Author Archive

Random thoughts on hotels

First of all, forgive me if I’m blathering on, I’ve been hanging out with an 8-year-old for a week so I’m kind of starved for adult conversation. And even if you can’t actually answer me in real time, your comments are very welcome.

Second of all, I would like to comment on traveling in general.

  1. What’s with all the mirrors in hotel rooms? They’re everywhere, and, may I say, completely unnecessary. Now, I get that they make the rooms look somewhat bigger, but what’s the deal with sitting down at the toilet and seeing yourself in a mirror, sitting down at the toilet? It’s not a good look for anyone, I’d wager, and I’m not being ultra self-conscious when I say that. For that matter, I’m pretty at ease with my body, but nobody looks good at the toilet. Or rather, people who do look good at the toilet would look good in any position whatsoever. So even for them, I’d suggest fewer mirrors near toilets, are you with me? [the way I deal with the mirror problem is I walk around the room without my glasses on so I can’t see anything. It solves the problem of the mirrors but also produces its own problems]
  2. Also, coffee. I’m not complaining, since free coffee is always welcome (although in Las Vegas the coffee pods cost like $20 each, and I couldn’t even find them because I was on my hands and knees looking for free coffee pods without my glasses), but why oh why so little? I’m in a hotel now where they have one of those tiny pod machines, and they give me all of 2 tiny pods for an entire day’s worth of coffee. Is there any serious coffee drinker who could make do on such a small amount of caffeine? I mean, a small Starbucks black coffee would be equivalent to about 8 pods alone, and who buys small coffee anymore? I don’t get it. [the way I deal with the lack of coffee problem is I steal coffee pods off of the maid carts in the hallways whenever I get the chance. This solves the problem of too little coffee but leads to the problem of feeling somewhat guilty all the time]
  3. Having made those whiny complaints, let me say how much I love hotel rooms, and especially how utterly anonymous they are. They’re so comfortingly bland! And everything is designed with disgusting behavior in mind, so you don’t have to worry too hard about messing something up. It’s much better than staying in someone’s house where you might break something. In a hotel room there’s basically nothing to break because it’s all bolted onto the wall and/or stain resistant. It’s heaven.

Also, before I leave, I should mention that I did get a wonderful fiddle lesson from Leisha. I don’t have pictures but here’s a recording of her doing a tune called Cooley’s Reel:

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Dublin Part 2

In my previous post, I explained how my trip to Dublin with my son Wolfie came to be. Now I want to tell you what we’ve done so far.

Day 1 – complaints

We started with the standard squished-in-the-airplane for 7 hours, then spend forever getting luggage, then find slow shuttle bus to car rental, then get charged an extra $600 for standard transmission (because you cannot imagine driving on the left side of the road in a city you don’t know AND driving manual with your left hand), then driving the wrong way away from the airport, then getting stuck in horrible Dublin morning commuting traffic, then finally making it to the hotel exhausted.

Having gotten that out of the way we proceeded to take a well-deserved nap, then we got up and found lunch and an extremely slow bus tour around the city, which gave us a broad idea of what we had available to us. Then we got back to the hotel, went swimming in the hotel pool, and crashed.

Here we are waiting for lunch. Can you guess who was more patient?


Day 2 – laziness

Really no trip would be complete without a full day of doing nothing at all. So we did nothing on this day, stayed the entire day inside the hotel except for the time I went across the alleyway to pick up food that I ordered in advance. Wolfie could see me off the balcony:



By the way, when I say we did nothing, it goes without saying that we went swimming in the hotel pool, because we believe that is a solemn duty of vacationers.

Day 3 – horses and castles

After resting up, we were ready for a day of action! We woke up early, grabbed breakfast, and drove out west to the Clare Equestrian Centre, where a very nice young woman by the name of Shavonne Siobhan gave Wolfie his very first riding lesson:

riding 2


Wolfie described this experience as “both awesome and mortifying.” In this picture he’s biting his cheek to prevent himself from throwing up.


After the lesson we went to our hotel for the night, which was absolutely the nicest place we ever have or ever will stay, the Dromoland Castle Hotel. One direct consequence of the horseback riding lesson (a steal at 40 Euros) was that, every time from then on when we talk about “how Irish” something we’re doing is, say drinking Guinness and eating beef stew at a pub, we always mention that it could be just a bit more Irish if we were doing it on horseback.

We were too awed by how nice it was at the castle to take many pictures, but here we are at a fancy tea:


Yes, we got steak with our tea. Yum.


And here’s Wolfie doing a victory dance as he beats me at outside chess:


chess 2

He’s singing too.


We also went swimming in the hotel pool for a record 90 minutes before falling asleep.

Day 4 – the coast and gay pride

We woke up at the castle, had a fancy breakfast, went swimming, and then drove to the Cliffs of Moher:


We eventually found ourselves in Doolin, where we bought a few things at the shops:


This lad couldn’t be more Irish unless he was on a horse.

After eating beef stew and Guinness at a pub, and wishing there were live music (we’d missed the Doolin Folk Festival by one week!), we went for a walk to make sure I was fit for driving, and we took some pictures:


After that we drove back to Dublin, and when we got there, everyone was walking around in Rainbow flags. It was outstanding, and we soon realized we’d missed the Pride Parade in Dublin, which was a huge deal. That made me think maybe we’d be able to find some live music if we just went to the right place. So after parking, we went on a walk to the Temple Bar. Wolfie found himself some flags:


He named pretty much all of them.


Well we did find live music, but the bars were so loud and crowded we didn’t stay long.

And did I mention that there were quite a few drunken horsemen rushing their horses through the streets this way and that and generally causing confusion and mayhem? It made everything extremely Irish. We were mesmerized, especially as the drunk college students kept trying to heave themselves onto the carriages at the slightest provocation.

We ended up sitting outside at an Indian restaurant, when all of a sudden these three musicians popped up right next to us:

pride 2


And they were fantastic!


Long story short, I’ve asked the fiddler to give me a lesson today, which is Day 5 – did I mention I brought my fiddle? – and she said yes. More soon.

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In Dublin with Wolfie!

I’m here in Dublin with my son Wolfie for a week. It’s absolutely amazing. To understand why you’ll need to know how we decided to come here in the first place.

It all started on St. Patrick’s Day, which my son happened to have off, and on which I happened to be procrastinating, so we got all dressed up:



We really enjoyed the parade:


And so we talked about how, even though we’re only technically 25% and an eighth Irish, we’re actually, down deep, 100% Irish. We discussed blarney, the need for embellishment for a really good story, and he agreed that drunk people are funny and the musical tradition is friendly and fun. To celebrate we bought a flag:



And then we cemented the deal with a meal at the Brooklyn Diner:



Weeks went by. Wolfie mentioned Irish castles he’d seen on YouTube. Then he started getting really into flags, first getting the U.S., Irish, and Dutch flags on his door:



And then with his amazing “draw a country, color it in with that country’s flag” project:


You might notice he forgot Northern Ireland here. Oh well.


Long story short, Ireland became a small obsession for me and Wolfie. And, soon enough, when I walked him to school in the morning, at some point he’d ask me, ‘Mom, when can we go to Ireland and see the castles?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah we should do that.’ Until one day, he asked me for maybe the fourth time that week and I said, ‘OK shit, I’ll go home and buy tickets.’ And I did.

So that’s the story of how we got here. Tomorrow I’ll tell you what we’ve done here so far. Spoiler: it’s been amazing.

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Guest post: Quatama Elementary

This is a guest post, converted from a letter to me, by Derek Osborne, a father of four and active participant in his community with a strong belief that real change happens at the local level. Derek is a data scientist at Intel where he works on a team that utilizes machine learning techniques to optimize the workforce at Intel. Prior to working at Intel, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Biophysics.

I moved to Hillsboro, Oregon four years ago with my wife and three kids after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. Like many parents when choosing a home, I checked on the school scores of the nearby elementary schools and there was a large variance in the Zillow school scores that are taken from After house hunting for a long time, we finally found a home that was perfect for our family but it was in the school boundaries of Quatama Elementary that was ranked a 5 out of 10 and red. Asking around, other parents told us the reason was because there was low income housing in the area which was driving down the score. We felt that if the only issue with the school was that the school boundaries included low income housing, it shouldn’t stop us from buying the home. We could always transfer to a better school if we didn’t like the experience.

Over the following years we have loved all of our teachers, the principal, and our kid’s classmates and were baffled that it was scoring so low. During this time, we’ve met people that avoided the school when they moved in because of the score they saw on Zillow when they moved to the area. We also have had multiple friends move away because of the school’s ranking. When they would move, we’d ask what in the school do you dislike and they would acknowledge their personal experience was positive but they wanted to move to a “better” school. It was sad to see people trust a single digit score more than a personal experience.

Over this time, I’d check the same single digit ranking every year or so to see if it has gone up but it would remain the same. I felt that our school was a quality school and I was confused why the score never changed. What was even more baffling is that I started to dig into the scores published by the state that go into more detail and Quatama scored nearly the same or higher as its nearby high performing schools. After hearing some other parents say they wouldn’t let their kids go to Quatama, I felt that I needed to figure out why it was “rated low”.

I emailed and explained the situation and I got back a standard cut and paste answer but after a few emails insisting something was wrong they realized there was an error in their publishing system for Quatama. They have now updated the rankings and Quatama is now an 8 out of 10 and “green” which is comparable to its high performing peers. The perception that Quatama is a low performing school was completely erroneous and based off a math system gone wrong.

I’m now working with the principal to see if there is a way for us to measure how this rating has impacted the school. My thought that the same way there are bandwagon fans, there are bandwagon parents. Now that the school is rated higher, will the parents view of the school change? Will the parental support change over the next few years? If it does change, this will open up a large question about the morality of publishing overly simplified data.

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What’s Wrong With Letting Tech Run Our Schools

My newest Bloomberg View column is out!

What’s Wrong With Letting Tech Run Our Schools

You can see all my Bloomberg columns here.

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The Unhelpful Myth of Genius

I’ve got a new Bloomberg View column out:

A Mathematician’s Secret: We’re Not All Geniuses


See all my Bloomberg View columns here.

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Stacks Project Hoodies For Sale!

June 6, 2017 Comments off

Nerds, you’re in luck!

Hoodies black

We’ve designed Stacks Project Hoodies and they’re for sale. Please tell all your nerd friends to sign up by June 16th so we’ll have them printed in time for the Stack Project Workshop taking place in Michigan at the end of July.

Here’s the Google form, have at it!

Thanks to Wei Ho and Pieter Belmans for their help in organizing!


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