Archive for March, 2007

The Tao of Procrastination and Term Papers

Stanza 64 of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu

Peace is easily maintained;
Trouble is easily overcome before it starts.
The brittle is easily shattered;
The small is easily scattered.

Deal with it before it happens.
Set things in order before there is confusion.

A tree as great as a man’s embrace springs up from a small shoot;
A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.

In student terms:

Why did I wait until the last minute to start this huge paper?

The Flank of the Algebraic Has Been Turned!

Our side reports from the Front that victory is imminent in the struggle for control of the Island of Algebra. The latest battle has been won overwhelmingly, with no casualties reported. A perfect score, you might say. Slopes and Lines have been routed, and the Functions appear, initially, to be less fearsome than thought. As in all battles, the fight had its tense moments, with our side struggling to kick off the offensive. But, like Patton in France, once the column moved, it moved with determination and precision. The commanding general noted that, though victorious, much effort was required, and yours truly was seen to be “sweating a few problems”. The flush of victory was chilled with her next words: “Wait until Pre-Calculus…’ll be soaking wet after” one of those battles. We suppose that it’s an acceptable leadership tactic for the troopsr to be warned that the next fight is never as easy as the last, but we will bask, briefly, in the glow that comes from success.

Face Book

Sitting in class, just as the professor arrives, one student gives another student a birthday card. “How nice of you”, says the professor. “I just looked her up on Face Book and found out today was her birthday”, said the first student.And off we went into a discussion of Face book, a phenomenon I had a dim awareness of, but did not completely understand. The professor has an account, all of the students have accounts, and I was encouraged to set up my own account.

The communication aspect of Face Book is unbelievable. For the cell phone, e-mail generation, access to social information does not come from traditional sources. It has even occurred to me that gossip is looking at a near term death, as everyone now has the ability to report their side of every story with a few strokes of the keyboard.

In talking to people about Face Book, I am astonished at the social impact of this kind of activity. Parents are aghast at the amount of information that is “published” by their children. It’s fair to say that the notions of privacy held by my generation, which are significantly different from our parents’ notions, are not even remotely similar to the privacy beliefs of this new generation. A parent told me a story about the daughter of a friend, an excellent student and well-rounded person in every respect, who posted a picture of herself, at her own Face Book site, posing in a thong and bra. The photo did not, according to my source, upset any of the girl’s friends, but a few parents were outraged. Who’s to say what is appropriate or not? Does my generation set the standard of behavior for our children, or was our revolt against our parents’ standards nothing more than a generational act of hypocrisy? When I, and my wife, and our close friends are mouldering in the ground, or resting in the urn on the mantelpiece of some child’s house, will our notions of outrage or inappropriate behavior evince peals of laughter (or expressions of bewilderment) from our progeny?

I tell you, Edith, the kids these days, they’re different!

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New Directions

Planning the return to college, I spent hours poring over the Undergraduate Catalog, looking at courses, majors, minors, and all the minutiae that comprises the academic handbook. I read the Honor Code, and the rules on under-age drinking, and generally tried to commit every fact, no matter how unimportant, to memory. I have my courses lined up the next 3 semesters. I know which classes are offered only in the Fall Semester, the Spring Semester, and in summer. I have a pretty good idea of the professors that teach the classes; I know where the classes will likely be held, if recent history is any indicator. I have downloaded the syllabus from professors’ websites, in anticipation of taking their class. You might say that I have been a little anal about this entire process (but I try very hard not to behave in an anal fashion when in public, so that’s our little secret).

As I might have said in my former career, “develop a good plan and stick to it”. Know what you want to achieve and execute. But be flexible, and be prepared to make adjustments as you proceed through the plan.

And so it is is the world of Academe. I have been registered for our “interim” term for several months, having carefully investigated the course offerings, the professors, and so forth, ad nauseam. And all of a sudden, I’m gonna throw that plan in the ditch. A current professor, whose class has been extremely stimulating, but far off my chosen career path (a general education requirement), informed us today that she would be teaching a “writing class”, and would any of us like to join her for what should be a very informative, if demanding, exploration of new material and the further development of our writing skills.

Well, of course, I threw caution to the wind, and changed my schedule. I can’t wait for this class. I am certain it will be demanding, and I’m not sure that it will help me in my chosen field, but, dammit all, I like her and I like the intention of the class. And it will expose me to things that have not been, in my previous life, a part of my world view. Uncharted waters, you might say. A detour on the road map of my trip through Academe. And, as careful as I have been, I do love turning down that small lane that doesn’t appear on my map, and driving into the unknown. Always have, and always will.

Ain’t college grand?

On Being The Oldest Student In The Class

So there I sat, quietly, in my usual front row, far left seat, minding my own business, taking notes, paying attention, and enjoying the discussion. The professor, a fine lady with an accomplished academic career, was talking about her subject with great vigor. Out of the blue, she made a comment about her age relative to the subject, and then apparently decided that the class needed another example of late middle age, and so threw my name into the arena! It was A…… this, and A…… that, and “at our age” this, and so forth. It was appalling! If there had been a trapdoor under my seat, I would have exited the classroom immediately. I had arrived, I thought, at a point in this semester where my presence in halls and stairwells and the library was known and commonplace. I had even allowed myself the vainglorious moment or two of thinking that I really was a part of the academic experience, part of the student body, like. I had imagined, however briefly, that I belonged in this wonderful environment.

Well, I do belong in this environment, no matter what anyone says or thinks……

Research Anyone?

Next week, I have two major papers due. Both require serious, college-level research, accurate citations, footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies, and such. Our professors have blithely instructed us to “use the library’s databases” for our research. As if this student had a clue. The last time I did any research for a paper cable tv was a brand new concept. The space shuttle had not yet taken its first trip into space. PC was shortharnd for “politically correct”, and look what that’s turned into. I dimly recall digging through card catalogs (yes, paper records) and tracking down dusty books in remote stacks on the upper floors of the library. Hell, the last term paper I wrote was typed on an IBM selectric with self-correcting tape!

But, today, our fine institution has electronic databases, providing full text records in some, abstracts in others, and, at the very least, citations to other items of relevance. For most of the students, it appears to me, working with the e-databases is old hat, hardly worth discussing. For me, although the concept of a database is familiar, the struggle of looking through literally dozens of databases seems as daunting as trying to find 12 books and reading through them for citable references and scholarly ideas.

You know, it really isn’t harder to do things in this new generation, it’s just different. The key is keeping the mind flexible and open to new ideas……

Which is what I signed up for in this gig!

On the Slippery Slope of the Unknown Line

Jumping Jehoshaphat! I have made my way inland on the island of Algebra, and can see, in the distance, the Promised Land. Between me and the promise of re-birth in the state known as Pre-Calculus lies the tortuous ground of the Lines, Slopes, and Circles, and farther beyond, the people of the Functions. X-intercepts confused with Y-intercepts, general forms and standard forms of equations that might as well be written in Linear B, subtracting h from x and k from y, completing squares and other magical tricks to arrive at hidden values, all this serves to confuse any student and disorient him so that the Functions can swoop in for the death blow. Yet, so close, so close, is the goal. Can I, perhaps, summon help from a higher form? Others have made the journey and achieved the higher state of Pre-Calculus, so it can be done.

Where there is a will (and the Math lab), there is a way!

“Life’s hard, son. It’s harder when you’re stupid.” — The Duke.

Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. - Joseph Addison
The term informavore (also spelled informivore) characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food. George A. Miller [1] coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger [2]). Miller states, "Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores." - Wikipedia

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