How Much I Did Lose In Pinball


A follow-up for people curious how much I lost at the state pinball championships Saturday: I lost at the state pinball championships Saturday. As I expected I lost in the first round. I did beat my expectations, though. I’d figured I would win one, maybe two games in our best-of-seven contest. As it happened I won three games and I had a fighting chance in game seven.

I’d mentioned in the previous essay about how much contingency there is especially in a short series like this one. My opponent picked the game I expected she would to start out. And she got an awful bounce on the first ball, while I got a very lucky bounce that started multiball on the last. So I won, but not because I was playing better. The seventh game was one that I had figured she might pick if she needed to crush me, and if I had gotten a better bounce on the first ball I’d still have had an uphill struggle. Just less of one.

After the first round I got into a set of three “tie-breaking” rounds, used to sort out which of the sixteen players ranked as number 11 versus number 10. Each of those were a best-of-three series. I did win one series and lost two others, dropping me into 12th place. Over the three series I had four wins and four losses, so I can’t say that I mismatched there.

Where I might have been mismatched is the side tournament. This was a two-hour marathon of playing a lot of games one after the other. I finished with three wins and 13 losses, enough to make me wonder whether I somehow went from competent to incompetent in the hour or so between the main and the side tournament. Of course not, based on a record like that, but — can I prove it?

Meanwhile a friend pointed out The New York Times covering the New York State pinball championship:

The article is (at least for now) at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/12/nyregion/pinball-state-championship.html. What my friend couldn’t have known, and what shows how networked people are, is that I know one of the people featured in the article, Sean “The Storm” Grant. Well, I knew him, back in college. He was an awesome pinball player even then. And he’s only got more awesome since.

How awesome? Let me give you some background. The International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) gives players ranking points. These points are gathered by playing in leagues and tournaments. Each league or tournament has a certain point value. That point value is divided up among the players, in descending order from how they finish. How many points do the events have? That depends on how many people play and what their ranking is. So, yes, how much someone’s IFPA score increases depends on the events they go to, and the events they go to depend on their score. This might sound to you like there’s a differential equation describing all this. You’re close: it’s a difference equation, because these rankings change with the discrete number of events players go to. But there’s an interesting and iterative system at work there.

(Points only expire with time. The system is designed to encourage people to play a lot of things and keep playing them. You can’t lose ranking points by playing, although it might hurt your player-versus-player rating. That’s calculated by a formula I don’t understand at all.)

Anyway, Sean Grant plays in the New York Superleague, a crime-fighting band of pinball players who figured out how to game the IFPA rankings system. They figured out how to turn the large number of people who might visit a Manhattan bar and casually play one or two games into a source of ranking points for the serious players. The IFPA, combatting this scheme, just this week recalculated the Superleague values and the rankings of everyone involved in it. It’s fascinating stuff, in that way a heated debate over an issue you aren’t emotionally invested in can be.

Anyway. Grant is such a skilled player that he lost more points in this nerfing than I have gathered in my whole competitive-pinball-playing career.

So while I knew I’d be knocked out in the first round of the Michigan State Championships I’ll admit I had fantasies of having an impossibly lucky run. In that case, I’d have gone to the nationals and been turned into a pale, silverball-covered paste by people like Grant.

Thanks again for all your good wishes, kind readers. Now we start the long road to the 2017 State Championships, to be held in February of next year. I’m already in 63rd place in the state for the year! (There haven’t been many events for the year yet, and the championship and side tournament haven’t posted their ranking scores yet.)

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A Timeline Of Mathematics Education


https://twitter.com/dannytybrown/status/670174694390239232

As Danny Brown’s tweet above promises, this is an interesting timeline. It’s a “work in progress” presentation by one David Allen that tries to summarize the major changes in the teaching of mathematics in the United States.

It’s a presentation made on Prezi, and it appears to require Flash (and at one point it breaks, at least on my computer, and I have to move around rather than use the forward/backward buttons). And the compilation is cryptic. It reads better as a series of things for further research than anything else. Still, it’s got fascinating data points, such as when algebra became a prerequisite for college, and when it and geometry moved from being college-level mathematics to high school-level mathematics.

What Do I Need To Pass This Class? (December 2014 Edition)


It’s finals season, at least for colleges that run on a semesterly schedule, and a couple of my posts are turning up in search query results again. So I thought it worth drawing a little more attention to them and hopefully getting people what they need sooner.

The answer: you need to study a steady but not excessive bit every night from now to before the exam; you need to get a full night of sleep before the exam; and you really needed to pay attention in class and do the fiddly little assignments all semester, so, sorry it’s too late for that. Also you need to not pointlessly antagonize your professor; even if you don’t like this class, you could have taken others to meet your academic requirement, so don’t act like you were dragged into Topics in Civilization: Death against your will even if it does satisfy three general-education requirements at the cost of being a 7:50 am section.

Anyway, that doesn’t help figuring out whether you can relax as soon as you get 82.3 percent of the final right or if you have to strain to get that 82.6. So let me point to those: What Do I Need To Pass This Class? (December 2013 Edition) gives an expression for working out the score you need, and shows how to develop that formula, based on things like the pre-final grade, the weight given the exam, and extra credit (or demerits) that you’ve received, and is therefore good for absolutely any weighted-average based course grade you might have.

That also involves formulas, though, and I know that makes people nervous, so What Do I Need To Get An A In This Class? simplifies matters a bit by working out a couple common cases: for finals worth 40, 33, 30, 25, and 20 percent of the class, based on pre-final averages, what final exam grade do you need to get to at least a given level. Good luck, but you really shouldn’t be scrounging for points. Study because it’s fun to learn things and the grades will be good of their own accord.

What Is Calculus I Like?


Although I haven’t got a mathematics class to teach this term, at least not right now, I have thought a bit about it and realized that I’ve surprisingly missed a nearly universal affair: I haven’t had a Calculus I course, the kind taught in big lecture halls capable of seating hundreds of students, literally several of whom are awake and alert and paying attention. The closest I’ve come is a history-of-computation course, with a nominal enrollment of about 130 students, and a similarly sized Introduction to C; but the big mathematics course college students are supposed to get through so they learn they really don’t like calculus, I haven’t done. While I was teaching assistant for some Calculus I courses, I never had professors who wanted me to attend lecture as a regular thing, and I just came in to do recitations.

More, I never had Calculus I as a student. I was in a magnet program in high school that got me enough advanced placement credit that I skipped pretty near the whole freshman year of the mathematics major sequence, and I could jump right into the courses with 30-to-40 student enrollments like Vector Calculus and Introduction to Differential Equations. That was great for me, but it’s finally struck me that I missed a pretty big, pretty common experience.

So I’m curious what it’s like: what the experience is, what students are expecting from their professors, what professors expect from students, how those expectations clash. I know the sorts of class methods I liked as a student and that I like as an instructor, but not how well that fits the attempt to teach a hundred-plus students who are just there because the school requires the passing of some mathematics courses and this is the one they offer 140 sections of.