Friday, December 10, 2010

They Do Exist!

They Do Exist!

Let me tell you a story about when I was a kid
See, I was confused and here's what I did.
I said "irrational number, what’s that supposed to mean?
Infinite decimal, no pattern? Nah, can't be what it seems."
So I dismissed them and called the teacher wrong.
Said they can't exist, so let’s move along.
The sad thing is that nobody seemed to mind.
Or maybe they thought showing me was a waste of time.

Then one teacher said "I can prove they exist to you.
Let me tell you about my friend, the square root of two."
I figured it'd be the same ol' same ol', so I said,
"Trying to show me infinity is like making gold from lead"
So he replies, "Suppose you're right, what would that imply?"
And immediately I thought of calling all my teachers lies.
"What if it can be written in lowest terms, say p over q.
Then if we square both sides we get a fraction for two."

He did a little math and showed that p must be even.
Then he asked, "if q is even, will you start believing?"
I stood, amazed by what he was about to do.
But I responded, "but we don't know anything about q"
He says, "but we do know that p squared is a factor of 4.
And that is equal to 2 q squared, like we said before."
Then he divided by two and suddenly we knew something about q.
He had just shown that q must be even too.

Knowing now that the fraction couldn't be in lowest terms
a rational expression for this number cannot be confirmed.
So I shook his hand and called him a good man.
Because for once I could finally understand
a concept that I had denied all my life,
a concept that had caused me such strife.
And as I walked away from the teacher's midst,
Excited, I called him an alchemist and exhaled "THEY DO EXIST!"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Thoughts on the Rally to Restore Sanity

I've seen a lot of people thinking this rally was just a bunch of young folk with nothing better to do gathering together to watch a funny-man perform a skit with some musical interludes. Just because it wasn't a rally against the war, or in favor of LGBT rights, or workers rights, or some other specific cause doesn't make it a rally about nothing.

Jon summed it up in his closing speech. Jon speaks about it on TDS every night. Every skit and all the songs performed addressed it in one way or another. The media has a role in a functioning democracy. And when all the media does is point fingers and preach fear, the media is not doing that job.

There's a quote by Carter G. Woodson from "The Mis-education of the Negro", "When you control a man's mind, you need not worry what he'll do". This addresses a line of thinking that was prevalent in his time that the educated Blacks didn't have a responsibility to give back to their communities. That same quote applies today.

What Jon Stewart's rally was about isn't just one particular issue. It isn't about GOTV, or endorsing the democratic party or progressive issues. IMO, its bigger than all that. Because if we're not thinking, if we're just going to repeat what we've heard, and if the media both promotes and encourages this type of action, then the very foundation of our democracy is questionable.

If, instead of enlightening people's viewpoints on interactions between Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists, all the media does is say that each group should just fear the others, then it makes it very hard for any agreement to be reached.

If instead of discussing gender equality issues, homosexuality issues, workers rights issues, etc., the media is just a source of propaganda, then the truth has little chance of seeing the light.

In my opinion, the rally was all about this message. And it was delivered to a smart crowd who understands whats at stake, not just in the election, but with the corporations getting rulings like the recent supreme court ruling that they can buy all the ad time they want, or with corporations finding ways to ship jobs overseas, or with wall street finding ways to take greater gambles with their money, all that and more.

To sum this up as a rally to promote couch potato do nothingism sponsored by a corporate giant with a friendly face plastered on front is a very narrow an IMO naive viewpoint.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Black Church

I've been calling for a reevaluation of the impact of the church on Black America for a while. I think there are a lot of good messages out there that talk about being sheep vs actually willing to challenge the principles of your religion and say "I disagree with the Bible" - shocking, I know. But if we accept what Jesus says that the only way NOT to get into heaven is to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, then that may be saying that what we really need to do is what Jesus did and start going into temples and knocking over tables and challenging preachers.

I read King's autobiography and Phillip Gulley's book, "If God is Love", which both really challenged some of the principles I was taught growing up (a main one being that Gandhi went to hell). So much of the church "conversation" is really repeating a few select scriptures (John 3:16), but rarely do I hear people even willing to talk about what they should do when two verses seem to conflict one another (ex, Jesus saying that anyone who follows his command will be called a follower of Christ vs Paul defining Christians to be those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ).

Starting a new religion is kinda pointless to me, but I'd love for the church not to try to appoint people (pastors/bishops/popes/priests/etc) as God's "chosen people" as if their word comes straight from God with an ultimate understanding that we mere peasants couldn't think to understand, so we should just accept it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hey Democrats, Dumb it Down

A message that is not getting out to the people because many of the smart/educated/elite democrats seem to think that the democratic way is just common sense, and people will just by default choose whats best for them. The fact that Sarah Palin can connect with so many people about this stuff is a testament to it. Part of it is different conspiracy theories about the President, but part of it is just the inept inability of democrats to get our message across. The only person I've seen doing a remotely good job at that (other than Obama on the election scene of 2008) has been Jon Stewart.

What the Democratic party needs right now is more people who can talk in everyday language about this stuff, and what it means. People seem to be underestimating the importance of presentations. You can have a theory that changes the world (ala universal health care), but if you can't convey that message, you're probably not going to convince anybody. I don't know who the PR person for the democratic party is, and progressives in particular, but they seriously need help. All I'm seeing is talking (even a smuggish laughter at certain sites) where people seem to think that because "we're not the Republican party" and "the Tea Party is sooooooo bad", we're going to win in November. Thats about the most foolish thing I've ever heard.

I mean if a student doesn't understand what I'm teaching him in class, then he'll easily put down an answer that'll leave me scratching my head wondering how he got that, (sqrt(2)/2 = sqrt(), for example). But instead of letting it get to that point, its my job as the teacher to ensure that the message gets across. The Democratic party (and MSNBC, which tries to promote so many of the progressive values) seriously needs a revamp in how they're getting these messages across. I'd have thought that a revamp would have come after what happened with health care, but its just not happening. And I'm just left to wonder "are democrats that dense?"

I mean, I've been pretty pissed lately with the Democrats inability to get a message across. Keith Olbermann's show last night was a perfect example. There was a brilliant segment on small businesses, but nobody's going to watch the whole segment. Unless we can summarize this into an elevator speech that gets the point across, its just useless crap. Instead of just complaining though, I decided to do what I could to help out.

Point of this segment: Small business is not well defined, and is being abused by republicans.

How can we get this point across? Here are a few taglines that I thought of to summarize the message:

- Republicans think PriceWaterHouseCoopers is a small business.

- How can you have 30,000 employees and be called a small business?

- What should we be focused on saving - the mom and pop shops, or the big businesses?

- This is the same cycle all over again. Dems care about main street; Republicans care about wall street.

- They say if they can't save the big businesses the old fashioned way, they'll just start calling the big businesses small and try to save them that way.

I'm sure there are several other(better) ways to say it, probably some with examples and stuff, but the point here is that we need to simplify the message we try to convey so that we can get it to reach more people.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Complexity of Education??

I many friends who are getting PhD's in education. Recently, one of my friends made the comment that so much work is being done to come up with new methods for teaching, and questioned why these methods are not being used in the classroom. I thought about this and responded with the question, "how complex is the problem of education?"

I've been thinking about that for a few days now. I mean, at a basic level, it seems that the problem of educating a group of students can be seen as a transshipment problem. There is a single supplier, the teacher, and a set of demands, given by the students. The item being transported, though, is information and information doesn't seem to meet the standard metrics of this problem.

For instance, how do you know if the information has been passed from teacher to student? How do we know if a student knows the information? One way of measuring this is through a test, but tests have their own biases and its very difficult to encapsulate all the information on the test. Plus, how do we know they learned the information vs just memorizing it? A second metric would be some type of a paper/writeup of what they learned. Again, this has its pros and cons, what if the student learned, but isn't a good writer? What if the student enjoys one part of the material more than others, and thus ignores some part of the lesson? Another metric could be based on the set of questions a student asks, but what about shy students or students who don't know they don't understand the material yet? I've also seen Other metrics such as games and having the students teach class posed.

Assuming that we have some 'black box' which will tell us whether or not the student has learned the information, there is still the concept of passing information. Unlike passing materials (like a box), when I pass information to someone, I do not lose that information. In fact the opposite may happen, where I actually have more understanding of the information. So the standard supply and demand constraints of a transshipment problem do not apply. One could get around this by assuming that the teacher has an infinite supply of information, and thus is able to supply any number of students. It then becomes a transshipment problem where the teacher wants to find the a way of presenting the information so that each student learns the material. This also brings up a second question though about the teacher. If the teacher is limited in how much they know about the topic, then they are definitely limited in how much they can say about it, and the number of ways they can teach it.

But this brings up another difference between education and the transshipment problem, time. Generally, classes have some fixed length, say 50 minutes. So teachers need to find a set of ways to pass information to a classroom of, say 27 students, such that each student receives this information that takes no longer than 50 minutes. In today's world, this is relaxed a bit because in addition to office hours, teachers are able to provide teaching methods by way of the internet and email, but this only works for those who are acceptable to those methods of teaching.

So I'm wondering about this problem. Where is it in the polynomial hierarchy? Is it in the polynomial hierarchy? How much relaxations like "we'll use the metric of tests or standardized tests to judge how much a student has learned" help simplify the problem? What is lost in this doing things this way?

These are just some thoughts on the subject. I'm really curious about how well this has been studied in terms of general complexity though. I do see a journal which has sparked my interest. Its called Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education. I think I'll give a few articles a read in my spare time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Just Cause I Feel Like Writing Tonight...

I really appreciate these post-college moments of clarity that seem to appear so often in my life right now. I don't mean those high-school-like moments of isolation, where I'm wondering who likes me, who doesn't like me, who are my friends, who are my enemies, what certain people think of me, who I'm going to take to the prom and the hundreds of other questions that seem to invade the adolescent mind who's trying to find a way to fit into the world around him. And in college it seems that I was always either studying or partying or clubbing or getting ready for grad school in so many different ways that I didn't have much time for these moments. But in this post-college, pre-'real' work world, I feel like these moments occur a lot more often. I'm talking about time when I'm sitting alone in my office thinking about stuff, or when I'm driving home from work, just sitting on the beltway, the only car in sight with a lot of time to think.

These moments are the perfect time to sit and reflect on whatever's going on in my life: whether it be different ways to try to pass qualifying exams, determination of what to do in my research, or more complicated problems like my personal life. When its just me and my thoughts, I have an opportunity to just sit back and think about stuff from a few different angles without fear of embarrassment or harassment and without causing an argument (as I often do). Or maybe I can sit and think about (or blog about) an argument I had in the past.

Take, for example, an incident with a young lady I was dating a month or two ago. I'm gonna go ahead and put the incident up on here because its pretty likely that I'll never talk to her again. She did say she'd like to remain friends, but with some of the statements she threw at me, I don't know if thats gonna happen. But in thinking about this, I'm forced to wonder how often this type of incident happens when two professional or career oriented people are trying to date.

Basically what happened on our last supposed date is that she invited me out - asked me to meet her later - but never got back to me. This kinda upset me because at first she was pretty responsive saying it'd be just a few minutes and that she'd keep me posted on what was going on. But unfortunately I never heard back from her that night. So, after about about two hours of waiting, I kinda got frustrated and sent a message that ended with 'holla at me when you've got time for me.'

Now I'm gonna pause in my story right here because I can just hear my friends in women's studies talking to me about the pressure I'm putting on a woman by forcing her to choose between her relationship and her career. In fact, I had had this very conversation while she was studying for the bar, and when she first started her job. There was a time that a similar thing happened in the past, and I tried to be understanding in terms of the stress that her career puts on her (whether I actually was or not is another question, but I really didn't show ANY anger over it at this first occasion).

But what some see as a choice between a career and a relationship, I see as merely respect for another person. On this example I pointed out above, what upset me wasn't that she couldn't meet me. Remember it was her idea to meet up. I would have been just fine sitting in my office and finishing up my work. But instead, I had to get in my car, run home and get in the shower and try to put on some nice clothes, get ready to go out, and THEN basically get stood up. And if she had called me and said, "hey, I'm not going to have that free time tonight after all", then I would have been able to just go back to my work and its all forgotten. But I didn't want to start reading a paper or thinking of a proof and then get a call like "I'll meet you at the movie theater in 30 mins" cause then I'd have all this math on my mind and might not want to leave if I'm in the middle of a good thought, and if I'm in the theater, my mind will start wandering and stuff. So basically, for about three hours (an hour after that text), I'm sitting there wondering if I'm going out tonight.

We didn't really talk again til one day she IM's me. What I found really messed up was that she didn't even mention the situation. I thought that was kinda weird so I went ahead and brought it up. I figured she'd have a legit explanation of what happened (and she kinda did), but she didn't (or refused to) explain why she didn't let me know. In fact, she responded to that by saying that I was "once again trying to guilt her". I don't know exactly what that means, but I was really expecting an apology if we were to ever really talk again. Even with the explanation she gave, which is legit, I just don't see whats wrong with me feeling like a dude who got shitted on. Instead, she takes my desire to have her respect my time as being "needy" and that I couldn't handle her position.

So yeah, that relationship is over. The friendship might be able to be salvaged. But the question on my mind is how common is this. Not with her in particular, but with a lot of my female friends who speak about similar problems with men who can't handle their success. I kinda see what she did to me as a defense mechanism to protect her from feeling any guilt in the situation. I'd be more than willing to say that I was a part of the problem. I mean, listening to her explanation, I can understand her state of mind and thus her frustration with my text. But to act as if I did that because I couldn't handle a successful woman? I just think thats crazy.

Now, that could easily just be her nice way of saying "listen bro, I like you, but I don't like-like you", and if so, then this was all just for philosophical reasons. But if people are going around saying that guys who expect a woman to feel bad for treating them wrong are needy or can't handle a successful woman, then that just might be a part of why you're still single (now if I could just answer that question for myself).
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