Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Where can Dorchester kids get into college?
Some of my Weston students believe that they are entitled to go to Harvard and BC and Bryn Mawr, but kids who go to public schools in Dorchester and Roxbury certainly aren't in their league. If your parents are rich and well-connected and have provided you with every educational opportunity that money can buy, you deserve to get into Harvard, don't you? But if your parents are low-income immigrants who have sent you to the school formerly known as Dorchester High School, you don't have a chance.
Or do you? Well, admittedly the deck is stacked against you; the odds are in favor of the Weston student. But let's look at some of the 29 high-school seniors who have been attending the Crimson Summer Academy for the last two summers, starting with some of the most competitive colleges:
- Harvard admitted 3. That’s 10% of the class — can’t beat that at Weston.
- Smith admitted an astounding 5 of the 15 girls!
- BC admitted 3.
- MIT admitted 1!
- Brandeis admitted 1, Bryn Mawr 2, Johns Hopkins 1, Penn 1, Pitt 1, Syracuse 6, Union 2, Wellesley 1, Wesleyan 1; Barnard put 2 on their wait-list.
- Some of the remaining six may also be highly competitive schools (I just don’t know about all of them): Denison admitted 1, Lehigh 3, Mass Art 1, Northeastern 8, Regis 3, and Wheaton 3.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Money talks in Weston
“That can’t be true!” objected one student. “Bill Gates is the smartest living American!”
“What makes you think that?” I asked, being genuinely puzzled.
“Because he’s a billionaire,” replied one student. “He’s the richest man in the country,” said another. Several others chimed in with similar sentiments.
I told them that they had been living in Weston too long.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Death Comes for the Fat Man
Anyway, you should probably have read some of the earlier books in the series before tackling this police procedural, but that’s OK: if you’ve never read any Dalziel-Pascoe, go to the library and read some of the earlier ones! Then you’ll be ready for Death Comes for the Fat Man. But be sure to have a dictionary at your side as you read them, so you won’t be caught short by words like sempiternal. Every Reginald Hill novel is good for learning a few new vocabulary words. Of course they’re also good for plot and characterization, which are the real reasons to read them.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Amazing math applets
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Like many other worthwhile all-volunteer activities, the All-Dorchester Seder needs more publicity. I give the volunteers full credit for their hard work and accomplishments, but there really should have been more than 38 of us at this event. Religiously it was a good mix — about half of the people sitting near me being Jewish — but racially it was hardly representative of today’s Dorchester, since almost everyone there was white.
“Next year in Jerusalem!” Well, not exactly. As the Seder leader observed, this wish is to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. Very few of us intend to be in Jerusalem next year. But maybe next year there can be more attendees, with more racial diversity. I’ll remind everyone again in eleven months.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Don’t families in Weston talk about politics at home?
Monday, April 14, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Dorchester and Weston
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Pirates in Weston
This morning I had to consult two of the most treasured volumes in my home library: Isaac Asimov’s Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan and Martyn Green’s Treasury of Gilbert and Sullivan (an appropriate name for a treasured volume). Both works are highly recommended. Concerning the “orphan/often” puns, Asimov comments that “even the most devoted pun lover might feel a little uneasy at this sequence, and parts of it are sometimes cut in actual performances.” But fortunately nothing was cut from this sequence in the Weston performance.
Alex Engler brought down the house in his flawless, very rapid rendition of the famous Major General’s patter song. A second patter song was added, presumably because this format is such a favorite with audiences: the song from Ruddigore, “My eyes are fully open to my awful situation,” was inserted, slightly changed with substitutions such as Frederic for Roderic. Asimov comments on this song:
This is the fastest of the patter songs... Gilbert was an absolute fiend on having his words heard through and above the music (which must have bothered Sullivan who felt his music was being sacrificed to Gilbert’s words), so it must have cost the librettist a deal to indicate that in this song, at least, hearing the words was all but impossible.Asimov is referring to the couplet, “This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter/ Isn’t generally heard, and if it is it doesn’t matter!”
And speaking of the Major General’s song, we math teachers always enjoy the various allusions to mathematics in it:
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematicalA few other random observations:
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical
About binomial theorem I am teeming with a lot o’ news [pause to think]
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I’m very good at integral and differential calculus
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous...
- I am not sure why Ruth wasn’t made up to look older and less attractive, as Gilbert makes a point of contrasting her with the General’s daughters.
- Speaking of daughters, I’m not sure why they got changed into General Stanley’s wards.
- Asimov observes that Frederic’s 21st “birthday” wouldn’t actually come until 1944 rather than 1940 as Gilbert claims, since 1900 hadn’t been (wouldn’t be) a leap year! (This is true, despite the fact that the New York Times apparently printed an editorial on February 29, 1940, entitled “Frederic’s out of his indentures.”)
- As is traditional in G&S, a number of small changes were made to enhance the performance, such as looking up into the sky and “estimating” the time as 11:38 (11:30 in the original) — again something especially amusing to math teachers.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
An evening in Jamaica Plain
The works of Kevin van Aelst were also vividly related to what we’ve been studying, as his Dragon Curve, Sierpinski Arrowhead (made of Triscuits!), and Cantor Set made out of a fractal egg all show:
I was also intrigued by the works of Keith Peters, which could readily be modeled in NetLogo or StarLogo, even though he apparently used neither, and also by the works of J. Michael James, whose fractal condor was especially beautiful as it swooped around on a large screen.
All in all, definitely a worthwhile experience. I just wish the exhibit had been more extensive, so that I could have justified recommending it to my Weston students. Barbara and I spent 45 minutes there, but I think most of my students would feel done with it after 20 — hardly worth the trip from Weston. But it would be worth the trip from Dorchester, even if we hadn’t already been in JP (where Barbara works).
Anyway, after visiting the gallery, we walked to Cafe D, where we had a pleasant and delicious dinner. Crispy calamari followed by a fish taco and salad for Barbara; arancini followed by duck confit with a cassoulet of braised white beans, portabella mushrooms, and pancetta for me. With wine, tax, and tip, it all came to just under a hundred dollars, which seems to be par for the course these days. It might or might not be worth the trip from Dorchester (on the edge, in my judgment), but, as I said, we were there anyway.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Gun, with Occasional Music
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
N is a Number
So now I’ve watched it, with help from Netflix, which coincidentally delivered the DVD on Erdős’s birthday! This really was a genuine coincidence, since I had put it in my queue a couple of months ago with no idea when it would rise to #1. Anyway, Kelly knows that I certainly intend no disrespect toward her when I point out that of course she was exaggerating; N is a Number isn’t quite the “best movie ever.” It isn’t even even the best documentary ever. But it’s definitely a well-made, captivating documentary that should be watched by every math teacher, math student, and mathematician. It becomes totally clear that Erdős meets Paul Graham’s criteria that I discussed two days ago: absolute honesty and caring obsessively about his work.
Erdős, who died 12 years ago at age 83, was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th Century and certainly the most prolific; he is best known for his peripatetic life style, having had no fixed abode and collaborating extensively with hundreds of other mathematicians wherever he traveled. The movie is successful at vividly letting the viewer know the kind of person Erdős was, portraying him in person and through the eyes of his collaborators. Fortunately the filmmakers were willing to use subtitles extensively, since the accents of various Hungarian mathematicians (and others) could get in the way of ready understanding, even though almost everyone in the documentary was speaking English. As a math teacher, I thought there was a bit too much of an emphasis on anecdotes, but that’s a small cavil; I use anecdotes myself in similar ways, and I recognize that it’s the best way for the film to appeal to a general audience, who wouldn’t want to watch or listen to lots of mathematics.
I want to quote a couple of snippets out of N is a Number. One comes from Ron Graham — another Graham! but no relation to the aforementioned Paul Graham, as far as I know — who has a major role in the movie:
When mathematics appears in print, it’s theorem, proof, theorem, proof, but when we’re doing math it’s a completely different thing. It’s three or four people sitting around with cups of coffee, a pad of paper, throwing ideas back and forth, making a lot of conjectures, most of which turn out to be completely false.That’s what should happen from time to time in our math classes, but it almost never does, even at Weston, except in last year’s Friday-afternoon optional after-school math get-togethers.
The other snippet comes from Erdős himself:
We’re trying to read the pages of The Book. We don’t create mathematics, we’re just trying to read the pages of The Book.How Platonist can you get? This is clearly the right attitude toward the mathematical endeavor!
Sunday, April 06, 2008
I’m not claiming this is a list of the n most admirable people. Who could make such a list, even if they wanted to?I had never thought of that criterion before, but perhaps it would unstick me. Then I thought of the statement from one of my former students that Paul Erdős is her hero. [Brief aside: it’s tough to get the correct diacritic over that o. The natural tendency is to try for an unlaut — Erdös — especially since umlauts are relatively easy in HTML. But in Hungarian the diacritic looks like a double acute accent rather than an umlaut, producing a character with Unicode ID 0151. Thus you want “” followed by “x0151;” in HTML. End of aside.] So I wondered whether Erdős would fit the description in Graham’s next paragraph:
When I thought about what it meant to call someone a hero, it meant I’d decide what to do by asking what they’d do in the same situation. That’s a stricter standard than admiration.
After I made the list, I looked to see if there was a pattern, and there was, a very clear one. Everyone on the list had two qualities: they cared almost excessively about their work, and they were absolutely honest. By honest I don’t mean trustworthy so much as that they never pander: they never say or do something because that’s what the audience wants. They are all fundamentally subversive for this reason, though they conceal it to varying degrees.More on Erdős after I watch the movie about him. But note that Graham’s characterization is not a definition of “hero”; it’s simply a comment on two of their properties. Graham’s twelve heroes are Jack Lambert, Kenneth Clark, Larry Mihalko, Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Morris, P.G. Wodehouse, Alexander Calder, Jane Austen, John McCarthy, the Spitfire, Steve Jobs, and Isaac Newton. Could I make a similar list (though surely not duplicating any of Graham’s)?
I don’t think so.
But it did make me think about the issue. Which people have influenced me to such an extent that I would consider them to be my heroes? Would I really “decide what to do by asking what they’d do in the same situation”? Would my list consist of people who “cared almost excessively about their work” and “were absolutely honest”?
I suppose Isaac Asimov, Socrates, Charles Darwin, and Bertrand Russell would come to mind first. And maybe Johann Sebastian Bach. And probably Martin Gardner and Noam Chomsky. And it’s a cliché to put one’s mother and father on such a list, but it’s a cliché for a reason, so I will do that as well. And shouldn’t Shakespeare and Ibsen be on the list? And perhaps James Joyce? Well, that’s twelve, but I’m not convinced. This bears more thought...
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Now they’ve gone and made a movie of it, 21. The plot outline on IMDb asserts that the movie is a “fact-based story,” But Drake Bennett’s article about it in the Boston Globe has this comment on the original book:
Bringing Down the House is not a work of “nonfiction” in any meaningful sense of the word. Instead of describing events as they happened, Mezrich appears to have worked more as a collage artist, drawing some facts from interviews, inventing certain others, and then recombining these into novel scenes that didn’t happen and characters who never lived. The result is a crowd-pleasing story, eagerly marketed by his publishers as true — but which several of the students who participated say is embellished beyond recognition.I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the Globe article certainly makes me skeptical. Read the article, not the book.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Math is hard, let’s go shopping, says Barbie (and others)
So, yesterday I stopped at the Trader Joe’s in Cambridge on the way home, and I happened to get a chatty cashier. She asked me what I do for a living, and I told her I’m a high-school math teacher. Needless to say, I expected to hear the familiar reply: “I never was any good at math.” Sure enough, that’s pretty much what she said. (Actually, it was a bit more complicated. She told me that she did well in geometry but never understood algebra. Except for geometry she did poorly in both high-school and college math because she could never deal with formulas. But now she’s an artist... well, you don’t want to know the whole story, but the key line is that she finally realized that math and art are actually a lot more alike than she had ever guessed, since “math and art are both about patterns and relationships.” Yes!)
And then this afternoon I got a phone call from my dental hygienist who told me that we needed to change my appointment because she has to take four weeks off to study for retaking her dental school admission exams, since she failed the math portion. “I never was any good at math.” Sigh. As Jerry P. King put it, “There will come a time when mathematical ignorance, like public smoking, will become socially unacceptable.” But for now for some reason it’s acceptable to admit inability to do math but not inability to read.
P.S.: Speaking of Trader Joe’s, there are 16 Trader Joe’s in Masssachusetts, so why isn’t there one in Dorchester? The demographics are right. Pass the word to the Trader Joe’s management!
Thursday, April 03, 2008
The Big Nap
Anyway, the most interesting aspect of The Big Nap is the interactions between the mainstream-Jewish protagonist and members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles, especially the Hasidic subculture. As happens when reading many good works of fiction, I learned a lot from this novel (though I believe that the Verbover branch of Hasidism is an invention of Waldman and/or her husband, Michael Chabon, since I can find no references to it outside of their respective novels). While The Big Nap is still a light novel, it definitely has more heft than its predecessor and I found it worth reading. Maybe it would have meant still more to me if I had ever had the experience of being a mother, but (un)fortunately I haven’t. Nevertheless, I still recommend it to fellow non-mothers if you want an easy-to-read detective novel with a multicultural Jewish theme.
By the way, the significance of the title’s apparent allusion to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (or perhaps it’s to the movies made from the Chandler novel) escapes me. Maybe it would help if I read the book or saw the film...
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
We started with a plenary session in which Alec Sulkin delivered the keynote address and Odds Bodkin provided entertainment. Actually, and fittingly, the keynote address was definitely entertaining as well as being educational, and the entertainment also had an educational component. Sulkin is a writer and supervising producer for Family Guy, so it came as no surprise that his talk was both engaging and amusing. Bodkin is a musical story-teller who is great at what he does, but unfortunately what he does isn’t a great match for a teenage audience. Sulkin’s talk, not surprisingly, is just right for a teenage audience — at least in their eyes. Adults may disagree.
Anyway, after the plenary, we split up into a couple of hundred breakout sessions. (As I say, the organization of this event was a staggering achievement.) Each student was assigned to four out of five sessions (to allow time for lunch); they made selections ahead of time, and they got their choices except if a session was full and the student had neglected to select alternates. If you read the descriptions of the speakers, you will see the huge variety offered. Here are excerpts, with one description randomly chosen from each of the five umbrella areas:
- The Arts
- When she was 25, Hilary Price was the youngest woman ever to have a syndicated daily comic strip. Her strip, Rhymes With Orange, appears in 150 newspapers internationally, and locally in The Boston Globe. Rhymes With Orange won Best Cartoon Panel last year from The National Cartoonists’ Society.
- This speaker is currently in marketing/sales of high tech multiplexers, routers, WAN, LAN and IP Telephony. But, it’s the way he got there that matters. He has been a substitute high school teacher, worked for a private detective, in a textile mill in Maine, in a furniture store and a phone company and owned a bar. This speaker will give you perspective that there are many opportunities for you, not just one path to success.
- What is it like to work on innovative product development for iTunes, iPods or the present Macintosh product line? What does it take to be part of a company that encourages employees to spin off other companies and lead with innovation? This speaker, an account manager in the higher education channel, will discuss the variety of jobs at Apple Computer including sales, marketing, product development and technical support in the field. Discussion on Campus Rep jobs that are also available when you attend college so you can get an early look at life working at Apple will also be presented.
- Jill Downing is a cardiologist who practices at Boston Medical Center in Boston's South End. She is interested in preventive cardiology which involves working with patients to identify and modify heart disease risk factors. Currently she spends her time with clinical research at BMC. Her career in health care began as a registered nurse working in such diverse settings as Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Boston. Her experience highlights some of the challenges faced by the aspiring medical professional in terms of balancing career and family demands.
- Social Services
- Alan Solomont has been a community organizer and an entrepreneur. He is a veteran of six presidential campaigns and teaches a college course on the American presidency. He is a philanthropist and trained to be a registered nurse. He is proof that a career need not follow a straight line, and that there are many ways to make a difference.
- May 2005
- June 2005
- July 2005
- August 2005
- September 2005
- October 2005
- November 2005
- December 2005
- January 2006
- February 2006
- March 2006
- April 2006
- May 2006
- August 2006
- September 2006
- November 2006
- December 2006
- January 2007
- February 2007
- March 2007
- April 2007
- May 2007
- December 2007
- January 2008
- February 2008
- March 2008
- April 2008
- May 2008
- July 2008
- November 2008
- December 2008
- January 2009