Entries from July 2006

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Friday, 28 July 2006 [21:08 CDT]

tell me a story

Well, I'm back in one piece from the AP Summer Institute. It was a lot of fun, and I came home with no fewer than seven free textbooks. I even learned some things!

Probably the most fun for me (as usual) was working on the programming labs. It's not exactly the most difficult challenge I can imagine, but we did several labs that would be assignments for high school kids. And, as it turns out, I can finish high-school-level programming assignments real fast.

This is, of course, akin to your local golf instructor being pretty darn good at Putt-Putt. I doubt I'll be featured on the evening news.

I stayed at the Radisson, which, although it didn't have an in-house fitness center, did have "complimentary passes to Bally Total Fitness adjacent to the hotel", so I was able to keep up my exercise plan. I finished Anansi Boys and picked up midway through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I had already read about half of in dead-tree format.

Because of the rich characters and narrative, I think Anansi Boys may actually be better in audiobook form than it would have been to read it the old-fashioned way. On the other hand, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is all about being inside the head of a very unusual boy. So while the narrator is good, I think I prefer just reading that one myself. Especially since I can read it much faster than I can have it read to me.

Since starting this exercise plan, I've been thinking about stories versus books. Above I called reading "the old-fashioned way", but I don't think that's actually true. For centuries before books or even literacy was common, people have told stories.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the original method of consuming a story was to sit with a group of people and listen to an experienced storyteller perform it.

I wonder what we're missing out on in this culture where having a story told to us is the exception rather than the rule.

Sunday, 23 July 2006 [23:30 CDT]

Dallas is populated by robots

I have successfully made it to Dallas (well, technically Richardson, which is a bit farther) and have checked into my hotel for the week. In the morning I'll start the APCS workshop that LISD sent me to.

There is "high-speed Internet" in every room (by which they mean an Ethernet jack), but since I don't have a laptop, it doesn't do me much good. Fortunately there is, however, a "business center" as well, which is a single computer in a dark corner of the lobby. It has Internet Explorer on it and nothing else in the Start Menu at all.

It does, however, have a USB port on the front, so I can run Firefox and PuTTY and the like from my flash drive. Which is good. So I can check my email, sporadically, and write this. Though since I'm editing this entry live on the server, it won't update the RSS feed or the microsummary unless I hand-code it. Which I won't.

So about forty minutes ago I stopped for gas between Dallas and Richardson. It was after hours, so I could pay at the pump, but the little attached kwik-e-mart was locked even though the lights were on and the attendant was still inside.

Since I'd stopped for more than just gasoline (*cough*) I walked across the parking lot to a 24-hour CVS pharmacy, which was huge. It's probably the biggest CVS I've ever been inside. Heck, the largest pharmacy building I've ever been inside. Sadly, they had no public restroom.

I walked further up the parking lot to the Tom Thumb (a grocery store). A sign on the door proudly proclaimed that they, too, had no public restroom.

Miles later, the hotel lobby acquiesces.

Saturday, 22 July 2006 [11:56 CDT]

had had had had

So, I ran across a discussion on parsing challenges on a linguistics mailing list (yeah, that's the sort of thing I read in my spare time).

Anyway, it reminded me of a related punctuation puzzle I'd run across long ago. The puzzle is this:

"The following sentence is meaningful, grammatical, and syntactically correct when punctuated properly. Do so."

Smith where Jones had had had had
had had had had had had had
the examiners approval.

The solution is below, but years ago I had written a story to help explain the solution to my students, so perhaps reading it will help you see the answer. It's improbable, I know, but it works.

A Story

Billy Smith and Christy Jones are both medical students currently involved in clinical rotations. As part of their training, they go on "rounds" in the hospital, seeing patients, making diagnoses, and writing up reports for evalution by their supervising physician and occasionally a panel of examiners at the hospital.

On a particular day, Smith and Jones had seen a patient with some upper respiratory issues. The patient, who did not like to see doctors but had gone in on the insistence of his wife, tried to downplay his illness, claiming he'd only recently come down with a bug. The students did some blood work, however, and determined that the patient had the flu, and that he had probably been sick for longer than he indicated (and thus explaining why his wife had wanted him to see a professional).

Both students documented this in their respective reports, and this particular patient's record happened to be one randomly selected for review by the hospital's panel.

Christy Jones' paper contained the following response:

It was clear from the test results that the patient had had the flu for quite some time, and that it was not a recent illness as he had claimed.

Billy Smith's paper gave the same account in this manner:

A blood test revealed that the patient had the flu for several months, and thus his claim that he had only recently developed symptoms was unlikely.

The examiners docked Smith's paper a couple of points due to incorrect grammar ("had the flu", in contrast to Jones' correct "had had the flu"). When asked to justify why Smith had been given a different score since both students had worked together and turned in papers of comparable quality and with similar conclusions, a colleague of one of the doctors on the panel explained:

Smith, where Jones had had "had had",
had had "had"; "had had" had had
the examiners' approval.

So, there's that. Many of you may have also noticed that I tweaked the stylesheet for this page just a touch. And for those of you using the beta of Firefox 2.0, I also added a microsummary. Yeah, me either.

Sunday, 16 July 2006 [20:01 CDT]

clamshell communicator

I forgot to mention that I got a new cell phone. A Nokia 6102i, which was free with a two-year contract.

This phone is a "flip-phone", which I've never cared for. But most people seem to prefer them, so maybe it'll grow on me. It's also got Bluetooth connectivity, though I don't (yet) have any Bluetooth accessories to connect it to. It also has a terrible camera of the same quality as my CLIÉ's, though having an extra camera can't be a bad thing. Supports mp3 ringtones, not that I'm likely to pay for any.

Anyway, my phone number is, of course, the same.

Sunday, 16 July 2006 [18:44 CDT]

camps and conferences

I've scarcely been home the past two weeks. First was Wild Week, as I'd previously mentioned. It was tiring, yes, but more recharging than draining, contrary to my expectations.

God showed up in a big way, and I don't think there was anyone who came (from our church, anyway), to whom God didn't speak.

I was home for the weekend, but it was fairly busy since the guy who was supposed to be heading up the 'youth band' that was slated to play flaked out, so I ended up doing it at the last minute. It went really well, and there were a lot of compliments about the quality of the youth band members, but it was still a quick turnaround time.

This past Tuesday, I took off again for the First Bytes Collaborative Workshop for Computer Science Teachers, which was at UT. I could have stayed home and driven in every morning, but I'm not so sadistic as to want to try to fight Austin traffic and try to get somewhere downtown by 8:45 several days in a row. There's a reason I live less than three miles from my workplace, you see.

Anyway, the conference was excellent. I was expecting it to be good, but it was more on the great side. The associate chair of academics for the UT CS department was basically there throughout the thing, so it wasn't like this was just something hosted at UT; the CS department was really trying to build a bridge to high school CS teachers.

This conference was also invitation-only, and only eighteen people from around the state were selected (how I got in the mix, I'm not certain), so there were a lot of really excellent teachers present to share ideas and just to think deeply about the problem of educating students. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed staying in the dorm. It was a nice break, and I came away with some excellent ideas.

I'm also really jonesing again to be a student myself. Spending so much time in the CS building brushing up against several of my old faculty has reminded me how much I enjoyed studying there. I even talked to a couple people about graduate school, though that decision would be a year off at the earliest.

In any case, I don't intend to go back to school before I pay off the student loans from the last round, that's for sure. I'm tired of being in debt.

The workshop was over early Friday afternoon, and so I finally got a chance to do some laundry yesterday. I'd been out of socks, and had to buy some at Wal-Mart on the way down Tuesday afternoon. Yeesh.

This summer I've been watching episodes of Firefly, and this afternoon I watched the last one. I haven't seen any of the special features on the DVD yet or watched any of the episodes with commentary, but I've now at least seen what all the fuss is about. And goodness.

Firefly is was a superb series. It's a darn shame it was cancelled. The plots were interesting and deep, the acting and dialogue excellent. Again, goodness.

On the other hand, Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest was not such an excellent piece of cinema. I find it hard to believe that it's really the same writers and director and cast as the first movie. If I had to sum the thing up with a single word, that appellation would be "improbable".

Sunday, 2 July 2006 [23:52 CDT]

miles per kernel

So, bicycling is the most efficient way to travel, it turns out.

Imagine I've got a fifty-pound bag of corn. And further imagine that I've got to travel as far as possible, using pretty much just that bag of corn as fuel.

If I correctly understand the data from World Watch Magazine, then here's how it would play out.

Option A is to process all that corn into ethanol, put that ethanol into a car, and drive until I run out of juice. Option B is to hop on a bike and ride until I'm weak from hunger, eat corn until I'm refreshed, get back on the bike and keep going, and repeat until the corn and I are both exhausted.

It'd take me a week or two, but using option B I'd apparently be able to travel about 700 miles before the corn ran out. Assuming, of course, that someone else is carrying the corn for me and I've got access to water as well.

Unfortunately, with the amount of ethanol you'd get from fifty pounds of corn, you'd be able to drive less than 30 miles. It's hard to get a perfect estimate of the corn:ethanol ratio in the Fuel ethanol FAQ, but it seems that 100 pounds of corn will yield just over two gallons of "high proof" ethanol. On the plus side, it'd be a much smaller time commitment to go with option A.

Based on these numbers, we can estimate how much corn it would take for me to finish Anansi Boys. Total listening time for the book is 603 minutes (just over ten hours), and I average fifteen minutes for every lap around the three mile loop, so I guess that's 12 mph. So listening for ten hours would see me traveling 120 miles and having needed 8.5 sixteen-ounce cans of corn.

In more pedestrian news (get it?!?), I'm almost done packing for Wild Week, which is at Alto-Frio encampment in Leakey, TX. We leave in the morning and get back Friday late afternoon. Should be loads of fun, though I'm sure I'll be pretty wiped when I get back.

Bleh. All this discussion is making me tired, so I'd better get to bed. And dream of corn.

Saturday, 1 July 2006 [23:15 CDT]

the librarian workout plan

I did some exercise today. It was glorious.

I got this recipe from my mother, who is a librarian. She walks instead, and it's around the yard rather than the neighborhood, but the basic concept is the same. The ingredients:

Put the audiobook in your personal listening device. In my case, that's an mp3-CD of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys and my Sony CLIÉ, respectively. Travel around your "route" while listening. Today, I biked the 3-mile circle around the Block House Creek subdivision. Three laps (9 miles) took me about 45 minutes.

Getting to listen to a skilled voice actor read a compelling story really makes the time go by more quickly. I stopped after 45 minutes, but it wasn't because I was bored, that's for sure. I certainly would have been interested in keeping going far longer than my body would have cooperated in pedaling.

The key here is not to allow yourself to listen to the audiobook unless you are exercising. Let the desire to hear "how it all turns out" be synonymous with getting out there for exercise. And that's a powerful carrot for the likes of me.

Anyway, just thought I'd share.

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