succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, May 27, 2006

It's officially summer - saw my first lightening bug of the year.

Completed - The Devil Wears Prada
Started - A Compact History of Everything and More, David Foster Wallace

I've actually been a little hestitant to mention that I've started this one, just in case I don't finish it. But maybe this will keep me committed. At first I worried that I'd already missed the window of opportunity - I'm certainly a big math dork, but nowadays I spend so much time thinking and reading about and doing math, I wasn't sure the idea of reading about it in my spare time, for fun and relaxation, would be all that appealing. But so far DFW's embrace of the sheer dorkiness of the subject matter has proven incredibly endearing. Even his persistent instistence that surely you remember this from some lower level math course in your past ("Let's explicitize at the outset that the 'you might recall's and 'it goes without saying's and so on are not tics but rhetorical gambits whose aim is to reduce the annoyance in those readers who are already familiar with whatever's being discussed") I'm willing to let slide, which is big for me, since that's specifically my single largest pet peeve about math books. I still contend that no textbook should ever contain the following words/phrases: clearly, obviously, it then becomes clear/obvious, or trivially. Though, in fairness, this is a lay person text, not a textbook. I used to think that textbooks should also be stripped of exclamation points and declarations of beauty, but in my increased dorkiness I have come to think of math and science this way and get kind of giddy when DFW says things like, "Put a little more sexily, the paradox is that a pedestrian cannot move from point A to point B without traversing all successive subintervals of AB, each subinterval equaling (AB)/(2^n) where n's values compose the sequence (1,2,3,4,5,6,...)." He also has a really lovely description of thinking abstractly and how math requires one to think abstractly (even when actual numbers are involved) and how this is the primary difficulty for many math students. I'm thinking of copying it and giving it out at the beginning of the semester to all my students. It seems a more eloquent way of saying, this is hard, really fucking hard, but don't get discouraged, and if you don't get it the first time around that doesn't make you stupid.


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