Damped and Driven

so I about busted a gut/you learn something new everyday/i love science
April 10, 2008, 7:43 pm
Filed under: School, Science and Other Nerdiness

One thing thats great about being a teacher is that the kids are funny, or maybe more accurately, when kids are involved, things can be funny, actually f’in hillarious. Case in point: we’ve been working on waves last couple days. I had them do a short project where they were supposed to make a poster with the two kinds of waves that we talked about (transverse and longitudinal) on it. The poster was supposed to have definitions, diagrams, and examples from the web. The examples is where it got interesting.

One of my students had searched for ‘transverse’. And was looking at a picture she had found and said something like “gross, ewww..”- naturally i was intrigued. I went over and saw what looked like the inside of something, nay someone and thought uh-oh. What are the students looking at on my watch? I scanned the URL and the word ‘colonoscopy’ grabbed my attention, yikes! Turns out she had stumbled on a ‘tranverse’ image from a colonoscopy. I didn’t draw attention to it or tell her what it was (the inside of a butt) but told her to go back and did my best to quell totally busting out laughing. Apparently, transverse is also an anatomical word. Its more or less the plane that would go through your waist parallel with the floor (i never took anatomy), and i guess that was the orientation of the image. You learn something new every day.


April 8, 2008, 4:58 pm
Filed under: School, Science and Other Nerdiness

Recently i’ve been introduced to a new, wondrous, and horribly distracting and addicting feature of the internet called StumbleUpon. How it works is you enter a bunch of preferences of things that you’re interested in, from coffee to physics, from anthropology to zoology. Then when you find yourself with some free time, you push the little stumble button and it brings you to a random website culled from the interweb that it thinks you might enjoy based on your preferences. Its awesome. It’s kind of like if there was a grab-bag button on your TV remote that you could push that would bring you to an awesome channel that up to this point you didn’t know existed.

So if you know me you might not be surprised that this poster, actually a collection of them showed up one day based on my preferences. There are some really good ones in the collection: Realize Resist Revolt. I dig this kind of art, i like bold stuff. I think it draws me to woodcuts and etchings and messages that can be spray-paint stenciled onto the back of a t-shirt.

Anyway, the one above in particular resonated with me based on what i’m currently doing. It can be really saddening. Some of my kids are tough kids, they have a lot smarts, more wisdom than they should have at this age and tremendous will, but instead of directing that at kicking butt in school, sticking it to the stereotypes and finding out what they want in life and grabbing it, they direct it toward defiantly doing nothing and failing gloriously.

Which is why in the future, i plan on teaching them a lesson based around the idea in this poster. I have tried the message of “I know you can do well, believe in malleable intelligence, blah, blah, etc.” and the kids have heard it. That may work for some, but for others, for some of my hard screws, its not a message that reaches them. So instead i though i might be able to appeal to the indignant side, the defiant side. Something like: “Basically, if you don’t have an education, people who know more than you will take advantage of you. No, it’s not fair, but it is the way that things are, but you have the power to change that. I know you could kick butt at school and show them, but that has to be YOUR choice. What are you going to do?”

And i know they could do it, they could kick butt at school, if i can only convince them thats what they really want to do…Thoughts?

Following politics in a very rural very red state with the last possible primary date
March 11, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Not School, Science and Other Nerdiness

I don’t know that much about politics, and feel i should really do my homework in preparation for the upcoming election, but can’t seem to scratch out time to do much. I find all the information a bit overwhelming, and can get cynical about the process, but i have poked around and thought i should share a few tidbits that i’ve come across related to politics in South Dakota.

Lets start at the beginning: The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’, meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’, meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’. As compelling a definition that is, its actually just a quote of the day credited to Larry Hardiman, although it does do a good job of informing you about my attitude about politics at times 😛

Anyway, what i actually learned.. So if you haven’t gathered, South Dakota, the happiness is a warm gun state, is quite a conservative place. When i started looking into this post, i decided to do a little research (thank you interweb and wikipedia) and figure out just how red it is. Let me preface this by saying that i don’t have much (hardly any) knowledge about political history and how the parties and their platforms have evolved, but i do know that it is a lot more complicated than red=republican=conservative, blue=democrat=liberal. Maybe this post could start some discussion.

Anyyyyyway, South Dakota became a state in 1889. Since then, from what i could find, it has voted Republican for every presidential election except for 5: most recently SD went democrat (Johnson) in 1964. Interestingly, that was one of the most lopsided presidential elections ever, with Johnson carrying 44 states, and getting 61.1 % of the popular vote, the highest percentage of the popular vote a candidate has ever gotten. Before that, SD went democrat for Franklin Roosevelt, in 1932 and 1936. These were desperate times and again these were some 2 of the most lopsided races in history. In 1932 Roosevelt grabbed 42 of 48 states, and in 1936 Roosevelt won all but Maine and Vermont, getting 60.8% of the popular vote, numbers hard to imagine today with the extremely close races we’ve had the last few times around. In 1912, SD didn’t go Republican but they did go for Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose) party. Roosevelt had founded his third party after failing to get the Republican party nomination. In any case this was a republican-esque party and also a very strange election, interestingly and also depressing, the last election where a third party came in second in the electoral college. The only other time SD didn’t vote republican was shortly after it’s statehood in 1896; SD went for Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Bryan carried most all of the rural states in that election.

Conclusion: SD is a solidly conservative state, fair enough. However, i would argue/speculate that there is a pretty big difference between SD conservatives and the Religiously minded conservatives that have been so ripe for exploitation and vital to Republican success in the last two presidential elections. I think SD republicans are more of a libertarian variety, they want the government to leave them alone and they don’t want as much to impose a moral agenda on the rest of us or have one imposed on themselves.

It’s interesting, there are a few anomalies. One is that although SD has voted overwhelmingly for Republican presidents, we have also voted for a lot of democratic representatives to congress. SD is home to former Senate Minority leader and Majority leader Tom Daschle, and has had a lot of democratic representatives to congress. Currently we have Johnson and Herseth, both Democrats, and Thune, a Republican. The prevailing simple explanation is that although South Dakotans prefer to have federal leadership with Republican ideologies, they also prefer, as a sink of a state that draws a lot from the federal government, to have representatives who are more socialist minded, and can procure funds for the state.

Another interesting anomaly are the reservations. So if you look at the 2004 election, SD was overwhelmingly red, going for Bush 60% over Kerry 38%. However if you look at a map by county, it looks like this:


(Thanks CNN) Now notice those dark blue counties- The one in the south central part of the state is Todd county, the Rosebud Reservation, where I teach. That county went overwhelmingly Kerry (72%) over Bush (25%). The county a couple to the west of there is Shannon county, Where the Pine Ridge reservation is. It was even more lopsided there, 85% Kerry to 13% Bush, Wow! In fact if we look at a map that shows the reservations in South Dakota:


The pink areas are the reservations, and as you can see there is quite a correspondence. At the very least it shows you how the reservations are quite different than the rest of the state. As far as i understand, the reservations tend to vote democrat because they’re so dependent on federal money and so connected to welfare programs.

Another interesting thing about following politics in a small state like South Dakota is that while you may think your vote is worth less, it’s also worth more. This happens because the states population is so small. A state cannot have fewer than 2 senators and a rep to the House, but if all the representatives were alloted solely by population, states like SD would have even less than that. As a result, voters in South Dakota and other small states actually vote for ‘more’ of an electoral vote than voters in populous states.

To illustrate: in the 2004 presidential election, in SD there were something like 388,000 votes cast for 3 electoral votes, thats 7.7 x 10^-6 electors per voter, compared to MA where 2,912,000 votes were cast for 12 electoral votes, thats 4.1 x 10^-6 electors per vote. Dividing the two, that means, SD voters vote for 1.87, times as many electors as Massachusetts voters. Conclusion, SD voters get almost twice the representation in the electoral college than voters in Massachusetts. So thats neat, its cool to be a voter is SD!, until you stop to consider that most all of these small population states are very rural and conservative and this little curiosity helped to elect G W Bush.

And thats about it- I wish i would have gotten this post out earlier while there were still more primary races to follow, but there it is, thats most everything i could think of regarding the pecularities of following the presidential election in SD.One last thing: before the 2004 presidential election i had stumbled on a website that i really liked. It’s an independent site so it isn’t cluttered by all the advertisements or affiliated with any media corporations. Also, the site is very data-oriented which i enjoy, as i feel there isn’t a lot of fluff or speculation. The person behind the site does an excellent job of analyzing how the numerical data and trends in the vote talk to each other. Basically its quality and you should check it out:


A blog a day keeps the doctor away.
March 4, 2008, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Not School, Science and Other Nerdiness

If you don’t have a google homepage, you should make one. It’s super neat: there are all kinds of gadgets you can add, you can put the weather, movies playing in the area (or neighboring counties, haha), links to your news sites that update when they update, comics, all kinds of stuff. One of the tabs i have on mine is a page of science websites. I ran across this article on there the other day.


It isn’t an in depth article, but it refers to some new research that suggests that blogging has psychological benefits, helping those who do it feel more socially connected and part of a community.

I started blogging to allow friends and family to keep tabs if they wanted and to more or less document my time teaching. Now, although i don’t have a lot of personal evidence, i would agree that blogging seems to have additional benefits. I feel like it can be sort of a space for venting but also a place to explore ideas. I think it can be nice to flesh out an idea enough to be able to write about it that you might otherwise not have probed, and i think thats beneficial.

I’ve also chatted with my roommate Darius who has been blogging too and we agreed that we do feel like part of a community (we recently linked up SD teacher blogs). Considering how isolating being out on the prairie can be, i do feel like this blogging business can be a nice opportunity to stay connected. Comments?

March 3, 2008, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Not School, Recipes, Science and Other Nerdiness

On Saturday, the much anticipated bread-off finally happened. The idea had been born at the Kyle love party and Anna and i had been exchanging bread pun smack talk for the last 2 weeks. The Bread-0ff became one part of a literal smorgasbord of activities involving soup, bread and beverages. It was a ton of fun and also made me think of a science topic.

Anna made French bread and i made beer bread. It’s interesting because these are two entirely different leavening mechanisms representative of probably the two most common ways to make bread rise. French bread uses yeast as leavening. Beer bread is a ‘quick bread’ or ‘soda bread’ like banana bread that rises because of a chemical reaction.

Bread leavened with yeast is more difficult to make. Yeast is a fungus, (interestingly Saccharomyces cerevisiae (thanks Russ) the same yeast used to make beer) and as such you sort of need to feed and care for it to get it to come out and play and make the bread rise before you bake it to death. This involves mixing the ingredients together including the yeast and a little sugar if theres not enough carbohydrates in the flour it can feed on. As the yeast feeds on the sugar it puts out carbon dioxide and these little bubbles of gas are what cause the bread to rise. You let the bread rise, then punch it down and let it rise again, this gives the bread more flavor and texture. Interestingly, there is protein, gluten, in the flour that allows the bread to be elastic and hold its shape. If you don’t use bread flour, it doesn’t have as much of that protein, and as a result if you try and make bread with all purpose flour it will probably end up denser than you’d like it to.

Beer bread is sort of a trick play as it’s a quick bread, taking only an hour or so, while yeast leavened bread takes probably 3 or more hours. Beer bread works differently, rather than fungi, its a chemical reaction, not too unlike the baking-soda vinegar volcano you think of from middle school science fairs, except its baking powder and beer and it makes bread instead. The beer is slightly acidic and the baking powder has sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in it. When the acid and base react this also forms carbon dioxide gas. This is what causes a soda bread to rise.

Anyway, people were feeling the beer bread and voted it the winner. I’ve had good luck with it so i though i should share the recipe. Check out:


Its super easy and I only tweak it slightly:

I do one cup white flour, one cup wheat, and one cup rye. Also, instead of the brown sugar, i use about 1/2 brown sugar, 1/2 molasses. As for the beer, i just use a can of humble miller light, but would imagine using different, more flavorful beer could be really good too. Thats half the fun of it- just messing around with the recipe. Oh, and also pouring a can of beer into something you’re going to eat.

Also, a side note.. All recipes http://allrecipies.com/ is pretty awesome. The recipes are reviewed so you can find good recipes fast and there are also about a million recipes to choose from.

A butterfly flaps its wings in central park and i get attentive students in my third hour (on a friday) instead of a storm of defiance
February 15, 2008, 10:35 pm
Filed under: School, Science and Other Nerdiness

The kicker: after talking about all the ups and downs in my classes yesterday, my often problematic 3rd hour went well, better than some of my other classes. Most everyone was engaged and did a good job on the notes for the day. Conclusion, don’t let down your guard, but don’t get in a rut either. If you come into class with a bad attitude, expecting it to go poorly, the kids can pick up on that and the right kind of kid will prey on it. However, if you go in with the attitude, today is a new day, and class can be good, sometimes it will be better for no obvious reason.

On a side note, the butterfly reference in the title is a current life to former life connection. It’s an adaptation of a famous Edward Lorenz quote about Chaos, i.e. the branch of physics known as deterministic nonlinear dynamics.  He was one of the pioneers of the area and worked on weather models.  Chaos was one of the areas in physics i was most interested in and studied a bunch in college. In fact, the title of this blog is a reference to a chaos project, one of the projects that i worked on was a damped and driven chaotic pendulum. I’ll write a post about all that sometime. In any case, on the surface i don’t think studying chaos helped me much in regards to classroom management(although you might think it would:-P), but i do know that in the classroom, much like a chaotic system, there is structure, pattern, behind the unpredictable behavior. If i can find that underlying pattern and the influences that shape it, i know it would help me better manage my classroom and help me lead my kids to achieve.

Tangerine Tangents
February 10, 2008, 6:33 am
Filed under: Not School, Science and Other Nerdiness

I am a firm believer that its important/excellent to derive joy from the simple things in life, the footnotes in your day that lead to some story. There is such tremendous texture and beauty in the world, if we stop to take a moment to appreciate it. I feel like if you can see that, you can’t help but smile. An example of this arrived in a five lb bag of oranges i picked up from the shopping center in Mission.

Orange Stripe

As you can see from the picture, the orange has a pronounced lighter stripe that runs from navel to stem.

I was curious about how this came to be so i investigated a bit. I followed the usual protocol and consulted the google gods but couldn’t find anything that really seemed to explain it. Darius knew something about it and asked his dad who’s a botanist. He replied that: “the cell that gave rise to that piece or stripe mutated”, but that was all. I tracked down my uncle Carl, who’s a plant geneticist and asked him about it. He expanded a bit: “There are viral infections, and spontaneous genetic lesions that could cause such a thing, but usually the streak is not so uniformly shaped, and I was having a hard time imagining how that pattern from end to end would form give the cell division patterns of the rind of the fruit. I imagine it only affects the rind, and not the segment of the fruit underneath.”

He was right- when i cut it open, the stripe was only in the rind and didn’t even match up with any of the individual segments underneath. In any case i thought it was kind of interesting, neat huh?