Workout notes: weights went fine, the run was a mental struggle.

pull ups: 5 sets of 10 (ok), rotator cuff
bench: 10 x 135, 6 x 170, 5 x 170 (rotator cuff)
incline: 10 x 135
military: 3 sets of 10 x 40 dumbbell, standing.
machine stuff: 3 sets of 10 x 110 row
machine stuff: 3 sets of 10 x 130 pull down (wide grip)
machine: 10 x 90 (each arm) military

But I was surprisingly tired and thought my run would be iffy.

Still: it all went well for the first 12 of “start at 5.5, incline 0.5, up by 0.1 mph every 4 minutes” then at 49:33, I was at mile 5 and dialed it back..walked for 30-40 seconds at 5.3 and then got back up to 59:44 (mile 6) and walked .25 cool down miles.

But I was tired when I finished; was it the dinner last night?

During the day: grading marathon, and wondering about an a math problem that is bedeviling me.

Now: watching Wichita play Southern Illinois; lots of empty seats but an entertaining game.

February 18, 2015 Posted by | basketball, mathematics, running, weight training | , | Leave a comment

Me right now: Meh

I admit that the quality of writing in this blog has suffered. It is mostly workouts, the basketball team, and not much else.

I HAVE been writing challenging stuff, but mostly here.

The challenge: present the material in a way that is most useful to the students; so some of the proofs I have use have not been the most elegant ones that a mathematics professional would use. And it has been humbling; I am finding out that I don’t know the answer to some “natural” questions.

I do have some comics that I found funny:

No, I am NOT a “people person”:

Screen shot 2015-02-17 at 6.24.32 AM

And…well…if the shoe fits:

Screen shot 2015-02-17 at 6.25.08 AM

February 17, 2015 Posted by | mathematics | , , | Leave a comment

Taking it for granted

Workout notes running: 2 mile warm up in 20:36 (treadmill)
1 mile (middle lane, as opposed to the inner lane I used last year): 7:46 (1:58/1:55/1:55/1:56)
1 mile walk (slow)
2 mile treadmill (20:50)

Weights: pull ups (5 sets of 10, easy?) hip hikes, Achilles, rotator cuff rests
bench press/military press super set: bench (dumbbells) 10 x 65, 8 x 70, 8 x 70, military (dumbbell) 12 x 50 seated, supported, 2 sets of 10 x 40 standing
super set rows/pull downs: 3 sets of 10 each (110 rows, 130 pull downs, wide grip, “other machines”)

Though I thought that I felt tired going in, I felt pretty good afterward.

The run: hard enough to make me cough later (for 1-2 hours after), but not hard enough to cause pain in my teeth.
I’ve coughed after really hard runs (usually 1 mile or less; sometimes after a hard 5K when it was a 20 minute effort for me) almost all of my has never been serious.

Taking it for granted
One thing about teaching the basics of a subject like topology: it reminds me of how much I take for granted when I do my own research. Yeah, I’ve worked out all of the nuances, but for many of them, it was 25-30 years ago!

February 12, 2015 Posted by | education, mathematics, running, weight training | | Leave a comment

3-d printed sculptures spun in strobe light…

enjoy. :-)

January 18, 2015 Posted by | mathematics | , | Leave a comment

OMG, I forgot to eat…

Yes, I presume that most people have forgotten to eat a meal at one time in their life or another, but remember I used to weigh 320 pounds.

I had one to the gym to run a bit. I ran 6 miles and walked 2; the run was 5 minutes at 5.5 mph then go up .1 mph every 5 minutes; this got me to 6 miles in 59:36) then at 1 hour, I walked for 5 minutes to get to 6.38 miles, then I got on another treadmill to walk 22:50 to finish 1.62 miles to give me 8. 1:27:50 for 8 miles was the total for running and walking.

Then I thought…dang I feel a bit hungry and realize that I had eaten nothing since waking up.

My degenerating mind: I find that when I really focus on something (say, advanced math), I get very forgetful on other basic things. I suppose that I was always a bit that way, but it is getting worse.
But there is an upside: when it comes to reviewing things that were difficult for me a long time ago, they now appear to be pretty easy to understand; it makes me wonder why I ever found them difficult to begin with. I think it is because I now have more context; more professional experience. I now see the need for details and nuance.

So in that sense, my ability to think has improved.

January 16, 2015 Posted by | mathematics, running, walking | | Leave a comment

The value of having walking as an activity

Workout: weights plus a 4 mile walk (55:24 for 32 laps of the outer lane; 14:25 first mile)
Weights: pull ups 5 sets (painful..NOT in an injury way…just sluggish) hip hikes, Achilles
Bench: 10 x 135, 3 x 180, 8 x 160 (out of gas…swimming yesterday?) rotator cuff
military: 3 sets of 12 x 50 dumbbells (seated, supported)
pull downs/Hammer Machine rows: 3 sets of (7 x 160 traditional, 7 x 100 low), 3 sets of 10 x 200 rows.

Then came the walk. I started to jog in the treadmill and it just didn’t “feel right”, so I was about to give up and go home and then thought: “why not walk, if you can?”

So I went to the track; the first 4 laps were 7:18 and mile was 14:25…then I felt better. 13:43, 13:30, 13:45 were my other miles (slightly longer actually).

No, it wasn’t hard, and shouldn’t have been. But it was better than ZERO.

Now: I need to complete my syllabi and to do other chores.

I am teaching a class on elementary topology. I had mentioned what a challenge it will be as I can’t “remember” a time during my professional life when I didn’t know this stuff. And I haven’t taught this course before, nor have I had a conversation about these topics with anyone but an active research mathematician in well over 20 years. But like it was new to me in 1980 (when I had my first course), it is going to be new to them.

And I have an excuse to take time to relearn some of the “fun stuff” that I haven’t used in a while. It is kind of fun to easily understand stuff that used to baffle me.

Oh, I am teaching two other courses; they are elementary by comparison but they are follow on courses to previous calculus courses. These students deserve a professional effort from me, so I can’t get so excited about FINALLY getting to teach something related to (most of) my own research that I ignore these classes.

January 15, 2015 Posted by | mathematics, walking, weight training | , | Leave a comment

Circular illusions and camouflaged frogs

Can you spot the frogs? Clicking the link will take you Mathew Cobb’s post at Why Evolution is True (photo by Nash Turley)


I’m sure that you can, but this photo shows what evolutionary adaptation can do.

Also, WEIT provided a link to this little gem: these “rotating dots” are, individually, moving along a straight line path. Seriously…all of them are.

I am going to try to write some equations that describe this motion.

January 6, 2015 Posted by | evolution, frogs, mathematics, nature, science | , | Leave a comment

Zombies, economic arguments and number theory…

Zombies: do they make a good Christmas Display? Some think not. “Code violation”, they say. (size and location of display…)


Mathematics: evidently this is an exciting time for number theory. There are two big problems in number theory that are under attack and progress is being made:

In May 2013, the mathematician Yitang Zhang launched what has proven to be a banner year and a half for the study of prime numbers, those numbers that aren’t divisible by any smaller number except 1. Zhang, of the University of New Hampshire, showed for the first time that even though primes get increasingly rare as you go further out along the number line, you will never stop finding pairs of primes that are a bounded distance apart — within 70 million, he proved. Dozens of mathematicians then put their heads together to improve on Zhang’s 70 million bound, bringing it down to 246 — within striking range of the celebrated twin primes conjecture, which posits that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by only 2.

What made this especially interesting is that Zhang was (formerly) lightly regarded; he held a ordinary “teaching oriented” position prior to this.

If you don’t know the terms: a “prime” is a whole number greater than 1 that is divisible only by itself and 1 (e. g., 3, 5, 7 are primes, 9 is not as 3 divides 9). Note: 7 and 11 are 4 units apart. The twin primes conjecture is that, given any positive number M, there are a primes p, p+2 bigger than M, no matter how big M is. THAT has not been proved; what has been proved is that there are primes p, q, where q is less than p + 246 and p is bigger than M.

Now there is a conjecture that goes the other way: if p is a prime and q is the next prime bigger than p, how big can q – p possibly be? It is known that primes become more sparse as the whole numbers get larger; does the gap get arbitrarily large?

Too many are bound by ideology; if the economic numbers don’t say what they want them to say:

OK, that was a seriously impressive GDP report — 5 percent growth rate, and it’s all final demand rather than an inventory bounce. But what does it mean?

It does not necessarily mean that now is the time to tighten; that depends mainly on how far we still are from target employment and inflation, not on how fast we’re growing. Remember, the US economy grew 10 percent in 1934, which didn’t mean that the Depression was anywhere near over. With inflation still low and not accelerating, this report at most suggests that the Fed might get there a bit sooner than previously expected. It’s interesting to note that the bond market seems quite unimpressed, with only a slight uptick in long-term rates.

What the report should do, however, is further discredit the “Ma, he’s looking at me funny!” theory of the Obama economy. Remember, we were supposed to be having the worst recovery ever because Obama was a Kenyan socialist who scared businessmen. […]

Of course, you can count on hearing, any minute now, from people claiming that the numbers are cooked — we really have plunging output and double-digit inflation, plus they’re stealing our precious bodily fluids.

And when you can’t compete with the economist in question (here: Paul Krugman), you yell “Commie”.

December 24, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, mathematics, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

stats, oz effects, and observant football players….

In the discussions about poverty and racism, I’ve been very vocal about parents being the ones responsible for feeding their kids. (here and here) Don’t have kids that you can’t afford to raise properly! Yes, this attitude draws the ire of many, including those who vote the same way that I do.

But when discussing irresponsible parenting, poverty, social pathologies and the like, we need data and we need to analyze it honestly. So, the headlines go: “unwed motherhood is up” and you read:

Census demographers said that single motherhood, while on a steady uptick since the 1940s, has accelerated in recent years. The birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was up 80 percent in the almost three decades since 1980, the report said. But in the previous five years alone, between 2002 and 2007, it was up 20 percent.

Echoing the findings of many academic studies, the Census Bureau report said women with college degrees and higher household incomes are far less likely to be single mothers than are women who have lower household incomes and less education. […]

Overall, 36 percent of all births in the United States were to unmarried mothers in 2011, the year that the census analyzed from answers provided in the American Community Survey.

In the Washington region, 28 percent of births are to unmarried women. In the District, more than half of all births, 51 percent, were to unwed mothers. Maryland also had a higher rate than the national average, with 39 percent of all births out of wedlock. Virginia, in contrast, had a lower rate than the national average, with 31 percent of births to women who are not married.

The census also found that Asian mothers were the least likely to be unmarried, with just 11 percent of new Asian mothers being single. White single mothers also were below the national average, at 29 percent. Among Hispanics, 43 percent of all new mothers were unmarried, as were 68 percent of all African American women who had recently given birth.

Yep….the percent of births to unwed mothers is up! So, it follows that unwed women (especially black women) are having more kids than before? Uh…no.

Remember: “percent” is a type of fraction and it is: \frac{unwed mom births}{total births} So if the numerator (the top) goes up, the percent goes up. But…if the bottom goes down by more than the top goes down, then the fraction, and hence the percentage, goes up! And we see:

(via the sometimes preachy, finger wagging Tim Wise)

Looking first at the broader issue of so-called “illegitimate children” in the black community, those who forward this argument simply do not understand how to read or interpret basic statistical information. They claim, for instance that the “out-of-wedlock birth rate” for black females has skyrocketed; but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, actual birth rates for unmarried black women (which means the number of live births per 1000 such women) has dropped dramatically. From 1970-2010, the birth rate for unmarried black women fell by nearly a third, from 95.5 births per 1000 unmarried black women to only 65.3 births per 1000 such women. In other words, unmarried black women are already doing exactly what conservatives would have them do: namely, having fewer children. This means that even if we were to accept the absurd argument that out-of-wedlock childbearing is evidence of cultural pathology, black culture must then be steadily getting healthier and less pathological, rather than more so. In a given year, for every 100 single black females, between ninety-three and ninety four of them will not have a baby—hardly evidence that out-of-wedlock childbearing is a normative experience for black women.
The common confusion on this issue seems to stem from the fact that although unmarried birth rates have fallen considerably, the share of children born in the black community who are born out of wedlock has indeed doubled since the early 1970s. It sounds like a big deal perhaps, but what does that statistic really signify? If unmarried black women are cutting back on childbearing — and remember, that’s what the data says — the increase in the percentage of black births that are births to single moms can’t possibly be the result of those moms’ increasing “irresponsibility.” Rather, this statistical phenomenon must be due to an entirely different factor, and indeed it is: namely, married black couples have cut back even further on childbearing than single moms have. If married black couples are having far fewer children than before, and are cutting back even faster than single women, the overall percentage of births that are out-of-wedlock will rise, owing nothing to the supposedly irresponsible behaviors of single black folks. If black married couples suddenly reverted to their family size norms of fifty years ago, the share of black births to unmarried moms would plummet, even if there were no further drop in the birth rates for single black women at all.

Moral: when talking about “percentage of”, remember that you are dealing with a ratio, which has both a numerator and a denominator.

Now of course, this requires actually knowing some mathematics (albeit at an elementary level) and while this makes you smarter and more likely to engage in disciplined thinking, it is unlikely to make you popular. Paul Krugman (speaking about Dr. Oz) explains:

Simon Wren-Lewis had an interesting piece on why the financial sector buys into really bad macroeconomics; he suggested that financial firms aren’t really interested in anything but very short-term forecasting, and that

economists working for financial institutions spend rather more time talking to their institution’s clients than to market traders. They earn their money by telling stories that interest and impress their clients. To do that it helps if they have the same worldview as their clients.

Thinking about Dr. Oz also, I’d suggest, helps explain a related puzzle: even if you grant that the right wants alleged experts who toe the ideological line, why can’t it get guys who are at least competent? Why do they recruit and continue to employ people who can’t do basic job calculations, or read their own tables and notice that they’re making ridiculous unemployment projections, and so on?

My answer has been that anyone competent enough to avoid these mistakes would also be unreliable — he or she might at some point actually take a stand on principle, or at least balk at completely abandoning professional ethics. And I still think that’s part of the story.

But I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer on inherently not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent. If Dr. Oz were the kind of guy who pores over medical evidence to be sure he knows what he’s talking about, he probably couldn’t project the persona that wins him such a large audience. Similarly, a hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from FRED probably wouldn’t have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma his employers want.

So how do those of us who aren’t so glib respond? With ridicule, obviously. It’s not cruelty; it’s strategy.

Oh, how I see this. Krugman wrote about a famous incident in which a popular trader was confronted with the fact that every bit of advice he gave was completely wrong, and how anyone who listened to him would have lost money. But hey, he really knows how to yell and draw applause:

So, there was a fun moment on CNBC: Rick Santelli went on a rant about inflation and the Fed, and CNBC analyst Steve Liesman went medieval on him:

It’s impossible for you to have been more wrong, Rick. Your call for inflation, the destruction of the dollar, the failure of the US economy to rebound. Rick, it’s impossible for you to have been more wrong. Every single bit of advice you gave would have lost people money, Rick. Lost people money, Rick. Every single bit of advice. There is no piece of advice that you’ve given that’s worked, Rick. There is no piece of advice that you’ve given that’s worked, Rick. Not a single one. Not a single one, Rick. The higher interest rates never came, the inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened, the dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn’t a single one that’s worked for you.

Of course, he got applause because he shares the same world view of those applauding him.

And my goodness, I think that I’ve seen some of this locally. When one looks at the leaders of some local institutions, it is easy to tell from watching what moves they make that they really don’t know what they are doing. But they are sure good at getting the “right” type of people to like them. I’ve seen this in the Navy as well. Remember when the US Submarine Greenville sank a Japanese ship because it did a risky surfacing exercise to impress some civilians and didn’t follow proper procedures?

The commander of the submarine was a classmate of mine at Annapolis and I went to Nuclear Power school with him. Even then, he was an expert at cutting corners when no one was looking, but telling the superior officers what they wanted to hear when they were around; he convinced them that he “was one of them”. It was a type of “affinity fraud”.

Now of course, Paul Krumgan is an economist and he talked about losing weight. He never looked fat to me; in fact he looks like many mathematicians in the sense that most of us appear to be normal sized. You notice that at conferences, though my mind’s eye detects that, as a group, we are starting to get fatter.

Well, as far as us being more slender than normal:


Now this spread surprises me; I’d guess that firefighters and police officers would be required to stay physically fit. I’d guess wrong, unless this figure is “inflated” by things like private security guards.

Note: I can recommend the article, as it is about the employer’s interest in helping employees with their weight problems.

Football players
I can recommend this Jon Stewart video; it is a short clip that attacks the attack on the “don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” protests. If nothing else, listen to the last minute in which a pro football player explains that “a call for justice should threaten no one”.

December 21, 2014 Posted by | mathematics, NFL, politics, poverty, social/political, statistics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

End of the semester academia posts…

This is an article about string theory. The upshot: while string theory has been an unqualified success in explaining many things about physics and cosmology and while it has generated some super interesting, super difficult mathematics, it is not a “theory of everything” and it increasingly looks like it won’t be:

The final results that we found successfully incorporated various established features of particle physics and so were worthy of attention (and, for me, a doctoral dissertation), but were far from providing evidence for string theory. Naturally, our group and many others turned back to the list of allowed shapes to consider other possibilities. But the list was no longer short. Over the months and years, researchers had discovered ever larger collections of shapes that passed mathematical muster, driving the number of candidates into the thousands, millions, billions and then, with insights spearheaded in the mid-1990s by Joe Polchinski, into numbers so large that they’ve never been named.

Against this embarrassment of riches, string theory offered no directive regarding which shape to pick. And as each shape would affect string vibrations in different ways, each would yield different observable consequences. The dream of extracting unique predictions from string theory rapidly faded.

From a public relations standpoint, string theorists had not prepared for this development. Like the Olympic athlete who promises eight gold medals but wins “only” five, theorists had consistently set the bar as high as it could go. That string theory unites general relativity and quantum mechanics is a profound success. That it does so in a framework with the capacity to embrace the known particles and forces makes the success more than theoretically relevant. Seeking to go even further and uniquely explain the detailed properties of the particles and forces is surely a noble goal, but one that lies well beyond the line dividing success from failure.

Nevertheless, critics who had bristled at string theory’s meteoric rise to dominance used the opportunity to trumpet the theory’s demise, blurring researchers’ honest disappointment of not reaching hallowed ground with an unfounded assertion that the approach had crashed. The cacophony grew louder still with a controversial turn articulated most forcefully by one of the founding fathers of string theory, the Stanford University theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind.

On the other end of things:

There is evidence that Bill Cosby didn’t even write his sham thesis.

And…well, I’d expect any teacher to have cardiac arrest when they read this at their school:


A principal has been reassigned after a misspelled sign was displayed for more than a week outside a New Jersey public high school.

The message on the sign above the entryway to Paterson’s Public School Number 20 included three mistakes: December was spelled “Dicember,” report as “reepor” and a “1” was placed backwards.

The errors drew the ire of school Paterson Board of Education member Corey Teague, who saw a photo of the misspelled sign on Facebook.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” Teague told CBS New York. “I thought it was Photoshopped or something.”

When Teague found out it was real, he shared the photo on Facebook.

“How can we expect our children to learn how to spell when the administration can’t?” Teague wrote. “We must be held to a higher standard.”

“We can’t assume because it’s an urban district — inner-city — that things like this can be swept over,” he told the CBS affiliate. “If it were a suburban neighborhood, parents would be outraged.”

School officials told that the lettering “was placed by a custodian and the sign was near an entrance not normally used by staff.” It was later corrected.

After the gaffe was picked up by several local news outlets, Antoinette Young, the school’s principal, was reassigned as a vice principal at a different school.

The school district did not disclose the reason for her demotion, but according to, Young was already under review for unrelated performance issues.

What troubles me is that someone ….even a student…a parent…would have noticed and said something.

And speaking of learning: It is common to get bombarded by the old “different learning styles” canard; I suppose that when you have a calculus class with 35 students in it, you need to accommodate all of their individual “learning styles” (which some might classify as, say, 3-4 distinct ones, or whatever). BUT…there is no evidence for this:

A search of the literature on learning styles reveals thousands of journal articles, books, conference presentations, magazine articles, websites, and so on. The sheer volume of the literature may suggest that the hypothesis at the heart of the theory, that matching instructional style to students’ learning style leads to improved learning, has been well studied, but that would be incorrect. Scholars who have taken inventory of this literature have noted that the vast majority of it is theoretical and descriptive in nature rather than empirical and tends not to appear in peer-reviewed journals. Worse still, very few of the empirical studies were methodologically strong and featured a randomly assigned control group. The few remaining studies, including this most recent one, do not support the learning styles hypothesis.

At best, the instruments which purportedly measure learning styles really just measure studying preferences. What’s more, a growing body of psychological research on metacognition demonstrates that our beliefs about how we process information and how we learn can actually be quite wrong, with people predicting superior performance with instructional methods that ultimately produce inferior results. Therefore objectively-measured improvements in performance, rather than self-reported perceptions of effectiveness, are ideal.

An evidence-based approach is necessary to prevent wasteful spending on ineffective educational interventions. Learning styles theory, despite its continued popularity, has failed to produce sufficient evidence of being a valuable educational tool. By focusing on teaching to students’ strengths this approach misses an important opportunity to encourage students to work on developing their weaknesses as well. The learning styles approach also provides an excuse for poor performance to the detriment of students who will not recognize the need to make changes or seek help.

You can see a rigorous study here.

This rings true for me, but of course, that isn’t evidence either. The study I cited is.

December 20, 2014 Posted by | education, mathematics, physics, politics/social, science | , , , , | Leave a comment


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