A Letter to My 5th Grade Math Tutor

May 22, 2017– Dear Miss Kasmir:

On behalf of my parents and me, I wanted to apologize for the horrors you endured when trying to help me with my math skills.

You left my home frustrated and in tears on many occasions, especially when I didn’t make any progress, didn’t pay attention to what you were trying to show me, or dropped my pencil under the table for the umpteenth time to escape your instruction for a few seconds. You probably told yourself I was hopeless, and it turns out you were right.

According to a new study, “the size of one’s brain structure and the connections between it and other regions can help identify the children who will hardly benefit from one-on-one math instruction.” In other words, the article states we shouldn’t bother to hire math tutors for our kids because in many cases, it is useless.

That sounds harsh, yet the study indicates that scientists can predict how much a child learns from math tutoring based on the measures of brain structure and connectivity.

Clearly, had this data been available in 1970, I would have been labeled as one of those children, and it would have saved both of us a lot of grief. Or, at least I could have served as an interesting outlier. Apparently, my gray matter in the right hippocampus of my brain is not as large, nor does it connect as easily to the area that relates to math problem-solving skills. Who knew?

I think about you now and then, and wonder what you did with your life. I know you were studying to be a teacher when you tutored me, but I heard that you decided it wasn’t the right path for you. If that is the case, I’m glad the time spent with me set you on a more appropriate journey to your life’s goal.

Your first and perhaps last student,

Jane M. McMaster

Weekly Photo Challenge – Heritage

May 19, 2107 – This week’s photo challenge is heritage.

In October, I made my first trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, the event that recreates a village from 1500s England during the reign of Elizabeth I. While the characters that work the faire aren’t from Elizabethan times, many of them camp on the faire grounds during the 10-week season. Some even travel from faire to faire, creating what I believe is seasonal heritage.

Just Words

May 15, 2017– I’m about to reveal a big secret. I am a writer who is terrible at crossword puzzles, and who doesn’t have a huge vocabulary.

I love playing Scrabble, which is sort of like crosswords if you use your imagination, and I can do cryptograms with the greatest of ease, but when it comes to vocabulary and those five-dollar words often associated with crosswords, I panic. I appease myself with the fact that I was taught to write clearly and simply, on a level that everyone can understand.

Of course, you could argue that a writer with a limited vocabulary is like a painter who is colorblind. But I’m not that limited.

When I read “11 word games writers love” I wondered if the author considered writers who are crossword challenged. Even though she refers to the relationship between the writer and crossword puzzles as iconic, we must exist. Surely I can’t be the only one. I’ll give her a pass this time because she compiled a nice list of games aside from crosswords that will please even the mightiest of literary snobs.

And I’ll add one suggestion of my own:

If you’re mad about cryptograms, you can play to your heart’s content at www.cryptograms.org.

Writers Beware

May 8, 2017 – Replacing human jobs with computers is nothing new. However, to realize that robots will replace five million jobs by 2020, according to Digital Trends, or half the jobs within 30 years, according to Business Insider, is frightening.

Thankfully, I am a writer so I don’t have to worry about replacement, right?

Scrolling through the LinkedIn feed recently, this headline caught my eye: “What if Hollywood Replaced Writers with AI?” Of course, I clicked to read more and discovered that artificial intelligence algorithms wrote a short film, It’s No Game. They made it into a short film and cast David Hasselhoff to star the main role.

That’s right. AI wrote every line of the screenplay. All seven minutes and 40 seconds of it.

At first, I thought, how cool. A few seconds later, I began to feel envious. My human brain has been plugging away at this game for years, and though I consider myself lucky that I receive a paycheck to write nonfiction all day, I haven’t had any real success with fiction, my real passion.

I watched the film, and although I can’t wrap my head around the technology, or if the guy who programmed the AI could be considered the actual author because created the “author”, I’m back to thinking it is cool. Weird, cheesy and nonsensical, but cool. How did AI come up with a plot? It didn’t make any sense, but there was still a solid plot. And how did it write that ever so evasive first line? They are my biggest struggles.

I’m also relieved to see that with the product AI put out, human screenwriters aren’t likely to lose their jobs anytime soon. But in 50 years, who knows.