Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Teaching Battle: 10 Things

This will be a post about 10 Good Things I'm doing as a teacher! But first, time for backstory!

Begin at the beginning, go until you come to the end. Then stop.

Last week, Mattie B (@stoodle) posted about Exorcising Teacher Demons. I read it, I nodded in complete understanding (it reminded me a bit of my less eloquent post Yi Can't Even), I tweeted at him, and I went about my day. Basically disregarding the "10 Things You're Doing Well This Year" portion of his post, because he seemed to have that well in hand. Also, that's what I do. I disregard positive things. Possibly because I don't want to get too happy lest depression will feel like a bigger crash, possibly because I have trouble believing things about myself... I dunno, I'm seeing a counsellor right now. Anyway.

Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) seized on that part of his post. She created her own list and hashtag for the idea. Which Tina Cardone (@crstn85) grabbed as a matheme. And then Jon Orr (@MrOrr_geek) started tagging people. Interesting, I thought. Maybe I'll keep a partial eye on this. Which is actually a big deal, as the "One Good Thing" blog is REALLY not something I'm into.

I think it was Andrew Gael (@bkdidact) that finally spurred me into action with his 10 Good Things He's Learned. From other people. It occurred to me that if other people have been saying good things about me at work, and I'm dismissive of it - that's rather rude. So okay. Let's do this.

My way.

Ten Good Things I'm Doing - along with the Reasons I'm Dismissive Of The Things - and Why That's Not Helpful. (Did I mention I was seeing a counsellor?)

All that said, I recommend not reading if: (1) You aren't the sort of person to see the bad in good things, because I don't want to put terrible ideas in your head; or (2) You're the type of person who gets annoyed when a talented person talks about how they lack talent. Because yes, I am liked and have a lot going for me, but I'm not convinced that actually makes me a good teacher. One who actually prompts learning. Still here? Okay then.

10. I am hella organized.

Most of my colleagues say I have great binders for courses. And while I do tend to lose things within an enclosed space, it is enclosed, and it turns up on the bottom of the stack eventually. Except this year I've been worse at that. Even a test went missing somehow. But I have more material and students to coordinate now, I'm getting older, and it's anomalies, not the norm.

9. I help with some student events.

Either supervising, or lending desks... I even got a 'thank you' card from student council. It had some math in it. Except I've been having to scale back this year, plus I'm just there, I don't really do anything. But being there is enough, and you're allowed to have a life outside school too.

8. I'm approachable for things.

"What are these 'emotions' you speak of?"
Students approach me for help with events. Today, the broadcasting students filmed a "live studio audience" in my classroom. Occasionally a student has even come to me with personal concerns. Except sometimes I have to turn people down! And I don't know how to handle emotions and stuff like that! I'm so much better with the organization and things! So I don't know that this is "good" at all!! But I seem to be handling it and haven't destroyed anyone's life yet.

7. I manage the anime club.

Both students and teachers have thanked me for this, the club having being called "the best ever" on a few occasions. Except I don't "manage", I only provide the space, supervision, and occasional old school anime. I didn't even start the club, just inherited it. But I have done things in the past, and even if I don't do much now, what I do is obviously enough.

6. I offer excessive extra help.

A teacher told me the other day that I was name dropped as someone who makes themselves available for math help at lunch and after school. Constantly. Except I just like talking math and it's setting a bit of a bad precedent, isn't it? People have to fend for themselves too. But not all the teaching can take place during classroom time.

5. I know the mathematics well.

Pictured: Research?
I mostly have my web serial research and twitter observations to thank for this, but also students themselves who've seen it in different ways. Which means I can, in theory, come up with good questions. Except when it comes to calculus and more math I've forgotten, plus there's a gap in Grade 10 which I haven't taught, and I struggle with Level 4 stuff. But I have colleagues to turn to for this if/as necessary.

4. I was asked to go on a trip to Edinburgh.

By a colleague - this was a school trip, with teenagers, in August, for theatre. Did I mention I like theatre? I was the only one on this trip without a son/daughter there. My guild named themselves the "Perfect Circles". Except I was out of my depth, really had no clue, no experience. But now I do.

3. I get personal thanks from former students.

Generally in the form of "thanks for passing me" (or "for giving me 75"), to which I always respond "you passed yourself, I don't do freebies". Though a couple months ago, a student came back with "you still helped, I liked the songs". I didn't have a counter to that one. Except... actually, no except here, still a bit floored.

2. I got a post-high-school email.

That was new this past year. It was a student I taught in Grade 11. She had a math question related to a review evaluation at her post-secondary institution. So, I helped, she thanked me, and she also said don't stop doing the songs. ... Another one I'm forced(?) to put in the "win" column.

1. I had half a high school singing a math song. Twice.

My third annual parody presentation at the holiday assembly last month had more audience participation than I ever expected - I didn't figure on matching the previous year. More than one person said they hope the video version gets thousands of hits. Except it has less than 20. But that doesn't mean it's bad, just that it works better locally or in person. Or for a fleeting moment in time. Which is probably what I want anyway, because I dislike being in the spotlight. Except if it's fleeting, it is still accomplishing what I want? Is it like my web serial, a curiosity, the message buried by the messenger, who is up there raving like a madman with a box plot? The content ultimately forgotten? Because that's not what I want. I want it to be more. I want it to be about the mathematics, not about me.

Got a long list of past students. They'll tell you I'm insane. 'Cause you know they loved the singing -- but that's not my aim.

I suppose the aim of this post was 10 Things though, and I've accomplished that! You may want to consider doing it yourself - though perhaps with a bit less of the self-doubt. As they say, and as I may at one point believe: "You got this."

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Delayed Gratification

As I sit here, staring at the non-existent hit counts on my weekly serial, it occurs to me just how much writing and teaching have in common. I have no idea which of those two categories you fit into, if either, so go with me here as I explain both. Do tell me if I'm full of it.


How many times does one throw blog links out on social media before one figures it's futile, no one's listening to you? Comparatively, how many times does one repeat a concept in class before figuring it's futile, no one's following you?

For me, the number is probably three.

In writing my serial, two tweets on Sunday, and one on Monday... maybe another on Tuesday if I'm desperate. (For Facebook, one post, then a couple reminders. Parody videos, same treatment.) If THAT doesn't get you to read... well, then I'm not as interesting or important as other stuff in your life that week, so fine.

In teaching mathematics, a couple times on a concept the first day, a follow up the next day... and maybe hit it harder during review if it's a key item. If THAT doesn't make it click... well, the exam panic might, so cramming. But that's not learning any more than binge reading an archive is the same as tuning in every week.

Every week, I'm teaching. Every week, I'm writing. To what end? Are people getting anything out of it?

Team 'Yes': There's always about 10% who are right there with you, saying you're making them think, questioning the plot logic or the mathematics. In the writing, I do get a tweet every few weeks, maybe a comment every couple months. (I need to acknowledge that to myself.) In the teaching, I seem to do better in terms of responses - along the lines of "I enjoyed that" - but the feedback is more immediate by definition.

Team 'No': There's always about 10% who will never really be with you. They look at the serial and say "What's the point of this?" and never return. Or at the mathematics and say "I don't understand" and you may not be able to explain it differently. (By the way, I maintain that it's not that a student can't do the math, they simply may not be able to do it in the time frame needed.) Again, I see more of this in the teaching... where it's a bit more of an issue because they're stuck with you.


Regrettably, this leaves up to 80% of friends/followers/students where you don't KNOW if you're making an impression. Or at least, you don't know within the first day/month/year of having presented something. For my writing, this has led to MANY posts, among them:
-If You Build It... So What
-The Pass in Passion
-Why Do You Blog?
-Why I Post
-Being The Outlier
-On Building An Audience
-Writing At The Intersection
-On Seeking Validation

(Yes, I whine a lot when I feel my passions are micro invalidated.) But then, just like writing, one doesn't necessarily know if one is making an impression when teaching either. One may not know until the student graduates. One may never know. Because in our age of "instant gratification", teaching - and writing - is very much a story of delayed gratification.

At the end of the day, I won't have the satisfaction of a working computer program, or a functional garage door, or having played to a sold out crowd. I guess I'll have the satisfaction of this post, but that doesn't mean it's even going to be read by anyone until June! (At which point it may get 50 views. Seriously, my dead web serial is now getting more daily views than my ongoing one. What is even the hell.) Similarly, merely because I teach something today, doesn't mean it's going to be understood by others until June either.

So what's the incentive to keep going? It needs to be more than routine, right? It even needs to be more than the 10%, doesn't it?

I think it's the personal touches that help to bridge the gap. When you can interact on a more one-on-one basis with students - or readers. Which is (of course) where I completely fall down on the writing side, as I always figure saying "READ & VOTE PLS!" means I'm bothering people. Which is sort of reinforced by social media gurus who say not to constantly tweet out links to your stuff.

The funny thing is, some students apologize for bothering me with math questions... and I almost never feel bothered. I like talking math, and I like even more if it helps them to understand something. So I'm not sure why I can't get past that mental block when the situation is reversed. (Maybe because I really am bothering? I mean, no one's forced you to sign up for my serials. Am I actually in anyone's reader out there??)

Oh well. As I say, this simply felt like an interesting link between writing and teaching. Patience, as always, is a virtue. And since I only have 5 views and 1 vote for the weekly web serial, there wasn't much point writing THAT tonight, so you got this instead. Thanks for reading, feel free to take me to task in the comments.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Four Webpages, One Post

I'm seeing a bunch of people wrapping up 2014 with a post summarizing their stats. That sort of thing tends to make me feel inadequate, as generally others seem to get more traffic, but possibly that's an illusion. So, what the heck, here's my statistics, reaching as far back into the past as I can. If my inadequacy is illusion, let me know, and if it's not, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're doing better than I am.

We can't all be right - or can we?

Of course, as the title says, I manage 4 webpages. Five if you include my personal page. Six if you include my course website. So let's break it down, starting with the oldest.


Google Site. Began: July 2011. Posts in 2014: 2.
Contained my math web serial until August 2012, by which point I'd migrated to the blog. Contained the index pages until personified math folded. Still houses my song parodies.
In the beginning, it updated twice every week for over a year. I don't recall why there was a spike (of 421) in Sept 2011. Bit of a spike in Sept 2013 too. Total of 617 sessions for all of 2014, and 3,719 sessions all time.


Blogger Site. Began: June 2012. Posts in 2014: 22.
Continued my math web serial until May 2014, when I ended it.
In the beginning, it updated twice every week. In 2014, it scaled back to once per week, until it ended. The peak was in November 2013 (1,264 views). October 2014 spiked up with more views than January 2014 for no reason I can fathom. All time total of 20,042 page views. (With 160 total posts, an average of 125 per post, but many of the between-arc posts skew that.)


Blogger Site. Began: August 2012. Posts in 2014: 56.
It's been reinvented a few times, but there's never been a month without a posting.
The peak in January 2014 (over 5,000) is artificial, that's when I went through and updated all my tags, and for whatever reason (bots?) they counted as hits. July 2014 is the real high mark, at 4,005 page views, when I had 18 posts. What baffles me is no month for 2014 was below 2,250 views - even if I had only one post that month. If only my web serial had been so lucky. All time total of 55,465 page views. (With 174 total posts - not including this one - that's 319 per post... which is weird, since aside from CMEF at 611 and TrigGate at 417, everything else is below 340.)


Wordpress Site. Began: August 2014. Posts in 2014: 24.
My new web serial, not math related. Has updated once every week without fail (except over Christmas).
There were 499 views before January, over the four months it existed. So there's a while to go yet.

I suppose there's enough evidence to say that my mathematics web serial wasn't as much of a failure as I thought, given how it's still getting some hits. Even so, the lack of engagement was enough to make me move on at the time. I'm also sure I'm misinterpreting some of the data; Facebook also tends to taunt me with messages like the following every few months, despite the Math-Tans page having only 18 likes:

Anyway, if you're doing better than me on stats, pat yourself on the back. If you're not doing better than me, perhaps it's an issue of volume. If it's not that - keep at it, we all had to start somewhere.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

AMV Friday Roundup IIII

It began the last Friday of September, 2013. It ended 52 weeks later. It's Anime Music Video Friday (#AMVFriday), as tweeted from @mathtans.

Some artwork really impresses me.

See here: the first recap post (1-12), the second recap post (13-24), the third recap post (25-40), and now for the first time in one place, this post, the last set... plus a little bonus at the end.

Why did I stop? Largely because I now have a new project, a serial where I try to get people to vote for choices every week. Check it out! AMVFriday is also a project that took more time than one might realize, depending on the videos that did (or did not) turn up when searching. Remember, there were requirements to make the cut.

What requirements? Same as before:  1) Not a Slideshow; 2) Posted by (or with permission of) Creator; 3) Low View Count; 4) Few Subtitles; 5) Single Song -or- Single Anime. In the list, the anime remains listed first, then the song. The boldfacing still shows the search term. Let's get to it.


41) Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Song: Atop the Fourth Wall Theme (Vincent E.L.)
Channel: CaptainLhurgoyf's channel
Views on Jul 4: 1,225

*42) Anohana (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai).
Song: We Used to Wait (Arcade Fire)
Channel: nicolio1313
Views on Jul 11: 2,153
* The first ever suggestion from someone

43) Vividred Operation. Song: Kill Everybody (Skrillex)
Channel: G9eekK
Views on Jul 4: 332

44) Sailor Moon. Song: Canadian Idiot (“Weird Al” Yankovic)
Channel: chibilenne
Views on Jul 25: 6,177

45) 5 Centimeters Per Second. Song: Hello Again (The Gregory Brothers)
Channel: Breeman AMV
Views on Aug 1: 1,404

46) Various! Song: Touch You Right Now (Basic Element)
Channel: ElGranEmprendedor
Views on Aug 8: 422

47) Toradora! Song: Roll To Me (Del Amitri)
Channel: MomoTheStrange
Views on Aug 15: 2,159

48) Highlander: The Search for Vengeance. Song: The Evil That Men Do (Iron Maiden)
Channel: JECtheStampede
Views on Aug 23: 4,711

49) Various! Song: Year of Summer (Wildstylez)
Channel: marbilSWE
Views on Aug 29: 893

50a) Various! Song: Release Me (Agnes Carlsson)
Channel: Janae Roop
Views on Sep 5: 4,015

50b) Jormungand. Song: Bulletproof (LaRoux remix)
Channel: Wakibozu
Views on Sep 5: 3,668

50c) Various! Song: Bulletproof (La Roux) vs Release Me (Agnes Carlsson)
Channel: YunaLuv1 .
Views on Sep 5: 361

51) Tokyo Mew Mew. Song: Ike Ike (Hinoi Team)
Channel: TarriThief
Views on Sep 12: 149

52) Natsuiro no Sunadokei. Soundtrack: 7 Days TV Theme
Channel: Gregory Taylor
Views on Sep 19: 6


53) Various! Song: Auld Lang Syne
Channel: i3orje
Views on Dec 30: 1,021

If you search #AMVFriday on Twitter, you can see the blurbs I posted with each AMV. If you want to comment, do so below. Thanks for joining me on the video experience!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Avoid American Airlines

Let’s meet American Airlines. AmerAi will lose your bags, but more to the point, will not communicate well with you about the problem. For me, this problem included being on a cruise ship near the equator with little more than the clothes I was wearing from the north. For you, it could spoil your vacation. I recommend you avoid American Airlines.

This may be information you already know, but I’m not a frequent flyer.

Granted, part of the larger issue is corporations. While individual employees may be nice, they are trapped within a corporate model which does not care, and has no incentive to provide any information that might result in them losing money. Plus, the more hoops you have to jump through, the more likely it becomes that you will give up - and they win. Why some consider corporations “people” is a mystery to me. Consider how corporations used to have mascots, but now they’re going more impersonal, almost to emphasize this “shut up with your problems” philosophy.

With airlines in particular, we’re seeing a minimalist take on logos... I think in part because those things are expensive to draw. (See this article about Porter Airlines going the other way.) Regardless, getting upset at individual employees is no use, they’re doing what they can from behind a desk. I want someone larger, someone I can talk to right now about what happened - even if it's a personified logo, which amounts to talking with myself. Feel free to listen in.


So, as I said at the start, let’s meet Amerai. And discuss what you can expect if you fly with him... that is, American Airlines.

Amerai: We know why you fly! The new American is arriving!

Right. First of all, I’m not American, I’m Canadian. More to the point, what’s the deal with losing the luggage of me and my family? We had to board a cruise ship with no shorts, no swimsuits, no suntan lotion, no-

Amerai: You must have had a stopover en route. We need, I dunno, say, 3 hours to transfer bags between flights. Everyone knows that, so it’s your fault.

One of our nine bags made it. Implying the others could have.

Amerai: Seriously? Huh. Yeah, well, it’s not like we know which bags are grouped together.

All nine bags had bright “Priority” tags, for flying first class. And by the way, you had to ask some of us to take a downgrade, since the airplane you provided didn’t have enough first class seats.

Amerai: You rich people! Just get your business people to contact mine.

I’m not rich, I’m a math teacher. We took the upgrade because this was a Christmas vacation, and it also seemed to me like this would prevent the lost baggage problem.

Amerai: You’re a bit of an idiot then, aren’t you.

Optimist, maybe, but this is why I fear for other people taking American Airlines. But let’s move on. It took 48 HOURS for the bags to reach their intended destination. By this point, of course, our cruise ship had changed ports twice, but why such a delay?

Amerai: What delay? That’s normal. Didn’t we provide you with a little ’Spa in the Sky’ kit to tide you over?

The kit had no clothing in it, a third of the stuff was for shaving which isn’t useful given my beard, and the carbon copy note implying you cared felt a bit offensive.

Amerai: How about a clothing allowance, sometimes we do that.

We WERE left a message saying we had $200 per person, but we later discovered this had not been flagged on our account. Also, we’re on a ship. There isn’t a typical pharmacy around for MILES. On top of THAT, we’re travelling to ports which are using the euro and peso, not the dollar, necessitating conversions.

Amerai: I can’t see how any of that is our problem.

Seriously?! You put us in that situation! Actually, I feel bad for women in this case - there was almost NOTHING for them in stores on board the ship. Except purses and jewellery. And even in a major department store in port, we couldn’t find decent shorts - the only pairs they had cut off above the thigh. Seriously! And the skirts were all above the knee! Sexism seems to be alive and well.

Amerai: I KNOW that’s not our problem. Are we done yet?

How about the fact that I’m on vacation, and you’re forcing me to track receipts??

Amerai: You’re such a complainer. No one’s forcing you to do anything, I’m fine with not giving you any money. So unless you have an actual concern to address, I’m leaving.


Communication. That was my actual concern. We filed the paperwork at the airport before heading for our ship, and were left a phone number, but it didn’t seem to be much use. You also didn’t email. In fact if it weren’t for the cruise line coordinating things, probably nothing would have happened. They were ten times better to us than you were, American Airlines!

Amerai: Well, cruise lines, it’s their job.

It’s NOT your job to track lost luggage? To advise travellers? To try to get them the bags YOU LOST?!

Amerai: Nope. I mean, maybe I’ve got some peons - er, employees - who do that sort of thing. Probably. I’ll look into that for you, all right?

Sigh. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that if the bags had arrived within 24 hours, there’s every chance they could have been forwarded on to a major port, and we could have had them in less than three days. As they didn’t, we were advised that the alternative would be forwarding them onwards on Dec 23rd, to the port where we’d be landing on the 25th. Christmas. Five days into our trip.

Amerai: So we give you your bags on Christmas. Aren’t we nice?

We were told on the 23rd that the bags - the Priority First Class bags - were still in our original port. That they MIGHT still be sent onwards on the 24th IF there was room in a plane.

Amerai: So we told you that much.

We found this out through our cruise line. You know, if there is a problem, you could at least be courteous and tell us what the problem is!

Amerai: The problem is that we’re having to pay extra here to send the bags on another airline. It’s inconvenient. How rude that you’re not seeing our side.

Uh huh. We even started to think you wouldn’t “find space” until the 26th, and that you would send them on then, after we’d left port. Such that we’d have to make new phone calls on Christmas Day telling you not to do something so stupid.

Amerai: Pfft, like you’d get through on Christmas. So did we send them on too late then?

You not knowing implies this is the sort of thing you’re likely to do.

Amerai: Maybe. I’m infallible, of course, being a corporation, but it’s my employees who can be idiots. So, did we send your bags on too late?

You didn’t. We did get our bags on the 25th, which is the only reason this post isn’t titled “American Airlines Attack On Christmas”. Seeing as our presents were in our luggage.

Amerai: There you go then.

But since we didn’t know where our luggage was most of the time, we were still having to buy supplies we already had on Dec 24th. Swimsuits. A pair of black shoes. All of this adding to the total and costing YOU money.

Amerai: It only costs us money if you try to claim it.

Right, that’s the other “pass the buck” thing here. We were told back in port that we had to make the claim at the end of our trip, in Canada. We were told THERE that they used to be able to do this sort of thing, but cannot any more. We have to submit everything centrally, through the mail. In both cases, the actual people took pity on us but said there was nothing they could do, these were the policies.

Amerai: Just wait until you send everything in. We’ll likely claim we didn’t get it, blame the fact that you’re Canadian sending things across the border, and then say that the 30 day window has expired. Hah!

You also charged us luggage fees, on an INTERNATIONAL flight, for bags we barely had. Saying that this would also have to be reimbursed later. Maybe. I hate you.

Amerai: I know. But at least there’s others who love us.

I can only hope they won’t after reading this.

Amerai: Haha! It’s funny because you think people read your blog.

Airca: Bet you wish you’d flown with us now, huh?

Air Canada, your only flight down to our destination went once per week. Coordinating that wasn’t feasible. And your track record is a bit spotty too. Though - and I can’t believe I’m saying this - you are better by comparison. Even Air Europa, which once literally closed an embarkation door in my face, saying we couldn’t board because our luggage hadn’t made the transfer, was nicer by comparison. Because Air France, their parent company, got us to our destination that day, and our bags reached us 24 hours later.

Amerai: I will point out that if WE’D refused you boarding here, you would have missed your cruise entirely. So points to us for that.

Seriously? You want points? Because you didn’t merely let one family member travel, and hold back the rest of us?? Rather than find the other 8 bags with the big PRIORITY stickers on them?!?

Amerai: Don’t be silly. We wouldn’t have loaded his bag at all, and would have claimed not to know what you meant.

Airca: Hey, I think I got a compliment in there! Yay!

Amerai: Look, “customer”, you’re blowing things out of proportion. We airlines, we’re all the same. We lose bags. It’s what we DO. Wise up.

I know. We've said I can be an optimist. We've also said I’m not on you about the loss, it’s HOW YOU DEAL with people who face that which is important. So important. Especially for a vacation. And you botched it. Big time.

Amerai: I don’t think so. You got your bags. This is a difference of opinion. And since I’m obviously not going to change your mind, that’s it, we are DONE here.

Oh, we are. We are done with American Airlines. Forever and ever, I hope. At least, once I’ve submitted all these receipts. >.<

On the bright side, I was with family, and we made the most of a taxing situation. Also, the islands were amazing. This just wasn’t what I expected for my first full vacation away from work in, not joking, sixteen months.

It happened to me. It could happen to you. Avoid American Airlines.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Yi Can't Even

I feel like I’m nearing the end of my rope. I should be marking papers right now, as lord knows marks are due Friday morning and probably the only way I’ll have everything done is to put in a minimum of 50 hours of work this week, so I should damn well start, but I can’t even. So, hey, I’ll blog, because it sort of makes me happy. I’ll even publish, in the chance it could be of benefit to other teachers (or sociologists) in some way, shape or form.

Historical Context: I used to see professionals for depression back in University, then again after moving to a new city, which was shortly after becoming a teacher. In both cases it wasn’t related to teaching, but in retrospect, perhaps it’s amazing I’ve now beenso long without needing to talk to anyone in a professional capacity. I am presently on a waiting list and I have support systems in place. So don’t panic about me. Yet.

With that said, here’s a list of the reasons that I can’t even.

a) I feel like my I’ve botched things with respect to my grand plans for seating this year. The randomizing is now spastic at best, disregarded at worst, and I don’t have the energy to restart with a new system. Physically, mentally, I’ve got nothing left. But I hate that I’ve given up.

b) I feel like the students who are presently being successful would be just as good with another teacher, and that the students who are not being successful would be better served by another teacher. And the more down I feel, the easier that is to believe, because I’m obviously not at the top of my game.

c) I feel like so many more students need extra help than those that actually come; at the same time, I know I can’t help everyone, and I hate that too. I also don’t like that we’re reaching a point where I may have to step away myself, possibly right when people need me. (That’s a large part of why I’m doing what I can to check in with myself, and why I’m actually writing this post rather than staring aimlessly at the ceiling. Come to think, I’m trying to help myself more to avoid letting others down, than for me.)

d) I feel like so few are actually doing any math work outside of class. (In one class they even asked me to check homework, for greater accountability.) I feel like it’s not because they don’t care, but because they don’t see the need, and they’re wrong, they’re so wrong, and it’s on me for not making them realize how important it is to practice constantly - not just before a test. Or if it’s because they don’t care... why am I unable to inspire caring? Why can’t I fix that?

e) I feel unable to keep one step ahead, despite how I need to be two steps ahead for certain IEP (Individualized Education Plan) students. Because it feels like everything is going to change by the end of the day anyway. (Because people won’t be there, or won’t have practiced, or won’t understand.)

f) I feel like the entire education system is becoming a vehicle for field trips, and extra-curriculars, and personally excused absences - which wouldn’t be so bad if learning content was still a part of it, but that’s only a priority right before a test. Students can’t learn through exploration if they’re NOT THERE to explore; they have to be told on the next day (that they’re present). Going back over things because half the class was absent and another quarter weren’t paying attention is getting tiring. Worse, it’s making the math less fun for me, which scares me.

g) I feel like I can’t do anything for myself, because it only leads to guilt over not doing what I need to do at work. (The exception to this being my serial, because that’s something I enjoy that I’ve committed to.) I haven’t written up my last AMV post here. Or my summary of CanCon, now a month old. Nor have I been able to read the serials of others. I have song parodies in my head I cannot work on. So not only is my teaching below par, so are my hobbies. I think there’s a snake eating it’s own tail here.

h) I feel like society as a whole doesn’t care about teachers. (Thanks TIME magazine!) I’m currently teaching under a provincial contract that ran out at the end of August. Granted, two years ago when that happened the Ontario Government exacted legislation forcing us back to work (even though we were already going to work), turning public opinion against us. They haven’t done anything so monumentally stupid this time. But I’ve seen what happened out in British Columbia. With a liberal government, no less. There are negotiation issues that float through my head periodically.

Basically, I feel tired. Not tired in the sense that I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, tired in the sense that if I’m just going through the motions, in the end, what’s the point. In that vein, excuse me in advance if I don’t jump to respond to any comments that might come up. But if you see something I’m missing here, feel free to speak up. Similarly, if you think posting this in public is a really BAD idea, advise me.

Final note: On the off chance you think it’s relevant, I’m listed as teaching for 7 years. My first year teaching was at a private school (doesn’t count for seniority), I did substitute teaching for 3 years (doesn’t count for seniority), then I got part-time work (doesn’t count as a full year of teaching)... so if you want to get technical, I’ve been doing the teaching thing for over 10 years now. Maybe I’ve simply hit a wall. But even there, is this wall is one of my own design, or not?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Time Travel: CanCon 2014

This is a summary of the “Can We Time Travel?” panel from CanCon 2014. I learned about the Canadian Content Literary Convention last year, and previously blogged about that experience. I still plan to do some blogging on this year’s panels, but life is as crazy as ever. Particularly with me releasing 2,000 words every week in my “Choose Your Own Adventure” serial. (Feel free to check it out. Just saying.)

That said, priorities. Time travel has been my thing since Grade School! (It’s even a feature in my serial - where you can vote to influence my writing! Just saying.) So, if time travel is your thing too, or you simply want some perspectives on it, read on.

Panel Room, CanCon


The panel “Can We Time Travel? 10 Different Answers” occurred at 1pm on Saturday, Oct 4. (Or did it? Time is relative... no, ok, it did. As we understand it.) Professor Peter Watson (of the University of Ottawa) presented for about 45 minutes regarding that question. His first answer: Probably not. He started by running down the reasons why not - it’s forbidden by increase of entropy. By relativity. By logic. By cosmic censorship (according to Hawking). Alternatively, it’s possible in theory, but impractical as regards energy required. Or perhaps it’s irrelevant, because time is an illusion. For the rest of the session, he broke each of those arguments down, as follows.

Pictured: Not Now
The BIGGEST problem: Why is there a “NOW”? Our mental model of time (a linear model) sees time as a sequence of events. But in physics, time is a parameter, there is no ‘now’. Further to that, what tells us the direction of time? We like to think of “order moving towards disorder” (2nd law of thermodynamics) - is this why we think we can only go forward in time? Yet a refrigerator DECREASES entropy... as long as you plug it in (energy source needed). Peter Watson showed some videos to challenge our usual way of thinking (one of them from the show “Red Dwarf”).

What about paradox preventing time travel? First, why is it “the Grandfather Paradox” when you’re much more likely to know who your mother is than your grandfather? (Sexism? An aversion to killing your mother?) There’s also the “Where are they” paradox, in that we should now see time travellers back from the future, if they’re going to exist. Well, the ‘Many Worlds Theory’ takes care of such issues... while simultaneously being the most untestable and uneconomical theory ever. (Uneconomical because of the exponential explosion off of every action. Related to the notion of parallel Earths.)


Pictured: Not quite what I mean
What about time as a fourth dimension? This is a vague concept. However, “light cones” allow us to map worldlines in a geometrical way. Picture yourself standing somewhere. You cannot exceed the speed of light, so even after a second has elapsed, we can still pinpoint your movement on a plane within a circle, the radius of which is the maximum distance you could reach. Now continue this process using time as the fourth dimension, and we get a cone, the tip of which is your starting position. All your possible futures exist within this cone. Now, can we time travel? Can we arrange for these world lines to be closed, or to intersect back on themselves?

Having turned a vague question into something specific, Einstein said NO. Conversely, Godel invented a universe where time travel is not only possible but compulsory - but it’s not our universe (it has a centre). We DO know that gravity can twist the light cone... and if you’re close to a black hole, all your possible futures involve falling into it. (“Event horizon”: The place where no events happen. Because to an external observer, there is no time.) So a Tipler Cylinder, which is infinitely massive and rotating fast CAN achieve a world line wrapping back on itself - but there’s a technical problem here. It would be made of matter a trillion times denser than an atomic nucleus. Also, more critically, the math breaks down if it becomes a finite cylinder.

Also possible: Bake Time. We clear?

So perhaps we can construct wormholes, bending space to get around the issue of massive infinities. First problem, it would allow for instantaneous communication across space (bad because... I’m not sure. Sound barrier?). Second problem, it requires negative energy to construct one. Thus probably cannot be done in practice. Perhaps then, time simply flows, using the analogy of a river, rather than existing as a separate dimension. In reality though, that isn’t useful beyond an analogy, because “rate of change” (or flow) is per unit time... so then is time “the amount of time that passes you in a given time frame”? (One second per second?)

At around this point, it was pointed out that if free will doesn’t exist, time travel is certainly possible, but it’s not very interesting. (Destiny becomes unchangeable.) Reference here to “Slaughterhouse-Five”, a SciFi novel with a war message (or vice versa), when Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time. Of note, the aliens tell Billy that free will is a very human concept. There was also mention of the idea that dreams release us from linear time (and some stories do mental time travel), but then is time just an illusion? (Lunchtime doubly so?)

Well, if illusion is involved, we’re certainly not aware of the alternative. Much like asking a fish what their opinion is about water. Put another way, is a freeway ordered in time? As you move along it, events (locations) will occur at particular times - and we could return to earlier events - but this is merely mixing up spatial position with our speed. Moreover if time IS an illusion, how can we measure it to such fantastic accuracy? Why do we even care about it?

Peter’s conclusion to “Can We Time Travel?”: I wish I knew.


Peter Watson (who, by the way, teaches a course about this) then took questions for the last 10 minutes or so. I asked about the problem of an Anchor Point (which appears in my own stories). Given how we’re constantly in motion (on Earth’s axis, around the sun, etc), how can you pinpoint location along with time? Peter basically agreed that 99.9% of the time you should travel to empty space, and he’s not sure how Doctor Who manages it. (Makes me wonder if a machine itself needs to act as an anchor point, or if it can be mobile.)

Another teacher (Richard Taylor, at Merivale) asked about gravitational conventions. Zero is the baseline, so negative gravity CAN occur close to a planet, how does that affect calculations? Peter countered that it’s technically negative curvature, not negative energy. At least, that was the bit I understood. Those were the main questions I remembered. There was also a mention of “Meta Time”, the idea that big time jumps may be possible (over centuries) while little jumps are not (over years or hours), and perhaps that’s the reason we don’t see future time travellers.

The image makes sense if you know my serial.
Someone also asked Peter what he might recommend in terms of Time Travel fiction. In addition to “Slaughterhouse 5”, he had previously mentioned “All You Zombies” (by Robert A. Heinlan) and “River of Time” (by Jorma Kaukonen). Peter finished with a slide of a number of literary options, so a few more: “The Time Machine” (HG Wells), “Times Arrow” (Marin Amis), "Einstein’s Dreams" (Alan Lightman). There were also Non-Fiction books for the subject, which includes “Time Machines” by Paul J. Nahim - a book I read back in University when writing my own stories. (Apparently J. Ouellette has also written about the Physics of the Buffyverse.) With respect to movies, Peter said one of the best is “Sliding Doors”, and one of the worst is “Hot Tub Time Machine”.

To close off this post, it would seem that the one place we CAN “time travel” is in works of fiction. (Like my serial. Just saying.) It’s so dreamy. Oh, fantasy free me. ... Okay, at the least, I hope you don’t feel like the time you took going through this post was time wasted. If you have other thoughts, mention them below!