You remember the discovery from school:  that in a class of 23 people the odds of finding two students who share the same birthday are better than even.

We have ten grandchildren.  What is the chance that two of them share the same birthday?  (There are no twins, triplets, etc.)  Turns out it's not quite 12%.

Sometimes you beat the odds.

Happy birthday to two of my favorite people!

(You can play with the numbers here.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 8:04 am | Edit
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You have until November 8, 2016 to weigh in with your opinions on the four newly-proposed names for the elements of the periodic table currenly identified by placeholders ununtrium (113), ununpentium (115), ununseptium (117), and ununoctium (118). The names, proposed by the discoverers of those elements and approved by the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry), are, respectively:

  • 113 nihonium (Nh)
  • 115 moscovium (Mc)
  • 117 tennessine (Ts)
  • 118 oganesson (Og)

Nihonium is named after Japan, the home of the research group that first synthesized itMoscovium and tennessine were synthesized in a joint effort by researchers in Russia, Oak Ridge (Tennessee), and Lawrence-Livermore in CaliforniaThe last is not being left outIt already has californium (98) and livermorium (116), among othersOganesson honors Russian researcher Yuri Oganessian, who led the team that synthesized ununseptium.

In case you missed it, ununquadium (114) was given the official name flerovium (after the Russian Flerov Laboratory) at the same time livermorium was named.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 9, 2016 at 6:26 am | Edit
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As I walked into a ladies' room at Animal Kingdom recently, I overheard a woman speaking to a small boy.

"No, don't go in there," she called, as he headed for the men's room.  "You'll have to come in here because you're with Grandma."

As they entered the ladies' room she admonished, "You'll have to pee like a big boy instead of sitting down, because we're not at home.  You'll have to stand like a big boy."

But there's more to peeing like a big boy than just standing up.  Soon I heard the grandmother's voice at a somewhat higher pitch from inside the stall:

"Point it down.  POINT IT DOWN!" 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Edit
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If can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.

We've known Rebecca since before she was born.  Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.

A few other people have been impressed by the video:  last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.

I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.

Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm | Edit
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I still wonder why it's called snobbery to believe that language should have standards. But more so I wonder how I became a grammar snob, given that my own education in the subject was so bad. One year we learned about nouns and verbs, the next about Class 1 and Class 2 words, then something else, as educational fashions changed—and then I think the teachers just gave up. So nearly all I know about grammar came from French class, from reading good books, and from listening to my parents, who spoke well themselves. I still can't explain why something is right, but for the most part I know it when I hear it.

Come to think of it, maybe that's actually why I care about good grammar: if what we read and what we hear can no longer be counted on to help us intuit the rules of a language, what is to become of those whose schools fail them?

And on the point of the comic, school failed us almost at once. I can't imagine that "on accident" was actively taught, but I do know that Heather had not been in a school environment very long before the phrase became cemented in her vocabulary, so I doubt much effort was put into correcting it. Then again, maybe the teachers tried—but peer influence is so terribly strong. Certainly I tried. But as I said, I may (usually) know what's right when it comes to the English language, but I still lack the tools to be persuasive about it.

Anyway, this comic made me smile, because it gibes both ways.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 6:22 am | Edit
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If you think restroom privacy is being threatened in the U.S., you should consider this sign from Venice....


Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 8:23 am | Edit
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Joyce K. is a very good friend of our family, and though she has plenty of grandchildren of her own, she happily played a grandmotherly role to our children. Formerly of Philadelphia's Savoy Company, she is a great lover of Gilbert and Sullivan and introduced our kids to that joy at an early age, through a children's book version of "The Pirates of Penzance."  I believe she also provided the taped-from-TV videotape now mouldering away lovingly preserved in our cupboard (the Rodney Greenberg version, starring Peter Allen as the Pirate King).

We nearly wore the tape out.  When Janet went to kindergarten, and was interviewed for one of those "all about me" posters, she confounded her teacher by responding to the inane question, "What's your favorite TV show?" by answering, "The Pirates of Penzance."  One of my joys of those years was hearing quotes from the show pop up in the girls' conversations.

Fueled by those memories, I let work grind to a halt today while I created an excerpt from that tape as an homage to this special, quadrennial day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 29, 2016 at 10:31 am | Edit
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A friend shared this picture on Facebook.  I have no idea where it came from, and it's not very Christmasy, but it sure is clever.


Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 13, 2015 at 8:57 pm | Edit
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This is possibly the best use ever of cute pet photos:

When Belgian police asked witnesses not to tweet officers' movements during raids targeting terrorism suspects across the country's capital, the Internet reacted in perhaps the only way it knows how: with cats.

Belgians ... seized the #BrusselsLockdown hashtag to post jovial photos of feline friends on Sunday.

While ostensibly frivolous, the viral meme's effect was threefold. It enforced the Twitter radio silence, buried any tweets that might harm the operations, and eased some of the tension in what has become an anxious city.

The video in the article is short and worth watching.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Edit
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Did you ever imagine that a story about a carjacking could make you smile?  Especially one where the car was stolen with a child inside?  Read this story from Free-Range Kids.

When the thieves realized they had stolen an eight-year-old boy along with the car, they asked him where he wanted to get out, and he answered with the name of his elementary school—which is where his mother had been taking him when she stopped to do a quick errand.  The thieves obliged.

My favorite line of the story is Lenore Skenazy's:

So the real moral of the story is this: Kids need better training. When carjacked and asked, “Where would you like to go?” they should be ready to reply, “GameStop,” or perhaps, “McDonald’s.” This unprepared kid was involved in a real life Grand Theft Auto and didn’t even get to even miss first period.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 7:25 am | Edit
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That's the Swiss:  chill, neutral, and convinced that Americans dress funny every day of the year.  Mallard Fillmore from the day before the Swiss celebrate All Saints' Day.


Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 8:35 am | Edit
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Rather cool, even if we do all have our mouths open.  (Click to enlarge, or follow this link.)


Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 1, 2015 at 5:54 am | Edit
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Today's Beetle Bailey is for all our Swiss folks:


Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Edit
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Today's Dilbert is for all the bright students frustrated by teachers who insist that they show their work.


Don't overthink it; I just think the last panel is funny.

I know it's sometimes important to show the intermediate steps, and what I used to tell my students was that they didn't need to show their work, but that if they didn't, they wouldn't get any partial credit if their answer didn't agree with mine.  Too many teachers, however, don't understand that some students can no more explain the process by which they arrive at the correct answer to a math problem than a fluent reader can detail the steps by which he understands a paragraph.  "Showing your work" becomes a matter of reverse engineering, which is another skill altogether.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 11, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Edit
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I try to avoid clickbait—you know, the Internet equivalent of the TV news teaser, "World ends tonight, details at 11"—but this one on Facebook mentioned both "Basel, Switzerland" and "drum corps" in the subtitle, so I succumbed.  I was glad I did.  (Thanks, BJ.)

The Top Secret Drum Corps founded the now-famous Basel Tattoo in 2006.  I enjoyed watching the parade in 2010, though we didn't attend the Tattoo itself, being fully entertained by newborn Joseph.


Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 11:54 am | Edit
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