Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Highest Form of Flattery

Fox News founder Roger Ailes passed away last Thursday. Among his more surprising mourners: MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. Take a look:

Think about this for a second. Maddow is as liberal as cable news commentators go, but she still considered Roger Ailes a friend, going so far as to credit him with essentially inventing the way we process politics through polarized cable television. She admits to asking him technical questions about colors and angles, but I’d expect that wasn’t the only thing that liberals’ version of Fox News learned directly from Ailes.

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“Like Magic”: Five Google Spreadsheet hacks to save you time and money

I am a big fan of Google spreadsheets, and I’ve used them for a wide variety of responsibilities over the last decade or so. They’re quick, intuitive, and most importantly, easily shareable. But it’s taken me years to discover some of their most valuable features, features that have quickly become second nature for me.

Chances are, you’ve probably created a spreadsheet or two before, perhaps to manage signups for a potluck or rides to a retreat. With experience and knowledge of a few hacks, you can do so much more with them. Recently, I turned to a Google spreadsheet to display and update the schedule and standings for the church softball league I’ve been a part of, which might be able to save hundreds of dollars that we would have spent on equivalent software. Whatever your use case, there is likely something you can take away from the hacks I have to share.

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Stop Ignoring Impact Multipliers

I love to play board games, especially in this golden age we’re in. Every once in a while, I learn a new way of thinking from a board game. In this post, I’d like to share one general lesson that I learned from one of my favorite strategic board games, Navegador. This lesson actually succinctly encapsulates key messages from several of my recent blog posts, among other thoughts I’ve had recently.

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The Hard Problem of Teaching

Tomorrow, we have our final classes of the year in IdeaMath, a weekend contest math program run by former US International Math Olympiad team coach Zuming Feng that I’ve been teaching at for the last five years. It’s always tough to say goodbye, having spent over a dozen Saturday afternoons with these middle and high school students, helping to teach them problem solving skills and having some fun along the way.

I’m not yet sure whether I’ll be returning to the program in the fall during my last year of grad school here, so this could be my last regular teaching opportunity in grad school, or possibly ever. I joined IdeaMath in my first year partly as a way to give back to the math contest community that I grew up in, and partly as a way to keep up my involvement with teaching while in a graduate program with a light teaching load.

My teaching experiences at MIT were also very positive — in fact, between the teaching I’ve done online with the Art of Problem Solving, Caltech, and MIT, I’ve somehow managed to help teach five different calculus classes. Some were aimed at the strongest students, and some at the weakest (albeit the weakest Caltech and MIT students). Some attempted to be fully rigorous, while others simply provided an upgraded version of Calculus BC. All were very rewarding personally, as I got to see students grasp the material for their first time.

Given my experiences and passion for teaching, I’ve often been asked if teaching is a career I’d consider. The question makes sense; I like to teach. I enjoy being able to inspire another generation of students with neat tricks, clever ideas, and powerful results. Even more than inspiring, I enjoy bringing clarity, helping students better grasp important concepts and form appropriate intuitions around them.

That passion and experience has made me into quite a proficient teacher, if I do say so myself. The MIT Math department administrator was quite impressed with my teaching ratings from students at MIT and my senior year at Caltech, I received a teaching prize meant for graduate students for my TA work there. In a surreal turn of events, one day the Caltech math department head called me into his office, wondering if he could pay me to essentially rescue a statistics class that had gone awry from poor teaching by holding a bunch of recitations and office hours. (I turned him down since I was too busy at that point, and suggested that he make the same offer to a few of the TAs instead.) Given my false starts with various research projects in grad school, it seems pretty clear that I’m generally better at teaching than research.

And yet, despite this passion, experience and success, I actually don’t see myself continuing to teach full-time or long-term. Why not?

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