blueollie

Graduation exercises done…various topics

Grading done, graduation exercises done. So, aside from some “less than pleasant” family obligations I should enjoy a pleasant month.

Topics:
Sexual Harassment We are seeing lots of accusations and resignations..and in one case, a female was the accused.

I hope that we haven’t arrived at a place where an accusation is sufficient to tank someone’s career.

Example: 20+ years ago, I had a faculty friend who liked me well enough to sit in on one of my classes. She talked about a bunch of stuff..and in a conversation she had mentioned that she felt weak from a religious fast. I replied “yes, you are looking a bit thin”.

Later she asked me to come into her office. I did..she asked “do you know why I want to talk to you?” I responded “I guess it is about the course”. She went on to tell me that my remark was sexual harassment. I was astonished. I said “I meant…” and she said “I KNOW what you meant..” ..Eventually I had enough. She tried to shake my hand but I refused..and I broke off all unnecessary contact with her. No, no charges were ever filed and no official complaint was ever made.

By the way, she is a respected scholar (by our standards) but her personality…not as well respected.

And..it turns out that she HAD suffered some genuine sexual harassment; she was asked out by a senior faculty member; when she declined he told her that the tenure decision, in part, depended on her being “collegial”. So, it isn’t as if she always “cried wolf”.

So sometimes, people can honestly interpret the same situation differently:

So people who think that the issue can be resolved by hashtags, “zero tolerance”, “non-negotiable demands” and the like are delusional; the situation is way more complicated than that.

Republican Tax Scam Yes, they did fix some of the hits to higher education, but it is still a big giveaway to the wealthiest and will probably explode the deficit…which will lead to them cutting Social Security, Medicare and safety net programs because “we are broke”.

Oh, it is a wildly unpopular bill and might cost many of them their seats in 2018..but will also lead to some cushy K-Street jobs and the like. So the unpopularity of the bill bothers them not at all.

Bradley Basketball We saw the men demolish Arkansas Little Rock 86-46 despite clearing the bench.

They won big at Chicago State, though Chicago State got blistered by Northwestern 96-31..trailed 55-8 at the half. Still, the team is winning.

The women lost big at Green Bay, but Green Bay is ranked no. 21 for a reason.

Workout notes: yesterday, routine weight session. Usual PT, 5 sets of 10 pull ups, bench: 10 x 135, 6 x 185, 5 x 185, incline: 10 x 135. Military: dumbbell: 10 x 50, 10 x 45, machine: 10 x 80 (each arm), 3 sets of 10 x 110.

Today: easy 4.2 mile run prior to graduation exercises; clear and crisp.

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December 17, 2017 Posted by | basketball, economy, education, political/social, politics, republicans, running, social/political, walking, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

Confusing the individual with the aggregate

One of the things that fascinated me was radioactive decay. If you were given a certain amount of a radioactive isotope, you can deduce how much will be left (not decayed) after a certain amount of time. In fact, you can do this so accurately that you can base a precision clock on it.

However, it is impossible to determine WHICH atom will decay, no matter how much information you have about it. I don’t mean that it is practically impossible but rather that it is literally impossible. And the individual atoms will decay at different times.

In short, you have information about the aggregate but not about the individual. Of course, in this example, we are in the range of quantum phenomena.

But this principle, (aggregate vs. the individual) applies when one attempts to make inferences about what will happen with a population in which there is a high level of variance within the said population, and people often get confused.

Example: suppose you have two groups of students who are, say, starting a program of study in engineering. One group is the group of students whose math ACT scores are 22, and the other group has math ACT scores of 30. The harsh reality is that the group of students with a score of 22 will have very little success; there may well be a few individuals who make it, but the vast majority won’t. And yes, the group with a score of 30 will have some failures, but they will have many more successes.

So, the ACT score matters and has predictive value. But if you bring this up, someone will remember the person with a 30 who flunked out, and someone with a 22 who made it and claim that means that the “ACT is meaningless”. Psst: that isn’t true.

So yes, there are smokers who live a long time, there are those who drive while texting who don’t get into accidents, etc. But smoking does harm longevity and driving while texting increases one’s risk of having an accident.

Application to Illinois Football Illinois football is starting MANY true freshmen and, well, the record so far is grim (2 wins over weaker non-conference opposition, followed by 5 straight losses against “power 5” caliber opposition (USF isn’t “power 5” but they are an undefeated, ranked team). And prospects for another win this season are grim, with 2 Top 10 teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State) and 3 improved teams (Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern) left to play.

So the PR department is playing this “the future is bright” angle:

And yes, the team is playing a lot of freshmen.

But: how good is that class? I went on ESPN and looked at how the Big Ten 2017 recruiting classes were ranked:

Top 10: Ohio State, Michigan
10-25: Penn State, Maryland, Nebraska
26-39: Michigan State
40-49: Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern
50-59: Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue.

So, based on talent, we *might* be able to hang with Rutgers, Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue, youth or no youth.

Now yes, measuring recruiting is tough to do, and there is always that individual “lightly regarded” recruit who blossoms into an NFL player. It does happen..individually. But a team composed of lightly regarded recruits is rarely, if ever, successful.

Workout notes: yesterday, wet 10K walk (untimed). today: weights. Pull ups were a struggle, so I did a couple of 5-5 sets then 2 sets of 10, one of 7-3 (50 total). (switched grip), usual PT, incline presses: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 6 x 150, military (dumbbell: 10 x 50, 10 x 45) 10 x 180 machine (90 each arm), rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110. Then a chilly 5K walk outside.

October 25, 2017 Posted by | college football, education, football, science, statistics, walking, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

On the need to prove yourself…

Well, I have signed up for a marathon this weekend, and it will be hot as hell. Still with a 7 hour time limit, I should be able to make it, if I don’t go out like an idiot. 14-14:30 mpm at the start..get to mile 20 in 5 hours and then I’ll have 2 hours to bring it home. That should be doable, even on a hot day.

Yeah, I’ve done a number of these, but with me, the question is “can I do it one more time?” I’ve got that need.

Yes, I’ve done much better in the past (masters PR: 3:38 (2000) running, 4:44 walking (2002); first marathon was done in 1980 (3:33)). Yes, in 2004, I walked 100 miles and *averaged* 6:12 per marathon. But can I finish THIS time?

But not everyone does..and that attitude is what I have to deal with. Where I went to school (undergraduate and graduate), it wasn’t just about learning something; it was about showing that you’ve mastered the material well enough to move on. You had to prove yourself. And, well, not everyone is able to. And so, as a young professor I brought that attitude into my classroom, and it did NOT go well. The old “not everyone can do this…are YOU one who CAN?” just does not play well in most settings. And it was tough for me to adjust to that.

Workout notes; taper mode. I had a full weight workout on Wednesday (the usual; incline instead of bench: hip hikes, rotator cuff, toe raises, pull ups: 15-15-10-10, incline: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 7 x 150, military: 10 x 50 dumbbell standing, 10 x 45, standing, 10 x 90 machine: rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110 machine, then yoga). Today: taper: 3 usual PT, 3 sets of 10 pull ups (strong), bench: 10 x 135, 6 x 185 (good, lots of energy), incline: 10 x 135, military (dumbbell) 10 x 50, 20 x 40 standing, rows: 2 sets of 10 x 110 machine).

September 22, 2017 Posted by | education, marathons, social/political, weight training | 1 Comment

Goat Rant 3: what is an academic “success story”?

There are different kind of success stories. But the ones that I think about are those of the following variety: underprepared student shows up with low SAT/ACT scores. They struggle. They get “worked with” and somehow cobble together a degree. Now is that a success?

Well, it depends on how you think of it. Imagine someone struggling in medical school and just not being good at it..graduating with a medical degree. Do you want that doctor? Or what about the flight school person who barely scrapes by? Do you want to fly with that pilot?

To me, part of success is finding something that you are reasonably good at. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to live in any shelter that I made..you wouldn’t want me to operate on you..or to play for your competitive sports team.

So, to see if that “success story” really is a success story, I’d want to know something about what happened afterward….(example: did that marginal engineering student go on to become a P. E. or to do well in an engineering firm?)

Workout notes: Monday: usual weight routine (rotator cuff, hip hikes, toe raises), 5 sets of 10 pull ups, bench press: 10 x 135, 4 x 190, 8 x 170, incline: 10 x 135, military: 2 sets of 10 dumbbell (50, 45), 10 x 90 machine, rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110 machine. rope skips: 99, 50, goblet squats: 2 sets of 10 x 50 to the sill, 10 x 70 to 20 inches. Then 2 mile walk outside.

Tuesday: 2+ to the W. Peoria track, 1 home, 2.1 in 24:56 (20:12 for the first 4 laps..had trouble speeding up).

September 13, 2017 Posted by | education, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

still ill..sort of

Workout notes: 4 mile treadmill run in 44:15 (5.1 for 10, then up .1 every 5 minutes to mile 3, then up .1 every .25 to the end). And yes, THAT WAS ACTUALLY WORK; I am a bit of a physical wreck. Then 1 mile of cool down walking.
Weight: 201.3 with shoes (about 5 lb. down) so that is headed in the right direction.

Social note: yes, classes start tomorrow, and this will be different as last semester, I taught calculus III (vector calculus), differential equations and Statistics II. I was dealing with the most talented students we usually see. Now, I have larger classes of more inexperienced students, along with one advanced class. The larger classes requires a different mindset from me; I’ll adjust but I am going to have to be very intentional at fist (e. g. get in the habit of explaining things more slowly, including the details that come naturally to experienced engineering and science students).

August 22, 2017 Posted by | education, illness, running | Leave a comment

Wanted to be accepted without being acceptable …

I chuckled when a FB friend posted this:

The individual who posted this did so in a tongue-in-cheek way.

But it did get me to thinking about what I’ve actually seen. I teach college. And from time to time, a student will complain about flunking a class. But often their complaints will be “I needed this class and those credits to…” (insert “keep my scholarship”, “get my job”, etc.)

And, because I teach mathematics, their complaints are almost never “I did this correctly and didn’t receive proper credit” or “I knew the stuff and you flunked me anyway”. To them, the “grade” and “credit” is really a commodity that I have and that they want; “knowledge”, “learning”, and “performance” are almost always completely unrelated.

It would be like a prospective surgeon always botching the cadaver operation but wanting a pass, or a prospective pilot always crashing in the simulator but wanting a “pass” from pilot school.

It is the old “accept me” rather than “help me so I can work to meet the standards”.

Another note Needless to say, poor people are not the most popular people in our society and are often blamed for their fate. The article I linked to purports to ask “why”. It is a decent article, but I find it strange that the author doesn’t see the reaction to poor people as being natural.

The headline is: “Why do we think poor people are poor because of their own bad choices?” so I’ll give my answer:

1. Our own experience. Quick: what poor people to you actually KNOW? (not merely read about or have seen somewhere)

Chances are, it is the family mooch. In our case, this sibling of a family member had the same parents, the same educational opportunities, the same upbringing, the same inheritance (well into 6 figures), and managed to piss it all away.

Parents will often see some of their kids do well, while others become chronic underachievers.

So when we hear “poor people”, we think of the examples that we know, rather than someone who grew up devoid of realistic opportunities. We look at the negative outliers that we know and try to extrapolate.

2. Social pathology. Yes, poor people tend to share some very bad, self destructive habits. Of course, research tends to show that this behavior tends to stem from poverty rather than the other way around. “Being poor makes you stupid” as some might say. The direction of causation isn’t always clear.

3. Fear. Yes, though I am comfortable at the moment (and close to being “long term comfortable”), at mostly points of my life, I was really only a bad break away from personal disaster (untimely illness, injury, lay off, employer going out of business just when I become unemployable), etc. No one wants to think “I am one bad break away from being just like that poor person” so we conjure up reasons why “it can’t happen to us because we are so virtuous” or something.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | education, politics/social, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Doing students a disservice: not pointing out their ignorance

A couple of things have struck me. There is a New York Times article about high school students not believing climate change because of what they hear at home and from our current President.

On the other end, you see student takeover and (attempted) intimidation of faculty at Evergreen State College; what struck me is how inarticulate the students are, and how they seem to ‘know” that they know more than the faculty and staff:

And they appear to be enabled by at least some of the faculty:

About 55 Evergreen State College faculty and 23 College Staff have signed a “statement of solidarity” with the student protestors, which you can find here. (That’s more than a quarter of the faculty).

I reproduce the statement in its entirety (indented). It is an implicit criticism of biology professor Bret Weinstein as a racist, which he is not. He is being punished and ostracized for writing an email refusing to leave campus at the “request” of students of color on Evegreen’s “Day of Departure.” If you want to see the email that got Weinstein demonized, go here. The bolding is mine, and my comments are flush left. […]

I omit the names of the signers (see the document linked to above), but I am guessing that the faculty are almost all humanities professors and that there are few or no science professors. The College Fix (I can’t verify their assertion) says that “The statement is being circulated by Julie Russo, whose expertise is “media studies, gender & women’s studies, sexuality and queer studies,” and Elizabeth Williamson, whose expertise is English literature and theater studies, according to a Friday listserv email from Russo obtained by The College Fix.

Now I am for getting students to start to think for themselves. But part of “thinking for oneself” is to come to grips with one’s own limitations (intellectual ability, experience and knowledge) and to understand when to defer to those who know more. Not all opinions are created equal.

And yes, fresh eyes might pick up on blind areas, but, I’ll just ask this: are the students really fit to run a university or to teach classes?

Now I teach mathematics and I can tell you that if I am not reasonably gentle with my examinations, I would blow away my classes. They simply lack the perspective, knowledge and experience that I have.

Yes, once in a while I might make a mistake on the board and they catch it, but none of them would claim to know more than I do.

I think that it there is a fine line between encouraging students to think for themselves and making them way overconfident as to their current abilities and achievements.

Workout notes: a bit sore from this weekend, but I still got in a weight workout and an easy walk:

weights: rotator cuff, pull ups (5-5, then 4 sets of 10), bench press: 10 x 135, 5 x 185, 8 x 170, incline press: 10 x 135, military: (dumbbell) 15 x 55 seated, supported, 10 x 45, 10 x 40 standing, rows: 2 sets of 10 x 55 dumbbell, 10 x 110 machine. Goblet squats: sets of 5: 25, 25, 45, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, abs: 2 sets twist crunch, 2 sets of yoga leg lifts, 3 sets of moving bridges, headstand (shaky, but ok), 5k walk (warm).

June 5, 2017 Posted by | education, social/political, walking, weight training | | Leave a comment

I’ve never seen anything like President Trump but…

It is weird. On one hand, I see President Trump as being a disaster. But, at least for NOW, my personal life is going well…for NOW…there are potential land mines ahead. But enough about that.

I work in education (mathematics) and Trump is a potential distaster at many levels. His nominee for Secretary of Education doesn’t even know the basics:

and yet is likely to be confirmed. I sure hope that the Democrats are united in opposing her, though if it looks like she will win anyway, I can see giving a few red state Senators a pass for local political reasons.

Higher education will not be spared; a creationist is being appointed to lead a task force in higher education.

And do not think that our lead in science/engineering/mathematics research is a “given” either; remember that in the 1930’s, Germany lead the world. They ran many of their top people out and the US took command.

Even worse, Trump appears to have no grasp of reality. He thinks that Islamic terrorism is being under reported and provided the media with a list of 78 “under reported” events…(and yes, the list had egregious misspellings in it, including of the word “attacker” in places!”

And just read some of President Trump’s tweets: do these sound presidential to you?

As someone pointed out, Trump is like a “boy’s idea of a man”. Oh sure, there are times when I have fantasies about being well off enough to tell anyone to “f*ck off” without having to worry about the consequences, but I realize that my having those fantasies are the result of my incomplete growth as a mature human being; it is my goal to get to the point where I don’t have those thoughts. I certainly do not admire someone who acts that way…especially the President of the United States.

What to do about it:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/how-to-beat-trump/515736/

February 7, 2017 Posted by | education, political/social, politics, politics/social, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Thinking about thinking: critical thinking, empathy (and its limitations), faulty memories, etc.

Memories: yeah, our minds fill in the gaps, and so some of our vivid memories…never happened, or didn’t happen the way that we remember them. That is one reason I keep this blog; I often revisit what I did..and once in a while, find that I didn’t do what I thought that I did.

I still “remember” an epic workout that I once did: 8 x 400 in 75 each..back in 1982. Trouble is: I never did that. When I read my old logs, I did one workout where my LAST 400 was in 78 (others were 82-83) and I did a few 10-12 x 200 in 37-38…very different. I had written that 8 x 400 in 75 was my GOAL. Goals are not facts. 🙂

Empathy Yes, compassion for other humans is a good thing. But sometimes empathy for an individual can override doing greater good for more people. So empathy for individuals might lead to policy that might actually be harmful for more people (or do less good than it might otherwise). This book is on my reading list.

Critical thinking: Yes, I am for it, but effective critical thinking requires a context and a detailed knowledge of the facts and principles for the context. So teach history, teach physics, teach chemistry. But forget this “course on critical thinking” stuff.

Challenging beliefs and the “regressive academic left”. This article has given me something to chew on. Some of it is very good: one can’t challenge absurd beliefs without talking about underlying assumptions:

Malhar Mali: What in your opinion is the best way of fostering critical thinking when it comes to religious and supernatural beliefs?

Peter Boghossian: I think the whole way we’ve taught critical thinking is wrong from day one. We’ve taught, “Formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence.” But the problem with that is people already believe they’ve formulated their beliefs on evidence — that’s why they believe what they believe. Instead, what we should focus on is teaching people to seek out and identify defeaters.

What is a defeater? A defeater is:

IF A, THEN B, UNLESS C.
C is the defeater. We should teach people to identify conditions under which their beliefs could be false. This is profound for a number of reasons. If I’m correct, then it would be the holy grail of critical thinking. The problem with traditional notions of critical thinking is that most people believe what they want to believe anyway. They only look in their epistemic landscape for pieces of evidence which enforce the beliefs they hold — thus entrenching them in their view of reality. Eli Pariser has a vaguely related notion and talks about a technological mechanism that traps us in a “filter bubble.”

There are attitudinal dispositions that help one become a good critical thinker and there are skill-sets. If you don’t possess the attitudinal disposition then what’s the point of the skill set? A skill set could actually make it worse because, as Michael Shermer says, you become better at rationalizing bad ideas.

By teaching people to identify defeaters, which is a skill set, we may be able to help them shift their attitudes toward responsible belief formation. We may be able to help them habituate themselves to constantly readjusting and realigning their beliefs with reality. In the philosophy literature there’s a related notion called doxastic responsibility, which basically means responsible belief formation.

MM: So if you had put that formula into action with “If A, Then B, Unless C” what would that look like?

PB: A pedestrian example could be when someone thinks they see a goldfinch in their backyard. The traditional route here is to say, “Formulate your beliefs on evidence. What evidence do you have to believe that’s a goldfinch?” and they say: “Well I see the bird is yellow. I know there’s a high incidence of goldfinches in this area, so by induction I can see that it’s probably a goldfinch.” But unbeknownst to them it’s not a goldfinch but a canary.

So instead of saying, “formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence,” we should say: “how could that belief be wrong? Give me three possibilities how the belief that it could be a goldfinch might be in error.” This type of questioning — applied to any belief — helps engender a critical thinking and an attitude of doxastic responsibility.

The author then goes on to lose his way when he discusses the “regressive academic left” later in the article. Yes, they exist. Yes, some are nasty people. And yes, they are a threat to free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Yes, they are a threat to critical thinking skills.

He says:

Here’s what is surprising: with very few exceptions, and there are exceptions, Christians are very kind decent people all over the world. I do talks and we go out afterwards for drinks etc., and we talk with civility.

The far Left in contemporary academia is not like this. These are viciously ideological and nasty people whose goal it is to shut down discourse and indoctrinate students. I think we’ve spent too much time on Creationism. The problem is less with creationism and more with radical Leftism. For example, if you’re a professor who teaches in the biological sciences, creationists have substantive disagreements with your work and they’ll try to demean it. But they’re not going to harass you or your family. They’re not going to try and get you fired. They’re not going to call you a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a homophobe.

That may well be true, but creationists get on school boards and have seats of political power. Climate change denialists have seats in Congress:
inhofesnowball

You really can’t compare the power and money behind the right wing variety of nonsense.

Sure the idiots in academia are annoying. But they aren’t the threat to science that the science denialists are, and they have nowhere near the degree of institutional support.

December 10, 2016 Posted by | education, science, social/political | | Leave a comment

Homework and futility …

Workout notes: (speaking of futility)

rotator cuff
squats: lots of weightless squats, a few goblet squats with 25, one set with 40, finished with 10 x 210 leg press
pull ups: 15-10-10-10-5
bench press: 10 x 135, 4 x 185, 7 x 170 (weak)
incline press: 6 x 150 (weak), 10 x 135
military: 7 x 50 dumbbell standing, 10 x 45 standing, 10 x 40 standing (couldn’t get 50’s in the air while sitting)
rows: 3 sets of 10 with 50 (single arm)
abs 2 sets each of 12 twist crunch, 10 yoga leg lifts, 10 moving half-bridge.
headstand (surprisingly good)

Bad math/science puns

copperfield

dickens

Homework and futility Yes, I know that hard work can get most people, at least of a certain age, to improve on something.
But, well, let me use an example. Take any Division I football coach. What do they spend their time on? Sure, they set up game strategy, decide to who play and set up how to train their players. BUT…they spend a lot of time…recruiting talent. If talent didn’t matter, why is recruiting important?

Again, average players can improve with good coaching and hard training, but only so much.

I think that a similar principle applies in academics.
Sure, students say that they work hard in my classes, but these are college students; those in my engineering/science/mathematics section have a certain aptitude for the subject. Teaching and hard work bring out their talent. But they have it to begin with.

But what about grade school? Don’t they have to take everyone (within reason)?

So, I question the value of assigning too much homework to grade school kids. Again, I am talking about “too much for their level”.
Since this isn’t my field of study, I don’t know what the evidence says, though this post “seems” reasonable to me.

And there is something else going on here: I remember not doing much homework as a kid, and I sure as heck got no help from my parents. Yes, “that was then”. But…I can tell you that students who show up as freshmen in this day and age really aren’t any better prepared than we were..in fact, I’d say “somewhat less so”?

And I do wonder:

Research tells us the following about the impact of homework on children in primary school:

Homework offers no academic advantage. Instead, it overwhelms struggling children and is boring for high achievers.

Interesting…I’ll keep my eyes open for what else is out there.

September 9, 2016 Posted by | education, social/political, weight training | Leave a comment