Brain Dumps


Zoom Related

Invitation to the MSC with teaser topics for discussion

Herewith a standing invitation to stop in the MSC

Some teaser topics which may be of interest:

  • Using an old phone as a low overhead method to keep a Zoom meeting open.
  • Using elephants to encourage appropriate in-person behavior
  • Rules for having No Rules
  • Anchoring (cognitive bias) reimagined to improve outcomes

Zoom Whimseys

Virtual Backgrounds can become Foreground. How? Cover the Camera!

  • Create an Image containing a PSA, Then use the [+] to add as a Virtual Background Image.
  • Create a Video with a slideshow or other movie. Then use the [+] to add it as Virtual Background Video.
    • Frame Rate, especially for a slide show, should be low to minimize file size.
    • The Free, Open Source program HandBrake [ ] may be useful to convert an existing video into a format Zoom can use.
    • I have found 6 seconds to be a useful standard display period for a slide. That seems to be just long enough to see and ideally to read. If you want it to display longer, just duplicate the slide in your stack. If your slide has an image and text, you can switch things up by changing the image, keeping the text in the same position, or vice versa. That keeps it visually interesting for the viewer and displayed longer for the reader.
    • Virtual background videos should not be too long. File size and bandwidth limitations have suggested 2-3 minutes max.
  • Cover the Camera with tape or a plastic chips bag clip.


WeBWork for Students

MSC Folklore

Many details of the MSC have been internalized into unconsciousness. As I notice them, they land here along with the reasons why.

I use the term Tutor, to acknowledge the employees, volunteers and faculty who work in the MSC. I use the term student to refer to anyone learning in the MSC. In practice, the MSC provides a place where people help one another in any way they can. Everyone is a learning. Everyone has knowledge and skills which can be useful to someone else. Anyone is welcome to contribute from their knowledge, skills, and life experience to help someone else more happily engage with STE(A)M or simply have a better day.

Stop in to the MSC [],
no appointment necessary, in fact no appointment is even possible!

We've always invited people to just drop in, but years ago encouraged appointments on a sign-up sheet outside the door of the MSC. People could identify themselves however they chose. What we found was that people potentially looking for help would check the sheet, and if the appointment roster was full, they would not come by, or were too shy to even come in the door at a time they were happening by. The inevitable no-shows, or merely expedient answering of questions, or encouragement of a student to work independently for a while resulted in people not coming in, despite availability of staff.

Respect for people's Time and Attention

The MSC has long made every effort to respect people's time and attention. If we can point someone in a useful direction in a minute, we do so and they can be on their way. Attention in the MSC can then shift elsewhere. If someone wants to hang out in the MSC for the "vibe" or to easily inquire when an issue arises, they are welcome to do so. Tutors encourage students to work together. Students learn a lot by explaining their understanding to someone else. Tutors return to the group when discussion seems to stall; becomes unproductive; becomes problematic; or if asked for assistance.

MSC Communications

Welcome Spring 2021


Welcome to the Math Support Center!

You are receiving this note because you are on the list of people to be a tutor in the Math Support Center (MSC). If not, please reply and tell me.

Regularly scheduled tutor hours will begin the second week of classes. Head Tutors this semester are Henrique (hcz5) and Cissy (yh383). They will be in touch with you later this week to find out about your schedule and preferences. They work together to devise a brilliant schedule which meets or exceeds the needs of everyone on campus and around the world smile

I will open the MSC the first week of classes and be the only person officially on duty. I want to be sure people know that the MSC is, and will be there for them. I invite you to stop in and say hi.

I look forward to working with you!


P.S. Below is further information about the MSC for new and returning tutors. It is a draft intended in part to document how the MSC works and some history. I welcome any comments, additions, edits, or amendments, Please pass them back to me.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge Harry Bowman (in the Cc; to this email). Harry is a member of the Ithaca community who has volunteered in the MSC for many years. His formal training includes Physics and Astronomy. I find his familiarity with topics in Mathematics, Linguistics, Languages, History and many other subjects to be awe inspiring. Thank you, Harry!

The current plan is to open the MSC to the public on the first day of classes. I will be the only person scheduled to be present in the Zoom meeting which is the MSC under current circumstances. The start of the semester typically involves little or no tutoring, but rather short interactions with people stopping by to learn what the MSC is about or say hello.

Some big-picture scheduling parameters will not be firmed up until the first week of classes. The plan is that Henrique and Cissy will be in touch with you during the first week of classes to find out aspects of your schedule and availability so a detailed tutor schedule can be posted on the MSC website for the second week of classes.

You have already received a few items I have forwarded to you. For practical purposes I consider you to be part of the teaching staff of the Math Department and I will continue to forward items I receive which may be of value to you in helping people who come in to the MSC as well as for your own planning.

For reference, the official MSC website can be accessed through:

That link redirects to a site on a Math Department wiki where I maintain the MSC website. That site includes a link to enable you to log in to as well as a link to the MSC Zoom Meeting itself, along with a variety of other resources.

For convenience I have also created some quick, short links which may be useful in some circumstances:

* -- redirects, complete with password, to the MSC Zoom meeting

* -- redirects to the MSC "Coronavirus Response" page, first set up last spring, with Zoom links and such

* -- redirects to the MSC home page which uses a wiki INCLUDE to display much of the above page.

NerdyNOTE: my NetID is ref2 which features in the short links above. I registered the Domain at the start of Fall term 2003, figuring it would be handy for any internet services I might want to set up, particularly those related to my job at Cornell. The domain has proven handy indeed.

Please feel free to stop by to say hi during the first week of classes.

I look forward to seeing you,


Richard E. Furnas, Ph.D. <> Teaching Associate for the Mathematics Support Center and Office of Instructional Technology Department of Mathematics, 256 Malott Hall Cornell University Ithaca, NY 14853

Appendix: Who am I? What is my relationship with Cornell? and What is the MSC?

For 40 years I have had a part-time faculty position with the Department of Mathematics at Cornell. During that time I have provided formal and informal support teaching courses; investigated technology for use in Department teaching efforts; and had the great privilege of working with and mentoring undergraduate students tutoring Mathematics in the Math Support Center (MSC). I also am sole proprietor of Microcomputer Power, which has published software for data analysis in Ecology since 1987. My doctorate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology had strong Mathematical and Statistical components. Microcomputer Power and my Cornell appointments over the years have complemented one another nicely.

The MSC (Math Support Center) provides primarily Math related assistance in all STEM subjects to members of the Cornell Community. In general, we try to be helpful in any way we can. Most of our tutors are undergraduates with an occasional volunteer faculty or community member. The MSC is a safe place to make the mistakes so essential to real learning. I have been involved in the MSC for decades serving as the "Grownup" in the room on the rare occasions when that role becomes explicitly important. As a member of the Department Faculty, I implicitly set a tone that the tutoring done in the MSC is more than a collection of undergraduate tutors. When issues arise with course structure, content, or the inevitable infelicities of technological courseware, I am in a position to approach more senior Faculty to alert them to problems. In the MSC we work together to help students and one another tackle challenging problems posed by our Faculty; to master the idiosyncrasies of on- line Math teaching software; to troubleshoot computer issues; to find a geometric approach when an analytic solution first presented itself and vice-versa; to model how to write solutions; to build and reinforce confidence in one another; and to find humor whenever and wherever possible. The ebb and flow of activity in the MSC also provides opportunities to get to know one another through more casual interactions.

In March of 2020 the MSC migrated from its home in a single large room in the Math Department Building, to a completely on-line presence using Zoom. We have managed to recreate many of the desirable features of the physical MSC in this virtual environment.

-- Dick Furnas - 2021-02-11


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