Apr 042017
 

Time for the annual fantasy baseball draft recap.  This marks my 17th year in the league, running a standard 5×5 15-team mixed format with a snake draft.MyPicks2017  I was assigned the sixth pick in the draft, and came in with a strategy of trying to build a batting average cushion early, allowing me to take lower-average high-power batters later in the draft.  I also wanted to pick up a couple closers during the closer runs, even if it was a reach, as I hate chasing saves throughout the year and am quite terrible at it, as I head to bed too early to watch the results of the late-night games.

I had anticipated the first five picks going Trout, Betts, Altuve, Goldschmidt, and Arenado, leaving me to choose among Kris Bryant (not quite as proven as I would like this early with a hitter) or Clayton Kershaw, which is a wise pick, though I abhor taking a pitcher in the first round.  Secretly, I hoped the first five might shift a bit and give me a shot at Arenado (preferably) or Goldschmidt, though I’m worried Goldy won’t run as much this year with a new manager in Arizona.  To my surprise, however, the actual first five picks were Trout, Betts, Bryant, Goldschmidt, and Arenado.  That made it easy for me — Altuve’s fantastic average coupled with speed and a bit of power was too good to pass up, and it aligned perfectly with my preferred strategy.

Having gone with Altuve early, I definitely wanted a power first baseman in round two, and after watching Rizzo, E3, Votto and Miggy go off the board, was starting to get nervous I’d be shut out of that tier.  However, Freddie Freeman was still available at my turn, and I gladly picked him up.  I’ve been a FF fan for several years now, as I think he’s significant undervalued and compares favorably with Anthony Rizzo, and he also helps with my batting average early strategy.  No hitters were jumping out at me in round 3, so I went with the best available pitcher, Jon Lester, though I’m always concerned about his ability to hold runners, as well as the switch from his personal catcher, David Ross, to Willson Contreras.  On the way back in round 4, I saw an opportunity to grab another solid SP to help mitigate the Lester pick, and my target player, Chris Archer, went a few picks earlier.  I grabbed Justin Verlander at that point, figuring I was set on SP for the next couple rounds.

In round 5 my “value chart” showed Billy Hamilton was by far the most valuable commodity on the board, and I decided to take another risk and pick him… I’ve come in fairly high in the final league standings most years, but I haven’t won, and to take a real shot at a league win, I think you need to take some risks.  Hamilton has the potential to steal 90 bases… if only he could steal first base!

Round 6 saw the run of closers begin, and I grabbed Mark Melancon as the best of the available arms, knowing full well that was a bit of a reach.  Much as I’d like to punt saves, having picked two starters in rounds 3 and 4, I didn’t think I could afford to punt any category.  And of course, Melancon got lit up in his first appearance of the season.  Go figure.

Round 7 I was thrown off my game as I had been eyeing Justin Upton for another power bat, and thinking I could accomplish quite the steal here.  He was taken in the pick before mine, eliciting a groan and a bit of anxiety.  The last catcher in the next available tier was still available, though, and I went with Willson Contreras.  In Round 8 my initial strategy of building a batting average cushion started to pay off, as I was able to roster Khris Davis as one of the biggest power bats left on the board.  I picked up another starter at what I consider a great ‘price’ in round 9 in Kenta Made, then picked up my second closer, David Robertson, in round 10 on the return.  I’m not a huge Robertson fan by any stretch, and will have to hope he retains his role as opposed to moving into setup when he’s traded mid-season, but he appears to be by far the best closer available at that point, and they were running off the board quickly.

The next few rounds I used to shore up my positions, focusing on reasonable power and counting stats without taking too large a batting average hit.  That led to Jake Lamb in 11, Tim Anderson in 12, Kole Calhoun in 13, and Neil Walker as my middle infielder in 14 (though I was debating Walker vs. Schoop, Walker plays for the Mets, and they’re a local team that’s easy to catch on TV here, so I figured he’d be a bit more fun to roster as I could root for him live more often.)  Next up I noted that my list of ‘barely acceptable’ catchers was rapidly dwindling, and picked the last of that tier in Matt Wieters in round 15.  Wieters has yet to fulfill his perceived potential due to injuries and various setbacks, so I drafted him expecting an injury or two and depressed stats, but with the potential upside of the vaunted prospect of several years back.

In round 16 I took my third closer, Ryan Madson, hoping he would hold the job long enough for me to basically “rent” 15-20 saves to get me to my target, though recent news has Oakland in a committee-of-three setup, and Madson’s first outing was ugly.  Oops.

Returning to my goal of drafting cheap power late, I picked up Max Kepler in round 17, then grabbed Lance Lynn in round 18, hoping for a nice recovery from Tommy John Surgery last season and perhaps a late-round steal.  Getting back to position filling and power searching, I grabbed Justin Four in round 19 and Eugenio Suarez as my DH in round 20.  I needed a few more starters, so I took Hisashi Iwakuma in 21 hoping for a stable if not stellar innings eater to pick up some wins, and then Sonny Gray in 22.  My top starters should help balance them out early, coupled with a middle reliever corps to assist with ERA and WHIP.  I just have to remember this season not to compromise ERA and WHIP for higher-risk innings from marginal starters.

Finally, I picked up Denard Span as my final outfielder in round 23, providing the best balance of counting stats and power left on the board.  For my reserves, I grabbed Matt Bush as an ERA/WHIP guy who could slide into a closer role later in the year, Matt Andriese and Alex Wood as potential starters (though I dropped Wood shortly after hearing he was relegated to bullpen duty), Jurickson Profar as my “play anywhere” fill-in injury reserve, and Chris Carter as another fallback power option given the likelihood of Greg Bird faltering in his currently role with the Yanks.

Overall I’m reasonably happy with the draft.  I like my first two picks, and though I assumed some risk in Hamilton in round 5, it seemed a reasonable risk.  I’m not thrilled with my closers by any stretch, and I’m uncomfortable with Bour as my corner infielder, though the numbers say he’s a reasonable pick.  Now I just need to luck into some of my borderline starters exceeding expectations, have Lester keep it together without David Ross behind the plate, and hope a couple other details fall in place.  Regardless, another fun draft!

 

Feb 132017
 

Not long ago I acquired a Playstation VR (PSVR) which I set up in my basement office, and was asked to evaluate the system for potential educational applications.  Beyond that, my scope was wide open, though I was provided the opportunity to sample a variety of games on the system to get a feel for the potential of the system.  What follows are some general ramblings and thoughts about the system.

The Hardware

Playstation VR Headset and Camera

Playstation VR Headset and Camera

The tested system included a Playstation Pro console, a PSVR Launch Bundle (headset, two move controllers, camera, and appropriate cables), and external Playstation Gold headphones in place of the standard earbuds.  Included software included a Demo Disk, and Playstation VR Worlds Disk, and I utilized a store credit to try out several system games of my choosing.

First Impressions

Initially, I was somewhat disappointed in the resolution of the headset.  Though I had been forewarned that resolution wouldn’t be as sharp as an HD monitor, I was initially taken aback at the poor quality of the Playstation’s Main Menu rendering and the level of color aliasing I was seeing, especially in white text.  With 20/20 vision following Laser PRK corrective eye surgery nearly 20 years ago, this was a bit of a shock to the system that provided some initial disappointment.  I quickly found out, however, that this effect is especially bad in the Playstation Main Menu, and is not indicative of the system’s performance as a whole.  Further, with some time in the system, I found that placing the headset a touch lower over my nose (lower PSVR screens, higher eyes) improved sharpness considerably.  Still, though, after nearly 20 hours using the system, I would say the resolution of the system is adequate, but with substantial room for improvement in the future.

From an immersion standpoint, however, I was blown away.  After about two minutes in my first simulation, the VR Worlds “Ocean Descent” program, I was having a blast descending in a shark cage through the ocean.  It’s hard to convey just how immersive it is, as I swiveled my head back and forth, leaned forward over the bars of the cage to look down, and eventually jumped through my seat when a shark ran into the cage.  Further, the resolution concern quickly evaporates in actual gameplay.

From a comfort standpoint, I found the headband that holds the PSVR a bit tight, but fairly well balanced.  You don’t feel as though there is a weight on your head, and the over-the-ear headphones are a huge improvement over the included earbuds, though it is a bit of a trick to figure out how to put the PSVR headset on, followed by the earmuff-like headphones.  The cabling is a bit tricky to figure out while you are looking into the VR headset, but after a couple tries, you get a system down pretty easily.  The only lingering concern I had with the headset involved rubber nose flaps that push against the outside of your nose.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to make them comfortable, and they pushed just enough on the outside of my nose that breathing was slightly impeded.  Just recently I finally decided to cut them off altogether with scissors, and am absolutely thrilled with the improvement in comfort.

One of the primary concerns with VR systems is the potential for nausea / motion sickness.  VR systems are so immersive that they trick your brain into thinking it’s moving, which may be in opposition to your other senses, leading to motion sickness.  I didn’t have any trouble with the Ocean Descent demo, though the first time I tried the “London Heist” demo, also on the Playstation VR Worlds Disk, a car chase scene had me feeling a little bit ‘off.’  I never became overly ill, but I was also careful to discontinue use of the PSVR anytime I began to feel the least bit queasy.  Other activities that led to queasiness included Driveclub VR (regular driving was OK, but spinning out upon collision forced me to quit immediately), and a few circumstances when the dog came between me and the camera during a game, in which tracking was lost and the PSVR displayed weird motions that weren’t accompanied by my head movements.  It has been reported by many that over time the motion sickness effect lessens as your brain becomes accustomed to the VR system.  My experience was consistent with these reports.  Finally, I found upon removing the nose flaps my breathing improves, I remained cooler during use of the system, and that also appears to have contributed to reduced nausea.  I should note here that another ‘trick’ to improving comfort levels is to have a fan blowing on your face while using the PSVR system.  I tried this recently as well and found it a nice enhancement.

Immersion

The immersion level in PSVR, from my standpoint, is amazing.  After you get over the “wow” factor in a game or simulation, you quickly begin to feel as if you are really there.  The surround sound headphones coupled with the extremely smooth tracking truly give you the feeling of being there.  The PSVR does appear to have an issue with drift over time, where the center focus area of your screen can lead you to looking off-center.  A button on the controller can be held to re-center the system, an act that becomes second nature over time, and at regular intervals I find myself closing my eyes and relaxing for a second while pressing the button, then re-opening my eyes to a fully re-centered view.

My most-recent PSVR expedition found me attempting the first AAA game release, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, completely in VR.  To begin with, the shortcomings of the graphics system previously detailed is nearly non-existent in this game, which leads me to believe many of my graphics concerns can be mitigated by software.  I should also note that I’m not typically a horror fan, though I do recall playing a Resident Evil game on a Playstation some 20-ish years ago.  To say this game induced an emotional response is an extreme understatement.  Though there are several “jump scares” throughout the game, this title doesn’t rely on them, and instead does a fantastic job of creating an environment of suspense and foreboding using the PSVR hardware.  You truly feel like you’re there, and I’m not ashamed to admit I nearly had to purchase new drawers when I was playing the game one evening and the dog jumped on my lap at an inopportune time.

With the goal of finishing a report on immersion by the end of February, I wanted to work through this entire game by mid-February, which totaled roughly 10 hours of in-game time.  Though I experienced one technical hiccup which required a reboot of the entire system, I completed the adventure yesterday.  I could continue talking about my thoughts on immersion, but I believe my habits around using the PSVR to play RE7 tell it all… after the first night, I told my wife I couldn’t play this after the kids went to bed… it was too creepy.  Instead I tried to sneak in an hour after dinner, or on weekend afternoons.  The immersion level is just that high.

Implications

Following this trial (which I’ll be continuing for some time), I’m now a believer that there are tremendous opportunities for the use of VR in education.  Though I don’t see this as a popular “in-class” tool in standard high school settings due to the cost/complexity/infrastructure required, I do think as an individual tool some amazing things could be accomplished.

Imagine a history class in which students don’t just read about the Battle of Gettysburg, but actually get to “live it” from various perspectives.  Envision a biology lesson in which you are miniaturized and travel through the bloodstream to various organs, seeing the operation of the heart from the inside (remember Inner Space, anyone?)  Or a virtual dissection for biology and anatomy classes.  Picture the ability to explore a nuclear reactor from the inside, with the ability to zoom in and ‘view’ the actual chemical and physical reactions as they occur, or traveling through a circuit as an electron.  Imagine viewing a surgical procedure from the standpoint of the operating physician!  You could explore the universe at will, or dive into the geology of the Earth from the inside.  The possibilities are limitless, though I imagine tools to build such simulations must evolve to the point that content instructors have content creation and distribution tools that will make the learning curve for such projects reasonably accessible.  I haven’t investigated this in-depth, but I would believe that such accessibility is a ways off, but getting closer every day.

Though not quite as immersive, I can also envision the use of this technology for distance learning courses, though there are challenges for this as well.  I imagine streaming or recording classes in a VR-friendly format may not be way off, but appropriate application will take significant further thought.  “Sitting in” on an MIT lecture and demonstration may be possible, but is it a significantly more engaging experience than a two-dimensional video cast of the course?  Would the VR technology and headset make note-taking and student work while participating in the class too restrictive?  What tools and interactivity would make this a positive leap in learning vs. a play area where the complexity overcomes the educational benefits?  It is extremely early, but I look forward to seeing how such amazing technology is utilized for purposes beyond just standard gaming.  And in the meantime, I’m having a blast not only trying out the technology, but envisioning potential applications for the future.

Jun 072016
 

So it’s been a few months, and I still miss my dog, but things are getting back to normal.  So much so, in fact, that a week ago we picked up our new family addition, a GoldenDoodle our 4-year-old has named “Casper.”  Not sure I was completely ready yet, but I think kids need a dog, and the two little ones are doing a great job of taking care of him so far.  Each day after school they go out back and run and play with the dog, the six-year-old will take him out to go potty, and they’re doing pretty well at helping with the things we ask them.  We’ll see how things go when I show them how to clean up the yard.  Might be a little pushback there.  🙂

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And so far, all things considered, the pup is doing well.  Has a penchant for getting messy and then hopping on furniture, but that’s part of being a puppy.

Anyhow, woke up early the other day and thought I’d mess around on my iPad for awhile when I couldn’t get back to sleep.  No masterpiece by any stretch, but it made me smile (though it’s mighty hard to draw a dog and make it look like it’s smiling, at least with my very meager skills.)  Make it a great day!

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Apr 102015
 

So, I recently finished my fantasy baseball draft in my 15th year in the league.  It’s a 14-team 5×5 mixed league snake draft, where I ended up with the number one pick.

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Of course, I had to take Mike Trout #1.  He’s the industry consensus, and he brings a great mix of speed, power, average, run scoring, and RBIs, coupled with consistency.

My strategy from there was to then pick up a starting pitcher somewhere else with my next three picks, and also thought I could steal Carlos Santana as a catcher (10-game eligibility in our league) at the end of the 4th/start of the 5th rounds.  Past that, going into the draft I wanted to keep my average high early, pick up a few power bats, and make sure I grabbed two solid closers, as I hate chasing saves throughout the year.  I also wanted to grab my catchers fairly early and get some real production, at the expense of waiting until late for my middle infielders, where I believe there are a large quantity of similar quality players late in the draft.  However, a few minutes into the draft, that general plan went kablooey.

It then was a long wait to my second pick.  I had hoped to pick up Adrian Beltre, Buster Posey, or any of a number of players, but when I saw Ellsbury still on the board, as well as Chris Sale, I switched strategies.  Ellsbury and Trout gave me two outfielders early, but should put me in a great place with a combination of speed and power.  Put them together and you’re looking at two .290, 20 HR, 30 steal guys who also deliver in terms of runs and RBIs.  And with Chris Sale still on the board, my pick as the #2 pitcher in the AL, I picked him as well.

Waiting for my next picks, Carlos Santana was next off the board (shucks, that was quick!), then Adrian Gonzalez and Freddie Freeman followed shortly thereafter, somewhat as expected.  By the time my pick came around again, I was amazed to see V-Mart still on the board, so I grabbed him as another BA guy with some power, and then with Cole Hamels on the board, a seemingly perennial pick on my team, I couldn’t let him get past.  Two starters early, sure, but Sale and Hamels sure makes a great quality combo, and with a strong possibility for Hamels to land on a contender sometime this year (BoSox anyone?), he could be a great value.

Next, closers started flying off the board, but I restrained myself, so that when my pick at the end of round 6 came up, Pablo Sandoval, another favorite of mine, was still on the board.  Given the Red Sox lineup, I think Sandoval is a fairly safe bet for a .280 average, 20-ish home runs, and decent run production, but with significant upside in the batting average department given his supporting cast and home park.  Another favorite of mine, Hisashi Iwakuma, is highly underrated as a starter in my opinion, and though I could have perhaps waited another round to get him, I knew of at least two other team owners in our league who are fans of his, and they each had TWO more opportunities after this round to pick him up, so I grabbed him when I could.

Coming up to my round 8/9 picks, it looked like time to start picking up my catchers.  I ranked Sal Perez, Yan Gomes, and Devin Mesoraco all fairly evenly, but believe Perez would likely get the most at bats and have the highest upside, so he was my pick in round 8.  Next, I wanted to grab another power bat, and J.D. Martinez of the Tigers looked like quite a bargain at the top of round 9.  Coming back around, the closer ranks were thinning quickly, so I grabbed Glen Perkins of Minnesota as a “safe” closer, coupled with my second catcher, Brian McCann, whom I expect to have a reasonable comeback season.

At this point, I really needed a bit more power out of my CI spot, and Adam LaRoche was the best bat available according to my predictions.  Phil Hughes was also on the board as a starter, and though I don’t expect a ton of wins with the anemic Twins offense, his solid ratio contributions are great filler here (I hope!).  At the next turn I saw closers were rapidly depleting, so I grabbed Koji Uehara as a slight injury risk with high skills, and coupled that with Santiago Casilla, recognizing I’d have to handcuff Casilla with Sergio Romo a bit later.

Aramis Ramirez was my next pick, providing a reasonable average and counting stats batting cleanup out of Milwaukee.  He’s also expected to get a few more days off this year, which may actually improve his fantasy value.  Carl Crawford was still on the board here as well, and I like his opportunity to rebound a bit with a few more at-bats this season.  He’s still a young guy!

Still light on speed, I grabbed Emilio Bonifacio in the next round, providing some general backup for injuries across the middle infield and outfield, coupled Alex Cobb as the best starter still on the board.  Yes, Cobb’s hurt, but I’m hopeful he’ll be back on the mound by May, which should coincide with about the time Brett Anderson typically gets hurt.  So I planned to pick up Anderson to cover April in the reserve rounds, and drop him once Cobb comes back.

Now, it’s time to fix up that middle infield stuff.  Bradley Miller became my shortstop, and I picked up Marcus Semien as an upside play in round 22, recognizing Semien would be eligible at 3B, 2B, and SS after the season starts.  Now I have a team that is fairly flexible in terms of injury management with backups available across a variety of positions.  In round 23 I grabbed Kevin Kiermaier as my last outfielder — yes, he’s mostly known for his defense, but I still needed speed, and with reasonable playing time he could provide some solid contributions out of the final draft slot.

Next, reserve time.  I picked up a couple starters to cover for the injured Sale, Uehara, and Cobb picks with CC Sabathia, Clay Buchholz (who it turns out is the BoSox opening day starter) and Bud Norris.  Luis Valbuena from Houston was also a late pick, providing some potential power from the infield spots and more flexibility, even if I don’t expect much from his average.

Looking back, I’m most concerned about the round 3 pick of Ellsbury.  I was thinking strongly of taking Adrian Gonzalez there, but saw an opportunity to pick up a player I could see on TV quite regularly (the Yankees’ YES network is available from our cable provider) and picked him more out of “fun” than strategy.  Getting VMart right after him was great, but a combo of Gonzalez and V-Mart together could have been quite the pick.  Uehara is a risky closer pick, which could be terrific, or a complete waste in round 14.  I expect he’ll hit the DL a couple times during the season, but I like his skill set and he’s fun to watch.

I’ve placed in the upper spots in this league fairly regularly over the past 10 seasons or so, but haven’t won yet.  This year I decided it was worth taking some risks and shooting for #1, even if it meant some bad luck would drop me way out of contention.  I think I’ve put myself in a position where the team could excel, but it also comes with risk.  Three top pitchers are injury risks before the season even begins, and I gambled on pushing off middle infield until late in the draft, instead picking up catchers (who tend to be inherently risky) fairly early.  Time will tell!

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Jul 182014
 

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It’s my last day on the west coast following two weeks of recording at the Educator.com studios in Los Angeles.  I’ve completed filming of the AP Physics C: Mechanics and the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism courses, and roughly 18 months ago finished recording the AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 course sequences.  At the conclusion of this massive effort, I thought it fitting to take a few minutes and summarize what I’ve learned from the experience.

First, I’m amazed at the total amount of content involved in these projects when all was said and done.  The AP Physics 1/2 course includes more than 930 slides, and the AP Physics C total is up over 950.  Coupled with diagrams, formulas, and illustrations, these represent roughly a year’s worth of full-time effort, squeezed in to an already busy schedule with early morning work, weekends, and middle-of-the-night can’t sleep sessions.

Second, I’ve recognized how challenging the content truly is for the AP-C course.  I had some of the content prepared already from my APlusPhysics videos, yet it still took me more than 5 months to create the more-detailed Educator.com lessons.  I designed each lesson in detail, and even made notes on what I would discuss, derive, and explain on each individual slide.  When I reached the studios in LA, however, I still had tons of preparation work to do.  Each day I rehearsed every lesson three times before filming.  I’d go over the lessons in detail (including solving all problems and writing out all derivations in my notebook) over an extended dinner each night in the hotel, then go back to my hotel room and do it all again while listening to a baseball game before bed.  Early the following morning, I’d get up around 5 am and go through it once more before our 9- or 10-am filming session would begin.  Once filming for the day was complete, I’d do it all again in preparation for the next set of lessons.  I wonder if I didn’t do more physics homework in my two weeks of filming in LA than my students do in an entire year.

I found as I went through this that every time I solved a free response problem or walked through a derivation, I found slightly different methods of solving the problem.  Some were smoother than others; some were longer than others.  Even though my final passes were usually “cleaner” than my initial solutions, I tried to stick with my initial solutions in the videos to better mirror the approach students might take.

Even with all that preparation, the recording sessions were still quite stressful.  In walking through the lessons, there were technical components to the presentation that were fairly unforgiving.  Hit the wrong button in the wrong order and you’d have to start all over again.  Switch colors and then switch slides before writing and you’d have to do it all over again. Cough, sneeze, or forget where you are in a lecture or stump yourself — you got it, do it all again.  Thankfully, I’d had quite a bit of experience in this sort of thing from my previous trip out to LA to record the AP-1/2 series, so the amount of “re-do” work was kept to a minimum due to all that preparation.  But recording four hours of video lessons sure felt like a 12+ hour day.

In addition, I still found the AP-C material challenging.  In my classroom, I prepare with 42-minute lessons, and the longest I ever lecture in a row is one entire 42-minute period (and I try to avoid that like the plague).  Here, the lessons are straight lecture, with no breaks, no edits, no room for error.  That leaves a lot of material to have down cold while also dealing with technical concerns.  My detailed noted were invaluable, and I referred to them throughout my lectures to make sure I covered all the salient points in each slide, as well as having calculations pre-solved, as opposed to making viewers wait while I punched numbed into my calculator.  With my preparation, my time between lessons was approximately 10 minutes or so to get a quick drink, review the slides for the next lesson for any last-minute issues, and allow the technical folks to prepare the studio for the next round.  Others in the studio, however, would take extended time between recording lessons in order to prepare.  They had the luxury as they were fairly local to the studios, and could spread their recording work out over months.

Working through these courses from start to finish in such a detailed manner in such a compressed time span provides a unique perspective on the course.  Each lesson is designed to present a concept as simply as possible, illustrate that concept, and then demonstrate its application in a variety of scenarios.  In creating these courses I solved every released AP-C free response problem going back to 1998, as well as a scattering of earlier problems.  With the entire breadth of the course fresh in my mind, I’m confident the foundational principles emphasized in the course provide excellent preparation for students taking the AP Physics C exams.  

One of my goals in creating these courses was to provide a much more streamlined video series than their previous video series.  Their previous courses totaled 48 hours for mechanics, and 41 hours for electricity and magnetism.  My goal was to cut each of those at least in half, allowing students to minimize their time watching videos, and instead maximize their time actively working with the material.  I haven’t seen the final count for the new courses, but I’m confident we’ll be close, if not under, our target.

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I’m also excited that the College Board will be allowing students the use of formula sheets and calculators throughout the entire exam next year.  Even after studying and preparing all day every day for weeks, I still referenced my formula sheets and notes in solving problems and preparing.  Memorizing formulas does not constitute learning or understanding, and removing the requirement to have all these formulas memorized will allow students to better focus on what is important.

Finally, I knew being gone from my family for two weeks would be difficult.  I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old daughter at home, and they are already growing up way too fast.  I treasure my time with them, especially our time in the summer when Daddy-Daughter Day Care includes swimming, playing around out back in the sandbox and water table, riding bikes, playground time, and so on.  But it’s been even tougher than I expected.  I’m so thankful for modern technology which allows me to see them and talk to them each day, but when your little girls says all she wants is you to curl up in bed with her after story time at night, it tugs on your heart strings something fierce.

I’m proud of what we’ve put together here at Educator.com through these efforts, and hopeful that students across the world will find these videos helpful in their studies.  I’m also excited to know that I will be able to use these resources with my students in the coming years.  I’m relieved to have finished this project, eager to refocus my efforts on other projects such as revisions to AP Physics 1 Essentials and completing AP Physics 2 Essentials, but most importantly, I can’t wait to get home and hug my girls.

Mar 272014
 

So I’ve been extremely lacking in updating this blog, but it seems like it’s time you got an update.  The last update was my first real “big league” crossfit workout.  This update comes the morning after I finished my 90th workout.

Since last fall, I’ve continued with crossfit three days a week at Crossfit Recourse.  Many days have started out with the alarm going off at 4:30 am to make it to the 5:15 am class.  Many others have been the newer 4:15 p.m. class.  And, on those nifty teacher-days-off when the rest of the world is working, the 9:30 am class has been fun.  I’ve enjoyed hitting the various classes as it gives me a chance to meet a bunch of folks I might not otherwise have a chance of connecting with.

So, I can definitely see a difference from when I started.  Six weeks after I began crossfit I was down 25 pounds, a weight I have pretty much maintained, though I can feel a consistent migration from flab to muscle at the same weights.  I’ve also seen the weights I work with during the workouts consistently increase, to the point now where I have a reasonable shot at doing a good number of the workouts “as prescribed” (Rx).  Not all, mind you, but it’s at least a point of consideration each time I walk into the gym.

I feel better in general, and a number of my regular aches and pains have definitely improved.  Prior to starting crossfit I was having regular problems with my right knee, but have been doing MUCH better since getting in shape.  My right shoulder underwent a substantial surgery 15 years ago that has left me sore and in pain for years.  Since I started crossfit the regular dull ache has subsided considerably.  Unfortunately, I now have acute intermittent pain in that shoulder attributed to something floating around in the shoulder capsule that will need to be removed, but that looks like an artifact of the surgery 15 years ago, not related to my new fitness habit.  Two days ago we did a workout where I ended up doing 95 pull-ups, 190 push-ups, and 270 air squats.  Shoulder was fine.  Yesterday the workout involved push pressing 145 pounds overhead, as well as a bunch of 135-pound cleans.  No problem.  This morning zipping up my coat on the way to work left my shoulder in agony.  So it’s time to get it fixed, surgery is scheduled, and I’m most concerned about backtracking after working so hard the past months to get back in shape.

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The workouts have also started to become fun.  OK, not thrilling, not “look forward to it all day” fun, but sense of accomplishment-fun.  And the community of athletes in the gym is outstanding.  We have young’ins.  We have senior citizens.  We have teachers.  We have cops.  We have bartenders.  We have laborers.  We have bosses, and we have bossees. It doesn’t matter — the entire group, every single person I’ve met, is supportive of everyone else.  It’s a highly differentiated group all with the same goal — to improve ourselves and help each other.  And that makes it fun.

And the instructor, Chris, continues to amaze me with his individual attention to helping everyone achieve their goals.  He shares in our goals through each and every workout, helping push us where needed, pull us back when we’re about to do something less than brilliant, and providing general direction as we set goals and then work to achieve them.

What I’m most amazed at is the ongoing level of challenge.  Yesterday was my 90th workout.  Every single workout has pushed me to the point where, at some point in the workout, I think to myself “I can’t do this, it’s time to stop and take a break.”  And every single time, I’ve found a way to push through.  Crossfit is a physical endeavor, yes, but the major challenge each day is mental.  Finding a way to keep going when the rest of your body has long since passed its comfort zone.  And so far, I’ve been able to make it through. Every.  Single.  Time.  That’s not to say you want to push yourself through to the point of doing something dumb and hurting yourself, but there’s a difference between moving past what you think you can do, and moving past what is safe.  And our instructor keeps a very careful eye to help us make sure we keep safety a top priority.

I have two more weeks before I undergo shoulder surgery which will pull me out of crossfit for several months.  I’m dreading the backward slide I know I’ll have to work through, and all the work I’ll have to repeat to get back to where I was before.  That will be another challenge.  Finding the motivation to push through to get back to where I was, when I know how tough it was the first time, and how hard I worked.  But I’ve gone 90 workouts so far where I’ve given everything I had, to the point where I’m nearly dragging myself off the floor as I leave the gym.  I can’t see stopping now, and I’m counting on that great community surrounding me to help keep me focused and on track!

Nov 192012
 

It’s been a crazy couple months, but last night I finished up the flipped class videos covering the entire AP Physics C: Mechanics curriculum.  My goal was to try and target all the major points of the course requirements in roughly 6 hours worth of videos, realizing, of course, that students would need some background in physics in order to handle the material at this speed.  I have a bit of tweaking to do (there’s a minor math typo in the SHM video, for example, that I’ll redo at my earliest convenience), but I’m pretty excited that the entire set of videos clocks in right around 6:18:00.

When peopAPlusPhysicsLogole first hear this, the typical reaction I receive is “you must not have done a good job to cover all that material in such a short period of time.”  I look at it from the alternate perspective — I’m boiling down the course into the key concepts and examples that illustrate them.  These videos are not meant to be a substitute for an in-the-classroom standard course — far from it, for that purpose, they would be an abysmal failure (as, I imagine, any video-based system would fail).  Instead, these are meant as an additional resource, a tool, for students to review the take-away highlights from each subject, reinforcing major principles and applications.  Physics is something you do, not something you know, therefore the meat of any course is taking resources such as these and applying them in a variety of situations.  Practice, exploration, discovery — that’s how you learn.  But having a concise review available on demand certainly can’t hurt.

So, for those interested in such a resource, I hope you find these videos useful and enjoyable.  At the beginning of the year I’d never planned to undertake this project, but student requests in early September got me started, and ongoing feedback on the value of these has been tremendous.  Our most recent unit, in which I completely flipped the classroom (absolutely no lecture in class, students watched videos at night and each day was hands-on exploration, lab, group problem solving, and reflection) led to the highest end-of-unit exam grades I’ve seen from a class to date.  This reinforces how effective this method of instruction can be with motivated students who engage fully in the process.

In short, I hope others are also able to take some value from these videos.  For the 6 hours of completed videos, I would estimate I’ve put in close to 120 hours of work (organizing, researching, presenting, taping, re-taping, re-re-taping, editing, producing, etc.) beyond what I would have done just to teach my standard lectures, but I believe I’ve created a resource I can use again and again, year after year, tweaking and updating the videos as I find improved methods and alternate explanations.  Not sure I want to take on the E&M half of the course this year… I have a ton of other projects on my docket (some of which are quite extensive with looming deadlines), but would love your feedback if you find these of value, if you don’t, or if you’d like to see E&M completed as well.

Make it a great day!

 

Link to AP Physics C: Mechanics videos

Link to AP Physics C: Mechanics videos on Youtube

Link to AP Physics C: Mechanics guide sheets (accompany videos)

Jan 052012
 

From the moment Cricket entered my life, we set on a stringent regimen of housetraining as prescribed by all the ‘how to properly raise a puppy’-type books, which I had researched thoroughly so as to train the world’s best dog. Unfortunately, Cricket hadn’t read the same books, which led to more than a few moments of angst in our first year.

According to the books, the key to properly training a puppy to use the grass instead of the carpet is to crate train them, creating their crate as their own personal space or den, which they will refuse to soil, and upon allowing them out of the crate, taking them immediately outside where they can do their business. Anytime they are outside of their crate they must be under constant supervision, and at the first sign of the need to expel waste, they are quickly run outside and then praised lavishly once they complete the job.

All well and good with the books, but nowhere in these books, their appendices, or their references, could I find a description of what to do when the dog is scared to death of the crate and refuses to enter. Given her background on the plane trip and the malodorous scent previously described, I can certainly understand Cricket’s reticence upon entering her crate. But I was not even remotely prepared for the ability of a six-pound puppy to avoid being stuffed into a crate by a physically fit 170-pound human. To say that it was impossible to place Cricket into her crate hardly begins to do the issue justice.

At the first sign that I might even glance at the crate, Cricket would run up the stairs at speeds breaking sound barriers as well as several FAA regulations and jump onto the king size bed, crawl under the covers, and sprawl herself somewhere under the covers of the bed. Getting her out from under the covers was no easy feat either, as a mighty small dog in a large bed hiding under a down comforter doesn’t make much of a bump to try to extract. Truly, the only way to efficiently extract the dog from the bed when she wanted to remain hidden involved stripping the bed of all sheets and blankets. Re-making a king-size bed, although not a difficult chore, is not something you want to repeat on a daily basis unless you have a personal penchant for linen layout. However, it can be done, and following five minutes of hunting through the bed, the dog could be removed.

The next step, however, actually placing said dog in said crate, proved a task beyond my physical and intellectual capabilities. Now, I’m not a brilliant man, but I do have a graduate degree in an engineering field and have even taught subjects encompassing the realm of plasma physics and computer chip fabrication at institutions of higher learning. Compared to placing Cricket in her crate, such endeavors were child’s play – figurative ‘cake,’ so to speak.

Getting back to the topic at hand, however, as Cricket was pushed closer and closer to the crate, much like the blowfish in the ocean, she could somehow expand herself to three times her normal size, splay her paws, tail, and head to exact positions of a six-sided star, and hold her posture with the strength of tempered steel, steadfastly refusing to be placed inside the crate. No amount of pushing, shoving, coaxing with treats, or pleading could convince Cricket that going into the box wouldn’t result in her being placed on an airplane for another 1600 mile trip, an experience it became quite obvious she had no intention of repeating. Ever.

Therein ends the attempt to housetrain Cricket using all the ‘book’ methods. As part of her obedience training, however, I happened to ask the dog trainer one day if she could provide some direction in how to best housetrain a dog that had no interest in ever seeing the inside of a crate again. Which led to the development of plan B – Cricket would be confined to the kitchen during the day (where she only in the rarest of circumstances had an accident), and I would set up a bell by the front door which I would use her paw to ring before we went out each time, hoping she would learn to ring it herself. Apparently bells are quite scary to eight-pound dogs, so the results were similar to those of the crate program.

Plan C, also developed by the dog trainer, required Cricket to remain tethered to me by four feet of leash at all other times, under constant supervision. It sounds like an easy enough plan, really. How much can a tiny puppy interfere with your life when tethered to you by a four-foot leash? Oh, the things I learned. Events as mundane as cooking dinner, running laundry downstairs, and even operating a computer incorporate an added spark as you try to also cope with a puppy dog whose entire mission in life is to lick and hug you.

Our first major setback with Plan C occurred in the early winter following several months of a very well behaved puppy dog. Having just gotten out of the shower, I had adorned my skivies when the phone began to ring. I put down the rest of my clothes and picked up the handset, sitting down on the bed to talk to my dear friend Ray as Cricket wandered around the bedspread. About five minutes into our conversation, however, I looked over to see Cricket crouch down and take a leak on the bedspread. I very rudely dropped the phone and scooped up Cricket, telling her bad dog in my best mean voice with a very upset face as I rushed her out the front door and into the area of the yard I had cleared of snow for her to do her business. It was precisely five feet from the front door that I realized I was still clad only in my underbritches. Which guaranteed that this was also the same moment my next-door neighbors pulled into their driveway along with another couple, having just returned from some dinner or movie-type gathering. Not knowing what else to do, and with my feet freezing to the ice on the driveway as Cricket played in the snow (having fully relieved herself on my king size goose down comforter, of course), I couldn’t think of anything else to do but attempt my most genuinely warming smile, wave a greeting to the neighbors, and act as natural as a mostly naked young man in the midst of winter can pull off, all the while supervising a dog in his front yard. It’s a very good think Cricket is a very cute and loving puppy dog.

Upon returning inside and bundling up inside a thick blanket, and after having a heart-to-heart talk with Cricket about the merits of relieving oneself in places other than on top of her master’s king size goose down comforter, and waiting until the master is dressed before having to go out, I heard a noise that sent chills down my spine. No! It couldn’t be! I heard laughter coming from the handset of the phone. Apparently I’d forgotten to hang up in my haste to get the dog outside. Thankfully, Ray is a kind and gentle soul, and with but a modest bribe, has to this day kept what he heard through that receiver to himself.

Jan 052012
 

Once Cricket (and her crate, and the towel, and my shirt) were cleaned up, we began the process of acclimating ourselves to our new living situation. Cricket slept and shook for most of her first two days as she recovered from the shock of her plane trip. During this time we cuddled on the couch, read, and basically laid low, as Cricket was still scared, and I had picked up some sort of bug from the trip home from the airport and was fighting off a sore throat, pulsing headache, and sinus infection at the same time. It’s safe to say we were both miserable.

During these days I first became aware of one of the defining aspects of dear Cricket’s personality. She was, and is to this day, a scarfpuppy. Now for those not familiar with the term, a scarfpuppy is exactly what it sounds like. A puppy that thinks she’s a scarf. The most comfortable place in the world for Cricket, and Crickets are, as a rule, comfort-seeking creatures, was lying down across the neck of whomever would entertain such a gesture of love and macroscopic fur. Although it sounds quite awkward, it is actually a very cozy position for both Cricket and human, and hastened our bonding and my recovery.

My parents came to visit on Cricket’s second day in the house, coinciding with my graduation from graduate school. They arrived that morning, and after ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the puppy for a half hour or so, my mother’s frustration level began to show. For some reason unbeknownst to us to this day, Cricket had no desire to assume the ‘scarf’ position for my mother, who took it as a personal affront. My father, who was content to lie back in his chair and watch Sportscenter, couldn’t keep the miniature bundle of fur off his neck. Personally, I believe it had something to do with the perfume my mother was wearing, but she was truly offended.

Moving on, however, I took some Tylenol and off we went to my graduation ceremony (leaving our dear puppy in her crate so as to avoid any major clean-up work upon our return). The ceremony went well, but upon arriving home we were all rather tired, and looking forward to some lunch, a low-key afternoon, and perhaps even a nap on the couch with the Sunday paper.

As we walked back into the townhouse, we were amazed to find dog poo sitting at the back door. Amazed for two reasons – the first being that Cricket was locked in her crate, which is exactly where we found her. The second being, we had left Cricket’s crate at the front door, a good 40-plus feet from the back door, facing 90 degrees away from the back door. From her crate, there was no way she could have had a direct shot to the back door. Being a very detective-like family with roots in investigatorial reporting going back centuries, we determined that we must figure out how this had happened. Following a thorough examination of Cricket’s crate the fundamental events of the transgression became apparent – she had felt the urge to use the restroom in her crate, and upon completing her task, had managed to fling the pungent doggie feces out the caged door of the crate and around a 90-degree corner and 40-feet down the main hallway. What made the feat even more impressive, however, is that a close inspection of both the dog crate and her paws showed no evidence of there ever having been a mess in the crate or paw-to-poo contact. My father was extremely proud, stating that his son’s new dog had ‘skills.’ Thankfully, similar incidents were never repeated, but despite a variety of theories on the event, the Mystery of the Flinging Poo has never been definitively solved.

Jan 052012
 

CricketRest I’ve always been a dog person. I grew up with dogs. I like dogs. Most of them like me. But never in my wildest dreams was I prepared for the eight-pound agglomeration of love, sass, and eccentricity in the form of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that I so aptly named ‘Cricket.’

As early as I can remember, we had a dog in the house. I fondly picture the sunny days in suburban East Coast America as a toddler playing with the family’s golden retriever. Only later did I find out that my parents so trusted Joshua that they tied my little red wagon to his collar and allowed him to pull me around the block unsupervised without a worry in the world… how times have changed. Or maybe they just loved my twin brother more than me. No, truly, it must have been the former. Strangely, my folks have always been relatively adverse to being pinned down on an answer to that question.

As I entered my elementary school years in the northeast, we adopted a spaniel mix known affectionately (and appropriately) as ‘Trouble.’ Trouble was a vigorous young pup that had a secret mission from the day we took him home from the shelter – he was going to drive my mother insane. He might have been quite successful at it, had he not managed to sneak out of the house one afternoon and run away. We never did see him again, although I sleep soundly at night dreaming he embarked on a cross-country rabbit chasing expedition and to this day is happily living out his dreams of watching his grandpuppies chase various woodland creatures with the occasional trip into someone’s front yard to tear up their newspaper into tiny little pieces of doggy drool moistened pulp.

Then there was the chubby little Beagle mix with red spots on his belly we came to know as Freckles. Freckles wasn’t especially sharp, nor did he juggle or walk on his forepaws like the dogs at the circus, but he was the dog I most remember growing up with. From his days as a puppy decorating the upstairs with toilet paper to zipping around the yard ever-so-slightly out of reach of the recruited horde of neighbors assisting us in returning him to his leash, he was the archetypal family hound. He’d sit when asked, would lie down about half the time, and even served as first line household dishwasher, a job in which he took great pride, going so far as to become an expert in quietly devouring cauliflower under the table when provided by an over-vegetabled 13-year-old boy.

And there were more. My mother’s four-pound teacup poodle that loved to run the bases while Pop and the boys took batting practice at the neighborhood ball park, and absolutely loved bed-time, when he’d scamper downstairs into my brother’s room and curl up and wait for him to snuggle throughout the night.

Or Duh-Duh-Dale, who was a very sweet and comfortable dog, but also what a champion of political correctness might call mentally challenged. Not being a champion of political correctness personally, I’ll describe Dale as a bastion of idiocy. We all loved Dale – you really had to, he was a very happy dog, mostly because he wasn’t smart enough to know when not to be – but Darwin would have turned over in his grave had he learned Dale survived past the ripe old age of a few hours. Dale, for example, wasn’t quite bright enough to realize he had to open his mouth to eat. Really, please, take a moment to get the picture in your mind, and then take another moment to realize this description is, more or less, factual. With some assistance from a very patient household member to open his mouth and demonstrate how food entered the body, Dale managed to get by. But this was a daily ritual. Feel free, go ahead, take your time and picture it again, it’s worth a second look.

None of these experiences, however, prepared me for what was to come in the spring of 2003. Living alone in upstate New York, I’d pined for a dog of my own for years, but realized I didn’t have the time nor was my schedule conducive to keeping a canine companion. As the last weeks of night school waned, however, I saw an opening – soon I would be working and living a ‘normal’ 8-5 schedule, and with a little help from my young neighborhood friend Mike, who entered my employ as a dog walker each afternoon, I could finally adopt a puppy.

This realization sparked an exhaustive search for the right breeder. Throughout my years of puppy pining, I had already decided on what breed I wanted if circumstances would allow. Living in a townhouse by myself without a fenced yard, a small dog would be most appropriate. I also wanted a dog that was relatively quiet, medium energy, and wouldn’t tear the house apart when I couldn’t be home. My research led me to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed — the sweetest, prettiest dogs I’d ever seen. For those not familiar with the breed, however, they are quite hard to find and not at all easy on the wallet. I saved for months and found a breeder I connected with who answered all my questions and came with recommendations from previous customers.

 

The breeder, who lived in the central United States, sent me pictures of several puppies and described their personalities. I immediately fell in love with one, though – she was on the smallish side but every picture the breeder sent showed her either squirming through cupped hands or pouncing on the breeder’s German shepherd – she was a true trouble causer, which meshed perfectly with my personality. I sent my deposit so that Cricket would be well kept until she was old enough to begin her new life with me.

Following further arrangements, another check, and many household preparations, the day for Cricket to make her journey from Missouri to New York finally arrived. I could hardly contain my excitement or anxiety. She was flying on a major airline, leaving her home early in the morning and arriving, following two connections, at my local airport at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon. I must have checked her flight status on each leg of the journey 10 times throughout the day, finally leaving work early in order to meet up with my friend Melissa who would drive while I comforted my new puppy on our trip from the airport back to the townhouse.

When Melissa and I arrived at the airport, we immediately ran to the airline customer service counter to await the new arrival. We waited nervously for 20 minutes after the plane arrived, hardly containing our excitement before we spied the airport clerk returning to the customer service booth. She was carrying an animal crate with large red “priority post” stickers on it. For some reason both Melissa and I found this extremely amusing – my new puppy was traveling priority post.

As the clerk neared, we smelled Cricket well before we saw her. Now, I’m no shirker when it comes to items that are something less than olfactory nirvana — I’ve changed my share of diapers, scraped the occasional dead animal off the road, survived a year with a roommate in a college dorm — but nothing could prepare a human being for this. With gritted teeth I leaned down to look in the crate and saw only a tiny five-pound ball of white, black, and brown fur shaking in the corner. Poor little smelly puppy. I immediately wanted to comfort her, and coaxed/pulled her out of her crate and wrapped her in an old towel brought especially for the occasion. Then arose the true test of a man’s heart. Could I pull this puppy in close to my heart and face to comfort her, knowing full well that every inch I pulled her closer would lead to an order of magnitude increase in the power of that malodorous stench? The good Lord provided some measure of assistance, as I believe dear Cricket’s current state of putridity must have killed most of my olfactory nerves, and as the dog neared my face, the level of difficulty inherent in hugging this beautiful, innocent, sweet, scared bundle of reeking spaniel dropped into the realm of achievements surmountable by mere mortal men. My nerve held as, thankfully, did the towel, and we began our bonding process right there in the airport.

The drive home was somewhat anticlimactic, although we did get more than a few strange looks from other drivers. Melissa drove while I held Cricket in the passenger seat, wrapped securely in her warm towel. Although the drive from the airport to my house was less than 20 minutes at a leisurely pace, after 30 seconds in the car it became apparent to both Melissa and I that absolutely every window in the car would have to be open if we were to reach our destination without losing consciousness. The complications arose, however, when one realizes that upstate New York in late April is in general both cold and wet. This particular day combined the thrill and excitement of a light downpour with temperatures that would have made a wooly mammoth dream of a Daytona vacation.

We survived our trip home, but we’d turned the newly adopted smelly puppy into a soaking wet pupsicle. Melissa and I weren’t much better off. Following two consecutive baths (of the puppy), we all warmed up around the fire, neither Cricket nor I quite sure what to make of each other. Our lives together were off to an auspicious start.

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