Vi Hart Weekly, September 18, 2016

Welcome back to Vi Hart Weekly! I am glad you are here!

1. Designer of the week: Otto Zenke

In particular, his miniature rooms, of which there are several in the Greensboro history Museum, which I was at last week. Curator Jon Zachman was kind enough to let me put a spherical camera inside one of these tiny rooms and tell me a little bit about history behind them. It’s a pretty compelling use of spherical video:

2. Geometric space of the week: Hyperbolic Three-Space

This week I finally got around to documenting a project I did with eleVR, Henry Segerman, and Mike Stay, back in 2014. Or at least, I documented a little bit of it. We made hyperbolic virtual reality.

In this video I show an unusual property of an unusual tiling of three-dimensional hyperbolic space. Hyperbolic space gets really big really fast, but not fast enough to fit six cubes around an edge without something very interesting happening at the vertices:

3. Book of the week: The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife is a subtle piece of literature. In some ways it is very small and personal: one young woman recollecting stories surrounding her grandfather, in the days following his death. It only very subtly connects to bigger themes and bigger events, in a way I very much appreciate. It is well-written with evocative imagery, and just the occasional hint of that sort of literary cruelty à la Infinite Jest, if you know what I mean.

4. Pint of the week: Organic Sugar Plum Grape Tomatoes


Tiny tomatoes are, in general, the best food. This is because, being tiny and numerous, a pint of them has more surface area than a pint of larger tomatoes. Sometimes cherry tomatoes are tiny enough. This time, grape tomatoes and the best tomatoes. Because of their size and elongated geometry, they are almost entirely made up of outside.

Because they have so much outside to eat, and that’s where pesticides tend to sit, the organic component is extra important when eating a pint of tiny grape tomatoes.

5. Paper of the week: Assessing student learning of Newton’s laws: The Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation and the Evaluation of Active Learning Laboratory and Lecture Curricula, by Ronald K. Thornton and David R. Sokoloff

This is related to my work on Real Virtual Physics. It describes the assessments they did with students using tracked physical objects to learn about speed, acceleration, and visualize them as graphs, etc.

My favorite thing about this paper is that when discussing student answers it doesn’t refer to answers as being right or wrong, but instead refers to answers as either aligning with Newtonian physics or not. It mentions some other conceptual frameworks students use to think about motion, and the idea that having a model of physics in your head, even if it’s wrong, is it good sign of student ability to learn. It reminds me of some some of the stuff Papert talks about, that memorizing laws of motion is pointless if one doesn’t know what kind of thing a law of motion is. Papert recommends students get experience with microworlds that have different kinds of laws of motion, before trying to learn what the laws of motion of the actual world are. Of course, Newtonian physics is not our most accurate way of modeling real motion, so I appreciate this paper’s emphasis on teaching students to think in a Newtonian way, rather than teaching them the right answers.

My least favorite thing about this paper is that it is evaluating a curriculum and learning tools at the same time that it is evaluating the evaluation used to evaluate those tools. The results could mean nothing more than that teaching to the test yields higher test scores. They do address this issue by correlating responses to different question types, and it sounds convincing and everything, but it certainly leaves more work to be done.

Paper is online here.

6. News Introspection of the week: explosion in Chelsea

Whenever a breaking news story is going viral on twitter, I take the opportunity to introspect by asking myself what I want to be true. This kind of awareness is important to limiting the effects of confirmation bias and becoming more able to understand the world as it is.

It’s easy, on twitter, to judge others and get outraged about what they want to be true, but that’s less helpful. Some people want whatever truth supports their politics. Some people like big news because big news is exciting, and our human brains can’t help wanting exciting things sometimes. Me, I’ve learned I like tiny news. Maybe I have enough excitement in my life.

I’ve practiced news-introspecting enough to recognize, when I saw Chelsea trending, that I wanted the explosion to be minor and accidental, that I would be drawn to things that support that wish, and more skeptical of reports that it was an organized terrorist attack that caused serious harm (and more reactive against anyone speculating that might be the case).

It’s looking right now like the truth is somewhere between those things, an intentional act of terror that is not connected to outside groups, and that we are very lucky in how minor the damage was. And I’m aware that now I am happy to stop following the story, while those who are hoping a connection to terrorist groups will be discovered are more likely to keep following, so if evidence in that direction is discovered (even if it’s not certain yet) their beliefs will be confirmed, and then they can stop following too, so we all get what we want. Hooray!

7. Pumpkin Spice of the Week: Pumpkin Spice

Documenting this thing because, well, because:


The last screenshot is from this site that analyzes headlines for clickbaitiness:

I did that bit because it is my headline art.

Seriously though, pumpkin spice seems to be one of those cultural things that secretly broadcasts some secret group affiliation. Also I would actually like to have some, but it turns out that not all places are forcing pumpkin spice into everything. Instead I have no pumpkin spice but lots of over-analysis.