The Purpose of Education: Tangential To The Overarching Theme, But Worthy Of A Post

Friday, May 7, 2010

I've repeatedly failed, over the last twenty minutes, to write a sufficient lead-in for the following quote. My excellent professor (Alexander Shashko, for the curious) for Black Music in America concluded the class with these comments. Simply transcribing them can never recreate the passion with which he discussed them, nor his commentary accompanying each point; I am certain, though, that a solid education in anything* uniquely affords experiences such as this class, and, in particular, this last lecture. (Hence, the ridiculous title above.)

Final Thoughts

  • Remember that history is about change, but also continuity.
  • Remember that progress is not inevitable.
  • Remember that music is not produced in isolation.
  • Remember the functionality of music.
  • Remember the impulses [of Black Music: blue, jazz, and gospel].
  • Listen broadly
  • Challenge notions of authenticity—all art is authentic at some level
  • Be part of the call
  • Share what you know

* Remember, it is required here to complete at least three Ethnic Studies credits, so this class was filled with freshmen to seniors, studying everything from Textile Design to Accounting.

The Purpose of Education: A Prologue

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Today I mentioned to someone that my sister decided to attend the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, likely to study Creative Writing. He asked, skeptically, "what does she want to do with that?"

As my undergraduate (and, perhaps, entire academic) career dashes toward its conclusion, I've found myself thinking more about the purpose of an education—of my education. This question today got those wheels turning in earnest.

It's something I know I need to write about: something I need to flesh out, if only for my own sake. But what I know now, without any doubt is this: an education is not simply a means to a goddamned end.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Katie's prodding has led to most of the recent (ha!) entries; this, I'm afraid is no different. Someday I'll learn, and then Katie, and Ma, and Pa, and everyone—everyone!—will be so proud of me. I'll then be able to look back on my experiences—the troubled beginnings, the slow realization that writing begets more writing, and the triumphant conclusion of a blog free of cobwebs and dust.

But today, Snickers are on my mind. You see, we have a salad bowl full of candy sitting out (I believe this is considered optimal usage of the bowl). It started by piling our Christmas stocking candy together, then adding bags of mini holiday Snickers (somehow smaller than the mini-size) and Nestle Holiday Chocolate Bells to the mix. Then, while looking for blue cellophane, Stu noticed that post-Christmas price on these mini holiday Snickers was sensationally low. So begins Snicker escalation.

I see it playing out as follows. One afternoon I'll surreptitiously slip a mini-size Snickers or two in the bowl. James will notice, and, not wanting to be outdone, will supply the bowl with an entire bag of the candies.

This, however, is not enough. He will then purchase two boxes of standard-size Snickers, and when the bowl of now-mini size Snickers has fallen to unacceptable levels, he will triumphantly rip open the box of normal Snickers and cackle while the contents of the bowl spill over—it was never meant to contain this many Snickers, and of such size!

But the dance is not done. For I have, in the meantime, anticipated this move, and obtain two boxes of King Size Snickers bars. Casting aside all notions of caution and sensibility, I add every Snicker I've got to the pile, which has long escaped the salad bowl, and is a veritable swimming pool of packaged chocolate, peanut, nougat, and caramel. James and I feast, and when Stu returns, we lie dazed, covered in chocolate flakes, on the floor. A chocolatey afterglow; we are finished (and likely close to death); the escalation has come to a sighing stop.

'Tis Beautiful

Saturday, October 3, 2009
I rejoice that we live in a world of boundless, infinite possibilities, one in which with Blake we can see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. I rejoice that the sacred scriptures of our faith portray a God who listens to prayer, who loves us and longs to lead us. I rejoice that my chosen line of work, mathematics, has enabled me to bring into being new things that did not exist before, and to greet with wonder and awe many amazing inventions of my fellow workers. I rejoice that daily we live immersed in infinity, that we have the freedom not only to make choices but at times to be the agent, by will or by grace, to sing to the Lord a new song.

Quoth Edward Nelson, a professor at Princeton, in a paper that Professor Ellenberg linked and excerpted this morning on his blog, Quomodocumque. I read the paper this morning before setting out to do some mathematics of my own, and that first paragraph really grabbed me.

On a semi-related note, I really need to pay Jordan a visit. We could talk math. Or baseball. I'm thinking the latter.

September Comes And Goes

Monday, September 28, 2009

There are no more eighty degree days in the forecast, and the sky today has been equal parts sunshine and dull grey. It's been windy, and the crows and geese are all over the neighborhood, making an endless racket. The trees on the street are still green for the most part, but they look ready to change quite soon—and in certain places downtown, it is impossible to walk without crunching a leaf on every third step.

It's getting cold, but making a warm mug of coffee or tea, and opening some windows to let the cool breeze fly in inspires me to sit down and focus—be it on writing, mathematics, or what have you. On Sunday I drove with Kalie out to the country to visit my sister at the orchard where she works, and we picked apples, and drank fresh cider. I think we're going to pick pumpkins this weekend.

People complain about our winters, but man, I'll gladly take the snow, the ice, and the sleet if I have this season to throw open the windows, wear my favorite jeans, wool socks, and a sweater, and enjoy some piping hot chai.

Saturday Morning

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It is chilly for August in my (new) room this morning, with the windows open from last night, and a breeze entering through my two windows; and on waking up, I am reminded of Sundays spent in Janesville and Beloit during the autumn months of my high school years, where we played baseball in a small league established to take advantage of the best baseball weather the Midwest has to offer. Every Sunday brought another double-header, and between games we'd take a short break to picnic just outside the ball diamond with our families before playing a quick game of catch and taking the field once again.

These seasons had no playoffs, no tournaments, and they punctuated the beginning and the middle of football season. Thusly, we played the game with cheerful abandon, experimenting within the framework of baseball, and for the simple pleasure playing a beautiful game on a beautiful day. We'd try for tricky double-plays, dive for balls questionably in reach, try to stretch singles into doubles, and doubles into triples; we'd steal bases at every opportunity, squeeze in runners, and go up to the plate swinging away.

I wish there still existed such a thing for the world post-high school—even the high school league has been disbanded for a couple of years now for one reason or another. I've said before that baseball is meant to be played in the afternoons of mid-summer days, but thinking back to these games reminds me of an equally fine time to play, when Summer makes its slow exit, and Autumn's golden-brown sets in.


Friday, July 31, 2009

I started this post immediately after Mark Buehrle's perfect game, then had to put it aside while life took precedence. In the meantime, I saw an article (which I now predictably cannot find) that went significantly more in-depth than I had planned, but I still think this rough analysis gives even the most out-of-touch-with-baseball folk an idea of the sheer improbability of a perfect game. I'm currently waiting for a database at work to come back online (sigh), so I figure I'll finish this out.

First, we'll break the game down into at-bats for the other team, and assume that each at-bat is an independent event (the outcome of one has no effect on the outcomes of others). We'll also assume, very optimistically, that each batter has a batting average (BA) of .300, and an on-base percentage (OBP) of .400*. Setting aside fielding percentage entirely, the probability of holding 27 consecutive batters hitless is:

(.700)27 = 6.57123624 × 10-5 ≈ .0066%

And the probability of simply keeping those men off the basepaths, whether by hit, by walk, or by fielding error is:

(.600)27 = 1.02349037 × 10-6 ≈ .0001%

Again, this is a shamefully rough calculation. Batting averages and on-base percentages vary from player-to-player, pitchers tire over the course of the game, lowering the probability of getting subsequent batters out, and fielders make mistakes. A more accurate analysis would dampen the probability of getting each consecutive batter out based on the number of pitches thrown that inning, as well as pitches thrown that game, the number of outs made by fielders (batters are hitting the ball, just not to the right places), the probability of a walk, and some tiring coefficient, due to normal fatigue experienced when hurling a baseball at around 90 miles-per-hour. We would also want to, for each batter, factor in the probability of a fielding error conditioned on a ball hit to the field. And there are a zillion other things that could influence a given at-bat, so even that analysis would miss something.

I've been reading about Orel Hershiser, who used to say that he'd set out to throw a perfect game. If he gave up a walk, he was throwing a no-hitter. A hit? One-hit shutout. A run? That will be the only run. And so on, and so forth. It's the mentality any professional pitcher should have, and the fact that only eighteen in the history of major league baseball have seen the mentality of the first pitch to the final out is enough justification (though there is no shortage thereof) as to why baseball is the game of failure. Achieving true success—perfection—in baseball is no trivial task, and is a rare, beautiful, and precious thing.

* In 2009 to-date, the league BA is .261 and the league OBP is .332