Friday, October 28, 2011

Seven Quick Takes (V14)

Last Saturday, my wife and I went on a little date: The Great Waltz! There was a photographer on the dance floor, so hopefully I'll be able to find some "action" photos, but for now, there's this:
A quick dip
And here's a more fun and goof picture:
Mask, meet monocle.
And of course, we did do some actual dancing, too, though I don't have any pictures of that yet. The live orchestra (Austin Symphonic Orchestra) was great, too--although they tended to be a bit heavy on the Vienese waltz and the polka to the exclusion of silver waltz, foxtrot, etc.

 Earlier this week, I shared some student art work from my take-home quiz. I don't have any other artwork to share, but I can state that my students are clearly confused: the problem involved a pirate corvette and the hero's space frigate. I got lots of pictures of hot-rods. Just to clarify, this is what a corvette is based on:

Clockwise from top left: USS Freedom, German corvette Magdeburg, 19th Century French corvette Dupleix, and WWII-era Flower-Class corvette USS Intensity

I could probably make this a 7 pictures of Corvettes post, but I'll stop here, because otherwise, next week I'd have to do Battleships.

Speaking of students, yesterday I had a little back-and forth with one of my more troublesome students. I posted a rough version on facebook, but I'll re-post here for your amusement:
Me: We will be wrapping up this lab today. Next time, we will start something new.
Student: What if we don't finish this time? I wasn't here last time, so I'm a bit behind.
Me: Well, the room will be open on Friday from 9-4, and it will be staffed by learning assistants during that time.
Student: But I have class during all of that time.
Me: Well, our room is mostly occupied during the week, but you can try to come in when there isn't class. You can try to come in at 9 PM and see if either of the rooms are empty.
Student: I can't do that. I work at night.
Me: Well, I suppose you could try to come in at some other time and check out the equipment.
Student: No, I'm too busy.
Me: I have no additional solutions to offer you.
Student: That's not fair! How am I supposed to finish this on time?
Answer I wish I'd given: You can start by sitting down, shutting up, and getting to work instead of wasting my time, not to mention the time of everybody else in your group, and for that matter of the whole class since other groups are waiting with questions for me.

What I actually did say was something along the lines of, "you won't fail this class based on one bad lab and one more missed day."

This week was my laser week: which means that I didn't do much during the week besides working in the lab. Now the week is about over, and I get to relax at home after a long week at work on a take-home midterm. Luckily, the homework are getting lighter. But I suspect that there are at least two more years left before I finish.

Just for fun, here is some spectral data I took yesterday:

My project is slowly transitioning from Phase I (build a two-color terawatt laser system) to phase II (use said laser system to do laser-plasma experiments). Among other things, this means that some of my lab-mates are wanting to use the system which I built. Turns out that there are some uses of CPA Raman Laser systems besides just my own experiments. Well, and whatever the heck the Canadian military is planning to use their version of this laser system for,

This has been making facebook rounds:

I'd say that's got to count as reason #192087783749820 to homeschool.

My wife and I bought tickets for the JPII Life Center benefit dinner. The problem is, it's on All Saint's Day--and I'm not sure if I can swing going to the 5:30 Mass at the Cathedral before hand or not. She's also having second thoughts, because she really wanted to participate in the Choir at St Louis' Mass that night. Talk about bad planning. More than likely, she'll skip choir that night (they are, after all, also singing for Mass the next day), and everything will work out fine.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Student Art!

Since I didn't field any new questions for RCIA this week, as I have for the past two Tuesdays, I think that today is a good day for student art:

Some comments. First: yes, this brings a reasonable amount of joy to my life when I get these little sketches. On the other hand, I would be happier still (yes, even in an Aristotelian sense) if they got the answer right. She alas did not, though the first few steps all were.

Now for some specific comments to the artwork. Note the Saturn/Uranus-like planet in the background, but the distinct lack of a nebula. Hmmm. Also, I'm not sure that I'd wear a bow-tie on the outside of my space suit. I also wonder at the development of technology which would lead to a rigid-looking space-suit, by faster-than-light travel and the ability to shoot flames from the feet with no apparent storage place for the rocket-fuel. Perhaps this is the reason for the armored-looking suit top?

Now, on to the smaller diagram of the pirate corvette. Note that the pirate is wearing a 17th-century pirate hat, as if he is fresh from the Caribbean. Nice touch. I also appreciate that the missile is launched from a cannon (a pirate ship's gotta have a cannon, right?). I do have to wonder at the ship's wheels: apparently, it's meant for space and land, but the shape does not make it look worthy of atmospheric flight. It appears to be a hot-rod (corvette?) which has undergone the "hover" conversion from 2015 in Back to the Future, but now with rockets for space travel (and hopefully sans the flux-capacitor).

Personally, I had something more like this in mind:

There's even a nebula in the background! Of course, that might be a stretch for anyone who's never experienced the fun that is "Freespace" (which would probably include everyone who did not grow up in the 90's). Perhaps this is a more realistic "space corvette":

Sorry, wrong model for this generation:

On the other hand, the Tantive IV doesn't carry missiles as a part of her armament. So I guess we're back to Descent: Freespace II:

Yikes! Better hope you have some counter-measures aboard.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seven Quick Takes (v 13): Education

One of my obligations as an assistant instructor is to attend a weekly meeting (this week, it's been cancelled!) with the other assistant instructors and our professorial supervisor. These meeting vary quite wildly in content--some are logistical, others involve guest speakers who give us their insights on teaching. A major theme of these meeting sis the method which our supervisor would prefer that we use in teaching, which might be best described as "guided discovery learning." My comment on this score is that while GDL has some upsides--and while I don't have any particular qualms with using it as a teaching method--it also has some down-sides, and is not the end-all, be all. It is, however, quite useful, and especially rewarding for me to see the "ah-ha!" moment that my students have when they not only get a concept, but actually "discover" the concept for themselves.

I suspect that some of my students have fantasies about this.
An undertone of this theme which my supervisor mentions on occasion is that we are supposed to be approaching the teaching side of physics (though not necessarily the actual physics-side of physics) with a mixture of Aristotelian and Socratic attitude. I haven't asked whether the "Socratic" approach is supposed to be faithful to Socrates as Portrayed by Plato or Xenophon and Aristophanes et. al., or just simply the popular conception of a guy who only asks leading questions and never answers them (in exactly the way that Socrates doesn't). I've taken a middle-ground approach of using the leading questions with occasional stated hints, and then the occasional brief lecture/discussion. Some things--like, say, definitions--are inherently dogmatic and conclusive, so Chesterton is (as he so often is) correct when he says that good teaching is inevitably at least a little bit dogmatic.

Speaking of Aristotle as he applies to education, I was enjoying a bit of an interior dialogue (or monologue?) concerning what it means to be a happy student. Happiness means the fulfillment or attainment of the good. In particular, it means achieving the end for which a thing is made, and fulfilling it well. This means that a student should be happy (as a student) first and foremost if he attains the end of education, and attains it well. What is the end of education? I think that's a question which is a bit too tangled for a quick-take, though I will say that it's not (just) knowledge. Perhaps a good short answer is that education is for the betterment of a person--which can mean that he becomes smarter, but also wiser, or more moral or virtuous or holy or saintly. I sincerely hope that my class help move students to that end.

In the class which I specifically teach, the end of the class is that student should be better at a) thinking and b) problem solving, and that they should view the natural world as a "knowable place." Thus, ostensibly the goal is not for them to leave knowing Newton's Laws (for example)--though this would be a secondary good (or end) which ought to be pursued since it does not interfere with any of the principle ends of the class--but rather to be able to conduct and interpret a simple experiment which could demonstrate Newton's Laws. Unfortunately, they just want to be told Newton's Laws, and then to move on. Dare I suggest that their way won't make them any happier as students, nor will it leave them more well-off?

I bring that last point up, because i handed out an 8-question midsemester evaluation which asked them what I should start, stop, and keep doing, what the like and dislike about the course, and also what they need to improve about themselves to get more out of the course. I was overwhelmingly told that they just wanted me to give them the formulas and answers for the course, and stop making them come up with solutions on their own (with, of course, some subtle hints and leading questions). They also complained a great deal about my not giving them enough information to arrive at their own conclusions. "Explain more" was the often if vague comment [1]. Most of these complaints boil down to "I hate thinking." This is a college course, is it not? I also notice how few foreign students enroll in this filled-to-capacity course and worry about our country's future.

[1] The most common self-assessment for what they needed to do to improve about themselves to get more out of the course was "I need to pay more attention." The second-most-frequent was "I need to go to office hours/tutoring."

The Quadrivium--and the Trivium--would be a nice basis
Switching gears but remaining on the "education" front, I would like to dare to suggest again that a great many people who enroll in college now would enjoy trade school much more. This is a better option for most of them, including a great many very smart and skilled people. I would certainly eliminate entirely a few majors from most universities, and others really do belong in trade school: this includes  (among others) accounting, perhaps nursing, and quite possibly even engineering (which is currently one of the toughest majors available and which attracts many of the smartest students). Once upon a time, an education prepared you to be a well-rounded person capable of thinking and problem-solving which drew from a very broad base of knowledge in many different fields; it also aimed at inculcating virtue. Now, it is commonly little more than job training in a limited field (mileage may vary). Some of those limited fields may go away within our life-times; the need for men who can think will not.

Homework in chalk
On one last note, our neighbor and her daughter seem to have hit on a way to making spelling lessons a bit more fun. A picture is worth a thousand words here. The only problem is that it's right at the landing of the stairs to our apartment, and most people have a tendency of wanting to not step on it. Who says kids can't ever have fun doing their homework, and yet still go through the regular motions required to learn the material. Also, note that spelling is another of those subjects which is ultimately very dogmatic. Perhaps this is why it is being abandoned in our age of post-enlightenment.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TMM: Turning the Other Cheek

"But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him.And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two, Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust....Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:39-45, 48).

Broadly speaking, I've encountered two schools of thought in modern exegesis on the first part of this passage. The former would reduce Christians to pushovers; the latter supposes that the "other cheek" is not on your face, and notes that the second mile could be made very miserable for the poor soul who dragged you the first mile. Color me skeptical concerning both camps, though this does tend to leave us with a question: what does it mean to "turn the other cheek?"

I sometimes wonder how much is lost in cultural translation. What meaning did this have then, and what would be it equivalent now? I once heard a homily in daily Mass on this passage which was most interesting to me o this regard. For some reason, those five minute daily-Mass homilies often manage to convey more meaning than the twenty-five minute versions we get on Sundays. What Fr Ed said in that homily has stuck, at least in part.

There were certain cultural prohibitions in place at the time which we don't have (or don't recognize) now. One was that there was but one dignified way in which to strike a person: in a sideways motion with the palm of the right hand. This makes striking the left cheek easy, but the right cheek is rather more difficult to get a good swipe at in this fashion. Similarly, a man without coat and cloak would be left with a loincloth--practically naked--which would be rather awkward and embarrassing for the other person.

This means that these verses might be interpreted as encouraging a sort of passive resistance. We're being told to stand our ground, in other words, wile at the same time not ending the other person. I suppose that more sense is made of this by St Augustine's observation that their are many children of the Church who are not yet revealed to us, meaning that we never know when a conversion might take place.

I also wonder whether these words were all spoken as "evenly" and without intonation as they become after being written down--without emphasis one way or the other. I wonder at times where the stresses fell when Jesus Himself spoke these words, and I suspect that perhaps it falls on the last verse, not the first. That is to say, we are being told to be perfect, and to love perfectly, above all else (see Matthew 22:37-40).

But this too should be put in context. I've mentioned before (almost fixedly) that loving another person means desiring that that person obtains what is good for him, which ultimately means turning to God. A part of this process is turning away from sin. This means that if we love a sinner, we must warn him against his sin, perhaps by admonishment and perhaps by simple instruction. This means avoiding the two extremes of ignoring (or worse, legitimizing) a sin as if it did not exist and despising the other person as if he were identical with his sin. Instead, we must stand our ground and offer fraternal correction.

Of course, standing our ground means that we should be prepared to take the occasional beating. Sometimes we turn the other cheek only to find that the other fellow doesn't want to play by those rules. At that point, it seems to me that we will be out of cheeks to turn. We can't all be Saint Lawrence, after all, can we? Nor does perfection require that of us.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Seven Quick Takes (v 12): Short, Unusual, Cogent, Klassy?

Short would be my patience after I exhausted it on my class yesterday. We had a practical midterm which was meant to take about an hour for the practical part, and another for the short answer questions. We spent two hours just doing the practical. After about an hour of barely containing my frustration at their lack of ability to follow simple instructions (and why, exactly, should I be giving instructions of how to do an experiment ON A TEST!!!), a little red countdown timer appeared in my mind. It read: 6 hours and counting until I can go home and drink. 5:59:59 and counting...Heck, I even had some (ok, a lot of) left-over Brandy from last week. A couple of hours spent with the guys last night worked wonders for me. A beer and brandy and pipes and, the random Chester-Belloc poetry-reading: all in the enjoyment of the company of some good friends. It's the little things in life...

Unusually-large (though still quite precious) is how I would describe my new nephew. Rebecca's brother and his wife had their baby earlier this week: 10 pounds, 1 oz, 22 inches long. Congrats to them on the mostly-successful delivery, and a healthy if large baby boy. Mom was understandably very tired by the time we got to visit, though they've been discharged from the hospital now. With any luck, we'll get to see them again this weekend. The only down-side to this is that it means that we'll likely be missing out on the rosary rally at the capitol. What can I say, plans change. :)

Cogent is how I would normally describe my explanations to other people. Opinions may vary on this, of course. Unfortunately, "cogent" is not always what people are looking for. Two cases in point: RCIA and my students when taking an exam. The former want simple, "baby-steps." Fair enough, I could probably use some work in this category. No more "physics" explanations in my Catechesis. No problem. I have a bit more of a problem with my students effective request, which amounts to "no more physics in physics class."

Klassy is how I would describe the dress-code around the drag heading toward down-town Austin on Thursday and Friday nights (I don't even want to know what it looks like in the actual downtown area). I'm less-than-thrilled that this sometimes spills over into the classes I teach. What ever happened to modesty? or self-respect?

And now on to other things.The Gregorian blog published a list of the Ten Greatest American Catholic Thinkers. They intend to publish future lists for Bishops and for novelists (hence, no Flannery O'Conner, no Bishop Chaput, no James Cardinal Gibbon). This list is just the group most frequently nominated by "top Catholic commentators, editors and scholars to ask:  'Who were America's greatest Catholic intellectuals?'" Fair enough, but I notice some conspicuous absences: Fr Stanley L Jaki (among greatest philosophers of science), for one, and Dietrich von Hildebrand (whose thought has been influential for both popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II) for another. Perhaps they were disqualified for being immigrants? I would also probably nominate Russell Kirk and Alice Von Hildebrand (Dietrich Von Hildebrand's wife) for the list.

Going back to RCIA, I noticed a pair of posts by Ms Emily Stimpson of Our Sunday Visitor which might be interesting for my fellow-Catechists. The first is a short list of 19 words which every Catholic should know. I would have added a twentieth word--dogma--and distinguished it from doctrine (which is one the list), though I also see that one commenter has already done this nicely. I think this counts as a "baby-step", right? The other is a set of 10 things every Catechist should know. Give them a read, especially if you are a Catechist, though both are useful for even the ordinary Joe Catholic.

Eventually I may actually change the title of this blog. It's been the immemorable "Equus Nom Veritas" since I started it back in 2005, and I've been playing with changing it. On the one hand, same title for so long, why make a change? On the other hand, the title is actually misspelled, and most people don't get the humor in the meaning anyway. I've thought about changing it to "Contemplata Traderi" (or alternatively "Contemplated Preaching") on the one hand, or "The Other JC" on the other. And the other dilemma is that I don't want to change the blog url. Decisions, decisions.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Seven Quick Takes (v 11): Happy Lepanto Day

First and foremost: happy Lepanto Day! Chesterton's poem is much too long for a "quick" take, but it is worth reading in celebration:
WHITE founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

 We should also take a moment to remember both the brave souls who dies defending Christendom from the threat of the Muhammedans. Had We lost at Lepanto (or at Tours, or Vienna), the west would be under the heel of the Muhammedan aggressors. It's also worth taking a moment to remember all those who have died n modern times to keep us safe and free of tyranny. At least as important is remembering those whose intercede on our behalf. Most important of all is thanking God for the victory which helped to preserve our freedom, and which prevented the whole of Europe from falling to the Turkish Marauders. Mater Dei, ora pro nobis; et Deo gratias. Non nobis Domini, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. Amen.

My wife, being the happy Catholic homemaker aspirant that she is, is constantly trying to come up with new way to celebrate various feast days. She's looking for ways to improve (and in many cases, to begin) some little traditions to celebrate through the year: themed foods, especially. I found a themed food for today:

More accurately, my wife's voice/piano student who is a connoisseur of sorts and an occasioner of Speck's found this, and I tried some and like it. Then I went and got some for myself, to have a sip tonight in celebration. It's especially fitting, since I wouldn't be able to enjoy this if the Holy League had lost the battle, Muslims' being teetotalers and all.

 Both of the images I got from the Mary Victrix website. They also have a rather fitting anthem, "The Anthem of Lepanto." Here's the first verse of it:
I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and Thy fool;
Thy patronage is freedom, Thy slavery my school.
I offer Thee my sword hilt and wait for Thy command
To serve among Thy servants who pledge to take a stand.
That I might die in battle, a victim of Thy love:
My wish, my prayer, my promise, thus written in my blood.

There appear to be two more verses, at least, plus an explanation of the tune it was meant to be sung to. "Check thou it out," as Mr Mark Shea would say.

In other news, now that homework assignments have been due, I have a little bit of student artwork to show for the semester. Actually, I have a few art majors this semester. One of them just draws me, both in class and on assignments. Unfortunately, my favorite was something she scribble while I was lecturing: a cartoon of me saying "Anybody, anybody? Bueller? Somebody just give me an answer. Any answer...I hate you all." I never actually said all of that, other than that I do frequently ask questions which receive blank stares and then "Could you repeat the question? I wasn't paying attention." Such is life.

This would be what inspires me to write intricate story-problems for homework, quizzes, and/or tests. I may need to dust of the one which was inspired by "The Hunt for Red October" just for the epic artwork. On the other hand, I'm not sure they necessarily need encouragement in that category (regular readers will recall this selection of sketches from a few semesters ago).


Speaking of daydreams. An email announcement was sent my way by the university: "The US Air Force will be flying over campus on Friday, October 7 at 1:50 and 3:00 pm. They will be in small jets, (T-1s)." Sadly, these are just the training jets, not the cool jetfighters. Still, it may be worth taking a break to see what I see.

We've instituted a new anonymous question box at RCIA, and I will be the one fielding most of the questions (a few are directed at specific people). Basically, they get to ask us questions anonymously, at the end of each session, and then I write up a short answer to give in-session the next time, and a longer one to be sent out by email, which I try to keep under about a page or so. The first question was "Doesn't all this dogma and doctrine that the Church teaches get in the way of a "personal relationship" with God? " My longer answer can be found on the Nicene Guys site.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.