Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pavlov might have been right...

... and guess which emotion was stronger? I came home the last 3 nights faced with stats homework and discovered that not only do I resent the idea of finding the z-factor for anything, I also don't like chocolate milkshakes. I'm bribing myself with a brownie now. Let's just see if we can't eliminate unhealthy vices from my life altogether. After all, not only have I not had a milkshake in over a week, I have also dropped a pants size and fit back into the clothes I wore before I left for Minnesota. While I feel a deep sense of loss over the whole milkshake thing, I wonder if I could keep it up? And I wonder what will happen if I allow myself these things without requiring it to coincide with stats homework?

On another pavlovian related note, I also now realize my deep resentment for homemade crocheted ponchos. You see, there is this old lady in one of my classes that irritates me SO much. She argues with the professor and is alll sorts of a know-it-all particularly when she knows nothing at all. She treats people in the class with this air of authority and even her occasional compliments seem condesending. And she wears a different homemade crocheted poncho every day. Along with various other crocheted paraphenalia (like the fingerless gloves and the occasional legwarmer). And today I saw someone on campus wearing one, and it wasn't even that old lady, but I immediately disliked the person, just because of their choice of cold-weather covering. A case might be made, however, for some sort of bias. After all, while I am unsure that I ever had strong feelings about crocheted ponchos before, I am certian that I never thought them to be an appropriate accessory for anyone between the ages of 10 and 65. Let's face it, they are cute on little girls and they are functional on old ladies, but anyone between those ages has no business wearing one. No matter who made it.

This all seems so negative, so let me end on a positive. Tonight was the first staging rehearsal for Macbeth. I love staging rehearsals. I love opera. I love sitting in the wings waiting for a cue, trying to remember said cue, getting notes from the director, and running like a madwoman to try and make the next cue. I particularly love this one because sitting in the wings and waiting is accompanied by the onstage voices singing things by Verdi. And while no one will be able to tell its me, (due to the elaborate costuming) you should know that I am the very first person onstage and center in the whole show. So if you are coming, you will be able to find me. Happy day, I love the theatre.

In fact, I have been spending so much time focusing on music lately that I am remembering how much I loved studying it, which makes it much more difficult to go back and study other things. Like stats. Which I should be doing right now.

Because the weather is just right...

My very fun cousin started a blog for a little circle of us peoples to contribute to and chat together, you all are welcome to visit and comment if you like! (I think you are, anyways, I'll remove this post if I hear objections)

...I'm partly posting this just because I have a little story up there now, and so instead of writing a new post for the day I can just send you to that link!

Friday, September 25, 2009


What a nasty day.

I was so ready for it. My backpack was ready for classes. My snack was packed for just before work, my change of clothes for work was already in my car. I pressed the dress for the concert tonight. I woke up with enough time to shower and get ready and eat a good breakfast and get to school in time to get a decent parking spot.

But just as I woke up I realized I forgot to print off an article and opinion for my Poli Sci class.

Whatever. I can print it off before I go out the door. Not a big deal.

When I got out of bed I realized the dress had fallen off the hangar in the night and gotten all wrinkly.

I'll just have to press it again.

Getting out of the shower I was putting on my earrings and one of them fell down the drain of the sink. Sad. Normally I wouldn't care, seeing as I generally spend about 75 cents on a pair of earrings. But this is my all time favorite pair. I got them from Anthropologie with a gift card from some of my bestest roomies ever. I was not going to let that earring go the way of dead pet goldfish.

I scrambled for some sort of a hook deally to fish it out, but the more I dug, the farther it fell. Finally I had to pull everything out from under the sink and pull apart the U-bend.

I cannot describe here the disgusting things that came out of the U-bend without putting some sort of a violence rating on my blog. Let me just describe to you what it reminded me of. We used to go swimming/water-skiing on the Rainy River (US-Canada Border). Nobody has any idea how deep the river actually is, because try as you might to dive or drown, you could never really touch the bottom, or at least anything solid enough to be called the bottom. The sludge just sort of got thicker and thicker until eventually it actually sucked you in. I never really allowed myself to sink that far, because right about the time I could feel sludge tickling my knees and my foot movement slightly restricted, I wanted to wretch. That is about the consistentcy of the stuff that came out of the U-bend of my bathroom sink.

So gagging and plugging my nose, I sifted through the silt until I found the earring. Which I then sanitized.

Now I was running short on time. I turned on the iron and grabbed a bowl for breakfast food and booted up my computer. No internet. Its been sketchy lately, I think something is wrong with my wireless router. Great. No time to panic or trouble shoot.

I iron the dress, grab my computer, and run out the door to head to class. Just as I am opening the door to my car, the sprinklers turn on, soaking me, my dress, and my laptop.

Lovely start to a day.

I'm blogging this from stats class, because I don't understand a word of whats going on, and every time I ask a question, the teacher ust says "well, we did it that way because thats the way it is, the formula says to put it there."


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oh yeah, now I remember...

(I am realizing as I write this that, well, this one goes out to my freshman roommate, the math major.)

I hate math classes. Really and truly loathe them. Not the way I dislike going to work or the way the Twilight books leave a bad taste in my mouth. Not even the way I hate pictures of myself and paying bills and peeling potatoes. No, I hate math classes with a level of detest that is only equaled by how I feel about doing laundry, Northern Minnesota winters, and the feeling of being manipulated by passive-agressive people.

And I know this about myself, but over the past 15 years of not taking math classes, I have often wondered why that is, exactly.

After all, its not physically painful, like a Northern Minnesota winter. And I generally know how to deal with it, unlike being faced with passive aggressive manipulation. And it doesn't give my hands that nasty dry starchy feeling that laundry does.

In fact, I have to brag a little here, I am actually really good at math.

No, Really.

In high school I was at best an average student. Most accurately, I was a below average student who slept through every class, never turned in a single homework assignment, and passed only because I could ace any test without thinking twice. I could also calculate the bare minimum number of tests I had to take in order to pass a class, and as a result, graduated with a 2.7 gpa, having done the least amount of work possible in order to get to college. It's not that I was lazy, I recognize it sounds that way, but in actuality, I was probably clinically depressed and suffering from a classic case of lack of motivation. The "guidance counselor" (read: sorry excuse for a human being paid to guide students towards dead end work at a window factory and a life of trailer parks and domestic abuse.) shuffled me off to remedial English, informed me that I would never go anywhere in life, and insisted that if I really had my heart set on college, I should try really hard and maybe the community college at Thief River Falls would help me certify in something. He tried to refuse to allow me to take the ACT and filled out a window factory application for me instead, insisting that it was all my future held. Of course, if you know me at all then you know that the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't. My last year of high school I took this physics class from perhaps the best teacher ever to teach at that particular high school. Mr Rauvola was only there for a year, right out of college, and he had that shiny new teacher changing the world approach to life. There were only 7 of us that took it, all the "smart kids" from my class and me. Mr Rauvola offered an immediate challenge to us. He informed us via college style syllabus that according to his grading scale, an 85% would be an "A", since he fully intended to give us challenges that were miles beyond us. If people averaged above an 85, he would step things up and make them harder, and force us to actually learn something.

Shocking, I know. This was actually a teacher willing to teach.

And we rolled along learning things and doing experiments and amusing theoretical applications.

"How much heat is lost when making milkshakes with three different blenders? Which blender is the most efficient?"

"The diagram below represents a game of pool, calculate the angle and force needed in order to sink 2 solid colors, avoiding the 8 ball"

"How many boxes of Jello gelatin will it take to turn an olympic sized swimming pool into a giant jello salad? Bonus: If Mr. Hendrickson weighs 320 pounds and has a circumference of 62 inches, how long will it take for him to be submerged in the jello, provided he doesn't move or spill his coffee?"

I was good at this kind of math. There was a purpose to it, it challenged me and made me laugh. I even became the person that the "smart kids" would come to for help. In a hushed, after school special kind of social approach, they would call me or stop me when no one was looking and ask me how to calculate the rate of descent at such an angle, or if I could please look over their calculations and slip their paper back to them during physiology. I enjoyed my power. They had to be nice to me, or I might actually choose to return that paper during lunchtime.

One day, Mr Rauvola gave us a particularly difficult assignment. It was one problem and it would incorporate every equation we had learned up until that point in the class. It involved distance and gravity and angles of launch and angles of descent and force and more variables than we had ever seen at once. We had a week. We worked at it, we slaved at it. Those smart kids even started discussing it with me in front of their friends. We tore our hair out. We got it narrowed down to three or four variables, and we came to a dead stop. I looked at it from every angle, I reworked it from scratch several times, the other kids gave up. I kept going. We couldn't figure out how to break down the last few variables. d was still a mystery, mocking us from both sides of the equation, x still punctuated every phrase, m was still unknown and in a seperate equation off to the side it teased us with potential for solvability but we just couldn't see through the math, and we were divided as to whether or not v could be solved the way I had chosen to solve it. Then, in a stroke of both luck and brilliance, a kid named Rusty asked me something about m that proved my solution for v and got us moving again on that pesky side equation. We got out of Physiology (his dad taught it, so that was no great feat) in order to work through the rest of the problem. We pulled the other students together. Lisa stuck with us, Jenny was irritated that I had come up with something and she stormed off, Brian and Rex were fascinated but I think a little lost, (and by this time of the year, Daryl was 7 or 8 months pregnant and not planning on graduating, so she didn't show up very often). Lunchtime came, and those smart kids were faced with a choice between solving the problem which entailed being seen with me by the entire school, or giving up and hanging out with their friends. They made a noble effort, but in the end they couldn't take it and chose to declare it unsolveable. I holed myself up in an empty classroom and somewhere about 8 minutes before the end of lunch bell rang, I suddenly could see the solution for d. It was crazy. It was the most insane math I had ever seen before in my life. I had to insert an extra equation involving the function of x before solving for d and then I had to insert that solution for d still in an equation form back into the original equation creating these layers of parenthetical equations within other parenthetical equations, and square roots of things cubed where x was still both factored and not. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, other than keeping the basic algebra rules of how to solve for x by moving the variable all to one side of the equal sign. I was actually breathless when I got to physics class feeling triumphant. I remember part of the solution. I had gotten it down to an actual answer, 1.53 on one side of the equals sign, while the other side was still peppered with x and cosin, and at least 3 sqare root signs layered over each other and blended into other phrases and sentences that my calculator was incapable of computing. That's ok, I thought, I would just borrow Mr. R's graphing calulator and ziiiiing! it would be like magic.

Mr Rauvola started class by informing us that when he makes up our homework, he does it with the intention of solving it with us and doesn't always check it before he gives it to us. And he's very sorry, but he tried and tried to work this problem, but there isn't a solution for it. He simply gave us too many variables and no way to solve for all of them. He still wanted us to turn it in, so he could give us credit for it and see what we had made of it though. I blurted out (and blurt is a good word for it, since I hardly talked in high school, when I did have to say something it generally came out like word vomit) "what if we did solve it?"

He thought I was joking. "Oh, then you can have an 'A' on the test today and I'll sign you up as an upper level calculous TA at the U."

Really? Because I solved it. He was shocked and gave me that stern teacher look and asked me to bring him my paper. (The rest of the class went silent as well, and I still wonder to this day if some of them didn't feel like I had been holding out on them) I babbled nervously when I gave him the paper. "I didn't solve it all the way, I need to borrow your graphing calculator because I just can't get through this many x's on mine." I remember the silence that seemed to go on for 20 minutes while he checked my work, over and over again.

He gave me the stern teacher look again, although this time it was much more steady and scary. I got it right. Why was his teacher look so much more scary when I had it right? I would almost rather he thought I had lied to him!

He asked me to stay after class.

I had only ever been asked to stay after class for detentions before. You know, the extra homework, clean the chairs, lecture on fighting, kind of "stay after class". Oh, and once because an English teacher wrongly assumed that my essay on gossip about children killing a frog was suicidal instead of a symbolic accusation of the injustices of high school social classes. Apparently she thought I was just dumb too.

So I stayed after class and he sat down in the desk in front of me and I prepared myself for whatever lecture I was about to get. And He didn't lecture me. He reviewed the equation with me, asking me how I came up with certain calculations, asking me why decided to solve for v the way I did, asking me to prove certain sections with other work, and asking me to rework other sections with a different equation.

And then he invited me to attend this math conference thingy with him. I knew what it was because one of my other friends had been invited to attend. Every school in the state was bringing their top math students to this "conference" that was acutally just an 8 hour long math test. It was billed as a competition, but it was actually the state department of education's attempt at gathering data on math education. I didn't understand all that entirely, I just knew that it meant a day off from school and hanging out with Renae instead of avoiding eye contact with the popular crowd, so I agreed to go.

All of the competitors statewide were meeting at one university in Northern Minnesota, but everywhere in Northern Minnesota is a long bus ride away. I think we traveled for 4 hours, took the math test for 3 hours, at lunch for half an hour, did more math for 4 hours, then rode the bus back for 4 hours. On the bus ride back, Renae and I talked to Mr. Rauvola for a bit, then Mr Denault, the head of the math area at my high school and my teacher for Trigonometry stood up to give us our test results. We were scored in percentiles and only the top 50 were actually ranked. The top 20 won a T-shirt. (yeah, do the math there, I'm not sure exactly all the perks for being one of the top athletes in the state, but if you are one of the top 20 math students, you get a T-Shirt). Mr Denault, ever the socially defunct mathematician, simply read our percentiles and rankings alloud. Yes, that's right, Warroad High School had managed to have a few students ranked in the top 50, and even 2 of them in the top 20. Although I thought he should have looked prouder of that. He actually had a pained look on his face when he announced that I had ranked 16th and Renae had ranked somewhere around 8th. Mr Rauvola, however, was positively giddy. He told us, after congratulating us, that we were his. That Denault had to let him choose 2 students to bring, since he taught a math class, but that when Rauvola had chosen us, he had to fight for us. Denault had insisted that I particularly was not by any means or definition a top math student.

(Feel free to act a little juvenile here, blow a raspberry and say "So there, Mr Denault!" I always do)

The thing is, Mr D isn't entirely wrong. I am good at math, I am just a lousy student. After all, I spent all my time in his class working on my physics homework, and I think I probably pulled a "D" in trig, simply because he insisted that we keep a neat and clean notebook, docked us for doodles in the margins, and I turned in all of my assignments needed to pass the class on the last possible day, in classic disheveled loose leaf Nancy form.

But that brings me back to my original point. I hate Math classes. I don't hate math. I hate being a math student. I don't hate doing math. You see, Math teachers are generally really good at math. They are really well versed in their language, and unfortunately for the rest of us, that language isn't English. It's Math. And, as any linguist, anthropologist, or sociologist will tell you, language has a direct impact on one's ability to function in society. Which statement is proved again and again by math teachers. They make their little math jokes and live in their little math world and even branch out socially in the faculty rooms of their minds. But their ability to communicate with the rest of the world is limited by their inability to function in the languages that the rest of us use. And they get excited about do math problems, rather the way I got excited about doing those physics problems, only since they don't talk normal people talk, they assume that the rest of us will be equally excited to do extra math problems. They think that doing extra math homework is like reading a good library book or listening to a symphony or running a mile or whatever it is that is your second language. And they assign those extra math problems with an enthsiasm that is NEVER equalled by their students. They really think that a few extra stem-leaf plots will enlighten everyone the way it did for them, and they talk about it in reverent tones, the way an elementary school librarian might talk about how Harry Potter changed literature for youth.

And that extra homework (really just busy work) is piled on and piled on. And the invention of the internet hasn't helped AT ALL. After all, now they can assign on-line, have it turned in on-line, and still feel obligated to assign in-class and turn it in in-class, and the busy work is actually DOUBLED even though they think they are making it easier by putting half of it on the computer, because they still assign the same amount off the computer and expect you be EXCITED about finding a misleading graph or other statistical representation in addition to calculating the average amount of time in between eruptions of Old Faithful and oh also, by the way, here is some in class stuff that will count as participation points if you finish it at home and turn it in next time but don't expect me to give that info outside of class because its not homework, even if you are doing it at home, its class participation points so that I can force you to come to class too, that way I can waste your time and control your life with ridiculous and nonsensical data ALL THE TIME (insert evil villain laugh here).

Sorry, did that last bit get a little rambl-y? It's what was running through my head for 45 minutes of "group work" during stats class yesterday, after I took 5 minutes to finish my portion of the problem and then did nothing but get more and more irritated while the person next to me tried to figure out how to calculate the median on her cell phone because she didn't know how to work her graphing calculator that looked exactly like the one that Mr Rauvola had.

I remembered why I hate math classes. Don't give me a hundred tiny mindless problems that take up my time and teach me nothing. Give me one massive equation that incorporates everything I have learned and a few things I haven't, then tell me its impossible. Don't waste my efforts on meaningless and ineffective data, ask me something that will have an application in real life and ask me to turn it every which way until we can work out an equally real solution.

I have to go write a paper on the historical and mutidisciplined definition of poverty, including an outline of the attempts our society has made to fix it and my own suggestions as to why they have failed and what we can do to improve. It's a nasty topic, I recognize that its an equation I can barely comprehend, with more variables than I have ever been faced with before. I know Mr Rauvola's calculator will be as much help to me here as it was to that girl in class yesterday. I even know that I am incapable of coming up with a solution and that any suggestions I have will probably never make it farther than the paper I write, but it makes way more sense to me that solving for x when x merely represents x.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A few key points

Yeah, I haven't updated in forever and I just want you to know that the lack of updates is actually a good sign. You see, even as I type I am using the blog update excuse in order to postpone doing my stats homework. For every day gone past post-less I spent an evening doing homework.

But as long as I am avoiding stem-leaf-tree plots and dot whatever somethings and frequency I don't remember deallies, I may as well post a few highlights of the past few days.

  • Cereal was $1.88 a box. Not the gross generic kind either, but the good kinds, like Golden Grahams and Cheerios and Apple Jacks and Rice Krispies and, well, the list goes on.
  • The choir that I joined for the scholarship (remember that, $1000 tuition dollars for the year? yeah, them.) I found out this weekend we are going on a tour to Shanghai next summer. China. Seriously. 10 days. Boom Baby.
  • I was driving home from rehearsal and noticed that the police weren't in their usual speed trap spots. But when I drove past the gas station on state street there they all were, at least 7 of them, lights off and big sniper guns all pointed at the gas station. I drove past faster.
  • My boss proved herself an even bigger idiot last week. I can't write the story here, due to confidentiality issues, but lets just say she embarassed everyone around her and somehow managed to escape the realization that she should be embarassed for herself. The whole time she was giggling at her gaffe like a 13 year old I was thinking how happy I am to only be there part time.
  • I still have no idea how well the "pavlovian stats and milkshake" experiment is working. I still hate stats. I still love milkshakes. I force them together and there is a means to an end, that's about it.
  • I finally figured out that the guy who looked really familiar in choir and the guy who looked really familiar at opera rehearsal are actually the same guy. I made a new (gay) friend. I have to insert his orientation here in order to protect myself from some people jumping to an immediate romantic conclusion. But honestly people, I haven't met a single straight man in at least the past 4 years. I'm just excited about a new friend.
  • I am writing a research paper on health care reform. I don't have much more to say on it than that, except that there is a lot of info and I feel like I am beginning to understand it.

OK, I think that's all I've got for now. I have stats to do before bedtime, and I'm not going to get started until I make a milkshake.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Remember Pavlov?

Here is my new study strategy:
I am allowed a chocolate milkshake every time (and only when) I study Statistics.

I predict one of two outcomes (and would prefer both...) Either I will begin to love statistics or I will begin to hate chocolate milkshakes.

Either I will end up smarter or skinnier. See the benefits? Of course, you see why both would be best?

How's this for a little crazy...

The sixth grade "Pirate King" from when I directed Pirates of Penzance at the elementray school got his mission call, and invited me to come along to the temple when he goes on Saturday. Am I thrilled for him and his mission call and his various successes? Absolutely. Am I feeling a little disturbed at the time that has passed? Oh My Yes.

It seems like just yesterday we were drawing chest hair on him with eyeliner and teasing him about his voice cracking. We called him squeaker.