may have noticed, have been shaping my more recent writing and causing these verbose and context-weightier posts to appear here. It’s not accidental. It’s a result of reading old posts. I’m trying, often subconsiously, to avoid missing context for my future forty-five year old self reading these words as old posts.
Do I expect others to read this stuff? Not really. My analytics surprise me sometimes, looking through the posts that become popular because of topics I’ve dived into. When I write about popular culture for example, hits spike. I don’t think anyone reading those posts cares about my personal ramblings. But it is tough not to care myself. Or maybe I’m just getting old.