Math or Crucifixion?

This was a previously written and redacted, because it was a bit offensive.  I decided to … resurrect it … because it was apropos for Easter weekend.    Please remember, this is meant as comedy.

Also, if you have a good answer to the question:   Why is it called “Good Friday” if it is the day of remembrance for someone’s torture and death?  (Answer in the comments!)

Here we have it:   the comparison between math and crucifixion

Some days my sense of humor gets the better of me, and today is one of those days.  I was having a conversation with a colleague about teaching linear algebra.   The subject matter is interesting but with many details to keep track of, and we got to the point where the students usually say “I just don’t know where to start.”   And many found it excruciating.   One of us (probably me) had a moment where instead of saying they found it excruciating, they found it like being crucified.    Something about this was incredibly funny to us.

Yes, I know some people will be offended by this.     If so, I will remind you that *you* installed that particular button.    If you feel you may be offended**, then skip this post.


  • The process of crucifixion is an act of torture that is meant set an example for others.
  • (Linear) algebra uses examples that are torturous.
  • One involves a painstaking process to things started, in the other they just nail you to something.
  • It seems excruciating at the start, but it gets worse before the end.
  • If you do it right, you will end up killing trees
  • It seems beautiful from a distance, but the closer you get to it you realize how messy it truly is.
  • Both will yield “Cross-Products”
  • There are fanatics who will practice these things to this very day.   There are also religious zealots.
  • Orthogonal Transformations.

Yes, it is a horrible image, I know.   It’s funny if you are me ***.


**     If you are offended because you are of a Christian or Catholic faith, then you can be both titillated and offended, then you can practice forgiveness.

***   If you somehow missed/ignored ALL of my warnings, then I don’t take responsibility. Also, if I believed in hell, then I’d probably go there.

Fish and Porn

I was standing in line chatting with some people when the topic of fish came up.   “You know that they have made the category so broad that either everything can be called a fish, or nothing can.   They’ve stopped using it.”    The thinking was that they were trying to come up with things that unified the idea of ‘fishness’ in order to classify them, but the factors named were either so broad that nearly nothing was excluded or were so narrow that almost everything was.

Something very similar was said about the fuzzy definition of pornography:   I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.

While it sounded plausible at the time, I admit that it seemed a little … ahem… fishy after the fact.   When I went in search of citations, I found some lively debate by many amateurs.   Interestingly enough, there is some ongoing taxonomy debate regarding what can and can’t be regarded as a fish.

This is one of the reasons why I am careful when I use the words “always” and “never” with a student.   It makes their life harder when they have to change their perceptions again.   One of the things I do say frequently is that there are almost always exceptions, but they depend on the context of the situation.    “Hard rules” will change when the situation changes.   And there is almost always more than one way to look at a math problem.    Or aquatic life… or erotic photography for that matter.

Hmmm…. “I know it when I see it” can look like a pretty good definition.    But critical thinking isn’t just about thinking about categories and definitions, it is thinking about broader context.   At its core, critical thinking is thinking about your quality of thoughts.   Which means that you can NEVER settle on a hard definition.   It all depends on context.   Whether it be how to solve an algebra problem, or figure out how to deal with complex numbers, or even what counts as a fish.   Or what qualifies as porn.

Experts know when conventional definitions don’t work, they need to reexamine the questions.   Those are the questions that are interesting, and worth asking.

From Simpsons, Season 7 Episode 19 - "A fish called Selma"

Stay curious.   And don’t be afraid of asking questions about what qualifies as a fish.  Or porn.   Fish-porn is too weird for my taste, but I won’t judge you.

Student Horoscopes, Winter 2015

Winter is coming!   Winter term that is.

So pick up your #2 pencils and a fresh case of RedBull, because it is going to be a fun one.

Aries (March 21 – April 20)

I know you had some ideas about what you would be learning this term, Aries.   As much as you may have grown already, this term is going to be about getting what you need rather than what you want.

I know that you may want to complain about that this term.   Okay.   You are welcome to do so.   But whining won’t actually help you.   You are going to need to choose to learn.   So suck it up, and do the work.

Taurus  (April 21 – May 21)

So there is good news and bad news:   the good news, this term you have a chance to learn some amazing lessons.   You can get not just basic skills, you can get the insights on how to use them.   The bad news:   this won’t come cheap or easy.   You are going to pay in both money and time.

Once in a lifetime opportunities come only once. Don’t miss out.

Gemini (May 22 – June 21)

It is said that there comes a point where you stop trying to be who you want to be, and start being who you are.   This is only partially true:   you should still try to be who you want to be, because it is part of who you are.   Your aspirations are part of you, and they give you the chance to be more than what you are now.   So shake up your routine, and be the better version of yourself.

Also:   you should avoid getting recruited into a cult by a Pisces or Aquarius.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

You are going to learn some really important lessons this upcoming term.   Your relationship will be intense, consuming, and possibly fueled by cheap booze.     While learning your Kama Sutra is fun, the real lesson comes when things start to go wrong.   You can learn humility the easy way by listening, or the hard way by pain.

The problem is your ego.   This isn’t about you.   Tough shit..

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Your moon is in Virgo, and Saturn will be hanging out in Gemini. So whenever Mercury goes retrograde, drop everything and buy lottery tickets.   This will be an investment in your future, because the more you buy and the more you tell people about it, the more likely you will be picked up by the gentlemen in the nice white coats and taken to an institution with padded rooms.     They have Jello and Oxycontin.

 Avoid being shanked by Scorpios.

Virgo (August 23 – September 23)

Here are a few things you should consider:   most murders are committed by people known to the victim.   “Stranger Danger” is almost fiction (less than 5% of abductions), as most child abductions and abuse are done by someone known to the child. People get bitten more often by their own pets than by strange animals.

This is a good analogy for your term: don’t be afraid of the unusual, but take care of the familiar topics.   “Easy classes” have some pitfalls that you may have overlooked.

Libra (September 24-October 23)

I know you have every intention to focus entirely on your classes this term.   I will say this is a good plan as far as it goes, except that the rest of your life won’t be quiet.   You have family and friends, relationships and obligations, work and money issues.     Your life can’t be compartmentalized easily, so plan some time to take care of yourself too.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 22)

The fact is that your stars and planets don’t really impact your life.   Your text books have a greater gravitational pull on you than they do.   The choices that you make are what truly impact the events of your life and your future.   It isn’t comforting, but know that the circumstances beyond your control are neither benign nor malicious, the world simply doesn’t care.

 So keep working, and don’t drink the metaphorical Kool-Aid.

Sagittarius (November 23 – December 21)

You know the old story about the caterpillar that is asked how it is able to coordinate all of it’s legs when it walks, and then loses its ability to walk from over-analysis.     You may feel like this happens to you… but you are considerably smarter than a caterpillar. It won’t necessarily be comfortable, but a little self-reflection may be helpful to you.

 Also, see if you can figure out how other people apply similar skills to yours.   They may not do it better, but having alternatives can be helpful.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)

There are times for you to shine, and those times will be when you are awake.   I’m not just referring to when you aren’t in bed, I’m talking about the times when you aren’t acting purely out of habit.   Try not to multi-task, you will only lose track of what is really important.

 Also:   Keep your head and arms inside the vehicle at all times.   It’s all fun and games until someone gets decapitated.

Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)

 It is true that too much of a good thing isn’t good for you.   Ask anyone who has gotten vitamin A poisoning (scary, they turn orange… too much and you can die).   Interestingly, the same goes for too little of a bad thing.   Take some risks, earn a few scars and learn a few life lessons.

 Avoiding danger simply for the sake of avoiding danger isn’t wisdom, it’s cowardice.   Learning from mistakes is wisdom.

Pisces (February 20 – March 20)

I know you value honesty in your life, but I will say that a little creative editing of events can make all of the difference for you this term. If you are truly honest with yourself, then you’ll recognize how much you edit events for your own narrative anyway.   Embrace it.

As much as you want to be liked, holding out for universal approval seems both unlikely and quite frankly boring.   Creative excuses aside, be prepared to take the consequences if your white lies are found out.

So remember, use your powers however the hell you want.   They are your powers.

As for classes:   bring them on.

Math vs. Paranoid Schizophrenia

I asked a friend yesterday what I should write about, and she said “paranoid schizophrenia”.     I think she had some suspicion what I would do with this sort of instruction, so if you take offense… blame J–.   I know the strangest people.     It’s quite awesome, really.

Paranoid Schizophrenia vs. Study of Mathematics

The study of mathematics is a mental process that is marked by visualization of unreal systems, feelings of of persecution from instructors and textbook writers,  spending obsessive amounts of time analyzing bizarre systems, and anxiety.   Schizophrenia is a mental illness that can cause auditory or visual hallucinations, delusions, paranoia,  bizarre thought patterns, and disorganized speech and anxiety.

Trying to understand either what a math textbook or a schizophrenic may be telling you is frequently an exercise in futility, unless you have some greater context with which to try to make sense of it.   Even so, the internal logic of a mathematician may break down and you may find them staring blindly into space for a long time.    Bouts of depression are common.

The treatment of schizophrenia is often at institutions which are in danger of defunding.

Ahem… (do I even need to say it?)

Fortunately, the outlook and prognosis for both mathematicians and schizophrenics is depends largely on their social support  network.   With adequate socialization (and sometimes medication), mathematicians can be integrated into the workplace and will lead healthy, productive lives.    Schizophrenic also enjoy this outlook, although the role of medication is somewhat more important.

While schizophrenia and the study of mathematics are often misunderstood, feared and frequently avoided, both will benefit from greater social acceptance and support.



 This is satire.   In reality schizophrenia is a disorder that affects about 1% of the population.   People with schizophrenia can live active and healthy lives with treatment, and treatment for this illness has come a long way in the last few decades.   Untreated, this is a scary disease… both to its sufferers and to their loved ones.   Mental illness is stigmatized to a terrible degree.   Having a mental illness is no more shameful than having blue eyes or red hair… it is the result of biological processes.  But like many uncontrolled biological processes, many people seem to have an unreasoning fear, and discomfort around the subject.


My opinion, as with a lot of social issues, is to educate yourself.   Schizophrenic people are people, deserving of dignity and respect.   Whereas the study of mathematics is more of a choice, and for many folks just as scary and offputting.

Evil League of Jazz Hands

Suddenly, there were jazz hands.

“There is nothing scarier in the world than jazz hands.”

(Michaela H.)

Jazz hands may seem campy, but it takes a special kind of crazy  to pull off jazz hands.    Part of you just doesn’t care what other people think.    But it is a dramatic, even a somewhat aggressive gesture.   Palms out and oscillating, with fingers rigid and wriggling like a sorcerer casting a spell.

Jazz Hands!

Jazz hands combine those qualities of exuberance and showmanship.     They show celebration, even triumph.   It is also the ASL version of applause.    All it takes is adding a maniacal grin, an evil laugh, or just a  little too much eye contact and it is a gesture of incalculable menace.

If you turn them around, jazz hands turn into “fan hands”.   Like a villain and his victim, opposites in expression.   Fan hands can’t help looking helpless and foolish, as their hand flaps.

Have you ever watched an evil genius steeple their fingers?

Do you notice how we will sometimes undulate our fingers?

This is the evil genius version of jazz hands.    Silently, we are applauding our own evil schemes for world domination.

Soon, the world will be mine.

Soon… but for now,  jazz hands!