Friday, September 30, 2011

next step: advertising locally

The blog is more or less ready and the first Craigslist ad is up: an online presence has been established. I've got two high schools up the street from me and several colleges and universities in the area around me, so now it's time to start advertising locally. I may even do the obnoxious thing and stick advert flyers in my neighbors' doors; the apartment complex has plenty of families with kids, as well as a healthy complement of twentysomethings of grad school age. I wonder whether I should be printing out business cards as well, especially as I'm getting to know the locals.

ADDENDUM: I think a free one-hour session (not a lesson: an actual lesson would involve planning and on-task activities, whereas a getting-to-know-you session would be more about putting out feelers) might be a good way to promote my service.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

shingle: out

It's not much, it's not pretty, but the Craigslist ad is now up. (NB: The link will be dead in a week. That's how long a Craigslist ad typically stays up.)

And TEF is also on Twitter.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

at long last, we're open for business

Creating those rate charts and figuring out some of the regs and policies took two weeks longer than I expected, but I'm finally ready to hang my private tutoring shingle. The TEF blog, while far from complete, now has all the basic information for anyone curious about what I'll be teaching and how much the lessons will cost. Face-to-face tutoring is available to anyone in the northern Virginia area, spanning the entire Alexandria-to-Winchester axis, including Manassas, Chantilly, Fairfax, and Centreville. Tutoring via Skype is available to anyone in the world, as long as we can agree on an appropriate lesson schedule.

I'll be placing ads on Craigslist, that den of freakiness, in the hopes of attracting business. Wish me luck.


watch this space

Special announcement tonight. No, nothing earth-shaking.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Math Beast Challenge problem

This week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem is:

"Just Average"


a1, a2, a3, ..., an, ...

In the sequence above, each term after the first is equal to the average of the preceding term and the following term.

Quantity A
a10 – a8

Quantity B
a5 – a3


(A) Quantity A is greater.
(B) Quantity B is greater.
(C) The two quantities are equal.
(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

My answer will be in the comments. MGRE will reveal the official answer next week.


lemme get this straight

Certain conservatives were in an uproar over a video by rapper Stanley Lafleur, in which Lafleur portrays a punk using his EBT card (electronic benefit transfer-- the card is for welfare recipients) to buy snacks and smokes, and even to attempt to buy some pot. Lafleur himself says the video was supposed to parody the people who abuse the welfare system, but many conservatives have interpreted the video as glorifying such abusive behavior.

Meanwhile, another group of conservatives, this time at UC Berkeley, has caused a liberal uproar by staging a bake sale at which prices for baked goods have been adjusted for race and sex (see here). The point of the sale was to highlight the injustice of race- and sex-conscious admissions practices.

What's sad to me is that I think the second group of conservatives would have understood the intent behind Mr. Lafleur's video: the Berkeley kids were engaging in exactly the same sort of parody and provocation. Instead, what I see is inconsistency on both sides of the aisle-- evidence that both liberals and conservatives seem, on the whole, to have a hard time getting their stories straight as to what they believe. Why do some liberals tolerate Lafleur while others denounce the Berkeley conservatives? Why do some conservatives repudiate Lafleur while others support the UC Berkeley experiment?

Personally, I think Lafleur's video is hilarious, and the UC Berkeley "experiment" was justified. But maybe my self-consistency on this point stems from the fact that I'm neither liberal nor conservative. Heh.


Monday, September 26, 2011

now on sale

Check out the newest Dalma Daesa tee shirt design, now on sale at my CafePress store.


closer to the real thing

In my previous post, I jokingly offered you a "GRE-style" Analytical Writing essay topic. Here's a better example of what such a task actually looks like. This comes from my Kaplan manual (Kaplan New GRE Verbal Workbook, 7th Edition; New York: Kaplan, Inc., 2011), and I can vouch that this example conforms to what you'd see on the actual GRE:

The following is a letter to the editor of a psychology journal:

The data collected from a variety of studies now suggest a relationship between the medicine Hypathia and the heightened risk of anxiety in patients afflicted with bipolar disorder. In 1950, before Hypathia was widely used to treat bipolar disorder, relatively few patients were diagnosed as anxious or had symptoms that suggested anxiety. However, in five studies published between 2005 and 2010, more than 60 percent of the subjects with bipolar disorder who took Hypathia demonstrated symptoms of anxiety or reported having episodes of heightened anxiety.

Write a response in which you discuss one or more viable alternatives to the proposed explanation. Justify, with support, why your explanation could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.

If you're really a nerd, take 30 minutes and write a full response to this in the comments, but beware the 4096-character limit: you may need to post your essay in two parts. Not having been trained in how to evaluate such essays, I can't give you an accurate score, but instead of scoring you, I'll be curious to see how you and others approach the writing topic. If you don't want to write a full essay, I'll be happy to see a list of the fallacies you've detected in the prompt, and a sketch of your alternative explanations. (This type of essay isn't merely about finding flaws; it's also about repairing them.)

UPDATE: I treat this particular question in much greater detail at my tutoring blog-- here.


GRE exercise: spot the fallacies

Transcript of a recent Gillette Odor Shield commercial:


It raised monuments,
(scene of sweaty Egyptians-- or Hebrew slaves??-- hauling stone and creating pyramids)
discovered new worlds, (cut to a 16th- or 17th-century sea captain and crew laboring on storm-tossed seas)
and redefined music. (cut to intense, 1700s-era harpsichord action)

It gave man wings (cut to a closeup of one of the Wright Brothers on the Flyer I)
and took us all to the moon. (cut to an American astronaut on the moon, sliding up his faceplate)

Great things can come out of sweat,
so don’t let odor stop you.

Those who take the revised GRE will have to pump out two timed essays for the Analytical Writing section. I can't talk to you about the specific topics I wrote on, but I can say that one of the two essays in the AW section is basically a "spot the fallacies" exercise, and your job is to write several paragraphs about the fallacies you find in the argument presented to you.

TV commercials are a fantastic and never-ending source of sloppy argumentation. The above-quoted commercial is a hilarious example. Which-- and how many-- fallacies can you spot? Don't be shy: no fallacy is too small for inclusion.

UPDATE: The next post offers a more serious take on the GRE exercise.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


It's going to take me some time to get used to this new work schedule. As you know, I've sacrificed Mondays to work on Saturdays, which means I no longer have a string of three free days. I don't think I slept all that well on Friday night because I knew I would have to wake up early Saturday morning; on Saturdays, YB goes from 9AM to 5PM instead of from 3:30PM to 9:30PM. I also had to make sure that I got all my eating done early on Friday, so that I could take a massive dump the following morning and go eight hours without needing the terlit.

Alas, my strategy didn't quite work out as planned: although I did manage to finish eating by 6PM Friday, my Saturday morning turd-birthing session was rather disappointing, with just a few tiny earthworms of poop wriggling out. I'm guessing this is because my body is used to pooping later in the day; it was a rude wake-up call, from my colon's point of view, to be forced to perform several hours earlier than usual. I showered and dressed, fully expecting to need to hit the pot while at work, and dreading that awful moment.

Luckily, the moment never came. I must have planned well: I took some Imodium before I left for work, and that may have calmed the intestinal nerves enough to keep The Urge (I often think of my colon as more of a Demiurge, actually) from arising. Also, the meal I had on Friday was vegetable-heavy as opposed to being carb-heavy, and I'm sure that fact played a role in my Saturday non-poopage.

If we were ever to create mini-teleportation technology like the device featured in "Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country" (remember when Chekov collected Klingon blood samples from the floor of the Enterprise's transporter room by using a mini-transporter?), I'd be among the first to purchase such tech* as a means to teleport unpooped crap out of my guts. I hate unpooped crap, you see: it detracts from the satisfaction of crapping when you know, as Mr. Creosote did, that There's still more.

Unfortunately, we don't yet live in a world of casual poop-teleportation, so I have to make do with my mixture of timing, vegetables, and Imodium. Until I'm finally used to my new schedule, that is.

*Bulimics wouldn't be far behind.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

still digesting

I just watched "True Legend" (rented via iTunes for a couple of bucks) which is the highly mythologized hagiography of Su Can, founder of the Drunken Fist School. I remember loving the preview trailer when I saw it, but I'm not quite sure what to think of the movie. There were some spectacular fight sequences-- veteran readers of this blog know I'm a fight choreography junkie-- but the film didn't really gel for me. Part of the problem is that I've never enjoyed those late-1800s/early-1900s Chinese-versus-Westerner fight scenes, like the one that takes up most of the end of the film: the presence of the Westerner spoils the mythology.

Among its other flaws, the movie went overboard on special effects, it underused two international stars (David Carradine and Michelle Yeoh), it featured some cringe-inducingly corny moments, and it had an annoying child star in the role of Su Can's son. In some respects, though, the movie was a treat: the choreography was faithful to old-school kung fu flicks, the story was a classic revenge tale, and there were some moments of magic thanks to Gordon Liu, who played a sort of cosmic version of the white-eyebrowed Pai Mei character he portrayed in "Kill Bill: Volume 2."

Still, the movie's virtues couldn't make up for its deficits. The main conflict-- between Su Can and his brother-- was left unresolved (Wikipedia says Su killed his brother, but I'm not so sure), and unlike when I saw "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," I had relatively little emotional investment in the characters. The sappy portrayal of Su Can didn't help: one scene had the master, defeated after a fight against his brother, sobbing into the camera with his mouth full of rice. The scene was supposed to arouse our sympathy or pity, but it came off as unintentionally humorous. Su Can proved to be a weepy sad sack later in the movie, too-- a far cry from the noble general he had been at the very beginning of the film. Perhaps that was the filmmakers' point: the creator of Drunken Fist had to fall far before he could invent that style of fighting. If so, they made their point too well.

The more I think about this film, the less I'm inclined to recommend it. Its heart is in the right place, but the overall execution is lacking. If you want to watch "True Legend," see if you can do it for free. And only if you truly have nothing better to do.



You'll recall my previous post, in which I showed Tiger and Rabbit holding a staring contest, with Horse butting in. The picture below was actually drawn first; it shows Tiger doing the talking, and he seems mighty pleased with whatever he's saying, but Monk and Horse aren't taking the news in quite the same chipper spirit.

(Since Monk and Horse are both plant-eaters, as Larry Niven would say, I imagine Tiger is recounting the off-putting details of a recent meal.)


a more classic Dalma

This Dalma-do is more in keeping with the classic style: Dalma Daesa looks sleepier and droopier, but he retains his aura of samadhi, or concentration/absorption. I should note, too, that many Dalma-do are drawn to resemble mountain ranges with the sun peeking over the highest peak. Definite symbolism there, what with all that a mountain range implies: stability, groundedness, etc.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Popeye Dalma?

Of the Dalma-do that I drew, this one is the most obviously cartoonish, even though that's not how I initially intended it.


Dalma Daesa (thicker brush strokes)

A brush pen isn't the same as an actual brush: the tip, while brush-shaped, is essentially a sort of sponge reminiscent of a magic marker. I tried creating thicker brush strokes by leaning the brush pen over, and voilà:


who will win?


staring contest, interrupted

The pic started with just Tiger and Rabbit staring at each other, and then I suddenly felt the need to bring Horse into the frame. I tend to think that Horse doesn't realize he's intruding.

I did a whole slew of pics last night, and have scanned some of the better ones. They'll be up on the blog later tonight, when I'm back from work.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


A possible tee shirt design? (Gray added with Photoshop.)


what appeared from out of my brush

I've long enjoyed drawing Dalma Daesa (that's the Korean way to refer to Bodhidharma, First Patriarch of Ch'an/Zen/Seon Buddhism). A rather good-looking manifestation of him appeared from out of my brush-pen last night:

Jason of Mississippi to Korea very kindly had my old stamp remade for no charge. I think I might just send the original of this image to him as a thank-you.


the return of Dalma Daesa

(NB: I'm publishing this by email since Blogger Home seems to be undergoing difficulties.)

I've long enjoyed drawing Dalma Daesa (the Korean designation for Bodhidharma). This image simply... appeared under my brush pen, and I ended up liking the way he came out. I'm thinking I should mail this image to Jason, who was kind enough to have my Korean dojang (stamp, chop) redone for me.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Math Beast Challenge problem

From Manhattan GRE's Math Beast Challenge page:

This Week's Problem: "Awesome Odds Sum"

Which of the following numbers cannot be written as the sum of a sequence of numbers, a1 + a2 + a3 + … + an, where a1 = 1 and an = an–1 + 2 for all n > 1?

(A) 121
(B) 144
(C) 169
(D) 201
(E) 225

My answer will be in the comments section, as usual. MGRE's official answer will be out next week.


le colis sur mon seuil

I got my package from Manhattan GRE today-- two guides to help me out with the Quantitative portion of the revised GRE. I had the chance to flip through one guide over dinner, and it looks pretty good.

In other news: the answer to last week's Math Beast Challenge question was indeed D. We who answered "D" are all vindicated. But I didn't win the random drawing this time around, alas.



It's Monday, and I'm not at work. As mentioned earlier, my new schedule has started. Today marks the final day of my weird, four-day weekend; I'll be working a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule for the indefinite future. My hope is that the office will hire another teacher (you'll recall that we lost two good ones) so that I can go back to my old Mon-Thurs schedule. But it sounds as if this isn't going to happen anytime soon. YB Near is a smaller center than many; the office probably sees little point in hiring someone else when fewer people can take up the slack.


Monday, September 19, 2011

talking past each other

A U. Calgary neuroscientist named Walter Glannon says, in "Neuroscience vs. Philosophy: Taking Aim at Free Will," that "Neuroscientists and philosophers talk past each other." Only too true, I think. While studies in cognition have become very interdisciplinary over the past few decades, I'm still left with the feeling-- based on my own superficial readings-- that a great deal more cross-pollination between scientists and philosophers is possible. My own reading of cognitive theorist Bernard Lonergan, a Catholic priest who devoted his life to what might be called the anthropology of consciousness, has left me with the thought that many such theorists make little or no effort to appreciate the actual science involved.

I find very little in science to support the substance dualism thesis, for example; if anything, I see more scientific support for a Buddhist notion of consciousness and selfhood: a given consciousness is a dynamic assembly of processual phenomena. Any "selfhood" that arises from this assembly isn't so much unreal as not fundamentally real, and this ontology obtains whether the phenomena in question are labeled physical or mental (see my old post here for why I think a Buddhist wouldn't care too much about the substance dualism-versus-physicalism question).

Of course, I also think that cognitive neuroscience isn't yet at a point where it can make self-assured declarations about the nonexistence of free will. Scientists do themselves no favors when they fail to respect their own methodological skepticism.

All the same, there is a serious discussion to be had, here: in the West, we link free will to the notion of moral responsibility. If we are, indeed, beings with no libertarian free will, then in what way are we responsible for any of our actions? A dialogue between and among philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers is, I believe, necessary if we're to make any progress on these crucial questions.

My thanks to Peter at Conscious Entities for writing the post that prompted my own superficial musings. Peter's post also links to a large-scale interdisciplinary project called Big Questions in Free Will, a project that does indeed promote dialogue on consciousness among various thinkers in disparate disciplines.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Story My Mother Told Me: review

The Story My Mother Told Me is a novella by Ruth Egan, an online friend of mine. It tells the tale of a daughter, Chani (pronounced like "Cheney," not "tchah-ni," as in the character Chani from Dune), who discovers, at age 28, that her life has been founded on a series of strategic lies. Chani has a fulfilling job as a newspaper editor in Indiana, but goes to Florida for an extended trip when she learns that her mother, Cass, has ovarian cancer. Chani uses this opportunity for closeness to explore her mother's life; she meets her mother's best and oldest friend, and experiences a series of shocking revelations that turn her previously secure and ordered world upside-down.

The story is written in simple, evocative prose; it touches on themes of love, family, sexuality, death, betrayal, and forgiveness. Pacing throughout is brisk and no-nonsense; the action moves forward in a rapid succession of bite-sized chapters. Although the revelations lead us somewhat into fairy-tale territory, Egan never violates our suspension of disbelief by making events ridiculous: nothing in the story is implausible. What Egan does instead is subvert the fairy-tale template, turn it on its head: the protagonist discovers her true pedigree, but the emotional cost of that discovery is painfully high.

I read The Story My Mother Told Me in two quick sittings. The book was hard to put down, partly because a major element of the plot was Chani's mother's cancer, a notion that has personal relevance. The characters in the book are real, very human, and subject to the moral weakness found in all people who make compromises and weather dire crises. If you have the time and the inclination, I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Egan's sweet, touching little novella (available through Amazon) and give it a read.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

extreme netipotting

As always, Justin Yoshida finds the coolest crap online. Visit his blog and watch the embedded video, "Neti Pot Olympics."

(I suspect this is more likely an Onion-style vid than a serious thing. Readers? How good is your Russian?)


Friday, September 16, 2011


We're losing one of our teachers at YB Near: he's a recent graduate and a second lieutenant in the US Air Force who's been awaiting his call-up to active duty. YB is where he's been biding his time. He started working at our center a couple months after I had started, and now-- poof-- he's out the door after this Saturday. A.P., we hardly knew ye.

A.P. was a great coworker and a fine teacher, but now that he's leaving, the question arises: how do we fill the pedagogical vacuum? The answer, at least for the next couple months, is that Your Humble Narrator will begin working on Saturdays and stop working on Mondays. My Monday students-- most of them, anyway-- will be shunted to Tuesday, and a former YB employee has been roped in to do some part-time work on Mondays as well. No new teachers are going to be hired for the moment-- an interesting contrast with the hiring frenzy at YB Far a couple months ago.

I'm a bit apprehensive about the increase in student load, but am glad to be getting two extra hours per week. I'm sad to be losing my three off-days in a row (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), but I was going to lose them, anyway, given my own plans to tutor privately.

This weekend, then, will be a long one, as I'll be off Friday through Monday; starting next Tuesday, though, I'll be shifting to the new schedule. Wish me luck.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

bizarre claim

Another Manhattan Prep tweet alerted me to this article in The Economist: "Chinese: No word for -ing."

The article claims:

The internet is replete with funny Chinese signs in English, but a friend currently in Kunming, in [southwestern] China, sends in a doozy of an unusual one. He translates it as "fall fashions, selling fast." (The characters are autumn, style, hot and sell in that order.) What's unusual is the borrowing of just a single bit of English: that "-ing" ending. Chinese doesn't have a progressive aspect that closely mirrors the English "running" and such. So this seems to be nothing more than to add a little foreign glamour to a bland shoe-sale sign.

First, I find the article's title rather strange. Since "-ing" itself isn't a word-- it's a suffix-- what exactly is being claimed when we say the Chinese have no word for "-ing"? Since we English-speakers also lack a word for "-ing," in what way are we lording it over the Chinese?

Second, I disagree with the claim that "Chinese doesn't have a progressive aspect that closely mirrors the English 'running' and such." If I'm not mistaken, the Chinese can use the "中" character to indicate the present progressive. I'm making this assumption based on an extrapolation from how Chinese is used in Korean (e.g., "X [하는] 중"), and I don't think I'm far wrong. The "中" character literally means "middle" or "center," and in Korean it can mean "in the midst of" when being used in the progressive sense.

Would any Chinese-speakers care to weigh in? Is the article's claim correct? Call it a conceit, but I suspect that all languages contain some way to express the progressive tenses.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011


The final salvo in the barrage of birthdays happens today, September 14: it's my brother David's birthday, and he's turning a ripe old thirty-five.

David's a nut. At least twice a week, he sends me a text message from his office. Without fail, it reads:


This is how David reminds me of his existence: he signals when he's taking a dump.

My brother's dumps are the stuff of legend, and it's always mystified me how someone so thin can produce such enormous turds. Without my daily dose of Metamucil, my own turds amount to little more than rabbit raisins, but David-- ah, David unloads a damn freight train when his ass goes postal. I'd love to know his secret, but I fear I already do: he doesn't go every day. Yours truly can be found on the throne at least once per day, firing off rounds with Metamucil-fueled consistency. David, by contrast, must have an aircraft-hangar-sized colon or something, because he can store a terrifying amount of the brown stuff before he finally heeds the urge to let fly.

And he lets fly while at work. Where he can earn a reputation. I'd never take a dump while at YB-- ever-- unless I absolutely had to. I imagine that David prefers the office john because it's one of those industrial-strength toilets; his meek little house toilets, one upstairs and one downstairs, probably shudder at his approach.

When David texts me his gastric status update, I usually respond with an unpunctuated


He truly is an awlsome brother, and not just because he kicks my ass in the fecal output department. He is, as the Jews might say, a Mensch.

Happy Birthday, Big Boy.

(Here's a link to the poem I wrote David when he turned 32.)


languages change

In line with my recent "don't overcorrect" post: I've been led to this amusing article on "20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback." The article begins:

During my undergraduate studies as a Linguistics major, one of the things that struck me most is the amazing fluidity of language. New words are created; older words go out of style. Words can change meaning over time, vowel sounds shift, consonants are lost or added and one word becomes another. Living languages refuse to be static.

In his comment to my other post, Charles observes that "languages are as they are practiced"-- that's his riff off my repeated refrain about religion. I agree, and I think that language is a good metaphor for a nondualistic truth: in language, we see the tension between the static and the dynamic, the push-pull between the urge to preserve a "proper" form of the language and a language's natural (because human) tendency to change with the times. Both forces are necessary for there to be a living language: just as a tree needs both anchoring roots and yearning leaves, a language needs conservative defenders and space for novelty.

While you chew on the above insights, please don't kench at this jargogle of a post.

(Many thanks to the MGRE Twitter feed for linking to this article.)


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Math Beast Challenge problem

From MGRE's Math Beast Challenge page, we have the following problem:

This Week's Problem: "Candy Bar Sales"

Q: James bought c candy bars, each at a price of p dollars. He then sold s of those candy bars, each at a price of y dollars. If James made a profit of x dollars, which of the following represents the number of candy bars that James sold?


(A) (pc – x)/y

(B) (x – pc)/y

(C) xy – pc

(D) (x + pc)/y

(E) (pc – y)/x

This seems fairly straightforward. My answer will be in the comments. The official answer will be displayed next week.


j'ai gagné!

Remember the Manhattan GRE Math Beast Challenge involving the 27-piece cake and its frosting? It appears that I've won that challenge: I was part of a group of people who got the answer correct, and from that pool my name was randomly selected. I was informed by email that I will soon be the proud owner of a pair of MGRE strategy guides; I was allowed to pick which two guides I would like delivered, so I chose the Word Problems GRE Strategy Guide and the Quantitative Comparisons & Data Interpretation GRE Strategy Guide. This will, along with helping me study for a possible third attempt at the GRE, give me an idea of how MGRE teaches strategy. If I'm going to teach there, I need to think the way they do.


don't overcorrect

I find myself increasingly annoyed by the smug idiots who say, "Decimate does not mean destroy: it means remove or kill a tenth of."

Folks, decimate may have had that latter meaning as its only meaning when the word first came into existence, but nowadays, it's perfectly fine to say The bomb decimated the city. This might not imply total destruction, but the word in modern English can mean anything up to near-total destruction. It's a perfectly fine descriptor of what a bomb can do.

People who make such foolish "corrections" are mistaking original meanings for proper meanings. Notions of proper change with the times. The next time someone tries to tell you you're misusing decimate, ask him whether he thinks his best friend is a nice person. When he says "yes," look shocked and ask him whether he really believes his friend is foolish and stupid. This is, after all, the older-- and therefore proper!-- use of the word nice.


I once heard a man of Scottish extraction claim that no self-respecting Scotsman would ever use the term "Scotch-Irish." "Scotch is a drink!" he said, to much polite laughter from a crowd that knew no better. "The proper term is "Scots-Irish." But he was wrong: "Scotch" is a perfectly serviceable term in the perfectly legitimate expression "Scotch-Irish." Wikipedia has an interesting write-up on this expression, and notes that "Scotch-Irish" is current only in North America, while "Scots-Irish" is a term of more recent invention, and is also confined to North American usage.

This makes our man wrong twice over: if "Scotch-Irish" isn't heard outside of North America (the demographic in question is apparently referred to as "Ulster Scots" in the UK), then how does calling oneself "Scots-Irish" prove that one is a self-respecting Scotsman? This terminological quibble seems to have little, if anything, to do with the monikers used in the Old Country, and that reinforces the point I'm making in this post: in trying to sound smart, don't sound stupid.

(Click this link to see the etymology of nice.)


Monday, September 12, 2011

another one turns 42

My buddy Mike turned 42 this past June 15. Another buddy named Mike turned 42 on August 29. Two days later, it was my turn. My buddy Dr. Steve turns 42 today; later this year, in November, two more of my friends turn 42.

Since today, September 12, is Steve's birthday, my immediate thought is to embarrass him on this blog. How to do so...?

Let's link to the YouTube videos he's made for his students!

And here's his Rate My Professors page! Ha ha!

I've been friends with Steve (and I'm apparently the only one allowed to call him "Steve") since the eighth grade. He and I have some deep and abiding disagreements about the proper significance of postmodernist and poststructuralist thought, but in the cosmic scheme of our friendship, that disagreement is a fairly recent-- and innocuous-- development. Steve worked hard and got his doctorate at the beginning of the 2000s, and has been working his ass off as an excellent teacher ever since. He's also the author of a wacky mystery-adventure novel called The Shaker (click the "novel" link on this page to get the unabridged Google Docs version), a story I keep hoping he'll publish. His dissertation was, in the grand tradition, made into a book: History and Refusal: Consumer Culture and Postmodern Theory in the Contemporary American Novel, available for the low, low price of $53 at As with all my friends, Steve's character and accomplishments make me want to be a better person. I wish him the happiest of birthdays: next year, 43 puts us all back into prime-number hell.


humorously subversive intertextuality



Sunday, September 11, 2011

quiet commemoration

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack is upon us. Debates that began in the aftermath of the attacks are still going strong today, and America is, in some ways, no longer what it was. As tempting as it might be to reengage some of those post-disaster issues, I think I'd rather commemorate this sad day by doing an hour's worth of meditation-- something I haven't done in a long time. They say the best way to improve the world is to improve yourself, so in that spirit, I hope to do my small part to make the day a little more peaceful.

However you choose to commemorate the day, I hope you have a mindful 9/11.



My lovely goddaughter, R, turns 14 today, so I'll be trundling over to Mike's house for dinner. Last I heard, she and her little sister were supposed to go out shooting with their dad (he moonlights as a vigilante crime fighter, so yes, they'll be shooting people); I wonder how this might affect whatever birthday party plans they have. For the moment, I'm assuming that dinner equals birthday party, if the first part of the day is being devoted to shooting. (This will be the girls' first-ever day of shooting.)

R is now a high school freshman. A Frosh. A n00b. She's also--finally-- taking her first French class. For the past couple of years, I've been irritated at her county (Stafford) for its dearth of foreign language programs; in my view, she should have started French at least two years earlier. That's not R's fault, of course; she just happens to be living in a county that has, shall we say, different priorities. In any case, she's tracking into the IB program, which means she has to do two years of French in a single academic year; I'll have the chance to be useful to her, and not just be her joke-cracking godfather. This makes me happy.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

very belated congratulations

It seems I've been remiss in notifying the public that my good friend Charles La Shure of Liminality is now Doctor Charles La Shure. No stranger to liminal periods, Charles now looks forward to the next phase of his life. I certainly won't be blogging about those plans until he does, but I think it's safe to say that he has a wide range of choices before him. Charles blogs about his graduation ceremony here.



Yesterday, I was late to my job for the first time (by a painful 5 minutes), but I had trouble feeling apologetic: the drive to work was goddamn amazing. Right now it's sunny, but it had been raining in northern Virginia for several days thanks to all that tropical storm and hurricane activity; yesterday's rain was even more intense than it had been previously, which meant that many of the roads were flooding. My drive to YB Near, which starts out west in the mountains and heads eastward toward DC, wasn't too bad for most of the way, but as I got closer to my exit, the rain picked up and I found myself hydroplaning.

I've hydroplaned before. It's an exhilarating experience, especially when there are cars all around. But yesterday I discovered that, when there's enough water on the ground, it's possible to hydroplane at slow speeds-- in my case, at 45 mph (approx. 73 kph for my metric-brained readers). I normally travel the freeway at an average of 75-80 mph, so this was something new. At first, I tried to push ahead of the crowd, but once the hydroplaning began, I realized the futility of pretending my car was bigger and more powerful than it actually was.

For those who've never hydroplaned: imagine hitting a patch of ice. Hydroplaning can be slippery like that. The water in front of your tires has built up to such a point that the buildup has moved under your tires and lifted your car off the road. Your speedometer goes crazy: you're doing only 50 mph, but the needle shows you revving up to 70 mph. You can't blame the speedometer for this: it doesn't measure actual ground speed. Rather, it measures the rpm of your wheels. If you've been lifted off the road such that your wheels are spinning freely, your speedometer interprets this as a sudden increase in velocity.

The best thing to do is to ease off the accelerator. As your car slows down and the horizontal vector decreases, you'll immediately start pressing more firmly against the road surface. Traction is God: without it, you can't drive.

What made yesterday so exciting was the number of times I hydroplaned: at least five or six times in the space of ten minutes. That's never happened to me before; I've hydroplaned on straightaways (never on a curve, thank God), but those previous incidents were all of the one-off sort. So although I apologized to my bosses for being late (they were cool about it; most of our students turned out to be late, too), I was happy to have gone through yesterday's experience-- easily my most interesting driving day ever.


Friday, September 09, 2011

movies to see, movies to avoid

I regularly haunt It gives me an idea of what movies I'd like to see, and which ones I'd want to avoid. Right now, there are a few films that might be worth my while. Here are their titles, along with links to the QuickTime vids at the Apple site. For the QuickTime-challenged, I'd recommend doing a title search on YouTube for the films in question.

Films to see:

1. "Connected" (opening September 16, 2011)

An introspective exploration of the modern and primitive ways in which people are interconnected.

2. "Finding Joe" (opening September 30, 2011)

In praise of the monomythic insights of Joseph Campbell, and how the maxim "Follow Your Bliss" can be applied to your life.

3. "Warrior" (opening today, September 9, 2011)

A tale of two estranged brothers, each wounded in his own way, who train to fight each other in a mixed martial arts championship. The film's probably horrible, but I'm a sucker for this sort of story.

4. "The Skin I Live In" (opening October 14, 2011)

Director Pedro Almodóvar still obsesses over women, but I've heard this is his most fucked-up film ever: a vengeful scientist finds the perfect victim on which to experiment.

5. "A Dangerous Method" (opening November 23, 2011)

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are drawn into a web of madness spun by a patient played by Keira Knightley. The big draw here: "Method" is directed by David Cronenberg!

6. "The Woman" (opening October 2011; no specific date given)

Imagine finding a feral woman-- who may be demonically possessed-- in the woods. Wouldn't your first thought be "Can we keep her?" This film explores what happens when the answer is "Yes."

7. "A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas" (opening November 4, 2011)

Enough said.

8. "Tucker and Dale Versus Evil" (opening September 30, 2011, but now available on iTunes)

A hilarious reversal of the sinister-hillbilly horror subgenre: here, the hillbillies are the innocent parties, and the vacationing college students have exactly the wrong ideas about them.

9. "Red Tails" (opening January 20, 2012)

The preview, at least, is a rousing tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. Looks awesome.

10. "The Way" (opening October 7, 2011)

A stodgy father walks the path of Santiago de Compostela in honor of his free-spirited son, whose ashes the father carries along the way.

11. "50/50" (opening September 30, 2011)

I'll see this for personal reasons. It's a film about cancer.

Films to avoid (no links or dates provided):

1. "The Three Musketeers"

Jesus, do we really need another, even sillier remake?

2. "The Amazing Spider-Man"

Jesus, do we really need another, even sillier remake?

3. "The Man Nobody Knew"

A son's hatchet piece about his father, CIA "spymaster" William Colby. No, thanks.

4. "Abduction"

Starring Taylor Lautner as a warmed-over Matt Damon/Jason Bourne. The preview certainly looks like a Bourne clone, which makes me ask:

Jesus, do we really need another, even sillier remake?

5. "Essential Killing"

A drama in which American Taliban come off looking sympathetic. Fuck that.

6. "Chasing Madoff"

More self-righteous portrayals of corporate scum. I have no sympathy for Madoff, but I also haven't missed the irony that the filmmakers, despite their anti-corporate sanctimony, are out to make a buck.

7. "Immortals"

Good God, this film looks horrible. Are we done with "300" ripoffs yet? I mean, Jesus, do we really need another, even sillier remake?

8. "Our Idiot Brother"

Looks about as appealing as the title sounds. Life lessons from a non-achiever, right? I'll pass.

9. "Saving Private Perez"

I watched the preview and couldn't figure out what the hell the film was about.

10. "The Big Year"

Why, oh, why doesn't Jack Black hook up with some hard-hitting comedy writers and do the sort of comedy he was genetically engineered to do? How could pairing him with Steve Martin be a smart idea?

Films I want to rent or buy from iTunes:

1. "Machete"

2. "Doubt"


I beg to differ

I just saw this brief post by Dr Vallicella. He writes:

When I hear it said that some text is untranslatable, my stock response is that in that case the text is not worth translating. If it cannot be translated out of Sanskrit or Turkish or German, then what universal human interest could it have?

The truth is one, universal, and absolute. If you have something to say that makes a claim to being true, then it better be translatable. Otherwise it has no claim on our attention.

There's a lot to unpack in the above, and if I were to do the matter justice, I would write a lengthy response. Instead, though, I'll risk rudeness by offering a brief disagreement. In my opinion, the fact that a concept is untranslatable has no bearing on whether it's universally applicable. My favorite example is the Korean term nunchi, which has no exact equivalent in English, and may even defy lengthy explanation, but which is, nevertheless, a universal human quality.

I'd submit that, from the level of the most mundane object to that of the most rarefied philosophical concept, there are myriad untranslatable-yet-universal terms. The untranslatability may have something to do with the way in which our cognitive and perceptual filters are formed by our experiences growing up in our respective cultures. However, our common human "wiring" ensures that, despite those variations, foreign concepts are never as foreign as they seem. Nunchi is knowable, even if the word itself resists translation.

Dr. Vallicella's post makes reference to texts, not to terms, but I think what I've said applies equally to that specific domain: a text is a collection of concepts; if the whole text is somehow untranslatable, this is because certain concepts within the text are untranslatable.


that's pretty damn cold

News article: Family members left elderly relative to die, then hid her body, prosecutors say

Get a load of this:

When Mary Coleman died in May 2009, two days after she fell to the floor at her sister's house, her sister and nephew decided there was nothing they could do about it and went out for pizza.

Then, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, Veronica King and her son, Steven King, kept Coleman's death a secret, hiding her body in the basement and then the garage of the house on Whenona Drive until Madison police found her mummified remains more than three months later.

Steven and Veronica King told police that Coleman, 70, had fallen down in a bedroom on May 7, 2009, then lay there, talking now and then, until her death. "I told her quite frankly to shut up because that old woman in the backyard" would call the police, Steven King told police, according to the complaint.

After Coleman died, Veronica King told police, they didn't call to have her body removed "because we had other things to do that day," the complaint states.

Veronica King, 71, of Madison, and Steven King, 45, of Evansville, were charged with first-degree reckless homicide, bank fraud, hiding a corpse and recklessly subjecting an individual at risk to abuse. The two are scheduled to appear in court Thursday.

I'd love to know what was really going through the survivors' heads. Surely it couldn't have been as simple as a shrug followed by a "Well, that's it, then... you up for pizza?"


Thursday, September 08, 2011

separated at birth?

Wanna gross yourself out? Imagine these two kissing. Me, I'd rather have a pleasant picnic under the shade of their eye sockets.


first "full" day of the new/old schedule

We're back to the regular, non-summer schedule. Yesterday, I had to be at the office an hour early for a teachers' meeting, but immediately after that I had only four hours' work. Today, I've been told I've got a full six-hour day, starting at 3:30PM, so I can leave home a bit later. I'm going to miss those eight-hour-long summer days: that's a lot of income going poof.

My private tutoring rate charts are almost finished, so I'll be finalizing my TEF blog and putting myself on the market this week. The creation of the charts has been a long, tedious process; I've tried to strike a balance between heedlessly offering everyone a single rate, on the one hand, and creating nightmarishly Byzantine charts on the other. Once the charts have been uploaded (and some course write-ups have been revised), I'll point you readers to the end result. Since Skype-based tutoring is part of what I'm offering, feel free to hit me up if you've got a hankering to learn something I can teach you, or if you know someone (or someone with kids) who might benefit from a bit of tutoring.

Skype doesn't have its own stable white-board function, from what I've seen, so I've been looking at online white boards. The two most prominent ones seem to be Scriblink and Dabbleboard; of those two, Dabbleboard seems more stable for my computer and browser, but I still need to master the requisite tools. A white board is essential for online tutoring, unless you're willing to "rough it" and use a physical white board that you periodically place in front of the web cam; learning Dabbleboard strikes me as the better alternative.

So with the end of summer comes the end of a higher level of income, which means it's important for me to be searching for extra income pronto. I can't apply to MGRE until I know my latest GRE scores, and that won't happen until November. In the meantime, this boy needs work, and he's gonna make it happen himself.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Death Worm!

Imagine a sandworm from Arrakis transported to our present Earth. What might it do to our cities? Our animals? Our people?

Well, wonder no longer: Death Worm is here!

The Death Worm isn't a true sandworm, as will be obvious when you click the above link and watch the video demo. But it's a vicious fucker, and all it wants to do is destroy everything in its path. In this game-- an app for iPhone and Android-compatible smart phones-- you control the angry worm, eating people, camels, tigers, lizards, elephants, and all sorts of other beasties. You also get to destroy vehicles: cars, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and even aliens in flying saucers. Carnage is your currency.

Game play is simple and straightforward. Death Worm is a two-dimensional scrolling arcade game; you control the worm's movements (speed and direction) with a haptic thumb toggle that appears on the left side of the screen. The worm can even do stunts: accelerate the worm toward the bottom, then send it shooting upward to burst out of the ground and catch aircraft or birds. With some finesse, you can get the worm to undulate on the ground's surface, chewing up everything in its path. There are, on some screens, boulders that the worm can knock into motion, thereby killing even more innocent Earthlife. Along with all this, you get "upgrades" like tougher skin, a longer body (no Freudian implications here), and the ability to shoot fireballs out of your mouth.

And that's what makes this game so fun: it's damn empowering to be an angry worm capable of swallowing people whole, of blowing up tanks and leaping into the heavens to snatch and destroy unwary aircraft. I've got the free version of this hilarious app, and am sorely, sorely tempted to spend $2.99 for the full version. The angel on my right shoulder is screaming "Don't do it! It's a time sink!"... and the devil on my left shoulder is just sitting there, grinning toothily, waiting for me to make the inevitable purchase.

ADDENDUM: See here for the Death Worm's Mongolian cousin.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

the perils of sleeping in

A few minutes ago, I awoke to the sound of banging on my door. My wits were too curdled, though, and some executive part of my brain knew it, so I didn't get out of bed until I had processed what the banging might be all about.

"Ah-- Amazon delivery," I thought. I have no idea how much time had passed by the time this thought finally coalesced, but I eventually managed to roll ponderously out of bed, slip on some clothes, don my old pair of glasses, and shuffle to the door.

Sure enough: when I opened the door, I saw the pee-and-poo-in-snow color scheme of a UPS delivery sticker hanging in a visible spot. "" had been written on the sticker; the "first attempt" box had been checked, as well as the "In your absence the package was left at OFFICE" box. "Rental Office" had been written in a blank, per the customary ritual. I wonder whether the office is even open: in theory, it's supposed to open at 9AM, but in practice it's usually open sometime after 10AM.

I don't have to be at work until 2:30 today, which means I need to leave by 1:40PM at the latest. This gives me plenty of time to clean up, dress up, and swing by the rental office before I hit the road. I suspect that today's delivery is the first of two: my buddy Mike ordered something (several somethings, actually) off my Amazon Wish List for my birthday, and I had pre-ordered the paperback version of Stephen R. Donaldson's Against All Things Ending a few months ago; just two days ago, I received an automatic email saying that Donaldson's book was being shipped. It could be that both orders, Mike's and mine, have arrived at the same time, but I doubt it.

We'll soon know, though!


creeping closer to this model myself

This resonates:

On top of all that and perhaps most significantly, work just wasn’t “fun” for me. Of course, most people reading this are probably thinking, “Oh, so work wasn’t fun for you? Well, join the club, jackass. Work’s not fun for me either!” This is where I probably part with much of humanity because I viewed this as a problem. My thinking was that if I am going to spend 1/3 of my life for forty years engaged in an activity, I should enjoy it. Sure, this isn’t the way it works for most people, but I never bought the idea that I had to be “most people.”

I heard that. Now if only I had a better head for business...


Math Beast Challenge problem

From MGRE's Math Beast Challenge page, we have the following problem:

This Week's Problem: "Frosted Cake"

Q: A cube-shaped cake is frosted on all sides except the bottom and then cut into 27 equally-sized cube-shaped pieces.

Quantity A
The number of pieces of cake that have exactly two sides frosted

Quantity B
One more than the number of pieces of cake that have fewer than two sides frosted


(A) Quantity A is greater.
(B) Quantity B is greater.
(C) The two quantities are equal.
(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

Have at it. My guess will be in the comments.


blog-posting milestone


Monday, September 05, 2011

the day that wasn't

Today has been about as unproductive as some of my most unproductive days. At this point, I'd characterize this Sunday as little more than Shopping, Laundry, and Tolkien day. I could have spent most of the sunlit hours working on finalizing my rate sheet for my other blog, or on studying more GRE problems (well, I did do this, kind of), but I've done little more than eat buttered French bread with Wegmans-brand Triple-crème Brie-- a combination that's proven highly addictive (and I have my friend Mike to thank for starting me on this path). I suppose that having a day of sheer laziness isn't a mortal sin, but some part of me feels I should be getting off my massive butticles and doing more.

Nah. Tomorrow, God willing.


Sunday, September 04, 2011

with thanks

My buddy Mike and his family (including his eldest, my goddaughter) came by early today to pick me up. The occasion: something of a last hurrah before the school year begins, as well as a belated birthday party for me. We drove out to Skyline Drive, had a picnic, did a spot of hiking, then had dinner at a local Mexican place before the villainous horde drove back to Fredericksburg. A good time was had by all. I was thankful for the company.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Implausible "Basterds"

I experienced Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" for the first time this past evening. While I thought it was a very watchable film, the highly disappointing conclusion did much to detract from all that had gone before.

Would I be spoiling anything to talk about the conclusion now, two years after the film's release? If you haven't seen the movie, you might want to stop reading. Still here? Sehr gut. Eh bien, continuons.

"Basterds" features most of the Tarantino tropes we've come to know and love (or hate):

-French language, women, and culture
-Sam Jackson (voiceover narration)
-Harvey Keitel (the voice on the phone)
-lengthy, self-conscious, quasi-Shakespearean speechification
-badly acted cameos (in this case, Mike Myers as a fatuous British officer; cf. Tarantino himself in "Pulp Fiction")
-Mexican standoffs (mentioned by name as Mexican standoffs in this film)
-mounting tension fueled by alcohol, suspicion, and increasing threat of violence (cf. the classic Joe Pesci/Ray Liotta "Funny how?" scene in Scorsese's "Goodfellas" for a fantastic version of this trope)
-nonlinear narrative
-bladed weapons
-exposed brains (cf. Marvin in "Pulp Fiction" and O-ren Ishii in "Kill Bill," inter alia)
-abuse heaped on black folks

You doubtless know the story: it's the early 1940s, and Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is in charge of eight US soldiers, the eponymous Basterds. Their job is, quite simply, to terrorize the Nazis. Most of this is done off-camera; one major incident is shown. Another subplot, meanwhile, involves a Jewish girl named Shoshanna who escapes her family's massacre by the troops of "Jew-hunter" Colonel Hans Landa; once in Paris, she gives herself a Gentile name-- Emmanuelle Mimieux-- and begins a new (and bizarrely high-profile) life as the owner of a downtown cinemathèque. Shoshanna/Emmanuelle takes a lover, Marcel, who is black and thus the target of racist comments by the occupying Nazis. A young German soldier becomes enamored of her; Shoshanna repeatedly spurns his advances, but it turns out that this soldier, Fredrick Zoller, is a sniper and war hero who is now starring in his own war film, "The Nation's Pride." Zoller's got connections with Goebbels, whom he convinces to screen "Pride" for an A-list audience at Emmanuelle's cinema. Word that the German brass-- including Hitler-- will all be in one place spreads to US/UK intelligence, and thus Operation Kino is born: all of the German high command will be killed in one fell swoop.

Hans Landa (incarnated by the linguistically and theatrically amazing Christoph Waltz) plays a role in all of this, from beginning to end. His inimical presence is the thread that connects almost all of the events in the film. His character really is a version of Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito in "Goodfellas": Colonel Landa titters, whispers, rages, negotiates, and strangles. You're never quite sure what he might do at any given moment, but you always suspect he knows more than he's letting on, and that he's just toying with you.

Landa is the Jew-hunter; Raine is the Nazi-killer (was it ever established whether Raine himself is Jewish?). They finally meet face-to-face in the final reel. By that point, most of Raine's team is dead; Shoshanna/Emmanuelle and Fredrick Zoller have killed each other; Marcel has burned-- along with the German high command (yes: Hitler, too, although he gets machine-gunned before being toasted)-- in the blaze of Operation Kino. And that brings us to the painfully implausible conclusion.

When Landa and Raine meet, the circumstances are these: Raine and his Basterd underling Smithson Utivich* have been captured while inside the cinema; they're driven to a German safe house, where Colonel Landa then reveals that he is perfectly fine with allowing the German high command to die-- as long as he can be given US citizenship and a raft of cushy perks as part of the deal for turning himself in to the Americans and for helping to end the war. Raine consents (or seems to consent) to the deal; Landa is put in touch with US brass, Operation Kino succeeds, and Landa is guaranteed his reward.

My question: why would Landa do this?

I had a hard time believing that Landa, who spends 99% of the film showing off his mastery of duplicity, would make a deal in which he essentially gives up his advantage over his enemies. The final scene features Landa and his radio operator driving Raine and Utivich to the American front lines. According to the deal that Landa had cut with the US brass, the Americans were to appear as captives, but once across the border, the Germans were to release the Americans and pose as captives themselves. That Landa would consent to this arrangement is beyond me, and he gets what he deserves for his stupidity: once across the lines, Landa gives Raine his pistol and Raine's infamous knife. Raine repays this gesture by shooting the radio operator dead. Utivich scalps the corpse, then helps hold Landa down so that Raine can carve a swastika-- Raine's trademark "stamp" to make sure a Nazi is always identifiable-- into Landa's forehead.

I admit it: moments like the above made "Inglourious Basterds" a truly watchable movie. Tarantino's films seem increasingly talky, but "Basterds" was a feast for language lovers, and didn't skimp on the violence and gore (watch brave men blow each other's balls off!). I think I even picked up a good bit of German vocabulary thanks to those subtitles. But despite the movie's many virtues, the script's treatment of Landa was unforgivable. That such a cunning man would so suddenly become naive was a plot twist that pushed me beyond my capacity to suspend disbelief. In all, I'd have to say I was disappointed by "Inglourious Basterds"-- a great ride until the end ruined it.

*The surname "Utivich" is pronounced "Yudah-vitch" in the film, which sounds almost like some sort of international pun: the "-vitch" suffix indicates "son of" in many Slavic languages, while "Yudah" sounds like the German "Jude," i.e., Jew. Is "Utivich" then "Son-of-Jew"?



I came up with the first version of this problem while waiting for my students to complete some exercises. One of my students saw the original version and came up with this slightly more complicated version, which I like better.

Have fun. Stick your answers in the comments, and feel free to show your work.



I just checked my bank balance, and saw that ETS had deducted its pound of flesh: thirty dollars to have my recent GRE test scores reinstated. Having verified that transaction, I went over to the My GRE login and checked my online account. There, I saw that my score status has been changed from "canceled" to-- frustratingly-- "absent or unavailable." In other words, I don't have my unofficial score range (based on the previous 200-800 scale). It looks as if I'll have to wait until November for the actual scores (on the new 130-170 scale).

Question: why the new scale? It's apparently divided into 1-point increments, which means there are 41 "shades" of GRE achievement. The old system went from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments, which allowed for 61 "shades" of achievement. It seems to me that the new scale makes for a blockier-looking bell curve. Although I was never sure why the old scale was so weirdly numbered (why not a straightforward 0-100 spread?), I think it was a better scale than the new one is going to be. I can imagine ETS eventually revising the new scale to include half-points in order to increase the fineness or granularity of its test result data.

Or does the new scale somehow work in the test-taker's favor, thereby obviating the need to complain? I can see how that might be the case: with the new, blockier scale, there could theoretically be more people included in the topmost tier-- i.e., those who score a 170-- as opposed to the raw number of people who would have scored an 800. Does this mean it's now easier to get into the 99th percentile?

It's a complicated question. ETS test designers "weight" their problems based on performance statistics garnered through the testing of "guinea pig" test-takers. The net effect of this weighting is that every single GRE test is nuanced in terms of how scaled scores are calculated from raw scores. The only sure notion is that, if you get a perfect score on a Verbal or Quantitative section, you'll get the top scaled score (i.e., an 800 or a 170); anyone falling short of perfect is on his own, and can only guess at what his scores will be. It's possible, then, that the new scoring scale employs a mathematical hocus-pocus resulting in a top-tier slice that's just as thin as it had been when the previous scoring scale was in place. In other words, when it comes to understanding revised GRE score distributions, fucked if I know how it all works.


Friday, September 02, 2011


In the middle of this rather poorly-written article is this gem:

I took the GRE and scored in the bottom 20th percentile in quantitative reasoning, which got me into an English master’s program.


ADDENDUM: For what it's worth, the article's central message isn't a bad one.


talking out of school

Summer hours at YB have drawn to a close, and I'm hearing dark murmurings that next week is going to be especially bad: because it's the first week of school for most of the kids who come to our center, many students are opting to avoid attending YB until they've had a chance to acclimate to their new academic schedules. That means bracing for impact: along with a return to six-hour days, we're likely to experience "rolling blackouts" in our schedules, i.e., the occasional four-hour day, or even the occasional off-day. YB Near has always been the quieter branch compared to YB Far (where, as you'll recall, I no longer work), and now that summer's over, we'll be returning to that quiet. (It's funny... I've gotten used to the hurly-burly of eight-hour days. It's amusing to recall when six hours felt like an eternity.)

Over the next few weeks, we'll see the usual complement of new and returning students. I'm currently teaching a new student who strongly resembles-- mentally, at least-- that clueless kid at YB Far who was unable to learn any French. Today, this student spilled out of his chair twice because he insisted on sitting in it the wrong way. He's unfocused, easily distracted, and obviously gets flak at home for being "stupid." He's even referred to himself as stupid a few times during class. I try to reassure him that he's not stupid, but dammit, he keeps trying to prove me wrong. The chair-spilling incidents-- which were loud and distracting to the entire office-- might have been as much a cry for attention as evidence of the kid's native goofiness. I actually like this student despite his near-complete lack of academic ability, and will do my best to see that he improves, but Christ can he be annoying.

That said, I'm thankful that the above student represents the worst of my problems. Two of my coworkers have to deal with a very different student-- a high school chick who fits the airheaded cheerleader stereotype to a tee.* She is, in fact, a cheerleader; she said as much.** This girl dresses in ultra-tight shorts, openly insults her teachers, acts theatrically bored, and does everything she can to avoid doing the work set in front of her. I have nothing but respect for the guys who are dealing with her right now, and I thank my lucky stars that I'm not teaching her. I fear, though, that my day is coming: luck always runs out in the end.

On the plus side, it's good to know that life at YB is never boring.

*NB: The year I graduated from high school, we had two valedictorians and two salutatorians, all four of whom were women. Two of those four were cheerleaders. I mention this so that you don't think I buy into the stereotype about cheerleaders. It would be more accurate to say that I partially buy into the stereotype.

**Our center is open; it's essentially one huge room divided into large, 4-seater cubicle work stations. In other words, we can all hear each other.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Bernard Pivot interviews me

Popularized by James Lipton of "Inside the Actors Studio," the list of questions by French TV host Bernard Pivot makes for a fitting Big Hominid interview template as my birthday draws to a close and I begin my 43rd year of existence.

1. What is your favorite word?


2. What is your least favorite word?


3. What turns you on?

A cute face, nice boobs, and a beautiful mind. Also: the right kind of irrationality.

4. What turns you off?

People who, in a public context, disrespect others' right to watch a movie or eat a meal in peace.

5. What sound or noise do you love?

The gentle, wet slapping sound of my scrotum against a female perineum.

6. What sound or noise do you hate?

The sound of someone else's scrotum on that same perineum. Context matters.

7. What is your favorite curse word?

Fuck! (or) Putain de merde de chie de bordel...

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Actor, cartoonist, writer, professor. Neurosurgeon.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Shark erectile dysfunction therapist.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

"I'm sending you back to Earth as Miss America's clitoris."