Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

Everything goes in Open A Vein for now.

I'm not ashamed of having called "madness" and "poverty" by their right names and intend to go on speaking as plainly as I feel I can get away with for the whole rest of my life just as I've done so far. It'll have been a good exercise; there'll be a few posts I'll want to link to (in a "here's what I said about that last year" sorta way). I'm no saner (or richer) but I'm not so crazy that I'll deny that jobhunters need to put on masks of Yes no matter how clearly they may feel Oh Dear God Anything But More Of This.

The main thing is that for a few hours on a few occasions this project consumed me altogether and I forgot that there's anything in the world to do but write about whatever was going on in my life, in HTML format, and post it on the Web for all to see. It's quite a bit like getting in a groove with singing-and-guitar. Everything else about life shrinks into insignificance and I can just be in the moment and flow. And for a few moments life is like everybody seems to want to pretend it always is: obviously totally worth it instead of some neverending test of one's patience or endurance. Such, evidently, are the consolations of philosophy. Anyway, I quit.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Still Here

Nobody's bought any of the Enclave collection.

Still it's been nice having 'em around. I'm pulling the mysteries and SF; replacing 'em with A Reader's Guide to Science Fiction (Searles et al; 1979), The History of Western Art by Edwin O. Christensen (Mentor, 1959), A Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin, '62 reprint of '59 issue), the sonnets, songs and poems of shakespeare (sic on caps and serial comma; Bantam 1964) and The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain (Hannah's copy from Zagreb in the mid-70's).

All massmarket (racksize) paperbacks; $4 a whack. Pretty safe I judge. That's the Bexley Coffee Shop in, um, Bexley. The best used bookstore in town (the Acorn; top of the list) turned me down for a gofer position.

Next up: the bar up the street. Really a diner as much as anything. Lots of space there... some of it full of an ould computer graveyard. Which, sure, a shelf fulla used books is gotta be better than. Duh.

Any hour now. Blogging is fun. That is all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Searching And Fearless


priced for sale at the enclave.
used books: the only kind that matter.

10 bizarro comics (many amazing cartoonists)
10 hatful of seuss (taught this teacher much)
08 new american poetry 1945-1960 (donald allan)
10 halliwell's filmgoer's...guide (wellworn)
30 math's:...history & phil'phy (w.s. anglin; springer HB)
10 browser's dictionary of foreign words (j. wiley; 2001 1st HB [no jacket])

massmarket (racksize)

6 mathematics (rapport & wright; stunning WSP 1st [1964])
2 eight great tragedies (mentor; one play has pencil notes; tape on cover)
2 skin tight (hiaasen)
2 for whom the bell tolls (hemingway)
10 greek myths (graves: scholarship for the masses; pelican '61 printing [2 vols])
2 dr. nightingale races...cat (adamson)
2 sticks & scones (davidson)
2 all the hungry mothers (adams)
4 darwin's radio (bear)
4 vacuum diagrams (baxter)
4 the human brain (asimov; mentor '65 ed.)
6 romantic poets blake to poe (auden[!] ed.; viking portable; worn; '69 printing)

that's it for now.
but i've got a lot of stock.
and no way to move it all at once.
(no way to cut and run: bad idea.)
the proposed deal is right down the middle
(my stock; their store... win-win
[plus i get to have books around me
as i blog... if the whole deal works].)
it turns out i *do* want to sell.
keep me in coffee money.
who knows maybe start a conversation.

bonus round (already there for reference;
now priced [not] to sell)

30 history of western art (barnes & noble HB)
20 illustrated history of the world (b&n HB)
20 calculus (HB; stewart; textbook millionaire living in a palace)
20 essential world atlas (oxford; gorgeous satellite shots etc.)
10 webster's new world encyclopedia (prentice-hall '93 1st)

the dictionary's not for sale.

Trust No One

The boss wanted me to see the company shink and for a second I thought I'd do it. I've referred to my willingness to "reintegrate" into society and have even made some baby steps; this looks very much like "the next right thing". Certainly the popular wisdom would have it so. Then Lee (O'Rielly... if I'm spelling his pseudo right...) gave me a referral. Probably I was talking about getting back on the 'zac (check this cool adbusters thang in my flickr page). Anyhow, I was this close to calling her. But I keep coming up against the simple fact that I can't be honest about my life with suchlike professionals in their professional capacity; it's essentially against the law. I believe, and imagine I could prove if I had to, that anybody who can legally prescribe what I need is a government rat by law. Moreover, they're mostly closely controlled by the insurance industry and forbidden by contract to be honest with their own patients. So what with being agents of two of my sworn enemies, maybe I should avoid such contacts until they come with the tasers and handcuffs and get me. I'm bound to get all the professional help I can possibly use then. Obviously this looks like madness. I don't question that. But am I actually crazier than the situation itself? Not so clear. Watch this space.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Don't Quit The Dayjob


if you can learn to treat people like crap
and then not only forgive yourself for it
but not even *believe* you've treated 'em
like crap, it's like some social superpower.
*that*'s the god-damn "Secret", if i'm seeing
clearly... trouble is, of course, this "secret"
has to be kept secret even from oneself
to be effective (the usual storyteller's
gimmick: the quest is much more interesting
than the prize [but one keeps *speaking*
of the prize to get a "like you're there"
effect... like the character, *readers*
experience the mc-guffin as *imaginary*
(unlike the quest itself which is of course
real for the character but imaginary for
the reader)]... the key to the treasure
is the treasure kinda thing). and of course
everybody does it to some extent: "denial".
the trick is to *use* your denial (and then of course
cover your tracks... the secretary will disavow
any knowledge... "imf"... impossible mission force
or international monetary farce?... inquiring minds
wanna have their morning free-associate right out
in front of goddess and man [and robot and who knows
what all... cat maybe]). love always. v.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First There Is A Mountain

So I met this guy at the Enclave. He's a pro singer... and housepainter and whatnot... semi-pro, let's say; the point is he does paid gigs and has for years. I'd like to get into that kind of thing myself and so I'm interested more or less of course. He's recently added acting into his work on stage. And as he told me about that I realized that it sort of sounded like something I'd like to try.

Whereas the whole idea once would have repelled me. Now, yes. I played the boy in The Happy Journey to Camden and Trenton. Also I did the lights (two shows a week in season) for a company of puppeteers and even got lunch money for doing it. A walk-on in Town Theatre's South Pacific. Also I understudied with the lightman on the same show (with a real dimmer board). My Dad was the director and the lightman was my best friend... a "theatre person" in those public school days.

Whereas I just didn't see the attraction at all. Extracurricular activities? Isn't that just like voluntary school? With tryouts?

But I guess I sort of get it now. What I suppose my parents were hoping I'd somehow have picked up on when I was doing the little bit of dabbling I mentioned essentially to please one or both of them: people who can accomplish difficult things by working together get stronger by doing so; also friendships and other social ties develop.

Indeed, it now appears that it's by doing all that stuff I always wanted to avoid that one becomes one of those confident son-of-a-bitches that's always going around grabbing up all the good stuff. Which is something it might have occured to me to want. Anyhow I think I want it now.

I expect there'll have been occasions when people've tried to break this down for me; I expect it's pretty common knowlege. It's certainly understood by, this guy I saw a movie about just a little bit ago, Rafe Esquith.

I was actually moved to tears by this thing. The Hobart Shakespeareans, it's called. Esquith teaches disadvantaged immigrant kids; he recruits a class each year for a special program and shows 'em how school works when you've got a dedicated pro with a free hand leading volunteers. In particular, along with doing all the usual "school" stuff, way better than most of the rest of the kids in the school, his class mounts a production of a Shakespeare play every year—and they take it on the road.

And a lot of the stuff coming out of his mouth was the same stuff you'd hear from the braindeadest lickspittle propaganda drones till you wanna puke: accountability and teamwork and "work hard and play by the rules" and baseball for god sake. But when they say it it's just transparent lies to get you to shut up and lube that grindstone whereas this guy not only means it, he proves it.

"If I could believe that stuff", I say to th' Mad One at this point, "hell, I could be a great teacher!"—but, alas, I do not believe it: I'm about as sure as I ever am of anything that working hard and playing by the rules is generally just another name for Quiet Desperation.

Those "jobs" the kids in these classes are supposed to get better qualified for by taking classes with me? Maybe for one in several dozen. And sure, it's nominally voluntary... nobody's holding a gun. But they don't call 'em required classes for nothing. Mostly it's a giant con game; a trap these kids are in. One I've becomed ashamed to be a part of.

Anyhow, math is all I got; the only thing I'm an expert in. Teaching here ought to also be about how to survive in bureaucracies but it's generally clear on first sight that they'll learn little enough about that from me. I sure can't teach 'em good middle class attitudes like Mister Esquith; I'm a fucking failure for god sake.

Opting out of all the voluntary teamwork I could see my way out of has evidently led me to the sorry pass where all I can see is the tryout—the possibility of rejection—and an uncertain reward. Never ask anybody for anything if you can help it, I always say. Also, "in plans begin disappointments". Stuff like that. So I'm something of a mess.

And I can't see or hear like I did and I forget things a lot quicker and more completely but maybe I'm not a whole lot stupider overall than when I was younger (and reputed pretty bright). And the Mad One is the only close friend I see regularly and indeed I'm sort of a pariah but up in the barracks I have reason to believe I'm, not only generally well-liked, but even cared about and respected and suchlike valuable things... it appears I've retained at least some of the once-ample charm I inherited from both parents.

So, you know, as much as I hate to say it, there may be some thin rays of hope. Which I'm gonna need. Because it appears pretty likely that the little bit of confidence I have gotten back in my winning streak this last few quarters is gonna be enough to get me fired. No good deed...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Publish The Notes

"The Devil and Mr. Blake" has had its debut; Lee seems to've gotten a kick out of it. "Lee" is his real pseudonym. He told me so.

Today I was fiddling around with All I Really Wanna Do... and I haven't got all the lyrics where I can always get at 'em... so I spit out a phrase just to keep the beat as it were and it sounded ok so I worked on it a little bit. Changed the chords around so the swipe wouldn't be, like, glaringly obvious. DAEA (just like Bob) DAE (stay on E this time... creative, hunh?). The same again. Then DEA twice; DAEA, DEA.


Get away from me
With your bogus sympathy
I can see what you want in your eyes
All you want from me
Is that I should agree
That I'm the kind of guy you should despise
You really oughta pick another victim
Some sucker who won't even know you picked him
I'm gonna make you see
That your victim can't be me
So get away from me
With your lies
And the thing here is: you've gotta have a notebook right there where you're already banging out the chords so you can work it out. Half of the stuff you come up with that you tell yourself you'll remember later when you're working the same chord changes... you never do. It's like looking stuff up in the damn dictionary. If there's one right there, I'll take a look; otherwise I'll tell myself a pleasant lie about my good intentions and then soon forget it. I found this out long ago and keep dictionaries near at hand when I read; I'm not nearly so good with taking notes (not that I don't have reams of my own handwriting cluttering up the place back "home"). The flavor—home, office, or classroom—should be that of a studio where whatever tools the artist—that would be me—needed most recently or most often are generally closest to hand... one wishes at all times to be already getting on with the next thing that'll cause this cool project that one is in the midst of to keep getting better...

All Happy Blog Posts Are Alike

Sane meta-criticism on the tiresome religion-vs.-reason thing by Professor Burke.

Gayprof on Trek.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Corporations, Television, and Human Spirituality

"Escape from the Zombie Food Court", by Joe Deer Hunting With Jesus Bageant.

Me And The Devil Blues

P-IMA-IMA. This is a picking pattern: P's the thumb, I the index, M the middle, and A the next one after that. I expect these come from Italian words but I'm lazy to check it. They've got a lock on a lot of musical terminology though... but then, if I were wrong, this would be the reason I was wrong...

But isn't this level of philosophising actually getting to be harder than looking it up? One is on the web...

No, as it turns out. I've looked around slightly and haven't learned the truth; in French, one has Pouce, Index, Majeur, Annulaire... and that's as far as I'm going just now because I came to post about this song.

Anyhow, I do the ol' p-ima-ima pick... sort of a country three-feely oom-pah-pah deal... with a C chord and a G7 and the "melody line" is mostly just matching the notes to the bit the thumb hits (and is pretty doggone singsongy)... my musicianship is still pretty much at zero even though I somehow play the damn thing better and better all the time...anyhow here's


The Devil and Mr. Blake
(Blake/Vlorbik)

I rose up at the dawn of day
Get thee away, get thee away
The Lord of this World by my side does stand
And he holds my moneybag in his hand

For my worldly things God makes him pay
And he'd pay for more if to him I would pray
But though you can do the worst you can do
Be assured Mister Devil, I won't pray to you

He says if i won't worship him for a god
I'll eat coarser food and I'll go worse shod
But as I don't value such things as these
Do, Mister Devil, just as God please

And maybe do the first verse again if, God willing, anybody actually appears to be enjoying it or something... because this is pretty much ready to go. I guess I've got it memorized well enough to give it a try. So all I need is an audience... the toughest roadtest begins by actually getting out of the driveway.

The longawaited midsummer Concert for Midstate U is shaping up something like I Love My Beer, For John Henry, Pinky's Blues (instrumental), Mr. Blake, Seven Curses, and Measure for Measure. Still not enough. One or more Tom Lehrer songs yet to be relearned (The Masochism Tango most likely); ditto Elvis Costello (Two Little Hitlers?). More by Bob if by anyone: Hurricane was once one of my greatest crowdpleasers (and I used to know dozens and dozens more). The MadOne is gonna get pretty tired of this stuff...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Woke Up At The Dawn Of Day

the just man rages in the wilds

man has no body distinct from his soul

milton... of the devil's party

the voice of honest indignation

is he honest who resists his genius...?

i was in a printing house in hell...

prolific & devourer

...open'd the bible and lo!
it was a deep pit...

a confident insolence...

... a candle in sunshine

jesus... acted from impulse not from rules

one law for the lion & ox

(Thus far, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The notes [in my hand, pencil of course, mostly at the tops of the pages they're "pulled" from; notes not in the form of quotes appear elsewhere on various pages; I'll spare you] become quite a bit more sparse through the rest of the book and I don't intend to give the references. The whole file's in my Norton Critical Blake's Poetry and Designs by the way.)

his stored snows he poured forth
and his icy magazines

a self contemplating shadow
in enormous labours ocupied

rage, fury, intense indignation

envy sung at the rich man's feast

let the brothels of paris be opened

go love without the help
of anything on earth

my generousity is to my friends

(and) miseries increase/is .mercy.pity.peace.

uprose terrible blake in his pride

crownd with warlike fires & raging desires

with soft repentant moan

how to know love from deceit

fiends of commerce!

to be flogd into following
the style of a fool

thousands of connoisseurs with joy ran raving

the iron hand crushd the tyrant's head
and became a tyrant in his stead

the child's toys & the old man's reasons

we are led to believe a lie

i wonder whether the girls are mad

the daughters of memory
shall become the daughters
of insiration...
...the silly greek & latin
slaves of the sword

set your foreheads against the
ignorant hirelings!

expensive advertizing boasts (!!)


there is a class of men
whose whole delight
is in destroying

soft sexual delusions
of varied beauty

from out the portals of my brain

a bard's prophetic song

sports of wisdom

he became what he beheld

a male form howling in jealosy

their god i will not worship in their churches

our virtues and cruel goodnesses
have deserved eternal death

onward his shadow
kept its course among th Spectres...

los the vehicular terror...

and thus the shadowy female
howls in articulte howlings:

annihilate the selfhood
of deceit & false forgiveness

the mouth of a true orator

Man must & will have Some Religion!

god wants not man to humble himself

i'm sure this jesus will not do
either for englishman or jew

mirth is better than fun

why is the bible more entertaining
and instructive than any other book?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Won't You Light Up And Sit For A Spell

Suppose I were acquainted with my own desires, though. What then? Well, I'd probably want to do something to gratify the son-of-a-bitches, right? And maybe that would involve me stepping outside my little comfort zone. And that could be a problem. Now, with liberal dollops of good old fashioned denial, along with a few heaps of even older fashioned repression, for just so long as one can keep such-and-such desire at bay... why you could nurse a problem like that along for a lifetime if you knew how to play your cards right. Right?

Anyhow. I was having a blast ripping into my lifestory. I think of Chimera sometimes when doing so but only in my latest parenthesis extravamaganza (at the single link of the previous post) thought to mention that there's some Barth influence in that no-doubt-annoying-to-many little stylistic tic, one I've been indulging quite a bit lately. In fact, I begin to feel as if Chimera provides part of whatever weird scripts I've been "acting out" on our current working model of my pathology (or for all I know, my radiant mental health... I'm not at all sure how crazy I am compared to the next guy... all I do know is I sure ain't "neurotypical").

Oh. Here's some (crossposted) doggerel.


Well I tried to differentiate a constant
But I never got a whole lot outta that
That's 'cause differentiation gives the slope
And the slope is nothing if the line is flat.
If a function only has a single value
Then its dee-dee-ex is zero where defined
And conversely if why-prime is always zero
Then why's the same for all ex in the line.

I'll be here all week. Anyhow, forget Barth... even Pynchon (the verses are in part a hat-tip in that direction... and wait!... now that I say it, I've seldom felt so much like Tyrone Slothrop as right in here these days...). A few weeks ago I came to what right then felt like some gobsmacking realization... which might stand up in the court of considered opinion... that I was undergoing an episode very like that of Phædrus in ZAMM. It's sort of uncanny. But I'm hoping to avoid electroshock. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece would sure be nice though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Crosspost

Rare personal story in my Lumpenprole blog. Memo to self: human contact good, protective masks of urban indifference bad.

Personal Slogans Of The Season

Publish the notes. Show 'em how to care. I'm studying studying. Under the paperwork radar. Trust the code.

I'll have mentioned "it almost makes you glad to be alive"... and today a stranger pointed out a rainbow to me and I tried out a variant along the lines of "it's like just for a second you can believe God wants us to be happy" on her and she took it smiling. The quote's probably not quite right. Because not only am I "not even acquainted with my own desires" but I can't even remember my own doggone words. Which reminds me.

That second quote's from a line of Dylan's. At first I thought it was just the turn of a phrase (to the effect of "I can't think straight"... or, more memorably, "they've got their hooks in him so deep he doesn't know which end's up" [On The Waterfront (from memory at second hand; an ex of mine was impressed with "hooks" here—the characters worked with big hooks—and mentioned it to me; I find it worth reporting now because Dylan swiped a line from the same picture ["for the love of a lousy buck"])]). But no. I say it all the time now and indeed it's sort of taken on some almost mystical Deep Truth feeling.

I'm not even acquainted with my own desires. Like suppose I'm getting real impatient working with a tutee: that feels like it's because of things going on between us in working on whatever our math problem is... but I've recently convinced myself on at least a few occasions that it's "really" because it's been way too long since I had anything to eat. (Oh. So this "hunger" you speak of feels like everybody's being deliberately obtuse. Good to know.)

Now, that kind of thing has got to be pretty common, and might even serve as sort of a counterexample: you're just as aware as the next guy and becoming more aware all the time, there, Vlorbik... stop being so paranoid.

But then there's this.

I told Ma recently "I don't know why I feel like I have to do everything the hard way... I just do"... and a little later had worked out enough of a theory to've told Madonn' that

"I seem to've decided never to believe anything that 'everybody' says: I refuse to learn from anybody else's mistakes... I have to act everything out for myself." So we're evidently looking at something like classical freudian neurosis (which of course is still well within the range of the normal but begins to suggest that there may at last be some point... "where id was, there will ego be" and all).

It turns out this is a far bigger can of worms than I can chew at this point... I've got several more paragraphs but they now appear to be too unformed even for me... this is a deep vein.

So. Six AM. The coffeehouse is open. Free WiFi. Out the door, with joy in my heart, to go meet my beloved students once again (or close up the walls with our english dead)... and my brandnew favorite personal slogan: "let's go publish something!".

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fearless Asymmetries

If you start with great material you can munge it up pretty badly and still have a pretty good product; this is my ace-in-the-hole as a math teacher. Suppose I approach songwriting with this in mind. My guitar chops are improving rapidly but are still very much at the beginner level... I'm physically incabable of swiping much from the master players I've admired all my life (but I'm working on it and can feel myself getting closer like a change in the weather). But I can read (about as well as the next guy) and there's, like, what, five hundred years of English poetry lying around the place... so there darn well oughta be plenty of proven crowdpleasers that move me personally.

That scan, and rhyme, and don't jar the ear (in an offputting way; a certain amount of jarrage is what poetry is for...); in short, something I can sing. Now, David Byrne (to swipe from a master) said something somewhere to the effect that lyrics are just a trick to get you to listen to a piece of music a few more times. But they're actually a far more versatile trick than this suggests. I'm using lyrics to distract my brain from my hands so my body can better take over (they don't call it rhythm guitar for nothing). So it helps if I don't know the words real well. Open up Harold Bloom's The Best Poems of the English Language to a likely prospect and see what happens.

Well, who are one's favorite poets, then? Blake probably leads the pack and I turned to Blake first and immediately found one I could use. (But while I'm at it. Coleridge and Byron round out what I only now realize is my top category: English Romantics. [Shakespeare and his contemporary "King James" are omitted here as categories-unto-themselves.] Pope and Dryden before 'em ["Augustans"]; a few Americans like Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, and Robinson Jeffers; toss in American-by-adoption W.H. Auden... and that's about it off the top of my head. And don't get me wrong... these are the poets I've read at all... Crane's poetic output was quite small but I'm well under halfway through any of the others... never been much of a poetry guy...)

Blake then. Well, this guy was a prophet as far as I can see; stuff like Proverbs of Hell is more like Scripture than most Scripture. And what's this? "Tyger, Tyger". I think I read somewhere that this is, like, the number-one most anthogized English poem of, like, all time or something. Could very well be for all I know, too (if I admit that such a thing could be well-enough defined for there to be a fact-of-the-matter). Okay. Take a look. Here's the result.


Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
Did he who made the lamb make thee?
Did he smile his work to see?

What immortal hand or eye?
In what distant depth of sky?
In what furnace was the brain?
What the hammer? What the chain?

And what shoulder and what art
Can twist the sinews of the heart
When the stars throw down their spears
And water Heaven with their tears.

Because I'm not gonna stand up on a stage and try to pretend with a straight face—or any face—that "hand or eye" rhymes with "symmetry". Anyway, this version is only half the length and "shorter is better" isn't always true but playing at the level I'm at right now it might as well be. So maybe I'll go ahead and learn it and maybe I'll try it out on some actual listeners. If not, no harm done. Blake won't mind.

Obviously, I'm not claiming to've done a whole lot here that should count as "songwriting"... maybe it's more like a remedial songwriting exercise. But, hey. Not only was "Turn, Turn, Turn" a monster hit in its time. Paul Simon had a version of an E.A. Robinson poem at around the same time... and Phil Ochs did a very moving version of "The Highwayman"... one could go on. So it may have been a really useful exercise... I am here stealing the master's trick of stealing some other master's words (in order to get on with the music).

I'm first aware of having used this trick back around the late Seventies when I began singing the ol' Gettysburg Addy while strummin' out a basic 12-bar blues (in E). I've done this song hundreds of times (though only a very small handful of people ever will have heard me do it).

Anyhow, it's my trick du jour. Open the book; choose a poem; pick a few notes... try and make 'em fit. Fail again, better. Bound to learn something...

Dire Straits... Live on CD

"Assume a virtue if you have it not", so I've been sort of acting out my vision of how things oughta be around the office and getting what feel like amazing good results there. Both classes are a blast and I've even done some calcblogging. Legion's battery is wearing out so I'm posting right away for insurance. Yrs from the Enclave at the end of a great workweek. We won't mention taxday yesterday in this post, okay?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Power Of Our Methods

"Gary"'s a Tuesday-Thursday guy so I ran into him in the natural course of things today; said I was pretty sure I'd been projecting some of my own bad behavior onto him in Tuesday's encounter and he gave the only possible right answer, which was to shrug off the whole thing as not even worth mentioning. Right; good. We even went on to prove it a short while later by talking for a good ten minutes about Voting Methods (a more-or-less standard topic in Liberal Arts Mathematics... you know, Math For Poets... the "terminal introductory course" that avoids the "you need lots of math to learn any math" pitfall [that ruins many a Servitude Arts Mathematics course] by simply starting from scratch with some really cool math that, weirdly, most math majors never look at even once). So that went better than I'd've probably dared imagine since talking with colleagues about math rates very highly with me (even if we hadn't had an audience... showmanship need not enter into it but it helps).

And the Calc class went great (again) but that oughta go in the Calc blog which I seem to be neglecting somewhat (but whattaya gonna do). Beautiful spring day if still chilly. Lots of stuff going right. "It almost makes you glad to be alive", as I used to like to say until I found out the humor's too dark here for nearly everybody and that it's even possible to be misinterpret this, coming from me, as some sort of suicidal-ideation cry-for-help type deal (when I'm aiming for the sad-clown so-sweet-I-cried vibe or something: life's a struggle, joy is fleeting... I think I should only try this line anymore with people knowing me fairly well and looking at me grinning with joy [at being in their company]). Just the old graphomania here, folks, excuse me. I started this file intending to gloat about my new song (okay, verse-and-chorus... verses to come?); whatever other good things happened today are by way of introduction. I'll need to walk up to the Enclave Coffeehouse and post before six. So here goes.

Measure For Measure
I know my people are behind me
Even though you think they've run away
And I know my people are behind me
And they're gonna have to fight another day
So you're gonna have to go ahead and kill me now
You're gonna have to go ahead and kill me now
You're gonna have to go ahead and kill me now
Cause I won't give in!
Take my defiance!
Take my defiance!
Take my defiance!
Take my defiance!
Cause I won't give in!

And DC ad infinitum as far as I'm concerned right now because it's a blast singing it. It looks pretty sparse in type even to me but I've been practicing the guitar part that goes with it—I'll go ahead and admit I think of as "composing" it even though it's a pretty simple doggone thing—for months (beginning in the great D-string Drought; I used to call it "Ringing the Neck") and now I have a version I can sing. I'll be doing a set in the courtyard soon if I have anything to say about it and I need material. My only other recent song as of now is For John Henry. This machine kills fascists.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Morbid Navel-Gazing

The boss was very understanding about me refusing the new-format tutoring work so the issue I was ripping my own emotional guts out over on Friday has essentially blown over. I'm about as sure as I can be that I made the right choice. Of course I have to at least question turning down work—during massive nationwide layoffs, for god sake—when my credo has always been to at least shoot for "anytime, anywhere" (show me students needing help with math problems for pay; I'm there).

I sort of gave up on a program at another college several years back that kept giving me real small classes... but at cut rates ("Hey, Vlorb... we'll have to cancel this unless you want to do it for practically nothing... whattaya say?"). It's a blast working with a class of three... it may be pretty close to ideal... but at the end of the day one is not only an Ivory Tower Intellectual (wannabe) but also a struggling member of the Working Class and this finally skirts too close to scabbing after a while. Okay. But this was a different kind of thing altogether.

I've got an awful lot invested in doing the one thing in the world I can be said to do at all well; much of whatever peace of mind I've got left seems to come from the times I can "get in the flow" of a math problem with an audience (a fellow worker-on-the-problem is of course better still—much better)... also, despite my downward mobility and my the-company-is-always-wrong attitude, I've got at least the remnants of a pretty fierce work ethic.

I was raised among talented and hardworking people by very talented and hardworking parents. I've been given lately to saying that Indiana University is, not only my University (all three degrees, indeed) but my very hometown (most of my public school peergroup had University connections... often a professor father like mine). Partly the point here has to be sheer sentimentality... I feel there's something poignant to be understood about my life by blending the "Alma Mater" vibe with that of the "hometown"... maybe because of whatever it is in me that led me never even to seriously consider going to school anywhere else.

(Okay. Bartending school. Also I interviewed a few of the faculty at Big State U as a prospective candidate for a [nother] doctorate but chickened out as maybe I always knew I would. These are too short [a couple-few weeks] or too late [after Indiana wouldn't have me anymore] to count. [Plus another time I forgot. Ignore this. Compulsive truth-telling.])

Anyhow, I'd like to feel that one of the attractive things about the Academic setting would be crossing verbal lances with well-informed articulate opponents about whatever comes up. But lived to find out... again.. today that I can get caught up in wanting an audience and allow myself to act sort of asshole-ish.

Cause there's this new guy, "Gary" we'll call him, that's just the kind of articulate opponent I sort of wish I unequivocally wanted to run into a lot more of. So today, I'm doing some textbook-bashing. This is an area where I'd cheerfully admit I've frequently been known to hold forth. So I say something like "They're all bad in the same way; they all copy each other" and Gary sez "No, really what's going on is that they're all shooting at the same set standards" (kinda thing; not even a good paraphrase but the general idea... I have a tin ear for dialogue as I've observed elsewhere... please don't take quote marks too seriously in this passage) and I acknowlege that "what California and Texas wants, everybody gets" and then go on to put my foot in it: "it amounts to the same thing".

At this point, I seem to've felt unconsciously that Gary ought to know that I mean that "meet such-and-such standards" is just another form of "copy the one that got the grant". Because I sure didn't say anything like this. Just felt like, okay, we're in basic agreement anyway, let's change the subject.

And we did. Sort of. I toss out a sort of trial balloon and allow as how it would be an interesting scholarly project to do a sort of genealogy about ways-of-doing-thing-wrong in math texts... "Forget the reasons things happened anyhow... you can't look into human motivation in a scholarly way..." and some other stuff and Gary comes back with "Are you saying Sociology isn't scholarship then" and no I'm not saying that at all but "well, probably there are a few sociologists doing what I'd like to think of scholarship but mostly it seems to be about quantifying everything and studying these ghastly statistical models" and then it's like, "so now statisticians aren't scholars either" and the conversation's completely going to hell.

So I'm all, "what is this, just disagree-with-Vlorbik-on-principle day?" and at this point it's clear to Gary and presumably everybody else in the room... except me... that I've become very defensive about having my stated opinion questioned at all but I'm still flailing around trying to find some way to continue to deny this perfectly obvious fact and end up accusing him of "bad faith"... something like "it seems to me there's a common notion of scholarship that I ought to be able to just invoke; you asking me about that feels to me like you're just disagreeing-on-principle" or something; at which point "Well I disagree" is about the only thing one can say I suppose; anyway thank god he does say that, so I reply with "Fair enough; let's leave it at that". And buttonhole him shortly after out of the office to debrief; but enough.

Now, I'm determined to get along with everybody. I've recovered from much worse embarassments then this during the getting-to-you stages with at least a few of the others in this... and seem to've been forgiven by 'em all. I get along with Naomi, for hecksake, and she's a rightwing Repubican. I have blown up in her face (to the extent that I couldn't face her for a couple days) and sometimes I have to tighten up my grip on myself when politics (specifically, you guessed it, labor relations) come up. I'm reasonably confident of getting along swimmingly with Gary... probably there are lots of very pleasant conversations in our future. Being able to disagree about nearly anything in a civil way is an academic ideal I treasure; I'm willing to work for it.

The guy I want to be would welcome, not only a rival for my self-hallucinated title of "the guy who always has something interesting to say", but a flat-out new uncontested office champ. Evidently that's still quite a ways off. Here we go.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

By These My Son Be Admonished

As I was saying a moment ago.

A Short Account of the History of Mathematics (W.W. Rouse Ball) is, as its back cover claims, one of the most honored histories of mathematics. Its influence is incalculable. I've owned one copy before this but I gave it away or had it stolen. This one appears to date from the late 60s or so and arrived only slightly shopworn (and with a dealer mark indicating previous ownership inside). The glue was pretty stiff but I was able to crack it in gently in several places without damage and could now hand it to a random reader without fear of having the spine cracked like a dried twig. Which happens more than you would think.

A Long Way from Euclid is Constance Reid's lay-level history of geometry. Reid is a great popularizer; I read her biography of Hilbert in grad school (twice). Her sister was a famous mathematician (to the extent that such a thing existed in the 20th century...). This looks like a good volume to give away to a beginner I'm trying to convert to the faith (after a good looking-over, of course...).

Facts on File Dictionary of Mathematics (John Daintith & Richard Rennie). I'm a sucker for a dictionary. This one's like new except for a bookplate from the reference section of some library. I'll set it on the desk downtown for a while until I get the feel of it. It'll obviously never compare to my beloved Universal Encyclopedia of Mathematics (New American Library). That's scholarship for the masses on a scale undreamed of since, say, the Reagan Revolution. A buck and a half would get this "translation of a widely used German compendium" in the mid-sixties. You'd see all kinds of great reading right up in the very dimestores and bus stations in those days. The establishment was soon to find out that having more and more well-educated people all the time wasn't exactly in their interest and took steps. But that's my life fucking story. We were talking about the Facts on File thing. Looks pretty good of its kind.

The Archimdedes Codex: How a medieval prayer book is revealing the true genius of antiquity's greatest scientist (Reviel Netz & William Noel). My dad claimed in some book he did in the sixties that he didn't know exactly what the word "palimpsest" meant. Because, even though he'd long since had a pretty good idea of it, he hadn't looked it up. I know this because he was showing me an office on a campus new to me and I saw it there in whatever of his books it was in. And I offered to tell him what it meant exactly and he sort of waved it away as if he didn't want to break the jinx. But my dad had a raging love of words and I'll bet he knew all along. Anyhow, this is about a palimpsest. I've got quite a thing for old books... and Archy? Well, let's just say "antiquity's greatest scientist" is probably putting it too mildly.

Mathematics in Civilization (H.L. Resnikoff & R.O. Wells, Jr.) is a history-of-math text (with exercises). Gorgeous monochrome pages outclass many a hugely more expensive text. I'll be stealing something from this soon if only to have an excuse to bring it to class and wave it around.

Most of these will live downtown in the barracks. Indefinitely I hope. Tomorrow I've got to write a burst of emails quitting the tutoring and we'll see how everybody feels after all that settles down.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this. The Mad One is off at the annual Libra party with a bunch of people she knew from before me. I went once and so can get off the hook. Anyway it's mostly women and they like it that way. So a couple of same, a couple we've hung out with quite a bit, came and picked her up and, in the way these things happen sometimes, girltalk, whatever, "male menopause" gets mentioned and I realize suddenly: oh, that's the name of this crisis I'm in these days...

Plus Six More Here In Front Of Me

So I found the "/sale/Mathematics" stuff at Powell's and went a little nuts. Not as much as it might appear. A lot of 'em were pretty cheap. Anyway, in the spirit of this books-received-list (cum gesture of acknowledgement of my pre-blogging fanzine roots) of about a month ago, here we go.

Kiln People (David Brin) is the novel I went to Powell's to get in the first place. A hometown buddy I've been touching base with in F'book put this in a list of "ten books that influenced me" that was meme-ing around last week or so. David's recommended great stuff to me before... Chernev's 1000 Best Short Games comes to mind for some reason... so I figured what the heck. This one's a used mass-market, in real good shape. The first printing of the first Tor edition (December 2002). I know Brin only by reputation and little enough of that... only enough to say he's a "hard" SF man. A glance at his homepage and wikipdedia article has just told me a little more than this... because I wasn't confident enough even to post that with confirmation so close at hand and not know for sure... but I won't be researching his other stuff unless this one grabs me. No, wait. There was a book of reviews cited. I'm a sucker for those.

Felix Holt, the Radical (George Eliot) was the only other non-math entry in this shipment. Middlemarch I read several years ago; Scenes From Clerical Life just a few months ago; most of the other major works in between. "Victorian Novels" has been a slowly growing presence on my hit parade for the past twenty years or so and Eliot's right at the heart of that (Thackeray and Trollope are next; Dickens is of course in a class by himself). This one's the "Wordsworth Classics" (instant remainders) so it started out life cheap and I got it cheaper. It appears to've been read by someone who knows how to break the binding evenly... almost. So there's a little bit of a tilt to the spine. No big deal. I might even be able to correct it slightly by reading it even harder.

Mathematical Bafflers (Angela Dunn) is a personal classic that I haven't seen in book form since the Flood. The first problem is the classic Four Fours puzzle and it grabbed me at about age 10 like few problems then or since. The Mad1 too. I showed it to her last night and she just kept working out one after another. Usually she calculates only for practical purposes or as a way gratifying me, but this looked an awful lot like outright intellectual curiousity. The Litton Industries edition of 1964 is the one I knew as a kid; this is the 1980 Dover reissue (which... I think... I've never seen till now). I have a pamphlet of some of this material—with its distinctive woodcut graphics for each problem—that (I think) predates even the book itself (but doesn't include "four fours").

Symmetry and the Monster (Mark Ronan) is the story of, just as the subtitle has it, one of the greatest quests of mathematics—the classification of the finite simple groups. I was an Algebra major so a lot of the background will actually be familiar to me; as is often the case in these matters, my choice of this volume was influenced by a review in the Notices; this is the kind of thing that makes online shopping much more fun than I would've guessed (alas).

TO BE CONTINUED

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hey Hey My My

Maybe with any luck I'll know when I've finished writing this out whether to quit the tutoring gig. I'm leaning to hell yes.

I mentioned it a few days ago but evidently I was in denial about how little I want to do it. They sort of snuck up on me with it, too, so I'm even sure at what point I ought to have begun wriggling out of the whole ghastly deal. The real deal-breaker is the paperwork. They want a form filed for each encounter with each student. This is pure poison. For one thing, it's much more of the only part of the job I don't like when I run my own classes for twice the money. This is to say nothing of trying to turn me into a robot and whatnot. Hold on. Spinning up a movie. Posting anyway. Anybody out there?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

As Usual

So the quarter started and sure enough the fears and frustrations of working with people kicked in right away. Nothing major... certainly no worse than expected... nothing to complain of really... just a backhanded way of remarking that the break was great and I felt essentially none of those pressures while holed up at M1's for a week (with the odd side trip to feed the cat back "home" and pick up groceries)... and I suppose that accounts for my long-ish absence from this venue: if folie a deux is Madness, I propose to make the most of it, and one even feels the pinch of Poverty less by staying away from places where money is spent (which is itself accomplished, as I've hinted already, by the glorious expedient of never leaving the house).

Somehow I'd switched around my Monday-Wednesday class this quarter with the Tuesday-Thursday in my tiny pea-brain all morning and prepared syllabi with the wrong exam dates accordingly and then tried to go to the wrong class in the wrong building and so was late and unprepared even for me. And no goddamn markers in the whiteboard gutters you can be sure... and somewhat weirdly, none in my pack (I've got plenty of chalk...), so after spreading syllabi around and talking about bookkeeping stuff... which, lest we forget, was wrong... it's off to hunt up a room with some markers, or, as it turns out, some office whose front desk staff set me up.

And the actual math goes in the mathblog if I blog it at all and it was actual math from then on of course and it was okay but it was pretty damn embarrassing just the same. Naturally I just brazened it out in a sort of "sorry this is taking up even a little of our time... but of course we'll muddle through somehow and anyway it's even slightly amusing" way to the best of my alas very limited ability; you'd probably do the same. And, luckily, I really do feel that the last time I did this class it went pretty well and that this one could very well be even better. So maybe I pulled it off.

Meanwhile, the meeting with Ira... the guy doing the 148 lectures whose students are Targeted (in the new Targeted Tutoring) to work with me as a Tutor... went swimmingly to the extent that we mostly talked about actual 148 instead of all the paperwork (where we are to recite various verbal formulas whose meanings have been twisted beyond all human usefulness to serve The Machine). It looks like there'll be quite a bit of it and that not all of it can be farmed out to the students (and Ira); that promises to make this the worst form of tutoring I've ever done. Which is still potentially pretty good since tutoring is in many ways even more fun than lecturing.

And I got into quite a few conversations in the Barracks (which, by the way, I did some maintenance on while stopping off between busses on one of the catfeeding trips over the break... mostly shelving and general straightening up...), and even with at least one colleague I'd never done much more than exchange hellos with. And yes, idle office banter can count as work.

Because sometimes I'm studying these fine people and a lot of the time I'm doing politics with them and you'd better believe that's work. Not the kind of work I feel myself cut out for much either, or so I've always liked to say... but then nobody asked me to do it, so presumably the chance to feel that I make a (considerable) contribution to the department is worth more to me than I like to let on (even to myself). All of it has to be under management's paperwork radar to have any value for me, of course: by this time I'm in the loyal opposition out of a lifetime's habit if nothing else; while there's a counter-culture, I'm in it.

But, and you must've known I was headed in this direction, that way madness lies. Because this sounds almost like I'm embracing politics. Which, okay, maybe I was just going on last week about reintegrating myself into the social realm and stuff and not being such a scaredy-cat recluse drunko misanthrope all the time. But politics?

Because, face it, almost everyone is reduced to gibberish when talking about politics. Lots of ugly truths always need covering up; entire weird denial systems emerge. This is even well-known since everyone sees such systems in other people's commitments ("religion" and "politics" aren't proverbially paired for nothing). And I'm presumably just as prone to this as anyone else. If I do politics.

But not if I just keep saying true things as clearly as I know how. Heck, that's what one becomes a math major for. I'd almost rather be clear than interesting sometimes...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Crack-Up

I haven't had a drink all quarter and I feel pretty good about it. Program people make a big deal about 90 days ("same as cash", I inevitably add... silently). I began my longest-ever bout of sobriety (since childhood... seven years and change) by doing "90 meetings in 90 days" three times running, so I've got a pretty good idea why. This time around I've been "white-knuckling"—staying clean without taking any meetings. And I'm not saying if it's going well or going badly because how the heck am I gonna know... but I am (slowly) re-integrating myself into ordinary life. I think.

Once I'd wrecked the car and got my license pulled (and done my two weekends and so on) it was well over two years before I got even my State ID. A car and license are still out of the question. I can really nurse a grudge. When my landline phone went out? Hey, everything's broken; phones are just an excuse to go into your pocket; god help you if you try and fix anything... you'll be put on hold for the rest of your life waiting to talk to some robot that can't help you anyway...

So no phone for a while. Stuff like that. Hell, if you're gonna roll around wallowing in misery all your god-damn life, there comes a point where the least you can do for your own family (that loves you and that of course you love dearly yourself)... is to leave them alone and not go dumping all your useless drama on them. So you can get pretty cut-off.

I also seem to have made some deal with myself where I could seal myself from social reality with booze and resentment and build myself a wall of habits (good and bad... I never quit reading all the time for example...) that would protect me as far as possible from having to ask for things... particularly in unscripted encounters (I'm not so bad ordering food, for example, and indeed hugely prefer sit-down style to this horrible self-service crap that's somehow been visited even on the yuppies... where's a decent diner downtown I ask you).

So, no license. And no Prozac... a drug habit which has actually done me a certain amount of good in the past. No medical care of any kind for that matter other than the tooth extraction that would've soon been a flat-out emergency. No cel phone (like I've hinted)... T-Mobile had fucked me over to my massive disappointment with the Sidekick (I was an "early adopter" of the-web-in-your-hand, just as I had been earlier of the web itself [and of, I think, no other computer applications])... don't get fooled again.

Obviously no Union Organizing, having proven to my own satisfaction that I was among the (two) Worst Organizers Ever, and that when I was optimistic enough to try to fight the tendencies I'm here struggling to describe. In fact, I pulled most of my books (slowly since I was doing it all on the bus in my backpack) out of the Unofficial Department Library I'd been maintaining in the barracks for years. And, let's admit it, "phoning it in" to some extent with every aspect of the job other than classroom work and tutoring (where "give it everything you've got" is the only way I know how to get through the process at all). Let the world know: Vlorbik doesn't feel at home even in his own skin.

What's troubling me right now, though, is: when am I finally going to break down and call the landlord and get some repairs made. I'm not doing them or myself any favor by living with bad drainage in kitchen sink and shower alike, for example. Which is actually part of the trouble. I'll, not only feel guilty... I already feel guilty... but maybe have to admit I feel guilty and it'll be awkward and sure I have to do it but I don't have to do it right now.

But, then, the least I could do would be, I don't know, clean up a little around here. Nobody's actually even watching me live in squalor inside the actual apartment but the cat. Am I acting all this stuff out so I'll know how I feel? Or what?

On the other hand, who am I kidding? They never are gonna let me be back into the Middle Class and anyway I left more or less under my own power and I had reasons. This way I get to be this Mad Prophet type—or maybe I should say Court Jester.

And on a good day, hey, it's my process. I'm doing things my way to an astonishing extent and've got the self-control to've quit smoking and to've lost a bunch of weight and posted gohd knows how many words of darned good stuff all quarter and helped some students with a lot of math problems and the new computer is mostly a blast and the guitar is totally a blast and I'm just productive as all hell. Maybe I'm allocating my psychic resources the best I can just like anybody else and hell, maybe I'm even pretty good at it. Maybe it's even beautiful.

So there's probably a bit of mania in it. Indeed, the way I figure, my diagnosis if it were rightly known would probably involve some mania-and-depression, some obsession-compulsion, addictive personality obviously... and even, god help me, some outright unibomber-style sociopathy. Some autism, I imagine. "Neurosis". We'll leave the sexy stuff out obviously... for all I know, my mother will read this someday and you've gotta draw the line somewhere. I think I've known at least a few classic Borderline Personalities, and sure enough they remind me of me... and I've experienced Delusions and I've "heard voices" and been at least pretty close to flat-out Paranoia...

You get the idea. Crazy people are looking for a Way Out, right? Well, then, I just wanna know where all the exits are. Anyhow, maybe it's all really just Munchausen's. And couldn't everybody make the same claims? It's like the fortuneteller: "you feel both very loving and completely heartless... all at the same time" (or what have you: everyone feels themselves to be alone among their contradictions when of course contradictions—or, rather, dichotomies—are the very blood and marrow of psychic life). They call me mad? Ha-hah! I'm the sanest man who ever lived!

And all I really want to get out of is having to live up to anybody else's idea of what I should be doing...

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Triage Lecture

There's all these war metaphors—we speak, even in public, of classroom work as "in the trenches"... well, I feel like this battlefield surgeon confronted with (classrooms full of) casualties of the Math Wars in various states of woundedness and there's far more than I can handle. And so some are gonna get only the most perfunctory treatment: typically those with the lightest and the heaviest "wounds".

Students competent with stated prerequisite material, and ready for some frustration and hard work in taking on the new material... the ones the courses are ostensibly designed for... are typically presented with a course that's actually too easy for them. In order to have anybody left at the finish line, we teachers will sometimes settle for a few "rote" calculations (knowing fullwell that the "knowledge" thereby demonstrated is in many cases fragile as hell and probably won't connect up even with the next math class for many of these poor devils [and never mind connecting up with anything in real life so-called]).

Actually this is putting it much too mildly—we're actually expected to do this—certainly by many of the students, and typically (to venture an ill-informed but not altogether ignorant guess) by many administrators as well. But then, we're also expected to deliver the course as it appears in the catalogue and the syllabus and the textbook and so on: the one for the students who "get it" so far. But on top of that, of course, there's the Horribly Wounded... the ones who make us earn our money... and you'd better believe we're also expected to help them along (somehow).

We are the human face of the institution. Now, I happen to think it's a pretty ghastly institution for the most part... and that what we're doing—I'm implicated here along with everybody else in the trenches—is running a con on, anyway, most of the "remedial" cases around here. "Borrow a bunch of money and hand it over to us (to pay a pittance to Vlorbik and rest of the talent with, and give the bulk of the rest to the already-rich); we'll get you to the next level of earning power." But they're never going to get this math and the AA degree isn't worth a thing in the "market" anyhow.

Let me hasten to add here that this was already a con long before everybody found out how sick the economy was (and had been for quite some time)... and that, indeed, now that the entire socio-economic system is in collapse, there are sure to be lots of totally unforeseen new opportunities. And in whatever emerges from the ashes, folks understanding Algebra will tend to be useful members of society; math teachers will still tend to be very useful members.

But then, when I get into the wrong mood (several times a day sometimes alas) that whole battlefield surgeon vibe comes upon me and I realize I'm just fixing this lot up so they can go back into the meatgringer. And maybe the best place in this war metaphor is over the hill: if I can't save anybody else around here, maybe I can still save myself (it's not just the rats that leave a sinking ship).

Anyhow, I take this "human face" duty seriously. Probably too seriously. Sometimes the right answer really is, "sorry buddy, I can't help you with that" even if, let's say, the person in question is a current student (in a class of one's own). But a lot of people overdo it: "that was a prerequisite; we shouldn't even be talking about this" (whereupon, I'm all, "...and you call yourself a math teacher?"... but of course keep it to myself).

When you feel yourself being manipulated and go along with it so as not to have to act, as it were, out of character, that's weakness. Knowing when to go all cold around the heart and play emotional hardball is at some level part of the game. But for god sake. Don't forget I'm a math geek. What do I know about running con games on each other? That's what I've spent my whole life running away from.

Anyway, you can see where a lot of people would just learn to blame their role as the teacher and say: these are the rules, that's it, toughen up kid, this is college—and here I mean they learn to act this way by default... their way of "teaching college math". These would be the ones not taking the "human face" role seriously, I suppose. Everybody needs to play this card from time to time, I suppose. But dammit, it's a community college and a certain amount of "social work" should probably be considered as built into our job description. Remedial classes pay the bills around here and a good team member wants to pull his own weight.

So I'll break my heart for these kids again and again and be resented for it from above and below and torture myself even more for being so spectacularly lousy at doing it and I'll thank God for the privilege because it's part of being a math teacher and I'm lucky beyond belief to have found something socially worthwhile to do for a living.

And the kids in the middle get a pretty good show. And I'll get some more practice with our campus math elite in my upcoming Calc III class (stand by for announcement of new blog). What was I complaining about again?

Something to do with these mood swings...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

An Encounter

Some kid comes into the barracks. Starts by asking after another teacher, but doesn't know the name... teaches in such & such room at so & so time... looks like blah-blah-blah. Sorry, buddy, probably your best bet is the schedule on the countertop up front. Well, it was about taking a class with this other guy; for that matter he'd like to have it with me on account of —he really said so—liking how I looked. And with Lena right there across the office marking papers. And of course the whole time I'm all "Well, jeez buddy I'm up on the internet gathering ranting fodder and so what's your actual question already?" but this last bit of straight-up appeal to my personal vanity was—I'm not made of stone—anyway, engaging.

So he's in 103 shopping for a 104 teacher. Well, have you got some exercise you're stuck on. And he comes up with something too, which is of course much to his credit and moreover when handwaving is clearly failing he falls right into place in the chair next to me and even (briefly) accepts the pencil to show me what he means. But all the time it's bigpicture stuff about how to be a better math student that he wants to hear about.

And I've got a few gems and particularly with Lena hearing everything we're doing—an audience predisposed to care about the Art—naturally I'm gonna dispense a few... the one where I say "Don't just show us calculations, show us presentations. Those bits where you scratch out certain parts of an expression—"cancelling" so-called—are for finding out the answer... but when you write out the answer the idea is to imagine that somebody doesn't already know how the calculation goes. You want to be as clear as possible."

And then there's "You know all those technical terms teachers keep using? Well, we want you to use them back to us. We make it look as if it's all about the calculations, but that's because there's always too much to do and we have to settle for getting the calculations right. To really see what's going on you have to be able to talk about what's going on... and you need the language that's designed for that purpose. To understand these words, you have to use them."

And all along we're looking at how to factor x^3 - 125... or rather "how am I gonna know 125 is a cube". Which, funny you should ask. But first, I ask you, what's factoring? And my student-of-the-moment actually stepped up at this point, proving again that he was worth talking to in the first place, and with a pretty good answer too for a 103 student, mentioning multiplication ("... and so the factors are multiplied to form the product" [just as terms are added to form sums ... I'm telling you, don't get me started with this stuff...]). So I pull out the old factor tree on 125 and learn that he avoided math in public school and had never seen the appeal then or seen 'em at all since then. "Well, this is what they were for."

And then there's the graph. And, in effect, the Factor Theorem... known to all students of Vlorbology as the subject of an epic rant... "they hint at this stuff in your book, but they only ever really tell you about it in courses like 148". Anyhow, having found the root at 5 (which, by the way, we didn't need the graph to have found... the factor tree would've done already: 5^3 = 125 tells us in so many words that 5 is a solution to x^3 - 125 = 0) one might long divide—and here I believe "I don't like that" were his very words—to get the factored form of our polynomial. And this without having had to appeal to the "difference of cubes" formula (which, between us, had already come up)—so this is where you get paid for the hard work of the long division.

Along with remarks about how to stay motivated and g-d knows what... but now for some remarks on the Art of Fiction.

In the first place, I have practically no knack for it. I've tried it a few times, so I know. It's the whole "show don't tell" thing (for one thing): readers have to be allowed to find meanings for themselves, but I just want to blurt out whatever I think I'm getting at in, you know, plain English. But then (for another), if I put myself to describing an incident from life in the form of fiction... and certainly I want everyone to see such a narrative, in this blog, as fiction... hell, the names are changed... Anyhow, the tendency here is to try to transcribe everything to the best of one's own recall, restoring lost dialogue to the best of one's ability.

Which is probably a really good exercise... whose real point might be finding the right pieces of dialogue, from the right parts of the encounter... But part of the achievement of real storytelling is to hide the artist... one has the feeling of "being there", seeing everything there is to see, hearing every word spoken, and so on. And pays no attention to the man behind the curtain.

But covering up the traces of my work has never been my style so (to say the least) it goes against the grain. And I expect there's a certain amount of golden-rule action here: like I reported just a few paragraphs ago, there's plenty of "okay, can we get to the point, please" in my life, and it takes, let's say, a certain amount of confidence to feel that, okay, this time, because it's this story, it'll be interesting.

All of which will serve by way of apology for not having re-created the scene even in my own mind's eye; it's about to fall apart altogether. Somewhere in all this, there was a bit where he wanted to favor me with his ideas about schooling, and despite my hints that such stuff just can't possibly be interesting because even if we figure out something true, there'll be nothing we can do about it, we got far enough to me to know he's against it and for me to say I think I probably agree with him (but all there is to do about it is write up opinions and shove 'em out into the internet).

Then finally, wrapping up, he's gonna get my e-dress and opens up his... hey, Macintosh. So that's kind of interesting. Not the exact same thing as mine but still the first one I'd seen in the wild since getting mine. So like a fool I indicate my interest and naturally now he's gotta show me something.

And I think at first maybe he'll be able. But find out pretty quick he's a naive user and takes me for a naiver. Wants to show me how to reset this mousepad... to his settings. And won't be convinced, without at least a little more "stop... please... I'm begging you..." than I like, that just because the factory settings drive me crazy, there's no reason to believe his settings will drive me less crazy... that "what he likes" isn't even data since if a lot of other people didn't like the way it comes out of the box better, it'd go his way to begin with.

And he thinks it's an old dog new tricks issue and I'm content to let it go at that if it'll get him to stop. But it's a pretty common misperception and I don't want you to think it, so let me just say that I'd love to be instructed in working with this fucking thing by somebody who knows much more than I do about, let's say, not only OS X, but operating systems in general. Or doing research on the web. Or publishing on the web. But listening respectfully while somebody explains stuff I already know, badly? I'm not so good at that and don't guess I ever was. And it's a problem sometimes.

Probably I'll reset the mouse settings myself when I have the peace of mind...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who Knew

I popped another string last night at M's (M is for Madonn'(!)... at least around here it is) so today I somehow got off the bus in Once Great Neighborhood (next past the school leaving downtown) and went to the pawnshop I'd passed g-d knows how many times and bought a new (used) Yamaha guitar. Not so much in the spirit of "I got a new car because the ashtrays were full", though... I need one for each apartment anyhow since I spend weekends with M'n.

This is not to deny that I've been down to five strings on the Applause for longer than I can admit if I ever want to be taken seriously. The fourth string was the first of a new set to break and I immediately broke the replacement (I'd gotten two sets at once as usual) before even having it properly tuned once. Since I've been playing on just the five, I've gotten to be a better player than ever in some ways (and broken and replaced a few other strings; it was of course the replacement for the fourth that broke last night).

So it was a blast just now cranking up a few old songs with the real six-string sound. And the guy running the pawnshop was fun talking to and so was the guy at the bus-stop. You can get out and move around amongst strangers and even chat 'em up a little bit and not have it be an ordeal. It's the damnedest thing.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Random Venting Lest I Go Nuts

The whole idea is to get away from random illiterates in offices telling you what to do. That's what you put up with the humiliations you will have to put up with (like students having no idea what you're trying to do, or having no money), for. That's what you teach quarter-to-quarter at sordid old Midstate Community College, for.

Or so I felt willing to claim one short paragraph ago. But I erred in at least two (more-or-less opposite) directions: It's even worse when they want you to do it online; and Lecturing on math at the board is one of the greatest things in life. And the really interesting thing right now, for me, is that the random venting actually works here at home alone with cat and computer; I'm tapping out copy for one of my (absurd number of) blogs and enjoying it as usual. Just like that. But when there's an audience around, it's murder. The more I rant, the madder I get (so "lest I go nuts" doesn't apply). And we're not looking into that just now because it's making me sort of sick at stomach and this is supposed to be fun.

So back on the droids. The deal here is that (of course) the interface sucks and people that've thought themselves in compliance up until the finish line have found their work dumped and them to blame as far as anybody cares (as usual) and it's kind of frustrating so people complain about it. And then redo it anyway which is what breaks my heart.

We're the talent, here, people! We're the ones they paid to see. None of the support staff, alleged or otherwise, even wants to think about doing our job.

(Well, not "none", literally. Dammit! I can't figure out if I'm ranting or trying to be clear! But you get the drift.)

But something strikes me weird here. Because I go around thinking I want people to complain about the brutalities we're all routinely made to submit to at the undead hand of Bad Software. Some of this bad software runs on an operating system called The College (or its Departments or what have you) and is generally known as "the way we do things here"... but I digress. Because it's Software in its usual, runs-on-hardware, sense that I'm claiming to have thought I wanted to hear more complaining about. Though now I'm not so sure, as you will have surmised. Because having now considered this, I wonder if I'm only wishing for a sympathetic ear for my complaining. So it's the (dammit) usual "just how much of a Prima Donna am I acting here", thing. And I'm not a horrible person.

I get to say this because I'm the guy everybody knows around here (and most talk to... if they talk to anyone at all around here); those are my books you see scattered about you, I studied more math than pretty much anybody, I've been at it for a long time, and, hell, I wouldn't go off like that if I didn't trust you.

And this last bit bothers me quite a bit. Because the effect is that of punishing someone for daring to love me back. But it's one thing to realize that you're being an asshole, again. And quite another to be able to reach into your soul and mess with what appears to be a pretty deep character flaw; indeed, is almost certain at least to partake of some flavor of what Program people call a dry drunk. On account of the way, just when you need to put on the brakes, you get this more speed thing going and brush your judgement aside right when you need it most. When this mood works, I call it hot blood (but then, that's not really the same thing...).

Anyway, though, I still think—to the extent that I can think and type at the same time—I want my colleagues to complain about their computer woes. And indeed, that my urge to get into every gripefest I dove into today was never unmixed with Pure Joy. Hell, I once co-founded a union drive; I can love the sound of somebody else not getting a computer to work for almost unselfish reasons.

But then, dammit, they won't even abstain and just wait and see what further pressure might be brought to bear. No, line up again and hope it's just another sheering because sooner or later they're coming for something you don't want to give up. Look. When the program predictably fails right after you ought to be done with it and you can't even get IT in the middle of the day and the emails bounce that's called being treated with contempt and whatever you put up with, there'll always be more. And it doesn't even pretend to make sense.

We don't even work for these silly assholes, anyway; they're supposed to be working for us. The fans pay the band; the barowner just passes along the money. And if just one person should say, "hey, wait a minute, Vlorbik's right!"... well, heck, with a committee of two, I could put all this computer hyperactivity to some constructive use...

Robots Teach Ethics To Humans

Some crazy sexual harassment committee has decided to start ordering everybody around and I can't think straight. Here's Google on the Zeman affair. Won't help here; he won but he wasn't trying not to comply... only trying to comply more efficiently than the zomboid enemies of humanity were comfortable with. Of course this'll probably blow over... they're not gonna make, for example, the Evening people at the Branch Campuses show up in their anti-life ritual-submission meetings and they know this and don't care. And so too will everybody else having the wit to treat the whole thing with the contempt it deserves most likely get a pass and so will I... if I avoid confrontations about it. But since I'm feeling even more like a cornered rat than usual this may not be as easy at it sounds.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Space Filler Number One

So the computerworld keeps throwing new stuff at us and we're just supposed to like it and there's this Red Queen bit where you have to run like heck just to stand still. Like in blogging. Over in my other new blog I've allowed whatever scary new gizmatron it is that causes a whole tiny little page-view—scrollable and everything—to appear next to a link when you hover the mouse.

I've allowed what I've hitherto considered an intrusive misfeature into my page essentially as an exercise. In Friday's post I spoke of having resolved to force myself into learning new things and this is part of that program: let the Web do things the Web's way. (Generalizing a slogan about the Mac that I've been using for internal brainwashing.) But when events occur on the screen that I don't expect, that freaks me out at least a little. Usually just a little. But sometimes to the point of screaming rage. And anyhow I mostly don't even like stuff like "pullquotes" in magazines.

And I figure I'm not the only one. So maybe pointing at us and laughing isn't the best marketing strategy—or wouldn't be if a few of you would join me in complaining bitterly about stuff like this. Not to me of course. I'm just trying to go with the flow.

But here's the thing. There's this one link in yesterday's post that doesn't change color when you click it and then come back. Right in the middle (the "GEB" link). Now probably to find out why this is going on, one would have to be at least a little bit obsessed. But it just kind of eats at you seeing it there and having no idea what kind of weirdness would make such a thing even possible...

And then there's this god-damn mouse...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stay-At-Home Bookrun

The Midstate review of books I haven't read: shipment from Hamilton.

I got out of the habit of ordering books for years but seem to be getting back into it. I wrote up a Bigbox Bookstore run a few months back and it even got somebody's attention (mentioned in an e-mail). And I sure used to like trading with Ned IGOTS Brooks, whose zine, It Goes On The Shelf, consists each issue almost entirely of "books received".

Ethan D. Bolker. Elementary Number Theory: An Algebraic Approach (2007 reprint [Dover] of 1970 original [W.A. Benjamin]). Dover Publications is of course the best friend an impoverished math-student bookjunkie ever had; this lists at 14 bucks (and I'll have had it for about 5; I'm not gonna go digging up the data on these). They've done a redesign and this looks somehow classier than the dozens of Dovers I already owned. I've forgiven them for this in my heart. I've been boning up on ANT so this was a natural. My Ireland & Rosen is badly damaged and I can't read it for pleasure.

Paulo Ribenboim The Little Book of Bigger Primes (second edition; Springer 2004). I've opened this here and there and most of what my eyes fell on made pretty good sense right away which is pretty rare in a math book. Real number theory in as readable a style as that allows.

George G. Szpiro Poincare's Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve Math's Greatest Puzzles (Dutton [Penguin USA]). Nobody acquainted with the story and with the name of this blog will be surprised to learn that I turned first to Chapter 12, where Grigori Perelman's part of the story begins. It's in "popular" style, with all the metaphor-torturing (and lack of equations) that that entails... but good. I read the review (PDF) in the Notices last year more or less of course. Here, with ads for days of course (from the New Yorker), is "Manifold Destiny" (Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber on the Perelman affair).

Douglas Hofstadter. I Am A Strange Loop (Basic Books 2007). This one's at the top of the most-likely-to-be-read-straight-through list. So far, overnight guest Henry has read most of the first chapter but I've looked at none of it. My admiration for Professor Hofstadter is a matter of quasi-public record (I praised GEB and Le Ton beau in my zine).

Havi Carel & David Gamez, editors. What Philosophy Is. (Continuum, 2004.) I'm pretty ignorant in philosophy; what the heck.

Simon Blackburn. Truth: A Guide (Oxford U Press, 2005). I'll probably start with the chapter on Neitzsche and go on from there if I like that. Professor Blackburn has a rather quaint homepage.

That's it... but there's already another list on the back of the latest "New Arrivals" catty. Intro Circle Pack, Stalking Riemann...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't Plan It, Janet

So Henry was in town and stayed the night chez M. (my usual weekend hostess and raison d'etre). I was about to open up my new MacBook to jack in to our new WiFi cloud and show him some of my recent online outpourings as I said, "You'll notice these stickers" (mostly black-and-whites that showed up randomly at the P.O. in my zining days) "are facing me as I get ready to open this up; the apple icon here is actually upside down and is obviously there for other people to look at. But whose computer is it anyway? If they give you ruled paper, write the other way."

Ray Bradbury made this aphorism famous when he used as an epigraph to Farenheit 451; you can look up its actual author on Google like I did and immediately forget it like I did if it suits your fancy. Sure is a great saying, though; there's no telling how often I've quoted it over the years (I read F451 in the 70's).

Right in here lately, I've decided to put it into some filler-between-calculations portion of a lecture, along these lines.

"I can't tell you the best way to study this stuff; nobody can. A lot of people, typically after a lot of trial-and-error of their own, when they finally find something that works, they think they've found the one best way and then push like crazy to get everybody to do things that one way. Even teachers do this. And, for better or worse, they can even do it very effectively in the sense that their students learn a lot... which certainly ought to be at least one very important criterion for success...

"But this is not the gospel I preach. I'm the last guy to try to tell anybody how to live—most people seem to consider my way of life pretty unappealing and mostly I can't blame 'em—but I oughta know something by now about reading and doing math problems. And if you go in thinking you already know about what you're supposed to be trying to find out, you might very well be setting yourself up to miss the best parts.

"If somebody were to say to me right in here, Vlorbik, sometimes it looks like you don't know how to teach this stuff, I'd agree with 'em and tell 'em it sure is fun finding out. But if they said it looked like I had no idea how to do it, why we'd just have to part ways on that issue since there never seems to be time to get in more than a small fraction of the ideas that come up... when we're actually interested in the problems...

"So try something! There's this awful tendency to feel as if you should have some better reason to set up a calculation than "to see what happens"... almost as if you needed permission to write in your own notebook! Or like you're going to find out some math you're not supposed to know yet. When fiddling around is one of the greatest study skills of all!

"A lot of people, when they say, learn from your mistakes, they mean, don't do it again. But I say, a lot more than most people think, mistakes are where you're gonna get a lot of your best ideas... it's like when I'm playing guitar..."

And the reason I decided it was high time to put somesuch remarks into my lectures was that I'd already decided it was high time I actually tried to live it. Last Spring I sobered up for a quarter at least in part because of needing to prep two unfamiliar new classes (math ed and calc iii); this was so exhilarating, I decided to make a real effort never to teach 102-3-4 again. Then I cashed in my retirement account and took the summer off. Played a bunch of guitar and wrote my first real song since the 80s. Stuff like that. Then sobered up again for this quarter and, along with blogging even more than I ever used to zine, got the new computer (and a Mac at that).

Hell, I even do some math problems from time to time. If I'm selling learning, I sure as heck oughta be learning something myself, and a lot of the time I feel like I did in my twenties (and, okay, thirties) as a college student and love it.

No guru, no method, no teacher. Funny, I just quoted Van (the Man) in the other new blog yesterday...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Put Me Back In The Mud

I'll just plead artistic temperament, here. Of course I'm a big emotional mess; that's what performing artists do: go out in front of the crowd and feel something. And I have been thinking of blogging as performing... specifically, as a sort of "slow radio". Because while I hope it's obvious that my prose is edited pretty carefully, part of my blogging ethic has always been: do it fast! Get it out there! And (part of) the real subject matter, for me, is always the "sound of my voice".

And, whaddaya know, singing is quite a bit on my mind these days. In fact, you might as well know the worst right away, some days I walk around pretty much everywhere I go singing and always have. (My dad was a first rate entertainer and my brother's a top pro musician, so maybe it's a family thing... but I say this mostly to precaution you that I'm a beginner in music [a long-time beginner, but a beginner just the same].)

The thing is, right in here lately I've been, what I'll go ahead and admit, studying guitar. My act, when it's ready, is voice and guitar, so besides the stuff that just flows out of me (because I happen not to be lecturing or ranting or what have you, and, like I said, I love the sound...), there's now a "practicing" aspect to some of my singing... but I sure wouldn't want to say I'm "studying" that.

My astonishingly-reliable mother has informed me that as I child I once informed her of my opinion, stated as a fact (as must've been a habit of mine even then), that written music was "impossible". My brother and sister took piano, but I took a pass: I was pretty devoted to this part of my ignorance evidently. I think probably it was some sort of Math Anxiety for Music thing. But that's another blogpost.

Because it's studying guitar that was, until recently, my favorite source of "studying studying" brain-candy: examples from experience of how learning happens (for me to mull over as my hands do the actual learning). The guitar just keeps seeming to be telling me how it needs to be worked with.

You can get pretty mystical about this kind of thing real quick as I expect you know and I sure don't want that (just now). Because, forget the guitar. A new MacBook, to an Apple tyro, is a teaches-you-how-to-learn-it machine, literally. Complete with a whole teaches-you-to-be-in-it culture (but wait a minute; that's just to say, a culture).

And so, even before the need for a new blog (with comment threads, which for me right now means "hosted"...) suddenly arose out of nowhere, I recently made some remarks on the iTunes "jukebox" in Vlorblog and uploaded some pictures made with "Photo Booth". The trouble with this is that I'm more than a little self-conscious after decades of calculator-bashing (unrepented of as of now, so don't get me wrong) about doing a "learning about my computer" blog when I'd be unlikely to follow a link on that theme myself. Wheras by contrast, math is the world's greatest subject matter. I've remarked many times on what a tremendous comfort this has been to me as a lecturer... no matter how badly I might be blowing it at any particular time, whatever it is I'm trying and failing to get at is just amazingly worthwhile, so I have the strength to go on.

Playing in the blathosphere was a natural for me. The Web was the "killer ap" to me since I saw it; I could always pretty much take-or-leave anything to do with computers until hypertext grabbed me all at once at first sight. And just as hard as TV had in my childhood.

So in the early days of the web, I just put up a bunch of math links. But by now there's way too much going on and I needed a smaller beat: blogs. Bingo. A-and... what was I saying about culture? An online "community" with some close spiritual kin: students and teachers of math. So wow.

But, well, you know me with the whole "you can't overdo getting too much of too many good things" bit. If the concept of "internet addict" has any validity at all, then I suppose I am one, and expect that it's even pretty obvious (were it not for the Observer Tautology: nothing is obvious [until it is]). So there that is. But... too late to stop now! Anyhow, I haven't suffered any horrible consequences yet... and what kind of addiction do you call that?

So. What's my subject matter, so I can forgive myself when I'm missing my marks? On the other hand, wha. People do personal blogs all the time: "stuff that interests me" is a perfectly reasonable subject for a blog; at some level the only one.

Ah, but how personal?