molly’s column, brother danny

Molly (who you may remember) has written her first column of the school year, about her summer internship at my old newspaper and her yearnings to return to alma mater this fall.
While her editors still haven’t updated her column mug, which records a hairstyle from many moons ago, the piece does feature a few bits on her brother Danny, one of my favorite recurring characters in literature. He could become her Slats Grobnik.
“The Real World will eat you alive,” warned my 18-year-old brother, who spent this summer working three hours per week at the local video rental place and laboring on his autobiographical novel.
“My book is about destruction of the illusion of man’s natural rights,” he explained. “The main character realizes he can take whatever he wants — steal other guys’ women, whatever — as long as he has the power. That’s how the world works, Molly.”
If anyone knows a publisher who might be interested in Danny’s novel, please let him know. He has three months to get autographed hardback editions in the mail to college admissions officers.

taas math question complaints

On Sunday, I had a very short item in the paper. It was about the question that students found the toughest on this year’s TAAS, the state standardized test here in Texas. Here it is:
Rachel’s house is 12 miles due west of Highway Exit 16B. Keitha’s house is due north of the same exit. The two houses are 13 miles apart. How much farther does Rachel live from Exit 16B than Keitha does?
Your choices: 11 miles, 10 miles, 7 miles, 5 miles, or none of the above.
The correct answer is in the story linked above. (Try the problem yourself before proceeding.) But, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a downside to publishing a sample math question in the paper: everyone thinks they can do high school math. Unfortunately, lots of them can’t.
And if their rusty math skills produce an answer different from what you publish, they write you nasty emails calling you an idiot.
I got more than a dozen emails from people complaining I’d screwed up the answer. A sampling of their comments (names omitted to protect the mathematically challenged):
The Pythagorean Theorem states that, “the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two opposite sides”. Either your writer, Joshua Benton, or Pythagoras is wrong.
I’ll bet you get a lot of mail on this one. TAAS is bad enough without this. You should certainly run a correction in the same place.
This must be about the 200th message on this subject you’ve already received this morning, since it is already 8:49 AM. Nevertheless, I am pointing out to Mr. Benton that the reason so many sophomores got that Hypotenuse Theory question on the TAAS “wrong” was because the TAAS folks — AND Mr. Benton — were not crediting them with the correct answer. Please sharpen your pencil and try again.
I was explaining three weeks ago to my 7th grade son about test taking and what to look for. This morning at the breakfast table, I showed him this simple 5, 12, 13 triangle. I worked out the equation for him, but alas, your answer was wrong. Just, umm, pointing out the correct answer, which is 5.
The story was wrong and it is someone at the DMN who should be repeating a grade.
My favorites were the ones who were apologetic about pointing out my “error,” but felt their immense mathematical skill obligated them to educate poor incompetents like me.
As a CPA, one-time math major and a math nut since being taught arithmetic as a “game” at age 4, let me be among the first to point out that the TAAS people failed their jobs…The reason so many students picked 5 is because 5 is the correct answer! Not to investigate WHY the most-missed answer was missed is dereliction of duty (aka laziness!).
I’m not a math teacher, but I do have a Gifted and Talented class out in East Texas, and last week’s lesson in critical thinking would not allow me to pass this up.
Sorry, I’m an engineer, and the mathematics are second nature to me.
Today we had a follow-up story.

chanda loses at the us open

Back in Dallas, with a Chanda Rubin update. Sadly, as I’d feared, Venus proved to be her undoing in the fourth round. But Chanda put up a hell of a fight, losing 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. Chanda even had two break points at 5-5 in the third, but her endurance just wasn’t there to pull it out — not surprising, since she’s coming off major surgery. Says the AP:
But the 14th-seeded Rubin, who’s had two operations on her left knee since January 2001 and appeared to be gasping for air after longer rallies, finally succumbed to Williams’ constant pressure.
Rubin sent a forehand wide on the first break point, then put another forehand into the net to close a 17-stroke rally. She threw her head back, sighed, and staggered along the baseline.
”I gave myself a chance in the match. As a competitor, you want to go out in every match and do that,” Rubin said. ”But it’s disappointing not to win it when the chances were there. You look up — you’re right there for the match.”
Of Rubin’s seven main draw losses in 2002, five came against players who have been ranked No. 1: the Williams sisters, Davenport, and Seles.

Earlier in the week, Pam Shriver said that since coming back to the tour in May, Chanda’s been the third best woman in the world. Too bad she keeps playing the top two. (Alas, Chanda’s done for the entire tourney: she and doubles partner de jour Natasha Zvereva lost in the third round to Hingis/Kournikova. Did I mention I have no nude photos of Anna Kournikova here? Really, I don’t.)