Men, valedictorians, razors, etc.

I admitted that I am starting to chuckle over the mini-uproar over the Gillette commercial.

To me, it is just silly, dreary winger wagging that we sometimes have to put up with in work training sessions. But as far as Gillete’s history:

Gee…why put the company name right on their shiny butts? For more on the history of this:

In 2011, razor company Gillette, which this week joined the social justice circus, sponsored the grid girls at Formula One’s Easter Races Zandvoort, an annual event in The Netherlands. Here are some images – strictly for research purposes – of the wonderful ladies of the grid sporting skintight Gillette advertisements.


Gillette is not suddenly under new ownership. It has been owned by corporate titan Proctor & Gamble since 2005. Rather, corporate sentiments change over time, responding to culture shifts. That is most likely the cause of Gillette’s new advertising schtick.

Yes, the site I linked to is right wing, but ..facts are facts and the stated opinion seems reasonable to me…and my guess is that their marketing told them that they’d get a greater market share this way.

And speaking of men:

Last week, however, the American Psychological Association entered the fray with the release of its long-planned “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.”

The A.P.A. guidelines argue that the socialization of males to adhere to components of “traditional masculinity such as emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness” leads to the disproportion of males involved in “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict” as well as “substance abuse, incarceration, and early mortality.”

The premise underlying the guidelines is summarized in a descriptive essay on the A.P.A.’s website: “Traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression — is, on the whole, harmful.”

But this isn’t physics…and there is some mainstream pushback against said study:

From a more academic vantage point, Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, replied to my inquiry with a detailed critique of the A.P.A. guidelines.

“The report is blinkered by two dogmas. One is the doctrine of the blank slate” that rejects biological and genetic factors, Pinker wrote, adding that

The word “testosterone” appears nowhere in the report, and the possibility that men and women’s personalities differ for biological reasons is unsayable and unthinkable.

The other dogma, Pinker argued,

is that repressing emotions is bad and expressing them is good — a folk theory with roots in romanticism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Hollywood, but which is contradicted by a large literature showing that people with greater self-control, particularly those who repress anger rather than “venting,” lead healthier lives: they get better grades, have fewer eating disorders, drink less, have fewer psychosomatic aches and pains, are less depressed, anxious, phobic, and paranoid, have higher self-esteem, are more conscientious, have better relationships with their families, have more stable friendships, are less likely to have sex they regretted, are less likely to imagine themselves cheating in a monogamous relationship.

In Pinker’s view, the A.P.A. guidelines fail to recognize that

a huge and centuries-long change in Western history, starting from the Middle Ages, was a “Civilizing Process” in which the ideal of manhood changed from a macho willingness to retaliate violently to an insult to the ability to exert self-control, dignity, reserve, and duty. It’s the culture of the gentleman, the man of dignity and quiet strength, the mensch. The romantic 1960s ethic of self-expression and escape from inhibitions weakened that ethic, and the A.P.A. report seems to be trying to administer the coup de grâce.

Pinker suggested rather that

One could argue that what today’s men need is more encouragement to enhance one side of the masculine virtues — the dignity, responsibility, self-control, and self-reliance — while inhibiting others, such as machismo, violence, and drive for dominance.

There is much more there, including some who respond to Pinker. I found the discussion to be interesting and useful.

And talking about success: a recent study on valedictorians from Boston public schools found some disappointing results. In general, valedictorians, on the whole, did better than that group, though they didn’t have earth shaking success.

According to the second article, high schools tend to reward conformity and doing well in all subjects rather than being super excellent in a single subject, and life tends to really reward the latter.

And the prime movers and shakers tend to, at least eventually, non-conform (though, of course, non-conformists really are not that successful on the whole either; the ones we read about are the outliers).

And I think about it: I remember making B’s in high school geometry because I was lax with homework…why spending time doing stuff that I already knew how to do? And our “top 10” students in high school: most were not that impressive. is HIGH SCHOOL. High school. Success at that level tells you..well, not that much.

Workout notes: weights (rotator cuff), pull ups: 4 sets of 10, 5-5, then 5 then 3 at the end of the workout. planks, etc. bench: 10 x 135, 2 x 185 (empty gym), 6 x 165 (didn’t care), 10 x 135 (more intense), 10 x 50 standing, 10 x 45, 10 x 180 machine, 3 sets of 10 x 110 rows, planks, etc.

Treadmill: walked 2 miles in 30:18 starting at 16:10 mile .05-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 increasing speed toward the end, then 2 minutes with Jacob’s ladder. I’d like to work up to 15.

January 18, 2019 Posted by | education, social/political, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

Higher Education: beyond the mere credential

What does a grade for a course mean? To me: it is my assessment of how well the student learned the material, based on things like exams, final exams, projects, quizzes, etc. That is really it.

In my opinion, that should not be controversial. But if one believes what one reads on academic twitter, it can be.

All too often one hears: “student X has to work 30 hours a week and has all of these life tasks and so they don’t have time to study for your course”. Well, that might be fine, but if someone cannot learn the material…FOR WHATEVER REASON (lack of study time, lack of background or a lack of aptitude) they do not get credit for doing so. That should be the plainest thing in the world.

Think of it this way: would you want to be operated by someone who was just “passed along” because, well, not because they had proven expertise in that sort of medicine, but because, well, they tried and were given credit for dealing with the other things that life threw at them?

But more and more, course grades are being viewed as commodity that a professor has the power to grant or to deny and, well, to deny is, well, just cruel.

True, grade grubbing by students has been a part of academia as long as I’ve been around…”you don’t understand, I NEED a B” or “hey, I hate this course, could you just…” or “I really tried so could you…”

The problem occurs when there is pressure from administration to do so…which I haven’t felt..yet. But from what I’ve seen on academic twitter…oh my.

At least for now, I can block those I don’t like.

September 19, 2018 Posted by | education, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Argument by outlier ..

In academia: one issue is the utility of college entrance exam scores. Some try to claim that they have no predictive value; that is false, at least for freshman calculus. Some try to say “measure X is better…forgetting that often several factors, measured together, predict better than any solitary measure.

But most often I’ll hear “argument by outlier”, meaning that someone had a low score but ended up doing ok.

I have no doubt that this happens; we are talking about a predictive measure.

Think of it this way: consider college football; FBS (more big time football) and FCS (smaller time football). Not it is true: SOME NFL players played for an FCS team. Clearly, there are some FCS players who are better than almost all FBS players.

But when the teams play: the FBS team wins over 80 percent of the time; some seasons, more often than that. The reason is clear: on the whole, FBS players are better than FCS players, WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS.

A similar thing holds for college board scores. In general, calculus class consisting of kids with math ACT’s of 30 or above will do better than one where the kids all have 22-24 , though there will be a few 30’s who bomb and a few 24’s who shine.

Workout note: weights then a routine 2 mile walk on the treadmill: 14:55 then 13:55 on a hill program. weights: usual pt; pull ups: 15-15-10-10, bench: 10 x 135, 4 x 185, 8 x 170, incline: 10 x 135, military: 10 x 50, 10 x 45, 10 x 45, rows: 2 sets of 10 x 110 machine, 10 x 50 dumbbell, usual abs (2:30 plank). The weight program took about 40 minutes.

I am getting used to my academic routine again.

August 25, 2018 Posted by | education, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

Back to School: a world I do not understand anymore (K-12)

Someone posted this video about a mom complaining about school drop offs.

I was like: “drop off”? Then I went back to my own school days. Yes, I went to my neighborhood school. So during most of my years, I walked. The exception was when I lived in Japan when I lived on one base and the school was on another base; then we (usually) took the bus…though on rare occasion, I walked (and sometimes attracted some buddies to walk with me..crazy)

BUT..I rarely lived more than a mile away from the school and it wasn’t as if I had dangerous roads to cross. And for the past 2 years of my high school, I had a nature preserve to walk through!

Here are other things that I do NOT remember:

1. Help with my homework. Or for that matter..much homework at all.

2. Being pressured into fundraiser sales for this or that (though we did sometimes have book sales and those dumb school photos)

3. My parents interacting with the teachers that much. Yes, they did attend PTA conferences and the like. Oh..and neither of these were true; when it came to grades, my parents left me alone.

And yes, my parents stayed out of class selections as well.

4. “Graduation”. Yes, we had high school graduation exercises, but that was IT. No junior high, elementary school or other such scams.

5. College applications: on my own..just me, the school counselor’s office and some catalogs, and that was it. Ok, between my junior and senior year I did do a couple of highly subsidized “week long” seminars…but then I either flew on my own or took a bus on my own (parents paid for the ticket).

My experience was just so much different than what you see now. I think that it worked out better for me, but who knows? My experience is an experiment where n = 1.

Workout notes 4 mile walk outside (Cornstalk classic) then 2 miles in lane 1 on the track: 1 on, 1 off for 14 laps and last 2 “fast” (less glacial?)

My first half mile was just under 6:30 then 12:40/12:12. I felt great. No weights; I’ll do that tomorrow and go a bit longer since I won’t be able to lift Friday-Monday.

Weight: 195.2 with shoes and shirt, AFTER the 4 miles outside (I didn’t get that sweaty). The trend is in the right direction. I’ll still be heavier than I like for my marathon though.

I did catch a ball game last night; Chiefs lost to the Lumberkings 5-3. Weird game: Chiefs got a home run on the first pitch! Then another in the second (big rookie from TCU went 3 for 4, and his home run cleared the white picket fence in the berm) and the Chiefs lead 3-0 after 2. But then things went south.

In the 3’rd, Clinton got a hit and the runner advanced on a fielder’s choice. Then a strike out so 2 outs, runner on second. No problem, right? Oops.
Then the pitcher walks two batters in a row…and on the third batter with the bases full, throws 3 consecutive balls (for 7 balls in a row!). Then he grooves the ball down the middle..POW, grand slam. The Lumberkings now have a 4-3 lead, off of exactly 2 hits.

The starting pitcher did ok the rest of the way, though the Lumberkings did catch a break in the 7’th: a bad throw to first rebounded into play and the runner was thrown out trying to advance to 2’nd. Should have been “out 3”. But the umpires ruled that the ball was out of play so the runner was awarded 2’nd. Then he scored on a subsequent hit to make it 5-3, which is how it ended.

That is one thing about the Cardinals (Chiefs are a Cardinals affiliate): they promote their players. Many of the players who started the season got well deserved promotions. Now there is quite a bit of young talent on this team, including one guy who was playing high school ball earlier this year and two who were playing college ball. But it is young talent and they haven’t played together that much yet. So we might see some losses.

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Not all are interested.

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There was a group of 4-5 drunken men behind me and they razzed the visitors a bit..and sometimes the Chiefs. That is different than what I’ve experienced recently..more more in line with what I grew up with (as a player and as a fan).

August 15, 2018 Posted by | baseball, education, social/political, walking | , | Leave a comment

It isn’t all good but it isn’t all bad either

Steven Pinker is one of my favorite “public intellectuals”. He is a Harvard professor and was elected to the National Academy of Science. Here he is on Bill Maher. One of Pinker’s constant themes is that, *on the whole*, things are getting better for humans. That doesn’t mean that there are serious problems that we need to address.

And, of course, there are changes. I don’t like all of them. But some of those that I do not like are, well, necessary, and the reason I don’t like them is because my previous 58 years on this planet got me used to a different way.

Academia: some professors really ok with being viewed as an “easy to get an A from” professor. I am not one of those.

Some ideas are inherently difficult to learn and not everyone has the aptitude to learn them. And some ideas can be learned at different levels. I might discuss this more on my math blog as I start preparing for fall classes; I have my research paper written up and prepared to be proof read.

Workout notes: I spent last night at Dancing Dreams (an ABBA tribute band) concert and so slept in; I only walked 11 miles (15:30 ish pace) though it was warm:

77 F 64 percent at the start, 82 F, 55 percent humidity at the finish. I was 2:45 at then end of the 10.7 (with the goose loop) and 2:52 at the end of the 11.2

August 11, 2018 Posted by | education, politics/social, social/political, walking | Leave a comment

The route to excellence AND fun isn’t always fun

Yes, SOME people do get it:

The article itself (by Barbara Oakley)

All learning isn’t — and shouldn’t be — “fun.” Mastering the fundamentals is why we have children practice scales and chords when they’re learning to play a musical instrument, instead of just playing air guitar. It’s why we have them practice moves in dance and soccer, memorize vocabulary while learning a new language and internalize the multiplication tables. In fact, the more we try to make all learning fun, the more we do a disservice to children’s abilities to grapple with and learn difficult topics. As Robert Bjork, a leading psychologist, has shown, deep learning involves “desirable difficulties.” Some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Practice and, yes, even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form.

Here is the way I see it: one can’t really understand math concepts unless one has some examples that they can experiment on. And learning the tools and objects isn’t 100 percent fun, 100 percent of the time. There IS going to be at least a little bit of drudgery.

But once you have mastered the tools, you can begin to build.

Workout notes: 5K run in 29:51, 1 mile walk cool down. I started out at 5.1 mph and increased the pace gradually until 10 minutes, then 6.7 to mile 2.1, then 6.8 for .5, then 6.9-7.0 to the end. It was not a long workout but a sharp one.

August 10, 2018 Posted by | education, mathematics, running | Leave a comment

Hiding Facts in Books…

This was one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while:

But mark my words: in 1-2 decades time, we will have academic deans saying this.

Think about it: twitter. Facebook. Youtube. Sometimes, magazine articles or newspaper articles are considered “long reads”. Oh boy…what happens when we have to grasp some nuanced concept that requires quite a bit of background to be understood?

August 4, 2018 Posted by | books, education, social/political | Leave a comment

One reason for Trump supporter’s hostility to higher education

I will not deny that *some* right wing critiques of US higher education have a bit of merit (e. g. hostility to free speech..among some, and yes, there are a few kooky is inevitable in our country of our size).

But if you go to any math conference you will see professors from all around the world..and in the hallways you will hear many languages being spoken. The reality is that outlier level talent (e. g. the main speakers) really is spread out all over the world; even our country would be hard pressed to gather enough outlier level talent for a good conference using only, say, native-born Americans. And yes, universities do draw professors from around the world, especially the highest ranked ones. That is just a fact of life. Academia (at the higher levels least in the sciences) and xenophobia are incompatible.

From the conference:

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Lori Alvin discussing dynamical systems.

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Applcation of Riemannian Geometry.

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Professor Kosterlitz, Nobel Laureate in physics.

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And yes, I did run across one anti-Trump, anti-Rand Paul protest on my way back from dinner to campus:

Running: 44:25 for 4 on the gym treadmill…I just had a rough time of it. Not sure as to why (big week?)

July 18, 2018 Posted by | education, running, travel | | Leave a comment

TRUMP IN SPACE!!! (and the Sesame Streeting of Science Education)

No, this is NOT parody. This is from the genuine Trump Facebook Page.

Well, this is good news for science education in the United States, right? After all, you can’t do things in space without knowing a great deal about physics, astronomy, chemistry and mathematics, right? Right?

Dear Reader, YOU know that. I know that. But as for the average person, especially the average Trump voter..probably not so much.

As an educator, I see this all the time: some kid gets to college and says something about liking space and physics…but not liking science and math?

You see, we spend so much time trying to make science “appealing” to the masses, people think that science is just a bunch of cool tricks.

They see this (and yes, this IS cool)

And maybe they go on to read a pop-science book or two…and find themselves saying phrases like “collapse the wave functions”. So they try to major in physics and find that…in order to actually DO physics…it involves mastering THIS:

I remember one exchange I saw on Facebook. A national class physics professor (nuclear) made it a habit to not block anyone. So someone whose expertise consisted of a basic non-mathematical “electronics class” proceeded to “splain” to him how physics professors didn’t know “real world” electronics.

You see: we teach electricians the “electron flow” model of electrical current; they are told to think of electrical current as a “flow” of little electrons (like small marbles) and when you do that, you can get to the point where you can build (and repair) electrical devices. But it is just a heuristic that “works”; current defined in this manner is opposite of current as scientists and engineers use it. And of course electrical current is more complicated than that (I view it as the time derivative of electrical charge).

The professor tried patiently to explain to our “genius electrician” that he was really using a simplified model…but our self described expert just would hear none of it. He just knew that he was right and that those who were smart enough to work out the basic science to make the electrical components POSSIBLE were a bunch of ivory tower idiots.

Workout notes
Yesterday: 3 mile treadmill run (10 minutes of 5.2-5.6, 10 of 6.7-6.9 (19:48 at 2) 4 min walk, jog to 32:45 3, 33:41 5K. then 5K walk outside.
Today: 5K walk outside; weights (usual PT), 5 sets of 10 pull ups (good), weights (subpar): 10 x 135, 1 x 185, 4 x 185, 8 x 170 bench, 7 x 170 decline, military (struggle) 9 x 50 standing, 2 sets of 10 x 45, 3 sets of 10 x 110 rows, 2:30 plank, usual abs.

I was weaker than normal today, except for pull ups.

June 29, 2018 Posted by | education, running, science, social/political, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

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