Monday, April 23, 2007

disturbed students

It was only when I read Mothersvox writing about her experience with a student handing in a sadomasochistic fantasy as an essay years ago that I remembered it happened to me on a student evaluation form almost 25 years ago, when I taught for a couple of years at Virginia Tech. She reports that she got no support from her department head and was told to give the student another chance to do the assigned work. When it happened to me I never told anyone at the school. It wasn't my first year of teaching (though I was in a non-tenure track job), yet my embarrassment and fear that I deserved it was too strong.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Computers in Schools in the 1970s

I wrote the following for a history page in a wiki on school computing:

I was a student at Concord Academy, graduating in 1973. As best I can remember it was fall of my senior year when we got access to a computer. We had one teletype connected to a timesharing service running on a PDP-8/I. I remember that the for-profit company providing the service had about twice as many schools connected to timesharing system as the system was supposed to accomodate. But remember we were communicating with the computer by a teletype--a large machine with a typewriter keyboard and a roll of paper. There was no screen of any kind--what you typed appeared on the roll of paper and then when you typed "run" the machine would type the results of your program onto the same roll of paper. There was a way to store your program, on paper tape with holes punched in it. A device on the side of the teletype punched this tape and also read it.

Since the interface was so slow the speed of the computer wasn't usually noticeable. But someone at another school wrote and shared a program to calculate pi to the limits of core memory, and that would slow the machine down noticeably. I remember the output of that program being maybe three feet of paper--the limits of core wasn't very much (online sources suggest it would have been 4 kilowords).

We learned to write programs in BASIC, which didn't seem very significant. A friend and I were the two people who hung around and played with the computer. The only next step we could figure out was to learn assembly language. We decided to try to write a lunar lander text-based game in assembly language. We got Miss Plumb, the Chemistry teacher, to let us do it as one of the units of a course in advanced biology and chemistry (in another unit we bred fruit flies). All the text that was going to appear in the game had to be translated into numeric form using ascii code--we hired a younger student to do that. But we never could get our program to work fully. I remember telling Miss Plumb that we hadn't solved all the problems yet and she said she had already submitted our grades. I still feel guilty that we didn't live up to her faith in us and finish it.

It didn't occur to me to take a computer course when I got to college; I was planning on majoring in astronomy and physics (I later ended up in history of science and technology). After my sophmore year of college I got a job working for an astronomer compiling some data and writing a program in Fortran to analyze it. I knew nothing about Fortran but I don't remember having any hesitation about going out and learning it on my own. That was batch processing--punch cards for input and then when the computer got to the job you had submitted the results would appear on a printer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

I taught for a couple of years at Virginia Tech in the early 1980s, so the tragedy there is very real to me. I've been following the story almost entirely on the college newspaper server. I found their list of confirmed deceased to be particularly moving. I'm struck that the names added in a recent update are the foreign students--it took longer to contact next of kin. Such a random selection of students and faculty, gone.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Camp Today

Today at women's cycling camp we had lectures on nutrition and bike maintenance and then did short races--a sprint, a team time trial, and a circuit race. I won my first heat on the sprint but lost the second. I was in the third of four groups for the team time trial and the others decided I was the strongest racer of our group and should pull (be in front breaking the wind) the whole way. Our time for 4 miles was 14:20, while my time on the same course in an individual time trial Wed. was 13:57. On the circuit race I was able to hang onto someone who passed me toward the end of the uphill part of the second loop. I then took a turn leading and then she passed me and beat me at the last turn. It came out later that she is 64 years old. Still, we were in the middle, with seven people behind us. I didn't reset my GPS for each event, but my mile splits show two miles at 19 mph or better. People were impressed by my effort (in fact I was given the "daily gusto award")--I have enough experience racing that I'm not afraid to hurt.

My legs were already sore after yesterday. The climb up Caesar's head is 6.7 miles and 2000 feet vertical rise. It isn't horribly steep, but there is only one place where the road actually dips downhill. I took it pretty conservatively: heart rate average for the climb was at the top of zone 2 (aerobic conditioning) and my legs weren't jelly at the top. I just wanted to make it to the top without stopping, which I did. Two more people finished after me, having walked some stretches. We got a late start and only rode a total of 39 miles but it was all pretty hilly (we rode from 178 to the road up Caesar's head on back roads on either side of highway 11).

What I hope to take away from the camp is inspiration to train harder on the bike. They calculate heart rate zones in what I think is a better way, not from maximum heart rate but from maximum sustained effort (the first four mile time trial). My two key training zones were calculated to be zone 2 from 153-163 and zone 4 from 171 to 180 bpm. In the past I've tended to ride below zone 2, except up the hard hills.

SportsTracks says I burned 8,500 calories exercising last week. That isn't counting the swimming because I don't keep track of distance. However, I think the program seriously overestimates the calories burned biking (and underestimates running because I am slow but working hard).

Friday, April 13, 2007


Today after I taught my class I was in one meeting (a committee interviewing different people) from 12:30 to 5 pm.

It feels more tiring than bicycle camp yesterday. We did a time trial in the rain Wed. night--4 miles and I averaged better than 17 mph. Yesterday we learned to ride in a paceline. We were divided into to groups based on our time trial times, and to my surprise I was in the faster group. I was the weakest person and most inexperienced person in the group, so it was hard. It was an interesting experience but I didn't like it--I like bicycling being my alone time, not paying attention every second to other people. After lunch we worked on being more comfortable on our bikes in crowded situations--we started out with a coach on foot reaching out to touch us and ended up riding with a partner around a grass field bumping each other shoulder to shoulder. I think only one person took a fall.

Tomorrow we ride up Ceasar's Head, a six mile climb averaging 7%. Our total ride is supposed to be about 60 miles.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

rock balancing

Actually, an interesting video on recreating techniques for building Stonehenge, but the principles of rock balancing are involved.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

monthly totals

Spring break helped last month, plus the return of good weather: total time 47:05 (compared to 31 hours in February).
Swimming: 10 sessions for 12 hours 55 min.
Bicycling: 10 rides for 211 miles in 19:25
Running: 13 runs for 59 miles in 14:45