Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Check Raisers Want You to Call Them

Yet another lesson from another tournament. I placed 70th out 87 players in the World Poker Tour Satellite tournament today. I still feel good about my performance because all the other players at my table rebought or added on for an extra $100 and I played my original $100 further than 16 of them. I even was in a good position after two successful all-ins, when I loose called a check raise. I had Ace Queen suited and limped in as I was playing tournament tight. The flop came Ace, 7, 4 rainbow. I was checked to and raised 400 into a 1200 pot. The first player folded and the second came back at me with a 900 check raise. I called it. The turn card was a 9. He was first to act and came all-in. I pegged him for the pair of aces with a weaker kicker so I called. I should have known he had atleast two pair. He ended up holding Aces and 7's and was slow playing it against my weak raise.

In retrospect (where correct choices always seem so obvious), his cards were pretty obvious. He was playing pretty tight. He called a 200 raise from a big blind of 200, which means he had to have atleast a face card or some midsize suited connectors. His check raise of 900 was a pretty clear slow play. In the future I will tighten up my calling requirements for check raises.

After the tournament this morning, I walked Ishy for Keith. Took Lexi out to lunch at Clarkes. Got a haircut. And to cap it all off, I finished most of my grading. I made back about $35 of my registration fee for today's game playing on-line tonight. All in all a good day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmas in Tahoe

Lexi and I celebrated Christmas in Tahoe this year from the 24th through the 27th. Before we left we bought our Prius a ski rack, which we put together in the dark on the night of the 23rd. I'm a little nervous about driving the Prius through any severe snow storms, but I'm determined to show the SUV crowd that you don't need a rugged 4 wheel drive vehicle to drive the well maintained stretch of highway 80 between the Bay and Lake Tahoe. We ran into another Prius with a ski rack at Alpine Meadows, which either means it is possible to get around Lake Tahoe in a prius or that there is at least one other driver out there as crazy as us.

Though there hadn't been snow for some time, we still managed to ski all four days. Whether it was the weather or the holiday, there were few people on the slope until it started snowing on Monday. We spent two days skiing Northstar. Then we went to Homewood and finally Alpine Meadows on our last day. Here we are at the top of Homewood, which has a magnificent view of the lake.

Under Lexi's expert tutelage, I managed to ski my first blue runs. She was very patient with me, skiing with me down the green runs and the easier blue ones and giving me pointers.
It took only one day of work with her to finally get me the ability to turn left. Though I look far from elegant going down the slope, I'm a whole lot more confident about trying new runs and I'm having a lot more fun skiing. Here's some footage of me cutting off a snowboarder.

Lexi got some black diamonds in each afternoon too. The moguls were a bit icy though. There were also a lot of runs that were upgraded from black diamonds to orange exclamation points because it had been so long since there had been snow and a lot of obstacles (stumps, bushes, rocks, etc.) were poking through.

We ate well each night, which cancelled all the calories we burned on the slopes. There was this great steakhouse near our hotel. It was a classic, no frills steak house with huge cuts of meat served on their own with sides served separately. My pork chops were so huge that the one of them we took home was enough to feed us both for breakfast. The next night we went to the Crystal Bay steak house inside a small casino in Crystal Bay Nevada. It was a lot better than I expected from a small casino. My turkey and Lexi's prime rib were both great, but the decor was based on a confused concept to say the least. I even recognized one of the murals as a photo from the photoshop classroom in a book curriculum. The last night we were there, we went to the La Fondue in Incline Village. It was the worst fondue experience I've ever had. There was even glass in my salad! It's nothing like the great La Fondue in Cupertino, which I highly recommend.

We also got some card playing in. We spent our first day at the only card room in Crystal bay at the Nugget. We both ended up losing at that table. We should have known better than to play at a place that has only two tables and a group of experienced locals playing. It's like Amarillo Slims first rule of poker, if you can't find the sucker at the table after 30 minutes of play, you're the sucker. I was also kind of tired that night, so I wasn't putting the same energy into observing the interactions between the other players during the hands I sat out. As most of them had were better than the calling stations, maniacs and rocks I'm used to running into at low limit tables, I couldn't peg there betting patterns or tells as quickly.

The third night we were there, we discovered the card room at Harvey's Casino in Stateline Nevada. The card room there had tons more action. Phil Gordon was even there and was commenting to some women about the table we were at for a short time. Unfortunately he happened to come in right in the middle of the most ridiculus hand of the night (3 re-raises before the flop then everyone checked to the river). He was apparently waiting for the no-limit table to become a little more inviting so he sat in on some 3-6 games (luckily not mine). I learned a few lessons at Harvey's as well. First, you need to listen to the rocks at your table. When they re-raise they mean it. I had trip fours on the flop and watched as the calling stations were all raised out of the hand. I didn't notice that the rock was reraising me at every turn and only gave him credit for a king and a high kicker (giving him top pair). At the end of the hand his 8's full of 5's beat my 4's full of 5's and there went my $100. The other rule that I managed to follow correctly is Daniel Negreanu's rule that you should keep playing a table as long as it looks like it's going to pay off. There were so many calling stations at our table, that I broke our rule of not buying back in after we've been busted out. My decision payed off though. I changed my play to avoid challenging the rock at our table with anything less than the nuts. I was able to make back my first $100 and an extra $23 in about an hour. We're totally going to come back to South Lake Tahoe and Harvey's the next time I go skiing.

All in all it was the best Christmas I've ever had. We got to share our favorite hobbies. We got in a lot of exercise. We ate well and got plenty of sleep. We'll have to set up another trip sometime this February during ski week.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Winter's Breaks

Winter break is upon me and so was the hangover from my Christmas Party on Friday until this morning. I over did it in a spectacular way and I think it's because there is a lot on my mind.

Sometimes patience, persistence and positioning all work together perfectly to make the exact outcome you hoped for and sometimes they end up in a knot so twisted you have to sit back and pull each strand away one by one to see how things could get so stuck. When I first heard about High Tech High, I saw a great opportunity to take the new facilities and equipment the district promised and move our program with it's annual state funding into it. I will admit that the reasons I wanted this to happen were both personal (I really want more equipment for the other teachers in my department) and practical (Any other group that would take this on would have no guarantee of annual funding to keep class sizes down and give teachers the collaboration time they need to keep from burning out leaving the latest equipment with no one to explain how to use it).

If everything had worked out the way I had planned it, the Academy Teachers would have become High Tech High. We would have continued adapting our focus away from electronics and towards media skills (video, animation, music recording/editing). The move into High Tech High would have given us a new name and help to remove the reputation of being drop out prevention, which was preventing us from getting the correct mix of high, middle and low performing students that we need to be truly effective (It's hard to get low performing students motivated about academic improvement without a good mix of high performance role model s and a solid group of middle performers to show them that high standards can be met through time, effort and dedication).

This plan was not well accepted as people felt the Academy teachers already had enough benefits with the annual income from the state. As I saw it, the annual income from the state is a boon that should be applied to the best teachers in the best equipped department for the service of students that are representative of the entire Sequoia population. Too many programs in education are started with only enough money for equipment and initial training. These programs have a successful first year thanks mostly to the dedication and energy of the new teachers that are assigned to them. Their second year see's a slow in their success as staff starts to leave as they realize that working 7am-7pm Monday through Friday is not a sustainable pace. (I think this tendency to fill new programs with mostly new teachers is a major reason that so many effective new teachers quit before their third year.) It is important to keep new teachers teaching for longer. This is because the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is that a good teacher continues to improve their practice from year to year. Thus any program without funding for teacher collaboration to draw in the best new teachers and protect them against burnout will not last or make a lasting difference.

With that option at a dead end, I began to push a second option where the Academies switched focus to medical technology and high tech high became a media careers pathway. This move made sense for several reasons. First, the Academy and High Tech High would not share the same focus, which would allow the school as a whole to offer students more options. Second, the students that the Academy has traditionally had success in recruiting need more vocational options after graduation and the medical technology and nursing fields are both expanding with the aging baby boomers population so the switch of focus away from electronics makes sense. Third, if High Tech High is built as a set of media career pathways, it requires less support for teacher collaboration. Rather than having High Tech High become a small school in the sense that students are housed their for the majority of their classes, it would be a set of 2 year course series that would be focused around an annual project that all classes in the department would work towards. For example, students in the acting strand would work with those in the video production and music production strands to create a video for their annual project.

This was the last suggestion I made. Somehow it got mixed with my first suggestion and seems to have ended up with the Academy moving into High Tech High and switching it's focus to medical technology. This still makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways and I would be happy to see this happen over the next few years. It however puts me in the awkward position of no longer having a class to teach in the Academy after the change happens.

When I heard about this, I started talking with teachers that I thought would be interested in being part of a media careers pathway program like the one I discussed above. They have the backgrounds in music and drama and even better knowledge of the technology involved than I had expected, but their schedules have no room to take on new classes and neither has classes they are willing to give up to free more room to participate in the program I'm interested in creating.

Then at Christophe's Christmas Party, he, Lexi and I started talking about my idea for reinventing student information systems. The conversation was exhilirating. Both Lexi and Christophe have knowledge of different parts of the applications development process. Together they started to make it all sound so achievable in the short term if I was willing to devote my time principally to that project. The only problem with this would be that I'd be giving up on my promise to put in 10 years teaching before I left to go back to school or private industry. On the other hand, there is so much more that students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, researchers and policy makers could get out of a student information system that really worked.

So the choices lie before me.
1. Try to forge a new High Tech High.
2. Leave teaching and put all my effort into a better student information system.
3. Just make sure I have enough classes to keep teaching once I am outside of the academy.
4. Start my PhD early and not rush the development of the new student information system.
5. Screw it all and play poker for a living.

And the time frame is getting shorter.
1. New classes need to be proposed at the beginning of spring semester (February) and the rest of the staff that would need to be involved need to have their schedules fixed and funding needs to be procured for planning the strands and annual projects.
2. The size of the market for such a project has to be gauged. Ed Code regulations regarding work of this type needs to be deciphered. The use patterns for all groups involved need to be researched. The spec needs to be written. Funding needs to be procured.
3. I need to make sure there are enough students for an extra animated art and find a video course outline in the district that I wouldn't mind teaching to.
4. Start my application and find my recommendations
5. Log on to

Atleast I have 2 weeks of winter break to introspect.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Stranger's Birthday Party #3

Last night, Lexi and I went to a party that her coworker Dave invited us to. We thought it was a housewarming party, but it was this guy named Brian's birthday party. It made me think back to the times I've randomly ended up at the birthday party of someone I didn't know. It also made me wonder why I couldn't remember any friends of friends ever showing up at one of my birthday party. I guess it's the nature of the caltech friends network. Most of my friends are techers. Most of their friends are techers, and so on.

Had a full week. I had student recruitment on Tuesday. I'm never as good as Taja or Mike at selling the program. But I still managed to get about 35 students signed up for the next information session. I doubt we'll see much change to our student cohort in next years class. I have come to accept the part that our program has to play in the school. The academy is there to push those students who are just below the passing point for the CAHSEE and SAT9s over the acceptible performance line so we don't get spanked by No Child Left Behind. It's not a bad thing. It is definitely a good role to play and it should work as long as we can pull only the just below the average students. If we pull those that are too far behind, they will hurt the progress of the group that we can help to pass the tests. It's like triage. Prioritize the potentially fatal but easily healed cases and accept that there is nothing to do for the mortally wounded. I'm not being a pessimist, just a realist. Even if someone in congress botched the budget and switched our accounts with the defense department's, we wouldn't be able to save everyone. Your priority as a public school teacher should be to save as many students as possible without working so hard you burn yourself out. Too many teachers come into the job thinking they'll save everyone. After 2 years of working 12 hour days and grading and prepping lessons on the weekends, half of new teachers quit. Too many of these teachers were good teachers who got frustrated because they were not great. They are blinded by their failure to save all of their students and don't see how their help saved so many other students. If they only conserved their energy, they would do so much more for society by being a good teacher for a decade or more.

I had the steering committee Christmas Party to host on Wednesday. It was a little nerve wracking because the industry members all came very late. The teachers were a little frustrated by this, but they seemed to settle in and have a good time after everyone showed. I had a great time too. My only worry is that the steering committee is in need for new industry members and I've had a terrible time trying to recruit them. Again, my salesmanship fails me.

Lexi and I had a talk earlier this week about the difference between leaders and managers. She had attended a leadership training seminar where they explained that companies start out needing leaders and then as they grow, they develop the need for managers. Leaders excel at providing the big picture level of planning. They see the ultimate goal for the group. Managers excel at making sure the details are taken care of. They take the big picture plan, plan the process for achieving it, and making sure each of the members of the group does their part. I have to admit, my skills seem mostly focused around management. Jack, Mike and Taja all excel in explaining the big picture of our program to others. Whereas I can take care of the paperwork much more efficiently.

Thursday was our adopt-a-family event so I spent most of that day running around trying to keep mentors and students interacting.

Then that Thursday afternoon, there was a Sequoia Leadership Team meeting. It feels good to have our opposition under control now. The current facilitators are keeping discussion moving and achieving our goals. It's frustrating how many pedagogical quagmires our discussions get stuck in. I try to laugh, when I make a practical suggestion, including a timeline and specific outcomes for each group, and I watch discussion roll right past it only to return to that same conclusion a half an hours worth of pedagogical nonsense later. I guess some people's process requires a lot more reitiration of guiding principles than mine does. I only need to be given the big picture once before I start filling in the details.

All together a busy week. Got a lot done, and things went pretty much as planned. I'm thankful of the vacation coming up though. I need to unplug a little.

Anyway, it was a fun party this Friday and I really needed it after this week. I had a wonderful conversation about Russian and Existentialist Literature and let the load of the week slip off my shoulders.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bureaucracy 1.0

I've been thinking a lot about the future lately. It all started after a discussion with the new leaders for the Academy next year, Mike and Taja. We got together to make plans for who would run the academy next year. Everyone agreed to Taja as Department Chair, Mike as Mentor Coordinator and Me as Steering Committee Chair. This was all as I had hoped and planned. What got me thinking about the future is we all shared our plans for the next few years. Taja said she would be around for one year and then assess whether she would stay. Mike will be around until the department breaks up. And Jack, our current department chair, is looking to get into private industry ASAP on account of the child he and Lynn are expecting this December. I had hoped to stay around for 6 years atleast. Put in my decade of public service and then go back to school with a clear conscience. Unlike all those cowards who I've run in the ivory tower of education. Three years in the trenches and they think they're an expert on teaching. I'm nearly half way through my fourth year and though I've been steadily improving as a teacher, I still feel like I've leagues to go before I'm anywhere near being a great teacher. But I digress. The possibility of our department parting ways has me reconsidering my timeline, or atleast where I fit into my school without my team. I don't know if I'll end up going to grad school earlier than I planned. Or trying to make something of high tech high. Whatever happens, I have responsibilities in the district I can't abandon, like managing the perkins grants or trying to keep the steering committee running. It will be a while before I get the procedures in place and find the right person to take over for me. What I want to get out of going back to school is the knowledge of Ed code and the workings of administration that I need to build a better student information system. All the pieces are out there to create a centralized system for grades, attendance and discipline information. All that needs to be done is for someone to put them all together and produce a user interface that simplifies the information for daily teacher, counselor and administrative tasks. For example, most student information systems collect attendance information, but you have to right click on a student, pull up their attendance window, click on their summary tag and then the information is still listed in columns of numbers that you have to read through to figures out which of 4 types of absences each one represents. That is way to inaccessible, especially for data, the gist of which could easily be expressed on the seating chart by changing the color of the border around each students picture. I'm hoping the LSTD (Learning Sciences and Technology Design) PhD program at Stanford could give me the chance to develop such a system.

Berkeley Community Chorus

On Saturday we went to see our friend Gen perform in
the Berkeley Community Chorus Christmas concert. The concert is neat - the chorus is huge and they have instrumental accompaniment for part of it. I don't often get to listen to choir music so it was a lot of fun. There was also a lot of Latin. They're doing another performance on Sunday, December 19.