Sunday, November 17, 2013


November 17, 2013

It is, of course, THAT time of the semester, and though I have largely survived to this point, and the outlook to survive completely and score a total recovery is positive.  It doesn't mean, however, that I don't play mind games with myself.

Back in the day (unlike the enlightened present) public schools didn't typically start junior high students into algebra, the course Davis conquered as a 6th grader.  We all waited to have Ms. Littlejohn in the 9th grade (1st period--7:08 every morning. . .and luckily it was offered in the South Annex, which was only two blocks door to door from my house, so I could stumble in on time.)  

Some of my friends' parents allowed them to enroll in both Geometry and Algebra II when we were sophomores, so they could get all their pre-reqs in for the full run of mathematics, through trigonometry, analytical geometry, elementary analysis, and calculus, but my mean ol' parents insisted that I stay well-rounded, and I had to take them one at a time.  Which meant that if I was going to catch up to my rightful cadre of peers on the maths track, I had to take trig and analyt in summer school.

Mr. Longest pulled that awful instructional duty (he must have been either really naughty or really desperate), teaching heavy-duty math from 7:00 to 12:05 five days a week, six weeks in a row.  He tried to make the best of being trapped with cheerless 15 and 16 year olds, spinning out terribly silly, long-winded jokes so that we weren't snorting sin and sec into our brains the entire time (imagine the potential damage that would do).   I don't remember any of the jokes, but they had punch lines like "Only Hugh can prevent florist friars" and "Silly rabbi, kicks are for trids."

Despite his best efforts, time weighed on our hands--and here is where I'm not that proud:  

Every day, when I got to class, I would draw a circle in the upper right hand corner of my desk.  I would then divide it into five equal parts and then bisect each part and then bisect all of the parts, leaving me with a circle that had thirty equal pie-shaped compartments.

At 7:15, I would shade in one of the pie slivers with my trusty No. 2 pencil:

By the time the dismissal bell rang, it look like this (except, much more all the same shade):

By the end of the summer, all 30 desks carried this brand.

Now, the confession.  When I have a stack of 24 mid-term papers or 76 mid-term exams or whatever, I do the same kind of tracking, making sure I know at the beginning how many more papers I have to look through.  I put myself on a schedule (whatever is appropriate--three per hour, two per hour, five per hour, something), and then I track myself--though not on the desktop anymore.

If you are interested.  I have thirteen four page briefs, due back to the students on Tuesday.  Then I will just face twenty-four homework essays (coming in on the 21th), 76 essay exams (coming in on the 26th), 6 final projects (coming in on December 6) and 76 final exams (also coming in on December 6). Can you tell I'm celebrating?  After all the exams, projects, homeworks, and briefs I have shaded my way through this semester, I really can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be Brave

November 10, 2013

Twelve and a half years ago, when Erin was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, I never imagined where that diagnosis would take our family.  Obviously, some of it has sucked in ways that can't be expressed.  Walter and I would have gone to the moon and back to secure her survival.  You never want to hold your child down so that people can stick needles in them.  You never want your child to clutch and emesis basin like it is their oldest and best long-lost friend.

But this post isn't a complain or a whine post (if it was, there would be a different verb at the top of the page, you know like "Complain" or "Whine").

This post is an exhortation and an invitation.

First, the Invitation:  In two weeks (Saturday, November 23) you can run at the new obstacle and survival course over in Manor (on 290 on the way to Austin) called The Crucible.  This is a 5K race (and come on, if you can't run 5 you can walk it!).


The sponsor of the race is MaxCure Foundation.  This New York City-based foundation puts kids with cancer and their families FIRST.  My friend Richard Plotkin who is the grandfather of the "Max" in MaxCure claims that his friends doubt he is really from the political party he claims to be from because he gives away so much money (usually gift cards) to needy families.

Max Cure has chosen six families from Texas Children's Hospital to support using the proceeds from this race.  They were chosen in honor of Erin.  So if you run, you help these families and you honor Erin.

The Exhortation:  Be Brave 24 has even more meaning.  The 5K has 24 obstacles.  Each one helps you remember an hour in the day of the life of a child with cancer.  You can't avoid them.  You have to face them.  When you are a child with cancer (or their family) you live with cancer 24 hours a day.  This race will make that fact a little more real to you.  See if you can Be Brave-24.

You can check it out here at

Are you brave enough to challenge yourself to get to Manor and cross the finish line?  If you haven't decided yet, consider this:

Maybe you are taking yourself and the challenge too seriously.  Loosen up.  Have some fun.  Drive over to Manor and make a difference for some kids:  Caleb, Jason, Faith, Payton, Konor, and Nathan.  And do it in honor of Erin.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Long and the Short of It Redux

November 8, 2013

Last week I wrote about the long and the short of it.  And didn't think I would ever return to the topic again.  Until I saw this:

This is a chart of plot boxes built by MWBeck on the average dissertation length by number of pages by field.  I don't know Mr. (Ms.?) Beck, but I do understand how grad students find every which way to procrastinate instead of working on their dissertations.  

In this case, we can enjoy the fruit of the delay in so many ways that we couldn't have if Beck had cleaned the bathroom or gone on a long bike ride or decided to do yet another literature review in some tangential field before getting back to the serious, yet postponable task of actually writing on the dissertation.

So now we know how dissertations stack up, literally.

The top line?  

History--on average the longest dissertations completed for all of these various fields.

The second line from the bottom?

Mathematics--on average the second shortest dissertations completed for all of these various fields (after biostatistics).

Happily in the green box somewhere close to the middle?

Business Administration --which is as close as I can find to my field (management)

[My dissertation work, by the way, was an outlier on this scale--maybe only fitting in two-volumes when it was bound by the thesis office.]

Can you see the disconnect we have when discussing Davis's dissertation research with him?  As I find myself steering the conversation between Walter who finished his dis 34 years ago and like clock work, turned it into a book

And Davis who spends his time thinking rather than staring at a computer screen waiting for the words to come.  John Nash (A Brilliant Mind) earned a doctorate in mathematics in 1950 with a 28 page paper that had two footnotes.  I guess Davis's will be longer, but there's really no way to actually tell at this point.

I guess I am once again happy that there is room for the long and the short of it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Watch and Share

November 6, 2013

"Dialogue alone means nothing."

This video means a lot to me.  I'm friends with the wonderful people who made it and with most of the people in the video.  

Please join me and take a stand.  Watch.  Share.  Tweet.  Stand Up.