Peter Kupfer's Blog

Thoughts and musings of Peter Kupfer


  • Memorization and Learning and the Power of Games to Teach

    I read in a reading I had to do for grad school there was a quote to the effect of, “If a child can memorize 100 Pokemon characters, they should be able to memorize the 101 countries and their locations.” It was particularly compelling to me right now because my 5 year old, IKup, has starting playing Pokemon. Pokemon is a game I have never played, but I am impressed that for a kid who can not even read has already memorized many of the Pokemon, how the “evolve”, and what their strengths are. It really is a compelling point about the ability of games to teach. I remember a few years ago I downloaded the original Legend of Zelda onto my Wii, a game which I haven’t played in probably 10-15 years, but I still remembered where every dungeon was in the 1st and 2nd quest. I can’t remember my kids birth weight (which I would like to) like my wife can, but I can still defeat Ganon!

    The whole train of thought encourages me to really think about ways to make my class more game like and to make the mundane things I want my kids to learn more game like. My hand writing is very poor and one of my concerns is about my children’s fine motor skills (IK has already been labeled an “awkward” cutter”). My son’s kindergarten teacher suggested having him pick up buttons with tweezers and I immediately starting thinking about ways to turn that into a game and hopefully it will keep him engaged and learning.

  • Natural disposition to eating cereal

    For better or worse, the wife and I have no problem buying the kids sugary cereal. What I found interesting the other morning was that the children had learned to pick out the marshmallows from Lucky Charms and the Crunchberries from Cap’n Cruch. At no point have the kids seen me do this (because I don’t) and they have never been told to do this, so I was fascinated as to where the kids learned this behavior.


    It makes me think there must be some sort of human imperative towards picking out the shiny things in life. I suppose this isn’t a world changing realization. Girls pick the prettiest boys, boys pick the biggest TV, and kids pick out the most colorful part of the cereal.

    I’m not sure if there is a bigger picture to this or not. I hope that we raise the boys to look past flash and glitter and appreciate the simple things in life too. We have been implementing more non-screen time lately to try to encourages their imagination and it is fun to watch. IKup is finally starting to cross play with different toys (Lightning McQueen with Buzz Lightyear) so that is exciting.

    So, as I started this post I thought I was going to have a much more profound ending but, alas, it doesn’t. It turns out, it was just a fun observation about my children.

  • Netflixitosis

    I, and my wife, have found ourselves suffering from a new disease I am going to call Netflixitosis.


    This is a condition that arises from being conditioned by your DVR to sense when it is time to fast forward so that you do not hear even one bit of a commercial break.


    While the condition can actually be beneficial while watching shows on a DVR (unless your son panics if you skip the AT&T “do two things at once commercial”), it can be detrimental when watching Netflix or a similar TV streaming service. The condition has been known to cause reaches for a remote that can either cause undue strain on the body or result in the pushing or an unknown button which may cause an unnecessary delay while re-buffering.


    No treatment is known for the illness at this time. Just choosing one source of entertainment could help, but is not a realistic option. Remembering that this is the definition of a “first world problem” also helps bear through the discomfort.

  • Using the Red Bull Stratos Space Jump in Physics Class…

    When I heard that a man, Felix Baumgartner, was going to jump from space I was intrigued at how I can use this in class. It is one of the unique teachable moments that comes each year that as a teacher you need to capitalize on. It is one reason I am grateful to work in a district that doesn’t have a lock step teaching mentality, so I can diverge when needed.

    In any event, I searched most of Sunday night for someone that had posted data of the fall and was unsuccessful, so I created some myself. I started with this video:

    And watched him fall. I noted that after about 20 seconds of falling the speeds were displayed on screen. The speeds updated at .5 HZ (2/second) and I plotted the data. The data is as complete as the video allowed and I hope Red Bull posts the rest of the data, including altitude, later. I typed into a program called Graph (which is a free ware program I highly recommend and can be downloaded here.) I also put it into an Excel file to share with others which you can find at the end of the post.

    In addition, one of my colleagues found on-line someone who had recorded all of the ascent data and we also put that into Excel and made a graph of the ascent.

    You can see that the velocity graph curves, which awesome because we so rarely have a chance to graph a real work changing acceleration, or the jerk. So, we then created a very simple worksheet to use in class today along with the video to spark a discussion. If I wanted to spend more time on this activity I could have had the kids collect the data, but that wasn’t something I wanted to invest time in today.

    Here is a copy of the worksheet if you wish to use it.

    Red Bull Space Jump Analysis Sheet

    Jump Worksheet (PDF)

    Jump Worksheet (ODT)

    Here also is a copy of the raw data if you want to work with it.

    Excel File - Red Bull Stratos Data

  • Bryan’s Appliance Repair

    Our oven recently broke and we needed to call a repair man. Since I no longer keep a Yellow Pages in the house, I consulted Google. The most reliable result (the only one with a free positive review (which was from Yelp)) was Bryan’s Appliance repair. His phone number is 847-543-1000 and he gave us tremendous service. He is a just a guy with his own business who repairs appliances. Here is my review.

    We called Bryan on Thursday for our broken oven and he came over on Friday afternoon. He arrived when he said he would and diagnosed the problem quickly and accurately. He was willing to talk to me during the process about what he was doing and a lot of other good talk about appliance repair in general.

    When we found the problem, he was willing to try and repair the issue with a quick solder rather than order an expensive part. He thoroughly explained the fix and told me that if it ended up not working he wouldn’t charge me labor on installing a new part. The whole experience was very thorough and very professional. I don’t know how much other people’s rates are, but his rates seemed reasonable.

    I would definitely recommend Bryan to anyone else with an appliance repair need. I love that he is a one man operation and that he answers his own phone.

    Thanks, Bryan!

    Link to Yelp Review.

  • Rating ComEd after Poweropolypse…

    The last 80 hours without free-flowing electricity have been trying but all in all not too bad. I have had mixed feelings about ComEd’s response. It is easy to just get angry and start blaming them for all the mess, but almost 1 million locations lost power, which I believe was a record, so maybe we should evaluate that a little further.

    For me, I find some positives about ComEd’s response. First, I was impressed with the ability of ComEd to recruit so many out-of-state workers. There were crews from something like 8 states including Alabama and Maryland (I believe) and some fine folks from JT Electric in Edwardsville, IL. Working in my neighbor’s yard. I’m assuming ComEd is picking up all the costs for this, but getting 900 crews in the field within 24 hours was impressive and confidence creating. Now, if this turns into justification for a rate hike, that will turn into a negative.

    The biggest positive on ComEd’s behalf was the use of its Twitter feed. In the jobs I have had, especially in education, there always seem to be some management that never makes an effort to be seen or known. These managers or administrators are the ones it is easy to bad mouth and trash behind their backs. The same thing can happen during a power outage. People are frustrated, scared, confused and looking for someone to blame. It is easy to go off of ComEd and I started to. I posted a slightly negative tweet about ComEd’s estimated repair times and, lo and behold, someone from ComEd replied!

    My first tweet about ComEd Tweet back from ComEd

    While the information wasn’t phenomenal, I was so impressed that someone replied and I felt reassured that those of that were power less weren’t actually powerless. This person (or more likely a team of people) kept responding to tweets all throughout the outage. They responded to happy and angry tweet and with a kind and reassuring voice. And, let me tell you, some of the tweeters were a bit hot under the collar. @panicM00N was a prime example:

    Angry Comed Tweet from @panicMOON

    But, ComEd was calm in their response.

    ComEd's Calm Response to Angry Tweet

    Lastly, the nice ComEd people also were willing to take suggestions like this one from my wife:

    Suggestion from GKup25 ComEd's response to suggesttion


    As for the negatives, I don’t really fault them for the outage. Maybe it is their fault with due to dyeing  infrastructure, but that isn’t really about the response to the storm. My biggest criticism is with their estimated repair time system and the texts I received. While I appreciate that they want to trying to keep us informed as best they can, the times were very poor.

    The power went out at about 8 AM Monday morning and my initial estimated repair time was 6 PM on Tuesday. Because of this time, we decided not to buy a generator and not to make certain choices about our situation. After Tuesday night came and went the time kept moving later and until I received a text from ComEd telling me my power was restored and it was wrong. After I called to inform them of this my estimated restore time got pushed to 6 PM Saturday! This really made us rethink our plans, but then the power was restored by 8 PM on Thursday.

    Ultimately, I am not sure what advice I would give the good people who bring me power. Don’t give updates unless they are accurate? Predict the longest possible time right away and then make it sooner? Or keep doing what they’re doing? In some respects, a wrong prediction is just as bad (maybe worse) than no prediction, but I did appreciate their attempts to harness the power of texting and the internet.

    Ultimately, I would give ComEd a B on their response to the storm. People who were without power longer than I might have more harsh words, but I felt that throughout the entire escapade ComEd was working as hard as they could to get the outage fixed and I felt that they were always looking out for me throughout the process. Maybe their grade for preventive maintenance should be lower, but that would be a different discussion.

  • Finding Humor in the Frustrations of Parenting…

    I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from a colleague with the PDF of a book entitled Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach. I read through it an it was completely spot on in regards to trying to get the kid to sleep. According to the Wik, the PDF was part of an unintentional viral marketing campaign that pushed the book to #1 on Amazon’s best-seller pre-order list and pushed the release date up by about 4 months. I would post the PDF, but I don’t want to deprive this guy of his money. (There is a video of some guy reading the book on YouTube, but it is not the same.) Here are preview pictures from Amazon:

    Go the f**k to Sleep - Cover Go the f**k to sleep -- Sample on

    The book is written like a traditional children’s book except with a little profanity sprinkled in. If you can’t read the picture above here is the sample from Go the F to Sleep:

    The cats nestle close to their kittens,
    The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
    You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.
    Please go the fuck to sleep.

    Some people have been critical of the book as if they think it is a book that parents would read to their kids. Those parents would scare me. This is not a book for kids, but rather it is for parents.

    On top of the awesomeness of this book, the only thing that could make it better would be an audio version. Even if I tried to think about someone better to narrate this book I don’t think I could have picked anyone besides Samuel L. Jackson. (Not Star Wars Samuel Jackson, but Die Hard and Pulp Fiction Jackson.) When you hear it he just delivers the lines with some passion and heart it is compelling. And right now the download is free from audible!

    It reminds me of a TED talk I watched a little while ago about Parenting Taboos. There are a lot of thoughts most parents have at some point that are not “correct” for us to say. Anyone who has a child between 1 and a half and 3 knows about the trials of getting their kid to sleep and the barrage of requests they make to stay up a little bit later. This book takes that shared frustration and handle it in a light-hearted and poignant way. Just make sure you don’t leave it on the kid’s bookshelf.