Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Thirty Second Media Check

Please. We need to take 30 seconds before sharing something on social media. Particularly when it’s political. Why? Because if you don’t, you’re playing into your opponent’s hands. Doesn’t matter whether you oppose white supremacists, or precious snowflakes, if you don’t take the 30 seconds, there’s a good chance people will start to write you off as someone pushing an agenda. Because in a sense, you are; you’ve shared something without pausing to think. Consider these three steps, before you share, please.

(1) Check Responses

Especially for twitter. It takes all of TWO seconds to click a tweet, and see what others have replied. Case in point, there was a tweet that kept popping up in my feed all this past weekend, saying “Mike Pence deleted a 2015 tweet” (about banning Muslims being unconstitutional), with said tweet embedded. Let's RT for hypocrisy! One problem. Pence never deleted that tweet.

Literally EVERY response underneath that original “he deleted this” said something along the lines of “no he didn’t”, “that tweet’s still there”, “please fact check” - most of those responses from liberals - and yet it had thousands and thousands of RTs. (I just did a search. Can’t find the original, thank god, but did find DOZENS of other “crusaders” now asking for the RT in the same way, some with over 1,000 RTs.)

This is fake news, people. Took me TWO seconds to check that. And not much longer to verify that the commenters (not the original tweeter) were correct. Presumably it was an honest mistake, but fakery like this shouldn’t go viral. Attack hypocrisy for what it is, not what you believe it to be, or you undermine your argument.

Bear in mind: I’m not saying wade into an internet comments section (those are terrible). But taking maybe ten seconds to scan what’s been said allows you to see not only if someone has debunked it, but what people on your side of the argument consider the key points (and/or what people on the other side are the most upset about). Possibly it’s a word choice that you can exploit/avoid.

If no one has said anything, be suspicious. Maybe take longer than ten seconds.

(2) Check the Source

I don’t mean make sure the source is reputable (one hopes that goes without saying), I mean make sure you’re not amplifying your own echo chamber.

If you are a liberal, I doubt you trust anything coming out of “Fox News”. Similarly, if you’re conservative, you’re probably suspicious of the “Daily Kos”. Know what? They’re probably not the only organizations reporting on the issue you’re reading about. Maybe there’s a better (unbiased?) article out there.

So do a quick internet search using key words. It’ll take maybe five more seconds, then add fifteen for following a couple links. Then, consider sharing an article from a less “partisan” organization instead. Better yet, consider an international news organization, assuming their reporting is good. Otherwise, all you’re doing is telling people who are ALREADY on your side about “what Fox News said today”.

The same goes for random bashing of news articles. Instead of saying “look what liars these people are”, share what CBC/BBC/etc are legitimately saying about the issue instead. Because if you use logic against something, you give it a voice, you strengthen it. (Saying “Trump said this, here’s why it’s wrong” - no, people only hear the first part, what Trump said.) Don’t give the media organizations you hate a voice through your disgust.

If you must blow off steam, share your disgust with people at a rally. Or with your friends through email. Or on a private Facebook group. Or forum. Or somewhere else that others won’t start to tune you out/unfollow/ignore because of your “agenda”. Because the more partisan this gets, the worse the situation gets. If you’re not sure what people think about various US news organizations, here’s a graphic (from 2014, I haven’t spotted an updated one).

If you can’t find anyone else reporting your story, or less partisan sites are reporting it in some other way, be suspicious.

(3) Pick Your Battles

This last tip is Teaching 101. If you’ve got six or seven alarms all going off at once, you need to decide which thing is the most urgent, or you risk losing everything. The student about to flip their desk? Necessarily takes priority over the quiet person in the corner, or the chatty students in the back.

It’s a fine line here. Calling out the Trump Administration on their lies is akin to spitting into the wind, and yet I feel it does have to be said; it needs to be on record. Mocking Sean Spicer for retweeting “The Onion” unsatirically is probably best saved for private conversations; there’s more critical things to be shouting about. Mocking Trump for a “fear of stairs” is the stupidest thing I’ve found myself fact checking lately.

So, before you share on social media, ask yourself - is this a worthy cause? Something your friends/followers truly need to know? Tip: If it’s a personal attack against someone, people probably don’t need to know. Shaming individual Trump supporters won’t work any more than shaming Trump himself did. Claiming that a liberal who didn’t protest six months ago is a hypocrite for doing so now gets you nowhere.

The other caveat here is that I do have that “male white privilege” on my side, and can afford to pick my battles rather more than someone whose very existence is coming under threat. In fact, odds are good that those are the voices that need to be amplified. The voices of the 5-year old boy detained at a US airport, or this 7-year resident stuck in Dubai, or all these broken families, or military translators whose families may be targeted for assassination.

These things are, in my mind, more critical than your latest hypothesis about who was behind the attack in Quebec on Sunday. Which in a way, goes back to considering the source. (Has there even been time to investigate?)


Checking an article/tweet’s responses takes 10 seconds or less, searching for supporting evidence takes maybe 20 seconds with a search engine (including checking links), and finally, as you’re reaching for “Share”, decide if alienating the opposition is really something you want to risk. Maybe it is; maybe the others in your feed aren’t going to change their opinion regardless of what you share, maybe we’re in desperate need of a smile, or maybe you want the echo chamber.

But here’s the thing. If you decide that people “in the establishment” aren’t providing you with valid information, that you know more than “the professionals” out there, and that you are going to turn to someone who isn’t “part of the conspiracy”? That’s largely how Trump got into power in the first place. People wanted someone from the outside. It’s likely how he’s going to maintain power, by guiding the messaging.

So let's take the thirty seconds? Whether it’s political or not? Alternatively, explain to me why I’m way off base here. I admit my own sanity is at stake; it bothers me, how blindly (mis)information and items of little consequence are being shared of late.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Not Teaching: Week 30

Suddenly, freedom. The MTBoS initiative is done, I have items cued up for both my time travel serial AND my webcomic, $43,500 US dollars was converted to over $58,000 Cdn dollars, there’s no math meetings until the middle of next month... I have no major projects. WEIRD. No, seriously, I think this is the first time I’ve felt this way in YEARS.

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I also have a new theory about why January is the WORST MONTH EVER. It’s not merely because of doing new years roundups/banners for my sites, or the insane timelines for exams and zero-day semester changeover (made worse this year by cancelling an exam day). It’s also due to my trying to find my routine again after the holidays, and I can’t, because January is NOT routine. Well, it’s a theory.

Item counts run Sunday (January 22) to Saturday (January 28).

Step Count: About 60,300.
Three days over 10k, three under 7k.

School Email Count: 48 New (0 sent)
Exams were cancelled for one of the exam days, cramming everything forwards. Yet they never close the schools any other day of the year. I’m so peeved, despite not teaching.

Monthly desk photo. Need to clean this up.

Writing/Art Related Items (from Sun to Sat):
 -Wrote, drew, inked last Monday’s math comic
 -Started next T&T Commentary after cueing up a month of posts
 -Pre-Wrote comics for the next month
 -Wrote an MTBoS “Failure” post
 -Drew, inked next Monday’s math comic

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Saw movie “Sing”
 -Yoga Monday
 -Met with friends Monday
 -Met with a notary Thursday
 -Flames/Senators hockey game
 -Play at NAC
 -Completed video editing on “Vertex” parody

PROBABLE PROJECTS in the coming week:
 -Actually doing some of the items below that have been idling for 30 Weeks.

 -Split up “Time & Tied” into short parts for RRL

 -Post recap about OAME (from May)
 -Post recap about Math PD (from Feb)
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about COMA Social (from Sept)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -Replace smoke alarms with Christmas ones
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

I’ve seen four movies in theatres this month. I can’t recall the last time I saw that many in a single month - it’s been years, if ever.
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Friday, 27 January 2017

Failure is Relative

It’s the last “Explore the Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” 2017 initiative post. (Previously I posted a media stats assignment, trouble with soft skills, and a DITLife roundup.) This time, there was the request to blog about a teaching mistake or failure. I have a number of non-specific things to say about that right off the top.

First, failure is relative. My very first set of posts on this blog talked about JulNoWriMo 2012, and how I wrote over 50,000 words, which was the intent. So I succeeded, right? Well, I did edits as I went, which is against the spirit of the thing, and ultimately found that the sort of writing required wasn’t my style - so I decided not to do it again. Have you ever tried teaching something in a new way, and decided it really wasn’t for you, and not something you could do again? So...

Can you succeed, and yet still feel like a failure?

Second, failure requires a baseline. If half a class is engaged in a lesson, is that lesson a failure? What if that’s better than every previous day with this class, when almost everyone was disengaged? One teacher’s baseline is also necessarily different from another’s - what if your great lesson completely bombs in my class? Is it a failure of me, of timing, of the lesson... or is it simply a learning experience that was necessary, leading to making adjustments? So...

Can your failure be seen as a success later on, or by another?

Third, survivorship bias. We tend to think we can succeed by studying what else succeeded, even though those other successes may have been completely random chance! Worse, as the “Explore” prompt pointed out, it can lead to being demoralized by the apparent “success” of everyone around you. Suggestion: Create your own little offline failure journal for learning purposes, and get the negativity out of your head. Then picture that others are doing the same - maybe they are! (Do be careful, of course, as bad feelings have some tendency to stick around longer than good ones.) So...

Is the failure in ourselves, or in social media and society itself?

Fourth, good grief, failure is not out of my comfort zone. Granted, I more often talk about my failure to get anyone to actually read my creative endeavours (personified math? hah!) but I’ve previously talked about seating plans that went badly, the time I felt like hurting myself during exam marking stress, and hell, go to Nov 3, 2014 for this “Why I Can’t Even” roundup that’s likely better than anything I’d write here (since at present I’m not even teaching). So...

Are we missing the failures out there because we’re not looking for them?

FINALLY, for those who want a new anecdote, I don’t think I’ve told this one before. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)


The only reason I didn’t leave teaching over ten years ago was because I didn’t have a backup plan. My first major teaching position (occasional/substitute work, not contract) was 1P, 2P and 3M courses. (“Applied” level courses.) It broke me; I couldn’t keep up with the material (always falling behind), or the disposition of students, or the creation of tests and marking.

I spoke to administration about it. An issue with decreasing the workload (giving up one class) would be that I’d still be in the school, prompting students to question why I’d “given up on them” (my phrasing there). It was decided that I’d make a clean break. I stuck with the courses to midterm report time, wrote reports, left the school and went back into the occasional system. I kept teaching because, well, I had no backup plan; what else was I supposed to do? Could it even be that I'd made the right decision for the students in this case?

Which brings me right back to - can you succeed and yet still feel like a failure?

Fun addition, I went back to that school two years later, to leave information on the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge. A custodian recognized me, and asked me about my keys. I said I’d returned them to my department head. They possibly became a covert department set of keys.

To wrap this post up, failing at something means you TRIED something - it’s harder to fail at routine. Honestly, I don’t expand out beyond my teaching box enough to really consider I’ve failed enough. I also don’t search the MTBoS for lessons and the like, though part of that is also I have support where I teach, for those times I want to try and expand my worldview.

I hope this post has made you think a little.

I think that’s everything, let me know if something was unclear. Thanks for reading, consider coming back to my blog again, or checking out my other (failed?) writing projects:

-My personified math comic last posted “Bio-Technicality” on Monday. After over FIVE years of this site, I am lucky to get 10 views on an update (Monday’s post currently has 3).

-My time travel serial last posted “Cross Purposes” on Friday. After nearly THIRTY months of this site, I am lucky to get 10 views on an update (last week’s has 9).

-My “Not Teaching Year” weekly chronicle on this blog continues tomorrow. Blogger has messed up stats on this site, so whatever.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Not Teaching: Week 29

Booked a massage. Am trying to fix my posture now, including sitting at the kitchen table, not slouched over the ottoman. Still not good at relaxing, per se, despite all the yoga - every week has a certain schedule to it. Including figuring out dinners. This week’s schedule included figuring out a fiction story for Post #300 (which crept up on me) and doing a big “Day in the Life” roundup for MTBoS. Those items took up four days, so yet again my “next items” list is unchanged/deferred.

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In other news, I gave a writing interview late last year, and it’s now live! See me answer questions here, at Alastair Luft’s site - he’s a writer and veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. Stick around on his site to read lots of other interviews and content.

Item counts run Sunday (January 15) to Saturday (January 21).

Step Count: About 53,400.
The counts are all over the place as I try to balance bad with better.

School Email Count: 78 New (3 sent)
Minutes sent out. Gr 9 EQAO was this week. Exams start next week.

Writing/Art Related Items (from Sun to Sat):
 -Wrote + illustrated a 3,000+ word story for “Post #300”
 -Wrote an MTBoS “Day in the Life” post that involved compiling, summarizing and commenting across 26 different blogs.

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Saw movies “Moana” and “Collateral Beauty”
 -Yoga Monday
 -Math Meeting Monday (with Minutes)
 -Met with friends on Monday (+random brother-in-law encounter)
 -Some trips to the bank, and phone calls
 -Had massage to try and deal with arm issue
 -Got back into tumblr, sort of, need to do more there

PROBABLE PROJECTS in the coming week:
 -Write, draw, ink Monday’s math comic
 -Another MTBoS post is likely
 -Movie viewing with friends
 -Complete video editing and/or write a new parody. Really. For reals.
 -Flames/Senators hockey game
 -Play at NAC

 -Split up “Time & Tied” into short parts for RRL
 -Post recap about OAME (from May)
 -Post recap about Math PD (from Feb)
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about COMA Social (from Sept)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -Replace smoke alarms with Christmas ones
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

The weather’s been unusually mild; I’ve tried to chip ice off our road.
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Friday, 20 January 2017

Sharing: Days in the Lives

This post is again part of the “Explore the Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” 2017 initiative. (My first post in the sequence was about a media assignment, my second about trouble with soft skills.) This time, we were asked to read posts by other math educators and then write or compile information - with a shoutout to the “MTBoS Google Search” by John Stevens. (I didn’t put my blogs there, but feel free to correct my thinking.)

I decided to use this opportunity to check in with an initiative that started back in August 2016 - Tina Cardone’s “Day in the Life Book Plan”. Effectively, a team of teachers, all writing up a day in their lives, which could ultimately be compiled together to illustrate what the year of a teacher is like. I signed in to be a cheerleader, and have been meaning to read more, since it’s the sort of thing I would be on board with - if I weren’t taking my year off.

A few warnings: My master list is old, I’m hoping I haven’t missed anyone - if that’s the case, add a link in the comments. For my Canadian readers, know that some schools start in August and run through May (Canada runs September to June). Related, the United States has 180 teaching days (here in Ontario we have 194, with no snow days - if there’s 20 inches of snow forecast, schools are open). And, of course, the US Thanksgiving provides a break in late November, not early October.

For more of this: I discovered I’m not the only one with this roundup (great minds think alike); David Walker (at “Geometry, Common Core Style”) has focussed on the Middle School DITLife Bloggers this week. (Click there, if you’d prefer to see a focus on those grades.) Also, there’s the DITLife Tumblr, where you can see links to posts. With all that in mind, let’s check in on the following blogs, which are in no particular order. If you see something you like, consider clicking through, reading more, and leaving them a message!


1. Kent Haines: The Process Column. (Aug 12th)
This was Kent’s second day of class. As a “get to know you” activity he did math autobiographies, and he says he knows more about his students after that than 4 weeks in for the previous year. (He has a separate post on these.) One of the classes at his school is split in the middle by lunch.

2. Geometry, Common Core Style. (Aug 19th)
This was David’s third day of class, teaching middle school. He played a “Square One” song (“Count On It”), did number patterns, and started seeing some of the social dynamics between students. Did I mention the SQUARE ONE song?! (I’ve used “Change Your Point of View” in Grade 9.)

3. Ottograph Blog. (Aug 23rd)
Alexandra, a 6th grade teacher in Alaska, is doing district-wide in-service before school begins. She finds that she’ll have a class set of iPads this year, attends sessions on data work in Excel plus literacy training, and has an online math book club chat. She’s also a board member for Kodiak Teen Court.

4. Those Who Teach Do More. (Sept 8th)
Thursday was Kit’s first day of class. He took the subway, met a student teacher, dealt with a lack of translation forms, and there was much labelling, ice breaking (including ‘Which One Doesn’t Belong’) and debriefing. He was teaching 6th grade after years of teaching 8th grade; his second day is also included in this post.

5. Function of Reflection. (Sept 8th)
In contrast, this Thursday was not Jake’s first day (his first quarter will end in October). Desmos helped with handling intervals in precalculus class, students self-selected tutoring blocks, and there was both a busy prep and sixth period. It seemed to go better than his Week 3?

6. Drawing on Math. (Sept 14th)
Tina is in her tenth year teaching, and her school has an every-other-day schedule. There’s mention of wait/think time, working with honours students on her prep, tech support, and a fire alarm. Then a staff meeting, to go over Interventions.

7. Reflections of a Type-A Teacher. (Sept 20th)
Kate wakes up before 5:30am that day, whoa. Among other things, she deals with Chromebooks, a fire alarm, a logarithms scavenger hunt, hall duty, and her dog’s obedience class. Note Kate is in her fifth year of high school teaching.

8. Alternative Math. (Sept 26th)
Micaela is the only math teacher at her alternative high school. On this day, she gets five new students - balancing her Algebra class, which has only two today - does discussions in a “community circle”, and handles paperwork on her prep. Her necessary lengthy commute includes a police report, oh no.

9. Run the Numbers. (Sept 30th)
Kevin does a five mile run in the morning. He returns to his classroom on this day after being away on the 29th. There are mini-assessments, remarks on help with autism, and trouble with Windows 10 updating; note Kevin teaches 7th and 8th grades.


10. The Roots of the Equation. (Oct 5th)
James is resuming school this Wednesday, after Rosh Hashanah. He’s carrying too much to bike in to work. His teaching involves a Mathalicious lesson (Sweet Tooth), a formative observation, documentation alignments, then there's some walking with Pokemon Go.

11. Ms. Z’s Mathematical Mess. (Oct 6th)
Dawneen’s entire region was evacuated for Hurricane Matthew, meaning no school for the latter part of this week. She reflects in this post with the DITLife questions about procedures, low morale, literacy and an all-boys class she has.

12. M Brunner Math. (Oct 17th)
Mariam arrives at school early to offer help (having forgotten her lunch at home), restructures lessons to accommodate, discusses with colleagues, and sets up for an activity in the science lab. Also, she needs to work online for over three hours that evening.

13. Hazel-Eyed Math Nut. (Oct 26th)
Tara starts her day at school with a parent meeting. She’s recently acquired two new classes, 8 weeks into the school year. This particular day includes grading, polynomials, and (eventually) a 30 minute break with her family for dinner.

14. [Slightly] Skewed. (Nov 4th)
Hannah’s Friday was a Professional Development day, because their quarter had just ended. She helped lead PD discussion on productive struggle, there was talk of grade distributions, then she spent the afternoon grading the unit exams students had done earlier that week.

15. Busy Miss Beebe. (Nov 7th)
Brianne has her clock correctly set for Daylight Savings, but her body was awake before 4:30am. She put together SMART Notebook files for the week, taught a geometry course she developed, then had hall duty, and a faculty meeting. Watch for mention of a principal “learning walk”.

16. Pythagoras was a Nerd. (Nov 16th)
Mattie has to put together a packet for his International Baccalaureate (IB) class today. Said day includes re-creating slides, planning team work on polynomials, trying not to rush. See his reflection at the end for some fallout from the recent US election.

17. Mathematical Musings by MathTeacher24. (Nov 21st)
Leigh arrives at school realizing she needs to create a test by 2pm, and her day is already quite full (a bit like Mattie, above). She manages it, going a bit “old school”, and still has the energy to be part of chorale after classes. Read to the end for her postscript on retesting.

18. Hilbert’s Hotel. (Nov 22nd)
Jonathan blogs here before Thanksgiving, meaning it’s a two day week. There’s a number of benchmark tests, extra tutoring at lunch, and then after school, a “Mathcount” activity and parent emails (among other things). Should one measure based on cars left in the parking lot?


19. My Random Ah-hA Moments. (Nov 28th)
Bernadette had trouble sleeping prior to this return after Thanksgiving. She explains how Infinity, her “Elf on the Shelf” will provide questions of the day, there’s a 3-act task on sugar in soda, and she has to prepare for a substitute on the following day. Like Kent (above), she also has a period split in pieces by lunch.

20. 8 is My Lucky Number. (Dec 8th)
Jennifer goes through a typical Thursday. There’s an ALICE (intruder) drill, a new class contract to handle disruptive behaviour, extra help provided after school, and a run at the end of the day (contrast Kevin who ran in the morning). Her Christmas tree is up; mine wouldn’t be.

21. Math by the Mountain. (Dec 9th)
Audrey’s school district closed schools on this Friday, for the third day in a row, due to the snow and ice storm on the mountain. So she worked on activities and flowcharts for upcoming units, then got out of the house for the first time since Tuesday afternoon, to visit her parents.

22. Math yes you can (Dec 16th)
Kathy’s last day before Christmas Break. Students drop off cards for her (she teaches younger grades), they make origami cards for support staff, there’s a party in the music room, and after the students leave, she decides to bring their scale drawing projects home for grading over the break.

23. Her Mathness. (Dec 21st)
Wendy has three days until Christmas Break. Within her post, she’s embedded a Task in Scribd. She was visited by a student on her prep, and an illustrated task project had students including bad math jokes for her. She also does private tutoring.

24. Lazy 0ch0. (Dec 24th)
Brian’s first day of Christmas Break is also Christmas Eve. He does some morning reading (and considers math-themed books for his students), uses old newspapers to wrap gifts, reflects on a post-observation meeting with his principal... and references the hospital Emergency Room.

25. Miss Calcul8. (Jan 10th, 2017)
Elissa is the only math teacher, teaching at her alma mater. Cutting and folding turns out to be a challenge for many students, her lunch is quick, subbing takes over her plan period, and there’s more to do after school. 12,000+ steps, I’m impressed.

26. Math State of Mind. (Jan 12th, 2017)
Jen is a math coach, see an earlier DITLife post for how she had to leave for major surgery last year. She spent this day covering kindergarten duty, getting math kits together, helping with a 2nd grade skip counting lesson, and participating in a Twitter chat. Also, Uber.


That’s all I’ve got; if you know of more, feel free to link out to them in the comments. If you’re real keen, you could also read my DITLife Posts from prior years; I usually subvert them with quizzes or odd narratives. Oh, and one last message to the WRITERS of all those posts - well done! And even if you fell out of the blogging habit after a few posts, it’s never too late to jump back in.

I think that’s everything, let me know if something was unclear. I appreciate you reading, consider coming back to my blog again, or checking out my other writing projects!

-My personified math comic last posted “Dressing Down” on Monday.

-My time travel serial last posted “Connecting” on Friday.

-My “Not Teaching Year” weekly chronicle on this blog continues tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

300: A Bunny's Tale

Post #100 of this blog was "Time for a Superheroine" (Oct 2013). Post #200 of this blog was "No Reason" (Aug 2015). My continued efforts to write short fiction continued in #246 "Suppression" and #261 "In The Dark", based on prompts from "Web Fiction Guide". Now, here we are at Post #300, and a tale that could have been R-rated, but decided not to be. As always, enjoy!



I knew something was wrong as soon as I woke up - I wasn’t in my house, or indeed anywhere I recognized.

I was lying on a cold stone slab, instead of a bed. It was in the middle of a room which itself had been constructed entirely of stone. Meaning I was likely somewhere in a castle. Possibly in a dungeon, but I didn’t see any shackles on the walls, and there was no stench of misery or desperation surrounding me. In fact, the room, what little I could see of it, was barren.

Turning my head from side to side to take that in had made me dizzy, so I closed my eyes again, to prevent blacking out. Had I been captured by a sorcerer? What use would any wizard have for me, a twenty-something fledgling magic user who was so in debt that her business of producing charms and wards was in danger of going under before the end of the month? Or was it that one of my creditors had come to collect early, and without warning?

I wanted to sit up, but my body felt strangely numb. After a moment, I found I could wiggle my fingers. I reopened my eyes, and lay quietly for another minute, using the opportunity to gradually bend my arms, and then run my fingers over my body. I wasn’t wearing my nightdress, or indeed any kind of dress. I seemed to be clothed in some sort of leotard.

My ears twitched. My proportions, they seemed to be off. Had my consciousness been transmitted into someone else’s body? I hadn’t been messing around with any long distance communications stones today, had I? No - even if I had, the disorientation one experiences in their use is fleeting. This felt more like the morning after one too many mugs of ale. What was going on? I couldn’t even remember what I’d been doing just prior to being here. Hadn’t I been in the market?

My ears twitched again. Which was when I became consciously aware of that sensation, and my whole body tensed up. That... that wasn’t right. Slowly, fearfully, I brought my hands from my torso up towards my head. I slid them up my jawline towards my ears. Towards where my ears were supposed to be. Where my fingers instead encountered fuzziness. Because my ears were no longer ears, they were long, furry... somethings.

I screamed. For a solid minute, I couldn’t stop screaming, my hands squeezing at my bunny ears, my heart hammering in my chest, a chest which wasn’t even mine, because what in the world had happened to me?! At last, a more rational piece of my brain took over, closing my mouth, pointing out that my newly enhanced hearing had been registering some important details that deserved my attention.

Biting down on my lower lip to keep my mouth shut, I mentally rewound the last sixty seconds. There had been the sound of wood scraping on wood, a voice saying ‘she’s finally awake, get the boss’, and then the sound of the wood shuttering again. A Judas gate? A small peephole door within a larger door? Somewhere about three and a half metres behind me? (Wow, that was precise, go ears.) More to the point, a ‘boss’ was coming.

Okay Ella, get a grip on yourself, you probably want to meet the boss by giving him or her a blow to the head and bolting to safety, not screaming like a, well, scared rabbit. I released my lower lip. Part of me wanted to resume screaming, but I forced that part deeper down inside me. Instead, I pushed myself up into a seated position, taking stock of my surroundings.

My initial “dungeon” vibe still felt valid, though I now wondered if maybe this was some interrogation room, adjoining an actual dungeon. My stone slab could work as a central table, and there were hooks embedded into the side, which could be used to chain someone in place. If so, there was probably an annulment field in the area too, to prevent magic.

I swung my legs off the side of the slab, and attempted to fire off a simple light spell. Either I was right about the field, or my new bunny body couldn’t properly channel the forces, as nothing happened. But the glowing algae on the walls continued to provide enough light for visibility.

Doing a slow pan, I saw the only way in or out was that wooden door, and the only object in the room was a full length mirror, hanging next to said door. Obviously, my captor wanted to flaunt what he or she had done to me. However, shards of glass could be an effective weapon. I hopped down off the slab, then bounced my way over towards the mirror. Only to have my brain ping at me anew, and I stopped in place.

Why was I moving by jumping both feet off the ground simultaneously? I looked down, for a moment fearing that a spell was still in progress, busy turning me into an actual rabbit from the waist down. But no - I still had a pair of normal legs. I took a regular step forwards. Apparently this body merely had certain inherent bunny traits that tended to take over, if I wasn’t making a conscious effort. I wiggled my tail in relief.

I frowned, glancing over my shoulder. In two more strides, I was at the mirror, and able to confirm the presence of that little cottontail, poking out through a hole in the leotard. Lovely. Actually, I would call it adorable, if it were on anybody else. I wiggled it again. Actually, even on me it was... okay Ella, no, get a grip. I turned around to take in the rest of my appearance.

I was still a blonde, but my hair now stretched past my shoulders, down onto my back. I was more slender, and more busty, so either my mass had been redistributed, or this was an entirely new body that I was inhabiting. Likely the latter, given the rabbit accoutrements and those inherent traits that my mind was occasionally fighting against. Good thing I’m smarter than your average bunny.

Something about my intelligence being used in this way triggered a memory, but it refused to fully coalesce.

I supposed this new body still looked about twenty-three. Thankfully, my ears and tail turned out to be the only non-human abnormalities (and the only parts of me with fur). I double-checked on that, particularly in my mouth, ensuring I had no buck teeth. Whatever wizard had crafted this rabbit form, they had been going more for aesthetics than realism.

Granted, certain stereotypes may have been in mind either way, as I was starting to have a peculiar craving for carrots. As well as a slight craving for... I squirmed my hips. Okay, wow, definitely not the time for such primal thoughts. Focus, Ella, remember you’re more than some dumb bunny here.

As far as clothing went, my leotard was pink, as were the thigh length stockings that adorned my legs. I wasn’t wearing shoes, which was a shame, as they would have been useful for smashing the mirror. I suppose it’s good that I was clothed at all; in desperation, maybe I could strip down and use the fabric as a garrotte? But we weren’t there yet. So what could I use to break the glass that didn’t involve damaging myself?

I scoured around the room, hoping to find something. A forgotten chain, a loose rock, anything with decent mass to it, tucked away in the shadows. No such luck. Then my enhanced hearing picked up on the sound of footsteps, at the far end of the hallway, beyond my door. Out of time. New plan, random destruction.

I hopped - no, no, alternate your feet, there you go, good - back to the mirror. By grabbing it, bending my legs, and shoving up with all my might, the mirror became unhooked. I released it, springing back before it could flatten me, and was rewarded with a loud crash as it hit the floor.

Too loud of a crash. I clapped my hands against the side of my head, where my old ears had been, which was useless - but I had also instinctively folded my new rabbit ears in against my head, to try and mute the sound. My bunny instincts served me well that time, though I did end up with a momentary ringing sensation in my head. Through it, I heard someone fumbling with keys on the other side of the door.

I bent down, and with a grunt, shoved the upside-down mirror frame to the side. Fortunately, there was a nasty looking shard of glass from the edge that I could hold onto without slicing into my palms. I grabbed for it. As the door opened, I rolled back onto my tail, holding the glass up in front of me. “Don’t come any closer!” I shouted. My voice sounded not-quite-right.

A man stood in the doorway, wearing a blue wizard’s cloak. He sported that white beard that all wizards over the age of thirty tended to craft, supposedly as a measure of stature, but secretly, I think it’s to make it harder to tell them apart. Stupid male guild solidarity thing. Which meant it was hard to tell his age, but I pegged him as being in his forties.

The man smiled, then turned to the guy in armour holding the key ring. “See that we are not disturbed, for any reason.”

I twisted around to get back to my feet, still brandishing the shard of glass. “No, see, your annulment field here prevents you from doing magic as well. And I have this weapon. So you’re going to let me out of here. Now.”

He shook his head. “Ah, Ella Umber. Even in your youth, you had spirit. Tell me, once you get beyond this field, what’s to keep me from restraining you in a much less pleasant manner than behind a locked door?”

This guy was making all sorts of mistakes. He had now confirmed that he was magically powerless at the moment, and that he knew me - even though I didn’t know him. The ‘youth’ thing was weird, but one problem at a time. I hopped to the side, thrusting my arm forwards. He didn’t flinch, so he had that going for him. “Let me out.”

“Let’s chat first. You aren’t wondering how you ended up in the body of a bunny golem?”

A bunny golem. I cursed myself for missing the obvious. That made total sense.

Most magical golems were simple automatons. Some wizards personalized their forms, adding additional arms or putting them on wheels or whatever else made the golem useful for specific tasks. And of course, on the black market you could acquire cats, foxes, any number of fetish forms. Including bunnies. But all such golems were driven by pure instinct, acting upon their base programming and the orders they were given, lacking any human intelligence. Human intelligence, like mine...

That memory tugged at me again. Alas, as my mind drifted, it gave my captor an opening. Before I could react, he’d stepped in and seized my wrist. Goddamn it.

I pounded at his front with my free hand, but to no avail - I had smarts, not strength. He twisted, forcing me to drop the glass. Then he released me and stepped back, more glass crunching underneath his boots. “Go sit on your slab.”

I turned to comply, then overrode that instinct and spun back to face him. “No.” Part of me felt ashamed to be disobeying. I told that part of me to get stuffed.

The wizard made a gesture towards the door, and the person with the keys pulled it shut. Which meant a mad dash for the exit wouldn’t get me anywhere. I might have to talk my way out.

“Go sit on your slab,” the man repeated.

“No,” I repeated, without hesitation this time.

“Is Ella-bunny not at all scared to be disobeying me?”

I felt my heart rate increasing. The scared part of me that had screamed upon my awakening was stirring again. With effort, I suppressed it again. “N-No.”

“It’s hot in here, isn’t it. You look flushed, Ella-bunny, are you overheating?”

More parts of my golem bunny body started firing signals that I had to quash. “Nnngh. No,” I said, baring my teeth. I was not going to allow myself to become ashamed, scared, or worst of all, horny.

He pulled something out from his robes. “Does Ella-bunny want a carrot?”

“Oh, shut up!” I shouted. I was growing irritated at having to maintain control over all these very basic internal impulses. At least, out of all of them, hunger was the least of my worries. So I crunched down on the vegetable, continuing to try and corral the rest of the conflicting emotions running rampant through my body.

I froze. I pulled the carrot from my lips.

“Your golem body is the latest model,” my captor pointed out, pulling his hand back. “I know more about it than you do.”

I chewed my mouthful of carrot, and swallowed. “Obviously.” I wanted to throw the carrot in his face, but on the other hand, maybe if I kept it, I could jab it somewhere painful later.

“Go sit on your slab.”

A compromise position seemed to be in order, to prevent further humiliation. “I will lean against the edge.” I went over to do exactly that - by walking, not hopping. He stepped back to lean against the wall, crossing his arms. We stared at each other across the four metre distance for a short while, during which time I managed to subdue most of the rabbit urges inside me yet again.

“What IS the last thing you remember?” he asked me at last.

“I was walking through the market,” I shot back. “I was wondering how I might advertise my warding business better, and what might happen to me if I couldn’t, when someone..." I stopped. I had been about to say ‘abducted me’, but that was wrong. Someone had approached me - but it had been with an offer.

The memory that had been tantalizing me finally snapped into place. “Someone bought a copy of my baseline intelligence,” I realized. “I wasn’t going to do it, I was going to blow them off, but they offered me so much. It was enough to get my business out of debt.”

He nodded. “And that was twenty-five years ago. It’s that intelligence which I’m conversing with even now.”

My knees went weak. I threw more of my weight onto the slab to stay upright. “Impossible,” I assured him. “The spell, it captured intelligence. Not wisdom, not personality, not... not someone’s ESSENCE.” He half smiled. I glared. “The buyer assured me that it would be used to make golems more battle-capable, or lifelike. Not this. Not make something like another ME.”

“As time marches on, so does magic,” he remarked. “Did it never occur to the old wizards that they WERE capturing more, it’s merely that they weren’t able to transition anything out of the vessels other than the intelligence?”

“No. You’re lying.”

“Plus the human donor’s ‘essence’, as you call it, is usually diluted, by siphoning it out to many golems at once, or one over a span of decades. Here? Wham, all of you, crammed into a single bunny. It’s rather fortunate that your original buyer was killed before he could put you to any use.”

“N-No. I don’t believe it. Why, that means we’ve discovered immortality.”

“Ah, no,” the blue robed wizard said, now stroking his beard. Trying to look smarter than he was. “For there seems to be a threshold of viability. I’m already too old, for instance. Related, eventually your sense of self will be utterly consumed by the golem you inhabit. Oh, don’t worry,” he added, as I found I was unable to hold back a horrified expression. “It will be years, perhaps decades before that occurs.”

He wasn’t giving off any of the usual indications to suggest he was lying. “S-So I have years of living like this, as your slave, and then... then... w-why, why did you do this to me?” I whimpered. Inwardly, I wasn’t sure if I was speaking to him, or to my younger self, who had apparently sold me (her soul?) into this life of servitude.

I realized I was back to obediently sitting on the slab, and I couldn’t even bring myself to care. I crunched more carrot in my mouth.

He gave me what I decided was meant to be a conciliatory look. “Ella, I didn’t spend months hunting down your magical vessel in order to make you my slave. I’m above such a petty form of revenge. Rather, I’m hoping we can join forces against one of the greatest threats this land has ever seen.” He took in a deep breath. “Namely Ella Umber.”

I connected the dots. “My future self.”

“Present self. Let’s say she’s gone a little... evil.”

Good for me, I’d made a name for myself. Pity about the circumstances. “And you’re betting that I’ll have a unique insight into that self?”

“In ‘essence’, yes. So, what do you say? Will you join forces with me, and try to redeem yourself here? Because frankly, the alternative is being forgotten within the depths of my castle.”

I felt some of my indignation returning. “What I say is - you couldn’t do better than a BUNNY golem for me?”

He chuckled. “Their more timid nature will be of use in case you get any evil inclinations of your own. Besides, for all of it’s faults, the bunny model is equipped with excellent hearing.”

“Hmph. Point,” I yielded. “I can hear your guards fighting out in the hall even now.”

“What?” His head tilted. “I hear nothing. Why would they be fighting? Is this some sort of trick?”

I shook my head. “They ran away from the door as you were telling me I had only years to live. Something’s happening at the end of the hall now. I figured it was an argument over a shift change.” Except - I now heard metal on metal. Why would they be using swords?

“Nothing should be happening,” the wizard grumbled. He moved to the door, while keeping one eye on me. “If this is another escape attempt, you should know that--"

I never found out what it was that I should know. The door blasted inwards with the force of a cannon, propelling the wizard back into the far wall and knocking him out cold. The scared bunny part of me was screaming again before I could get it under control, my ears back to being flattened against the sides of my head. I had barely managed to close my mouth when SHE strode into the room.

Despite the difference of twenty-five years, and the dark wizard robes she now wore, I recognized myself straight away. Every detail. Well, except for the red eyes. The merciless red eyes. Those were new. My desire to scream resurfaced.

Ella snapped her fingers. “Take him,” she said, motioning to two people who had followed her in, pointing them towards the unconscious wizard. She then advanced upon me. “So. He did succeed.”

“Please,” I whimpered, seeing the lips of her (my?) mouth curl into a sneer. I was quickly gaining far too much insight into this particular future pathway. “Please, no.” My ears quivered.

“Adorable,” Ella murmured, reaching out to grab my chin. “Simply adorable. Oh, we’re going to have such fun together, younger me.” Her eyes flashed as she released me. “Now, be a good little bunny and finish eating your yummy carrot.”

Too busy trying not to be frightened out of my wits, I found myself chowing down on that yummy vegetable goodness in record time. Belatedly wondering whether there had truly been any chance of saving me from myself.

I'm not certain if there was a message or a metaphor in this; I have some thoughts, feel free to suggest yours in the comments. Other considerations: Was there a "horror" vibe to any of this? Am I still decent at playing with expectations? How's my pacing? What about "first person" perspective?

A reminder that I'm still publishing a time travel serial (updating Tues & Fri) and a comic about personified math (updating Mon). I also wrote "The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra" in first person (currently on Wattpad). Thanks for reading to the end!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Not Teaching: Week 28

There was a pie on sale for 50% off this week, one of the good ones, and it was worth PC Plus Points. I didn’t buy it. I discovered I gained over 5 pounds during the last six weeks. Not sure if I can blame that on the holidays, but I need to monitor myself better now that TLC is done. Also, my left arm has been tingling when I move certain ways; I’ve pulled something, or pinched a nerve, and it’s been like this all 2017 so far. I seem to be falling apart. So, kind of good I’m not working.

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To that end, I went out for a long walk in temperatures below -10, to get my steps up today. I discovered the mystery of Pond Street. It actually curves around and goes past a pond. A pond called “Sandpiper Lake”. It’s smaller than the adjacent lake though, so I’m fine with calling it a pond. I need to walk more.

Item counts run Sunday (January 8) to Saturday (January 14).

Step Count: About 53,000.
Two poor days, with a couple over 10k to balance, including today.

School Email Count: 50 New (0 sent)
Bad weather delayed a staff meeting, and there was a wedding. (Also a fire?)

Writing/Art Related Items (from Sun to Sat):
 -Finished the next T&T Commentary post
 -Wrote, drew, inked the next math comic
 -Wrote an MTBoS “Soft Skills” post

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Saw movie “Arrival”
 -Medical appointment Monday
 -Yoga Monday
 -Medical appointment Wednesday
 -Took down Christmas lights/decorations
 -Tried playing computer game on harder level

PROBABLE PROJECTS in the coming week:
 -Another MTBoS post is likely
 -Movie viewing with friends
 -Math Meeting Monday
 -Complete video editing and/or write a new parody. Really.
 -Dealing with financial issues

 -Split up “Time & Tied” into short parts for RRL
 -Post recap about OAME (from May)
 -Post recap about Math PD (from Feb)
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about COMA Social (from Sept)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -Replace smoke alarms with Christmas ones
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Get back onto tumblr.
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

Saturday evening at home, it’s been a month since that happened.
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Friday, 13 January 2017

Soft Skills: The Middle Ground

This post relates to a series on soft skills in (math) teaching, which was initiated by Riley Lark in July 2010, and is extended here as part of the “Explore the Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” 2017 initiative. (You can follow those links for more info, and/or read my first post in the 2017 initiative, about a media assignment.)

I decided to run through a number of the prior posts from 2010, to get a better sense of what had already been said. Some of the themes included the ideas of using group roles, connecting with students beyond the subject, making the math fun and approachable... all through skills like trust, caring, being authentic and the usual things you might expect. More specifically, there were analogies given to quicksand and wolverines, there was a call to consider time of day - and then there was a post by Sam Shah.

Sam’s post is entitled “Not all of us have soft skills”. Within it, he talks about “mulligans”, and while I was not sure how a 1980s hairstyle that is long is the back connects to anything, other aspects of the post spoke to me. (I later looked up mulligan, to find it’s actually a stew. Odd. Looking further, it’s apparently also a second chance to perform an action, which explains the otherwise seemingly random mention of sports. Anyway.) Curiously, “Math Mulligans” is also a blog with a recent soft skills post that references Sam’s post too, so, small world.

Anyway, back to that question of soft skills. While, like Sam, I tend to keep some distance and know of awkward pauses, I’m actually going to take a slightly opposing viewpoint here. I’ll be claiming that I do have soft skills - ones which I don’t actively use. Also like Sam, I suspect I’m not alone in this. So, why am I (and others) not using these skills? Let’s look at that first, then I’ll clarify what I meant by “The Middle Ground” in the title. Feel free to skip down to the tip.


The key reason I believe I have soft skills is because I get along with people. Students, colleagues, administration, friends, relatives... I’m pretty sure people don’t actively shun me. That said, I couldn’t tell you why. It might be that I’m a good listener, or I have a certain mindset, or I know the right things to say, or I am (usually) aware of times NOT to let out another pun - or none of that. Hence the first reason I don’t actively use soft skills is because I’m not entirely sure how I’ve managed to have them in the first place.

The second reason for not using soft skills is that some are simply not applicable in a classroom setting. Someone who is really good at giving hugs, for instance, would not be able to avail themselves of that skill with students. (Not without raising issues.) And while I’m not a hug person, when faced with large groups, my observation skills do tend to fail me. Instead, I show as much enthusiasm as I can (is that a skill?), in hopes that it gets shared by the audience, rather than focusing on the individuals. Not always, granted, but it’s something of a default mode. One that requires effort to overcome. Which brings me to the third reason.

Soft skills are physically EXHAUSTING. I say this as someone pretty high on the introvert scale. We’re at “I won’t call you, you call me” levels of socialization here. To the point where, if I am in trouble, I am much more likely to shout “Help!” into the wind, in hopes that someone noticed, than to actually approach an individual. (Note I don’t recommend that, it tends to lead to bottling up issues until the container explodes... but when I’m in trouble, expending additional precious energy on an analysis of who to engage in a civilized conversation? Can feel crippling.) Thing is, once we’re over the inertia, I can carry on a conversation well enough.

The fact that I don’t approach people, I wait for them to approach me, well, that can be an issue in teaching. Consider, if there’s a like-minded student waiting for me to approach them first... we’re in a stalemate. Until something happens to overcome the initial block (an outburst, a failed test, a third party, or otherwise). So, in essence, my soft skills are there, but they are accessed by request, or by routine. It’s rarely a conscious effort. Am I truly alone in that?


Here’s how this connects to a tip. There’s a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode titled “ETHICS”, in which Worf sustains an injury that means he may never walk again. Being a Klingon, he considers his life to be effectively over. That situation leads to Captain Picard saying the following to Dr. Beverly Crusher:

"Beverly, he can't make the journey you're asking of him. You want him to go from contemplating suicide to accepting his condition and living with the disability, but it's too far! The road between covers a lifetime of values, beliefs. He can't do it, Beverly. But perhaps he can come part of the way."

In a similar way, expecting me to jump into a conversation at a party is a bridge too far. It’s about finding that middle ground, the compromise position. Which is something that also applies when one is teaching mathematics. Because if you’re anything like me, you'd have a certain passion for the subject you teach - while students may be on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

When a student says they “hate math” or “can’t do it”, my concern is that love, or even enthusiasm, is too far of a journey. Leading them to shut down. But perhaps they can come part of the way? To that end, I ask the 'haters' to move towards ambivalence. For those who like analogies, know that if you’re in a car with a stuck throttle that’s barrelling down the highway, the answer is not to turn off the engine. With the engine off, the wheel locks up, making the car hard to control. The answer is to shift the car into neutral, thereby maintaining control.

For the student who “hates math”, see if they might accept that it’s useful, or necessary, and that it shouldn’t be hated any more than one might hate spiders. For someone who “can’t do it”, surely “it” isn’t all math; more likely it’s a particular concept, perhaps even a specific problem. Again, find the middle ground, some piece or problem that was possible, and restart from there. Shifting into neutral - it’s a bit like “de-escalation”, or finding common ground. That's all I've got for you.


Okay, I feel I should mention something else which can help (or possibly hinder) with soft skills, that being familiarity. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the same school for close to ten years now. This means, among other things, I feel more comfortable approaching other teachers for advice. For instance, with a student I have now, whom they previously taught.

And while the students themselves change year after year, word of mouth can spread in the student body. To that end, I seem to have gained a reputation for the math songs I sing, along with the statistics course I teach. So I suspect my classification is akin to “Mostly Harmless”. I’ve even been approached by students to film in my class, and on one occasion, to help with a theatre related issue when the usual teacher was unavailable. It’s the sort of thing that lowers the chances of an entire class turning against me.

Now, does it always work, this "using soft skills more passively while finding middle ground"? Of course not. In fact, I have this tendency to back off towards the middle ground even with very positive things, meaning I’m not one to celebrate victories either. To pull in more Star Trek, I’m a bit like Spock, not really understanding human emotional outbursts, yet somehow I am able to deal with them. I can only hope that’s still the case when I return from my sabbatical.

I think that’s everything, let me know if you have thoughts, or if something was unclear. Thanks for reading, consider coming back again, or checking out my other writing projects!

-My personified math comic last posted “Re: Cycling” on Monday.

-My time travel serial last posted “Timeline Five?” on Friday.

-My “Not Teaching Year” chronicle on this blog continues tomorrow.