On what I want

My wife and I, married thirteen years come next February, typically do not buy each other gifts. My wife is impossible to buy for, as she does not like things, and I am exceptionally easy to buy for but tend to spend money indiscriminately, so buying things from my Amazon wish list, for example, can be kind of a fraught proposition.

I fucked around and got myself into trouble last week, as I came up with a perfectly good Christmas present for my wife and managed to acquire it in a fraction of the time I would have expected it to take and at a fraction of the cost. In other words, not only was I breaking the rules by buying something in the first place, she was going to take one look at it and assume that I had spent way more than I actually spent on it– even though what I did spend for it would generally count as a relatively large amount for us to spend on each other, even in a world where we buy things for each other, which we really don’t.

I hope to hell that sentence makes sense because I’m not rewording it.

Anyway, I went through this brief crisis where I was trying to figure out what my duties were in terms of whether I was going to disclose the gift before Christmas or not, and if I was merely going to disclose its existence or also disclose how much I spent. I ended up, after discussing the matter with my brother and sister-in-law, deciding to tell her what had happened and that I’d spent what I spent on it, so that if she wants to get me something in return (which she isn’t required to do) she has a chance of achieving some sort of parity.

(She won’t. I win this Christmas. She can try again next year if she wants, but I win this one.)

Anyway, the trick to buying me (and a lot of people, really) is to come up with something that I want but would never buy myself, which is kind of a tricky needle to thread, and thinking about it tonight all I’ve been able to come up with are two items that I really don’t need and would just add to the clutter around the house. Guitar Center is going out of business, and part of me really wants to go buy a guitar once I can get them at discount prices. Can I play the guitar? No. I can’t play the ukulele either. I’m not gonna learn. I’m 44 and it is too late to learn a musical instrument. There is, therefore, no reason for me to want one.

It is kind of hilarious to me that the second thing that I came up with was a combat-grade lightsaber, which is also something that someone else should not buy me, because they come with literally a billion available options and are also expensive as hell and the whole idea is completely ridiculous. I do not need a lightsaber, much less a $250 one, and the idea that I’m fixated on a combat-grade one, which has a blade tough enough that they’re supposed to be good for full-contact sparring against someone else, is even more ridiculous.

I’m curious to see if anyone can guess what color blade I’d pick, by the way.

(Oh, and also I’m still fighting off the occasional urge to buy a lathe.)

It’s best to just let me waste my own money, I think.

In which I give up

Wednesday remains Trainings and Meetings day around here, and as such I did not have any interaction with my students beyond responding to emails. What I did have was a very depressing Math team meeting where we looked at some data, reflected on the fact that the mid-year test had been (rightfully, mind you) cancelled and so we therefore weren’t going to get any updates on that data anytime soon, reflected further upon the fact that this particular assessment tool demonstrates that our students, by and large, appear to know nothing at all, and had a brief discussion wherein we were all forced to admit that none of us had the slightest idea what we might be able to do under the current circumstances to fix the problem.

(Nor can we be sure that the data captures the issue accurately, since the test was administered while the students were home, and we have no way of ensuring that it was taken seriously.)

One of the more entertaining fights in comments that I have had over the life of this blog was a post where I was complaining about my students performing poorly on a test about slope. Well, it is now several years later and I can confidently report that despite attempting to teach slope in a variety of different ways and with a variety of different strategies since then, my 8th graders still do not really appear to understand slope, and attempting to teach it virtually during a pandemic is … suboptimal.

Allow me, if I may, to further elucidate.

I have not yet actually introduced the formula for slope, which is complicated enough that I can’t reproduce it in WordPress’ text editor and would have to copy and paste an image. Instead, I’ve started beginning the unit with simply counting. Count the rise, or the vertical distance between points A and B, remembering (hopefully) that if you go down from A to B your “rise” is negative (this is confusing, because no one naturally thinks of something called “rise” as negative, and I wish the word was different) and then count the “run,” which is the horizontal distance between A and B and is always positive.

You will note on the above image that the slope of that line is -4, because you count down 4 squares to go from A to B and one square for the run, and -4/1 is equal to -4. I’m breaking this down in such a granular fashion that today was the first day we actually talked about negative slopes. Also, the reason there are no numbers anywhere on that image is that I discovered that some of my kids were simply writing down the number nearest to one of the points as (chosen randomly) the rise or the run, with no actual counting taking place. So I removed them on today’s assignment.

I have discovered that many of my students genuinely believe that there are five squares between A and B, because rather than starting from 0 they are counting the line A is actually on as 1 and going from there.

I have discovered– this is not surprising, but remains depressing– that a number of them do not include “left” and “right” among the concepts that are salient to them, and thus I must frequently remember to say “from A to B” rather than “from left to right.”

And I had a genuinely bewildering conversation with one of my kids, a kid who generally does well in class and has one of the highest scores in his grade on the test we were discussing earlier, absolutely cannot wrap his head around the words “uphill” and “downhill,” a set of terms I was using to distinguish positive slope (uphill, from left to right) and negative slope (downhill, from left to right) while I was talking. He consistently reported that any line was both going uphill and downhill at the same time, even when I made it clear which direction I was moving in. I eventually ended up creating this diagram:

He is color-blind, by the way, a disability that I have somehow never had to worry about in 17 years of teaching, so I have to make sure that color is never salient information in any diagram I do for an assignment, which is why one of the lines here is dotted. This can occasionally be trickier than it ought to be.

Anyway, I pulled this diagram together, still trying to work on this uphill/downhill thing, and asked him, gesturing with my mouse while talking, which of the two lines was going uphill when I moved from left to right. I even said “We’re moving from A to B on the dotted line, and C to D on the solid line. Which is going uphill?”

“Both,” he replied. And I swear to you, he wasn’t fucking with me. I tried a stairs metaphor. Which of these lines looks like you’re standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, looking up to the top? Both. You’re sure you understand the “left to right” thing we’re doing here? You’re telling me C to D and A to B both look like walking upstairs?

Yes. Yes, he was.

This kid’s not stupid. Not at all. And he wasn’t fucking with me; I could hear the frustration in his voice. He was trying to get this, as opposed to the dozens of my students for whom no set of directions can be short or clear enough that they can be expected to read or follow them. But I don’t have the slightest Goddamned idea where the hell the disconnect was happening.

Today was not a good day.

A minor but extremely important point

Yes, it is both minor and extremely important, shut the hell up. I know how grammar works.

You may be aware that there was supposed to be another debate tonight, and that a certain party dropped out when it was made clear that the debate was not going to be held in person, where he could spread diseases to people.

For some fucking reason, the notion that the debate was not going to be held in person led to an absolutely astonishing number of people who literally appear to believe that the debate was going to be held over Zoom, or some similar computer meeting type of shit.

This is fucking stupid and you should be ashamed of yourself if you ever thought it. And, God help you, if you’re thinking well, how the hell else are they going to do it? right now, you need to slap yourself silly, because your brain is stuck in 2020 in a really alarming way and you need to take a moment to reorient yourself with how literally everything ever happened before the world ended.

There are these things called TV studios, guys, and we’ve been using them to hold conversations between multiple people who are not in the same place for generations. Multiple Goddamned generations. Walter fucking Cronkite interviewed people who weren’t in the same place as him. Kennedy and Nixon held a debate where they weren’t in the same place in 1960. That was sixty years ago.

The Goddamned debate wasn’t going to be held over fucking Zoom. Please get your shit together, all of you.


I’m not going to go back to reporting numbers every day, but today was the worst day for new infections nationwide since July 31 and Indiana had their worst day for new infections ever. The US will likely start setting new records again next week. So, once again, yes, let’s definitely reopen schools. Because we definitely have not tried ignoring this shit hard enough.

For my part, I just completed my second day of “hybrid instruction,” and honestly I’m not doing enough differently to be this damned tired. I only worked two days this week so far, for crying out loud, and I can’t convince myself that I don’t actually have tomorrow off. The kids are all home, but all that means is that tomorrow is like last week, not that I’m not doing anything.

In which somehow that worked

Pictured: not my pile of branches. I didn’t get a picture for some reason.

I made a terrible mistake today and did some yard work on purpose. We have a large tree in the front yard whose branches hang too low, so that if you’re mowing or whatever they need to be moved out of the way to take care of the part of the yard under the tree. I was all ready to post something on Twitter or whatever commenting on how it had turned out to be one of those jobs that you dread for forever and then takes like fifteen minutes when you actually do it, and then I discovered my neighbor standing behind me. I had headphones in, so this isn’t terribly surprising, mind you.

At any rate, I then got to have a lovely conversation about how too much of my tree was overhanging her yard and also overhanging the roof of her house. Now, this tree is really tall— I’m terrible at estimating distances, but it’s easily over twice as tall as my house, so obviously doing something like cutting a straight line along the property line wasn’t going to happen. I pointed out that we were having some folks out sometime soon to cut down the locust tree in the back yard and that I’d ask if they could hack this one back a bit on the taller branches, and that I’d take care of the stuff I could reach today.

And then it occurred to me that somehow the following had happened: one of my neighbors came over, complained about the state of my yard, demanded that I fix the state of my yard, and that somehow I not only did it but I’m not even mad about it. Like, that’s got to be a tricky conversation to have with somebody, right? I can see that going poorly. Were the situations reversed I’d have just asked if she minded if I cut the damn branches myself to avoid the chance of a confrontation going south and ending up on YouTube or some shit.

The problem here is that I’d already cut enough branches to fill our two allocated yard waste bins, so now there’s a giant pile of branches in front of my house the size of a car that are just going to have to sit there until what’s in the bins now gets taken away, and then I can cut them apart and fill the bins again. And frankly it’s not impossible that the process will have to be repeated twice. In the meantime, I’ve been sweaty and tired all afternoon and a lot more achy than I intended to be, because using a pole saw for an hour is tiring.

Also, I made sure that not one single inch of that pile of branches is on her yard. I’m considerate like that.

I haven’t missed a day since April 5…

… so obviously I can’t let that streak break just yet.

Not that I have anything in particular to say, mind you. I’m still kinda pissy about that school boar meeting yesterday; it’s flat ridiculous that we’re this far into the year (and this close to our supposed return) and we still don’t have the vaguest idea how so, so many things are supposed to work. But really, I could do that rant any day.

Here, have the trailer for WandaVision, and muse upon the fact that somehow I never wrote a review of Avengers: Endgame.