Thursday, December 31, 2020

Today's Liberty Bowl

 4 p.m. EST, West Virginia vs Army. Memphis, Tennessee.


It’s the great Army option rushing offense against the great Mountaineer run defense in what should be an interesting fight. West Virginia second-year head man Neal Brown was 3-0 in bowl games at Troy, but he’ll need a big day out of the NFL-caliber defensive line brother tandem of Dante and Darius Stills to slow down the Army ground attack.  link

That's exactly why this could be a fun game to watch or a disaster for Army.  It's not going to be a gimme for Army, they're going to have to play one of their best games of the year to beat West Virginia.  Sure, the Mountaineers are 5-4 vs the Black Knights' 9-2, but let's be blunt, Army played several games against significantly weaker opponents.  Army's pass rush and pass defense are going to have turn it up to 11, something we haven't seen much so far this season--although the pass defense looked good in more than a few games, it's going to have to be great in the Liberty Bowl.

I don't bet, and I don't predict--I cheer for my team.  I hope to be able to shout many times the two prettiest words in the English language:  TOUCHDOWN, ARMY!

Update:  Army was up 14-10 at the half, but games aren't decided at the half.  Both teams demonstrated that they deserved to be in a bowl game, with West Virginia winning 24-21.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

An Inspiration Has Moved On

As a teacher, I love the inspirational movies Lean on Me (Morgan Freeman as Principal Joe Clark) and Stand And Deliver (Edward James Olmos as teacher Jaime Escalante).  Of course I know that the movies didn't perfectly match the reality, but they were supposed to be close enough that we could draw inspiration from them--and I did.

And now we learn that Joe Clark himself has moved to the big campus in the sky.  He won't need the bat and bullhorn there:

Joe Clark, the baseball bat-wielding former New Jersey principal who was the inspiration for the 1989 movie “Lean on Me,” has died after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family said.

Clark was 82.

The longtime South Orange resident, who was played by Morgan Freeman in the hit movie he inspired, died Tuesday surrounded by his family in his retirement home in Gainesville, Florida, the family said.

Wrong Again!

At some point, willfully believing these fanciful lies should indicate some sort of mental health problem:

Long before Beto O’Rourke claimed the world only had 10 years left for humans to act against climate change, alarmists had spent decades predicting one doomsday scenario after another, each of which stubbornly failed to materialize. It seems climate armageddon has taken a permanent sabbatical.

Many of those doomsday predictions specifically mentioned the annus horribilus of 2020. Those predictions also failed, some rather spectacularly.

Steve Milloy, a former Trump/Pence EPA transition team member and founder of, compiled ten climate predictions for 2020 that fell far off the mark.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Dividing Fractions

I'm on an email list on which the topic today is a video showing a silly way of doing division.  Literally, it involves drawing columns of dots.  It is no more understandable than the standard division algorithm, and certainly less efficient.  Here's the video:

 Here's what I posted on the maillist:

What I kept thinking while watching that video was "why not just draw 245 dots and circle them in groups of 5?"  It would have been only slightly less efficient but far more understandable.

Finding nifty techniques for math, techniques specifically designed to avoid the standard (and extremely efficient) algorithms, is often a case of mistaking cause for effect.  People like us, who understand math, can often see very interesting patterns or ways of viewing things that make math vibrant. If only everyone saw these things, math would be vibrant for them as well, yes? NO.  We see these things BECAUSE we already grok the underlying math: showing our patterns and techniques doesn't help people LEARN the underlying math.  "If a then b" does not imply "if b then a".  It amazes me how many people in education, how many people who should know better, make that mistake.

The division algorithm is plenty efficient already, and students should learn it.

Now let's shift gears a bit.  Knowing there's an exception that proves the rule, there is one non-standard-algorithm technique that I kinda sorta like.  It is slightly more difficult than the standard algorithm, but it combines some math that students already know with some simple understanding.  It's dividing fractions.

Here's the standard "invert and multiply" algorithm.  


It's easy enough to teach why/how this works (and I always did), but it still leaves some students confused.  Some cannot follow the explanation as to why it works, and some forget which fraction to invert.  Practice, though, should cement the process, even if they don't understand why it works.

Some teachers would get all worked up at this point--"understanding it is the whole point", they say.  To which I reply, no it's not.  I doubt most of those teachers could explain the 4 strokes of the internal combustion engine that powers their cars, but that isn't the point of driving.  The car is a tool, not an end in itself--and elementary math is exactly the same.

I won't get into how I demonstrated that the "invert and multiply" rule works, those many years ago when I taught junior high.  What I want to do here is show a slightly different way of doing the same problem.  Yes, it has a more difficult step than the process above does, but the payoff is a little more understanding of what the answer means.

So let's start with the original problem:

If students are learning how to divide fractions, they should already know how to add fractions--and hence, to get a common denominator.  So, let's rewrite the problem using a common denominator:

When students learned how to multiply fractions, they learned to "multiply straight across".  Now that we have a common denominator, it's easy to divide straight across.  No, you don't need a common denominator to divide straight across, but it doesn't buy you anything to do that step without a common denominator (try it if you don't believe me).

Since any number divided by 1 is that number itself, then

Generally speaking, students know that the problem above is asking "how many times does 5/8 go into 2/3 ?"  The number 16/15 doesn't seem to relate to that answer, even though it's correct.  By getting a common denominator, students can better understand the new question, "how many times does 15 (24ths) go into 16 (24ths)?"  Now, the 16/15 makes a little more sense.  Fifteen goes into 16 one time with a 15th left over.

This process has the advantage of using skills students have already learned (common denominators, "multiplying straight across", and dividing by 1) to get an answer to a new type of problem (division of fractions).  It required no new skills or rules, and it allows for an understanding of what the answer means.

If I were teaching division of fractions, this is what I'd teach first.  Then, after students become proficient with this interim process, I'd show them the "shortcut"--the "invert and multiply" process.

This video shows another method but doesn't at all explain why it works, when it's really just a variation of "invert and multiply":

Easy, but just a "plug and chug" with no understanding.

This video shows one of those ohmygawd methods--the process is so tedious that any understanding goes out the window:

Wouldn't 3 3/4 divided by 2 1/2 be unnecessarily difficult using this method?

The standard algorithms are standard because they're the most efficient way of to get answers manually.  The vast majority of the attempts to "make math clearer" fall prey to the point I made on the maillist--they are only clearer to those who can already do the math.

And that doesn't help anyone except the person trying to make a name for him/herself with some "new" method.

Summer Plans

This past summer, my plan was to go to the Star Trek convention in Vulcan, Alberta, Canada.  With the US-Canadian border being closed, though, my trip planning got me as far as Yellowstone National Park.  What about this summer?

Again I plan to head north--Vulcan, Banff, and British Columbia.  If that doesn't work out, though, I'm going to head south to San Felipe, Baja California, where I'm looking into buying a vacation casita.

My passport is getting stamped this summer, one way or another.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Science Fiction Morality Has Intruded On My Christmas

My son got me an Amazon Echo Dot :-)  I spent a lot of time yesterday setting it up and playing with it.

Hey Alexa, how cool is that?

So while using it I asked "Alexa" several questions.  What's the weather going to be today?  What day of the week will my birthday fall on in 2021?  What is kickoff time for this year's Liberty Bowl?  I also gave "Alexa" several commands:  add such-and-such to a shopping list.  Set a reminder for this-and-that.  Play ocean waves.

And I got to thinking, what is the protocol here?  Sometimes, after "Alexa" answered, I'd say "thank you".  Why?  "Alexa" is a tool, not a person; we don't thank a hammer after we hit the nail with it.  We thank people because it's polite--and really, we thank them because it makes them more likely to fulfill our requests in the future.  We don't thank machines.  So why did it sound odd to give a command to "Alexa" without saying please, and not to say thank you?

It's because "Alexa" is designed to mimic a human--and this is where it starts.  Have you watched Better Than Us (on Netflix)?  Or Humans?  Or Westworld?  Or Battlestar Galactica?  Can not saying please or thank you hurt a machine's feelings, is it necessary to be polite to a machine?   Can you rape a robot, or torture one?  Is sentience a requirement for such actions?  What constitutes sentience, the Turing Test?  When does machine stop and being begin?

Can a robot be your friend?  

I've been watching science fiction all my life so I've got a head start on these philosophical questions, but even still, this Echo device has made think.  

I've made my decision.  Generations from now they might think me old-fashioned or some sort of -ist for saying this, but "Alexa" isn't a person.  It's a computer-generated voice.  There is no reason to thank the the computer.  Maybe later versions of "Alexa" will merit a different response, but I'm not going to treat a computer as a person.  There's a difference.

More On Lockdowns

I won't say that at this point that you have to be a moron to believe that lockdowns have produced any benefits for the US population (they've produced incalculable benefits for the ruling class) but you certainly can't claim the mantle of science! when advocating for lockdowns:

The use of universal lockdowns in the event of the appearance of a new pathogen has no precedent. It has been a science experiment in real time, with most of the human population used as lab rats. The costs are legion. 

The question is whether lockdowns worked to control the virus in a way that is scientifically verifiable. Based on the following studies, the answer is no and for a variety of reasons: bad data, no correlations, no causal demonstration, anomalous exceptions, and so on. There is no relationship between lockdowns (or whatever else people want to call them to mask their true nature) and virus control. 

Perhaps this is a shocking revelation, given that universal social and economic controls are becoming the new orthodoxy. In a saner world, the burden of proof really should belong to the lockdowners, since it is they who overthrew 100 years of public-health wisdom and replaced it with an untested, top-down imposition on freedom and human rights. They never accepted that burden. They took it as axiomatic that a virus could be intimidated and frightened by credentials, edicts, speeches, and masked gendarmes. 

The pro-lockdown evidence is shockingly thin, and based largely on comparing real-world outcomes against dire computer-generated forecasts derived from empirically untested models, and then merely positing that stringencies and “nonpharmaceutical interventions” account for the difference between the fictionalized vs. the real outcome. The anti-lockdown studies, on the other hand, are evidence-based, robust, and thorough, grappling with the data we have (with all its flaws) and looking at the results in light of controls on the population. 

Links to studies are in the article.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Army's 2nd Bowl Offer and Acceptance of the Season

Army was the first team to be offered a bowl game this season, and accepted an invitation to the Independence Bowl against a PAC-12 opponent.  No opponent could be found, though, as many college football teams have decided to forego bowl appearances this year, and the Independence Bowl was cancelled.  Maybe there were teams out there afraid of Army's option offense.

Army, at 9-2, seemed out of bowl contention.

Then, 3-7 Tennessee (seriously!  3-7!) bowed out of the Liberty Bowl:

The Army West Point Black Knights have accepted a bid to the 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl to play against West Virginia of the Big 12 Conference on December 31 at 3 p.m. CT. The game will be televised live on ESPN. 
After the 9-2 Black Knights' had their original bowl game cancelled due to opt-outs and not enough opponents available to fill the slot in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl, the opportunity became available for the Black Knights to fill an open slot in the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl, it was announced this evening.
"The men on our football team deserved this opportunity and we were not going to rest until we exhausted every potential pathway to a bowl game," said Army Director of Athletics Mike Buddie. "We are thrilled our guys will get to suit up one more time to represent Army West Point in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl."
The Black Knights were invited to participate in the bowl after the University of Tennessee was unable to compete in the 62nd AutoZone Liberty Bowl due to its pause in team activities.
"Our young men are so deserving of this and I am excited that this special team and this senior class will get an opportunity to play together one more time. Sometimes things turn out even better than you thought they would and we are so thankful to everyone who supported our program and worked to make this happen. A big thank you to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and we can't wait to get to Memphis to play an outstanding Power Five opponent in West Virginia," said head coach Jeff Monken.
The Black Knights are headed to their fourth bowl game under seventh-year head coach Jeff Monken. They are 3-0 in three previous bowl appearances under Monken.
"The AutoZone Liberty Bowl was founded on the principles of liberty, freedom and patriotism, so it is with great pride we host Army for the first time in our 62-year history. We have great respect for the Black Knights and congratulate head coach Jeff Monken and his team on extending their season and celebrating their 2020 accomplishments in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl," said Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Overall, the 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl will be the ninth bowl game in program history. The Black Knights are 6-2 in bowl games.
The Black Knights and Mountaineers have met three times previously, with the Black Knights leading the all-time series, 2-1. The first meeting was a 7-6 victory in 1941, the second a 19-0 win in 1946 and the last meeting in 1961 was a 7-3 win by the Mountaineers.

This should be a tough game for Army.  Fix bayonets!

What Are Your Kids Learning in School?

Think of this site as "Woke-e-Leaks."

It's a parent-powered, K-12 transparency community to blow the whistle on what's happening in schools.

School districts know that using taxpayer money for political activism is wrong; they do it because they think no one's watching. But you send your loved ones to school for education, not indoctrination. 

Schools are for education - not politics and ideology.

That's why we need you to blow the whistle. Anonymously upload your own example to the site in seconds.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Cheating on Math Tests

In three of my classes this semester, I didn't give final exams.  The last test of the semester, given last week, was a chapter test.  We cut so much material from our curriculum this year, and had so many fewer hours to teach, that I thought it better to teach as much and as well as I could and not try to spend a couple days reviewing for a comprehensive final exam.

In my statistics classes I identified a few students whom the evidence suggested had cheated.  In my pre-calculus class I identified a couple.

I have no doubt that more cheated than I caught, but we teachers do what we can.  We know most of the apps and web sites the students use to cheat, and we try to adjust our tests so that those web sites aren't helpful.  Since all our students are at home, though, and since they aren't supervised during tests, there's nothing except integrity to stop them from merely sharing answers via their phones.

The ones that got away with it, well, they got away with it.  When I catch them, though, I email them and their parents saying something like this:

Various anomalies and inconsistencies on your test cause me to suspect that unauthorized collaboration has occurred.  Note that this isn't an accusation of cheating, merely a suspicion based on what I consider to be very strong evidence.  I encourage your child to contact me by the end of the day today to explain these anomalies so we can resolve this issue as soon as possible.

These types of communications can be sensitive and must be handled absolutely professionally.

I alter the tests, and I warn the students about penalties.  Now imagine a third layer--an Honor Code with a potential sanction of getting kicked out of school?

More than 70 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were accused of cheating on a math exam, the worst academic scandal since the 1970s at the Army's premier training ground for officers.

Fifty-eight cadets admitted cheating on the exam, which was administered remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them have been enrolled in a rehabilitation program and will be on probation for the remainder of their time at the academy. Others resigned, and some face hearings that could result in their expulsion.

The scandal strikes at the heart of the academy's reputation for rectitude, espoused by its own moral code, which is literally etched in stone: 

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

They give cadets second chances these days.  Back in my day, the Superintendent very seldom exercised his "discretion" and if found guilty of Honor Code violations, cadets were almost always expelled.

Army Col. Mark Weathers, West Point's chief of staff, said in an interview Monday that he was "disappointed" in the cadets for cheating, but he did not consider the incident a serious breach of the code. It would not have occurred if the cadets had taken the exam on campus, he said.

I hope Col. Weathers was misquoted.  It is a serious breach of the code. 

Instructors initially determined that 72 plebes, or first-year cadets, and one yearling, or second-year cadet, had cheated on a calculus final exam in May. Those cadets all made the same error on a portion of the exam.

Recently concluded investigations and preliminary hearings for the cadets resulted in two cases being dismissed for lack of evidence and four dropped because the cadets resigned. Of the remaining 67 cases, 55 cadets were found in violation of the honor code and enrolled in a program for rehabilitation Dec. 9. Three more cadets admitted cheating but were not eligible to enroll in what is called the Willful Admission Program...

"Cadets are being held accountable for breaking the code," he said. "While disappointing, the Honor System is working, and these 67 remaining cases will be held accountable for their actions."

Very disappointing.

UpdateNavy, too:

Hundreds of students at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis have received a grade of "incomplete" as the academy reviews "potential inconsistencies" in physics exams that were submitted earlier this month.

The academy would not elaborate on the "inconsistencies," but the review is notable in light of reports about a major cheating scandal at the US Military Academy at West Point.

"Due to potential inconsistencies noted in the administration of the in-person proctored, computer-based final exam for Physics I (SP 211), all midshipmen who were enrolled in this course during the fall semester have received a marking of 'I - incomplete.' The Naval Academy is working to resolve the uncertainties surrounding the final examination as quickly as possible," U.S. Naval Academy Provost Andrew Phillips said in a statement.

When they get away with cheating in high school, they're going to try it in college, too.  That's why I endeavor so hard not to let them get away with it it high school.

Update #2, 1/31/2021Air Force, too:

The Air Force Academy is undertaking a wide-ranging "honor review" after a massive scandal in which some 249 cadets ended up under investigation for some form of cheating.

The alleged honor code violations appear to be a direct result of changes to class structure last spring due to pandemic restrictions.

"Part of the review will focus on the spring semester of 2020, when the Academy made the unprecedented decision in March to send the lower three classes home, approximately 3,000 cadets, in order to best protect their health and safety," academy officials said in a news release Friday. "The decision forced a swift, 8-day transition of the Academy's academic curriculum to at-home remote classes, a first for the traditionally in-person institution. Unfortunately, amidst these extraordinary circumstances and challenges, 249 cadets were suspected of violating the Academy's Honor Code."

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Cancelling Lincoln

And here we go:

A San Francisco district is planning to rename a school named after Abraham Lincoln because the former president did not demonstrate that 'black lives mattered to him'.

The president, who is often held up as an American hero for abolishing slavery, is just one of 44 historical figures soon to have their names scratched off schools within the San Francisco Unified School District.

Other names include George Washington, Herbert Hoover and Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose name will be stripped from the Dianne Feinstein Elementary School for allowing the Confederate flag to fly outside City Hall back in 1984 when she was mayor.  

As I read elsewhere:  I guess getting murdered by a Democrat after freeing American slaves isn't enough.   

Are black students going to magically start doing better because they won't have to see Lincoln's name on a high school anymore?  Who can live up to the ridiculous (and constantly changing) standards of the left?  Will "social justice" now rain down like manna from Heaven after all the statues are gone, the schools renamed, the history wiped?


San Francisco is doing Jefferson Davis' work for him.

They Can't Admit They're Wrong, So They Double Down

Where's the big post-Thanksgiving surge of the 'rona?  Nowhere.  Didn't happen.  The trajectory remains unchanged.

And this doesn't fit the narrative, does it?

A SHOCKING AND UNFORESEEABLE RESULT: Florida’s Unemployment Claims Decline Sharply As State Remains Open. The Insta-Wife and I spent some time down in Panhandle Florida last week talking to servers, cashiers and others who work in wage-and-tip jobs, and they were all rather smug about Florida remaining open, and they strongly preferred their situation to that in places like California and New York. Their attitude toward those places was a mixture of smugness, and pity.

Plus: “The California experience was especially perplexing. Despite strict COVID-19 rules, the state has set records for new cases all week, including more than 50,000 on Thursday. Florida, with no business restrictions, reported 13,148 new cases.”

And what explains this

California - the country's largest and richest state - is the new epicenter of America's coronavirus crisis, with unprecedented surges of seriously infected patients threatening to overwhelm hospitals and overflow morgues.

The state is reporting unnerving numbers: California has set nationwide records for new cases again and again in the past week - most recently on Wednesday, when it posted more than 41,000 infections. If California were a country, it would be among the world leaders in new covid-19 cases, ahead of India, Germany and Britain.

The number of available beds in intensive care units is plummeting. In the San Joaquin Valley, hospitals ran out over the weekend, resorting to "surge capacity." And in Southern California, a region that includes Los Angeles and San Diego, ICU capacity dipped to just 0.5% Wednesday.

I remember March--"2 weeks to bend the curve", to give the hospitals time to ramp up capacity.  Initially, there was so little capacity needed that 2 hospital ships were sent home and field hospitals set up in parks and stadiums went mostly unused.  And that was before everyone wore masks. 

So here we are in California, 9 months later, with some of the most draconian lockdown rules in the country and a mask Stasi that would make even Erich Honecker blush, and the 'rona is seemingly more out of control today than it was in early March when we still had some semblance of freedom.  How can this possibly be?

And why have we done nothing to increase ICU capacity?  It's not like hospitals haven't had 9 months to prepare.

And then you have everyone from the mayor of San Jose to the mayor of San Francisco to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the governor of California, all violating the governor's own virus-related restrictions.  And that's just in California.  They must know the rules are onerous and useless--yet they not only enforce them on the rest of us, they double down and then flout them.  Among many problems with that scheme, hypocrisy notwithstanding, you can only double so many times before the result gets too big and you can't double anymore.  Then what do you do?

When the facts contradict your expectations, believe the facts.  Mask mandates and lockdowns and business restrictions have been an abject failure at stopping the spread of a virus that has over a 99% survival rate for those who get it.  It's a profane bizarro world where that is ignored and too many people treat the loss of freedom and society's common sense as a completely reasonable reaction.

Update:  I've been arguing forever that the number of cases isn't relevant, the number of deaths is.  But for those of you who continue to argue cases, how do you refute this?

Saturday, December 19, 2020

I'm Not Superstitious, But...

I wore my US Army shirt and my US Army socks today, and Army beat Air Force 10-7 with a last minute touchdown.  Having beaten Air Force and Navy by a combined score of 25-7, Army wins the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the third time in four years.

Good thing I wore those socks!

Here's a very young me next to the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in 1987.

Friday, December 18, 2020

I Made It!

It's Friday, the last day of school before Christmas break!  And since school is out now, I'm officially on Christmas break!

Unofficially, though, I'm not.  I'd have answered a couple parent emails before I left school, but the district and our custodians are getting serious about locking the parking lot gates at 3:30, so I had to leave in order to beat that time.  I'm home now, and will get to those emails before shutting down for good until January 4th.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

I Need To Learn More About Sports Betting Lingo

Does this mean that Air Force is favored by 2.5, which means if they win by a field goal they beat the spread?

Army Black Knights (8-2) vs. Air Force Falcons (3-2)

Game Info: Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 3:00 PM

Betting Odds: Air Force -2.5-- Over/Under: 37.5 
Why -2.5?  What does the negative sign indicate?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


I recently downloaded a free Audible audiobook written by a well-known science fiction author (who is younger than I am).  The "cover" of the audiobook states "The New York Times Bestseller" and "Winner of the Hugo Award", so we're not dealing with some run-of-the-mill wannabe writer here.

Thus I am flummoxed by what I consider a serious writing flaw--a flaw that's amplified by the audiobook format.  Darned near every sentence in which a character speaks ends in the word "said".

"Blah blah blah," he said.  "Blee blee blee," she said.  "Neener neener neener," he said.  It's extremely grating, especially in short, staccato sentences like those above.  Said said said.  Sure, every once in awhile a character might have "asked" something, but is "said" the only such verb in the writer's repertoire?  Might not a character have "replied", or "responded", or "retorted", or "interjected", or "answered" once in awhile?  Breaking out my thesaurus I find "speak", "tell", "state", "affirm", "mention", "allege", and "recite" as synonyms for "say".  I've created quite the list to choose from without any effort to speak of.

I'm enjoying the story, but I'd enjoy it much more if every other sentence didn't end in "said".

Monday, December 14, 2020

Discussion With A Student

I had the following discussion with a student today.  Obviously I don't remember it word for word, but I'll endeavor to reproduce it as faithfully as possible.  The conversation occurred at the end of Zoom class:

Student:  I don't understand why those projects I turned in aren't being counted.

Me:  Given that I explained this to you in an email last week, what don't you understand?

Student:  I know they were late, but I turned them in.

Me:  One was turned in days late, the other was turned in 2 weeks late.  I'm not going to accept that.  What do you think the due dates were for?

Student:  I don't remember hearing you say we couldn't turn in late work. 

Me:  Did I tell you you could?

Student:  No, I just thought I could.

Me:  One of those projects was due in August, the other was due in September.  Why did you wait until this month to ask about them?

Student:  I saw they weren't graded, I just thought eventually they would.

"I don't remember hearing you say we couldn't turn in late work."   I think this is verbatim.  I remember because the sentiment struck me as so...wrong.  It's my fault that he/she didn't turn his/her work in?  Oh heck no!

The student is a college-bound senior, and no extenuating circumstances were claimed for why the work was so late.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Today's Army-Navy Game

Here's how it will work:

The 121st meeting between the service academy rivals is Saturday, and this one will be very different. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in 77 years the game will be played at West Point's venerable Michie Stadium. Both schools agreed to move it from its customary site in Philadelphia after attendance limits were placed on outdoor events in Pennsylvania because of concerns over the novel coronavirus and it was Army's turn to be the home team...

No fans will be allowed at Michie Stadium — capacity 38,000 instead of nearly 70,000 at Lincoln Financial Field. But at least the entire Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets (about 9,000 total) will be there, and President Trump is scheduled to fly in.

A video on Instagram showed Marine 1 landing yesterday.  And I'm glad the squids will be there to see the game.

Beat Navy! 

Update:  and we did, 15-0!  I don't think I've ever before seen a game where all the lucky breaks seemed to go Army's way.  And that goal line stand on 4th and 1 was one for the highlight reels!

Update #2, 12/13/20:

Friday, December 11, 2020

A Drink After Work

Earlier today I asked a friend at work if he wanted to get a drink after work.  He said sure, and we went back to teaching.

About 10 minutes after the end of "school" (actually, end of Zoom), I went over to his room to see if he still wanted to go--and he was laughing.  He had texted his wife that we were going out, and just before I got there she had replied, "Where you gonna go?  We're on lockdown!"

Can't even get a drink after work on Friday anymore.  How many people have died from the 'rona from getting a drink after work on Friday?  Probably none.  I'm reminded of Exhibit A from yesterday's post.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Final Exam, Redux

The 15-page final exam for my online Calculus for Bio/Medicine 1 course included 2 blank pages--which I used to continue work from previous pages.  So yes, I used all 15 pages.

When I downloaded it and started working on it a few days ago, I was in a shallow funk; my plan was to do the bare minimum needed to get an A in the course, and then a few points more just in case I made any errors, and then turn it in.

Then I got out of my funk, and after I had done enough that I was reasonably sure that I'd earned a solid A in the course (don't know if he gives A-'s or not, but I didn't want one of those!), I decided to keep on going.  I had one problem left, a very difficult problem, but I kept at it.  Two nights ago I finished the entire test.  Last night I scanned it, but didn't submit it in case I wanted to spend the time to comb through it and find silly errors I might have made.  Tonight I submitted it online, deciding not to spend any more time on it and to just just let the chips fall where they may.

This course was an excellent review for me.  Calc for Bio/Medicine 2 starts in a month.

Update, 12/12/20:  final exam score was 128/130.  Overall course grade was 931/936, 99.47%.  I'm feeling pretty good :)

Others Are Starting To Admit It

Back in March, when my school shut down, I bought into the "3 weeks to bend the curve".  We didn't know what we were up against, possibly something as bad as the Black Death or the Spanish Flu.  Stay home a couple weeks, let the hospitals ramp up, then get back to life as usual.

How naive I was--because I believed those in power.

I hope these vaccines work, because I don't know how much longer people will tolerate lockdowns that don't do anything good.  We're told decisions are based on science! (said in best Thomas Dolby voice) but the evidence tells us otherwise.

Exhibit A:

San Mateo County, California, was one of the first jurisdictions in the United States to fight the COVID-19 epidemic with sweeping restrictions on social and economic activity. It joined five other San Francisco Bay Area counties in issuing "shelter in place" orders on March 16, three days before Gov. Gavin Newsom made California the first state to impose a COVID-19 lockdown. San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow's misgivings about reviving that policy are therefore especially striking. "I'm not sure we know what we're doing," Morrow confesses in a remarkable statement he posted on the San Mateo County health department's website this week. 

It would be nice if more people in positions of responsibility were as honest.

Exhibit B:

So, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times asked (California HHS Secretary Mark) Ghaly, “There have been some criticisms, including from the Assistant Secretary of HHS, who said on Fox News, ‘I don’t know of any data that says we need to shut down outdoor dining.’ I’m wondering if you can respond to that?” Ghaly replied:

“As it relates to the question about indoor dining or outdoor dining, I think one thing that I have tried to message and emphasize is that right now we’re seeing such high levels of transmission that…every activity that can be done differently and keep us at our homes, not mixing with others, is safer. Those are going to be the tools that help us get this under control.

“So the decision to include, among other sectors, outdoor dining, and limiting that, turning to restaurants to deliver and provide takeout options instead, really has to do with the goal of trying to keep people at home, not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining.

I've been saying it for awhile now: these lockdowns are about power, not about science!

Exhibit C:

California officials will allow playgrounds in the state to remain open following a backlash over a restrictive stay-at-home coronavirus order affecting parts of the state that have less than 15% intensive care unit-capacity in hospitals, according to reports...

“This kind of reversal on restrictions that have no data behind them, that make no biologic sense, and that affect low-income groups disproportionally is good governance and should keep on coming!" She wrote in an email, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

If science! were guiding the decisions, the playground rule wouldn't have been made in the first place.  And if the playground rule was made based on science!, it wouldn't have been overturned just because people didn't like it.


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Institutional Racism: Are Your Kids' Teachers Racists?

 Heather MacDonald makes a lot of sense here:

The United States is being torn apart by an idea: that racism defines America...

Feeling undermined by peers, passed over for inferior candidates, and unappreciated in job interviews once was considered the ordinary lot of office workers. These petty indignities become proof of racism, however, when suffered by blacks. It is taboo to suggest that noncompetitive qualifications ever play a role in any lack of black advancement...

But the expectation of proportional representation in every profession is groundless, thanks to the academic skills gap. The unequal distribution of skills, not bias, explains the lack of racial proportionality in employment.

The median black eighth-grader does not possess even basic math skills. “Basic” skills, as defined by the National Assessment of Education Progress exam, means partial mastery of grade-related knowledge. Fifty-three percent of black eighth-graders scored “below basic” on math in 2017. Only 11 percent of black eighth-graders were proficient in math, and 2 percent were advanced. By contrast, 20 percent of white eighth-graders were below basic in 2017, 31 percent were proficient, and 13 percent were advanced. Only 12 percent of Asian eighth-graders were below basic, 32 percent were proficient, and 32 percent were advanced.

The picture was not much better in reading...

Black students never catch up to their white and Asian peers. There aren’t many white-collar professions where possessing partial mastery of basic reading and math will qualify one for employment...

In 2005, the Journal of Blacks in Education estimated that there were only 244 black students in the U.S. with a math SAT above 750. Brookings used an estimation procedure that maximized the number of high-scoring black students and came up with, at most, 1,000 blacks nationwide with scores of 750 and above. Whether the number is 250 or 1,000, it means that the STEM fields, medical research, and the ever-more mathematical world of finance cannot all have a 13 percent black participation rate, at least if meritocratic standards remain in place.

The SAT gap is replicated in graduate-level standardized tests...

The Law School Admission Test is similarly skewed. The gap between white and black scores on the LSAT in 2013 was a 1.06 standard deviation. In 2004, only 29 blacks, representing 0.3 percent of all black LSAT takers, scored 170 or above on the LSAT, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. The average entrance score was 170 for the top-ranked law schools. There were 1,900 whites who scored at least a 170, representing 3.1 percent of all white test takers. Of black test takers, 1 percent—or 108 blacks nationwide—scored at least 165 in 2004, 165 being the average for the top ten law schools. Over 10 percent of white test takers—or 6,689 whites nationwide—scored at least 165. That gap has only grown, and it affects law school outcomes...

The myth of bias, whether in medicine, technology, or finance, can be maintained only by ignoring the skills gap. There simply are not enough competitively qualified black candidates to go around. Moreover, one-third of all black males have a felony conviction. Such convictions do not happen by chance; they signal involvement with the street culture of guns, drugs, and impulsivity, none of which is a selling point to employers...

One could argue that the academic skills gap itself reflects structural racism in the distribution of school funding and private capital. (Such a claim ignores the trillions of public and private dollars that the U.S., with the best of intentions, has allocated to close the gap.) But to maintain that colorblind tests are meaningless in demonstrating cognitive mastery is to deny the very possibility of assessing accomplishment. Knowledge and skill exist, and they are measurable, if not always perfectly. Standardized tests are under attack only because blacks and Hispanics, on average, score poorly on them. If there were no group differences in outcome, no one would think about eliminating the very measures that were introduced to overcome group favoritism.

That's just an excerpt, read the whole thing.

I don't accept that the vast majority of the country's teachers are racist against black Americans--not even all those teachers union members!  (hehe)  So what causes native-born black American students to do so poorly in school?  Rather than try to tar their teachers as racists, what would help native-born black American students do better in school and beyond?

Anyone who can answer that question correctly wins the big prize.


I Would Like Such Troubles

From New York:

Shortly before school began in September, administrators in Schenectady, New York, laid off more than 400 teachers, aides and other employees — roughly one out of every five school workers. 

Now teachers in this aging industrial city outside Albany must handle classes of up to 32 students, with few aides to help.

At last count my average class size is 33 students.  I have up to 36 students in a class.  I wouldn't argue with a maximum of 32 kids in a class.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Is There Any Logic Here?

This is from a supposedly Ivy League school:

Students at Cornell University can use their status as a “person of color” to be exempt from the university’s flu vaccine requirement.


“Students who identify as Black, Indigenous, or as a Person of Color (BIPOC) may have personal concerns about fulfilling the Compact requirements based on historical injustices and current events,” explains Cornell Health’s vaccine requirement FAQ...


“We recognize that, due to longstanding systemic racism and health inequities in this country, individuals from some marginalized communities may have concerns about needing to agree to such requirements,” explains the page. “For example, historically, the bodies of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) have been mistreated, and used by people in power, sometimes for profit or medical gain.”


Wouldn't you think that groups that had been historically denied quality health care would want to ensure they got quality health care now? 

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

Absolute Stupidity

After Hurricane Katrina spanked New Orleans, didn't General Honoré caution people not to "get stuck on stupid"?  These folks didn't get the message:

In September, Louisiana's Jefferson Parish Public Schools suspended a 4th grader—Ka'Mauri Harrison—for six days because he allowed a BB gun to briefly appear on his screen during virtual Zoom school. On Friday, the school board declined to remove the suspension from his permanent record, according to local news...

Bringing a fake gun to school is not at all the same thing as briefly and accidentally allowing a fake gun to be glimpsed on a computer screen.

During these very difficult and stressful times for parents and families, the last thing schools should be doing is inflexibly applying overly punitive rules. The pandemic is no excuse to broaden the public school system's zone of authority into people's homes.

I wrote about the incident in Edie Oats, WI, several years ago.  Some things never change, sadly.


The Battle of Athens

I had forgotten about this story until Instapundit linked to this video recently:

The 2nd Amendment exists as a guard against tyranny, not (just) so you can hunt or protect yourself from a bad guy.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Old German Currency

A native-French-speaking Swiss friend of mine, who has been living and working in England for the past few years, has landed a job in Munich, Germany.  We were chatting on WhatsApp today, and the subject of pre-euro money came up.

I visited continental Europe three times as a child, in the summers of 1974-76, and later as an adult.  On those early trips I crossed many borders and exchanged dollars into plenty of different currencies--French and Swiss francs, Dutch guilders, Austrian schillings, Italian lire, British pounds, German marks.  I completely understand the advantages of the euro; what too many people don't consider is what was lost when those independent countries adopted the euro.

This, however, isn't a post about economics or nostalgia, it's a post about currency itself.  While I don't have any of the paper Marks, shillings, etc., that I used as a child, I do have several examples of older German currency.  In other posts I've shown some of the German inflationary currency of 1922-23 that I have, in this one I thought I'd just share some of the other German notes I have.  I took these pictures of the notes next to an American $2 bill for size comparisons, and sent them to my friend just so he can get a flavor of German culture in the past:

click to enlarge

Don't you love the battleships on the reverse of the 100 Mark note?  And how about the size of those notes?

I have other inflationary notes, but these show the start.

This 1,000 Mark note was counter-stamped one billion Marks.

Note the different eagle-with-swastika logos on these two Nazi-era notes.  And how about that blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan boy on the 5 Reichsmark note?  Contrast that with Albrecht Dürer on the 20 Reichsmark note.

This 5 Mark note is from East Germany.

Where Have I Heard This Name Before?

 Rules for thee but not for me:

A Los Angeles County supervisor got an earful of complaints Saturday from protesters who are upset about the county’s ban on outdoor dining as coronavirus numbers climb.

The group targeted Supervisor Sheila Kuehl outside her Santa Monica home because she was recently caught dining outdoors at a nearby restaurant after voting in favor of the ban – which most bar and restaurant owners and employees in the county oppose, saying it threatens their ability to earn a living.

Sheila Kuehl, have you heard that name before?  You have if you're a long-time reader of this blog.  Among other posts you've read about her here, here, and here.  She's still at it.

Saturday, December 05, 2020


Is a grade a commodity, or a marker; an entitlement, or a message?  Or maybe it's a way of saying "I love you" to students, or "I understand you're having a rough time".  What is the purpose of a grade?

Don Dumas, a U.S. history teacher at Bonita Vista High School, has decided he will not fail students during the pandemic...

Despite his intentions, the number of D and F grades in Sweetwater schools has ballooned, representing 28 percent of its high school grades and 32 percent of its middle school grades on recent progress reports.

By comparison, last year D’s and F’s were 20 percent of high school grades and 19 percent of middle school grades, according to district data.

Sweetwater is not alone.

Schools nationwide and across San Diego County are seeing a surge in poor grades fueled by the pandemic. The trend is in line with school officials’ and national experts’ predictions that school closures, along with obstacles to online education, will cause massive learning loss this year...

Experts say that bad grades are largely a result of the many challenges students face because of the pandemic and school closures, such as unreliable internet, a lack of adult support, a lack of a quiet home environment to do school work, anxiety, depression, hunger or homelessness — all factors outside a student’s or teacher’s control...

“Our teachers are being encouraged to balance accountability and rigor with grace and understanding,” said district spokeswoman Christine Paik. “Many are allowing corrections, retakes, and resubmissions.”

A grade should be a message:  it tells you how much a student has demonstrated achievement towards the course standards.  I've already modified the curriculum to account for less instructional time and lack of being in person.  At that point it's up to the students to demonstrate achievement towards these lower standards.

Grades are based on a simple formula:  a weighted mix of how students scored in different categories (tests, quizzes, projects, etc) divided by the total number of points offered in each category.  I create the denominators, it's up to the students to create the numerators.  Corrections, retakes, and resubmissions treat grades as a commodity to be maximized rather than as a signal of student achievement.  If students face problems such as "lack of a quiet home environment to do school work, anxiety, depression, hunger or homelessness", what does giving them an unearned grade in math or history truly do for them?

If certain so-called educators aren't serious about actual learning, they should at least be honest about that.

I'm reminded of this post from last Monday.

Update, 12/6/20:  And right on cue I see this on Instagram:

I'm Sure There's Science! Supporting This Somewhere

What is in the water there that makes those people so batcrap insane?

City officials in San Francisco have banned all tobacco smoking inside apartments, citing concerns about secondhand smoke. But lighting up a joint inside? That’s still allowed...

“Unlike tobacco smokers who could still leave their apartments to step out to the curb or smoke in other permitted outdoor smoking areas, cannabis users would have no such legal alternatives,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who wrote the amendment to exempt cannabis.

San Francisco now joins 63 California cities and counties with such a ban.


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Final Exam

I just downloaded my final exam for the calculus class I'm taking.  

It's 15 pages long!  Good that we don't have to turn it in for a few days.

Given the due date, a few days before the end of the semester, it's possible that this is only a portion of the final exam--that he'll have another lengthy stack of pages for us to download in a week or so.  I sure hope not, though!

I have a pretty good grade in the course.  A friend of mine describes my situation as being one in which I have a good "grade buffer", meaning I could lose plenty of points and still earn an A.  Of course, earning an A after losing plenty of points is not my goal.