Gas station without pumps

2015 June 30

Sixth weight-loss progress report

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:20
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In 2015 New Year’s resolution , I said that I want to lose 10–15 pounds by June 2015. In Weight-loss progress report, Second weight-loss progress reportThird weight-loss progress report , Fourth weight-loss progress report, and Fifth weight-loss progress report I provided monthly updates.

June has been much the same as May—mostly keeping to the raw fruits and vegetables for lunch, but being a bit more relaxed about it than in the weight-loss months and allowing myself an occasional dessert or snack. My exercise has only dropped a little from during the school year, because I’ve still been cycling up to campus a lot, but that is likely to change during July—I hope to do most of my work from home this summer.

My weight has fluctuated a bit more this month than in May:

The peak weight came during a conference on campus—I ate a bit too much and drank a beer or two a day.

The peak weight came during a conference on campus—I ate a bit too much and drank a beer or two a day.

My weight is fluctuating about the amount I expected when I set up the target range, but is averaging about a pound more than it should to stay within the target. I’ll see if I can drop that pound over July, without having to go back to being overly strict about the diet.



2015 June 19

Teaching as public speaking

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:57
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“Dean Dad” recently wrote a post Confessions of a Community College Dean: When Public Speaking Works Best, in which he talked about the advantages of improvised talks over highly prepared ones:

My best moments as a speaker have consisted of a layer of improvisation on top of a prepared framework. The words were substantially ad-libbed, but in a context that had been thought through in advance. Having the safety net of a clear framework, the knowledge of where I was going, and the security of knowing that the worst that could happen wouldn’t do permanent damage, made it possible to follow the muse of the moment. I could improvise knowing the direction I wanted to go, and having faith that I’d get there one way or the other.

That is my usual modus operandi for giving talks or class lectures. I start by figuring out what I want to cover and (sometimes) in what order, and make sure I understand the material thoroughly.  There have been a couple of times when I’ve had to give lectures on material I’m not completely comfortable with, and the results are not really satisfactory.  I know that there are people who can give scripted lectures from prepared PowerPoint slides on stuff they don’t really understand, but I can’t—I have to have the stuff really solid in my head. (Which is not to say that I never pass on mis-information—I have sometimes realized after further study that I’ve been teaching a simplification that is incorrect.)

My best classes usually have no more than about 5 words of lecture notes, reminding me of the topic of the day—the entire performance is improvised off of those notes, together with lots of “audience participation”—getting the students to ask questions and come up with partial solutions.  Such talks do not use prepared slides, but blackboard/whiteboard or live coding (for programs like gnuplot, where the concepts really rely on seeing what the program does with various scripts).  I also get a lot of digressions in the best classes, when students ask about what really interests them, rather than what I have prepared.  If the digressions are valuable and I know enough to go in that direction, I’ll take them.  If I don’t know enough, I’ll usually put the students off until the next lecture, so that I have time to do some reading.

I have, once, given a talk with a carefully written-out script (see Video of Designing Courses talk), when I had a very short time slot to present a large amount of material. The results were OK, but not as good as the longer, slower improvisational presentation I use in classes.

2015 AP Exam Score Distributions

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:36
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Once again this year, I’m posting a pointer to 2015 AP Exam Score Distributions:

Total Registration has compiled the following scores from Tweets that the College Board’s head of AP, Trevor Packer, has been making during June. These are preliminary breakdowns that may change slightly as late exams are scored.

I don’t know why I provide this free advertising for Total Registration, as I have no connection with the company, and do not endorse their services.  If the College Board would collect Trevor’s comments themselves, I’d point that page.  The main interest in AP result distributions comes in May, when students are taking the tests, and July when the students get the results.

The official score distributions (still from 2014 as of this posting—new results don’t go up until the Fall) from the College board are at, at least until the College Board scrambles their web site again, which they do every couple of years, breaking all external links.  They post a separate PDF file for each exam, which makes comparison between exams more difficult (deliberately, I believe, since inter-exam comparison is not really a meaningful thing to do).  It is also difficult to get good historical data on how the exam scores have changed over time—College Board probably has it on their website somewhere, but finding stuff in their morass is not easy.

My most popular post this year was once again How many AP courses are too many?, with about 19 views per day.  (It has also come in second over the lifetime of the blog, behind 2011 AP Exam Score Distribution.) The question of how many AP courses seems to come up both in the fall, when students are choosing their schedules, and in the spring, when students are overwhelmed by how many AP courses they took.

There aren’t many exams graded yet (only 11 on the Total Registration site), so I don’t have much to say about the results.  I probably won’t be looking at the exam scores much this year, since my son is no longer eligible to take AP exams, having graduated from high school. I might look at some of the statistics for the AP computer science exam, as I have some interest in seeing whether there are any changes in the number of test takers.  The interesting results (about gender and geography) won’t come out until the fall reports.

Futuristic Lights office

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:20
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Because my grades are all in and I didn’t have any appointments on campus today, I took the time to bicycle up to Scotts Valley with my son to see the Futuristic Lights office space.  The office is just over 8 miles from our house, near the top of Scotts Valley Drive. The got a pretty good deal on the office space, because Scotts Valley currently has a surplus of office space, and this particular office has almost no natural light (a tiny window into the next office, which has a skylight), but it is in a moderately new building, so is not run-down as I had feared from the rent they were paying. (See the Wasted Talent cartoon series “Office Saga” starting with “Office Saga—The Impetus” and particularly “Office Saga—New Lows” to see what I was fearing.)

Futuristic Lights has a bit more space than they need and they’ve set up folding tables and cheap shelving to make shipping easier.  While there, my son prepared 4 orders for shipping as well as some freebies (batteries and gloves) for some of their sponsored glovers. I helped out by assembling a number of sets of {Kinetic, 2 batteries, pull-tab, case, and diffuser}.  Each Kinetic is given a quick go/no-go test that checks out all three LEDs, the accelerometer, and (crudely) the processor. This tests consists of inserting a pair of batteries and giving the Kinetic a little shake—the LED starts red, but shifts to green and then blue with a shake.  Pressing the button changes the mode and the LED color, giving a button test as well.

The hardest and slowest part of assembling the parts for shipping is getting the flexible case over the board, batteries, and pull tab—there’s no way they would have gotten a commercial fulfillment company to do that right at an affordable price.  There are 6 pieces to make up each shippable Kinetic, and a standard order has 10 of the Kinetics, a pair of gloves, a drawstring bag, an instruction card, and a box: a total of 65 parts.

They’ve set up a pretty good system for the rest of the shipping, though, so they don’t really need a fulfillment company—at least not until their orders are 100 times what they are currently, at which point they might be able to afford one. I think that they do need to look into making their own cases, though, as the commercial ones that they are using have the logo of the company that makes the case, rather than the Futuristic Lights logo, and the cases are a bit of a pain to use every time the batteries need changing.

I did get a bit sun-burned on the ride to Scotts Valley—I’ve not been outside in short sleeves in quite a while, and my usual ride up to the UCSC campus is generally in the morning when it is still foggy, not in the early afternoon. Currently, I’m in a bit better shape than my son for bicycling (he’s not had a bike at UCSB), but by the end of the summer, he’ll be in better shape than me, after doing the Scotts Valley ride 4 or 5 times a week.

2015 June 18

Suki Wessling: In praise of adult ed

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:49
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A friend of mine who writes professionally, Suki Wessling, recently wrote on her blog about her experience at Cabrillo College, our county’s community college (In praise of adult ed – The Babblery):

There’s a lot of wrangling going on right now about the purpose of community college. The combination of limited funds and the push for “college for everyone” has incited discussion on whether community colleges are for the community as a whole or just for the specific purposes of helping young people on to four-year colleges and giving specific technical degrees.

Personally, I have always loved the “community” aspect of community college, and I think it would be sad to see it go. I have both taught at and been a student at a few different community colleges, and I think they only benefit from mixing the “young divas” with the more, ahem, seasoned members of our community.

People who want to separate the community college from the community are probably unaware of how much learning takes place in a classroom that seems so informal. They are also probably unaware of (or unconcerned with) how important intergenerational learning can be to many of the eighteen-year-olds who end up drifting into community college simply because nothing had gelled for them yet.

Although the majority of their students are young adults (though typically a bit older than at 4-year colleges, since community college is the most common route for students to start going back to school after a break), community colleges serve a wide age range. Cabrillo College also runs a number of enrichment courses for middle-school students in the summer, so they really are spanning a very wide age range, from 10-year-olds to 80+.

Our governor seems intent on stripping community colleges of most of their missions, leaving them only with transfer preparation, which currently accounts for a relatively small fraction of their students. I seriously hope that he does not succeed (or, better, gets educated about the true value of the other missions of the community colleges).

The community college is essential for the home-school community (though the home-schooled students make up an insignificant part of the college’s enrollment), the theater community (the musicals produced there each summer are a major part of the county’s theater experience, reaching much larger audiences than the productions that UCSC puts on, though not as big as Santa Cruz Shakespeare), and the arts community (the art classes at Cabrillo are very popular with people of all ages).  These functions are essential to the community, but are not part of the transfer-prep mission.

My son and my wife have taken courses at Cabrillo and found them valuable, even though neither was preparing for transfer to a 4-year-college (my son was in high school and my wife was a decade or so past her BA).  Although I have not yet taken any community college courses (it is a bit far for me to cycle to when I’m busy), I expect to when I retire.  I’m not sure exactly what, as my hobby interests tend to change every 5–10 years, but it probably won’t be stuff from the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum), but more idiosyncratic stuff that requires in-person classes.

I sure hope that the fun courses still exist when I have time to pursue them and haven’t been thrown away in the name of austerity.

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