What does a course grade mean anyway?

To me, it is clear: it reflects the level of knowledge that a student has over the given material. Yes, the material can be taught at different levels, and different schools have different standards.

But at the end: it is what you know…right? Personally: I take the approach of using the “split screen” feature on my spreadsheet and taking the student names out of view; I am only looking at the numbers.

And yes, from time to time, I get annoyed because a lazy student might “earn” a grade higher than I want to give them.

But that is what a grade is; it is not a reflection of worth, how hard they think that they tried, what they “need” to keep financial aid, what “they overcame”, etc.

I would think that this concept is non-controversial but…well…

Follow the discussion. Seriously…people who disagree …well, I hope that when they need an operation, their surgeon was one who was “passed through” because of some criteria OTHER than being able to do the operation competently.

At times, I think that we parody ourselves and that some (certainly not all) right wing criticism has some validity:

The University of Akron told a professor of information sciences not to award higher grades to women on the basis of gender, according to Fox-8. In an email to students in his systems analysis and design class that has since been made public, Liping Liu reportedly wrote that women “may see their grades raised one level or two” as part of a “national movement to encourage female students to go [into] information sciences.”

Rex Ramsier, university provost, said in a statement that the institution “verified that there were no adjustments to grades based upon the gender of individuals in the class.” While Liu’s intentions may “be laudable, his approach as described in his email was clearly unacceptable,” he added. “The University of Akron follows both the law and its policies and does not discriminate on the basis of sex. The professor in question has been advised accordingly, and he has reaffirmed his commitment to adhering to these strict standards.”


May 22, 2018 Posted by | education, social/political | | Leave a comment

Athletic burnout, summer and more …

First things first: I did my 6.3 mile (just over 10k) run/shuffle in humid conditions. I’ll try a 12 miler shuffle this weekend; IF that goes well, I’ll sign up for a couple of half marathons.

I came back to a Facebook post from a competitive racewalker (someone who was national class at the masters level; walked a judged 50K at a 10 minute per mile pace) and she has dealt with a weird, chronic fatigue for 5 years. I’ve noticed that some other friends have had that; it seems that they peaked, backslid and then reached a zone that they could not get out of and just were never the same. That happened to me after my best long distance walk (101 miles in 24 hours in May, 2004). Though I had other tough performances after that (29:34 100 mile walk on a tough course in 2005, 5:14 after a trail 100 in 2009), I really was never quite the same after I pushed myself that hard. I still cringe a bit when I think about that night…I really gave it my all.

And so I wonder: if many of us have some sort of “that’s enough” reaction from our bodies that just won’t permit us to ever dig that hard again. I am unaware of research in this area.

Academic achievement There was a bit of controversy in my narrow twitter world; someone in my academic circle made disparaging comments about junior college professors.
In part of my response I remarked that I am sure that MIT math professors see me as an idiot..and compared to them, I am! No biggie; it is like the Chiefs game I saw today. These class A players are all awesome baseball players (or they wouldn’t be there) but fewer than 10 percent of them will see the field in a major league game. That is just reality. Having class A talent puts you well into the “outlier” region of the bell curve even if it doesn’t get you to the majors.

But it is really gauche to rub someone’s nose in it.

Don’t get me wrong; 2 year professors do have some challenges; their student body can have quite a bit of variation. We had someone transfer from a 2 year institution win a math department award for academic excellence. On the other hand, some come to us very unprepared. Trying to teach a class with both kinds of students in it can be very challenging, especially when other students are taking classes between other responsibilities. So a JC’s professors job can be very, very challenging. But meeting these challenges is respect worthy, IMHO.

But I digress. What I find interesting is my saying that “I am not as smart as an MIT/Cal Tech/Berkeley math professor as ..well, a bad thing to say! I don’t get it.

Now the ball game Vickie and her friend Terra made it to the game to watch with me. It was a kid’s matinee game.

The Chiefs won 13-1. It was 3-1 (and still much in doubt) when Clinton went to a relief pitcher after he walked the first runner in the 5’th inning (he met his allotment of pitches?) Then the Chiefs jumped all over the relief pitcher and scored 5 runs, including getting a towering home run to left field which cleared the second white fence beyond the berm. The second relief pitcher had no better luck.


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A game with some friends..

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May 15, 2018 Posted by | baseball, education, Friends, running | , , | Leave a comment

What sports can teach college students (and their parents)


Well, I’ve run the Race for the Cure several times. It isn’t what it once was (5500 signed up, as opposed to the 20K plus of yesteryear) and I wasn’t what I once was: 29:00.04 (I am hoping my chip says 28:59.xx); 9:20 pace. Yeah, that stinks but at least I didn’t have to walk, AND this course is one of the more challenging ones. I’ve posted my history with this race below. Here: I did my best though by no means, was I ready to race. I didn’t restart running until early March and I wasn’t confident enough to get off of the treadmill until a couple of weeks ago or so. The foot was fine during the race but ached slightly afterward. Temperatures were in the 50’s.

It had stormed before the race and cleared up..hoping the same happens for tonight’s baseball game.

Yes, Bradley opened its series with Dallas Baptist and frankly, DBU just tore the cover off of the ball. It was 6-0 after 2 innings and in the second inning, every out was a fly ball caught on the warning track. It ended 13-2 after 7 innings; they had 15 hits.

BU tried to fight back; the Braves got a solo home run in the 3’rd and then, while it was 7-1, twice loaded the bases to end up stranding 3 runners in both innings and deriving exactly one run. In this game, BU had no margin of error. The Patriots were simply a lot better last night. Maybe the Braves can right that today.

Rough start: Dallas Baptist up 3-0 early. Go Braves!

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Better than average crowd trying to rally BU. Bases loaded.

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These two unrelated things I think provide a nice life lesson. Yes, practice and training makes you better. But when it comes time for the competition, only your performance matters. Yes, you need to prepare and prepare hard..that is what will help you with your performance. But in the end, there is no box score for your practice time, no place on the finish results to record your workout. Your time and place is what gets recorded.

When you watch a game and your team lines up for a field goal: you don’t think about the kicker’s practice sessions. You expect them to make the kick. You expect the pitcher to throw strikes and to befuddle the batters. You expect the batter to hit the ball well and for the fielders to make plays.

In more serious situations: the engineer’s design has to hold up..the doctor has to operate properly and the pilot has to fly the plane correctly. There is no “oh I tried so hard” box to check.

In short, in the eyes of others, you are your results. Now yes, you might have more self peace and serenity if you can become indifferent to outcomes (“let go and let god”) and that is a wonderful thing…just don’t expect that to “count” in the eyes of anyone else. And yes, the vast majority of us (myself included) will never be more than mediocre, though we can possibly improve our degree of mediocrity. But it is the results that count…

And how I wish students understood that their grade on an exam or in a course is a measure of their performance. Performance can suffer for reasons within their control (not enough study) or outside of their control (talent, life circumstances). But the grade is a measure of their performance on the subject material, period. It is possible that a lazier but more talented person will do better than they do.

And again, effort matters to the degree that it enhances performance. But it is the performance that is measured.

Past Race for the cures:

Split 2009 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2018
Mile One 8:15 8:25 8:18 8:18 8:39 8:46 9:20
Mile Two 7:11 7:34 7:56 7:25 8:02 8:28 8:52
Final 1.1 9:03 9:12 9:34 9:43 9:32 10:17 10:48
Time 24:29 25:13 25:48 25:27 26:14 27:32 29:00

Note: in 2010, I power walked it in 32:55. In 2011, I signed up but skipped to rest an injury.


Graduation duties prevented me from doing the 2017 race.

May 12, 2018 Posted by | baseball, education, running | , , , , , | Leave a comment

I think that some disgust is normal…

First: a note about why academia is under some ridicule. This incident, while not that important in and of itself, is seen as representative of what is going on today:

A female student at Cornell University stripped down to her underwear—twice—before presenting her senior thesis to professors and other students.

The student was attempting to strike a blow against the patriarchy, repudiating her media arts professor’s advice to dress up for the presentation. Yet I can’t help but wonder: On what planet is this not a violation of Title IX, the federal anti-harassment statute that so many college administrators cite when cracking down on problematic, sexually charged behavior?

The student, Letitia Chai, was practicing her presentation in class while wearing cutoff jean shorts. That outfit, The Cornell Daily Sun reports, drew a rebuke from professor Rebekah Maggor, who asked, “Is that really what you would wear?”

“I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” Maggor later clarified in an email to the Sun. “I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.” Indeed, the syllabus warns students to “dress appropriately for the persona” they plan to present.

Hmmm, so we have a professor who seems apologetic about suggesting appropriate attire for a presentation and a young woman who strips down to her underwear to “fight the patriarchy”?

By the way, I’ve been to quite a few student presentations. They almost always wear nice clothes.

And now to a more serious matter: public policy. Paul Krugman constantly attacks Republicans for their attitude about social safety nets; in this case, their attack on SNAP:

But however petty Trump’s motives, this is a big deal from the other side. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that new work requirements plus other restrictions proposed by House Republicans would end up denying or reducing nutritional aid to around two million people, mostly in families with children.

Why would anyone want to do that? The thing is, it’s not just Trump: Conservative hatred for food stamps is pervasive. What’s behind it?

The more respectable, supposedly intellectual side of conservative opinion portrays food stamps as reducing incentives by making life too pleasant for the poor. As Paul Ryan put it, SNAP and other programs create a “hammock” that “lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

But this is a problem that exists only in the right’s imagination. Able-bodied SNAP recipients who should be working but aren’t are very hard to find: A vast majority of the program’s beneficiaries either are working — but at unstable jobs that pay low wages — or are children, elderly, disabled or essential family caregivers.

Oh, and there’s strong evidence that children in low-income families that receive food stamps become more productive and healthier adults, which means that the program is actually good for long-run economic growth.

Krugman points out that the program really isn’t that expensive; it is the very act of helping “losers” that burns them:

In the end, I don’t believe there’s any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It’s not about the incentives, and it’s not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.

No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It’s about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don’t think, “There but for the grace of God go I”; they just see a bunch of losers. They don’t want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.

So, IF this is true, why is it true? Well, there are certainly stupid, unpleasant people getting public aid:

But is this most of them? Realistically: probably not. But I can say this:

1. Disgust at freeloaders is probably innate; my guess is that this probably stems from human evolution; after all we spent tens to hundreds of thousands of years barely eking out an existence; a freeloader could well damage our clan or tribe in a serious way.

2. We also evolved to reason inductively; we go by what we see and extend it. Example: most of the people I know either grew up around me or around family members; by definition we had roughly the same opportunities. In come cases, we had the same parents. And the ones who ended up mostly dependent on public aid are the ones who made stupid decisions after stupid decisions and EXPECTED other family members to bail them out..over and over and over again. They were all “don’t tell me what to do” when they were about to something stupid and irresponsible, but when the consequences came, they had their hands out..over and over again.

This was the old Ant and Grasshopper:

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

“What!” cried the Ants in surprise, “haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?”

“I didn’t have time to store up any food,” whined the Grasshopper; “I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.”

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

“Making music, were you?” they cried. “Very well; now dance!” And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

Now, it really isn’t as simple as all that..that much is true. Accidents happen, illnesses happen, lay offs happen, businesses go bankrupt and mistreat workers, and people get abused by others. And yes, some are born into situations where they have less opportunity from the get-go and zero margin of error; no one to give them that lower interest loan to tide them over, etc. Anecdotes are not data (until you have a LOT of them anyway).

So, ultimately, I agree with Krugman’s point and support such programs…all the while having some disgust toward the slackers and the idiots, some of who will be helped by such programs. It is impossible to have a program that only benefits the “virtuous poor”. The benefits of these programs outweigh the downsides.

Workout notes Ooops on the food choices: 203.6 was what I weighed before lifting…but yesterday I ate “high bloat” foods. Still..I like to be below 200.

usual PT, pull ups (5 sets of 10: these went ok), bench: 10 x 135, 4 x 185, 7 x 175 (got lazy), 10 x 135 incline, 8 x 165 decline, military: 10 x 50, 15 x 45, 20 x 40 dumbbell, 3 sets of 10 x 200 Hammer, usual abs, 2:30 of plank sucked. 2.1 mile walk at just under 16 mpm

Tomorrow I race my first 5K since last October or so..first race of any kind since last December. Foot will be time will be ghastly.

May 11, 2018 Posted by | education, political/social, social/political, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

The honesty of sports (one attraction)

I was reading the track and field Facebook page and one young man (22 years old) asked the following question: “I run a 58 second 400 meter right now…is it possible for me to run 46/47 seconds a year from now?”

The responses could be summed up as follows: “well, if that 58 seconds came after no training, then, it is POSSIBLE but unlikely. If you’ve trained to get that 58, then “no”, it is all but impossible to ever reach that kind of time. How about aiming for 52 and being happy with each new PR?”

And THAT is the kind of honesty that is all-too-absent from outside of sports circles…you see students with ACT scores in the teens admitted to engineering programs, students who literally cannot add fractions admitted to computer science programs, etc. ..and then said programs are chastised for having high dropout rates! Sure, every once in a while the unlikely does happen but that is the extreme exception, not the rule.

My being a head case Today I shuffled my 5 mile course, running the uphills as hard as I could and walk/jogging in between. My goal was to run each hill hard enough to HAVE to walk when I got to the top. I finished the workout with a 1 mile jog and I felt reasonably good afterward.

But usually one of two things happen after a workout:

1. I feel tired, exhausted…and I complain that I am out of shape.
2. I feel good, and then feel guilty that I didn’t push myself hard enough…I feel as if I’ve gone soft, mentally and emotionally.

Talk about being a head case…

May 8, 2018 Posted by | education, Personal Issues, running | | Leave a comment

Long way to go

About to get back to work on exams.

Pool was closed, so I ran outside (unfortunately after eating..ugh). Total: 6 miles, about half of it walking. Jogged 1.5, did a 1.25 mile loop in 11:18 (10:30 to 11 minutes 2 years ago), jogged and walked, ran the “to Upper Bradley Park) hill hard and got passed by a young guy doing the finishing part of his steady state run..that was embarrassing.

BUT…no heel issues. So I have only obesity and being out of shape to deal with..not a bad place to be going into the summer. I have to be patient though.


About “political correctness” on campus, this kind is the worst type:

Virginia’s largest public university granted the conservative Charles Koch Foundation a say in the hiring and firing of professors in exchange for millions of dollars in donations, according to newly released documents.

The release of donor agreements between George Mason University and the foundation follows years of denials by university administrators that Koch foundation donations inhibit academic freedom.

University President Angel Cabrera wrote a note to faculty Friday night saying the agreements “fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet.” The admission came three days after a judge scrutinized the university’s earlier refusal to release any documents.

The newly released agreements spell out million-dollar deals in which the Koch Foundation endows a fund to pay the salary of one or more professors at the university’s Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The agreements require creation of five-member selection committees to choose the professors and grant the donors the right to name two of the committee members.

This is a far greater threat to free thought than a few misguided, know-it-all snowflakes and a few kooky professors.

May 1, 2018 Posted by | education, running, walking | , , | Leave a comment

Every negative stereotype of a liberal arts professor….

Oh boy…when higher education is under fire…and she has to bring attention to herself…

No, she doesn’t have Ph. D. according to this source:

Jarrar studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, receiving a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s of fine art from the University of Michigan.

But she did have a critically acclaimed book and has written for respectable outlets. I suppose that sometimes people who are “productive in print” are eccentric in other ways.

April 22, 2018 Posted by | education | , , | Leave a comment

Formulas and blank slates

In discussions about human performance, there appears to be some notion among many that talent for every endeavor is spread equally among every population group.

That just is not true; think of Samoans in football (56 times more likely to play in the NFL than the average American), the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya in distance running, or even the Bajau in underwater diving. The frequency distribution of alleles can vary between groups of people.

I thought about the above when I read this article which talks about how African American dominance in football and basketball is NOT a good thing for African Americans.

Yes, it is entirely possible that genetics plays a role; it is possible that there is a higher percentage of genetic outliers for basketball and football among African Americans (as there are among Samoans). Of course, social factors have to play a role too; witness the DECLINE of African Americans in major league baseball(related note: at a college baseball game, I was startled to see that Chicago State’s team was predominately white; CS is a historically black college with 70 percent black students).

But that was a digression from the main thrust of the article in question which was roughly this: when black people look “for a way up” in life, they are apt to see mostly black NFL and NBA teams (as well as top college teams) and think “oh, that is what we do well” and focus on that. But the reality that only a small percentage of people from ANY group will stand a chance of being a D1 scholarship athlete and a very, very tiny percentage stand a chance of a professional sports career.

The reality is that, even for black people, the probability of becoming an engineer, accountant, lawyer, college professor, teacher, computer programmer, business owner, military officer, CEO, (etc.) is several orders of magnitude higher. THAT is the way up for all but a tiny handful of genetic outliers. On that message, the article is right on point!

Workout notes: 2200 swim, then a 5 mile treadmill run..I actually felt good.
swim: 250 free (sluggish), 5 x 50 drill/swim (fins; need to get some new ones), 5 x 100 IM with free instead of fly, then 10 x 100 (pull, free, pull, free, fins, pull, free, pull, free, pull), 100 fly practice with fins, 100 free.

run: 5 minute froggy 5.1-5.8, then final mile 6.2-6.5 (33:10, 43:38, 53:21). I actually felt..good? This wasn’t that hard. My guess: I did a very easy 5K walk after weights the day before instead of a run. The damned formula keeps changing on me as I age! By the time I figure it changes again!

Weight: 198.8 before swimming, 197.4 after.

Pain: weird jaw soreness (left side).

April 20, 2018 Posted by | education, running, science, swimming | , , , | Leave a comment

Campus free speech

Here are two somewhat different takes on the matter:

Why Evolution is True

Lawyers, Guns and Money.

My thoughts on the matter:

1. The First Amendment applies to what the government does and really doesn’t apply to, say a private school (say, a religious school can withdraw an invitation to, say, Richard Dawkins). And, of course, the First Amendment does not guarantee a polite, friendly audience.

2. But there is still the principle of free speech on a college campus, and just because the government doesn’t guarantee something does not mean that I can’t advocate for an enforceable policy toward official outside speakers.

3. And again, I am talking about speakers that were invited on campus to speak at a voluntary event, in say, a specific room. I am NOT talking about people being entitled to a polite audience in a public square:

4. Now about a speaker that an official, sanctioned campus group invited to speak at their gathering: of course, other groups are free to ridicule the group from inviting that speaker (say, the biology club inviting a creationist) or to persuade them to make a different invitation, so long as it is done in a legal manner.

5. But once the speaker has been invited, people really don’t have some moral right to show up and shout the speaker down or disrupt the speech. Seriously: who are YOU to tell me what is fit for me to hear? People go to the talk to listen to the invited speaker, not to listen to the uninvited people; they are not entitled to a captive audience. They are free, of course, to hold their own counter event. And you want to talk about being offensive: who are THEY to tell me what I am allowed to listen to?

6. I find the liberal campus snowflakes to be very annoying and while I think that the schools tolerating their antics is actually hurting them in the long run (do you want these easily triggered snowflakes representing YOU in court? I don’t! I’d rather have someone that can make a sound case on my behalf!) But, to be brutally honest, right wing political correctness has much more money and power behind it; for example, a super rich donor can influence who a school hires, what they research (think: climate science, etc.).

So I don’t want to over stress left wing misbehavior (which is real, harmful, and embarrassing) because right wing misbehavior can cause far more damage in the long run. I realize that might not be true in other countries, but it appears to be true in the US. There seems to be an “paradigm” of “hey, if he is rich, he really must know it all”; I feel that extreme wealth is an overvalued credential.

March 10, 2018 Posted by | education, free speech, social/political | | Leave a comment

Trump’s positioning becoming a bit stronger…

These are interesting times.

Trump’s approval ratings have inched up to 41.5 according to Real Clear Politics. That is still very low for a President just finishing their first year (and lower than Obama’s) and especially low, given that the economic numbers aren’t that bad overall.

Nevertheless the trend is up..and the Republicans are improving just a bit in the “generic Congressional ballot”, though they are still not in great shape. It is far, far, far from certain that the Democrats will win a chamber of Congress back.

Here is what I find ironic: Trump is actually governing like a typical Republican (in terms of what policies he is pursuing). And some Republicans who like those policies but who feared his instability are feeling better, and some who hate his “crony capitalism” just love how acerbic he is, especially when he attacks targets they don’t like. In fact, were Trump to act more normally, his approval might actually be lower.

On another note: higher education is under attack. Some of it is cost: new technology adds cost, new mandates (to accommodate students with “learning disabilities”) adds mandated cost and each program carries with it administrators and the like; administrative payroll is much higher than it once was.

And there is college itself: the postmodernist nonsense prevalent in some disciplines is not helping our reputation and frankly, I wonder about the overall erosion of academic standards.

February 2, 2018 Posted by | education, politics, politics/social | , , | Leave a comment