Monday, January 29, 2007

Teach your children your self they aren't learning in school

This video lasts 15 min. If you have children in school you must see this.

We are helping a 10 years old neighbor and have been wondering why her reading and math skills are so poor. Now we know. :(

Bother. Lattice Math is nothing more then warmed over Diagonal Math, was big during the Renaissance, it was taught at only select Italian universities. It was dropped like the Albatross it is once the Standard Algorithm was created. It is slow, tedious and was just a stepping stone to a better way. What kind of dunderhead dredged that up to sell it to our schools.

The Standard Algorithm is the standard because it is fast and error resistant. I am sure if someone comes up with something better we'd convert to that before too long.

Does it seem darker around here to you?

Let's just burn them all and get this dark age off to a rousing start.

Independent Online Edition > This Britain: "All public exhibitions would close, along with schools learning programmes. The permanent collection, which includes a copy of every book published in the UK, would be permanently reduced by 15 per cent. And the national newspaper archive, used by 30,000 people a year, including many researching their family trees, would close."

The great civilizations all had libraries, maybe not as a heart maybe more like a panaceas. Destroy your panaceas and with some help you can live a good long time, but you are not going to live quite the same again.

Libraries are the Institutional memories of our civilization. They are more important then most people recognize.

But few people read much anymore. Sure they surf the web and scan the newspaper and read a pertinent chapter from a book but rarely do we read whole books from front to book anymore. That is sad because as we stop reading, we stop thinking that the places where we keep our books are important. Soon they decay and are lost to us forever.

Google and Microsoft are both scanning books for all they are worth and that makes me very happy.

Few people would put the burning of the library of Alexandria as the start of the Dark Ages. By itself it wasn't but that it was not restored was a strong sign that dark times were coming.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Books are the most powerful time savers out there.

Today the American Library Association's posters have employed Denzel Washington to encourage kids to read. But how many of these students really buy the message?

I recently spoke with a junior who was stressed about her decreasing ability to focus on anything for longer than two minutes or so. I tried to inspire her by talking about the importance of reading as a way to train the brain. I told her that a good reader develops the same powers of concentration that an athlete or a Buddhist would employ in sport or meditation. "A lot out there is conspiring to distract you," I said.

She rolled her eyes. "That's your opinion about books. It doesn't make it true." To her, the idea that reading might benefit the mind was, well, lame.

This totally misses the point of books, at least non-entertainment books, they are a short cut to learning. Those posters are propaganda and obvious propaganda too. We don't live long enough to recreate all the thought out there and most of those thoughts were wrong anyway.

It is not unusual for an author of a book to work on a problem for 20 years, wasting lots of time on false ideas and dead end theories and then writes a book that filters out all the bad stuff and leaves just the best stuff for us to use to get to the next level.

" If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." -Isaac Newton

Those giants were only able to leave books behind so that others could continue the work.

A book will condense a lifetime of work into something that you can read in a matter of hours or days.

How valuable is that? I read about people that do time management who recommend taking 2 minute showers instead of 7 minute showers to save time. That's pretty good but it is like clipping coupons or buying in bulk, sure they save some money but it is better to buy a good used car and save thousands of dollars in one fell blow then to clip hundreds of coupons over years. If I can condense 20 years, 5 years, or even just 1 year of research into something I can read in a matter of hours how much better is my life? How much further can I go? If I read just 4 books that condense 20 years of research into a weeks worth of reading I have saved an entire lifetime.

What is that worth to you?

That is what is so important about reading and books.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Public Libraries

Public Libraries: "Welcome to a community of public
libraries! Here you will find the most extensive directory of
public libraries of the United States."

This is a good resource for finding your local library and their online portals.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Longitude Dial Time and Elegance.

"My original goal in this," he said in response to my surprise, "was to produce an accurate timepiece with no moving parts—an original creation that combined art and science, drawing from the long traditions of both in its design, and incorporating the finest craftsmanship and latest technology in its construction."
William Andrewes

This is a gorgeous piece of engineering and craftsmanship, I find it amazingly beautiful. It is as simple as a sundial and yet requires laser engraving of a particular type of stone to get it just right. It also embodied a man's passion like nothing else and it shows! This is one of those thing were form and function didn't follow one another but made love.

"A clock or watch may keep time, but only a sundial can find time—a distinctly different function—by deriving the hour from the relative positions of the Earth and Sun."

He is a time geek, I knew that there is a difference between what we use for time keeping and what the Earth's actual time differed slightly, the need for leap seconds and the like. But this takes it to a whole new level.

This time finder combines a sundial and a projection map, into a something more then just a sundial. It is designed around it being in a certain place on this planet and it will work best only there and maybe the antipode, but I am not sure about that.

I like sundials. I remember walking into one in Germany, I say walking into since it was make up of the church spire and the adjoining courtyard with the hours laid out on the surrounding buildings. That was a marvelous blending of form and function.

We have a sundial for our garden that says "Time started in a garden."

This would make a fabulous centerpiece to a formal garden. This calls out for not just a garden but a house worthy of it. A solid house that would last for generations make not of sticks or bricks but of great blocks of stone with a slate roof. This timepiece is a call for timelessness in our lives.

Thanks to Boing, Boing

Monday, January 22, 2007

Software Bisque: Paramount ME

Software Bisque: Paramount ME: "

This may be utterly geeky, but I have been dreaming of a telescope mount like this for a long time. It gets cold in a hurry once the sun goes down up here in Colorado and it would be a lot of fun to just watch the stars at night without having to freeze.

A really cool bit of software would be to link a whole bunch of these together to create a massive amateur telescope array.

Now if I just lived somewhere where you could see the sky at night. :(

Friday, January 19, 2007

OpinionJournal - Extra part 3

OpinionJournal - Extra: "In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University"

DevonThink For Writing Your Next Book at The Apple Blog

DevonThink For Writing Your Next Book at The Apple Blog

I've been using VooDooPad and it is pretty good. I'll have to check this out.

Running a solar home

Solar power eliminates utility bills in U.S. home - Yahoo! News: "for Strizki and his colleagues, the house is about a
lot more than the bottom line. It's about energy security at a
time when the federal government is seeking to reduce
dependence on fossil fuels from the Middle East, and it's about
sustaining a lifestyle without emitting greenhouse gases."

This is seriously good, not so much because it is good for the environment but because you can fully power a home this way. The cost of solar has been steadily dropping for some time and will continue to do so as long as computers are being made faster and cheaper, they are the same basic technology.

With the recent ice storms and other back weather it certainly looks like a good idea to start to develop a backup power plan for your home.
It can be as simple as a generator (USE OUTSIDE ONLY!!!) or as complex as a full solar power system.

My plan is to have a backup generator, then expand that to include some batteries and an inverter that will allow the generator to only have to run occasionally which will let the fuel last a lot longer.
The first batch of batteries will be for running the refrigerator and freezer and the gas furnace (the blower needs electricity) and a few basic items like lights and maybe a laptop.

There is something to be said for having a satellite-based internet connection, it would allow communications in fairly bad conditions once the rain fade is past.

Eventually I would add solar panels to eliminate or reduce the need for a fuel supply, the generator would then be the backup to the backup.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What makes a good flashlight?

Every once and a while I come across a flamewar about which flashlight is better. There is a lot of passion about flashlights, mainly because light is a major concern during a disaster.


Over Christmas I was talking with one of my nephews and he mentioned that Maglite have come out with LED upgrades for their D cell models. And the local Walmart just happened to have some, which was pretty good since the blizzard had caused people to nearly empty the store of many other items. While it was a little expensive, I now don't really worry about running out of light in just a few hours, online reviews are showing that batteries will last 20+ hrs with these LEDs. This is a good thing as in a disaster you won't have easy access to fresh batteries and that longer they last the better.

It has passed my cold weather test very well. I have a 3 D cell that I left in the car during some sub zero cold and it lit up just fine. The alkaline batteries are not at their best when it is that cold. They have rings and holes in their light pattern which is annoying sometimes.

The thing about the D cell Maglites is that they are (as Alton Brown would say) multitaskers: clubs that just happen to emit light. I like the 3 D cell models as they are hefty without being too big to put under the front seat of the car. I've hefted the big ol' 6 D model and it is a heavy monster, I think the reason it exists has little to do with how much light it can put out.


Surefire makes some excellent lights: very durable, very light and very expensive. They were developed for attaching to weapons so you can see what you're shooting at. That is a great design philosophy.

They have good clips that you can use to clip to a belt or to the bill of a hat so you can work hands free. Battery life is disappointing, being only good for a few hours of use and they use special batteries that might be hard to get in a disaster situation. I prefer these over a Mini-Maglite for general carry situations as they are very bright and are single handed operated, but I still have some old Mini-Maglites kicking around as they take standard batteries which would be easier to get in a disruption situation.

Do you have any favorite flashlights?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Maybe we're just measuring the wrong thing.

"There's a very interesting strain of economic research showing that our sense of well-being is determined more by our relative wealth than by our absolute wealth.
In other words, we care less about how much money we have than we do about how much money we have relative to everyone else. In a fascinating survey, Cornell economist Robert Frank found that a majority of Americans would prefer to earn $100,000 while everyone else earns $85,000, rather than earning $110,000 while everyone else earns $200,000.

Think about it: People would prefer to have less stuff, as long as they have more stuff than the neighbors.

The point -- and this is still a nascent field -- is that a nation may be collectively better off (using some abstract measure of well-being) with a smaller, more evenly divided pie than with a larger pie that's sliced less equitably. Reasonable people can and should argue about that."

The main thrust of the article is that CEOs getting $50 million bonuses while very good for them are not so good for the country as a whole.

There is certainly pressure there, we saw looting after Katrina, but then again we didn't see it after 9/11.

It would seem much more important to me the gap between the bottom and the point where basic needs are met. This may be the poverty line or not, the band for what defines the poverty line is rather large and depends a lot on where you are living, and I won't go into detail about that.

One of the problems the poor in our country is facing is obesity, that does tell us something very important, they are getting enough to eat. In many countries of the world, being poor means staring starvation in the face and missing work means no food and maybe death.

So to me the Gini coefficient is an interesting but meaningless number, it just doesn't seem to measure anything useful. But it is an easy number to find, find the lowest wage offered and the highest and divide. There are people who will be very shrill about "getting that number more in line with {something memorable}"

That needs to be answered in some manner. How do we measure something more useful?

An easy number to come up with might be the ration of those under the poverty line versus the whole population. But what do we define as the poverty line? The number we are looking for is probably along the lines of: how much does a family of 5 need to feed, lodge, transport and maintain themselves per year. the problem here is that the poverty line isn't a simple number to find, it is depends on where you are living, the poverty line in California is way higher then in Arkansas. Then you have to find the number of people below the poverty line in each area and that is a big mess because we see lots of arguments over that topic every time it comes up.

This just goes to show you that what you measure is as important as what you measure.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FEMA Independent Study Program - Course List

FEMA Independent Study Program - Course List: "FEMA Independent Study Program"

Whether FEMA as an organization is useful or not is another discussion but their material is quite extensive and useful.

University courses available to the public via MIT OpenCourseWare Master Course List

MIT OpenCourseWare | Master Course List

This is a treasure trove material if you are looking at any of these fields. If you are a teen looking at college, this is a great introduction to the material.
And if you are just looking for something new to learn this is good stuff.

A List of what they offer.
Aeronautics and Astronautics
Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation
Biological Engineering
Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Chemical Engineering
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Comparative Media Studies
Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Engineering Systems Division
Experimental Study Group
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Health Sciences and Technology
Linguistics and Philosophy
Materials Science and Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Media Arts and Sciences
Music and Theater Arts
Nuclear Science and Engineering
Political Science
Science, Technology, and Society
Sloan School of Management
Special Programs
Urban Studies and Planning
Women's Studies
Writing and Humanistic Studies