Love that Dirty Water

Today marks the beginning of my Olympic career. This morning I went to Charles River Canoe & Kayak for the first of two introductory lessons on paddling. The class began at 8:30am on one of the small lawns that punctuate the Kendall Square biotech ghetto. There our instructor, Bob, led eight nervous adults through basic kayaking anatomy, including rudimentary rescue techniques.

Before long we were on the docks and in our boats. After a quick adjustment of the foot rests we were in the water practicing our forward strokes, side sweeps, backward sweeps, J-leans, bracing and edging. Our three-hour tour of the canal ended with three water rescues. I demonstrated flipping and re-entry first. Soon enough, I want to learn to roll. (I may need stronger obliques, though.)

With enough practice, hard work, and friendly support, I think I can make my splash in the world of competitive paddling within three years. Dear readers, kindly keep me honest. Look for me on the River again, tomorrow after work but before sunset.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Clean up at Fenway

Above: The Angels slew the Red Sox 11-0, but the score didn’t matter. Fenway is one of America’s great cathedrals. Being inside is always a religious experience for me. And a bad sermon can’t spoil the majesty of a truly sacred place. So, I say, “Take me out to that transcendent ball game. Let me be part of the crowd.”

The great rain divide at Fenway

Above: When the rains came late in the game, the crowd was parted in two: on the right there were those who were dry; on the left, those who loved so much.

Games: a Ludic Structure for Problem-Solving

Today I’ve decided to post a journal together with a longer paper about games. You hear all the time that we need to inject more play into education, that we need to return to childhood, etc. But why? You don’t as frequently hear why play is useful in education. People claim things like “If learning is fun, children will learn better.” I’m not sure of the connection. I suppose that if kids are engaged in learning, then they have a better chance of actually picking something new up than if they’re not trying to learn at all. That’s like saying if you look for something you have a better chance of finding it then if you don’t look at all. Sure, I buy that. But why play? By the same argument, we could just as easily pay kids to go to school and do their homework.

Of course some people do give reasons why play is useful. In these two papers, I’m building on some insights found in a 1933 paper by Lev Vygotsky entitled Play and its role in the Mental Development of the Child. (Vygotsky, you may well know, is one of my current heroes.) I remind the reader that in play, you can find all sorts of higher-order thinking skills taking place. Imaginary play is a very natural, distilled, abstractly difficult thing to do. Yet kids seem to do it on their own anyway, and before they even step foot in a classroom. If taught effectively, I think play is a useful vehicle for transfer of skills and tons of that ever-so-hot interdisciplinary work that goes on nowadays. (Wait until I get my genetic algorithmic music up and running.)

Journal 4 Journal 4: Methodological Doubt, Belief, and the Structure of Play

Paper 2 Reflection Paper 2: Decision-making as Game: A Mode of Prediction and Solution

Peter Elbow introduced concepts of methodological doubt and belief in his book Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. They’re central to his believing game and doubting game. Traditionally, doubt has been used as the primary tool in critical thinking. This unbalanced attention really makes a lot of analysis blind to new insights that can be gleaned from a moment of pure, suspended disbelief. (My ego won’t let me pass up an opportunity to say that both games show up automatically in my coffee mug model of classroom education.)

In my first paper I remark that all games require its participants to engage in the believing game—they have to believe that the rules imposed by the game are real and that the game itself is real. There are no consequences in any game if you don’t except them. You can always pick up the ball with your hands in soccer, unless you firmly believe that you can’t. For this reason, we might frame any situation as a game.

In the second paper, I extend my ideas to show that framing a situation as a game can greatly improve your power to predict behavior and arrive at winning strategies by simply considering the acceptable moves in your game. To illustrate my point, I work through a problem of the type sometimes given in consulting or computer science job interviews. The example shows, additionally, how mathematical reasoning (which I believe is no different than plain, old, vanilla reasoning) can be used to solve a problem without once using “math.”

As always, please comment freely. I’d love to get some feedback on this stuff.

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Current Event Mad Libs

So I’ve been itching to respond to retired Miami Heat’s Tim Hardaway’s full and public disclosure of his sweeping hatred. (If you missed it, check out the article on CBS Sportsline, for example.)

I’m not going to give some holier-than-thou exegesis of social ills or anything like that. There are too many others out there who’ve already done that for me. Besides that’s not how I roll. I’m going to leave up to you, the informed reader, to decide how you feel. I just want to situate his comments so that we’re in a better position to judge it. To begin, though, here’s what the AP reported Hardaway said:

You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.

The fact that Hardaway is commenting on gays is almost irrelevant. Let’s see how his words sound when we make a few substitutions.

You know, I hate black people, so I let it be known. I don’t like black people and I don’t like to be around black people. I’m blackophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.

Now how about another go at it?

You know, I hate blue-eyed people, so I let it be known. I don’t like blue-eyed people and I don’t like to be around blue-eyed people. I’m blue-eyedophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.

That could be funnier. Let’s fill in something outrageous.

You know, I hate iguanas and carrot cake, so I let it be known. I don’t like iguanas and carrot cake and I don’t like to be around iguanas and carrot cake. I’m iguana-and-carrot-cake-ophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.

Now, let’s try just one more time. Then you can go back to work.

You know, I hate dignity, so I let it be known. I don’t like dignity and I don’t like to be around dignity. I’m dignophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.

That’s it. Mull over what you’ve read, and report back on what you’ve learned from it.

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Kirkland wrecked me, and the Leverett team at large, tonight at IMs. David showed me how to alter my swing to get more power without using more. This came only minutes before my match, allowing little time to perfect my new technique. Even still, I’m not sure it would’ve helped much. My opponent had excellent court position and placement. I am encouraged, therefore, to take private lessons from the varsity coach once I graduate, find a job, and determine the feasibility based on time and money.

In the meantime, I took this quiz on the NOVA website about that silly E=mc^2 equation that everyone talks about. I was tricked by one of the questions.

Einstein appears to be the theme today. I met with Professor Strain to talk about possible final paper topics. After rejecting his initial offer (a proof of the previously thought impossible global solution to the vaccuum field equations by wave coordinates; they were thought — reasonably, it seems —, to diverge at inifinity.), we mulled over a casuality theorem due to Jacobi fields, or applications of PDE to mean curvature, finally arriving at the Hamiltonian formulation of GR. This is something that I really ought to understand. ADM mass, a quantity I now know and love, was originally proposed as a good definition of total mass because of its appearance by variational techniques. When explaining it, I like to use the nonlinearity of the field equations to eek out the self-interaction of gravitation. (This amounts to linearizing the theory and noting that these equations obey a linearized Bianchi identity, suggesting a conserved quantity.) I don’t know the calculus of variations, and, as a geometer, I should. And since I want to go into GR, this couldn’t make more sense.

Also, it seems, as my grandmother mentioned to me today, that Newton was an alchemist! I can’t but believe she’ll soon be concocting her own Philosopher’s Stone before long.

And mom, dad, and Janice, you can, if you want, purchase the complete DVD set of Sportsnight for me for Christmas.

If I Drank Coffee.

Thankfully, I’ve stopped drinking coffee before it became a habbit. You see, I try never to touch the stuff. And so, when I do, it does a number on me. You can ask some pre-law non-resident tutor Amy. I ran into her last night in the dining hall a full two hours after I had but one single cup of coffee. (The redundancy was for emphasis.)

By that time, of course, the effects of the drug had dissipated. On my way to section — I had stopped by the dining hall for cookies and coffee on my way to music section — I fantasized about what would happen should I continue drinking coffee. I would purchase a lizard, I thought. Frank — as that is what I called the lizard in my head at the time, though I noted carefully and to myself, that his name would depend essentially on his temperment and to call him Frank without regard to his personality would be unfair. For simplicity, I draw upon the stereotype that all lizards are called Frank. At least the hypothetical ones are, in much the same way humans use John or Bob as a common enough name when describing some abstract, fairly anonymous man. This stereotype, regarding the name Frank, is particularly less well-known in human spheres simply, I believe, very few of us speak any of the varieties of lizard; and few of them, human. So, you, kind reader, will excuse my use of the name Frank — he would sit upon my shoulder and sip my coffee. But, as my tastes are well set in their place, and for a generic lizard, as Frank is, we would almost certainly disagree on the ratio of sugar and cream to coffee. Being a lizard, he would demand more sugar. Lizards, you well know, have an insatiable sweet tooth. Between the caffeine and the fights with Frank, I’d lose too much sleep, never finish my thesis, and be forced, by a hypothetical lizard no less, into the navy for the next five years, never to rise above the rank of lieutenant junior grade.

Instead, I’ve turned to my collection of hats. For they and I bicker far less. Today my grey tuque and I purchased a very nice new set of jammers. They are navy blue with a yellow stripe down either side. You will note their accidental but happy coordination with my goggles.

The jammers wear like the skin of a seal that I onced clubbed and skinned while on a trip to a reservation in northern Oregon when visiting a friend who worked on a reservation investigating native forms of art, specifically vase painting, but also sculpture. When I swim in them I feel agile, and breathless, and deft. It’s like a good novel. But underwater and not on the back cover, breathless is a desperate adjective. I swam at the MAC, not having the patience to try out my new suit in at the Blodgett. The warmer water and heavy chlorination makes for dry skin. Even if that skin happens to have come from a seal.