Archive for July, 2013

after the con

07/14/13 more fun with yin and yang what was the question?

07/15/13 i got a dance… philosophy 101

07/16/13 behind the curtain dad was a magician

07/16/13 symbolism supression the horror…

07/21/13 BS commitments turn the other cheek

07/23/13 more BSC’s trust no one

07/25/13 none so blind shocking pathologies

07/26/13 treat both sides the same owen leaves the room


so. a poor workman blames his tools
and i’m about to get right back to it.

recap: i’m just as guilty as anyone else.

when there’s stuff i think i’d *like* to know…
but that i *don’t* know… there are probably

for example: (1) maybe i *don’t* want to know
(“does she *really* love me as much as
she says?”, e.g.).

or this: (2) the possibility of consequences
too horrible to accept (“is this guy just
another macho windbag or is he actually
tough enough to *hurt* me?”, let’s say).

or it’s just (3) flat-out too much trouble
(“what’s my credit rating and who’s
looking?… and who should i believe?”)….

and one could of course go on.

but in our context. and, again, i’m just
as guilty as the next guy.

i might “want” to know…
without having to admit
that i’ve been *wrong*.

wanting what can never be: life on one’s own terms.
including, in this case, an apology from the universe-
-at-large for having pretended for so long that one
hadn’t long since *really* known the true heart
of the matter. (stubborn universe. oughta know better.)

well, it’s pretty pathetic stuff, heaven knows.
but like i say, i’m just as guilty as the others
(that i’ve been working with right in here) seem
pretty consistently to be. give or take.
your milage may vary.

so, now. damn it.

when you hate and fear mathematics.

what then are we to do?
well, *avoid* the SOB if you get a chance, obviously.
i hate and fear fighting with fists and have done
fairly well so far running away from every chance…
too well to learn anything *about* that subject
in any realistic way.

but that’s what *you* should do.

what then are *we* to do… when, in some strange
power’s employ… “you” and “i” have agreed to
work together on clarifying some of your ideas
about maths?

well, with any luck, *i* will be sensitive to
some the emotional baggage that typically goes
with *your* position. in dealing with some
intricate system of rewards-and-punishments,
you will have come up again and again against
some authoritative force telling you “you need
more math” (to acheive such-and-such a goal).

and, with any luck…

*you* won’t take it for granted that i’m just
another con artist out to get over on you
by pretending that making-it-look-easy
does anybody any service.

this is not fucking gym class.
maybe i’m willing to try to understand your point
of view; maybe i’d really like to help you get
closer to *your own goals*.

so, now. why? why? why?

why, *for the love of god*, will you look away
the second the words “do the same thing to both sides
of the equation” escape my mouth?

why, when i make it a point to get your attention
back to the work on the page and say it again,
will you *openly complain* that i appear to be
changing the subject (from “what’s my next move
in this particular problem” to “how does one
actually go about *solving* problems like ours”).

why, when i fucking *beg* you to take me seriously
(this *one* fucking time) and get over your infantile
insistence that *you* know better than every teacher
of the subject worth taking seriously (alive or dead),
must you have some fucking *problem* with that?

because, sure, *i’m* an emotional basket case.
but *i* passed this fucking class easily and
have gone on to learn *much* more about it,
whereas *you* are going to fail it badly
(and deserve to) because you don’t want to
consider that an expert’s opinion *might*
sometimes be more valuable than the ill-
-formed fantasies of some bare-beginner.
(your smug self-righteousness won’t weigh
much on the exam, most likely…)

go ahead, *hold* me in contempt.
you’ve paid for the privilege.
but, geez. this trying to *understand*
why you do it has me just about worn out.

so, you know what?

just *humor* me.

“do the *same* thing to *both* sides of the equtation.”

do the same thing to both sides of the equation
*on my authority* if it makes you feel any better.
(and *remain* a true-thinking math-is-nonsense
committed-to-ignorance equations-are-confusing
“normal” person… *blame me* if you have to…
“i’m not *really* pretending to be a math-head;
my teacher just *makes* me do it [like *all* teachers]
just to prove he can push me around”)…
i haven’t got the strength even to talk
about this any more.

because the *right* answer to “what do i do next?”,
after you’ve taken some perfectly good code
and munged it up by changing only *one* side
of an equation, is, and can’t ever *not* be,
“fix up this equation so it’s right”.

and if… never *mind* your reasons…
you’re not *having* it? well, it’s just
another one of those (many, many) problems
whose *solution* is “owen leaves the room”.

now at least part of the point of me going on
about *my own* “bullshit commitments” (BC’s)
will have been that i’m about to start looking
at somebody *else’s*.

and i am. so why make a fuss?

well, i get pretty tired of hearing (pretty
quick!) about the beam in my own eye, the minute
i bring up certain motes in the eyes even
of far-off strangers.

yeah, okay… i get it. your own
particular eye-motes look more like
those of the position i appear to be
attacking than they do like my eye-

the thing is, i’m willing to consider
my eye-beam at great length, and *have*
done (many times), but just now for some
reason i’m trying to get at something
about this little *mote* here in this
*hypothetical* guy’s eye, okay?
without getting all personal about it?
for just a few more minutes, here?

and it sometimes gets to feel like
eliminate-the-negative-ism creates
a climate where to find *anything*
wrong with *anything* (about the way
things are done) is to invoke some
“well, a lot of people feel differently”
conversation-stopper (or, more generously,
topic-changing device… one should
*use* this trick if it should appear
helpful in getting out of learning
people’s opinions about, famously,
religion and politic [and, more
generally, any such all-noise-
-no-signal discussions as seem to
arise so naturally on those topics]).

so i’ve got bullshit commitments for sure;
many of ’em much deeper-rooted and more
destructive than the math-ed stuff i kicked
around upthread. so there *that* is.

meanwhile, one has observed shocking
pathologies amongst certain populations
of math students.

“212- 32 = 180 / 9 = 20 * 5 = 100” (string A)

now, in “string A”, we have a calculation
showing that 212-degrees on the farenheit
scale represents the same temperature as 100
degrees on the centigrade scale. the
author of string A has successfully
computed the results using “subtract 32,
divide (the result) by 9, and multiply
(the latest result) by 5”.

and this is a good thing to be able to do.
praiseworthy, even. i’m reasonably sure
i myelf will have been praised for learning
how to do this… *and* for audibly practicing
it, and by one or both of my parents at that.
(whose praise i valued far more than that of
any mere teacher.) good work all around.

(exercises: *how do you “go backward”
[celcius-to-farenheit]? *estimate
your basal body tempature in the
scale least familiar to you [show
a calculation].)

but in math *class*… in “advanced” maths,
in “formal” maths… we *won’t* be able
to accept string A as good code. Not for
the farenheit-to-celcius conversion.
It *is*, if not “good”, at least *clear*
code for a pair of lies and a truth:
180 = 20 = 100 = 100 (A’).

A’ is obtained from A, after all,
simply by
carrying out arithmetic on
things t in A and
writing out their respective
results t’
(and leaving other things in A
unaffected… the “=” signs in
this case)
to produce A’.

A and A’ “have the same meaning”
(because we’ve “just done the math”).

or we’re sunk.

we are *replacing* things
with things equal to themselves.
one of our oldest-established tricks:
a cornerstone of the algebraic method.

if we’re to make this trick work at all,
though, we’ll have to be *very* finicky
about *saying* things are equal (and
writing “=”) only when (we believe)
they *really are* equal (and so, can
be safe in making such substitutions).

clear classroom work… or math-*book*
work… good *home*work, for heck’s sake!…
then calls “the equality meaning of the
equals sign” to be maintained as consistently
as possible.

but this is *not* what many of the
lifelong users of runon-sentence-bad-habit
gibberish like string A
believe they signed up in a math class
to find out. and find it out they *will* not.

so they’ll go on putting
a number equal to a set
a point equal to a space
a vector equal to a number
a 2\by2 matrix equal to a 2\by4 matrix
and… here is thunder on the horizon…
getting away with it.

but one should’ve had the wakeup call
at least, say, two semesters ago.
one is required to have had four
quarters of calc for this thing!

how do you *study* advanced mathematics
without finding out what *every* mathematician
means by “=” (most of the time)—and has done,
for ages?

and *why*?

a (pretty commonplace) math-ed
BC nurtured by me at various times:
“never memorize what can instead
be calculated out from first

(particular examples:

*the quadratic formula
i’ve elaborated somewhere
in here.

*values of trig functions
[for “basic” angles (i.e.,
\pi times 0, 1/6, 1/4, 1/3, & 1/2)];
i now (mildly) urge beginners to develop
a routine of *charting* these
values for the “sin” function
when faced with several exercises
calling for trig calculations.
the other charts are easily
devloped as needed from there.
but heck, i’d’ve just done better
myself to admit that sin(\pi/6) = 1/2
is a *darn useful thing to know*
even without drawing some big ol’
equalateral triangle in my mind’s
eye every time just to “see” it.

*various “infinite series”
like e^x = 1 + 1/[1!]x + 1/[2!]x^2 + 1/[3!]x^3…
[one is utterly puzzled at some point
about how integrating-the-recipocal
can have such easy-&-useful tricks
associated to it; too many unfamiliar
notations (or unfamiliar properties
of [somewhat] *familiar* notations)
are floating around. one is waiting
for the “aha” when “differentiates
to itself” will be able to work itself
out *vividly*… anyhow, it’s nice
a nice simple *target* set up for
certain suchlike gropings-in-the-dark…]

*many others


but, of course, “figuring out from first
principles” is *hugely important* and
widely under-rated in the imagination
of our typical students… so, just
rephrase it as “*seldom* memorize…”
and you’ve got a *winning attitute*
rather than a BC.

it’s that *totalizing* thing: “never”.

again: “accentuate the positive”
is a winning attitude (dammit).
but “eliminate the negative” is
a bullshit commitment
(as is “don’t mess with mister
in-between”, i suppose).

it’s just no use *talking* with a
hardened hear-no, see-no, speak-no
evilist. or anybody else that already
knows the answer before the question
arises. be it jesus or allah or
more teachers or younger teachers
or more training (or less) or acceptance is
the answer to all my problems today.

bullshit commitments

BC’s are a certain species
of what are (annoyingly)
called “rationalizations”:
excuses to avoid looking
at something we… umm… fear?
no, let’s not bring *that* into
it… something we *aren’t
willing* to look at (just now).

i find “rationalization” (as
a folk-technical term) annoying
because it invites confusion:
*who* (after all) will be able
to draw a clear line between
what is (really) “rational”
(and “good”) from what is
(merely) “rationalization”
(and “bad”)?

not me, not if i can help it.
at long last, this kind of thing
will finally emerge as some sucker-
-bait snipe-hunt philosophical
fool’s errand: figuring out
what the *other* guy “should”
do (when i’m seldom even at all
close to certain what i “should”
do myself [and will sometimes
prefer to avoid the question
altogether… and sometimes
be ready even to do violence
*to* avoid it]).

and then, in some horrible moment
of weakness, forgeting that the
whole point of any ethics-rightly-
-so-called is “love your neighbor”,
we, i, “one”,… the subject…
forgeting all *true* ethics,
the subject will look around for
an excuse *not* to do the right thing.

(or, maybe more precisely, for an excuse
not *to have done* the right thing.
bullshit commitments have ways of nearly
erasing time and space.)

—how do you feel?
—never mind that, how do i look?
for now, let that stand as our model.

or, let’s say, take a guy like me.
and endow that guy with a cultural scene
to rival any great city’s in any era…
athens, alexandria, bagdhad, vienna…
at any time. let it all seem to fall down
from heaven like a gentle spring rain
until that guy-like-me never sees any
need to go out and pay any serious attention
to the whole nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw
thing until it’s far too late.

there will always be more fun people
to mess around with in the arts-and-
-sciences playground.

now, that right there, as far as i can
tell, is pretty close to the *opposite*
of a bullshit commitment…

or maybe i’m just not willing to look
that far ahead…

but let’s say (and examples exist) that
in one such case some poor damn fool decides
one day that *whatever* these so-called
musicians are doing with their shape-notes,
it can only *really* be,
now-and-forever, once-and-for-all,
some sort of spiritual *trap* designed
by some unrighteous force to get us to
*fake it better* instead of *really feeling
it* (and that’s why the world’s allegedly-
-best singers, for instance, can deliver
pitch-perfect performances without moving
untrained listeners in the least, whereas
that raw-talent kid can break your heart
in two notes and everybody feels it but
the obvious posers).

“technique is the enemy of sincerity”, then.
(rephrasing… summarizing… what have you.)

another, better, model of a “bullshit commitment”.

tired. quitting for now.

new readers are showing up in my email
as having signed on for my “feed”.
if this isn’t some twisted form of spam,
i’m proud to learn of it. probably if
it’s at all real, it’s a “twitter” thing.
i somehow along the line signed up to get
links to my posts appear there automagically.

i’d’ve quit that account months ago if
it’d been easy; i can’t work it at all
anymore. google’s in many ways worse.
the net’s getting away from me faster
and faster. with no willingness
on either side to change our ways.
what the heck. the kids are alright.

so be it, of course. *really* tired.
*really* quitting.

VME: Vlorbik on Math Ed

06/07/07 First Post hello, world
06/08/07 Why I Teach Such Good Classes (2003) short zine piece
06/12/07 Eliminating The Middle, Man “and” versus \cap
06/22/07 {X:X is full of baloney} abuse of notation
06/28/07 Contradictions of Ed Reform (1999) presented at joint meetings
06/28/07 Tutors and Teachers (1998) tale of two reforms

07/13/07 Tom Lehrer great songwriter
07/20/07 Con Report (2001) t-cubed calculator show

08/02/07 Learning Center easy money
08/08/07 Carnival of Mathematics XIV no “facts about 14”
08/15/07 The Pencil Rant why make things harder?
08/16/07 Jazz Math Ed go man go
08/23/07 Please Lie More Carefully impossible conditions

09/28/07 Maybe If I Ignore It… the statistics coup

10/11/07 ZBox Considered Harmful calculator (FTI)
10/12/07 Fisking Fennell NCTM
10/16/07 JAWOPPA just another way…
10/31/07 On Finally Teaching Calc II at long last

11/27/07 LEGO® Links very popular post

12/04/07 Open Letter To A Course Co-ordinator more calc ii stuff
12/06/07 I’ve Been Saying This For Years and i plan to go right on


02/01/08 Fractions and Student Incredulity trust no one
02/07/08 “Clearing Fractions” Clarified move your pencil
02/19/08 Radical Notations don’t overgeneralize

04/22/08 On Teaching Math Ed At Long Last boy it was great

06/05/08 Last Day Of Classes the beginning of the end?
06/06/08 188th Post one year old

07/16/08Section 1.1: Natural Numbers (1995) much my most-read post
07/17/08 Section 1.2: Modular Equivalences (1995) more from the same lecture notes

09/25/08 Wheee! back to work; textbook grumble

11/20/08 They Are Standing Still calculator code
11/24/08 Trust The Code. annuities

12/02/08 Fear And Trembling scheduling; politics
12/18/08 Why Live (x^4 + x^2 + 1) tricky factoring
12/24/08 Jeremiah 6:14 peace, peace


01/02/09 Introductory Remarks math 148 precalc
01/06/09 {(0,0),(0,1),(1,0),(1,1)} graph transformations
01/08/09 Capital-Script-D-of-f domain & range
01/13/09 What The Heck, Some Math piecewise functions
01/22/09 Big Day For Former Math Professor self-publishing
01/22/09 Message: I Care notation for transformations
01/23/09 It’s Not The Cheat, It’s The Futility needless case-divisions
01/27/09 Quadratic Formula Lore “complete the square” etcetera
01/28/09 Our Story So Far summarizing 148

02/09/09 Section 5.5: A Manifesto textbook rant
02/18/09 Bricks Without Straw compositions
02/20/09 And Into The Black rational functions
02/23/09 One Must Imagine Vlorbik Happy moebius transformations
02/24/09 I Quit: A Clarification mathblogging considered harmful

Math 148: Precalc too late to stop now
Community College Calculus (Spring ’09)


08/09/09 Open Letter At Random e-mail reprint
08/20/09 nobody writes to the kernel ramble of ex-math-teacher
08/20/09 this will all make sense later pedagogical content knowledge
08/23/09 the equality meaning of the equal sign try it you’ll like it
08/27/09 why we fight definitions are hard

09/21/09 look over there our medium is handwriting

11/09/09 notes for chapter zero blahblahs
11/12/09 classes, laws, and associations associativity
11/12/09 And Left Me In Reputeless Banishment “A” and “a”; page layout
11/13/09 testing testing boolean functions
11/14/09 in media’s rays ) cross-products
11/15/09 use the source luke permutations
11/16/09 never get outta the boat four 4’s
11/17/09 there is no frigate like a boat trees
11/18/09 the chinese room more permos

12/03/09 exercises at random S^ := S \cup {S}


01/27/10 Photo 96 MEdZ #0.1

05/07/10 pascal’s triangle (so-called) drawing
05/20/10 it said there’d be some thunder at the well i ching & binary
05/20/10 stop me if you’ve heard this more binary

11/23/10 trying again dammit P_2(Z_5)
11/23/10 perhaps *this* will refresh your memory P_2(Z_2)*
11/23/10 now here’s something you’ll *really* like more P_2(Z_2)
Math 148: Precalculus
(links to the following; i’ve lost control
of the actual code…)
As I Was Saying
The Natural Log: Eli Maor plugged.
In The Arena: “inflexible knowledge” at KTM & Lefty on Devlin.
exp & log
Monday Linkage: CO9′s on ANT.
Math Newsbite: “Square root day”.
Introduction to Logarithmic Functions
The Veil of Maya: simple, compound, & continuous interest.
When There Is No Peace: links.
Stretching A Point: doubling time etcetera.
Why Was I Not Informed?: MT@P, Spirograph.
Catherine Nails It: 21st C. skills.
Remarks Toward The Dissolution Of This Blog: review.
Forests And Trees: links.
Herculean Sense-Making: Garelick on discovery learning.
More Review
Formula Scratchpad
Last Post
Community College Calculus
alc I (151) and Calc III (153)

03/15/09 First Post and 1st busted link
03/31/09 153:Day One could’ve been worse

04/14/09 The Sky’s The Limit (At Infinity) students at the board
04/15/09 Aspects Of A Topic arclengths parametrically
04/16/09 They Put You On The Day Shift dijkstra. comments.
04/23/09 MT@P verse
04/25/09 The Best Lack All Conviction minty, lenard, & nowak
04/30/09 Down At The Bottom Of The Garden polars & parametrics

05/01/09 I Love The Smell Of Chalkdust In The Morning 153 homework
05/05/09 Parabolic Language hard “focus” problem
05/07/09 Buy Conditionally d/dx of a constant; epsilon-delta
05/19/09 Last Quarter’s Final 151 calc i (totally cool)
05/29/09 Triangles, Too, I Bet math circles; i quit

06/01/09 Caviar For The General binomial theorem
06/04/09 Last Year’s Final. Partly. Sort of. 153
06/05/09 More Of The Same 153 test
posted in ’09 (overlaps VME &c; then mostly OAV)

02 Introductory Remarks math 148 precalc
08 Capital-Script-D-Of-f notations (“domain” e.g.)
13 What The Heck, Some Math piecewise functions
22 Big Day For Former Math Professor uploaded lecture notes
27 Quadratic Formula Lore completely square

09 Section 5.5: A Manifesto rant on 148 book
18 Bricks Without Straw compositions
23 One Must Imagine Vlorbik Happy moebius transformations
24 I Quit: A Clarification blogging is too hard
26 Put Me Back In The Mud madness and poverty (intro)
28 Stay-At-Home Bookrun

13 The Triage Lecture life during wartime
17 A Decent Interval from short-lived 103 blog
18 The Crack-Up just like francis fitz
19 Targeted Tutoring extra paperwork
31 As Usual office politics

07 Morbid Navel-Gazing me me me
23 Won’t You Light Up And Sit For A Spell? verse (& more madness)

15 listening the most precious thing sociology
19 Last Quarter’s Final for calc I
21 First There Is A Mountain voluntary tryouts
28 nothing in his life became him i have to quit

01 I Quit academic lumpenprole RIP

04 All Uphill From Here driving test
09 Open Letter At Random introductory ramble
15 Assume A Can Opener If You Have It Not “acceptance” ramble
17 We Don’t Need No Stinking Badgers professional ethics
19 Lies Of The Program teach the whole student
23 the equality meaning of the equal sign (!)
27 concerning that of which we cannot speak analytic/romantic split

02 Letting I Dare Not Wait Upon I Would barre chords (guitar)
16 meanwhile in a distant comment thread drawing ramble
21 look over there no big deal philosophically

31 off in the distance walking & running

18 the chinese room yet another permutation ramble
22 It’s Been Too Long Since We Took The Time data-manipulation milestone
27 spam buy! buy! buy!

19 m’aidez union stuff
31 the man went to earth and looked again madeline made bread
posted in ’10

01/02/10 posted in ’09 partial contents
01/07/10 lovely dark and deep math ed zine debut
01/19/10 prehistory of MEdZ, part i really of the ten page news
01/27/10 Photo 96 Math Ed Zine #1

02/02/10 dekist’s hot shelves photo
02/07/10 January 2010 rambling self-annotation
02/08/10 the domestic arts in the age of digital distribution part i first of the DAADD photo series.
02/11/10 daadd part ii photo of madeline

03/04/10 more than 4K characters for sue v. math eddy ramble
03/05/10 threehundredsixtyfive days music update
03/09/10 yet another crosspost: from adj-l autobiographical snippet
03/11/10 like it’s twenty-eleven verse
03/25/10 why i don’t live at the p.o. anti-gov’t screed
03/27/10 i’m not there “reimagining economics” thread

04/04/10 a petri-disch community my life in schools
04/07/10 the swirling beachball of doom more “life in schools”
04/10/10 madeline’s front room (with guitarist) selfportrait
04/10/10 not for auction this machine kills fascists

05/07/10 pascal’s triangle (so-called) MEdZ #0.8 p.7
05/20/10 it said there’d be some thunder at the well i ching
05/20/10 stop me if you’ve heard this more pp. from #0.8

06/26/10 i’m not there imminent death of the net

09/24/10 university hall basement get back to work

11/06/10 midterm report discrete maths at big-state-u.
11/23/10 now here’s something … and more “lectures without words”.

12/01/10 community college calculus contents page for short-lived blog
12/29/10 more than 4K characters for k. nowak comment on “log laws” thread
the end of open a vein (2011–2012)
01/02/11 posted in 2010 partial contents

02/10/11 …in front of a mic… announcing my soundcloud page

03/09/11 we are not data metaphysical ramble

05/25/11 more four-string guitar liner notes

05/03/11 not dark yet wisdom & fame
06/12/11 how public like a frog link to video of me

07/05/11 poster by me still up today
07/27/11 miracles of the web r. shaffer painting spotted

08/15/11 go tell it on the ‘net broken security


01/06/12 quarterly report after long hiatus

04/03/12 many dollars short day of higher ed

06/24/12 de profundis listening as punishment

eliminating the middle, man (06/07)
was my third post (in vlorbik
on math ed
, as this site
was first known [to 01/10.
next was MathEdZineBlog, to 01/13;
then a grader’s notes]). my fourth post
was {X : X is full of baloney} (06/07).

these were published as a two-parter
with the (dull, dull) title textbooks
and notations
. the badness of
standard-text “set builder” notation
(the topic of the latter) had, for
quite a while, been a burning issue
for me; my then-recent discovery of the
attack on the “sign of intersection”
(the topic of the former) nudged me
into finally ranting that rant online.

so there’s some evidence that at least part
of why i *began* mathblogging when i did
was the need to announce that i’d been
newly horrified by new depths achieved
by the enemies of clarity in the long-
-established Notation Wars.

much more recently, i was horrified
anew: in the sloppily-ranted (and,
again, boringly-titled) midterm report
of 11/12, i announced my discovery
that The Enemy had come for the set-inclusion
symbol in my favorite intro-to-*real*-math
course (“linear algebra”).

the rest of the notations file is mostly
more about notations themselves than
Notation Wars. i haven’t been very good
about tagging my posts.

along the way, there was capital script-D of f,
(01/09) pointing out (among other things)
that remedial-algebra courses
daring even to *mention* “domains”
and “ranges” really (reallyreally)
ought to also introduce *symbols*
for these objects. (*easily written*
symbols, of course.)

somewhere i may even already have indicated
one high-hope-against-all-lack-of-hope: early
(and correct, and consistent) use of (the standard)
f: D \rightarrow C
notation (for a function f with domain
D and co-domain C). as scary as that
might be. (once the actual students
actually see how useful “careful use
of code” actually *is*, they’ll grab
it when they need it… more and more.
this is part of what’s called “getting

anyhow, i guess i’m just circling wagons
right in here. there’s some sign-of-equality
stuff by me in the blog next door, for instance.
and i’m feeling a need to have the evidence
(that Textbook Set Theory, long dying of
a usually-fatal illness, has been mortally
wounded in the bargain and is sinking fast)
much better organized (and, just maybe,
somewhat more level-headedly presented).

but not right away, not now.

dad was a magician.

by the time i knew him, he was also
a life-of-the-party singer-&-piano-player;
also an outstanding classroom lecturer.
so quite the performer all-around.

but he’d been a magician early on.
and he must’ve studied hard back there
in radio days, cause he was *real* good.
(he’d even made a little money at it.)

close-up card magic
seems to’ve been a specialty; any-
how, that’s the stuff he showed me
(& my brother & sister, natch).

he’d rattle off the patter just right
and get you all involved in the story
as he showed the cards, and we’d cut
the deck when so instructed and never
see a single false move… but he was
sure *making* ’em: one of our favorites
involved palming cards, dealing seconds,
several “passes” of the cards (bottom
stack to top stack: a very basic move
in card magic), and a few other such
tricks, all with you looking right at
his hands practically the whole time.

and then, right where you *don’t* expect ’em,
ace, ace, ace, ace. wow!

but then we’d, as it were, go backstage.
and he’d show me how the behind-the-scene
card manipulations worked. and he’d always
tell me beforehand that a real pro
“never tells the secret”
(or some such language; i can’t claim
perfect accuracy here… sooner or later,
you forget *everything* [and don’t you
forget it!]).

so. of course i was very pleased to’ve been
let in on the secrets and even studied up
on ’em a little now and then as if to prove it.
my best move was a back-palm “vanish”;
my “pass” always left much to be desired.
i worked with a “stacked deck” a little
until i could do a few decent stacked-deck
“tricks”. stuff like that.

but my (younger) brother nathan took it
much more seriously and was already
a pro performer in teen years.
most, maybe all, of his magic gigs
were at kids’ parties (where the actual
paying clients were parents, of course).
i saw many a “dress rehearsal” of his act
but never saw him working with the kids.

and *me*, he’d “tell the secret”;
how to work the rings, the “dove bag”,
the thumb tip, the scarves…
but you can be darn good and sure
he didn’t show the *kids* how to
“do the magic”.

because it just *ain’t magic* once
its audience understands it. and because,
like i said, he was already a pro…
and that’s just not the way a pro does it.

now, there was this whole episode
of _house_ wherein a magician patient
carries on a series of discussions
with the scientist main character;
the patient says “it’s better *not*
to know” and the doctor says “it’s
better to know”.

i cite this story to prove, as it were,
that this “real magicians don’t tell”
business is fairly well-known.

now, i’ve always leaned pretty strongly
in the direction of better-to-know.

i don’t like *being* fooled
and i don’t like having somebody think
*i’ve* fooled *them*. (actually *having*
fooled them is another story of course…
but of this i know but little.)

but, as i slowly began to learn, it’s
not just *magic* where “never show
anyone how it’s done” is a crucial
part of the art.

no, it’s show-don’t-tell in fiction,
it’s faking-’em-out in sports,
it’s the “poker face” in cards.
and on and on it goes.
it’s life itself: “never let anyone
outside the family know what you’re
thinking” (as don corleone has it).

and a lifelong ideal of “radical honesty”…
something along the lines of “say what
you mean as clearly as you can whenever
you feel safe doing it”, an ideal i’ve
espoused many times and for a *long* time…
well, it’s probably been much more of
a weakness than a strength.

not that i intend to change on this account.
(i’m heck-yes proud to be able to report
that my last wife told my current girlfriend,
about nine years ago: “he’s not husband
material… but he won’t lie to you”.
i seem to have done at least *one* thing right.)
just something, like i say, that i feel
myself slowly coming to *understand* a little

according to the “saint francis prayer”
(here’s last sunday’s ramble),
i’d do much better to try and understand
the other guy instead of buttonholing
the poor bastard for some endless
greybeard-loon rambling by me, always
hoping to have *been understood* at last.
and maybe if i didn’t go around radiating
self-doubt in every direction, it would
become somewhat easier to get a *job*.
so on, so forth.

now let us turn our attention to the question
of “introducing standard mathematical notations
to beginners”….

when i was back there in philosophy 100,
there was a person there (earl, if i
remember correctly, conee… something
like that). young guy, probably a
grad student as i understand now,
shaved cueball-bald. anyhow…

this guy was trying on the socratic
style, kicking ideas around circle-
-fashion (while leading us to some
predetermined answer). and it was
reasonably fun, too (as these things
go, for me).

and the semester-kickoff question was,
“what is knowlege?”
and the answer… after a bunch of
give-and-take (along with some take-
-while-pretending-to-give or what
have you)… that we arrived at
(having been led to it… “is this
really *enough* so far? have we
considered such-and-such *example*?)
was that
“knowlege is justified true belief”.

now ain’t that just like a philosopher:
you give ’em *one* question and they
give you back three *more* questions
and pretend to’ve given an *answer*!

because i’ll be hornswoggled if it
doesn’t feel like it oughta be easier
to *know* a thing than to, for pity sake,
*justify* it somehow! i’m looking
into *understanding* something and
you give me back, what? *ethics*?

and what about “belief”? geez!
who the heck even *thinks* they know
what somebody else even *means* when they
claim to *believe* something?

“is this the way to the kitchen?”
“i *believe* so…”

okay, i get it… but if you really
*believed* it, you’d just say “yep,
right down that way” (or something
like that…the issue of anyone
having reason to *doubt* it
never having crossed your mind).

by saying you *believe* it, you mean
you *don’t* know it… not for sure.
this my-best-guess-as-of-now interpretation
isn’t at all rare, so i hope readers
will recognize it from their own lives.

but then, in some other *context*,
“what i believe” will turn out to mean
something like “what my people are taught to
say and what i’m prepared to say in order
to go on standing with my people”.

both very different from the way we might “believe”
an object we’re looking at *is* as it *appears*
and will be there if we reach for it
(or what have you; for me this looks like
a pretty typical example of what i take to
be the most natural “default” idea about
what “belief” means in my dialect).

and maybe *the* basic philosophical move
is “draw a distinction”.

but sooner or later, you’re going to have
to *fix some terms* so you can see eye-to-eye
and do some honest-to-boole *reasoning*.

to whom it concerns

i’ve just posted a bunch of emails
to people i’ve never emailed until now.

all by itself, this would be a good thing.

but it now occurs to me that because
most of them have at least a couple URL’s
(links to blogposts by me), they may
very well be filtered out of the adressees’
“mailboxes” as if they were spam.

hey class-of-twenty-thirteen! write me first!
that addy again: vlorbik ATSIGN gmail DOT com

hey, look at this:
shady characters on @.