Saturday, May 31, 2008

Convoking

Well, another school year is now officially over. Having just returned from the end-of-year church service (No, were NOT a parochial school . . . but we DID have a Bible Literacy class that one time. . . ), there's nothing but free days ahead, chopped up by obligatory days of in-service, professional development, growth seminars, and planning days for next year. I don't think there was a single soul who wasn't ready to get out of that church to lick their "wounds" and begin the "healing" process.

Oddly enough, with all the controversy and adversity we all endured this year in the form of misinformation, uninformtion, and covert changes, the convocation at the local Evangelical facility didn't come across as a mass confessional, nor was it spiritually uplifting. Not even the complimentary "mini-muffins" could assuage the fact that the entire district was compelled to don their "professional" attire once again on a Saturday. The only nice advantage to regular church-goers is that they were validating tickets at the door so that today's service counted for tomorrow's "keep holy the Sabbath" commandment.

In all cereal-ness, the 1.5 hour ceremony was much shorter than the explicitly deceiving misinformation that we were going to be tied up until the end of our contract day, which officially ended at 3:15 (4:00 for elementary schools.) Additionally, the implied ultimatum of possible flogging, blacklisting, or excommunication for non-attendance was predictably not enforced as there were no "sign in" sheets circulating among the pews (or at least, I HOPE there weren't.)

I admit that there were some amusing aspects of the ambiguously compulsory event. In previous years, faculty members reaching employment milestones in increments of 5 years would be awarded a service pen, a fantastic sentiment. These were given out at local campuses, where teachers are well known and could be adequately lauded. This year, they were given out ONE AT AT TIME in front of the entire district. Consequently, not only did it consume a large chunk of the 90 minutes, but some people, upon the announcement of their name, didn't receive a single applause. It was very sad and awkward. As it usually is in large groups, their is a collective dissociation of obligation. If it's EVERYONE'S job, then it becomes NO ONE'S job.

This would NOT happen on the smaller, campus level. It's almost more insulting to clap for someone out of pity after the initial 5-second lull of silence upon hearing their name than to keep your hands still. If only the people announcing the names had picked up on this, they could have quickly moved to the next name, but that was unfortunately NOT the case.

Then there was the recognition of those retiring from the district, or at least SOME of those retiring. Granted is was nice to celebrate those dedicated educators who have given their lives to public education as they were individually treated to standing ovations and accolades from their jealous, but adoring, peers. However, one of my own, a mentor of mine, a colleague of mine, a friend of mine, was not given the proper send off. While every other retiree had progressive chronological photos of their existence gleaming on the two big screens while their biography was read, my esteemed colleague was never informed of the need to provide pictures of himself from a time when he had more hair. Consequently, our principal, cunningly enough, did an impromptu short speech of a man who has dedicated 10 years of his military retirement to thankless educational duty, without the "cute baby picture" factor. I believe it's EXACTLY how he probably wanted it. He certainly stuck out, more so for the people who will miss him for all the right reasons.

The last scheduled item was the 20-minute video of district employees waving to the camera to some classic tunes from the 80's. This was definitely the highlight of the event, and not because its conclusion meant the true beginning of our liberty. Put together by two of my favorite people, Rosy and Patti, the ladies I have the privilege of working with on my math shows, it was a symbolic "goodbye" to everyone in attendance. Although everyone around me was thoroughly and genuinely engrossed, I don't think they appreciated the time and effort that was put into it. Getting a chance to work behind the scenes with them, I made sure everyone around me knew who was responsible for the people behind the HEADLINING PRODUCTION.

Finally, the last person on the program, which was incidentally ALL scheduled to take place at 9:30am, was the Elementary Teacher of the Year, who gave an appropriately short, yet poignant, message to everyone (who were already on the edges of their seats with keys in hand, spying the closest exit.) As she was walking off stage, the majority of people in the back and along the perimeter (there are NEVER enough back rows) were up and jockeying for a spot in the 36-inch wide door jamb that lead to the emancipating exits, the superintendent was heading for the microphone for an unscheduled speech. Everyone hung in the balance. What would he say? There were still 4.5 hours left in our "contract" day.

"Have a great summer," was all he muttered.

That sounds like a mandate to me. I just hope we won't have to provide documentation of it when we return to the beginning-of-the-year Invocation in August.

All I can say at this point is "Hallelujah!"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fortuitous Feline Fracas

Last night, actually early this morning, at 1 a.m., I was awakened by a cat fight that took place right outside my bedroom window. I figured my cat "Max" who just had 4 kittens last Saturday in our garage, was out there missing her babies. Like a good pet owner, I got up to find her, but I guess she ran off in the scuffle. I checked on the kittens, and they seemed like they could go a few more hours without their mother.

Being totally awake and remembering what my wife said last week on the evening before her day off, "There are some GOOD shows on TV late at night," I decided to hit the boob tub for a while. I was hoping to see if I could cash in on any great offers advertised in an infomercial, catch up on NBA and NHL scores, and stumble across one of these "good" programs. Two hours later, I had vicariously survived a plane crash along a desolate frozen lake in forsaken Ontario and made it through a week in the Amazon rain forest. With Les Stroud, the "Survivorman," as my guide, I took a two-hour mental journey that was more exciting than any dream I might have been missing.
The Survivorman

If you're not familiar with the show, Les is dropped into harsh environments with nothing but a multi-tool and a few common household items like a bobby-pin, a magnet, or a piece of panty hose. The show is similar to Bear Grylls' "Man vs. Wild," but even better since Les is truly out in the wild on his own, filming his own shots, whereas Bear has a crew to do the filming for him. It also means that there is no safety net for Les. If he gets injured or comes in counter with a ravenous jaguar or mountain lion, he's truly on his own. Bear's crew is allowed to come to his aid in an emergency. Les is also a more interesting individual. He's an artist with the camera, capturing the beauty of his environment with brilliant cinematography. He's also quite good on the harmonica, which helps him fight off loneliness and hungry predators. Where else but in a rudimentary crafted bivouac in the Amazon jungle can you hear in improvisational ditty called "Foot Fungus Blues?"

I'm not a big fan of reality TV, or TV in general, but this is one show I've been tuning into periodically for a couple of years now. I know the great outdoors are not for everybody, especially in the extreme survival conditions in which Les films, but for me, the show is not only a chance to learn a few tips, like using a soda can's ring top as a fish hook or using a bicycle inner-tube as a spear fishing device, but it also gives me a glimpse of some of the most remote, authentic, untainted, unforgiving places on our planet. Although I don't think I'd necessarily want to spend a week on the Canadian tundra by myself with nothing but a big parka eating raw seal sleeping unexposed out in the snow as hungry polar bears walk by, I wouldn't mind going on some excursions with Les.

The closest I've come was my week-long backpacking trip last summer in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness area. It was one of the most surreal, tellurian, peaceful times of my life: Never encountering another soul other than my two buddies, bush-wacking, fishing for trout, ascending a 12.5K mountain with full gear, battling the scree and talus, sneaking up on herds of elk, sleeping in a new location each night with one hand on a revolver (bear country), and spending hours lost in thought on a boulder beside a pristine waterfall. It's something I'd like to do more often.

Watching shows like "Survivorman" take me back to these memories from the plush environment of my living room, and ignite my passion to return again this summer, to a place where being woken up by a cat fight means something altogether different. Wait for me Les, I'm coming just as soon as I learn to play the harmonica. Save some foot fungus for me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

H 2 O----yahh!

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to relive some of the foolish revelry I enjoyed in my more youthful days. I was graciously invited by a colleague to spend the afternoon on Canyon Lake with him and a few other teachers. I jumped at the chance, knowing that there would be boats, wave-runners, water, and cliffs involved!! So after school, I raced to pick up a few essential supplies for the ice chest, darted home and changed into my swim trunks.

As I waited for another colleague to pick me and my son up, yes, I talked my son into going too, I felt the energy of anticipation building up within me. I told my son all the stories of the fun, daring things I used to do at the Lake when I was a teenager. "Isn't that why you have back problems and excruciating, chronic neck pain now, Dad?" I could tell he was TOTALLY missing the point of my story. But he was absolutely correct.

Growing up along the river and near the lake, I spent almost every free moment outside of school playing on the water. From swimming down waterfalls without a tube, cliff diving/jumping, and the numerous rope swings found along the bank, there was plenty of opportunity for exhilarating risk-taking. Being a sucker for peer pressure and always wanting to impress my friends (both male and female) I had my share of accidents trying to do harebrained acts that violated the law of physics.

One such instant was my attempt for a triple-gainer off a huge rope swing near the Gruene Bridge. With a crowd of drunken tourist tubers craving cheap entertainment cheering me on, I swung out over the narrow river as I had done so many times before. The plan was to release from the rope at its highest point, which was directly over the water. This would give me ample time to complete three back flips before splashing in the swift moving currents below. Because of the excitement of the crowd and my nervousness for trying a new trick, things did not go as planned. I actually let go of the rope while it was still swinging OUT. My tangental velocity sent me flying towards the other river bank rather than up. Consequently, I wasn't as high as I needed to be. After only two-and-a-half flips, I landed upside down, tucked in a tight ball, on my neck, in about three feet of water.

My momentum quickly took me to the rock bottom below where I again pounded my neck. At that point, I felt nothing other than the horrifying fear that I might have just paralyzed myself. I don't recall swimming or standing after that. I floated limply under water down stream with the swift current. Soon, two of my buddies who were pulling me up and out of the water. At that point I knew I could walk. There was a sobering sense of relief for everyone on the shore who had witnessed the failed flipping feat. . . everyone but one drunken tuber, who said, "Do it again." To this day, my C1 and C2 vertebrae go out of alignment on a daily basis, requiring several trips each week to my awesome chiropractor.


So you see why I was so happy to be heading out to the lake again after all these years?! Once I gave up rope swinging, I had to find something "safer" to take its place. Cliff Diving seemed perfect. I had heard about this nice cove at the lake that was surrounded by 35 to 50 foot cliffs. After driving our cars through the labyrinth of winding streets in a particular subdivision and trespassing through someone's property, my river friends and I finally found ourselves standing atop the cliffs staring down into the cool, dark water below. Jump after jump after jump, we'd spend entire afternoons theres several times a week. Jumps turned into twists which turned into flips which turned into dives. Once again I found myself pushing the envelope of what was sensible. With my "shallow dive" approach to jumping, I always bruised the inside of my calves and biceps from the recurring impact with the water, but it always made a splash big enough to reach by friends high above. Those were the good ol' days.

Yesterday on the lake, we accessed the same cliffs from the water. They didn't look as tall as I remember, until I climbed to the top. Standing there again brought back so many fond memories and pains. While my son watched from the pontoon boat with his life jacket on, I went right into a classic "parachute" shallow-dive. From under water I heard what I thought was "You're crazy, Dad! I'm telling mom!" coming from the boat.


After several more jumps and dives, but NO FLIPS, we went back to the marina. After 16 years I was able to experience the thrill once again. The fact that my son wanted NO part in my shenanigans was fine with me. It's actually comforting to think that his temerity and cautiousness might save him a lifetime of back and neck pain and discomfort. As for me today? The inside of my calves and biceps are beginning to bruise, and I have a 8:30am appointment with my chiropractor.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Final Countdown

This week is the last week of yet another school year. The countdown is officially on. With seniors last day being last Friday, only underclassmen remain, 99% of whom, in my classes, are juniors. OF these remaining juniors, 99% of them are exempt from final exams, so they won't be in class when finals start tomorrow. What this all amounts to is filling 90-minute class periods with whatever we teachers think will help us pass the time. Essentially, it's watching the clock for four days until the final school bell rings at noon on Friday.

You think that with this being my 10th go-'round, I'd be better at handling these down days of little to no productivity, but sitting around doing nothing is something I'm not skilled at, which is why I eschew it (you know what they say about idle hands and the Devil's workshop!) One way I might pass the time, rather than watch "The Joy of Mathematics" with my students . . . again, and by "Joy of Mathematics," I mean "Men In Black", "Hoodwinked", "Freaks and Geeks" and any other movie without math in it, is to clean my room, purge my old files, and get my room "summer ready." Unfortunately, I spent all LAST week doing that. In fact, I have filled four boxes full of recyclable tests, quizzes, handouts, and old student projects. Everything in my classroom that has any value to me at all already has a label of "Korpi--Room 903" on it so that I can track it down at the beginning of next year after the janitors "deep clean" my room. I've even assessed the situation above my ceiling tiles and have mapped out a plan to mount my data projector from the ceiling during the summer, a project I can't start until movie days are officially over, lest the students get asbestos from the ceiling tiles in their popcorn.

Needless to say, today (and this week) is going to be excruciatingly long . . . and it's only a four-day work week, unless of course you count teachers' required attendance this Saturday at the end-of-the-year Hallelujah rally, an event that will prevent me from participating in a charity golf tournament for my little friend Hunter and from attending a family member's high school graduation. That compulsory event puts it back at a full 5-day work, errrr, COME to work week. I'm going to use the burdensome monotony today as training for what will be the interminable holy day of obligation this Saturday. I'll use my time to practice my genuflecting technique.

Seriously, though, there is a considerable task left for me to do. With so many students exempt from finals, I must be very careful on the day of the actual final that those NOT in attendance are actually exempt. It is my responsibility to make sure that I post and "excused" entry into the electronic grade book ONLY for those who are listed on the official exemption list released just this morning. Several desperate, forgetful, or lazy students who fall into that 1% of my kids, have been know to try to "qualify" for an exemption simply by being absent for the final exam. This means I must cross check my rosters with the official list, a tedious, boring task that is difficult to find the motivation to do.

If I've learned anything this year from the teacher inservices I've attended, it's that the use of a highlighting pen and colorful Post-it notes make ANY task more enjoyable. Now if I can only decide whether to highlight those exempt or only those who are not exempt. OR . . . . maybe I just organize my internet "favorites/bookmarks." The list IS getting inconveniently long.

Yes, today will be a day of prolonging the mundane in an attempt to hasten the clock, because, as the adage goes, the watch-pot never boils.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Something about Nothing

One of my favorite mathematical non-fiction books (yes, this is a genre) is Charles Seife's cogently written, entertaining book called "Zero: the biography of a dangerous idea." If reading 200+ pages of math history and equations, then may I tempt you with a cornucopia of zany appendices, such as "Create your own wormhole!" and "A proof that Winston Churchill is a Naval Orange." The wormhole I built based on his easy step-by-step directions has been great family entertainment, but let me forewarn you: your hat WILL blow off.

Anyway, an email yesterday from a fantastic former student (one who thinks about math on a 3 day holiday weekend) got me thinking about nothing again, and by nothing, I mean zero, the number, the concept, the beautifully symmetric symbol . . . Nirvana. While reading in her Mexican-American history book, she came across the following Mexican-American paragraph (printed her without permission):

"Considerable discussion has taken place about whether the Olmeca or the Maya
discovered the concept of the number zero circa 200 BC. (The Hindus discovered
the zero in the 5th century AD, and not until 1202 AD did Arab mathematicians
take the concept to Europe.) Notwithstanding, the fact is that before the time
of Christ, the Olmeca were using a more accurate calendar than that used in the
West today."
Now before you say "Olmeca? the tequila people?" Let me tell you about the Olmeca. They are considered to be the first significant civilization in Meso-American, and by "significant" I mean created beautiful pottery shards and embraced mathematics. Their culture is regarded as the mother of pre-Hispanic Mexico (notice when dealing with antiquity, "pre-" is a common modifier." The Olmeca are usually given credit for being the first Meso-Americans to comprehend the concept of zero (that means they thought about nothing quite literally.) Their calendar, hieroglyphic system of writing, and tequila recipe influenced the later cultures of the Mayan, Aztec, Mixtec, and Zapotec cultures.

But were the Olmecs (by which they are sometimes referred) actually the first to fathom zero, or people using and thinking about nothing outside of Meso-America, or was there a materialistic, jealous prehistoric cavemen who was envious of his caveman neighbor who had a "big, fancy rock," while he had "zero big, fancy rocks?" Before answering this question, it is important to distinguish among a ordinal number, a nominal number, a cardinal number, and a cardinal bird. The third is a medium-sized songbird belonging the genus-species Cardinalis-cardinalis, appropriately enough. But if you were to COUNT the number of cardinals you see on your fence chirping a barber-shop ditty, that number would be a "cardinal," or counting number.

The jealous caveman, when stating he has "Uggg-none", is using zero as a cardinal number. This is a pretty advanced usage of an idea, comparable to a student's realization of the link between practice and performance on a math test. An "ordinal" (not to be confused with the oriole bird) or ranking number refers to a relative position among other things, as in "the caveman with the most rocks wins FIRST place, the caveman with the next most rocks earns SECOND place, etc., right on down to the envious caveman with zero rocks in LAST place.

A "nominal" number is one that simply identifies something, such as a zip code, a player's jersey number, or our Social Security Number (mine is 314-15-9265, easy as pi to remember.) Zero can be used in any one of these three contexts, and its appearance throughout history has introduced it in each case at different times, the first of which was as a positional notation, i.e. as an ordinal number, or more appropriately, a symbol.

Dating back some 5000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, the Sumerian's cuneiform utilized a double-wedge to show an omission of a number. For example, when writing down a beautiful Babylonian babe's phone number of 104 (fewer digits required back then due to the unaffordability of phones), a young man would scribble down into his wet clay tablet the following:
The small, elevated double wedge essentially represents zero. The Mayans incorporated zero into their everyday counting, again as an ordinal, counting the days in their calender with "Day Zero. Their symbol for zero, although capable of warding off evil spirits, was not very efficient to write.
don't mess with the Mayan Zero

But the use of zero as a position holder versus the mathematical, cardinal zero are dramatically different. It wasn't until the Verdic mathematicians of India, did zero really turn into something that aided computation. They used a single dot to denote the number zero. The ancient Chinese came along and built upon the Hindu math, giving us our current symbol of the open dot, much quicker to "draw" than Mayan version.

Of course from there, the zero became commonplace, and even lead to the contemplation of infinity, yes infinity. The concept of nothingness and the concept of the infinite are really one in the same, as elucidated in this classic poem by Jonathan Swift:

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller yet to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum . . .

And infinity gets us to quantum physics, the quest for Unification, the equation of the Universe, and ultimately, the meaning of life. Maybe the Mayan symbol is more appropriate after all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mixed Results

This week, our school got back the results of what those in the public eye view as the ultimate, singular measure of public education's performance: the TAKS test scores. I'm proud to say that, having dedicated four weeks prior to the actual exam (under compulsion), of the 77 students in my preAP and AP classes that took the TAKS test, all but 9 earned "commended" status, as they should have. A sparkling 88%. I've certifiably now a B+ teacher.

It is at this point that I would like to remind everyone that the TAKS test, although noticeably more comprehensive marginally more challenging in recent years, and not just because of the more confusing current formula chart, is still a test of minimum skills. It is a test that our society says is the LEAST that each high school graduate should know. Have no doubt that our schools teach these requisite skills, reteach these skills, and re-re teach them. We place so much emphasis on teaching to this "bottom line," that it requires a very determined student to NOT pick up the skills. Yet every year, and this year is no exception, our school failed to be recognized, which means that not only did our students not earn 100 percent passing, but far, far less.

The state breaks the results down into every imaginable subgroup demographic, and every school must make measurable advances each year to meet state mandated requirements, lest they fail to earn the title of "Blue Ribbon," "Commended," "Relatively Awesome!" "Modicum of Sufficiency," or "Certified Crappy." It's not enough to make significant advances overall. No, we as a school must make statistically significant strides in our Hispanic, African-American, ESL, Low Socio-Economic, Polish-speaking, and Unwilling to Learn subpopulations. A failure to advance any single group, from the twenty five year-old sophomores, to the grey-haired juniors, to the apathetic freshman with a biological predisposition for caffeine-induced insomnia and a soporific proclivity sparked by the sound of an instructor's voice, means that we, as "incompetent" teachers get a cursory pat on the back and a giant, deliberate wallop on the arse.

And being a math teacher, means we get a free extra wallop, as it's usually the math scores that are the culprit. In fact, at a faculty meeting the other morning to announce our "shimmering" results, the news was followed by the words "but the math scores . . ." This lead to a collective sigh of "yeah, those math people, if only they . . ." from the group of "Free Ice Cream and Video Games" teachers sitting behind me. I turned around and snidely remarked, "You expect me to actually try to teach a subject that practically teaches itself? Hey, I only get paid to assign abstrusely incomprehensible worksheets." I don't think they sensed my mirth. I wish teaching math went as smoothly as getting a student to realize that a "carnivore" will eat a "toad" over a "rock," or that there's more to "The Diary of Anne Frank" than its lack of alliteration.

Although I'm not dissatisfied with the performance of my preAP and AP students, unfortunately, not ALL my students earned Kudos. Aside from the nine students who did not perform at the highest level acknowledged by our great state, but nonetheless passed, eleven of my most important students didn't even make the cut. These are the students who were assigned to be specifically because they were at risk of not passing. I took on the challenge with my usual faithful commitment to those great kids. But despite my daily, diligent, determined, damned-good efforts since December to pound and inculcate TAKS math (and a host of prerequisite skills and insight) into them, often against their will, eleven out of twelve did not pass the test. With intensive, daily, invigorating, entertaining, and sacacious lessons, I was still unable to penetrate the the students' brains.

On one hand, I feel like I have let them down. Many of them had genuine interest in learning an wanted to pass the test, I am very grateful for the one girl who did, but most of them just had too far to progress to be at a level they and I wanted to be at on test day. On the other hand, I know (hope) that my positive relationship with them has given them some renewed confidence and enthusiasm for learning that will lift them to the winner's platform next year. Until then, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Talking TED

Have you heard of TED talks? No, not a talking Ted, but TED talks. TED stands for . . . well, I don't know, and its not really important what the letters stand for so much as what the talks stand for: Ideas worth spreading. But before you think a symposium about oleo would be painfully mind-numbing, the ideas being discussed are very thought-provoking, to say the least. Other adjectives used by people who have viewed the talks or who have been fortunate enough to attend a talk are beautiful, funny, inspiring, fascinating, ingenious, courageous, persuasive, and jaw-dropping.

Information from the official TED website describes it as such:
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.
"But what IS it?" you demand. Basically, it's and annual conference in Long Beach, California where 50 super geniuses and other influential people who are experts in a field stand on stage and talk about their expertise for 18 powerful minutes. It would be like me holding forum to an intelligent, captivated audience discussing how to write mediocre blogs. . . but much better. With more than 200 talks , there is something that can appeal to and resonate with even the most callous curmudgeon, from art, biology, climatology, design, economics, invention, poverty, religion, technology, mathematics, sex, psychology, philosophy, motivation, and even oleo.

The purpose of the talks are simply to spread ideas, and not just ANY ideas, but ideas worth spreading. With the belief in the power of ideas to transform lives, each and every TED talk is available for FREE viewership on their website. I guarantee that if you need a little inspiration in your life, a steady dose of TED talks will lift your spirits and make you look at the world through fresh eyes. But let me warn you that they ARE very addicting! Nonetheless, TED talks is definitely an idea worth spreading.

To get you started, here are a few of my favorites, listed in no particular order, but with the first being one of my most favorites.
Go ahead. Fill those idle time at the office with TED and find yourself being transformed from a productive employee to an enlightened unproductive one . . . or just watch them at home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dorky Daddy

Today I'm being filmed for a television news spot to run on our district's local network. Filming on a Wednesday is something I'm quite used to, having just finished up my second weekly math show airing on the same network, but today, although on the same side of the camera, I have to talk about, not math, but something I much more reluctant to discuss: myself! The segment is to take a look at my motivation for doing the two television shows (a Geometry and an Algebra II show) and teaching math in general. I'm supposed to offer viewers (plural, maybe?) an exclusive insight into the answers to those questions. I guess "because I was asked," and "I needed a job" would not be good for TV ratings, so I guess I'll have to reach deeper into the enigmatic depths of my introspective self to produce more riveting answers.

So for the first question, "why do you do the TV shows?" Good question! Although I get a small stipend (enough to pay for my gas to and from the basement studio each Wednesday), the hourly rate over the course of a full year and 33 episodes works out to enough to pay for my son's daily allowance. . . . when he has been bad. Using my own paper and ink to produce the beautifully detailed, artistically styled, perspicuous yet rigorous handouts (available online), spending my own money on wardrobe, costumes, and the various props I use on the show, I certainly don't do it for the money. In fact, I had originally agreed to do the show prior to the knowledge that their would be any monetary remuneration at all.

I believe I got the call on my cell phone two summers ago while driving down the road. It was the producer. She asked, "Would you like to . . . ." "YES!!!!" I cut her off, as I cut off a jerk motorist who was trying to cut me off. "Great!" she said, not knowing the details of the current traffic situation. That's it. I was in, and now I was to give it my all. I guess the novelty of using television as yet another medium for transmitting mathematical knowledge was exciting. The prospect of learning something new about TV production was alluring. "Who will be writing the shows? Who will be in charge of props? Who will be doing my makeup? Do I HAVE to wear makeup?" I heard a laugh on the other end of the phone. Like a skipping record on the first word of the chorus of Debbie Boone's classic hit, the answer on the other end was "You . . . . You . . . .You . . . . ." I also learned that I wouldn't have my own trailer.

Instead of letting the weight of the full effect of the commitment to which I had just pledged be an albatross around my neck, I revived that bird and set it free, embracing the autonomy and creative freedom I would have. I love new challenges, and lots of pain. Incorporating the talents of my artistic brother to create the logos and my own lack of dance skills to good use, we put together an opening to the show. The camera not only added 5 pounds, but with amazing editing, made my "robot" and "disco" dancing look respectable (for a DEVO concert.)

And so it has been every Saturday morning now for two years (summers excluded) that I awake before my family arises, spending 3 to 4 hours compressing a whole week's worth of classroom curriculum into a concise, humorous, mathematically invigorating 30 minute show, sometimes even leaving enough room for a public service announcement (such as "don't do drugs," "stay in school,"don't play with toasters in trees," and "do your homework.") Usually by the time I was finishing up, I would hear the pitter-patter of little feet downstairs soon followed by the sweet, precious voices of my newly-awaken children, "Dad, are you working on your 'Dork' shows again?" Because I wore a dorky blue bow tie, dorky glasses, and a dorky sport coat on this year's show, my children now think I resemble a whale phallus.

With the show written and online handouts made, Wednesday was the designated day to film. This meant I had to remember to take my dorky, clean (thanks to the wife!) costume with me each Wednesday morning. You'd think forget it just once would be a good deterrent to ever do it again, but you'd be incorrect. After picking up my son after school, I'd head to the filming studio, which is housed in the lonely, cold, dark, lonely basement of our school district's central offices. Having no trailer, dressing room, or convenient phone booth, I'd change into my dorky persona in the men's room, carefully wash my hands which would be on camera as I worked out solutions, and do a virtual powdering of my nose. Once the lights were in place and the shadows on the green screen were eliminated, we began taping, typically doing the show straight through in a single take, except when there were malfunctions with the equipment, wardrobe, math, or the show's host, which was fortuitous since there was no one around with a clapperboard to say "Awesome math show with the dork, take two!"

I had to admit that now that we are done filming for this year, I will not miss the routine of writing and filming. It has been nice to actually get to sleep in on Saturdays until 6:30am, not to mention not having my kids call me "Dorky Daddy" anymore. I'll take the time between now and the start of next school year to come up with some creative slants on next year's prospective show: "Professor Precalculus," "Calculus--the prequel," or "Korpi the (non-dorky) Math Guy."

As for the other question, "Why did I get into teaching?" Well, I needed the money.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Scratching the Itch

I don't know what's more exhausting: exertion of the mind, exertion of the body, or exertion of the pocket book, but it doesn't matter, because you can chalk me up to being depleted on all accounts. With gasoline now approaching $4 per gallon (the price of which has a positive first and second derivative, with the second exceeding the first exponentially . . .), the end of an exhausting, arduous academic year, and the physical ailments that come with being a 34 year-old without an ACL who consistently tries to do the physical acrobatics of an 18 year-old, on the precipice of what some call Summer Break, I'm currently at my nadir professionally.

In a marriage, they call it the 7-year-itch (and with Marilyn Monroe as your upstairs neighbor, who WOULDN'T cut a hole in the subfloor?) In the business world, they call it burn-out. Aside from the impetus for extra-marital affairs, I suppose my symptoms come from a slight case of neurosis and expecting too much. Or perhaps it's just the realization that my increasingly redoubled efforts are producing increasingly diminishing results while the administrative and parental mandates increase 10 fold? There isn't even the temptation of a "more attractive" teaching position out there, much less one wearing high heels and a white dress, the itch at this point just feels more like a rash. I'm calling the Zensal Company.

In a new book chronicling the amazing Running feet and feats of Bart Yasso, "My Life on the Run," Bart reminisces on his amazing races around the globe that seemingly defy human capabilities, if not human resolve. His most difficult race ever? A simple 10-K race . . . . with a recalcitrant burro! For a man who earned the nickname "Badwater Bart" for running one of the craziest races in the world, a 146 mile race starting in Death Valley and ending atop Mount Whitney (a 14.5-er!), his most exacting involved pulling an unwilling burro 6.2 miles across a finish line. Mr. Yasso's burro racing experience has given him a taste of what it's like to be a high school teacher during the last six weeks, when students are more interested in going a different way than down (or up) the prescribed path. I'm looking forward to letting go of the reigns soon, to running solo again at my own pace in my own direction. That is . . . . if I can even run at all.

I'm still hobbling and limping around like a drunken pirated with a peg leg since my astonishing stunt of jumping off some monkey bars. In fact, people are STILL talking about it: how foolish it was, I deserve what I got, when will I learn, . . . With shooting, periodic pains in my left ankle, and what feels like a dreadful case of tendinitis in my ACL-less knee, I'm lucky to be walking at all. Yah, I'm the guy walking down the hall with the grimace, humming a melancholic tune, keeping perfect time with the "clicking" noise each time my knee bends.

Thank goodness for Ace Bandages, Epsom Salt, Bio-Freeze penetrating ointment, Advil, ice, comfortable recliners, and of course, math.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hot Stoves and Pretty Girls

Being the end of the school year, and full of bureaucratic red tape to cut through, legalistic hoops to jump through, and a exponentially reproducing pile of papers to contend with, this blog is temporarily shutting down. Please check back daily, as "temporarily" has relative, variable connotations.

For instance, as Einstein said, "when you're sitting with a pretty girl, an hour seems like a second. When you're sitting on a hot stove, a second seems like an hour." If you think about how long ago the dinasours ruled the earth (or perhaps gave serious input while on earth), and the relatively short amount of time they actually trounced around the globe, it make our existence but a proverbial "blip" on the map, like one of the canary islands (actually NOT named after the chirping, singing birds, but rather . . . DOGS.) When you think about it this way, it make the life of the day-trader even more ephemeral than the life of a Mayfly, whose name is a gross exaggeration of its life-span (kind of like the "Milleniumsaur" who didn't actually live to be 1000 years old.)

So I will refrain from writing today, showing the self-restraing exhibited by the T-Rex, the suppossed ferocious carnivore (although this is disputed today) when happening upon a lame Compsognathus dinosaur wearing glasses (they were supposedly only the size of a chicken and tasted like a . . . well . . . we can only imagine): I will pass on the opportunity to strike. Instead I will forgoe the routine ranting and the typical daily diatribe.

So please don't feel dissapointed with me if I have not provided you with your usual diversion from whatever it is you should be doing. Think of it as my way of trying to make you more productive, as I intend to be. We all have things to do, and it is time that we give these matters the consideration they deserve. With that, I end this blog entry (which doesn't even exist) so that I can begin mapping out the rest of my academic year, lest it go on without me.

Here's to sitting on a hot stove with a pretty girl!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Missing My Muppets

Today marks the last day of school for the graduating seniors of 2008. Aside from a few final exams next week, most of which have been exempted, today is the last day of class instruction that has been 12+ years in the making. Today's lesson in AB Calculus: "Muppets in Space" (I figured they needed a break from all the "Guitar Hero" that's been going on.

Most senior students are enjoying their imminently forthcoming freedom, sharing memory books, swapping photos, ruminating and reminiscing on their school days, and fighting back the bitter tears that comes with the grim realization that I won't be their teacher any more. It's a bit painful for me today, too, and not just because I've picked my fingernails too short, but for many of these seniors, I've been grading their papers and instructing them for three years. It seems like only yesterday I was teaching them basic trigonometry. I blink once, and they suddenly have completed the AP Calculus exam.

All that's left for me to do is to squeeze one last assignment out of them, a letter to next year's incoming calculus students sharing their advice, hints, and tips. As of right now, I received less than half the letters. The ones that come in next week, late, will probably suggest to "avoid procrastination," and "get all worked turned in on time." Oh the irony! But it's forgivable, I suppose, since, as one letter stated, "Korpi is very fair and reasonable," which is teen talk for "Korpi is a pushover."

As I look out among the diminished class of seniors (many are out again today, as they have been the last two weeks, for their last AP exam), I look at each student and briefly ponder where their road will lead and how the experiences we've shared together will help them. I question whether I've done enough for them individually. I think about which Muppet each of them would be if Jim Henson ever made a "Muppets on Calculus" movie. I think about how creepy they would think it would be if they new I was playing their academic story in my head while they were engrossed in a great Muppet caper. There are also some students that I barely even recognize, as they are from another class that's watching an inferior movie. For them, I just ponder what "might have been," had they been as unafraid of calculus as they are of Kermit the Frog.

I started thinking mathematically, how the years I've spent with these students is like the Squeeze Theorem in Calculus. Before and after "Mr. Korpi's" math class, students' lives, bounded by the natural laws of the Universe, diverged. During Calculus class, however, all of our lives converged in one room for a common purpose. Now that it's over, it's time for their lives, being the continuous functions that they are, to emerge on the other side and take off, no longer squeezed through that shared single point in time.

As they leave today, I say goodbye just as I always do, reminding them to "have a great weekend", to "be safe", and to "do your homework." Today I add, "don't forget to turn in your letter. Be sure to say how 'fair and reasonable' I am."

By the way, those Muppets are much funnier than I remember when I was younger. I highly suggest checking out the "Muppets in Space" if you ever find yourself in a high school classroom at the end of the year with a bunch of seniors. It's well worth having on in the background. It will keep everyone in the room entertained, giving you ample opportunity to observe them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mathematical Musings: Part X

More things I adamantly deny I've ever said in class . . .
  • Today, I'm just dripping with anticipation. My salivary glands deserve a raise in pay. I can hardly restrain my bladder. I feel a great math lesson coming on.
  • What happens when you have an infinitely large number minus another infinitely large number? Do you think they cancel each other out? Precisely, No. Although they are both infinitely large, one of them could be infinitely larger than the other, so their difference is indeterminable and could be zero, 5, peaches, OR infinity.
  • For this problem, we have to use the properties of logs to help us condense the problem. Condensation. Yes sir, like a morning dew. We need a little dew action here. That is, we need a little "do" action here. . . . Get busy guys.
  • The more tests we take, the more exams we'll have.
  • I'm passing the tests out now, so I want all of y'all to get in the "zone." Stretch your necks, rub your calculators, and do it to it.
  • It seems like it was Thursday just a week ago.
  • What is the plural of Warm-up? Is it Warm-ups or Warms-up. I know the plural of Mother-in-law is Mothers-in-law, because Mother is the actual noun in the compound noun, but what is the acting noun in Warm-up? Do we have more than one warm? Or do we have several ups?
  • Another application of exponential growth is Information Dissemination, or Gossip. Let's say that I found out that Little Johnny actually liked math, once I spread that gossip, it would spread like wildfire, which we all know spreads exponentially. Poor Johnny's reputation doesn't have a chance.
  • Korpi: I think that piece of paper stuck to the wall is part of the map of Africa. (Korpi makes African tribal drum sounds.) Do you like my African tribal drum sounds? Student: That was off the wall. Korpi: Yes it was, but then I hung it up, which is how this conversation started.
  • Now the logistics curve actually has two Horizontal Asymptotes, the upper one being the Carrying capacity, or in the example of getting the word out to the student body, it is the number of students on campus. Now, theoretically, as time goes on into infinity, more and more people on campus will hear the information, but because of the Horizontal Asymptote, there will always be that ONE person, millions and millions of years from now, walking around cluelessly, with his head in the clouds, who'll never find out, saying, "Whaaaaaaaaaat?"
  • Now, I will introduce you to a healthier, lower fat, all natural base: e! Known as the natural base, naturally. It shows up in nature a lot, too. That's why its less filling--it's organic.
  • Here's a career opportunity: be the math guy who stands by the mainframe computer, watching the computer calculate the decimals to e, 2.718 . . . Just watch the numbers role in (but know when the computer errs!)
  • Now I know computers are inanimate objects, but I think there comes a point in calculating the decimal digits in a non-terminating, non-repeating irrational number where the computer gets so crazy with boredom that it throws itself out the nearest window asking "WHY!?!" on the way down.
  • OK, let's try to generalize some characteristics of logs, besides the fact that they're made of wood.
  • The guys who invented the concept of zero didn't think anything of their feat. In fact, they thought is was nothing.
  • OK we've goofed around enough today. We need to get started on the lesson. We're already like the guy who goes in to have liposuction on his rear end: we're getting a little behind.
  • Now unlike the worthless S.O.B. Formula, which is totally useless, the C.O.B. formula is tremendously useful. It is the Change of Base formula, or, if you're from Ireland, the Change O' Base formula.
  • Where besides in the woods or a fireplace have y'all come in counter with logs? Christmas? Yes, I suppose the Yule log would work. Where would Christmas be without logarithms to get us in that Yuletide spirit?
  • You can either use log base 10 or log base e with the change of base formula. Your calculator can handle either of these. So which one should you use? Well, if you want to be like me, might I suggest the Natural log, base e. If you don't want to be like me, might I still suggest the Natural log, base e.
  • The following problems are all going to be similar and different. Does that make sense? I mean, had I said, "the following problems are going to be identical or congruent, but different," that might be confusing. But things can be very similar yet extremely different: identical twin triangles, for example.
  • Korpi to a male student: Is "So and So" your sister? I didn't even make the connection. Oh, you're twins too? Identical or fraternal?
  • Exponents and Logs are inverses operations of each other, like multiplication and division, addition and subtraction, sine and . . . refusing to sign?
  • I don't mind if people steal my material, as long as they give me credit for it. But who would want to steal my material, besides thieves?
  • Pain is fleeting. Pain is ephemeral. It doesn't last very long. It only hurts for a little while.--Tate Korpi, Age 2.67 years, at the coaching of his father (holding a belt)
  • Shoot! I've erased my reminder. Remind me to write a reminder later to remind myself to write down the thing I was trying to remember to do, cause I'll forget.
  • Of course my son is goofy, too. Where do you think I get it from?
  • The only way I will allow you to use your calculators on the test is if you tape it to the bottom of your foot, and you take the test standing only on the calculator foot. To add to the feat, not feet, you must remove the batteries first.
  • So if we trace along the curve, we can see the amount of trace element that is left, however, this is not always the case, only in this trace case.
  • Wouldn't it be neat if they had a field event that was similar to pole vaulting, where you have to jump over a horizontal stick, but instead of using a pole, you would have to use your own feet to determine how high you could jump. They could call it the poleless vault, or the foot vault, or the "how high can you jump without a stick" vault, or something clever like that.
  • I learned that the majority of the people in this world are people I haven't met, nor would I ever want to.
  • Someone needs to make a song about the accomplishments of the Budweiser everyday guy who writes songs about the overlooked accomplishments of everyday guys.
  • Wake up Mr. Jones, unless you are dreaming about math, then it's OK, but in that case, it could have been a nightmare, like some of assignments you turn in. Please go back to sleep.
  • Indeed, I write much more eloquently than I speak. The spoken and the written language are very similar, but yet so far apart. For instance, the spoken word is much easier to hear.
  • Sometimes when I'm writing and I want to use a big word where a diminutive word would be amply sufficient, I increase the font size of the diminutive word to only make it appear bigger.
  • I won't tell you how old I am. Let's just say, if they were truly "birthdays," I would have 34 bellybuttons, in which case . . .
  • I think there is something inherently majestic about watching eagles and horse running wild together in the wilderness. I think it is un-inherently majestic to put crowns on their heads just to watch them struggle to shake them off.
  • The time in takes for the bell to ring is inversely proportional to the distance between the door and the pack of students waiting by it for the bell to ring.
  • No calculators on the test. Save your batteries for Spring Break.
  • On number 7 on the test, I want you to give me an exact number, not just a log expression, like, "Man he's so lazy he's just a bump on a log."
  • I'm not going to tell you until after the test that you are going to be able to do test corrections or that I'll curve your grades.
  • This first thing you need to do when trying to graph exponential and logarithmic equations is to ask yourself, "Self, is it exponential or logarithmic?"
  • To determine if an equation is exponential or logarithmic, look to see if it has the word "log" in it. If it does, it isn't exponential. Try the other option!
  • When taking a test, alway remember the advice of Kenny Rogers' Gambler: you got to know when to walk away, and know when to run. But don't do either until you've simplified all of your answers.
  • Sometimes it seems like my life is like the troll who says you need a pass to cross the bridge, then tells you that you get them at the booth on the other side of the bridge.
  • Anything to the zero-th power is one, except zero of course, because it's not anything at all: it's undefined. But, that is not to say that nothing to the zero-th power is undefined, because it isn't.
  • To me Spring Break is nothing more than what the caveman said when he jumped on the mattress too hard.
  • 'Enthused' is not a word. You mean 'enthusiastic!' If you were actually enthusiastic enough, you wouldn't need to abbreviate it!
  • Here are some common isotopes and their respective half-lives. There's Carbon-14, Plutonium, Uranium, Einsteinium, and this one that I've never heard of before: does anyone "Nobelium?"
  • OK, that problem wasn't so bad. Let's do that thing on a cow where you get milk from--Let's do an udder (another.)
  • Let's take this expanded logarithmic expression this morning and dew a little condensation with it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

OOOooh, Gross Anatomy

Last night I did something I never want to do again: I went the "Our Body: The Universe Within" exhibit at the Witte Museum. You've probably heard of or seen stories about this traveling array of "plastinated" human carcasses and carcass parts. If you haven't, click on hyperlink above, but be forewarned, it is very, very disturbing . . . very.

I first heard of this scientific? artistic? revolting? exhibit two years ago while visiting a museum in Houston. At first, I was somewhat intrigued by the prospect of human cadavers in playful poses, but being with two young kids (not to mention the $20 ticket price per live person and incredibly long line of people "dying" to get in there), we decided to check out the butterfly exhibit instead. We were still able to have fun, view bi-lateral symmetry, AND keep our lunches down without having to jump on the "corpse wagon."

Since that time, I've heard of several stories surrounding the process, methods, and morality behind such a macabre masquerade of human remains, but I've mainly tried to ignore it. I was very successful in my staunch determination to avoid getting creeped out until the exhibit came to San Antonio. While at the Witte last Saturday for my son's birthday, I jokingly asked my kids if they wanted to take in the skinless bodies. They were not amused by my repugnant raillery. "That's my boy!, let's go check out the scorpion exhibit." We escaped that day without dropping the cash and our jaws on the display of the deceased, but the victory was ephemeral. My wife informed me that we coming back on Tuesday with her nursing friend Jill and her (Jill's) husband (Jimmy.) "Great," I thought "a night out with a bunch of stiffs (and I'm not talking about Jill and Jimmy.)

When we arrived, the line to get in the place was typically long. Great! More time to anticipate the horrific exhibit awaiting us. We made our way to the front of the line, turned off our cell phones ("all the way off, not just on vibrate") and spit out our gum ("all the way out, not just halfway out") and entered the darkened exhibit hall. My senses immediately perceived the smell of formaldehyde, although the bodies were supposed to be "odorless" and "taste like chicken." The throngs of people were deathly quiet and move in single file very slowly around the glass cases that contained beautifully arranged severed arms, legs, tarsals, phalanges, and other grotesque parts and parts of parts. I was more than content to walk on the interior of the lines looking over the shoulders of the sickly curious spectators.

The full-body figures (or what was left of them) were not even contained in glass cases. Although we were strictly instructed not to touch the dead displays, you certainly could have. I once even manually zoomed in so close to a man that was cut perfectly in half that I could count what were his eyebrows from 1 inch away. I couldn't shake the thoughts from my head as I stared at the dozen or so full-bodied figures: "What did this person do in life to deserve this? What was his profession? Did he REALLY play basketball when he was alive? Dang!!! the testes start way up high?"

The entire experience was only made more disconcerting by the fact that every single corpse appeared to be Asian! Why only Asians? I began to think about the prospective shady circumstances surrounding how these specimens were selected. Thank goodness for the creepy, faintly audible music playing in the background that took me away from my unpleasant thoughts only to provide the fodder for more grossly unpleasant thoughts. I've got to hand it to the person who put that together, as a great haunted house rakes in the dough during the Halloween season, this traveling show brings in the green (and the participants work for FREE!)

I'll never eat a turkey leg again!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Pick-me-up

Can you say "Mechanical Advantage?" My kids sure can. Last Saturday at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, my kids had a great time at the "pulley" exhibit. Set up in a triad, children of all ages and sizes sit in a chair then proceed to pull themselves up into the air. The first chair used two pulleys (and was . . . blue? My son could tell you.) The second (green?) chair used three pulleys, giving the participant a greater mechanical advantage whereby they can more easily hoist themselves. The third, and final chair was red. Definitely red. Indubitably red. It had (guess how many pulleys . . . . yes), n+2, where n = 2. This was not only the apparatus which offered the greatest mechanical advantage, and therefore the easiest to use, but it was also red.

The red chair was a hit with my daughter. She must have spent 30 minutes on that seat. Trying to get her off was like trying to get a pork chop away from a hungry mama badger and her badger babies (have you ever tried that?) In the sport of "taking turns" or "looking at other exhibits at the museum" I was determined to oust her from that lift chair. The line of children with sore muscles from riding the more difficult chairs was getting increasingly longer behind me, inversely related to my patience and directly proportional to my daughter's resolve. At that point, I did what any good parent would do: I bribed her down.

Promising to build her one "just like it" at home (or at least something remotely similar and red, of course), she relinquished her throne with a small tear in her eye. "Crap!" I thought. "Now I've got to build a compound pulley system in the yard. I still owe her a spinning stool I promised to build after she wouldn't get off the rotating seat at Freddy's Custard the other night." It was going to be a busy week in the ol' workshop.

We eventually moved on to other exhibits, coming back to that red lift chair only two more times, and later went home, but not before stopping at the overpriced gift shop, very happy, content, and with a renewed appreciation for belts, pulleys, gravity, force, tension, coercion, and Wal-Mart prices.

On Sunday, gimpy legs and all (read previous blog), I took the family to Lowe's Home store to pick up a Mother's day gift, a birthday gift for my son, and to purchase some rope and pulleys. Looking a the wall of parts and more parts, I found several options for pulleys. The cheapest ones were plastic clothesline pulleys. Inexpensive but unsafe for what our purpose. The next gradation was for 5/16 inch rope rated at 150 pounds. With rope that thin, the kids would have a difficult time pulling themselves up. And of course, if I'm building something as cool as a personal hoist, I want to use it too! Weighing more than 150 pounds, I had to go up to the next size. A pulley rated at 400 pounds for use with 3/8 inch rope would do the trick, and since I would be needing 6, yes 6 of them (the museum, at only 4, has nothing on me), I passed on the next size (which was a $30 pulley rated at 700 pounds!)

When we got home, I thought the kids would be eager and excited to help me construct the new contraption, but they played their new DS games instead. I suddenly felt like the "Little Red Hen." Oh well, with the time and money and promises already invested, I've have to do it on my own. And so I toiled for an hour, after which I had a contrivance resembling something the great Leonardo Da Vinci could have built (if he lived near a Lowe's store.) With a proud display of my ever-growing Emotional Quotient, I deferred testing it myself and went inside to retrieve my daughter (who had already forgot about what I was doing outside for her.)

To make a long story short, I worked! We all took turns raising ourselves around 5 feet into the air, lower ourselves down, then lift ourselves up, then lower ourselves down . . . Lifting our bodies seemed to lift our spirits as well, at least until my daughter pointed out, "Daddy, why is the seat not read?"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Once Bitten, Iced Thigh

Saturday night is a night I won't soon forget, and for ALL the wrong reasons. After spending a remarkable day with my wife and kids at the Witte Museum checking out mummies, cowboys, Indians, and playing with all the cool gadgets at the children's museum, we went over to our friends' house for dinner. My kids were excited about another chance to play with Hunter and Caleigh, and I was excited about fajitas and beer.

Everything was going spectacularly: the children were playing well together, the beer was cold, there was plenty of propane in BBQ tank, and the conversations were sparkling. The first sign of something a wry was when we discovered a giant colony of wood ants that had built a nest in the canopy section of the kids' wooden fort. The children were giving free rides down the slide to slew of ants, albeit inadvertently. The ants repaid their gratitude by gently biting my daughter. WE returned their thanklessness with nearly an entire can of ant spray (which actually smelled like a bouquet of roses--but I doubt the dying ants appreciated that.) As I huddled in the small tower of the fort wiping out the ant population and fighting off the urge to lick the overflow poison from my hands, I felt like a savior to the kids.

Before inviting all the children back up to what was now a mephitic cornucopia of Hot Shot, old wasp nests, cedar leaves, and tiny wet ant corpses, I decided to take a victory stroll out along the top of the monkey bars. I walked out precariously along the two rails supporting the bars, Hot Shot can high in one hand and clenched fist in the other. The kids far below looked more like a rival sect of cheering ants than happy children ready to play once again. As I was turning to climb down the long, tall ladder to make my way down to terra firma, the kids starting chanting, "jump, jump, jump." I thought they'd never ask. I can't lie and say the thought of taking a victory jump standing from nine-feet up didn't cross my mind, so I was eager and ready to oblige in their simple request. I'll show that can of poison who the real Hot Shot was!

I did my mental calculations involving air speed, gravitational fluctuation's for our specific longitudinal coordinates, considered the Coriolis AND Bernoulli Effects (separately and together), then made my jump. I didn't just step off, no, I leaped up as high as I could to create the perfect parabolic flight path (parabolas ALWAYS delight little kids.) My internal altimeter was processing my height above ground so that I could absorb the shock through bent legs. I should be hitting the ground in . . . (THUD.) I hit before I imagined I would. I TOTALLY wasn't ready for that. My legs were straight. The shock of the landing entered my feet, went right to all my joints, and reverberated all the way into my head were it screamed "YOU IDIOT! YOU'RE NOT AS YOUNG OR AS LIGHT AS YOU USED TO BE."

I stood up grimacing, wincing, and crying (on the inside) while the kids were already running off to go tell the other (sane) adults what I had just done. I limped back to the house hoping no one would notice my altered, labored gait or the saline moisture forming around the perimeter of my eyes. "Smells great!" I offered trying to divert attention from my pathetic case, but it was no use: my wife saw the whole affair. "It looked like you landed on your butt," she said, to which I took immediate offense, "No I didn't! I landed right on what used to be my own to feet. I just feel backward onto my butt from the recoil from the percussion of the fall." It didn't make me feel any better.

So I sat on the couch the rest of the evening with a dull moan which simultaneously expressed my satisfaction for the savory fajitas and the pain and discomfort I felt in my right knee (the ACL-less knee), both thighs, and my left ankle. I knew I wouldn't be running for some time, but that I'd be running a marathon before my wife let me live down the latest stupid act of what she simply calls" Kevin being Kevin." I think there's a reason I married a nurse. She loves me.

Today, two days later, I'm still in pain, but with an ankle brace with stiff, high-top hiking boots, my ankle feels better. As for my knee, it's hurt worse before. The good news is that the latest injuries don't interfere with my mathematical abilities, which are apparently suspect to accuracy anyway, especially when it comes to calculating using the inverse square law of gravity, or else I wouldn't be in this state to begin with.

Dumb ants! They got what they deserved!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Unhappy Birthday?

Tomorrow, my only begotten son turns eight years old. Wow! That sure makes me feel at least a year older than I am! I can still remember when I was eight (and feeling nine-ish.) I too was in 2nd grade, in Weslaco, Texas (the Rio Grande Valley) losing marbles at recess to the Mexican Mafia, getting licks in the principal's office for jumping over puddles at recess, and doing everything I could to stay out of fights after winning mulitple rounds of tetherball at . . . . yep . . . . recess. At 8, I already had to fend form myself: in a predominately Hispanic school, white glaringly white skin and platinum blonde hair (I TOLD my mom not to bleach it, but she said it made me look like a Scandinavian "Louse Boop") made me stand out like a extroverted mathematician at an introverted mathematicians' convention. Needless to say, not all confrontations were entirely avoidable, and I got my share of punishment.

Fast forward 26 years to my son's (soon to be) 8-year-old 2nd grade experience. Not only is he already a grade ahead of where I was at his age (he's the youngest in his class,) but he hasn't had to fend for himself (physically, at least.) I fact, his situation is in stark contrast to the defining moments in my situation that I believe made me so much more independent and self-determined at that age. While I was playing "smear the queer" (a free-form TACKLE football game, also know as "tackle the idiot with the ball"), he's playing the teacher-mandated "quiet game" at recess (the winner gets to have fun . . . tomorrow . . . . maybe.) While I was breaking patella's from high jumping onto concrete slabs and climbing trees to retrieve and eat blackberries (at recess, of course,) my son is playing tag, in a structured single-file line (which means "duck-duck-goose" is too controversial.)

I was tough, because I HAD to be. My son is soft, because he CAN be. Demographics are NOT the issue. Politically correct trends in education, and society in general, are. By "protecting" everyone's feelings, and trying to equalize everything for everyone, we are no longer providing students with the "natural selection" or ability to adapt that is so crucial for character growth. There is no more trial by fire, sink or swim, burn or be burned, bloody or be bloodied, cry or make cry, etc. We're overprotecting our kids to a fault!

At the time, I surely did not like the struggle, the ridicule, the mortification, or the beatings, but looking back now, I'm so appreciative of how they shaped me into who I am today. To be coddled then would only mean that I would be worthlessly dependent and lost today. I almost felt a sense of pride when my son came home yesterday with a mother's day card in which he wrote "Mothers are necessary because Dads are too harsh, and we shurly [sic] need SOMEBODY to love on." I love my son more than you can ever know, but I worry about the man he will grow up to be. His turning 8 has me taking stock of how I've done so far as his father.

We all want what's best for our children. In fact, we want them to be better than we are, and we expect that they will benefit from our own experience. Let's see how my son measures up to my standards: He's funny and has a quick wit (check) He enjoys math (check) He's handsome (check--thanks mom) He enjoys music (check) He is sweet and unselfish (check, check) He has the focus required to master any challenging thing he wants (x) He likes to eat (check) He likes to eat everything on his plate and try new things (x) He faces his fears and deficiencies head on (x) He drives a car as well as I do (x) He can keep up with me on a 26 mile run (x, x.)

Perhaps most of these are unfair comparisons, but then again they are only guidelines for me and not performance checklists for him. He'll be the first to tell you that I'm hard on him. He'll also be the first to tell you that his dad loves him. He'll also be the first to tell you how much he LOVES his mother.

Anyway, back to the party. His situation at school this year has left him with few friends of the male variety. Last year, for his birthday, we took 3 of his good buddies on an all-day train ride originating from Cedar Park, Texas. This year, we're reluctant to invite his 3 closest friends, which happen to be all girls (who seem to feel as if he bothers them.) Instead, we're spreading his special day over several days. Friday at school, he shared cupcakes with his classmates, where he was serenaded to a shouted version of "HAPP-HAPPY BIR-DAY TAT-TATE" by in disharmonious classmates, which was nothing more than a warm-up for their after-school musical program at the PTA meeting.

With the after-school-program dinner at Freddy's hamburgers involving both sets of grandparents, aunts and cousins, and hamburgers, ice cream cones and regurgitated ketchup (please don't ask . . . ) Today, we spent the day at the Witte museum in San Antonio, doing everything to avoid the display involving the diced up human bodies on display. After a full day of great fun with mom, dad, sis, and a host of other inconsiderate children (whose mouth-breathing parents thought nothing of their child's inconsiderate sense of "me, me now!!",) we spent what was our second Saturday night in a row with our dear friend Hunter and his wonderful family.

Tomorrow, his actual birthday and mother's day as well, the kids and I are getting up early to wash, wax, and detail mom's car. Then, we're off to the special destination to get her the special gift (I can't give away the genius of it here, lest she log on, read, and not be surprised, or even worse, dissatisfied.) With a clean car and happy mom, we're then heading off to McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, Texas for the day, where we'll spend the afternoon hiking and catching fish. The grandparents might join us, and you can bet that all the mosquitos we invited, although didn't RSVP, will be there with us, hungry, no doubt.

Tomorrow night, after what will hopefully be a fun-filled day for us (or at least the mosquitoes,) we'll return home where we'll let our new 8-year-old get his choice of shower or bath, with cherry or blueberry body wash. Then we'll likely let him sleep in bed with us (on account of his birthday,) where I'll lay awake all night with heels in my ribs and elbows in my face thinking aboutt how I'm so not looking forward to his 9th birthday next year.

He may actually want a cake and real presents with real people there. When I turned nine, I considered a happy day if I could avoid getting beaten up at recess. . .

Friday, May 9, 2008

Forerunning

I recently purchased and awesome watch. Well, it's not actually a watch, although it does tell time. It's called the Garmin Forerunner 305. (but it CAN see daylight AND get wet.) It is the latest in technology-based running (and by that I do not mean a motor vehicle transporting you from point A to B.) Whereas hitting the pavement previously only required a pair of shorts, socks, and some shoes, and perhaps a hammer combined with an an irrational hatred of asphalt, the list of essential running gear keeps growing and growing every day like a soon-to-be 8-year-old on a chicken nugget and "don't run with dad" diet. From running belts, to hydration packs, to GU and runner's gel, to runner's glide, to micro-fiber, moisture-wicking materials that can be worn above, below, on bottom, on top, and on the head. Then there's the all-important .mp3 (typically being referred to as an Ipod, going the way of facial tissue to Kleenex, and congealed gelatin to Jello) players that hold thousands of songs (for those LONG runs) are lightweight, and "skip" running with a portable CD player of old, which itself, was an improvement over the heavy-weight radio/headphones in one that had a 2 foot antenna extending up from it.

Then there's the watch. A good watch tells time. A better watch has has a stopwatch. An even better watch cleans bathrooms for you. But the best watch has GPS built right into it. That's where the Forerunner 305 comes in. It straps to your wrist, hooks up to satellites way up in space, and keeps track of nearly EVERYTHING about your run, including on-the-fly elapsed time, distance traveled, current pace in min/miles, calories burned, elevation, etc, etc, etc. Once the run is completed, a simple hook-up via USB to a computer, and you can dump your runs and the information, where they are automatically cataloged on the product's website . . . for free. Once there, you can get color Google maps of your actual run, with street signs, satellite view, or even street view. It also gives you every statistical breakdown of your run, even things you never would have considered, like "cool factor while running without your shirt," and an interpretation of the profanities of passing teenage motorist lost to the Doppler Effect.

At $299, the device has always been out of my price range, but thanks to a fantastic sale at R.E.I., I couldn't resist spending the money, even if I had to drive to North Austin to get it and it meant my kids would go hungry for a week. Food is overrated anyway, especially food without a built-in GPS system, baby! Apparently I wasn't the only one drawn to the Outdoor Supply Mecca the day of the sale. There was a long line at the watch counter, where conversation after conversation between salesperson and customer went like this: "Can I help y--" "I'll take the Forerunner 305!" "Would you like to look at it or just bu--" "Just buy it."

So far, aside from having something new to play with and a new excuse to spent more time on the computer making custom "fitness" reports, the device has been paying off. I find that I have an increased motivation to run more often, farther, and faster. It's like I have a "virtual" running buddy with me wherever I go (there's actually a setting for that!) Being able to see my pace at a glance of the wrist urges me to PR each time I go out, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. In essence, it's making running painfully enjoyable again, rather than just enjoyable. There's even a heart rate monitor that I can wear around my breast plate, and the device will even report and keep a history of that too. I've yet to try this out, but just knowing that I have another option at my disposal makes me really feel like it was money well spent and helps me feel better when my kids whine to me, "Dad . . . .we're hungry."

Eat some ice cubes, 'cause daddy's gotta run!