Thursday, May 31, 2012

A New Rubric

I will teach Math 20 again in the Summer term.

Sumer term classes can be dreadful.  Instead of a normal class with twenty 80-minute lectures (two per week for ten weeks) the term is shrunk to have fifteen 110-minute classes (two per week for seven and half weeks).

Math is simply not appropriate for 110-minute lectures.  Even with normally memorable information research has shown that student retention plummets after about 20 minutes.  Math is even worse because of how "I can follow the lecture" and "I can do open book homework" are actually two surprisingly different levels of understanding.

Test days are also awkward.  Devoting an entire class to a midterm now uses up too much time.  Trying to mix lecture and test during the same class is problematic.  So many small quizzes work better.  (I also provide take-home midterms that are worth barely any points.  These are mainly to help students with test anxiety get some test practice before the final exam arrives.  When I did this in the past many students took the take-home test in the math tutoring center instead of at home without proctoring or a rigidly enforced time limit to make the experience as realistic practice as possible for the final exam.)

For this upcoming Summer term I have a plan.  Even though I am taking the time to type it out it is still a very rough-draft plan.  I would appreciate any constructive feedback.
Homework includes both math problems and reading some lecture before class.

The first 20 minutes of class (more or less) I will go over the assignment.  I will summarize and clarify the "homework lecture" and do a few an example problems.

Then students will have 5 minutes to "finish" the notes they took on the assigned reading.  This will give them a chance in class to merge the textbook explanations, my online notes, our recent class discussion, and their own thoughts into one resource for future studying.  I can circulate and whisper constructive comments.

Then I will write three problems on the board to be treated as an open-notes quiz for about 15 minutes.   Students will need to provide step-by-step answers.  One problem will be a word problem for which they will need to pay attention to the problem solving process.  I have composed a homework rubric that makes my expectations clear.

After time is up for the quiz I will ask for student volunteers to share either their notes or their quiz answers.  They can explain what they did and why, and I can provide additional commentary on how their work avoided common pitfalls and/or could benefit from certain changes.

Then, at roughly 50 minutes into class, I will start my lecture for the new topic.  This will be slightly challenging for me because I'll need to focus on the parts of my established lectures that most need class time: the tricky parts or the parts that produce class discussion.

Finally, the last 10 minutes of class will be a chance to start the next homework assignment in groups.
Overall, I am decreasing my lecture time by about one-third from sixty minutes per topic to forty minutes per topic.  Students will be asked to compensate by being responsible for reading the "easy third" of my lectures along with their other homework.  In exchange they get more time with personalized feedback during class time.

I'll also try to find links to good online lectures and example problems, and add these to my online lecture notes.  That will help support students understand my lecture notes while reading them at home.

Sound okay?  What part of the plan needs improvement?  What might go wrong that I should keep in mind?

Writing Quality Step-by-Step Math Answers

I need help brainstorming characteristics of quality step-by-step math problem answers.

Ten I thought of while writing answers to a practice test.  Five more were contributed when I asked my colleagues in the LCC math department for help.

What others are we still missing?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Baby Food at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's is not known for its baby food.  Perhaps this is because its employees believe they do not sell any.  But owning a nice blender makes Trader Joe's a great place to shop for what to feed you baby.

Gallant has never eaten any baby food from a jar.  (Smiley did, but only during his train trip.)  It is too expensive!  Here is most of what Gallant eats instead.

Green Stuff

Trader Joe's sells nice pesticide-free frozen spinach.  Raw spinach is dangerous for babies because the leaves are loved by E. coli and salmonella, but freezing it has killed any bacteria.  Pesticide-free is also nice for baby food.

Trader Joe's also sells yummy frozen mango chunks.  Mango is a very nutritious fruit of the "yellow/green" category.  The frozen chunks are much less messy than raw mango, and not any more expensive.

Gallant's "green stuff" is mostly half spinach and half mango.  Microwave these frozen items a bit so they will blend better.

We also add a little of my wife's applesauce to help it blend.  (Trader Joe's does sell healthy applesauce with no added sweeteners: beware how some major brands add high fructose corn syrup, which is not good for babies.  However, my wife likes making applesauce during the chilly days of early Winter, so our freezer has many bags of it.)

Orange Stuff

Trader Joe's is the only store I know that sells full-fat yogurt.  Fat is important for a baby's brain development--in general (although ask your pediatrician) babies should not be fed lowfat or nonfat yogurt or cheese.

Gallant's "orange stuff" is half full-fat yogurt and half baked sweet potato.  (Trader Joe's does sell sweet potatoes, but we use Costco.)

Pink Stuff

Trader Joe's sells nice tomatoes.  (CostCo does too.  Where we buy them depends upon which store we're at when we need them.)

We used to buy a lot of canned beans from Trader Joe's before my wife was hit by adult-onset Celiac.  Unfortunately, she is now so extremely gluten-sensitive that we had to stop buying canned beans of any brand.  They were too frequently gluten contaminated.  Now we buy big bags of dry beans that we pick through, soak, and pressure cook.

(We know why roasted nuts and oats are usually gluten contaminated.  Why canned beans?  We have no idea.)

Gallant's third staple food mix is half Great Northern beans and half tomatoes.


Fat does more than help brain development.  Since it is digested slowly it also helps a baby sleep longer.

For most of his life we fed Gallant one-quarter of an avocado before bedtime.  Hooray for fatty fruit that is soft enough to eat even before teeth!  But for some unknown reason Gallant has not wanted avocado much for about a month.  Strange.

Trader Joe's is one of the few stores that often sells organic avocados.  We did not worry about this because avocados are part of the Clean 15.  So we buy our avocados at Costco where they are not bruised by customers who falsely think squeezing them helps test ripeness (the skins become dark when ripe, so there is no need to squeeze!).  But if you want your baby to eat organic, Trader Joe's helps with this food item too.


Unfortunately Trader Joe's only sells nice organic canned pumpkin seasonally.  The rest of the year we order it from Azure Standard.

This is wonderful, healthy baby food straight from the can.  Great for picnics!  Remember that food stored in open cans leeches small amounts of BPA into the food: perhaps not enough to trouble an adult but as baby food it should be moved into another container once opened.

Sunflower Butter

Researchers and pediatricians disagree about the age when children should first eat peanuts.  But this issue can be sidestepped with Trader Joe's sunflower butter.  It is a nice high-protein and high-fat food.

Finger Foods

None of Gallant's finger foods are as nutritious as those three blends.  But he does enjoy feeding himself.

Rice Chex are now gluten-free.  Those are the finger food we give him most often because they are the least messy.  No Trader Joe's connection with those.

Trader Joe's sells freeze-dried mango slices.  Gallant likes those a lot.  Since they are freeze-dried they keep most of their Vitamin C (unlike dried fruit) and are easy to eat even before teeth.  These are so sweet we save them for special treats on stroller walks.

Trader Joe's also sells rice cakes.  These are nothing special, except that where we live they are usually intact whereas the rice cakes sold at other stores are more often broken.  I am not sure if the difference is due to shipping, shelf stocking staff, or clumsy customers.

Trader Joe's also sells dried pineapple circles.  These pieces are difficult but fun to chew, and not too messy.  When we want to keep a fussy Gallant happily occupied for a while we use these.  Every parent needs an "emergency plan" for when chores need to be done but the baby is acting fussy and difficult to please.

(We also tried the Trader Joe's "just mango slices" but found that sucking on those turns them into a sticky paste.  Two or three pieces allows Gallant to create for himself gloves and a helmet made from a layer of slime.)

 Finally, organic banana.  Many stores sell these, but I think Trader Joe's has the least expensive ones in Eugene.  Of course, bananas are not only a finger food but also a shirt and face and hair food.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Website Reorganization

I have reorganized my website a little.

The top menu link for religion now goes to a nice index page instead of merely jumping to the P'nei Adonai website.  The essays about Parashot and Holy Days that used to be on the P'nei Adonai website but were removed years ago now live there.  My translation of the Tao Te Ching is also there.

The top menu link for stories now includes my two fantasy novels.

Those changes also mean that I do not need a "books" category, so that top menu link is now gone.

Yay!  Simpler!

Walking and Stacking

Early this month I wrote about Gallant learning to walk.  At that time he was taking up to six steps at a time.

A few days later he could walk forward as far as he wanted.  Two days later he learned to pivot to face a new direction.

By the end of that week he was able to walk on a flat floor, although lacking stability or confidence.

His second week of walking happened while visiting my grandmother.  Although she did not see his first steps, she did get to see him develop more balance and confidence.  Within a few days he could walk on her mowed lawn, and walk over the track of the sliding door that leads out to her patio.

Gallant still does not want to ride the wooden scooter that was so much a part of Smiley's life at the same age.  When I put Gallant on he climbs right off.  It is funny how different the siblings are.

Gallant's newest trick is stacking.

My wife saves Trader Joe's coffee cans for him to use as drums and stacking toys.  Smiley enjoys making towers and pyramids for Gallant to knock over.  On Wednesday Gallant started to put one can on top of another.  He was so happy after doing this!

He also has one of those colored rings stacking toys.  He started putting the rings on the post, or on any similar "post" we held (such as a wooden spoon handle).  This also made him happy.

Gallant has been settings lids on containers for a few weeks.  (Although not yet screwing them on, of course.)  I wonder why lids come sooner than stacking?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Alien Checkers

After many years off the internet, Alien Checkers is back online.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

War on Coal

Coal plants supply most of this country's electricity.  Perhaps this should change.  But attacking coal plants with Federal regulations during a recession without providing any alternative energy supply is silly.

On the Wednesday before last Christmas the EPA created the "Utility MACT rule".  It might make sense to adjust how most coal plant particulate emissions are already regulated.  But this rule instead uses the guise of "mercury emission regulations" to attack coal plants.  Its cost-increasing effects are beginning to be seen.

This is silly.  Mercury emissions are circulated globally, and U.S. coal plants are responsible for less than 1%.  Moreover, since the 1950s the nation's mercury pollution has been decreasing for many reasons.

Soon the Senate will vote on S.J. Resolution 37 to overturn the Utility MACT rule.  This morning I wrote to Senators Merkley and Wyden to ask that they support overturning such dreadful legislation.

Two New Sonnets

Last week I was in California, so my grandmother could meet Gallant and see Smiley again.  I also attended a friend's wedding.

The trip was calm enough that I wrote two sonnets, Developing Balance and Holding, Blending, Dancing.

Spam from my Evil Twin

In early April I received the following e-mail.
Hello: What is your name domain name transfer intention?
I want you to talk about the transfer of matters. If convenient, please leave your contact
Mr. Qufa
So far nothing too unusual, since I get automated requests like this a few times each month.  This one was also in Chinese, but I am not going to copy-and-paste that text in case it actually translated to something else.

However, Mr. Qufa provided a different e-mail address for me to reply to than the address from which the spam was sent.  His was a address.  The spam came from

Why would someone think using my name backwards would be helpful?  Why would someone bother writing software that did that?

Oh well.  As one college friend would paraphrase Shakespeare, "There are more things in heaven and earth than anywhere else."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sabbath Prayer Videos

I often get phone calls to the P'nei Adonai phone number from people wanting to know where is the Messianic Jewish congregation nearest to Eugene, Oregon.  I think that is still Beit Ahavat Yeshua in Lebanon.

Mark, who runs that congregation, has recently finished a big project: putting all of the major Sabbath prayers online as videos.  Fun!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Blessed are the Inefficient

Today Nathen blogged about taking short rest breaks, even napping if needed, as a spiritual practice that aids emotional and physical health.

I no longer need almost an hour to fall asleep, but after years of sleep-onset insomnia can certainly celebrate with Nathen for his overcoming that affliction.

(My only recent problem is how my role of househusband kept me waking early and going to bed late.  I am a few pounds overweight because of this, because I eat a little more than I should to compensate for not regaining enough energy with sleep.  I have probably lost a few brain cells from lack of sleep too.  However, it is a part of parenting and compared to "real" health issues is a small matter.)

I still sympathize with Nathen about the mindset of get things done! that prevents me from being as relaxed and restful as I should be during the day.  Parenting and preparing for my math teaching keep me quite busy.  I also try to do a little website work each day (I am currently adding old essays to my religion section and converting my novel Windsong to HTML).

Fortunately, I am neither a workaholic nor one of those people whose nature thinks it a crime that scripture never says "Blessed are the efficient".  I am fairly content to not get something done today, and barely bothered when a task winds up happening in a non-efficient manner.

Nathen writes well about keeping the day relaxing.  I only have one other trick to add, which has worked well for me in the past: have someone drive you somewhere remote and leave you there for a couple hours.  The situation of being completely unable to be productive can be delightfully therapeutic.

My Winter 2012 Morning Routine

For almost a year I have been getting too little sleep.  Because my wife is not a morning person it is my role to wake up when little Gallant does.  This is usually between 5:50 am and 6:45 am.

When he was very little I would put him in the ergo, make tea, and go for a walk.  Some mornings I would hold him while I showered.

Colder mornings of Winter happened to correspond to Gallant being old enough to entertain himself with toys (and heavy enough that holding him in the shower was no longer a trivial matter).  So the routine changed.  I put him in his baby corral for twenty minutes while I make tea, eat a banana or some other quick food, and take a shower.  That was my time to myself each day this past Winter.  Then, after twenty minutes, Gallant needs attention.  So I play with him downstairs quietly, including letting him climb on me while I do my back extensions and planks, stretching, and morning praying.

Between 7:30 am and 8:00 am Smiley wakes up.  If it is a Tuesday or Thursday I depart for LCC at 7:45 am, waking up my wife if she is still sleeping.

If it is a Monday/Wednesday/Friday I bring Gallant upstairs and try to keep the boys quiet while making us breakfast.  My wife wakes up between 8:00 am and 8:30 am.  I get Smiley to preschool at 9:00 am.  I either drop my wife off at her work on the same trip, or return home to get her and take her to work.

If possible I try to go to bed at 9:00 pm, shortly after Smiley is in bed.  But this seldom happens.  Until fairly recently Gallant would wake up once or twice (usually twice) between his bedtime at 7:00 pm and midnight, wanting to drink.  While my wife nursed him, I made a bottle (her milk supply is low at the end of the day).  Then I waited a few minutes while she fed him the bottle before helping move him back to his crib.

Happily, more sleep will happen soon.  Gallant has been walking for about a week.  This tires him out enough that he is no longer waking between his bedtime and midnight.  Yay!

Relaxation, Fascia, and Rhodiola

About a year ago I blogged about taking rhodiola root extract to help with muscle relaxation.

It actually does much more for me.  It's about time I blogged that too.

Between it and the fact that I have much less fascia tension than a year ago I now fall asleep fairly quickly.  For most of my life it took forty to sixty minutes to fall asleep.  What  a huge benefit!

Also, from my high school years until a year ago I had a subconscious nervous habit of picking at my upper lip.  This habit has bothered me (and really annoyed one of my best friends) but I could not stop it since I usually did not notice starting to do it.  Yet the rhodiola root makes that habit go away.  A couple of times during the past year I have wondered if the rhodiola root might have had some permanent effect and stopped taking it, and with a day or two I catch myself picking at my lip again.  Strange!  I must have some slight chemical imbalance or lack that the rhodiola root fixes.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Six Teeth and Six Steps

Gallant now has six teeth.  His upper right lateral incisor came through last weekend, and the upper left lateral incisor came through this weekend.  He still has a runny nose and frequent wakings during the night, so we expect he is working on yet more teeth.

He also took his first six step "walk" towards Smiley, yesterday.  Not only is this his longest set of steps yet, but he is getting noticeably better at it.  Before he did a "shuffling charge" that was all one continuous forward slowly falling motion.  Now he is taking steps almost as big as when he cruises holding onto furniture, and not falling forward until the end.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Smiley's Treasury

Today, after a splashy yet relaxing soak together in the spa, Smiley and I had an interesting conversation.

I had mentioned needing to do my exercises next.  Smiley likes to invent "exercises" which usually involving holding a somewhat contorted posture and then wiggling the fingers of one hand or the toes of one foot.
Smiley: Do you want to do more exercises?

Daddy: In one moment, after I get dressed.

Smiley: I keep them in my treasury.

Daddy: What is a treasury?

Smiley: My treasury is a special one.  It contains all of my exercises--those with names and those with no names.

Daddy: Tell me more, please.

Smiley: Do you know about a treasury contest?

Daddy: No, what is that?

Smiley: Some have names.  The person with the best one with names gets a surprise on their birthday.  That's just what happens in Far Away Land.  In Eugene it's not happening right now.  Maybe tomorrow morning it will happen.
I have no idea where or when he added the word "Treasury" to his vocabulary.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

VTech InnoTab with Ubuntu Linux

My family will be going on a long car trip later this month.  So I bought an InnoTab that Smiley can use to watch his five-minute Thomas the Train avi files.  It seems to be the least expensive and most durable device for having a little kid watch movies in the car.

Thanks to two guys named Ron I have learned how to put versions of those movies on the InnoTab.

First, prepare the SD card.  If it has contents, erase them.  Make a folder named LLN (which is an acronym for Learning Lodge Navigator).  Inside make three subfolders named MOVIE, MUSIC, and PHOTO.

Now you can use your computer to transfer music and photos directly to the SD card in the appropriate subfolders.  But movies first need to be put into the proper format for the InnoTab to display.

Go to the Ubuntu Software Center to install WinFF, which is a graphical user interface for the standard Linux utility ffmpeg.  Start WinFF.  In the Edit menu create a Preset with the following attributes and save.  (The Name and Label can be anything you want.)
Preset Name: InnoTab
Preset Label: InnoTab Movie
Preset Command Line Parameters: -vf "scale=480:trunc(ow/a/2)*2" -vcodec mjpeg -b 1800k -r 15 -acodec pcm_s16le -ar 20050 -ac 1
Output File Extension: avi
Category: AVI
At the bottom of the main WinFF window pick AVI, InnoTab Movie, and a different folder than the folder containing the original movie files.  Then use the Add button in WinFF to pick which movies to convert.  Click the Convert button and wait a while.

Now you can put the new files into that MOVIE subfolder of the SD card.  Ta da!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Google down then spread out

A couple weeks ago I could not log into gmail for a few hours on a Tuesday morning.  The service was temporarily unavailable.  Searching the internet for the error message revealed an oddity: some folks that had multiple gmail accounts were able to use one but not another.

I never heard what happened.  The best guess I read was that it involved a server switch to implement Google's new type of networking.

Gallant at Eleven Months

Gallant is almost eleven months old.  Besides being sick for a month, what has he been up to since his nine-month checkup?

He has learned how to do many new things.

Briefly amusing was his new game of sticking out tongues at each other.  What a funny way to be social together!  Thankfully, he was amenable to being trained not to do this in the high chair, and although he still enjoys it no longer initiates it so frequently.

He also learned to use his toys of the "pull on a string and it wiggles" variety.  Two of these hang from parts of his baby corral.  The tricky one is a little toy hamster whose "tail" is a bead that pulls out: like his brother, he learned to pull this with his teeth months before developing the finger coordination to pull hard on a bead.

He became more fond and skilled at standing up.  Eventually he did so much standing that merely standing up was no longer entertaining and he is again content to play with a toy while sitting if this is easier (which makes baths more relaxing).  He takes up to three steps but only in a shuffling-charge aimed at leaning on furniture or a parent.

He loves to practice walking.  In the back yard he has a plastic wagon to push around the lawn.  Inside he has a wooden scooter but its steering handle still confuses him; the wagon is more predictable in its movement.  Gallant is slowly discovering how to grasp the wagon or scooter with hands spread out symmetrically.  He very quickly learned to deal with getting stuck by cruising around to the opposite end and pushing the other way: often when pushing more symmetrically would suffice he instead moves to the opposite end.

He also likes to practice walking while holding hands.  Smiley enjoys helping with this, and also helps by slowly pulling the scooter in circles in the sitting room so Gallant need not steer while "pushing" from behind.

Gallant became much better at eating solid food without gagging.  He learned to take very small bites of harder foods.  One piece of Rice Chex might be a dozen tiny nibbles.  It is nice to have peeled apple and bananas added to the list of usable finger foods.

He adores talking to Grandma on Skype.  We often do this at his second breakfast.  He squeals and chatters when he sees the Skype program starting, and interacts with the video call much more than his brother did at the same age.  He babbles, holds out his finger food for Grandma to see, and demonstrates how well he pounds his hand or spoon on the high chair tray.

Currently Gallant's favorite toys (aside from the wagon and scooter) are his shape sorter (just the peg board, not the shapes) and empty coffee cans.  The shape sorter is really fun to wave around and chew on, but occasionally while he holds one end the peg on the other end will bop him in the forehead.  The coffee cans are drums as well as things he knocks down when we stack them.

He eats a lot of solid food and poops five or six times each day.  At that age his brother wore mainly cloth diapers: we only used disposable diapers two or perhaps three times per day before bedtime (when the extra absorbency was needed) or when we really expected a poop.  Gallant rarely needs a diaper change because of being too wet.  Maybe twice per week.  So our cloth diapers are currently out of rotation.  The good news is that his bottom, although often slightly pink, seems very resistant to diaper rash.  He has only ever had two so far, and both went away quickly.