Sunday, September 30, 2007

Maths Teacher Goes to the Movies: Atonement

A bit late in getting to see this film, I admit, which is perhaps a curse rather than a blessing as I seem to have forgotten any negative reviews and went in with high hopes. And for the record, before we begin, I haven't read the book. So:

How's the movie?
Well, let's be fair and say that it all looks terribly, terribly nice up there on the screen - or should I say tahbly, tahbly ness, in keeping with the movie accents? There's some impressive cinematography, but by heck they want you to know about it, so it's hard to lose yourself and get really caught up in the story. I believe the book unwinds in a tricky manner that lets on from the outset that one of the central characters is telling the story, so it would be nice to think that what was going on here was that the film-makers were playing with the idea of someone making a film about the story... but that would be crediting them with more than they deserve.

The film hinges on a misunderstanding (wilful or otherwise), from which follows much woe - gorgeously cinematic woe, never fear - but to be honest it's hard to care over much, or not to feel at the end of the two hours that you really didn't need to bother. Whereas a misunderstanding offers much in the way of comic potential, there's not many laughs to be had here - although there were titters from the audience at one point in the film which I think was meant to be very erotic.

So anyway: go see it if you want. It looks nice; the actors do their bit; war is terrible; atonement is... well, what exactly I don't know and nor do they; and that's your lot. Can they have a Bafta now please?

How's the maths
Oh, dahling, I'm afraid everyone's far too frightfully posh or clever to talk about mathematics - don't be such a bore. Pass me another ciggie, won't you?

Can I teach with it?
Well, in the movie world time is seldom linear and much more a big ball of timey-wimey stuff, and seldom more so than here, as the scenes jump forward and back over (eventually) about 70 years. A chance then, surely, to apply negative numbers in context: let the initial scene have value t=0 (years), in which case (ooh, here comes a flashback) this must be t=-2, and then boom! it's Dunkirk so t=3, but wait now (blimey! it's Vanessa Redgrave) t=70... and so on.

However, be warned: the central conceit mentioned earlier does include a letter from one character to another, containing the use of a certain four-letter word (and not the one starting with f, either) ... and I think you can safely wave goodbye to your teaching career if you let that crop up during the DVD. All the same, I daresay the History department will happily borrow it from you in order to show that war is A Bad Thing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tum te tum...

Jings but time flies, eh?

Those headlines again... um... I've been busy.

More on that story later.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Math wars - coming to a school near you?

Well, OK, I exaggerate for effect. But by jings, this is all very interesting. Basically there's a war raging in the US over how maths should be taught. No surprises that it's a sort of traditional v modern thing, but the extremes are pretty extreme, and if reports are to be believed then there is a real question over whether or not students are being damaged in the crossfire.

See here
and here
and here
for a few details/comments/op-eds, though be warned that these are pretty one-sided (even if they do seem fair enough to me, but what do I know?).

I'll post my own thoughts later, but would be glad to hear any comments from colleagues from the US in the meantime.

Maths Teacher Goes to the Movies: The Bourne Ultimatum

Well, in a summer of "threequels", finally a movie that does what it says on the tin. No more than that, mind you.

How's the movie?
Pretty exciting stuff - certainly never a dull moment. Lots of gripping set pieces, all filmed in shaky Steadicam (that's not-at-all-steady Steadicam, then), with fast editing in all the fight and chase scenes. Basically you have no real idea what's happening in these moments, but it sure is fun to watch. There's a visceral confrontation between Bourne and a hitman that'll leave you gasping for air. When the movie slows down enough to start to wonder about delivering a plot, it's maybe no surprise that it opts to rerun that of the second Bourne movie. But who cares? I mean, can you remember the plot for any of these, beyond the basic amnesia thing?

In keeping with the Hollywood belief that hi-tec needs many decimal places to sound cool, I'll give the movie 7.00000000001 out of ten.

To be critical I would say that the movie could do with more warmth, in terms of human relations. Julia Stiles pops up again and does her best, but a brief hint of a romantic past goes unexplored and before too long she's off dying her hair in order to vanish from the baddies (meanwhile Matt Damon continues to look like Matt Damon, complete with Action Man haircut, yet the authorities never ever recognise him until he bursts in, guns ablaze) and the movie moves on apace to the next loud moment.

How's the maths?
Not too much on the go, though lots of hi-tec stuff kicks around and I suppose there's all manner of projectile motion going on, what with the guns and stuff.

Can I teach with it?
Well, morally, would you want to do an exercise on bullet trajectory with a class? Alternatively, maybe a brief probability study, with null hypothesis "the bad guys can't shoot for toffee" tested at varying degrees of significance.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Meanwhile, back at that press conference...

The story so far...

Alert readers of our humble blog will recall that in a recent press conference with Gordon Brown, President George W Bush was asked the key question: what is 37 times 23? The good Mr Bush gave what can at best be described as an evasive answer (see here if you've forgotten). But we here at TPIOT are made of sterner stuff, and so we recently managed to sneak into a recent press conference, bribe the PR guy with several twinkies, and ask the question again.

Now, dear reader, read on...

(Transcript of press conference follows)

TPIOT: Mr President! Mr President!

GWB: Yup, the... um... the geek with the glasses. Yo! Whassup, dude?

TPIOT: Mr President, back in July at a press conference with Gordon Brown...

GWB: Yup, I remember. Scottish guy. Big. Not dour.

TPIOT: That's right... anyway, at this press conference you refused to give a definitive answer to the question, what is 37 times 23? I was wondering if, now you've had time to read the reports, you might have an actual answer?

GWB: Um... well, yeah, kinda. Me an' the boys bin kickin' this one round for a while. I mean, I'm no mathematician, right, but we called in the experts and I think it's maybe time to set the record straight on this one. We dun looked at this from all the angles, and though we're not prepared to say exactly what 37 times 23 is, we can reveal that the answer is... an even number.

TOPIT: An even number.

GWB: Bullseye! Now we ain't ready at this time to reveal just how big this even number is, but we at least hope that y'all will give us credit for the progress we made so far. Knowin' that the answer is an even number... well, sir, that kinda military intelligence takes years of hard work an' countin'. I mean, just getting' all them fingers in the same place, so we can count on 'em.... makes me proud to be an American. Next question?

TPIOT: But Mr President, isn't it generally accepted that, if you take an odd number and multiply it by another odd number, the result will be odd itself?

GWB: (audible sigh) Y'see, this is exactly the kind of... um... unpatriotic line of questionin', that makes me wonder if you even care about the war against terror. Oh sure, the liberal elite will tell you that an odd times an odd is odd, they've always believed that... but the rules have changed, son, the rules have changed. 9/11 put paid to that. An' y'know... this kinda talk, it's just emboldening the enemy, is all it's doin'. You gotta trust me on this one.

TPIOT: So, 37 times 23 is even?

GWB: Welcome to my world, son, welcome to my world.

Maths Teacher Goes to the Movies: Knocked Up

Well, what do you know, but I finally managed to mark enough orange jotters to be able to take a night off and go see this... apparently it's been a big hit Stateside, and been well here too. What's not to like?

How's the movie?
Meh. I mean, it's OK and everything, but I really couldn't care too much about what happened to the lead characters, which is a bit of a downer in a romantic comedy. Everyone was a tad too self-obsessed, and overall the movie seemed to want to have its cake and eat it (or, perhaps, to have the bun in and on the oven?), in terms of portraying how empty our lives are when we are stuck in long-term relationships going nowhere (speak for youself, mister!), yet still give us the pat happy ending. And then all of a sudden in the midst of the angst comes an avalanche of bong-themed stoner jokes more at home in American Pie. In a word: confused.

Still, by the good Doctor Kermode's litmus test for a comedy: I did laugh out loud several times, so who am I to complain? But it's far from being a classic.

How's the maths?
Well, any number of variation on multiples of four weeks abounded, with a maximum being reached naturally enough at 36, more or less. But not much else.

Can I teach with it?
Lordy no! far too many swearies for that, even if you are a Biology teacher.