Monday, March 25, 2013

Memorial: ICON 31 - SUNY Stony Brook's Science Fact and Fiction Convention!

In honor of ICON-32 that was cancelled this year:

I usually speak at several Math Conferences each year. I took this year off and I have withdrawl symptoms! So, I cannot miss I-CON! I almost passed on I-CON this year as I was not impressed last year. However, this I-CON was very reminiscent of the great cons of the 90s! My first stop was supposed to be the ubiquitous Dealer's Room! However, the parking situation was so awful, I didn't have time for it this year. I suppose I can look for stuff onlline. I've heard good things about I was going to look for their CDs at the Dealer's Room, but I don't have to.

My first panel was in SAC 306: DARKSIDE: Will technology be our downfall? Saturday from 10:00am until 11:00am. I missed most of this Science Fact panel too as the registration line was hell! As luck would have it, I bumped into Dr. Howard Margolin of "Destinies, The Voice of Science Fiction" from WUSB 90.1 FM Radio fame coming out of that panel as it was ending. He introduced me to Dr. Halada (pictured above) and Dr. Takai, so all was well with the world!

My next panel was next door in SAC 304, Building a Believable World Saturday from 11:00am until 12:00pm. I got to see this whole Science Fiction Authors' panel. It was great fun as it had Keith DeCandido (pictured above) dueling with David Weber among other authors. It was nice to see a literature panel with so many experts and a standing room only crowd!

Then I had to race through the rain to Firefly Drinking Songs Saturday from 12:00pm until 1:00pm (Javits 100) with the great Celtic Filker, Marc Gunn. BTW, Javits 100 is a huge room with huge projection screens and balcony seating! I recorded a bit from my DroidX cellphone as you can see above! So far so good! 

Finally, it was time for Voltaire: Voltaire- Puppet Master of the Macabre Saturday from 1:00pm until 2:00pm. Voltaire drew such a crowd that they had to delay his presentation and set him up in a larger room (Javits 102). This was a great presentation about his early career as a stop motion animator. Not only is Voltaire and great filker, he's also a professor at the School of Visual Arts in NYC! I took the picture above with my DroidX cellphone too. BTW, my battery promptly died right after recording the video, taking a picture of Marc and uploading it to FB and then taking a picture of Voltaire and uploading that!

Now its off to the SAC again! I saw a great DS9 media panel Star Trek: Deep Space Nine mega panel Saturday from 2:00pm until 3:00pm in the Main Auditorium with Nana Visitor and JG Hertzler. This auditorium seats a lot of people and has great acoustics! Nana is famous for playing Major Kira and JG is known for his portrayal of Chancelor Martok. There were several other DS9 actors there too. We had interviews, a trivia contest and a fun Q&A.

I finished it all off with Trailer Park: Movie Trailers Saturday from 3:00pm until 4:00pm in SAC 306. Bob Greenberger (pictured above) usually does a great show with movie trailers and behind the scenes info for upcoming blockbusters, but the Star Wars fan club, Docking Bay 516, took over the honors this year. They did a great job! 

I usually go early to ICON on Saturday: Here's the afternoon schedule:

The only thing I missed in this marathon visit to SUNY Stony Brook, asside from the Dealers' Room, was Voltaire's concert at 9pm and some gaming, but I had prior commitments! Also, I only had a few gripes this year:
1) Parking needs expanding and Registration needs to speed up.
2) Marc Gunn had an issue with hooking up his AutoHarp amp to the speakers on the stage in Javits 100 but  this was quickly fixed thanx to tech support! You can see the tech guy trying his darnedest to fix the problem in the video I took.
3) The movie previews really need a bigger screen (as in Javits). Docking Bay 516 did a fine job in SAC 306. However, that room was too small so everyone was crammed in there. Also, the PC Projector was too close to the screen, so the image was small. Lastly, they couldn't figure out how to turn down the lights during the previews...
4) I really missed Bob Greenberger's Movie Previews and the Renaissance styled BBQ catered by Marriott! Where's my huge turkey drumstick and saussage & pepper hero?
5) Someone has to invite Tom Smith, Bear McCreary and Christopher DeFilippis!

Actually, the first event at I-CON each year for me is the "Destinies, The Voice of Science Fiction" radio show Mystery Guest episode the first night of the con. So, I must give props to Howard Margolin for doing such a good job at WUSB 90.1 FM for all these years at Destinies! In fact, here's an email I sent Howard recently related to the video posted above.

"Yes, I noticed you weren't rapping. It worked well with Devo!

So, I was stuck at the SmithHaven Mall with nothing to do. I got on the mall's free WIFI with my Kindle Fire (really a droid tablet) and downloaded the I-CON Retrospective show and listened to it there!

I usually download your shows while commuting to work on my DriodX cellphone via 3G. I hook up my phone to my car's audio system and just blast the show! What great fun. Reminds me of the days when I first discovered I-CON and your show (early 90s) and set my boom box to record you at 11:30pm every Friday on a cassette tape to play in the car later in the week!

It's a shame I didn't discover you and I-CON earlier in the 80s. I had no idea about I-CON until one day in 1990 or 1991 when I stumbled upon a flyer about I-CON taped to the window of a pizza shop in Port Jefferson by the ferry of all places! I went to my first I-CON as a result that year (I-CON 10?) and saw an ad for your show in the program book! I'll never forget my first talk at I-CON. It was Harlan Ellison on a stage all by himself. I dragged my wife and 5 year old son to the show. They promptly had to leave after Harlan started swearing every other word! I came back for the Movie Previews in Javits 100 with Bob GreenBurger at 10pm and I was hooked! My wife never came back to I-CON after that! My son has gone to several I-CONs with me since and loves it. We're both huge Trekers. In fact, he's away at Med School now in Colorado and hates that he has to miss I-CON!

Thanx for a great show all these years!

A. Jorge Garcia
Applied Math and CompSci


1) Parking: If you want to be near the Dearlers' Room, there's a huge parking lot between the Math/Physics buildings and ESS. If you want to be near SAC and Javitts, there's a metered lot between SAC and CompSci. BTW, you only have to feed the meters Mon-Fri, 7am-7pm!
2) Registration: Come early, come often! I usually start I-CON Saturday at 10am. So, getting registration done on Friday may be a good idea.
3) Brunch: If there's no BBQ, there's no need to buy food on campus. Have a huge brunch before you go. Bring a huge apple juice bottle and an energy bar for each panel!
4) Men's Room: If you absolutely, positively gotta go, don't go where everone else is going! After KRAD's talk, even the Men's Room had a huge line on the 3rd floor of SAC. So, I went to the 2nd floor Men's Room which was empty!

Generally Speaking,

Sunday, March 24, 2013

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: The Teacher is now the Student!

Run, don't walk, to 

UPDATE: the URL has changed,

where you can take refresher courses for teachers online at your own pace from Algebra to Calculus.  This is a quick and easy way to get some graduate credits and improve that FAS (Final Average Salary) for retirement!

I am currently taking MTE507 Algebra II.  One of the first topics discussed was Linear Programming.  Here's what I had to say about it:

Linear Algebra in general and Linear Programming in particular encompass a wide variety of skills and applications.  Indeed, it is a shame that this topic is often relegated to a one-week or two-week unit at the end of most PreCalculus curricula.  The fact that this topic is slowly finding its way into the Algebra II syllabus is very encouraging.

Students who study Linear Programming will learn a valuable problem solving technique for maximizing or minimizing objective functions.  In addition to learning a new method for problem solving, the student will review many important skills learned earlier in the course.  The student will need to review linear equations, points of intersection, solving 2x2 systems of equations as well as graphing inequalities!  

This is a great opportunity to share the movie "A Beautiful Mind" about John Nash's Theorem which introduces the concept of Linear Programming for the first time.  The movie shows how John Nash's discoveries were applied to the field of Econometrics many years later and even earned Dr. Nash a Nobel Prize!

Solving optimization problems in this way can be done in a traditional fashion with just pencil and paper.  However, this is a great time to use technology too!  The students can solve the systems of equations graphically using a Graphing Calculator.  The student may even be introduced to the Matrix Menu of a TI-83/84 to solve these problems via the tools of Linear Algebra.  Using technology also makes it easy to entertain "what if scenarios" where one could change a few parameters in the question to see how they affect the solution.

However, the teacher is not bound by the technology of Graphing Calculators in this day and age.  Many schools have access to PC Classrooms with Mathematica, Maple or MATLAB software installed whereby these problems may be addressed using the power of a computer.  In fact, I have used a free software platform called SAGE, which is much like Mathematica, exactly for this purpose.  You may also use Octave (like MATLAB) or R (like SPSS). SAGE, Octave and R are all FLOSS (Free Linux Open Source Software). Do you use FLOSS everyday? You should!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Where have you been all my life, Python?

I suppose that I've been spoiled having entered the world of python via SAGE (computer algebra systems, scientific computing, etc). As you can see in the video above, I've been using SAGE, and, in class for some time. I officially introduced SAGE to my high school last year in Computer Math, my introCS class. We use SAGE to run python studying Discrete Mathematics using Gary and Maria Litvin's text which has proven very useAful in class. This year I also started a new course entitled Calculus Research Lab using SAGE as a Computer Algebra System to investigate concepts in Calculus using free online Calculus texts in pdf: and and

I only just recently bothered to install IDLE and write source files such as in Ubuntu. Apparently, the current Ubuntu liveCD ships with python 2.6 and is part of it. All I added to the mix was IDLE and I was good to go! Also, I installed the visual module (vpython) and have been playing with that in IDLE as well. In the video above Kirby Urner, a long-time proponent of using python in the mathematics classroom, shows off some of his work especially in geometry, group theory and object orientation. Apparently, there's a lot of math you can do with plain vanilla python!

BTW, you have to take a look at Ron Reiter's awesome website which has lots of python tutorials including turtle code online! All I had to do to use the turtle and visual modules offline is as follows. Python 2.6 and are already installed by default in Ubuntu. So, I ran "sudo apt-get install idle" to make python more user friendly. You don't need IDLE to run python source code, but it makes it very easy for the students. Then I got vpython from the Ubuntu Software Center and vpython needs "sudo apt-get install libgtkglextmm-x11-1.2-dev." VPython works fine in Ubuntu now, but I can't rotate the image with my mouse. I have to look into that a bit.

UPDATE: I'm currently using an online textbook with Turtle Graphics that's great!

I'm looking forward to doing a final project with my Computer Math class this year involving python's turtle graphics module or VPython 3D modeling or TI83/89 BASIC programming. In this video we have Gregor Lingl, a math teacher from Austria, showing off his graphics module which is now standard in python 2.6 and above. His turtle module is an object oriented implementation of the classic logo language in python, and and This file is the pdf that goes with Gregor's talk. Here's some documentation for the turtle module from the python website. This is the turtle module itself. Here's Gregor's textbook and using the turtle module. This is more documentation and here's Gregor's website Here's the "Think Python" text by Allen B. Downey with a chapter on turtle graphics.

This clip from Showmedo has Erik Thompson, a physics teacher, showing off the visual module or vpython teaching some physics concepts! Here's more videos from Erik's website. This is the documentation from the vpython website.

Here's another Showmedo by J. Unpingco about Scientific Computing with python in SAGE.

Well, that's all folks!

Teaching with Technology, 

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Screencasting 101: "To be or not to be?"

I've been screen-casting and smart-boarding in various mathematics and computer science classes for over 5 years now. So, I thought it would be beneficial to some of you who haven't had that much experience with all this technology if I were to summarize some of what I've learned though out all my trials and tribulations!

(1) To Smarttech or not to Smarttech?
There are alternatives after all! Many teachers swear by their Promethean or Interwrite products. Even 3Comm has an interactive whiteboard based on infrared pens! I did all my so called smart boarding for the longest time without any Smarttech products at all! I use all Smarttech now as my High School finally upgraded all our classrooms. If I had my druthers, I'd use a Tablet PC such as the Lenovo X201T connected remotely to another PC with a PC Projector via RDP. So, "To Smarttech or not to Smarttech?" Not!

(2) To Smartboard or not to Smartboard?
Again, there are other options here. When I started out smart-boarding for my students, I used a Wacom Graphire 6x8 Bluetooth remote mouse. I call it a remote mouse rather than a tablet as its not like today's tablets. The Graphire was a great solution that would take over the function of your mouse from anywhere in the room typically used by graphic artists to make freehand illustrations. The one drawback was that you could not see what was written on the tablet itself. It had a magnetic sensitive 6" x 8" (capacitive not resistive) writing surface and a magnetic pen. So, I had to crane my neck to see what I wrote on the PC Projection Screen way across the room! One good thing about this setup was that all you needed was a PC Projector, no Smart Board need apply! Also, I could hover the pen over the writing surface moving the mouse pointer around on the screen without writing anything so I could use the mouse pointer as if it were a laser pointer! So, "To Smartboard or not to Smartboard?" Not!

(3) To Smart Notebook or not to Smart Notebook?
I've used other pen apps in the past as well. For example, I used to use Xournal all the time. Since my school recently upgraded every classroom to Smarttech, I've been using Smart Notebook a lot. However, I just use Smart Notebook to record what I write in class as a pdf. I even installed Smart Notebook in Linux to record my Computer Science notes! However, I do not use Smart Notebook to prepare lessons ahead of time. I refuse to waste hours of prep time using all the bells and whistles in Smart Notebook to make every class into a PowerPoint presentation! Anyway, most of the Smart Notebook features seem to me to be designed more for Elementary School or Junior High, not High School or College. So, "To Smart Notebook or not to Smart Notebook?" Not!

(4) To Smart Record or not to Smart Record?
Whenever I am teaching a new topic, I also record my desktop as a video, usually in *.mp4 format, for students to review as needed. All I add to the mix is a wireless 75Mhz Lapel Mic (from Radio Shack) to record all I say as I write. I love as it encodes videos very quickly. Also, if you don't have time to encode right away, screencast-o-matic stores a cookie on your PC that points to a temporary file stored on their website that you can encode later. The only drawback to screencast-o-matic is that you need an internet connection the entire time you are recording. Also, you are limited to 1 hour and that's if you subscribe as a "Power User" for $12 per year. If you want to record offline, there's other solutions. In Smart Notebook for Windows, you can use Smart Recorder which records as lomg as you want. This application encodes quickly if you use the *.avi format, but these files tend to be huge! You can set Smart Recorder to encode *.mp4 files which are smaller but take a long time to encode! In Linux many users like RecordMyDesktop as it has a nice GUI. I have had better results with ffmpeg, however. So, "To Smart Record or not to Smart Record?" Not!

(5) To GC or not to GC?
I am convince that using TI-81s, 82s, 83s, 84s, 85s, 86s, 89s and 92s constantly for the last 20 years or so has contributed to my needing reading glasses! So, I never use an actual hand-held Graphing Calculator, I use an emulator such as VTI on my SmartBoard or a Computer Algebra System such as So, "To GC or not to GC?" Not!

(6) To Windows or not to Windows?
As you know, "I don't do Windows, and neither does my Maid!" So, most of the hardware and software solutions I recommend above work well in Windows and Linux! I use a Smart Board or Tablet with Smart Notebook or Xournal and Screencast-o-matic or ffmpeg in Linux: 
ffmpeg -f alsa -ac 2 -i pulse -f x11grab -r 30 -s 800x600 -i :0.0 test.mpg 
I find that the 32bit Ubuntu Desktop 10.04 LTS works quite well and is easily customizable to accommodate all the above! So, "To Windows or not to Windows?" Not!

(7) To Tablet or not to Tablet?
I've used a Smart Airliner Slate for years now. Its really a relabeled Wacom Graphire 6x8 Tablet that's more commonly used by artists to make sketches on a computer. It has a magnetic pen and a capacitive surface but you can't see what you write on it directly. You need to look at the remote desktop connected via Bluetooth or a PC Projection. I've used this setup instead of a SmartBoard for my ScreenCasts. I now have a SmartBoard, so I only use it on the road at conferences or at the local college. The picture above is of a Tablet PC from Lenovo model X220T. It converts to a regular ThinkPad laptop and back to a Tablet PC in a flash. If I had my way, I'd be using this device instead of the Airliner or the SmartBoard! Take a look at this rock-solid update to the X201T,

So, it seems that I've come down on the side of "Not!" for all of the above, but that's really just my personal preference! Perhaps, now you have some food for thought?

I hope you found all these screen-casting tips useful! What do ya think? 
Teaching with Technology, 

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: SmartBoard on Linux? They said it could not be done!

I finally broke down and ran Linux on my SmartBoard in every class for the the past couple of weeks!

(1) bluetooth Tablet (Wacom Graphire 6x8 with capacitive surface)
(2) wireless Mic (Radio Shack 75Mhz Lapel Mic)
(3) pen app (xournal)
(4) SAGE (keyboard intensive CAS)
(5) (online service)

First, I got my old setup (as listed above) working with the Smart Airliner Slate. Actually, its a bluetooth remote mouse from Wacom called the Graphire 6x8. Its the kind of tablet whereby you don't see what you're writing on the tablet itself (please see my donorschoose project). You get used to craning your neck and watching the PC Monitor or the PC Projection Screen or the SmartBoard clear accross the room to see what you've written.... 

Anyway, I've used the Graphire for years to write my Smartnotes on the fly in class and to make live Screen-casts of my classes. Its a nice little tablet with a 10" diagonal writing area. Also, it has a capacitive surface so I can hover the magnetic pen over the tablet without writing so that the students can see me highlight something on the screen as I circle over it. So, my YouTube Recording Studio works fine. BTW, xournal is a nice java *.jar app so its cross-platform. It can save to *.pdf and has nice paper backgrounds such as graph paper. It also recognizes geometric figures, so if I draw a circle or triangle, xounal redraws it for me nice and neat! I use xournal because of these features and because installing Smart Notebook takes for ever. Why install Smart Notebook if I only use it as a pan app?

However, one hiccup was that the bluetooth mouse sensutivity is way too high even when I set it to the lowest possible setting, so you have to write really, really slowly.... Another little SNAFU is that the SmartBoard will go to sleep at times. The surface will stop reacting to the pen (the green light goes red). This may be due to the fact that I have a very long USB line (extended via ethernet) from my Teacher station in the back of the room to the SmartBoard in the front? I find that the only way to counter act this problem is to start using the regular keyboard and mouse for a few minutes and then the SmartBoard starts to function normally. One time I had to logout of my Linux user account and log back in!

(1) SmartBoard 885ix (xtra wide 78" resistive surface SmartBoard)
(2) wireless Mic (Radio Shack 75Mhz Lapel Mic) 
(3) pen app (Smart NotebBook for Linux)
(4) virtual TI (TI-83/89 emulator) + WINE
(5) (online service)

Next, we enter the world of true SmartBoarding! So, I installed WINE to run Virtual TI right on the SmarBoard! Also, xournal did not work well from the SmartBoard. Every time I started a blank page, the pen would draw a line from the top left hand corner of the screen to the pen! It was time to install Smart NoteBook for Linux.

Otherwise, the wireless mic worked fine as it is platform independent (connects to sound card input). Also, screencast-o-matic worked fine once I added JRE to FireFox. BTW, be careful to use the same audio input/output as you do in Wimpdoze if you are running Ubuntu on a dualboot box and said box is running your SmartBoard in Wimpdoze too!

So, my STUDENT Linux Boxes have Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop plus SAGE (and JRE for 3D graphs in SAGE) + WINE + VTI. Don't forget, I downgraded all my Ubuntu boxes to 32bit so as to make JRE and Flash installation in FireFox easier. 

My TEACHER Linux Boxes also have VLC + Handbrake, WINE + VTI, Smart NoteBook, xournal as well as Flash for Firefox. We recently had our AP exams in Calculus and Computer Science. So, we are using WINE to play vintage StarCraft in APCS class and VLC to watch The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in AP Calculius! I had to a add libdvdcss2 from to get VLC to play my DVDs, however. Note that the teacher boxes include all the functionality of the student boxes so I can model what the students need to do in their work. I added VLC to watch videos such as my MP4s and screen-casts on YouTube. I added Handbrake so I can convert my own DVDs to MP4s for YouTube. I have made DVDs from old VHS tapes on my DVDR for YouTube Wednesday documentaries. I've also taken DVR recordings off my cable box and burned them as DVDs for this purpose. I added VTI so the students could follow my using a Graphing Calculator right on the SmartBoard. I mostly use VTI ROMs for TI-83+ and TI-89.

My SERVER Linux Boxes also have JDK, openSSH and vsFTP for APCS. I'm also looking into adding a local SAGE server for Computer Math but we'll leave that for another day. Note that the server boxes have all the functionality of the teacher boxes as I sometimes use the server as a demo machine via a video switch. In this mode, I use the SmartBoard as a glorified video projector as the resistive surface is not connected to the second box. This setup allows me to have one box running Wimpdoze and another running Linux all day without having to reboot. However, I'm needing to use a Wimpdoze box less and less....

BTW, I recently became a Twit on Twitter just so I can Tweet! Take a look at some of my recent tweets:

Joy is  after   and  libdvdread4 libdvdcss2  
Happiness is running a vintage  server over  over  during AP Week!   
Happiness=setting up a BZFLAG server using BZFS via WINE on my Ubuntu Maverick Meercat 10.04 LTS 32bit Desktop Edition Athlon dual-core! 

Yes, I know all things  ! But, I celebrated  related  app!  yesterday by downloading a

So, as penance, today I downloaded the   app to my droid!  

@ This is the best tweet from Sunday night! I wrote it this way in class,$ chmod 755 /bin/laden  

Good luck to my young APCS paduans taking their AP now!

Finally, notice the new PayPal Donation tab at the top right of this blog! Please support this blog: give early, give often!

Well, that's all for today. I hope you found it informative! What do ya think? 
Teaching with Technology, 

PAEMST Application Nearly Done!


Everything's done except for one letter of recommendation and my essay. I'll work on the essay in April! The application isn't due until May 1st. I'm taking my time to do it right. Besides, I've been really busy prepping for LIMACON (3/15/13 SUNY Old Westbury) and T^3 (11/1/13 Molloy College). 

Part of that prepping was the Grand Experiment in Math 4R preCalculus for Seniors. Said experiment involves using SAGE instead of TI-83s to teach Chapter 12: Sequences and Series! Next year I think I'll use SAGE from day one, no Graphing Calculators at all in preCalculus. Further, during the Great Common Core Curriculum ReWrite, I propose covering the preCalculus curriculum starting with Chapter 12 and moving our way backward. We can do this more quickly in Math 4H preCalculus for Juniors than in 4R. The idea is to start coding in SAGE/python with Lists, loops and List Comprehensions from the beginning of the year. When the 1st Semester is up, 4H can start on Calculus material. 4R can have a bit of Calculus in Quarter 4. The sequence of topics would be something like this: 

Series, Induction, Binomial Expansion

Linear Systems, Matrices, Linear Programming, nonLinear Systems

SOHCAHTOA + Trig Identities, Law of Sines, Law of Cosines

Polar Coordinates, CIS(theta), Vector Sums, Dot and Cross Products, Area, Volume

Standard Conics, Polar Conics

Exponential and Logarithmic Functions

Solving Polynomial Equations

Rational Functions (talking about horizontal, vertical and slant asymptotes as an introduction to Limits)


Dear Mr. Garcia,
The 2012-2013 application period for 7-12 grade mathematics and science, including computer science, teachers for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program is currently open.
To begin the application process, please confirm your eligibility to compete for the award by logging in to your PAEMST account at using these credentials:

   User Name: xxxxxxxx
   Password: xxxxxxxx

After verifying your eligibility, you will receive a confirmation email with additional information regarding the application process. We encourage you to review all details entered by the person who nominated you and to make any corrections necessary. Completed applications are due by May 1, 2013.

You may contact your State Coordinators with any questions you may have. Your State Coordinator contact information is as follows:

If you have any technical questions or concerns, please contact us at Please include the following Teacher ID in all e-mails: xxxxx.
Again, we encourage you to apply and look forward to receiving your application.

Sincerely yours,

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching
Directorate for Education and Human Resources
National Science Foundation


Here's the instructions for filing the application. Mind you, this 15 page document is not the application itself!

Generally Speaking,