The Off-Season

The occasional summertime update. Also an occasional peek at the prep for the upcoming season.

Water with Lemon, please?

Planning for the new season began this morning.

Honestly, after having taken the last six weeks completely “off”, it hurt a little.1 But like anything else in life, you put one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time.

image

One of the first steps typically involves rearranging the dates on the course calendar to fit the new dates. While this normally goes without much incident, this year’s calendar introduces a few wrinkles:

  1. Our district is taking a full week off for Thanksgiving for the first time. It only cuts out two class days, but makes things a little uncomfortable towards the end of the 1st semester.
  2. We are taking a full school day to administer the SAT to our students. We already do this for the PSAT in October, but now we’re adding the SAT in February.
  3. Spring Break occurs a week later in the calendar. This is actually quite nice, as it allows us to get through inference with means at a more leisurely pace.2

image

As you can see, there’s a long to-do list of ideas for the course that I would like to implement someday. Whether or not they ever see the light of day this upcoming season remains to be seen.

Oh, and if you’re curious about “fecal matter on top of lemons”, that idea came about from a lunch conversation I had last summer3 with some friends about the lemons that we often put into our drinking water at restaurants. Do you ever wonder how well they clean those things?4
  1. Actually, it hurt a lot.↩︎
  2. It also gives us some room for adjustments, in case we experience another “ice-pocalypse”… you know, “ice days” without any ice…↩︎
  3. which means this idea was on my list for all of last year, but never found its way into the classroom. Maybe this year…↩︎
  4. Perhaps it’s better if you don’t think about that one too much… =) ↩︎

All your watch are belong to us

One morning this week I awoke in a cold sweat thinking,

Maintaining security during classroom exams (i.e., preventing cheating) is going to be a nightmare when Apple comes out with the iWatch1 this year.

You know those crazy, “random” thoughts that you often have upon waking up first thing in the morning — the ones that go away after being awake for more than five minutes, when your brain decides to start being sane?

Well, that one pretty much shows you where my mind is shifting as we enter the month of August.


FYI, the reality is already: “No phones or electronic devices in your pockets or on your person — put them in your bag and place all bags at the front of the room”. Pretty soon we will need to append: “and also remove all watches, glasses, contacts, and earrings. Blegh.2

Yeah… -_-

T-minus three weeks to opening day number eight.34

  1. Yes, I’m aware that we already have smart watches from the likes of Moto, LG, and Same-sung. But let’s be real: the proliferation of such devices is likely to explode sometime in the next few months.↩︎
  2. Incidentally, a coworker shared with me that in the 80’s — which I actually remember — the contraband du jour was calculator watches. So perhaps this is not an entirely new problem…↩︎
  3. After watching “Sharknado 2” last week, I thought briefly of calling this: “Season 8: The 8th One”… or “Season 8: The Ocho”, for ye “Dodgeball” fans.↩︎
  4. Oh, and if you don’t understand the title reference, go here.↩︎

“Statistically Noticeable”

io9.com: 10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing

The following blurb from number seven is what piques my interest1 (emphasis mine):

“Statistically significant” is one of those phrases scientists would love to have a chance to take back and rename. “Significant” suggests importance; but the test of statistical significance, developed by the British statistician R.A. Fisher, doesn’t measure the importance or size of an effect; only whether we are able to distinguish it, using our keenest statistical tools, from zero. “Statistically noticeable” or “Statistically discernible” would be much better.
Jordan Ellenberg, Mathematician

Saving that one for next January.

  1. and also feeds into my opening day spiel that Statistics is really more of a science class than a math class.↩︎

Things that I don’t *technically* NEED to do my job…

While I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where most of our necessities are provided for us, sometimes teachers can dream — especially in the middle of summer break.

Before I start, let me put the word “dream” in context: My “dream” house is a giant 3+ story tall circular complex with a glass elevator in the center of the house… and this glass elevator is completely encompassed inside of a huge aquarium filled with exotic sea creatures including sharks and giant squid.1 Something like the AquaDom in Berlin, but with WAYYY more aquarium:2

So imagine if the aquarium filled this entire lobby.  Yeah.
So imagine if the aquarium filled this entire lobby. Yeah.

In other words: Think back to whenever your parents and/or teachers taught you to “dream big”. Then multiply by a thousand.3

So here are a few things that I wish dream that my profession would provide for us — none of which are even remotely necessary. Just like the dream house with a glass-elevator-inside-sea-world, none of these will ever happen.

A font budget

Font Budget

Hey, some of the nicer fonts in life aren’t free.4 Thankfully, typography has advanced to the point where there are quite the number of free fonts available — especially for educational purposes.

(If you’re thoroughly confused, see: Font Control)

An art department

best-example-i-have-ever-seen

Give me a group of artists that could scrounge up custom clip-art or comic illustrations on demand. Heck, a single artist would do. Especially when putting together basic tutorial videos, every now and then I’ve thought to myself something like, “Gosh I really wish I had a picture of a kid rolling a pair of pig dice!”

(A multimedia / video production team in a similar vein would be nice too…)

Unlimited supply of nice purple pens tagged with GPS trackers

(To be clear: it’s not the “purple pens” part that makes this one a “dream”.)

Yes, I am aware that not all of the pens in this picture are purple.  I'm not THAT colorblind...
Yes, I am aware that not all of the pens in this picture are purple. I’m not THAT colorblind…

If you’ve been in my class, you’d understand.5 The GPS trackers / theft alarms would be for whenever a kid decides to accidentally walk off with one. My ink of choice for the classroom are the Pilot G2’s, and them things are not cheap.

Multiple 20-foot 4K video walls

1024 by 768 in all of its pixellated glory
1024 by 768 in all of its pixellated glory

Our current LCD projectors are nice. But when I review multiple versions of assignments side-by-side on the same screen, bigger screens and more pixels — for improved readability — wouldn’t hurt. 1024 by 768 is serviceable… but in practice, limited, especially when trying to show a full page of work at one time.6

3D Holographic Projectors

If you’ve seen the TV show “Bones”, that’s what I’m talking about:

bones-hologram-projection

While not immediately as useful in Statistics, I’ve always thought we should have something like this for modeling 3-D graphs and figures in geometry and calculus. Heck, even conic sections in Algebra II.7

And finally

Genetic clone(s) of myself

This way, I could literally be in two (or more) places at once. Of course, one would have to deal with what to do with said genetic clone(s) when you don’t need them… but we can cross that bridge if we ever get there.8


Not quite “dreamy” enough

Other items that crossed my mind:

  • The ability to choose our computer / laptop model for work use.9
  • The ability to use Dropbox at work. Grrr.10
  • Free coffee.

(I’ll stop there.)

And it is quite plausible that I add to this list at multiple points in the future.


In a few mere days, I depart for my annual “clear-my-head-before-the-new-season” getaway. Given the way these past couple of weeks have rolled, it couldn’t have come soon enough.

  1. Hey! Seemingly ridiculous dreams give advancements in engineering a raison d’être!↩︎
  2. Yes, big enough for sharks and GIANT squid!↩︎
  3. Another “dream” I had as a kid was that I wanted to be the first Asian player in the NBA. That one didn’t quite pan out… something about me not being tall enough, or athletic enough, or… yeah.↩︎
  4. As you can see, some cost almost as much as a smartphone!↩︎
  5. I use purple pens for students to grade their own work with. Why purple? Because as a color, it is less psychologically menacing than red, and stands out more from pencil than green.↩︎
  6. I gather 1080p would work decently… but that wouldn’t sufficiently put it in “dream” status. And yes, I realize that 4K screens require computers with quite beefy specs. Mac Pros for the classroom?!↩︎
  7. Or is it Precal now? -_-↩︎
  8. The practical fall-back would be one or more competent TA’s. Hmmmmmmm.↩︎
  9. Sorry, Dell.↩︎
  10. Don’t get me started on this one.↩︎

Every font nerd needs to bookmark this subreddit

Subreddit: Identify This Font

Earlier this week, while picking up some breakfast tacos and ice cream1 the following font caught my eye:

image

I took a picture (obviously) and posted it to my Insta and Facebook, to see if anyone could identify it. Well, it turns out there’s a subreddit2 just for people that have seen fonts in the wild that they need identified.

So I gave it a shot and lo and behold, some kind soul identified the mythical beast within an hour.3 Oh, the wonders of the interwebs.

  1. Yes, they go together. Okay, not really.↩︎
  2. Much thanks to Joseph Kang for pointing it out!↩︎
  3. It turns out that whoever did the signage for the local Whole Foods got a number of their fonts from LostType. Or, perhaps, they designed the fonts and then contributed them to LostType. Probably the latter. I’ll never know.↩︎

What I use to make lesson videos

This summer, I’m starting a large project1 of putting together basic lesson videos for my AP Statistics classes to help out on a number of fronts.

Here’s a quick 30-second sample clip (don’t expect it to blow your hair back, I didn’t say they’d be exciting):

(If you’re wondering about the background music: I only put that in there for this sample. There’s no music in the actual videos — but maybe there should be… hmm.)

For anyone who might be curious as to what tools I specifically use to put things all together, here’s the long rundown.

First, the hardware:

  • Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch (Medium)2

    This is the slate / pen tablet I use to write on-screen.

    Wacom Intuos

    Has a little bit of a learning curve, but I will never teach again without it. Currently using the CTH-680, but I also have a 670 and 480 that I use in class. List price is $199, snagged mine for ~$158 earlier this summer. 3

  • Macbook Pro Retina, 13 inch4

    Of course, almost ANY decent Windows computer will do. I run Windows 7 via Virtual Machine (Parallels) — Windows 8 is giving me too many issues with the pen tablet drivers, among other things.

  • Any smartphone headset with a mic

    This is mainly for recording your voice during the videos. The headphones/mic that come with any iPhone work for this (the headphone jack on a Mac doubles as a mic-input).

    Headset Earpods Earphone with Remote & Mic For iPhone 5 Touch 5 iPad 4 iPad Mini

    Most laptops have an external mic that will pick up your voice as well, but using a plug-in mic can improve audio volume and reduce the “I’m all alone in an empty echo-chamber” effect. And in case you’re wondering: No, I cannot stand the sound of my own voice anymore than the next person.5


The Software:

  • Screen Recording: Quicktime

    Some people set up a video camera and stand in front of the whiteboard.

    image

    While that’s one way to go, you may wish to simply work through examples via Powerpoint (especially if you have a way of writing on the screen like I do).

    Quicktime

    Quicktime (comes with the Mac) has a built-in screen recording function, and a 10-minute screen recording typically weights 200-300MB at this point. If you’re on Windows, Camstudio works great.

  • Movie editing: iMovie

    image

    Once you’ve video’d a screen-recording, there’s a large probability that you’ll wish to go back and cut out all of the “oh crap I just messed up” parts. I export in 720p, which gives me a 5-minute clip that weighs around 50MB. If you’re on Windows, I hear Windows Movie Maker is quite functional as well. If you’ve never edited video before, expect a little bit of a learning curve.

  • Optional video cropping / compression: Handbrake

    For some reason, iMovie now only seems to output videos at 16×9. I use Handbrake to crop out black bars on the sides of the screen. Using the default options, I usually end up with a 5-minute video clip that weighs around 10MB — not bad! 6


Some things to consider

I consider myself to be rather tech-savvy… but even for me, it took a full work-day to figure out all of the little kinks and put together a pair of FIVE MINUTE VIDEO CLIPS. Yes, this stuff will take time. Like teaching, it takes some preparation beforehand to make things go even halfway decently.7 I’d like to keep a full day’s lesson to less than 10 minutes of video… and while most times that is doable, sometimes it isn’t.

I spend way more time editing out dead spots and screw-ups in the recorded videos than I do actually recording the videos (both 5 minute video clips that I recorded on the first day started out as 11+ minute clips).

Often times during the recording / editing process, I thought to myself, “Gosh I hope I’m not actually this sloppy in class.”

And if all of this seems daunting, have a look around Google / YouTube. There’s plenty of stuff online already, so don’t re-invent more than absolutely necessary.

  1. which, by the way, we are looking at as a multi-year project.↩︎
  2. although the small will probably do as well↩︎
  3. During actual class, I use this along with the optional wireless kit ($45) to free myself from the front of the classroom during teaching. The software I use to write on the screen is called Interwrite Workspace, which our school had a while back, and I never let go of.↩︎
  4. Late 2012, if you’re curious.↩︎
  5. Honestly though, what narcissistic sicko actually LIKES the sound of their own voice?↩︎
  6. The 34-second sample clip above weighs 1.1MB.↩︎
  7. Of course, once the kinks got ironed out, things began to roll a bit more smoothly.↩︎