Sing Lyric Sunday: “New Math”

When I started taking arithmetic classes in 1962, there was all kinds of excitement about a revolution in pedagogy called “New Math.” Ours was the first class at St. Ignatius School to have the honor (or be cursed with, depending on your point of view) of learning arithmetic in this newfangled way, and of course it baffled me and most of the class and I was falling behind. This was the cause for consternation in my family, because, after all, my grandfather was a professor of Mathematics at Loyola University less than two blocks away and, in fact, had taught many of the same teachers that were now telling my mother that I was falling behind. In fact, I was pretty number literate and could add and subtract with the best of them (all you need to know to pass 1st Grade), thanks to all I had learned from Professor Hicks, but there was the issue of learning it the “New Math” way, where getting the right answer was secondary to being able to explain how I got that answer (i.e. to tell the teachers what I was doing in between getting the problem and arriving at the answer). Sound familiar?

Anyway, around that time a Professor of Mathematics from MIT, Tom Lehrer, was making waves in the entertainment business by writing humorous songs and performing them in concert. At one point he was employed as a songwriter for the popular TV show That Was The Week That Was, the name of one of his albums. In one of his songs, he discusses this revolutionary new method of taking a problem like 2+2=4 and turning it into an incomprehensible discussion where you might end up with 5 as the answer, but at least you understood what you were doing. Normally I would include the lyrics copied from one of the many lyrics collections online, but as you’ll see, a young man named Jared Khan did that already.

In the computer biz, math is done in base 16, so 342 – 173 = 1CF (in base 16 you count 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10…), usually pronounced “one charlie foxtrot.”

Anyway, that’s Song Lyric Sunday for March 17, 2019.

Writer’s Workshop: Not Exactly Perfection…

Last year the prompt “Write a blog post inspired by the word: perfection” came up, and I wrote a piece on it. The same prompt has come up, and as I really don’t have anything for any of the other prompts, I’m going to use the same prompt, but I have a whole different angle on it. I went out to The Free Dictionary, and as I read through what it said, the Spanish word perfecto started showing up in the section that translates things into Spanish. And I had my inspiration.

Source: ebay

When I started kindergarten back in the early ’60’s, we (or, more correctly, our parents) were told that we needed a cigar box, sans cigars and covered with something like Con-Tact paper, for us to put things like crayons and other art supplies in. Nowadays, there are boxes made for that exact purpose, but this was back before we had things like that. Anyway, I forget whether Mom or Dad or Fabulous Auntie Jill (who was living with us at the time) got it, but I trudged off to kindergarten with my cigar box, covered with blue Con-Tact paper to hide the fact that it once held Perfecto Garcia cigars. Virtually no one covered the inside of the box, so whatever art was printed on the lid was visible when we opened them. When I was bored in kindergarten (which was the entire time, and thank heaven it was only a half day), I would glance around and see what kind of cigars everyone else was advertising. And I’d see one or more of these:

Of course, by then Mrs. Comeaux was telling me, “Johnny, pay attention.” And she’d go on blathering about whatever it was she was blathering about and I’d go back to checking out cigar box lids.

I’ve always been a fan of artwork done for advertising, packaging, and product logos, and I wonder if it started back when I was in kindergarten. No, I was already into all that by the time I got there. I’m still fascinated by it. I think I missed my calling.

I Heard This A Lot In School… #JusJoJan #1LinerWeds


More than once in my school career, I would find something someone said under his breath (or something I read, or something I thought of because I was bored) utterly hilarious and start to laugh, or rather try to suppress a laugh. When asked by a teacher (who was usually a nun) what was so funny, I would reply, “Nothing, Sister,” usually prompting the above retort.


Since today is both One-Liner Wednesday and Day 11 of Just Jot It January, I combined both in a single badge. Clever, huh?

Writer’s Workshop: No More Pencils! No More Books! No More Teacher’s Dirty Looks!

Just had to do this one because I wanted to use the title…

Top 10 reasons why you are glad you are done with school.

1. No more drama. I somehow always managed to find the people (and sometimes I was the people) who had some sort of life-threatening issue with classes, or grades, or boy/girlfriends, or something that could easily be solved by just dealing with it. Doing badly in a class? Study harder, or drop the class. Homework assignment makes no sense? Ask the idiot professor who assigned it what s/he wants. Geez, kid, grow up.

2. No more ennui. Some of the classes could just bore the eyeballs out of you. I had an art history professor who had spent too much time inhaling turpentine fumes, who would stand with her back to us and drone on semi-coherently while the class caught up on their sleep, the homework from another class, or doodling in their notebook, waiting in vain for something interesting to spring from her mouth. One day a dog got loose in the class and was trotting up and down the aisles. She had no idea, and I don’t think she stopped talking.

3. No more all-nighters. Occasionally you managed to fall behind in a class and would have to spend the whole night writing a paper or doing some other assignment, or that Mickey-Mouse class you took because everyone said it was easy and everyone got out of it with at least a B turns out to be The Class From Hell and takes every waking moment to do the work, never mind you have three or four other classes that are just as demanding, requiring you to find some time to do the work for those. That’s when you decide “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”…

4. No more self-destructive behavior. I think I subsisted on coffee and cigarettes during the week and beer, coffee and cigarettes the rest of the time, even when I was living at home so I wouldn’t do that. We would have “Wild Turkey Day” at least once a quarter where you’d show up for school and be handed a paper cup filled to the rim with 100-proof whiskey. You generally took the day off from classes then.

5. No more having to please teachers. Half the game of getting through school, whether college, high school, middle school, elementary school, kindergarten, or Montessori was figuring out what exactly would make your teacher happy so that you have at least a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. Sometimes they wouldn’t be forthcoming with what they wanted, meaning you had to guess…

6. No more taking stupid classes because they’re required. I have a theory that the only reason you take so many stupid classes is because your teachers had to take them, and they want you to have the same torturous experience. You know, “If I had to spend four hours a week for a quarter learning this crap, so do you.”

7. No more grades. And, with it, no more trying to figure out what “classroom participation” which counts for twenty percent of your grade consists of.

8. No more having to explain bad grades. Some parents think that any grade less than a B means you failed the class. I got more than my share of C’s and D’s in my high school and college days, mostly because I couldn’t care less about the class, and I had to explain each one.

9. No more peer pressure. This is more a high school thing, but it comes up in college, too. Having the right clothes, the right haircut (or, in my day, not having a haircut), smoking the right cigarettes, having the right guitar, liking the right music, driving the right car… all the things that are basically meaningless except to sixteen-year-olds.

10. No more exams. And with it, no more academic bulimia where you “binge” on the class material so you can “purge” on the exam.

Looing at my list, I realize it doesn’t go away when you graduate and go out into The Real World®. You still have to deal with all this crap in the workplace. I submit that it’s because of the school experience that the workplace is like school, except instead of having to figure out your teacher, you have to figure out your manager, instead of having to explain to your parents why you got a D in Art History, you have to explain to your manager why the simple assignment they gave you has turned into a hot mess, etc. A big difference is, you can find another job, transfer to another department or location; you don’t have to just “buck up” and live with it.

So, what are the things you don’t miss about school?