Sunday, September 2, 2007

Moving Day

Change is good, and so this blog is moving to another site. The goal is to upgrade in capability, to manage my blogging more efficiently, and to present a product with a little more "shine". Please bear with me as I learn, experiment, and study.

This is the new site - please bookmark accordingly

Hidden Costs III

A while back, when I was new and fresh in the academic adventure, I expressed my dismay about the cost of textbooks. As professors are wont to kindly say, they are helping us "save" money by continuing to use older editions of texts. Such beneficence!

My calculus text is out of print. The beloved 4th edition of Calculus, Early Transcendentals 4th Edition (1999), has been replaced by the 5th Edition (2002). The 4th edition is required, at my school, for three sequences of calculus. Most science majors are required to take the first two sequences, and a small subset must take all three (and then some!).

Think about it. The school requires its students to use a finite resource, i.e., the textbook. There is a limited supply that, by definition, decreases each year. Some books wear out after too much abuse, some books are kept by students for future reference, and some are held by other students for at least 3 semesters. The number of students enrolling in calculus classes is a constant. It make sense to assume that a constant demand for a shrinking resource induces a stress on the supply, and price, of the product. In the college textbook world, I think that means that the price the market will bear for used textbooks is higher than if the supply was infinite. Our professors are saving us money by forcing us to buy used textbooks, but demand and pricing are driving prices higher. I think we are trapped in a paradox.

There are several students in my calculus class that still, after 2 weeks, cannot buy a textbook. I would have gone insane by now.

I do want to buy my favorite accessory, the student solutions manual, which I have used with great effect in earlier math classes. Guess what? The publisher no longer supports the 4th edition student solutions manual. Why should they?

Today, I found, after a long search, a student solutions manual. If you followed the link, you know that some enterprising person has managed to put the solutions manual (at least the questions and solutions) on the web. You will also see that the basic service is free (good enough for me), but the premium features require a subscription. Looks like the marketplace has provided yet another source of profit for someone other than the publisher and the school.

Maybe, when I take an economics course, I can study this market in more detail. Maybe our economics department should, too, and forward the results to our school officials. Or maybe the textbook market is like the health insurance market, just too complex for simple students to understand and too unwieldy for bureaucrats to manage.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Black Google

Random bits of data stored in my memory from the last few days of computer programming and discovery informatics:

1111 1111 1111 1111 is the hexadecimal code that makes your monitor display the color "white". It means, among other things, that every "switch" is turned on to create the color. Logic (and my professor) says that other colors require fewer "ons" to create a color, and so requires less energy. That's important to some people, as noted here. Note that my scheme used to black, until a few days ago, and now that I know this, I may go back. Or, I might consider this.

A possible explanation of what my major Discovery Informatics is really about:

"We are drowning in data while searching for information".

When I have a better explanation of the program, you, dear reader, will be the second to know (wife gets to hear the news first).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Wired Classroom

It's not as if Calculus isn't's complex, difficult, and tough, all wrapped up in an enigma (I know, I stole the metaphor). It takes all of my focus and concentration to take notes, comprehend, and try to stay with the professor. And since this class immediately follows another class held in the far corner of the campus, I hardly have time to get from one to the other before the professor starts in. When I do arrive, the class is very full, and so my arrival just at the start means my choice of seats is whatever is left. Which is usually the seat in the back, at the door. Which is hard enough on my old eyes, as I squint in a vain effort to read the hieroglyphics written in an unintelligible scribble.

But what really makes the class hard is that the poor choice of seating means that I am generally surrounded by either the disaffected or those students who already know everything. Whatever the case, both sets apparently have to stay in constant contact with boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, or whomever. Yes, dear reader, I am constantly surrounded by the "text-messagers" ..... that vile assemblage of folks that cannot not communicate while in class.

Texting only seems to be a problem in those classes where the professors either don't declare a firm no-phone policy or they are part of the subset of teachers who seem to feel that the getting of their giving is not their responsibility, but the student's.....which means that the texters are pretty much free to do their thing. Apparently the consideration of their classmates is not important. Is there a protocol? Is it appropriate to ask the 19 year old next to me to cease and desist so that I can learn?

Input appreciated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Our Miss Teen South Carolina has apparently missed more than her geography class:

"Eat me some hamburgers," she responded. "I haven't eaten hamburgers, French fries or hot dogs in three years, and I just want to see what it tastes like."

The attached photo reveals the virtue of such a diet:

The rest of the story here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

State Pride

The most viewed clip on YouTube.

A great day in academic history for our state.

Advantages of a Mistress

Read today on the internet:

An artist, a lawyer, and a computer scientist are discussing the merits of a mistress.

The artist tells of the passion, the thrill that comes with the risk of being discovered.

The lawyer warns of the difficulties. It can lead to guilt, divorce, bankruptcy. Not worth it. Too many problems.

The computer scientist says, "It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. My wife thinks I am with my mistress. My mistress thinks I am home with my wife. And I can spend all night on the computer!"

H/T Theo Spark

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Calculus of Marriage

A few weeks ago, someone interested in my adventure asked me what Calculus is. I had to honestly reply that I had no clear idea, but that I thought it might have something to do with the rate of change in a curve. Well, one week into the class, I cannot precisely define the term, but I can begin to approach the answer from a few different directions.

From my textbook: "We have seen that the concept of a limit arises in trying to find the area of a region, the slope of a tangent to a curve, the velocity of a car, or the sum of an infinite series. In each case the common theme is the calculation of a quantity as the limit of other, easily calculated quantities. It is this basic idea of a limit that sets calculus apart from other areas of mathematics. In fact, we could define calculus the part of mathematics that deals with limits".*

Today, while mowing the lawn and trying to avoid heat stroke, the door of understanding partially opened. In calculus, so far as I have learned, it is very difficult to precisely measure the value of a limit. We can try, by calculating values that are very close to that limit, and then assuming a value for the limit.

Just like my marriage. I can get very close to the line (limit), but I can't completely get there. Why, or why not, is the unknowable in each unique marriage and is not a part of this discussion. In this case, the domain and range of the function are limited to me and her and our relationship. She knows exactly how far to go, or which button to press, to elicit a response from me; she knows exactly how far to go within the bounds of my known behavior. She carefully goes no further. What lies beyond is predictable, but not knowable. The same is true for me.

As I cut the grass this morning, I worked until I thought it was not safe to continue. I know my limits (a function of age, able to be determined with a relatively simple linear equation) and have no wish to go beyond the known (life on Earth). Calculus surrounds us, and plays a central role in our lives. Who knew?

*Calculus - Early Transcendtals, 4th Edition, James Stewart, 1999.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

On a Tangent

This is pretty funny. If you like, I could calculate the slope of the secant line and thus give you an approximation of the slope of the tangent line...perhaps providing the direction in which he went.....

H/T Indexed

Cognitive Prosthesis

While reviewing my notes from the first day of my programming class, I came upon this jewel from the professor"

"The personal computer is a cognitive prosthesis".

Before today, I thought of my pc and internet access as my drug of choice, but I now realize it is more than a drug. It is not a cause of dependency, but, rather, a tool that allows me to do more than I can do in my natural state. It is an artificial attachment to my being that provides that which I did not have before.

A brief example: While checking e-mail in the college library this very day, the young lad sitting at the adjacent terminal turned to me and asked if I was a professor. "No", I said, "I'm a student, too. But what do you need?" "Well, I'm writing this paper, and I don't know whether to use lay or lie." Quick as a wink, I went to my Google home page, typed in "lay lie" in the search window, and in a micro-second got the search results. I showed the grammar web-site, with the correct usage, to the fellow and concluded the lesson. In about 30 seconds. Could I have done this 2 years ago? I don't think so.

Cognitive prosthesis............hmmmm.