Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Issues with Deep Breath

Yes, it's another post talking "Doctor Who", and yes, it's about the premiere episode for Peter Capaldi last night. My last "Who" post was back in January, about Clara. It finished with the remark, "To conclude, if the new series currently being filmed is all about Peter Capaldi, and ONLY him... it will bother me." So, I'm bothered.

That said, the issues may not be as deep as the header implies, however they will contain spoilers, so if you don't want those, don't read beyond the image below. To those leaving, I'll sum things up with what I had in my tweet last night: 'Abysmal start to the episode, but it redeemed itself in the end.'

Image from this Space Channel Blogs Article

Let's start with the very good, namely the opening sequence, which I learned is based upon the graphics work of a Doctor Who fan, Billy Hanshaw.  Brilliant.  Also, I thought Capaldi was great in his take on The Doctor.  With that said, here's the five biggest issues I had with the episode, in increasing order of annoyance.  Feel free to take me to task in the comments if you disagree.

5) The Doctor is Scottish

He's not. He's Gallifreyan. He even points out he's not human late in the episode. More to the point, Capaldi isn't even the first Scottish actor to play the Doctor, David Tennant is Scottish. Do we now define people by the way they speak?

Seen in Edinburgh last week
With that said, this was a very minor issue. It got a few chuckles from me, and can even be chalked up in continuity to The Doctor being all befuddled after his regeneration. As long as they don't harp on this later, I'm fine with it. Ending the episode in Glasgow was also an amusing touch.

4) Paternoster Gang

To be clear, my issue isn't that they were included, but how they were included. (I'm speaking of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax.) In fact, including them is actually rather clever - it gives Clara someone to bounce ideas off of, provides them with knowledge of the new Doctor, and provides the audience with additional grounding in familiar characters as we adjust to Capaldi.

My problem is the laid back attitude they seemed to have. This is the first time we've seen them interact with a Doctor other than Matt Smith, and they seemed to take it in stride. (Much more so than Clara, who's seen ALL his other faces! More on that later.) There also seemed to be completely throwaway scenes for them, like Strax running his medical diagnostic of Clara. To what end? I can tell they were trying to be funny, but it felt out of place. Finally, the writers really seemed to be hammering in the "lesbian relationship" angle between Vastra and Jenny. There was no reason for the multiple references, except perhaps as an attempt to say "look, we're being progressive!". Nothing against the relationship, but there are times subtlety is called for. The whole Peternoster arc felt mismanaged to me.

3) The Dinosaur: Why?

In fact, even before we get to the why, let's address the HOW. We've seen people get pulled along by being on the outside of the TARDIS twice. Jack Harkness, which killed him (temporarily). And Clara herself, in the previous episode, where the time trip got extended by centuries because the TARDIS had to extend it's protective field around her. How the devil is this dinosaur still alive?

Also seen in Edinburgh last week
Worse, it seems to have had no bearing on the plot, meaning the whole thing smacks of "let's do this because it looks cool". I know the mechanical guy talks about needing "an inch of optic nerve" or some such, but it's a throwaway line to justify the whole act. Additionally, I was at the National Museum of Scotland less than a week ago where they have a life-sized skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. We're talking 6 metres high, not whatever size that dinosaur was.  I'll grant some dinosaurs could be much larger, but if we're going to pander to the audience, let's at least do it with more scientific accuracy.

2) Missy

Dear lord, do we really need another antagonist/lover/enigma woman for the Doctor? NO. We have two wonderful plot arcs we can use going forwards. The search for Gallifrey, as established in the 50th anniversary special, and the idea that the Doctor wants to "do something about his mistakes", as seen in the promotional clips. Despite that, we've now thrown in this mystery Missy who rules Heaven and may have given Clara the Doctor's phone number or placed a newspaper ad and for crying out loud, just give us something straightforward for once. The head games were fun for a time, but I'm tired of them. This is going to have to have a really good payoff to get me on board.

1) Clara. Until the last 10 minutes.

I was actively cringing during the first half hour. I was actually wondering if I'd be watching this season of Doctor Who more out of habit rather than out of any enthusiasm. There's a serious problem here.

The problem is that Clara has become a vehicle for the audience rather than a character in her own right.

Think about it. Companions are (at least of late) meant to be our gateway into the Doctor Who universe, our "everyman" (everywoman?) who gets swept up into the cosmic adventure. And Clara's gone beyond this, she's now the "Impossible Girl", who's seen all the Doctors, who's even saved them, and yet she can still return to her own life as a teacher in between episodes. (Speaking as a teacher, I'd probably use a TARDIS to catch up on my grading, but whatever.) So when the casting of an older doctor occurred, and there was a fear that the audience wouldn't buy in, she became that doubting voice of the audience too... even though THAT'S AGAINST HER ESTABLISHED CHARACTER.

We can't trust a parabola's Vertex Form!
It looks totally different than Standard Form!
I've lamented on Clara not considering all her previous incarnations in my prior post, so let's not go over that again. However, let's consider that she HAS seen fragments of ALL the prior Doctors, from when she entered his timeline. She even had a perfectly good discussion with the War Doctor (John Hurt) back in the 50th anniversary episode, without remarking on the fact that he "looked old". I can buy her uncertainty with a new Doctor, but her fear should come from the fact that it's the only one she doesn't know. One that exists because he defied the rules, and changed his own timeline. One that she has no prior experiences to draw on for her interactions.

Instead of that angle, we get Clara questioning why it was a regeneration if he looks so much older. (Well, he looks younger than Smith did at the end of his 1,000 year arc!) We get references to flirting, and the Doctor having "changed" too much. We even get three women (two of them lesbians) in a room chatting about relationships with the Doctor in a rather spectacular fail of The Bechdel Test. (Yes, I know the Test applies to more than single scenes, but the fact that it occurred to me while watching is not a good sign.) Also, what was the deal with Clara being an "egomaniac"? Someone who is a nanny and a teacher, who gives up her own time to help others has ego problems? Or are you taking another jab at the audience, hmmm?

As I say, I spent a good deal of the first part of the episode cringing. (The dinosaur didn't help.) Then the plot kicked in. I rather liked the scene in the restaurant, where I was going to cry "foul!" for having the Doctor place an ad in a specific location in a newspaper when he had no money, so well done subverting that. Clara actually drawing on an event from her past in dealing with the cyborg was also nice. I also like that we don't know who "blinked first" (as it were) between the Doctor and the Half-Face Man. Then, in the last 10 minutes, came the moment that told me someone, somewhere, does understand Clara.

It was when, as Vastra pointed out, Clara put on her 21st century clothes - right before the Doctor returned. On some subconscious level, she's still connected to him. It harkens back to the earlier scene, when she was reaching back for him while being accosted by the cyborgs - and he was there too. Their relationship is based on more than mere appearances.

And yes, there was the last call with Matt Smith, and that was very clever and helped to cement things. But it was that earlier part that gave me hope. Hope that Clara is finally coming into her own as a companion, and that's she's not merely a vicarious experience or a walking plot point. Please, PLEASE, let's see more of her acting like this.

Note: All of this is me pulling on memories from a single viewing. Let me know if I'm misremembering.

Other opinions:
 - Debut Episode Finds TARDIS in Safe Hands (huffington post)
 - Deep Breath a Heroic Failure (forbes)
 - Doctor Who is for Whovians only (scotland herald)
 - Peter Capaldi is Already Carrying Doctor Who (io9)

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Bye For Now

With “Twitter Math Camp” over, I’ve been looking forwards again - as I suppose are many teachers. I’m troubled. Not by the teaching, but by the rest of it. By what goes on outside of teaching. As such, I will be departing the Social Media Math Community (the “MTBoS”) for a time. Have a soundtrack!

AMV Friday #38
I’m posting this publicly for two reasons: 1) I don’t want anyone to think I’m ignoring them if they see me online. 2) If I am spotted online, your first question should probably be “how’s the writing?”. Because here’s the thing.


I’m a writer first, and a teacher second. Time I own up to that. It says it in my Twitter description. My first post to this blog said I would talk about 1) Writing; 2) Math. I have a personal page for all the writing I’ve done, and (aside from my course webpage) nothing for my teaching. I only started blogging in connection with the “Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” when my math serial went on hiatus (due to some personal issues) back in late 2012. Since my serial ended last May, the posting has mostly been about the teaching.

This is not working for me.

You want to talk about being a fraud in the MTBoS? Look no further. Improving my teaching doesn’t make me near as happy as improving my writing.

Amusingly enough, I think that this fact has been obvious on the blog itself. Perhaps I haven’t been paying enough attention? (Have you?) I can’t go four posts here without a posting related to my writing. I’ve constantly been looking to vary up my style, from posting multiple points of view in my first “Day in the Life” series, to recently to inserting “find the lies” games into my TMC summary recaps. I also complain about how I write too much on tests and evaluations.

I'll even say that I've always been a bit out of synch. Some MTBoS people I’ve talked to speak of how they have “draft posts never published” or how “blog writing is hard” and WOW do I not get that. I mean, I get that it’s hard in terms of being time consuming, but the writing and having people read it is fun as all get out. Then again, have you ever seen me write a short post? For better or probably worse?

The main problem is that I now know I won’t have the time for both recreational AND teaching related writing come September 2014. Because: 1) After only 15 hours at school the last two days, I’m too spent to write; 2) The fiction story I’m presently working on is harder than my mathematical serial was. To be realistic, I have to kick something to the curb - and it’s going to be the teacher conversations. It’s not like I’ve been churning out useful lessons for anyone anyway, that’s not why I post. And there are others out there with a sympathetic ear.

I doubt it will be a permanent departure. In fact, once I (hopefully) have found some other people out there who like my writing style in fiction, I may see if they’ll follow me back to personified math. It may take months or years, but I left a fairly large narrative hook on the end of my last “Taylor’s Polynomials” storyline - I just didn’t have it in me to follow up. Not then. Still, it’s there if I (or another person) decides to use it.

First sketch. No inking.
If anyone’s curious, here’s the basics of my new story! Katherine “Kat” Irving is a girl who died in a fire when she was young. She is currently the university roommate of Carrie Waterson, a freshman from Ontario, who learned in her junior year of high school that she has the ability to control time. How is this possible? And what’s the deal with the OTHER person able to control time, who seems bent on destroying Carrie?

Time travel stories are a joy to write, but a pain in the ass in terms of plotting, due to the non-linear cause and effect. Depending on the next few weeks, I may toss out my JulNoWriMo from 2012 as my next serial instead: “Balancing Act”. Melissa Virga, a former university student who knows sorcery, is being targeted. James Conway, the Watson to her Holmes, picks up the story from the time of their graduation.

And I’m certain that 90% of those in the MTBoS who read those last paragraphs went “uh... okay?” Which is why you’re not my audience. You probably weren’t my audience for personified mathematics either, seeing as most of the MTBoS is looking for things to improve their teaching, and on that front I got nothing. (Maybe songs. Little else.) Nothing against any of you - it makes sense that reading the equivalent of “Agents of SHIELD” isn’t going to make you teach any better. But writing it will make me happier. Which may help me teach better. Time to be investigating things like #TeachersWrite. Anyone else know more about that?


Now, if you do think I can be of some help, you can still let me know. I won’t be scrolling through my Twitter feed, but I’ll pop on infrequently to have a look at “Notifications” and “DM”s (Direct Messages), as I will still be tweeting: (1) Interesting stats articles and any serial updates; (2) #AMVFriday (like the soundtrack you clicked on earlier); and (3) My education column “There Are No Dumb Questions”, at MuseHack (hopefully less than 50% of you said ‘what’s that?’). So many you may not even notice a difference. If you do, again, I’m not deliberately ignoring you.

It’s just I can’t do it. I can’t teach all day, then come home and do more teaching related things online. I’m already losing my mind. I need recreation. This summer isn’t providing it. My belief - my hope - is that writing can.

In the middle of my backswing?!

I will grant there’s a bit of a contradiction going on, in that I seem to have gained a measure of credibility within the MTBoS... even as I leave it. And since I’ve said that I don’t get close to people - perhaps my being accepted as part of a group is what makes me want to step away from it? I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but if you think I’m wrong, feel free to call me out on it. By the same token, if you feel like that could be a thing within YOURSELF when it comes to groups, you may want to analyze it.

As to why I’m doing this NOW, and not at the start of SEPTEMBER (when I actually start teaching - I’ve only been out of school since June 30), it’s because I’m preparing to go to Edinburgh this weekend, for two weeks, with a bunch of teenagers (and my dept head and parents), to perform a play at the Fringe. This means I won’t be checking my online accounts that much ANYWAY, very soon. So rather than try and catch up in late August only to face this again, I’m calling it here.


The house is now taking bets on whether I can write more if I'm focussed on it, through sheer force of will... given I’m not prepared to do what Michael Pershan did, and have someone lock out my social media passwords. Time will tell. What I may have going for me is that I got through a degree in Computer Science without any coffee. (Seriously people, if you need a cup of coffee to feel awake in the morning, that’s a problem. Do something about it. #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion)

Fare thee well, MTBoS. What you’re doing is magical... but it’s not the magic I need right now.

I need the Magic Circle of Stats?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Tips for TMC

Observant people may notice that despite my attending two “Twitter Math Camps”, I haven’t actually blogged about personal connections. Encounters, yes. Experiences, yes. But not connections. It’s not my way. I’m not a social person.

That’s something to bear in mind as I present the following tips for future (and past) attendees. In other words, I’ll be approaching this from a very practical perspective. Your mileage may vary. I’ll also be mentioning some of the stuff I’m taking away from TMC 2014, which despite all my prior posting, I haven’t really touched on either.

TMC: This is not an accurate representation.


1) Hook up with someone else. ... Which sounds a bit like dating. Not that kind of “hook up”. I just mean have someone you can personally connect with before you show up at the conference. This could be someone you bring along, or someone you network with through twitter in advance.

The first year I went (TMC13), I knew people through Twitter. I’d even done a Google chat with some of them. But there wasn’t anyone I felt comfortable with, no one I felt I could approach when I felt disconnected. (Hence my remarks last year about Introverts and Conferences.) This year (TMC14), I travelled down from Ottawa with @MaryBourassa, @AlexOverwijk and @SheriWalker72. So when I ended up stuck at the Jenks high school due to a shuttle miscommunication, I felt I could message Alex back at the Glenpool hotel to look into things. My alternative was floundering, feeling like no matter what, I was putting people out, even though I probably wasn’t, and ending up with a really awkward experience. Instead, I got an interesting story. (And a free dinner. Seriously, the people down in Oklahoma are really nice!)

May be easier for certain personality types.

2) Know your particular goal in attending. By which I mean don’t merely HAVE that goal, KNOW it. This is shockingly hard. Or at least it was for me the first time I went. Truthfully, I don’t think I figured out my innermost goal for TMC13 until a couple days ago, meaning over a year after the conference ended.

The goal can be simple. Maybe it’s to meet 3 new people. It can be complex. Maybe it’s to completely redesign some of your lessons. Your goal may even change once you get there, and that’s fine. The problem is the goal can’t be too vague. If it’s just to “learn about TMC” or to “discover new things” - not only will that happen, you will feel INUNDATED to the point where you’ll start feeling lost. Use the goal as your anchor. Be able to walk away feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do, or that you at least moved closer to achieving that goal. The rest becomes fringe benefits.

Warning: Your goal may be hidden, in that you may have a purpose that you’re not admitting to yourself. Try to tease that out into your conscious mind. For TMC13, while I wanted to “find out the deal” (vague!!), some part of me also wanted to talk music and share stories... but I failed to acknowledge it, so I never made much of an effort, so I felt like the conference was lacking for me. For TMC14, my goal was to observe, and to try to act as a bridge between new and old attendees. I feel like I managed that.


1) Assume no one knows what you tweet about. I’m not picking on new people here, what I’m saying is that tweeting about Stats online amid a cacophony of other voices is different than being the main Stats teacher at your school. For, say, the last 5 years. The local broadcast is naturally louder than what appears online, even if for you both outputs are roughly equivalent. Add to that these other problems.

First, people may know your work, but not your face. Some people don’t look like their profile pictures, and some less visual people may not even go by profile pictures as much as handles. Second, people may know who you are, but miss the connection. I’m one of those people - unless someone is ALWAYS tweeting on the same topic, it’s a bit of a math whitewash. You could have been talking math origami to me last month - if it’s out of my short term memory, I’m sorry, don’t count on me realizing. Finally, there’s the fear of mixing people up, particularly if there’s similar sounding names. So a more shy person may suspect, but say nothing. What I’m saying is it never hurts to be up front about these things. I even brought business cards to the first TMC. With all that SAID...

Corollary: Don’t be surprised if some DO make the connection. Some people are just that good at associations. Others may have personally “elevated” you in terms of being a blog they follow, or someone they turn to for advice. All I’m saying here is don’t count on it happening, otherwise there’s a chance you’ll be disappointed.

There's always visual accessories too.

2) Announce your intentions loudly. Ideally not just on twitter. (Some of us have old phones and face high roaming costs in the United States. Just saying.) Honestly, people are really good at this already, so mostly I’m just reinforcing it for new people and jogging the memory of repeat attendees.

The main reason I ended up at a social dinner at TMC13 was because people in the lobby were all like “We’re going to dinner!”. This year, I had a great time with Kathryn, Kathryn and John for a similar reason. I even tried it myself on the Jenks bus, calling out “I’m going to the Aquarium!” and Jamie and Chris were willing to join me on that visit. I also still feel like signup lists are a great thing, which occurred this year for the ‘Melting Pot’; I’m not sure if it was the list or walking over together, but it felt less awkward than some of the social outings from TMC13. Could also be the fact it was the second conference for me.

3) Remember everyone engages differently. We’re educators, so this is kind of obvious. But it’s also easy to miss when you’re among a bunch of people with so many similar interests. Add to it the fact that people may act differently online than they do in person, and I feel it’s worth mentioning.

For instance, one thing Justin’s “Twordle” experiment showed me is that I’m big on jumping in to amplify other opinions or articles, then sitting back and observing. Given my personality, this really isn’t a surprise - I hate taking the lead. I love being in a supporting role. That’s my thing. I have no idea if you understand that mentality. Conversely, others may not speak until spoken to, may engage more for friendship than pedagogy, or may be complete extroverts. I don’t necessarily get that.

I do have some interesting proportions.

So I reiterate that we need to be aware. Again, I think we are, but I also think that we can forget. We may think that the person “everyone knows” is outgoing, or that the person presenting a “My Favourite” is well known, or that the educator standing off to the side is deliberately keeping their distance. That’s not necessarily true.


Reflect. Seriously, that’s the key thing at the end. You can do it on a public blog, or in a private conversation, but don’t keep it all in your head. Decide whether you you achieved that goal I mentioned earlier. If not, why not, and regardless, what your next step might be. Decide who you want to have further conversations with. Let them know. Because once school starts up again, time to do all that stuff is limited.

To that end, here’s my final tally for “WHAT I TAKE FROM TMC14”:

a) Knowledge of United States Curriculum. I’ve never really understood the throughput. After TMC13 I had a better sense of the Statistics, but it’s (regrettably) somewhat isolated. This year, having been to the PreCalculus session by Tina C (@crstn85) and Jim Doherty (@mrdardy), I think I finally get the gist of how the courses are pieced together - and how content can vary between schools. I also appreciate how everyone was open to hearing from me and Nik D (@nik_d_maths) about how our systems differ.

b) Lesson Studies. Seriously, it can be like a mini-TMC in your own district. Talk to @JudithKeeney. Or @wahedhabug (Sadie). Or @AlexOverwijk. Or perhaps @robintg (from my district). Even me. I seem to have picked up an ability to spot certain things ahead of the curve (like serials), so I’m calling this now. Collaborative lesson studies. They’re going to be big. I blogged about it on Day 2.

Here's the "plug" for my serial.
c) Tech Stuff. It’s looking like I’m going to be losing Fathom in the foreseeable future. This sucks, because that software is a sizeable component of how I teach my Stats course. But after the Tech Tools session by @bobloch and a “My Favourites” talking about Stat Key, I feel like there’s some alternative routes I can explore. Because histograms and Excel do not mix.

d) I’m more well known than I give myself credit for. This last one blows my mind more than a little. I grant that I’m not entirely sure WHAT gives me any notoriety (The failed serial? The drawings? The records I keep? The beard? All that?) but there was one afternoon when Shelli (@drinok) asked me how I was enjoying this TMC compared to the last one. Which she’d read about on my blog. Meaning she not only read, but remembered, and now wanted my opinion, when we’d never even met in person before Wednesday. Okay then.

I am trying to own that sort of recognition, except my very nature is to be self-depreciating. (I show my cell phone from 2001 as a badge of honour!) Which makes me wonder if saying “I’m not very good” in some way invalidates someone else’s decision to acknowledge me. Which isn’t something I want to do. Not to mention how it invalidates my own identity to a certain extent. Anyway, I’m still working it out, but this is partly why I wrote the prior post “Who You Are and TMC”.

As to friendships... it’s as I said in the beginning. I don’t get close to people. Call it a personal fear. But you are welcome to approach me! Some memories that stick along those lines are introducing John Scammell (@thescamdog) and John Golden (@mathhombre) on games night, because those kinds of awesome needed to meet. Then there were the various people at meals, and Jamie and Chris joining me at the Aquarium. Add to that Andy Pethan (@rockychat3) at Justin Lanier’s “Speed Dating”, with an interesting story about contact lenses, plus Stats. And chatting with Brian Stockus (@bstokus), my roommate, on the last night about some of the teaching hardships he’d run into. Also, shoutout to Nathan Kraft (@nathankraft1) who was the first tweep I spotted (outside our Ottawa folk) in Chicago, and who was generally great about giving lifts.


A couple thoughts for future TMCs: Perhaps some sort of mixer right after getting registration badges, or right before the first lunch. I heard from some people that arriving to the Wednesday games night later on wasn’t necessarily conducive to meeting people, if they were already engaged in a game and you weren’t sure who they were anyway. Second, if there’s going to be two accommodation venues, an evening shuttle (like on Wed) may be a good idea too. I do not know of anyone who went back to Glenpool at 6pm and felt isolated there, but I can see it happening to me, had I been back at the comfort level I had during TMC13. And... honestly, those are the only things that jump out.

Moving on down the road...

Will I go to TMC15? Well, it happens to be 3 days after my cousin’s wedding. In Germany. So that might be a bit of a trick. No promises.

Should you go to TMC15? If you’ve already been to a TMC, you probably know the answer to that question. If you haven’t, I have one last story for you.

On the shuttle in from Glenpool the last morning of the conference, I heard Anna and Max Ray talking about some sort of math problem. Something about a set of numbers, where some cycled immediately back to themselves, and others cycled elsewhere then back in a “two step” process. I piped up that it sounded kind of like inverses. I soon granted that I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. Max’s response, roughly paraphrased: “That’s what makes talking to you interesting. Your thinking isn’t limited by any constraints.”

Meaning if you think this post just imposed some constraints on you, feel free to ignore the hell out of it.