Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An utterly awful math test | FOB

An utterly awful math test | FOB: "The test is a putrid example of how bad these standardized tests are. As near as I can tell, it's a combination of testers being proud of how well they can trick third graders, and utter ignorance of basic mathematical principles. Without further ado, I present the most obnoxious questions…"

Measuring for the wrong kind of thing. It makes you wonder...
Making a good test is pretty hard, there are all kinds of specialists out there trying to do it right, but these are questions that are so amazingly bad I am not sure how they could have gotten vetted.

For example, amateur radio has a volunteer examiner coordinator committee that creates questions for the license tests, a couple hundred questions are in the pool with 35-50 being used on the test depending on the level being tested for. Only a few have been withdrawn. It is just not that hard to find ways to weed out bad questions

I had one teacher that would give everyone credit for a question if not enough people got it right. There are many others.

Google U

BuzzMachine Blog Archive Google U: "I wonder what the distributed university will look like. For that matter, I wonder what the distributed education will look like. It’s not an idle curiosity. Like media and every industry and institution before it, the academe is waiting to be exploded by the internet."

This is already taking place with homeschooling, and will completely change how things work in the long term.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Too many screws

[MacBook Air Teardown] 'No Waste Outside, Nothing but Waste Inside' [Part 5] -- Tech-On!: "'The total number of screws in the MacBook Air was several times the number used in a PC we make,' one of the engineers said."

Sometimes what someone complains about tells us more about them then about what they are commenting on.

The MacBook Air was never going to be "cheap." Apple may make inexpensive produces but they are never cheap. I went to the local Best Buy that has an embedded Apple Store which had an MBA, I could pick it up by a corner and it didn't groan, creak or otherwise complain like the nearby PC laptops that I compared it too. That makes a difference, whether or not you think it does.

It reminds me of the anti-homeschool argument "...but what about their socialization?" If that is the best you can come up with you have issues.

Home Education Curriculum on the Cheap: 10 Ways to Learn for Less | Wise Bread

Home Education Curriculum on the Cheap: 10 Ways to Learn for Less | Wise Bread: "In a recent cost-study I completed, I found that it is possible for American families to spend between $300 and $4325 per year to homeschool a single child."

A good as this post is the comments have all kinds of treasure in them.

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 2007 - The New York Times

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 2007 - The New York Times: "Summer blockbusters and holiday hits make up the bulk of box office revenue each year, while contenders for the top Oscar awards tend to attract smaller audiences that build over time. Here's a look at how movies have fared at the box office, after adjusting for inflation."

This is an interactive infographic about what movies have made in the last several years. To stack them all in they are fanned on both sides of the axis. Looking for a particular film is a little challenging but it has a search function that helps.

To me the tails are the most interesting, Ratatouille and Harry Potter have very long one and Nancy Drew was very short.

Make stuff. Learn things

"For crafter's, hobbyists, entrepreneurs and
Do it yourself!"

This has all kinds of fun projects.

Making things is the first step in learning. For a lot of time at first just letting kids play is important they get to understand the capabilities things like blocks and LEGOS have. Over time they can be encouraged to estimate how many blocks it would take to make something and even how long. A very useful skill.

Surprising Expiration Dates : RealSimple.com

Surprising Expiration Dates : RealSimple.com: "With help from experts and product manufacturers, Real Simple has compiled a guide to expiration dates. These dates are offered as a rough guideline. The shelf lives of most products depend upon how you treat them. Edibles, unless otherwise indicated, should be stored in a cool, dry place. (With any food, of course, use common sense.) Household cleaners also do best in a dry place with a stable temperature. After the dates shown, beauty and cleaning products are probably still safe but may be less effective."

This is very useful. Some of them like bleach is a lot shorter then I thought. It looks like vinegar does better on the long term storage front then bleach or most other cleaning supplies.

We are trying to save up some long term emergency supplies and this will help make some decisions for us.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Death of Cities

This is a building where our deeply-troubled public school system once stored its supplies, and then one day apparently walked away from it all, allowing everything to go to waste. The interior has been ravaged by fires and the supplies that haven't burned have been subjected to 20 years of Michigan weather. To walk around this building transcends the sort of typical ruin-fetishism and "sadness" some get from a beautiful abandoned building. This city's school district is so impoverished that students are not allowed to take their textbooks home to do homework, and many of its administrators are so corrupt that every few months the newspapers have a field day with their scandals, sweetheart-deals, and expensive trips made at the expense of a population of children who can no longer rely on a public education to help lift them from the cycle of violence and poverty that has made Detroit the most dangerous city in America. To walk through this ruin, more than any other, I think, is to obliquely experience the real tragedy of this city; not some sentimental tragedy of brick and plaster, but one of people:

The really sad part about this is that it is just some guy with a plan to do something with this and the adjacent building, but after 20 years I just don't think that the plan is coming together.

The building was damaged by a fire, not hard when it is full of nice flammable books, which also don't fair well when the fire is dealt with standard firefighting techniques. So little was to be reclaimed that the insurance company seems to have just totaled the building and paid off the school for the value.

It is the not fixing thing that is marking the death of Detroit. A good neighborhood will clean up trash and fix windows and the like, Detroit is not acting like a good neighborhood. New York started the idea of rebuilding right after 9/11 and while it will take a long time it is still vital and living. On the other hand Detroit is being fled. Last year, some houses were sold for just a few thousand dollars, far less then the cost of materials to build.

Detroit used to be a shining city, The Arnold of the manufacturing world. Oh, well.

from Marginal Revolution

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Power Paradox

The Power Paradox: "This leaves us with a power paradox. Power is given to those individuals, groups, or nations who advance the interests of the greater good in socially-intelligent fashion. Yet unfortunately, having power renders many individuals as impulsive and poorly attuned to others as your garden variety frontal lobe patient, making them prone to act abusively and lose the esteem of their peers. What people want from leaders—social intelligence—is what is damaged by the experience of power."

This is supposed to be new!?
" 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." John 13:13-17

Jesus, Savior of the World, has all power and could do anything, but he showed us the way we should go to avoid the traps of power. To bad so many have forgotten the way.

Reaping the Wind

Hand-wringing About American Culture - Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge? - New York Times: "But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way."

It is just what the school system is supposed to do. A lot of popular scifi is along the lines of "There are things Man is not supposed to meddle with." Frankenstein is a classic example but when you look at the news you see the same attitude.

Anti-rationalism is called by another name: multiculturalism. Or at the very least is presented the same way, so people easily fall into that pattern of thought.

Who are most reviled in schools? the nerds, the geeks, the smart ones. After years of emotional torture in primary schools they go to college and are with their own kind in the sciences and engineering fields. They graduate and get a job where they end up under the thumb of the same kind of bully they thought they had escaped and are soon laid-off and the whole thing starts all over again.

I know lots of people who have left the "Smart" fields because it wasn't worth the effort to stay there.

There are a lot of things wrong and we need to find a better way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Asking the wrong question

Winds of Change.NET: Starting to Make Sense: "For a 3KW installation (about 275 sf of cells), the total cost to me would be approximately $18K."

One of the things that has never made sense to me about going solar is the amount of time and energy people put into "running the numbers." "When will it pay for itself?" is simply the wrong question. Solar panels are like any other appliance in the home, or in this case on the home. Nobody asks what the ROI on an SUV is. That is about the price of a new car, it used to be the price of a new SUV, and there are plenty of them on the road.

Since I am planning to live in suburbia, I see no great need to make sure that they "pay for themselves" anymore then making sure that the refrigerator I buy "pays for itself." I am looking at solar from a backup perspective, in this case it just doesn't matter how much it costs as long as I can afford it. Instead of a UPS for just the computer I want something that can run important sections of the house: The frig and the furnace fan on a gas furnace and a few lights are the really important items.

Actually the most important things you can do is to make your home more efficient first then worry about solar.
Lighting is easy CFL (best for general lighting) and LED bulbs (best for spot lighting) are getting cheaper all the time
Heating and cooling are big too but more challenging to replace in the short term, motors in general are big power draws, replacing them with permanent magnet models rather than using standard AC motors will make a huge difference.
Replacing TVs and computer screens with LCD screens save more power then plasmas. Just putting all your electronics on powerstrips and regularly flipping the switch makes huge differences. A microwave oven while "off" still uses large amounts of power to keep the clock running.

Going solar isn't a plug and play thing it is more systemic then that. But in the long run it is more powerful then you might imagine.

As to going to a big box store to get the our local Costco often has panels for sale and a new store in Colorado MIlls mall has them too.

Moore's Law applies to solar technology since it is a semiconductor, now people are finally noticing.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Modern Mechanix OUTLAWS MAY USE SUPER-STATIONS at Sea: "Broadcasting stations without a country seek new ways to flood the United States with radio advertising barred by federal commission. Two hundred outlaws face war by the government."

The Early days of Radio were and exciting place to be. Spammers are spammers no matter what media they are using. We get snail mail spam practically every day from credit card companies. Right now it is not too bad it is just enough to tell us if the mail is still working.

But back to radio, there are all kinds of new thing going on. There are several ways to integrate the Internet and ham radio.

Ham radio is still a very experiment driving place. and it is fun to be a part of al that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NASA Workmanship Technical Committee

NASA Workmanship Technical Committee: "The NASA Workmanship Technical Committee (NWTC) serves as the agency's technical authority to ensure that adequate workmanship standards and training for electronic hardware are available to NASA, its suppliers, and the aerospace community."

For doing ham radio stuff these are great refreshers.

A Perfect Storm on Marriage

Now the Internet is full of amazing articles but only occasionally do several of them come together in a perfect storm kind of way.

Reinventing Date Night for Long-Married Couples
Why Bother

The family unit has been under attack for a long time. You can create the heights happiness or misery in a family that is hard to reproduce outside of that basic social unit.

For dates, which we don't get enough of with our daughter around, I've never really liked movies since staring at the screen engenders little interaction. We are not learning about each other in any meaningful way. Too much of ours lives are spent in a boring grind and that is bad of all of us. I much prefer talking then anything else. I can barely stand going out to eat if the restaurant is so noisy you need to shout to be heard. Wandering around a mall is somewhat fun as we can discuss the relative merits of buying something.

I remember after our accident our doctor asking us about how our marriage is doing. He was worried because he saw a lot of divorces happen after the breadwinner was in a major accident. I once helped a guy who was recovering from a major stroke, so bad he was bedridden and had to be spoon-fed. His wife had left him almost immediately. It took him 15 years to be able to walk, talk and care for himself again. He may have forgiven her, but she was the one who ran away.

There is a lot of good going for marriage, but you have to realize it is a joint effort that can last a lot longer then just a few years here, it is not a zero-sum game. It seems for some people to be becoming some kind of competition, but the prize is not well defined.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You Are What You Spend - New York Times

You Are What You Spend - New York Times: "At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent."

This is a very interesting story but what drives me nuts is the focus on how electronics products drop in price so much. All these things are based on chips and they are subject to Moore's Law (doubling chip density every 18 months)

They forget that far more money is spent on things like gas and food and other consumables. The other day at the store I almost fell over when I saw a $5.99 gallon of organic milk.

Basic food items are getting more and more expensive and that hurts lower income people more then anyone, but we can get more kinds of food now then anytime before in the history of the world, some people are even going on raw food diets, something that would have been virtually impossible just 20 years ago.

The second graph in the article is particularly interesting since it shows how quickly various technologies have been adopted by people, The microwave oven and cellphone were adopted very very quickly.

Science of Nascar - Stock Car Racing - Physics - Aerodynamics - New York Times

Science of Nascar - Stock Car Racing - Physics - Aerodynamics - New York Times: "“It started when six cars were going around the turn, and one of them suddenly started wiggling and went into the wall for no apparent reason,” she recalled. “It was like spontaneous combustion. As a scientist, you look at that and say, ‘There has to be a reason.’ It drove me nuts because I couldn’t explain it. I felt as if I was in a different universe.”"

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it) but 'That's funny...' Isaac Asimov

It is one of those ideas that looks great on paper but more often then not in reality it falls flat, I knew a few teachers that tried to "make it real" sometimes it worked just fine but other times the effect was so pathetically bad it was embarrassing. I had a HS English teacher that tried using a jive translation of Romeo and Juliet that was as foreign to us as the original was, actually more foreign to me since I had read a King James Bible and was somewhat familiar with the language that Shakespeare used, that was sad.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Heros and Heroines

I think we appreciate heroism most if we have a tiny spark of it ourselves, which might be fanned into a flame if the wind of opportunity arose.

So how do we recognise the heroes and heroines of today? First, by absolute independence of mind, which springs from the ability to think everything through for yourself, and to treat whatever is the current consensus on any issue with scepticism.

Second, having made up your mind independently, to act - resolutely and consistently. Third, to ignore or reject everything the media throw at you, provided you remain convinced you are doing right. Finally, to act with personal courage at all times, regardless of the consequences to yourself.

All history teaches, and certainly all my personal experience confirms, that there is no substitute for courage. It is the noblest and best of all qualities, and the one indispensable element in heroism in all its different manifestations.

These are just the things that schools try to most suppress.
Independent thinking is totally antithetical to schooling, I saw that so often. I was learning computer programming in high school, BASIC on an Apple ][e and my friend was also very good at it but he was more experimental, if the teacher couldn't understand what he was doing he failed even if it worked fine. I had learned long before then that to get good grades you need to follow what the teacher wants to see.

As for the rest it comes down to, "But what about their socialization?" Down rock the boat and you'll be fine.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

His Mortal Life, Mortal Heroes - WSJ.com

His Mortal Life, Mortal Heroes - WSJ.com: "When Gemmell was a boy, a teacher read 'The Hobbit' to his class, turning Gemmell into a lifelong fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose characters became his role models. On a train platform one evening, Gemmell -- a big-and-tall fellow who once worked as a bouncer -- saw three men beating up a fourth. As he told the Independent, 'A voice inside my head said, 'What would Boromir do?'' He jumped into the fray and fought off the assailants."

This reminds me of Napoleon Hill he created a notional mastermind group of various great people in history. He would ask each in his imagination how they would solve a problem or what they would do in a situation.

There is nothing preventing us to create more then one set of these imaginary advisory groups: Why not have the Fellowship of the Ring and the crew of the Enterprise advise you on various topics. You could also have anybody even someone like this.

Deadly winter tornadoes not rare: NOAA

Deadly winter tornadoes not rare: NOAA
| Environment
| Reuters
: "Winter tornadoes that ripped across parts of the American South this week were unusually lethal but not particularly rare, a .government meteorologist said on Wednesday as the death toll mounted."

Tornados are a very very localized type of disaster mostly effecting a long but very narrow area. But they are also fairly sudden, now much warning is given if you are not watching the news or have a weather radio. A basement is a good idea if you can.

Severe Weather Safety from NOAA.

Retro Futurism: Is That a Magnetron Tube In Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Retro Futurism: Is That a Magnetron Tube In Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: "One day in the mid-1940s, Raytheon employee Percy Spencer was working with an active radar set when he noticed that a candy bar in his pocket had melted. Spencer got some popcorn, put it in proximity of the magnetron tube that generated the microwaves for the radar, and was soon enjoying a tasty snack."

More often then not it seems as though great moments in science are preceded by the words,"That's funny..."

Something we don't see so much anymore is the free wheeling setups anymore, Nowadays things are so "safe" that it is hard for accidental discoveries to happen. It is a mixed blessing. I certainly don't wish for people to be injured doing things but repurposing things is hard if you can't experiment easily.

I remember when food processors got really safe. Even TV chefs had problems getting them going making sure that all the pieces in the right place and in the right sequence. There was one guy that looked like he was going to rip it apart before getting it to work.

Developmental Neuroscience: Babies Can Communicate with Numbers Before Talking

Developmental Neuroscience: Babies Can Communicate with Numbers Before Talking: "Human infants are born with an innate mathematical ability that allows them to count large numbers of objects more easily than groups of two or three."

So maybe learning language before mathematics may not be the right way to go. But it looks like it is still best to work with concrete objects, The idea being to use marbles or pennies or cookies is better then a jumble of pictures.

Feb. 7, 1863: An Early Stab at Organizing the Elements

Feb. 7, 1863: An Early Stab at Organizing the Elements: "British chemist John Newlands organizes the known elements, listing them in a table determined by atomic weight, according to what he provisionally calls his 'law of octaves.' It is not an instant hit."

The evolution of scientific thought. The periodic table is taken for granted now but coming up with it the first time was hard, this was a misstep but that is what science is all about.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police

Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police: "But some of it wasn't. And some of it ... Poppe doesn't know. No one does. Because before it was disbanded, the Stasi shredded or ripped up about 5 percent of its files. That might not sound like much, but the agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel records, and useless minutiae. There's a record for every time anyone drove across the border."

I am sure that my grandparents had files in there. My parents got out just before the wall went up so it is very likely they had files. We visited many times over the years, I wonder, in a slightly morbidly fascinated way, if I have a file in there somewhere and what our code names were.

But ultimately, it just doesn't mean much of anything. Trying to capture a minute-by-minute account of people's lives is crazy since most f our lives are filled with enormously boring stuff.

And the sheer waste of life that went into collating all of that material is staggering. Sadly, we are beginning to do the same thing to ourselves. Sometimes I think that we could build prisons next to dumps and let the prisoners sort all the trash for recycling. I would love to outsource trash sorting and cleaning.

Let's not forget all the loyalty card tracking we do to ourselves. At the moment I am not too worried as they always seem to spit out inappropriate coupons, heck even Google doesn't do all that good of a job matching ads to what I am looking for.

As to that 5% that was destroyed, I really wouldn't worry about it at best it was the most recent material because that was most handy. Really most of this should be released to the public in 100 years so we can look back and remember the stupidity of it all and not do it again.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Scaring the Candidates: Colorado Caucuses

We went to the caucuses tonight taking an elderly friend, and the church they were held at was packed. Attendance far outstripped previous years. The one guy in our precinct that had been steadily doing them for the past few years said that it was 7 times as many as had come out for the past 4 years.

This kind of turnout is probably going to scare a lot of entrenched political people. And that is a good thing. Our politicians seem like they need to be reminded that "We the People" are just asking them to take care of things while we live our lives. And I think there is a general groundswell of people thinking that the politicians are not doing what we want them to do and need to be reigned in.

This was an eye-opening experience, for us. We haven't been all that active and now that has changed. People really care about politics now. They know it is important and they realize they have to get in early. Our friend was complaining about how it was a shame that the caucuses and primaries didn't allow her to vote for any but the top favorite.

We had a list of questions/issues to go through, some where easy enough all for or against. And that is to be expected, but there were some that had some pretty strong debate. Most of us brought something to the table. We even had a judge and a lawyer that gave us insights on some issues that changed my mind about a few topics.

And then there were just a few issues that had us scratching our heads. "Did the other side write this one?" was the refrain heard a few times after reading it out loud a couple of times. They seemed to me to be trying to set the agenda rather then asking us what the agenda should be. One lumped 5-6 things together and no one was pro- or against- all of them. Really, whoever wrote these wants something particular to happen but that may not be what they want to hear. We voted against those not because we were confused but because we didn't like where they were going. The worrisome part is that, out of ignorance, you could be voting for something you didn't want. The candidate thinks he is getting support for something but once the details come out his base is not supporting it. And that is bad for him.

Al in all, this is going to be one of the more exciting campaign seasons we've had for a long time. 2004 was a stay the course or cut-and-run. Now it is obvious to all that some changes are needed, this election will decide a lot for the next decade or more.

Choose wisely.