Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What plague do you wish on your enemies?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. As we near the end of the semester, I am asking the truly deep and personality-revealing questions:

What plague do you wish on your enemies?

Traditionalists:
  • darkness
  • bubonic plague
  • bugs (pun intended)
  • boils!!
  • locust swarm
  • black (bubonic) plague
Tradition with a bit of a twist:
  • really cuddly locusts
  • flaming dog rain
  • hairless cats
  • bees?
Dark or too honest:
  • endless Mondays & cumulative finals
  • long Sharples lines
  • my life
  • misery
  • life
  • perspective
  • classes where you learn nothing & never get any grades back
Not really feeling malicious today:
  • teddy bears
  • plague them with love
  • none
  • happy and healthy lives
  • pass
  • N/A
  • no plagues
Earnest and unsortable plagues:
  • having to deal with people like them
  • P=NP nightmares
  • man-eating snowmen
  • piece of hair always stuck in mouth
  • very droppy icicles form around them and often lightly stab them
  • eternally dry eyes
  • your face turns into a plague doctor mask with the beaks and stuff
  • a case of mitosis, aggressive osmosis

I am fond of "piece of hair always stuck in mouth" as a low-level continual irritation which is not directly harmful, but definitely the sort of thing to wish on an enemy. The icicles also earns points for convoluted (preplanned?!) detail. However, the winner must be "eternal ear wax" which is something we all have, but I guess as a plague it would be unusually bountiful?


This post's theme word is vouchsafe (v. tr.) "to grant or give something as if as a favor" or (v. intr.) "to condescend." I vouchsafed to post the homework several days early, to raucous applause.

What is the most interesting weather?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. The questions are informed by recent events, course material, and whatever else bubbles out of my mind. It's been raining here, so...

What is the most interesting weather?

This question turned out to be an interesting survey of basically "what is the most interesting weather you have witnessed?" for many people.

Among the actual-weather/climate answers, artisanally hand-sorted by semantic nearness:
  • sunny
  • sunny rain
  • warm rain
  • raining when I know I'm gonna be indoors
  • pouring rain
  • light snow
  • snowing
  • fluffy snow
  • lake effect snow, i.e., a mile wide band of several feet of snow (with areas on either side getting nothing)
  • falling ash / magnificent sunsets during fire season (the closest SoCal gets to snow)
  • hail
  • "wintery-mix"
  • thunderstorms
  • thunder
  • fog in the daytime
  • dense fog
  • cloudy
  • partly cloudy
  • when there are wavy lines on the horizon
  • the season of inverse monsoons
  • hurricane season; sometimes you get hail
  • tornado; -- sky turns green
  • all weather's interesting
  • lava
I am astonished to learn that there is something real called "fire season". It sounds straight out of fiction. I'm not sure if "inverse monsoons" are real, but on balance the term seems believable so I've grouped it there. (If it's a cultural reference I've missed then... oops.)



The non-literal answers were fun, too.
  • when justice rains from above
  • the day I find my dad (<-- a="" across="" answer="" attendance...="" cropped="" days="" enough="" feel="" frequently="" has="" i="" is="" li="" many="" narrative="" student="" tell="" that="" the="" this="" to="" trying="" up="">
  • bees
  • oobleck (ooblick?)
  • the heat death of the universe
  • cats & dogs
  • raining cats and dogs
  • blood
  • whether or not P=NP (<-- 5="" another="" hand-annotated="" li="" on="" one="" stars="" student="" this="">
  • the dying hurricane on Jupiter

Several of these elicited guffaws, in particular those which played on the expectation that weather falls from the sky: blood?! bees! lava?!?! 

The teacher's preference award is tied this time between the weather/whether-P=NP joke and lava.

Congrats, everyone! Come back later this week and the beginning of next for the final two rounds of our silly contest.


This post's theme word is inspissate (v. tr., intr.), "to thicken or condense." The fine droplets of lava were manageable weather until they began to inspissate and collate, at which point the danger escalated quickly.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What are you thankful for?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. Seasonally themed: What are you thankful for?

"Family" came in a clear winner, closely followed by "friends" (often "family & friends"). Many people offered other sincere answers:

  • the morning sun
  • life
  • serotonin
  • an education
  • the hw deadline being pushed back
  • comedy
  • the upcoming winter vacation
  • breaks, and how soon the next one is
  • life
  • stability
  • sleep
  • naps!


Notable exceptions:
  • naps!
  • pajamas
  • corn
  • plastics
  • HOT WATER
  • our reptilian overlords
I'd like to combine these into one giant, vacation-fever-dream-during-a-nap dream sequence.


This post's theme word is paragmenon, "the juxtaposition of words that have the same roots. Examples: sense and sensibility, a manly man, the texture of textile." A false future paragmenon perpetrated by misled linguists: friendly family, family friend.

Family quips

Gather sufficient clever and verbose people together, and the resulting tumult of verbiage will dazzle and astound. And, I hope, amuse. Here is a selection of quotes from a recent family gathering --- keep in mind, these were only in conversations I witnessed*, and these were only the things I remembered long enough to jot down. I've interspersed other notes, not quotes, of things that happened.

"I made it sweet for you! ... sweet with chili beans."

"Why is your foot so far away from your body?"
"... I don't know."

"Look, you have all these ingredients, you have to use them all..."

"They made that noise, you know, like when someone chews with their mouth open the week before you get your period and you just want to smack them like aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa."

A rederivation, on the fly and from first principles, of cold-smithing techniques for certain metals.

"I'm telling you, Mom, I'm not going to adopt a child this fiscal year."

"No, no, it's a theoretical machine that I carry around in my brain."

Regarding sourdough starter:
"You feed the baby, but first you discard half the baby and make sure the other half hasn't died."
"I think nurturing a baby and yeast are a little different."

There was a point in the evening when all the some adults took out their smartphones and installed Snapchat, and then started trying to have snapchat interactions. Hilariously. (I think the youths did not appreciate the situational comedy.)

Pedantry about "=":
"Ernie's mastery of breads and baking! ... it's unequalled in the Western hemisphere. But you don't know how many decimal places we're using to measure."

"That just looks like something you took out of a dumpster."
"Initially, yes, but..."

"It was so nice to see you --- I was so impressed that at one time I fell asleep." (Said without sarcasm.)

Just before the (brief) break for this USian holiday, the students on my course message board asked, "What is a Fontes Thanksgiving like"? These same industrious and forum-using students also posted a poll whose results revealed that several of the students read this blog. This post goes out to you, then, my students: you are almost done with me (this semester), but for now you remain in my pedagogical clutches and I remain tethered to your minds, trying to squeeze in more knowledge in the scant remaining weeks.

*I'm a possible confounding factor here, I acknowledge that.


This post's theme word is fissiparous (adj), "tending to break into parts" or "reproducing by biological fission." The Fissiparous Fonteses are feared far and near.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What animal goes on your family crest?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question. I try to pique their interest, spark their imagination, and give them a chance to make a silly joke. I try. Student responses, as you have seen, vary.

What animal goes on your family crest?

Actual animals, ranging from more standard crest-fare to less:

  • wolf
  • lion
  • dragon
  • my dog
  • a husky (no, not ripping off the Starks. We have a husky)
  • shiba 💙
  • my pet parakeet Snowwhite
  • llama
  • a camel
  • a very small cat
  • a mole
  • penguin
  • blind molerat
  • the worst one
  • dodo bird
  • the best one

Not animals, but apparently crest-worthy:

  • pillows
  • plants

Opting out:

  • I don't have a family crest
  • what is a family crest?

I appreciate the extra detail in the description "a fox between theater masks," although additional style points would be awarded for use of crest descriptors like "rampant", "X on a field of Y", or "X quartered with Y".

This week's winner is pink fairy armadillo. I'd join in a parade with such a crest.


This post's theme word is brummagem (adj), "cheap and showy," or (n), "something that is counterfeit or of inferior quality." My homebrew crest was a visually-incomprehensible brummagem of assorted flourishes, animals, figures, geometric shapes, and other crests.

What is the first word you spoke aloud?

I take attendance by having the students answer a question.

What is the first word you spoke aloud?

  • cheese
  • cat
  • mommy
  • app
  • photosynthesis
  • 为什么 
  • 역ㅯ
  • 丈子
  • 日本語
  • clock
  • 仍叮
  • ni
  • yo
  • 丈马
Apologies if I mis-transcribed the non-Latin characters. I'm pretty sure that "app" was a joke, but I am suspicious that this is not outside the realm of possibility.


This post's theme word is pullulate, "to sprout or breed," or "to swarm or teem," or "to increase rapidly." The pullulating family featured many ullulating infants.

Monday, November 21, 2016

If you were a superhero/villain, what would your catchphrase be?

I take attendance by having students answer a question.

If you were a superhero/villain, what would your catchphrase be?

Halfhearted heroism:
  • I tried :P
  • I feel like I need to say something but I don't really know (<-- about="" an="" anticlimax...="" li="" talk="">
  • You stop that!
  • Save me.
  • Life is so complicated. (<-- a="" and="" arriving="" at="" chaos="" himself="" i="" imagine="" just="" li="" madness.="" of="" ongoing="" scene="" superman="" surveying="" the="" to="" tutting="" wreckage="">
  • "And have a good day!"
  • No.
  • Ugh, I guess I'll help you if I have to.
  • "I'm not that kind of superhero; please stop asking me to fly."
  • eh, maybe tomorrow
Mathy (and I'm not sure what the accompanying costume or scenario is):
  • min flow
  • P = NP
  • "If a vertex cover is polynomial time reducible to..."
  • I am a CS major
Onomatopoeia:
  • Give me the meatloaf, pow!
  • beep boop
  • meep
  • swagsauce swagu
  • Bananana
  • pow
  • Gotcha!
Entertaining:
  • "CATCHPHRASE!!"
  • Student X wrote: "ITS helpdesk, this is X how can I help you"
  • "I'mma let you finish... but Beyoncé had one of the best music videos of all time!"

The winner was a repeat-offender-for-sarcasm, whose catchphrase, "a pun so infuriating it distracts my enemies," leaves a lot to the imagination while still conveying the right smug tone for a catchphrase. And not really committing to heroism or villainy. (Although some might argue that the entire punnish approach puts it squarely in "villainy".)


This post's theme word is desuetude, "a state of disuse." He heaved himself out of the recliner and said, in a voice cracking from desuetude, "If humanity needs me again, I can come out of retirement and be Superman. Again." then sighed melodramatically.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pride in teaching

SCENE 1: to the victor the spoils, to the curious the puzzles

Interior hallway, mid-day. LILA is walking purposefully to a meeting.

STUDENT 1: Will you be around later? I think I solved that puzzle you told me but I want to check and see if you can break it with more counterexamples.

STUDENT 2: How are you giving out secret puzzles? This seems unfair.

LILA: Anyone can come ask me for puzzles, I have a lot of problems I want to solve. Come to my office hours!

SCENE 2: wherein educational goals are satisfied

The scene is set: office hours, Friday afternoon. The campus is quiet as students flee for the weekend. Only the truly education-seeking students remain, winnowed down to their scholarly core.

ENTER a student.

STUDENT: I am confused about topic X which we learned two weeks ago. I remember it was confusing then and I'm not sure what to ask you, but I'm confused.

LILA: [quick explanation of topic X, reframed in terms of what we've done in the past two weeks]

STUDENT: Oh, it seems so simple now! I have no idea how I was ever confused, this is totally straightforward and easy.

LILA explodes in delight and absolute teaching fulfillment. Bystanders are scalded by beams of pure joy, campus security must be called, paramedics are deployed, the area is cordoned off and several students are rushed to emergency medical services.

Humanity i love you because

I take attendance by having students answer a question. This week (and most of last) the questions have been expressions of dark emotions; this week in particular has been expressed as poetry references. The final highfalutin' poetry reference was today:
Humanity i love you because


... which on the surface seems sort of positive and upbeat (unlike the earlier ones).

Many students took it in a positive direction:
  • there is so much potential
  • sometimes good things happen?
  • you're so funny and adorable
  • Pokemon comes out today 😍
  • I was loved first
  • just cuz
  • they gave me phones
  • we are all part of it
  • everyone who I like is one of you
  • we are kind
  • most people are nice-ish
... while others were, seemingly unintentionally, much truer to e. e. cummings' original tone:
  • of the Anthropic Principle
  • wait, no, i take that back
  • all of Earth is Stockholm, and I have a syndrome.
  • i have no choice.
Today's prizes go to the students who pushed back on the poetry theme, including "nope don't know this one", "don't get it", "what???", "poetry is not my forte", and the pretty amusing answers:
  • Let me count the ways no that's not it
... which is pretty funny, and equalled for entertainment value by:
  • tl;dr this week: 2 pretentious 5 me
... which is not a typo, that is actually written on the attendance sheet. Note that the author was not brave enough to attach a name, so it was just written down the margin. Still pretty funny, esp. the usage of '5'.

Gold stars to the Shakespeare reference, though. Gold stars!


This post's theme word is macher (n), "a person of influence, one who gets things done" or "a self-important overbearing person." Our professor began the semester as a good macher, and gradually transformed into an unbearable macher by the end.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

And what rough beast

I take attendance by having students answer a question. This week's pop-quiz on dark poetry continues, as for afternoon labs I asked:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
... which I figured left itself open to some interesting answers, even if students didn't recognize the reference or felt overwhelmed by the current political situation falling apart.

Silly answers:
  • the second one
  • man bear pig
  • Jabberwocky
  • any beast
  • the flamin' hot cheeto
CS-themed answers:
  • computer scientists
  • the ghost of the traveling salesman
  • Lila
Yep:
  • I still don't know
  • literature is for NERDS
  • ..??
  • what book is this!
  • idk lol
Today's clear winner goes to the most extremely specific and literal response to, namely: "pregnant Jewish woman who's jetlagged from the flight back." Take that, Yeats --- this student answered your rhetorical question!


This post's theme word is orgulous, "haughty". The usually-silly questions have been recast as a confused flurry of orgulous literary references.

What are the roots that clutch

I take attendance by having students answer a question. This week's emotionally-dark-poetry theme continues, as I explored my students' ongoing liberal arts education by asking:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?
A couple students answered, "hope."

Several other students answered in a more literal direction:
  • a tree!
  • BST?
  • an AVL tree
  • weeds...?
  • Evil Trees (of Rowan and Rin)
  • the roots of trash trees?
  • some kind of moss probably

Most students expressed confusion and lack of understanding, for example "I just don't know", "I'm confused", "I give up.", "I'm a CS major for a reason...", and "Sorry, bad liberal arts student!"

From this I have learned two things. Firstly, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land is not as widely recognizable as I assumed, and secondly and less-surprisingly, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land does not make for a good joke setup.

Ah, well.


This post's theme word is lobolly (n), "a thick gruel", or "mire; mudhole," or "an assistant to a ship's surgeon," or "a pine tree with long needles and strong wood (Pinus taeda)," or "an evergreen, loblolly-bay (Gordonia lasianthus)." The lobolly stuck in a lobolly full of lobolly used lobolly branches to climb up to refuge in his lobolly-house, perched on the side of the stony cliff.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Walkout

The students organized a walkout today, coincidentally right in the middle of my lecture. It was fine, as I was well-warned and the walking-out students left respectfully. (I gave them a preplanned lecture-pause in which to pack up their things and exit.) I didn't feel personally disrespected --- how could I? they're taking a political action having to do with the national election. If they had walked out because they didn't like the algorithm I was presenting, that would have been a different matter.

About half the class walked out.

One interesting after-effect of the walkout is that one of the non-walkout students posted complete lecture notes on the course messageboard. (Hooray for students helping each other to study and learn.) This is the first time I've seen the notes taken from one of my lectures, and I was amused to find out how much of my ongoing colorful aloud monologue made it into the notes, interspersed with and surrounding and annotating the mathematics that I wrote on the board.




This post's theme word is epanalepsis (n), "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated after intervening text. Example: "The king is dead, long live the king!"" The protest was very positive, with pleasant parlance and paucity of epanalepsis.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sinkhole in the adjunct faculty lounge



The season has rolled around again, just as you thought that maybe your soul had renewed slightly, your skills increased, your experience enriched, your knowledge expanded... but no: here we stand again, upon a heaping mound of the corpses of our colleagues' academic careers, desperately seeking future employment.

"About the sinkhole in the adjunct faculty lounge, and other mid-semester announcements" strikes the tone perfectly.

For the record, I think computer science departments treat their employees well, because computer science departments comprise genuine and nice human beings (and also because qualified computer scientists are able to seek well-compensated employment elsewhere).


This post's theme word is sprattle (noun), "a scramble or struggle" or (verb intr.) "to scramble or struggle." Though I sprattle day and night, yet the sprattle never ends.

Monday, November 14, 2016

What happens to a dream deferred?

I take attendance by having students answer a question. (The questions/answers from the rest of last week were too melancholy, dark, bitter, and depressing to bear repeating in this semipermanent venue.) Today I echoed Langston Hughes in asking:

What happens to a dream deferred?

To their liberal-arts-education credit, many students were exactly on-point:

  • it shrivels like a raisin in the sun
  • shrivels up like a raisin in the sun?
  • it shrivels up like a raisin
  • or does it explode
The hopeful:
  • deferred and rejected usually, but a second choice school hasn't killed anyone. probably.
  • 2020
  • fight or flight --> you go 100% to get it
  • do something to make the dream come sooner
  • Delayed but queued.
  • It generates art, hope, and wonder for further than a dream achieved.
  • It's still alive at the bottom of your heart.
  • It will stick around and be fulfilled.
  • It waits to be realized anew.
  • It gets passed on.*
  • It grows & inspires & drives everyone to action.
The not optimistic:
  • it vanishes
  • usually bad things, I'm really afraid to defer anything important; this meager existence is too short, man.
  • gone, gone
  • you don't want to know... :(
  • gets a 9-5 office job, wants to travel but never does. gets a dog
  • It dies a slow death.

The literal or extremely abstract:
  • you dream it later
  • Certainly science will never give us an answer.
  • you wake up, then get to dream again later
  • it becomes a ghost
  • keep on sleeping keep on dreaming
  • it gets caught in a dreamcatcher
  • it goes to dream heaven
  • It comes back night after night, tormenting you.
  • It haunts the dreamer and drives a certain mania until the dream is reached.
  • it will haunt you
The... rest of the answers:

  • It goes into a black box.
  • Tape storage.

Today's Prize for Uncategorizability goes to "the same thing that happens to all your dreams". Vague and yet descriptive enough that it lets the reader find whatever answer the reader seeks. A perfectly dithering response for a divided populace.


This post's theme word is today's Word of the Day, kakistocracy: "government by the least qualified or worst persons." We have recovered from our shock enough to teach and etymologize as usual, but the themes are indisputably colored by recent kakistocratic events.


*Depending on your interpretation of "passed on", could be good (the dream is passed to another dreamer) or bad (the dream is passed over and never dreamed again).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Course message board

There is a homework due this morning.

The single most popular post on the course message board occurred last night.

1:10am: "do we have to finish the problem set even though Trump is winning? we have no will to continue."

Follow-up comments throughout the night:
  • "please, I second."
  • "Well with the way things are going, will there really be a GPA left for this to ruin anyway? "
  • "fourth'd. why is this happening."
  • "Murica is now NP Complete"
  • "Please Lila"
  • "make my GPA great again"
  • "Not gpa that doesn't matter right now as much as general health and sanity"
  • "not that wall street doesn't matter as much as minority citizens"
  • "please reply, we're crying"
My reply upon waking: "It is very important to be educated, as this election highlights." We'll see if  I can remain as anodyne in my not-on-the-permanent-and-searchable-record aloud delivery of lecture this morning.

I'm considering scrapping my network flow lecture to discuss social choice theory and voting (lecture tentatively titled: "Arrow's impossibility theorem, or how math is the reason why we can't have nice things"). On the other hand, the problems we face in the real world are usually not theoretical problems of design and feasibility, but implementation detail problems (e.g., how to check election results) and issues arising from grandfathered-in historical systems which had no rational design to begin with.


This post's theme word is peripeteia (noun), "a sudden or unexpected change of fortune, especially in a literary work. A classic example is Oedipus learning about his parentage." Too crushed by peripeteia for cleverness, the characters shouted "I want out of this novel!" in a fourth-wall-breakingly desperate plea for clemency.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Six-word autobiographies

I take attendance by having the students answer a question complete a very brief creative writing assignment.



Today they wrote six-word autobiographies.

Many were school- or study-focused, to no one's great surprise:
  • Majored in chem, not gonna chem.
  • All the labs all the time.
  • Too many interests, what I do?
  • Work hard, algorithm harder. Word. Word.
Here we see the beginning of the recurring theme of "six, you say?"
  • Naive ambition tempered to quiet hope. Rebel.
  • Potato, banana.
  • Went into math, forgot how to count.
And of course the silly:
  • Thank gosh I'm the sane one.
  • Thinking about this, unlearning network flow. (<-- lecture="" li="" of="" s="" today="" topic="">
  • I tell lies all the time.
  • Question: why is it a giraffe?
  • Hello darkness, my old friend. [bum]
And the profound:
  • Trying to do ok & stuff.
  • Once upon a time, I was.
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • I am my own worst enemy.
  • Six words is simply not enough.
  • Regret for yesterday, hope for tomorrow.

I liked "Just passing this sheet along. Cool." for being six-words, self-reflective, and descriptive of the student's life without actually saying anything nontrivial. This is the kind of answer I attempt to head off at the pass on homeworks...


This post's theme word is nimiety (noun), "excess or redundancy." Homework solutions should be sufficient, and absent all nimiety.

Friday, November 4, 2016

More like MadLibs

I take attendance by having the students answer a question fill in MadLibs.

A ____________ walks into a bar. The bartender says, "___________________"

This one was a bit open-ended and I'm not sure it sparked the students' witty creative-writing skills optimally.

The traditionalist: A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?"
The context-aware: A college student walks into a bar. The bartender says, "ID?"

The literalists: A man walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Ouch." Also appeared as "man/hello"
and "man/try the soup" and "really tall guy/that must have hurt" and "person/yo" and "man with an orange for a head/you have an orange for a head?!"

The animals that appeared were commented thusly: "dog/impressive" (not sure why; dogs walk normally), "bear/welcome", "parrot/This is it." (bartender with no patience left), "cat/hi", "puppy/This is the best day ever.", "caterpillar/You'll be a beautiful butterfly one day.", and the masterpiece of absurdism which is "very very very small horse/hello".

The jokey: A law student walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Walking into too many bars will not help you pass it."

This makes very little sense, but: A foo walks into a bar. The bartender says, "foo-bar."

The minds of mathematical bent:

  • A graph walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why so edgy?"
  • A triangle walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Looking sharp."
  • An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The bartender says, "Got it --- 2 beers." (I'm guessing this is a joke about infinite sums with finite limits?)

Today's Pandering Prize goes to:

A theoretical computer scientist walks into a bar. The bartender says, "That's strange, most of our customers are travelling salesmen."


This post's theme word is clerihew (n), " humorous, pseudo-biographical verse of four lines of uneven length, with the rhyming scheme AABB, and the first line containing the name of the subject." I would like to see what my students create when prompted for a clerihew or a six-word autobiography, but creative writing attendance questions distract students from paying attention to the lecture.