2014

On the end of the Bears’ season (2014).

I submit, for your amusement:

1. My post heralding the Bears’ acquisition of Jay Cutler in April 2009.

2. This particular paragraph, the last in a post written after the Bears’ 28-20 victory over San Francisco in week 3:

They’re in first place in the NFC North. Granted, so is everyone else in the division, but work with me. The offense can be as good as it was last year. The defense doesn’t have to be 1985-good or 2006-good, they just have to be better than last year, say a touchdown per game better. God and Ditka willing, last night was the start of something special.

I meant good special, not bad special.

I figured, fairly, that last year’s offense plus a defense on par with any other in Bears history would be a massive improvement. Heck, the 2013 offense and the 2012 defense probably would’ve won 12 games. Instead, we saw the worst defense in Bears’ history replaced by the second-worst defense in Bears’ history. A 2.25 point-per-game improvement will not suffice– especially when the offense is nearly eight points per game worse.

Two Bears seasons in my memory stand out as being as soul-annihilating as this one: 1989 and 2002.

1989: They finished 6-10 after winning the first four games. This came after five consecutive NFC Central titles. I wasn’t really old enough to remember the Bears being bad, so it was painful. It was especially painful because that was the year the Bears traded my favorite player, Jim McMahon, and rotated Mike Tomczak and Jim Harbaugh at QB. Jeez, that year sucked.

2002: They started 2-0 and were leading the Saints in week 3 by 20 points. That strong start was surely a sign that the previous season’s success (13 wins, #2 seed in NFC) wasn’t a fluke. Well… it was a fluke. They blew the lead against the Saints and finished 4-12.

Oh well. This season felt like it actually ended after blowing the lead against Carolina in week 5, and everything that came after was insult atop injury.

Next season looks bleak. The Bears have too much money locked up in Cutler, too many old and broken parts to replace, too many managerial and coaching personnel that need to be fired, and too many McCaskeys running the show. I’d like to think that the Bears can only improve from here, but I jinxed them enough in September.

Watching Nelson’s hit on Le’Veon Bell in slo-mo just made the backs of my knees tingle in sympathy pain. That was horrific.

Ramblings on innumeracy.

Ereyesterday, I had a fun chat with my dear friend Dr. Hmnahmna regarding Common Core mathematics. Here’s a transcript, edited slightly for clarity and national security:

DR. HMNAHMNA: From what I’ve seen of “Common Core” math (the quotes are deliberate), it’s not nearly as stupid as people think. I say “Common Core” because all Common Core does is say that you should have certain skills at a certain point.

VDV: I don’t think it’s stupid, but I do think it’s needlessly complicated. They’re giving as much emphasis to shortcuts and tricks as they are to basic algorithms and tables. I think that’s a mistake.

DR. HMNAHMNA: What most people call “Common Core” is various curricula that implement those standards.

VDV: Correct.

DR. HMNAHMNA: There’s actually deep concepts buried in those “shortcuts” and “tricks”.

VDV: I don’t deny that one bit. I question the utility of the approach, and I fully expect that as these students reach high school they’ll be worse at math than current high schoolers.

DR. HMNAHMNA: Here’s an example of chunking:

Huh?

Basically, this breaks the problem down into easier to manage chunks. If you’ve ever made change running a cash register, this is the way it’s done. It also demonstrates the commutative and associative properties of addition and subtraction in a concrete way. And if you’re trying to quickly subtract 712 – 648 in your head, it works much better than trying to remember the borrowing algorithm that we learned.

VDV: Again, I’m not denying that the tricks/shortcuts/alternate methods aren’t useful. I think the traditional method has far greater utility on paper. And I don’t mean “on paper” to mean “theoretically”, I mean actually on paper. The larger the numbers get, the less I’d want Joe Average to rely on a mental calculation, and the more I’d like him to rely on tried-and-true. I’ve seen a lot of students try to guess their ways through simple arithmetic work, and if they don’t guess right, the attitude is “oh well”. I shudder to think what’s going to happen when the CC wave comes through. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

DR. HMNAHMNA: Is your students’ approach a matter of not knowing the method? Or is it just trying to blow through and not caring? Because I haven’t figured out a teaching method that can overcome cockiness/laziness.

VDV: [Redacted list of SMERSH-approved torture techniques] overcome cockiness and laziness. Unfortunately they aren’t permitted by the curriculum. Seriously, though, what I meant was that training the masses to do it in their heads will lead to less patience with pencil-and-paper, and less willingness to use it.

DR. HMNAHMNA: The other big advantage I’ve seen from these other methods is that they are designed to promote a deeper understanding of what you’re doing when you subtract 712-648. And demonstrating it using teaching methods that are applied again in higher math.

VDV: When you put it like that, I think of the analogy of plumbing vs. fluid dynamics, or history vs. historiography. Or of the argument over the correct “first ten numbers” (0-9 vs. 1-10). Do they need the deeper mathematical understanding, or do they need extensive practice in efficient arithmetic calculation?

DR. HMNAHMNA: I happen to think that innumeracy is a big problem and that deeper mathematical understanding is important, though practice for efficiency is also important.

VDV: I agree. I see no reason not to introduce algebra/geometry earlier.

DR. HMNAHMNA: If I had to choose, I’d rather have a deeper understanding and slightly less efficient.

VDV: If I had to choose that for the Hmnahmnas and the [our friend who majored in mechanical engineering and is an industrial manager]s and the [our friend in military intelligence who majored in history and physics]s of the world, yes. But we’re also talking about the people who mess up your change at McDonald’s.

DR. HMNAHMNA: I think the example above will actually help the people at McDonalds not mess up your change. Note I said that it is the exact method you use to count change– count up from the total to the amount of cash handed over.

VDV: That’s why I used that example.

DR. HMNAHMNA: And hopefully, the deeper understanding will remove the blank stares when the total is $6.03 and you hand them $10.10.

VDV: May I propose a minor flaw with the analogy? If chunking, cashiers don’t have to keep track of how much they’re handing back (i.e., the difference). They just have to keep adding bills and coins until (price + change) = (initial payment).

DR. HMNAHMNA: Maybe I don’t understand people that are stupid at math, which is entirely possible.

Dr. Hmnahmna has a doctorate in mechanical engineering. It’s entirely possible.

Byzantine arithmetic is not unique to our era. About a month back, I picked up an 1877 edition of Ray’s New Practical Arithmetic: A Revised Edition of the Practical Arithmetic. Four bucks at a flea market. Here’s some Core-esque material from page 29:

JHC.

I shouldn’t have posted this. Someone, somewhere, might get some ideas.

Yesterday I was told by another friend, who has operated cash registers far more recently than either Dr. Hmnahmna or I have, that many modern cash registers have dedicated buttons for each denomination of currency. That means that a present-day cashier can get away with not knowing how much cash the customer handed over. If the customer gives the cashier two twenties, the cashier can just press the $20 button twice.

I replied that even that might prove too complicated one day. What if the cashier doesn’t recognize the digits on the bills or coins, or can’t tell the difference between Grant and Franklin, or doesn’t understand that a $20 is worth more than a $10? I mean, looking at two digits is so much tougher than looking at one. We need to make counting bills and coins as simple as humanly possible. Therefore I recommend that henceforth, all portraits and other decorative images on American currency be replaced with symbols from video game controllers. Problem solved, and we’re one step closer to pure idiocracy.

My proposal also eliminates any possible debate about controversial figures appearing on our currency. Honoring Andrew Jackson by putting him on the twenty is questionable for several reasons, but what did or  ever do to anyone?

Miscellany whilst waiting on a burger.

I managed to shave off part of a fingernail. It’s an interesting look, but probably not worth the blood and pain. It’s not the worst thing that’s happened to a finger, though. Sliced into the pointer with a paper cutter. Carved off a chunk of pinky with a linoleum knife. Broke the other pinky during a soccer game, and had it re-broken by someone who probably thought she was being cute. She wasn’t.

The water was off Tuesday morning, likely due to some construction near the house. Fortunately there were a few gallons of distilled water in the kitchen. Unfortunately, they were cold. I found out the hard way that I can successfully shower with a mere gallon and a half of water. I could probably get it down to a single gallon with practice, but I have absolutely no intention of practicing.

I think the one thing we should all learn burger’s here.

Questionnaire 17.

I’ve excised most of those questions I answered in earlier questionnaires. Here’s the source.

1. HOW OLD ARE YOU? 37.
2. ARE YOU SURE? Reasonably, but to be honest I have to take other people’s word for it. I was certainly there when I was born, but I wasn’t looking around for a clock or calendar.
3. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ALCOHOLIC DRINK? Rum and coke.
5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE VEGETABLE? Zucchini. Sliced, buttered, salted, peppered, roasted.
6. DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL? Vaguely. I remember sitting in the cafetorium with a bunch of other students and having no clear idea what was going on.
7. WHAT IS THE WORST EXAM RESULT YOU REMEMBER EVER GETTING? Probably a D. I honestly don’t remember ever failing a test. I got an F on a presentation in seventh grade, and I remember thinking the teacher looked happy about it.
8. CAN YOU SWIM? Well enough to save myself for at least five, ten seconds.
9. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE ACTRESS? Sigourney Weaver.
10. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE ACTOR? Sean Connery.
11. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE COMEDIAN? Mitch Hedburg. Unfortunately, the kid died from a speedball ten years ago.
12. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE POLITICIAN? Tough call. The more I study history the less I like most of them. And my answer varies depending on the time of year, i.e., it is often biased towards whatever time period I’m teaching about at the moment. But I’ll go with Coolidge.
13. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE HISTORICAL FIGURE (BEEN DEAD FOR AT LEAST 100 YEARS)? Lincoln.
14. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE SUPER-HEROINE? Linda Carter.
15. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE SUPER-HERO? Batman.
16. CAN YOU NAME A FEMALE SCIENTIST OTHER THAN MADAME CURIE? Dian Fossey. Rachel Carson. Anna Schwartz.
17. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE GOD OR GODDESS? I’ll interpret this to mean “from myth”. Tough call. I’ll go with Baldr, but that’s probably because I’ve got American Gods on the mind.
18. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE WOMAN OF ALL TIME? From history? Right now, Harriet Tubman.
19. DO YOU AGREE WITH “AN EYE FOR AN EYE, A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH”? Whenever appropriate, though I don’t object to forgiveness. Wisdom is knowing when to apply which.
20. DO YOU AGREE WITH “LIFE DOES NOT FORGIVE WEAKNESS”? No, because sometimes it does.
21. DO YOU AGREE WITH “IT IS THE ENEMY WHO CAN TRULY TEACH US TO PRACTICE THE VIRTUES OF COMPASSION AND TOLERANCE”? Yes. It’s easy to tolerate those we already tolerate, and to have compassion for those we already love or like.
22. DO YOU AGREE WITH “THE STATE CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT TO DO”? No. In short, the state exists for my convenience, so that I can do what I want to do.
23. DO YOU AGREE WITH “IF I HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN BETRAYING MY COUNTRY AND BETRAYING MY FRIEND, I HOPE I SHOULD HAVE THE GUTS TO BETRAY MY COUNTRY”? That really depends on what my friend was up to.
24. DO YOU AGREE WITH “IF THE PATH BE BEAUTIFUL, LET US NOT ASK WHERE IT LEADS”? They say good intentions are beautiful.
25. DO YOU AGREE WITH “CRIME IS A PRODUCT OF SOCIAL EXCESS”? Not all crime is a product of social excess. Some people are jerks, some are evil.
26. DO YOU AGREE WITH “DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU”? Yes.
27. DO YOU AGREE WITH “AND MANKIND IS NAUGHT BUT A SINGLE NATION”? No. I am much prouder of being an American than I am of being a human.
28. DO YOU AGREE WITH “BULIMIA IS SOOOO ’87”? I don’t know what this means. If it’s a quote from a movie… I just googled the quote, and am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize it from Heathers. Good Lord. Anyhow, if the quote is used to mean that bulimia should be avoided and overcome, then yes. But if it is used seriously (i.e., not in a darkly comic sense) to mean that there are newer, trendier eating disorders, then I think the quote makes too light of a serious problem.
29. WHAT IS THE WORST MOVIE YOU HAVE EVER SEEN? Superman IV comes to mind as being especially horrible. That’s why I loved Superman Returns so much; it retconned Superman III and IV out of existence.
30. WHAT IS THE WORST TV SHOW YOU HAVE EVER SEEN? Ferris Bueller.
31. WHAT IS THE BEST BOOK YOU HAVE EVER READ? The Road.
32. WHAT IS THE WORST SONG YOU HAVE EVER HEARD? Probably something on YouTube about life in Detroit. It was atrocious.
33. WHAT IS THE WORST SPORT YOU KNOW OF? Not a big fan of golf. All those courses could be soccer pitches, or football fields, or basketball courts. Or hockey rinks, if you’re far enough north.
34. WHO IS THE BEST AUTHOR EVER? Just going by sales alone, Moses.
35. WHO IS THE WORST SPORTS “STAR” YOU HAVE EVER SEEN? Worst in what sense? It’s pretty hard to fake great success in the sporting arena; it’s not really a matter of judgement. My most hated sports figure, based simply on what happened on the field, would have to be Charles Martin, mid-80s defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers, for body slamming Jim McMahon.
36. IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO WITNESS A HISTORICAL EVENT IN PERSON, WHAT EVENT WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE? The Tunguska meteor strike in 1908, from a safe distance.
37. IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, WHERE WOULD YOU GO? Italy.
38. IF YOU COULD MEET ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD YOU MEET? The winner of the next five Super Bowls, so I could make some money prognosticating.
39. IF YOU COULD BECOME FAMOUS FOR ONE THING, WHAT WOULD THAT THING BE? Education reform.
40. IF YOU COULD BUY ANYTHING REGARDLESS OF COST, WHAT WOULD YOU BUY? A house in a quiet corner of the world.
41. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ANY ONE THING ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY, WHAT WOULD IT BE? There are entirely too few states. I say add three. I am not a crackpot.
42. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ANY ONE THING ABOUT INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, WHAT WOULD IT BE? See #41.
43. IF YOU COULD MEET ANY FAMOUS PERSON WHO IS DEAD, WHO WOULD IT BE? Keynes, to see what he thought of what he hath wrought.
44. IF YOU COULD BECOME DICTATOR OF THE WORLD, WOULD YOU? Yes, but only so I could, like, do stuff that was good for humanity, and then I totally promise I’d step down.
45. IF YOU COULD EAT AN ENTIRE COW AT ONE SITTING, WOULD YOU? No.
46. HAVE YOU EVER ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADED MUSIC/TV SHOWS/MOVIES FROM THE NET? Nice try, Metallica.
47. HAVE YOU EVER USED ILLEGAL NARCOTICS (YES, EVEN POT COUNTS IF IT WAS ILLEGAL AT THE TIME)? No, but once I accidentally took five amoxicillin pills instead of four before a dentist visit. Hopefully the American people will understand that it was a youthful indiscretion.
48. HAVE YOU EVER GOTTEN ANY POINTS ON YOUR DRIVING LICENSE? I don’t bleeve so.
49. HAVE YOU EVER STOLEN ANYTHING FROM A SHOP? No.
50. HAVE YOU EVER BOUGHT ALCOHOL OR CIGARETTES WHILE UNDERAGE? No.
51. HAVE YOU EVER BOUGHT ALCOHOL OR CIGARETTES FOR ANOTHER PERSON WHO WAS UNDERAGE? No.
52. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO CHEAT THE TAXMAN/SOCIAL SECURITY/OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY? Cheat? No. Out-cheat? Yes.
53. HAVE YOU EVER RIDDEN ON A TRAIN OR BUS WITHOUT PAYING? No.
54. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ARRESTED? No.
55. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME? No.
56. WHAT’S THE FURTHEST YOU’VE EVER BEEN FROM HOME? San Diego.
57. WHERE HAVE YOU VISITED THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO GO BACK TO? Chicago. New Hampshire. Arizona.
58. WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO VISIT THAT YOU HAVEN’T YET? Italy. Alaska.
59. WHERE IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE IN THE WORLD? Wherever my sweet patootie is.
60. WHERE HAVE YOU VISITED THAT YOU HOPE NEVER TO GO TO AGAIN? Not a big fan of Middleburg.
61. WHERE WOULD YOU DEFINITELY NEVER GO TO? Venus, probably.
62. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WAY TO TRAVEL? Driving.
63. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WAY TO TRAVEL? Airplane.
64. WHAT IS THE CAPITAL OF ASSYRIA? {}
65. WHAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE YOU SAW? Comme une image (Look at me).
66. WAS IT ANY GOOD? I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. I thought the relationships were almost perfectly structured: almost every character ignored someone, and almost every character was ignored by someone else.
67. WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? Working on American Emperor, about Aaron Burr.
68. WAS IT ANY GOOD? So far.
69. WHAT WAS THE LAST SONG YOU LISTENED TO? Chet Faker’s cover of “No Diggity”.
70. WAS IT ANY GOOD? Yes.
71. WHAT WAS THE LAST COMPUTER GAME YOU PLAYED? If phone apps count, then Chess with Friends. If they don’t, then probably bullet chess on Chess.com.
72. DID YOU DO WELL? In some matches, yes. In others, no.
73. WHAT WAS THE LAST MEAL YOU ATE? Turkey and cranberries on wheat, sweet potato chips with hummus, water. Ate it on the north dock of the lake in my old neighborhood, which was nice after the sun sank below the tree line. I’ll save you the trouble of the next question: it was good.
74. DO YOU AGREE WITH THE WAR IN IRAQ? Yes.
75. DO YOU BELIEVE IN ALIENS? Yes, but it isn’t silly or unreasonable to think we’re alone in the universe. I would be as surprised to find proof of their existence as I would be to find proof of their non-existence. I do not believe that aliens have visited Earth.
76. DO YOU AGREE WITH THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION? I believe evolution happened and is happening. However, I haven’t actually spoken with the Theory and thus don’t know whether we’d agree on much.
77. DO YOU BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION? No.
78. DO YOU AGREE WITH THE IDEA OF THE UNITED NATIONS? Sorta kinda.
79. DO YOU BELIEVE IN KARMA? Not as I understand it. Some people never get what’s supposedly coming back around to them.
80. DO YOU AGREE WITH THE THEORIES OF MAN-INDUCED GLOBAL WARMING? Yes, but I’d probably disagree with AGW adherents about what to do about it.
81. DO YOU BELIEVE IN DEMOCRACY ABOVE ALL OTHER SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT? Democracy is a method. So far it seems to be the best method of protecting my rights, so yes.
82. DO YOU AGREE WITH FREDDIE MERCURY WHEN HE SINGS “FAT-BOTTOMED GIRLS YOU MAKE THE ROCKIN’ WORLD GO ROUND”? Yes, but so do non-fat-bottomed girls and so do boys. I believe that we all affect the Earth’s rotation in some way, however miniscule.
83. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CITY? See #59.
84. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SPORT? Soccer.
85. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE IN THE WORLD? How many different ways are you going to ask this question?
86. GIVE US A QUOTE TO END ON: Cicero: “Nescire autem quid antequam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.” To ignore what came before you is to forever remain a child.