Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Eating

A week or so ago, someone at the office sent me a list of Holiday Eating Tips. These are great, but I'd add one more to the list:

11. Bread is for suckers. That's how they get you. You can have bread any day, so why take up valuable stomach space with something so mundane? Save the room for more eggnog and pie.

Anyway, over the past couple years, I have dropped a couple pant sizes, but those old pants are sitting in my basement. Some say that keeping those big pants is a defeatist attitude, but I say it's planning ahead. I am all set to ramp up a size this week, then another size next week as I watch college football. I'll trim back down in the new year, but I like the idea that I am prepared for the ramp-up.

Note: I am ignoring this article until the new year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What Makes a Great Company Holiday Party?

I have been to many company holiday parties at several companies and have an idea of what makes a party good and what makes one great. Here are some thoughts.

Food: You don't need fancy food. Parties with filet mignon are no better than parties with casseroles. On the other hand, you shouldn't skimp on dessert. A party with good cake and pie is better than a party with dry cookies.

Music: A live band is nice, but a good DJ is better than a lame band. Whether a band or a DJ, the musical entertainment should stick to good sets of music. No lame comedy or embarrassing people.

Alcohol: This is an absolute must. Not many people are much fun at the office, but they can't possibly be that boring in real life. Lubricate them with some spirits and you can see their real personalities come out.

Foolishness: Unless someone is ashamed to show up at work the next day, it wasn't a great party. Somebody should have hit or puked on the wrong person. Somebody should have turned the band into their own personal karaoke machine. Somebody should have said something stupid about their boss or someone's spouse.

I judge all company holiday parties by the way my first company did them. GRC had two parties. One was a black tie affair at a fancy hotel with a band or DJ and a nice sit-down dinner. It was very swank. The other party was hosted by my division and happened in the halls of the office. The drawing for the Super Bowl pool was one of the highlights of this informal party that featured a potluck and a couple kegs. Most of my favorite holiday party memories come from these parties:
  • Sipping Canadian Mist and smoking great stogies in our security guy's office.
  • Office chair races in the halls.
  • Rhythmically impaired drunk people doing the Electric Slide.
  • Floating kegs and beer runs six hours into the party.
My current company has a party that is fine, but not great (so-so band, nobody embarrassed the next day, nothing memorable), so I might need to figure out how to start a departmental party next year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thank Goodness Blagojevich Isn't Black (Too Bad Jesse Jr. Is)

When it came out that Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested for massive corruption, my first reaction was to check a photo and confirm that he is, in fact, not black.

I know it's shallow of me, but I'm a shallow guy. Any time I hear about someone doing something really dumb, I think "please don't let him be black." This happens when I hear about a string of murders, or an athlete making a fool of himself, or some idiot politician. I feel like we black folks get more than our fair share of self-inflicted negative press.

Let's try a short list of the infamous: Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Plaxico Burress, Mike Tyson, Bobby Brown, Marion Barry, William Jefferson, Kwame Kilpatrick, Michael McGee. I could go on and on and on.

Unfortunately, Jesse Jackson, Jr. (who is quite black) is now entangled in the mess. I know it's petty of me, but I hope that few black politicians get pulled into this mess.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Amazing Birthday

The day started when I dropped Girl Kid off for school and she didn't have to be pealed off my arm (as has been the norm recently). Next, some friends from work took me for a yummy breakfast at Amphora Diner. One of them was actually on vacation, but came to the diner (but not the office) anyway. It was a great way to start the day.

All through the day, I had birthday wishes from old and new friends on my facebook page, which was incredibly cool.

Finally, this evening's dinner at Clyde's was very nice. The highlight was getting presents from Mrs. Kid:
My in-laws and Mrs. Kid's best friend got me music:
  • Rare Earth's Greatest Hits, which includes a really long version of Get Ready (it's even longer than this one: part 1 and part 2)
  • Traffic's eponymous second album, which has Feelin' Alright
  • Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, a double CD that features Kashmir
  • Bob Marley's Legend, which has too many great songs to list
Anyway, it was a really great day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Triumphant Return to the Blog

(not that anybody noticed, but...) I didn't post anything this past week until Web Stuff Friday (which had some great stuff), and my lame excuse is that it was a busy week. Boy Kid had basketball practice, my company had a holiday party, and I had a long community meeting. I usually have a bunch of stuff lined up and ready to go before the week even starts, but last weekend was a bit too insane (when Girl Kid is sick, ain't nobody happy) so the cupboard was bare.

Anyway, I should try catching up, but I won't. I'll just pick it back up and try not to slip so badly again.

Upcoming entries (this is my way of forcing myself to write stuff)
  • What makes a good company holiday party?
  • Holiday preparations
  • Blagojevich
  • Bailouts

Friday, December 19, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Animals, Antimatter, and Sad Children

F*$k You, Penguin is hilarious. Some of the language is a bit harsh, but no more blue than a Denis Leary comedy album.

The Antimatter FAQ at CERN is a reaction to Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons, which is going to be a major motion picture soon. It's a nice quick overview of the truth about antimatter, but it's up to you whether you believe how little they can make....

pictures for sad children is another webcomic. it's pretty subtle, but sometimes quite funny. i like its low-key nature (start at the beginning). it has the best webcomics links page ever.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Was the Press Fair?

Over the past 5 years, press coverage of Britney Spears has been more negative than coverage of Beyonce Knowles. I don't have statistics to back this up, but I feel confident in the statement. Does this reflect a bias toward one performer, or does it reflect decisions each performer has made?

Similarly, I am always cognizant of the liberal slant the press often has, but I don't agree with pseudo-conservatives who see the bias everywhere. Pseudo-cons complained about the amount of negative press for McCain, but have they thought about the ways that McCain brought it on himself?
  • McCain shut off access to the press corps, so all they could do was look for their own stories. When you cut off access, you give up your chance to help the media craft the story.
  • It was clear to many people that Palin was a spectacularly desperate pick. Once nominated, she was cutoff from most of the media. She was not well-known and was embroiled in her own series of dramas. She also lied and kept on lying (e.g., about her opposition to the bridge to nowhere). Basically, she was a never-ending drama factory and that is going to attract negative attention like Britney attracts paparazzi.
  • When the economic crisis hit, McCain tried to do something bold, but instead, he just looked like a flip-flopper who alienated many members of his own party.
On the other hand,
  • The race for the Republican nomination was finished long before the Democratic race. No race means no news. Obama stayed in a hotly-contested race for a longer time, so he kept on being in the news.
  • There seems to be a statute of limitations on old dirt. The press didn't play up Biden's old plagiarism issues any more than they played up McCain's old infidelity issues.
  • The Dems seemed to recognize this statute of limitations on old dirt, but the GOP didn't. All four candidates had old dirt, but only the Republican candidates decided to use it and that strategy smelled like desperation.
  • Biden is a known quantity who made mistakes in the past, and fessed up to them. He isn't without faults, but most of them were old news.
Anyway, I recognize that there is a liberal bias in the media, but I don't see that bias as the primary reason for the imbalance in this year's coverage of the Presidential race. It accounts for the imbalance in positive stories, but not the imbalance in negative stories. The Republicans brought much of that negativity upon themselves.

Donklephant has this post about this topic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Wacky Obama Citizenship Conspiracy

A week or so before the election, a friend and his (soon-to-be-former) father-in-law tried to convince me that Obama is not a naturalized citizen of the U.S. I went home and did some research and came up with info from, snopes, and

The father-in-law's response didn't actually reflect reading more than the first sentence or two of the first reference, so I gave up trying to convince him. I should have kept at it, but I took the easy way out.

Sometime later, I read that Supreme Court To Review Obama’s Citizenship. The background of this review is (from an AP report):
[some whack-job lawyer named Leo C. Donofrio] initially asked the high court for an emergency stay on Nov. 3. Justice David Souter denied the request three days later. Donofrio then resubmitted his request to Justice Clarence Thomas, who passed it along for consideration by the full court.
The distressing part about this (for me) is that the whack-job failed to convince justice Souter, but found fertile ground for his stupid seed with Justice Thomas. Why did it have to be the black one?

Anyway, the conspiracy has been debunked by several folks:
But, ultimately, the Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama's citizenship. Maybe the conspiracy theorists will give it up.... Right, I was just joking.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Donklephant Echoes

A friend sent me a link to a post on Donklephant and indicated that he thought one of their posts was an echo of one of my recent posts. Frankly, some of their posts seem like better-written echoes of my missives:
Anyway, Donklephant has been added to my Google Reader list of subscriptions. They post too often for me to keep up, but it's a decent firehose of info and opinion.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Dr. McNinja and Wooo!pedia

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja is a webcomic about ... well, i think the title speaks volumes. Go to the archives and start working your way through.

Wooo!pedia calls itself The Excited Encyclopedia. It is "...the continuing (not-very-)encyclopedic documentation of ideas, memes and points of interest generated by the webcomics ASW, DC & PBF":
I dig PDF and DC. ASW can be a bit esoteric for me, but maybe I just need to give it some more chances. I haven't checked out much of Wooo!pedia, but the Star Wars pages (for instance The Empire Strikes Back) were fun.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I've Been Tagged

Step 1: Matt Heath at Epsilonica has tagged me with this meme, so here goes.

Step 2: Here are the rules for the meme:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Now, to keep on going through the steps in order:

Step 3: Here are six random things about myself:
  1. One of my favorite places to eat was a tiny Lebanese hole-in-the-wall in Paris' Quartier Latin. Their shawarma was devine, but I have no idea where it is. I haven't been there since the summer of 1980, and I can still remember the wonderful taste of that shawarma.
  2. I like to run in crappy weather. Hot and cold weather are fine. Rain and snow are even better as long as the path doesn't get too slick. I enjoy the solitude and communing with nature and the elements.
  3. The word "queue" is one of my favorites. One consonant, one syllable, and four vowels.
  4. I once voted for Lyndon LaRouche. The dude is a whack job, but I wanted to register my displeasure with both options (Bush #41 vs. Dukakis). I am not a LaRouche supporter, but I was 23 (and therefore young and stupid) and wanted to send a message.
  5. For some reason, I remember just about everything I learned in AP Biology in High School in 1981-82. Have I used the fact that it's the ribosomes that make rough endoplasmic reticulum so rough? Heck no, but It's still occupying brain space.
  6. I had malaria when I was five years old.
Step 4: I hereby tag Jon, Mishka, Charlotte, Kerry, Tim, and Jasmeen. Note that some of these taggees post often, while others have not posted for a while. I hope that this will spur those who don't post regularly to post again.

Steps 5 and 6 will happen soon after this post is published.

Update: Steps 5 and 6 have been completed, so now I think I'm supposed to get really wealthy or have great luck or something like that. Right?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Bailout: Reverse Auctions to Find Real Values

The big federal bailout of our financial institutions needs to be executed well, but I am losing hope that it will be done well.

Reverse Auctions and True Market Price
is a page with lots of information and quotes from knowledgeable people.

I know just about nothing about finance, but what seems clear to me is that there are lots of mortgages that are headed for foreclosure and have balances that are much higher than the value of the real estate on which they are based. All this toxic debt needs to be dealt with. A reverse auction seems like a reasonable way to right-size the value of all these assets.

It's like a car with four tires and one of them has a big hole, but all we are doing is pumping more air into the tire. If we don't address the gaping hole, adding more air won't help for long. Similarly, I see the auto industry's woes as another bad tire. The industry needs to fix itself and adding more money to it won't repair the structural problems they have. Some cash will help them make payroll for a while longer, but they need to fix their businesses. The auto industry big-wigs just don't get it.

I have heard the very convincing arguments for supporting the auto industry, so I understand that helping them now will ultimately save the federal government lots of money, but I hope they take this opportunity to change the way they do business.

Update: it seems that The Big Three might finally be getting it a bit.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning from a Fresh Look at the New Deal

George Will's piece from The Post Same Old New Deal got me thinking, then I read about Obama's nominee to lead his Council of Economic Advisors. Politico's article Who is Christina Romer? provides some interesting insight into her background, but what I find most interesting is this little snippet:
Economics data indicated that the business cycle before the Great Depression was much more volatile than the economy after World War II. Economists widely assumed the data demonstrated the success of the post-Depression stabilization policies. Romer proved them wrong by showing that what seemed like a decrease in market volatility was really due to improved data collection.
Dr. Romer thinks that the higher taxes levied to fund the projects of the New Deal helped to prolong the Great Depression.

I'm not a real libertarian who thinks the markets should be left completely to themselves, but I think we need to be really, really careful when we start using federal money to alter the very complex dynamics of our economic system.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Xmas Music Monday: Boston Brass Does Kenton

I like xmas music that swings. Here are some videos by Boston Brass. All of these are their renditions of Stan Kenton arrangements:

We Three Kings
Good King Wenceslas
Angels We Have Heard on High

Here is a MixTube playlist: Boston Brass Does Stan Kenton Christmas

That is xmas music that moves.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Outlook Recap: Healthcare Myths and Torture

Here are a couple gems from recent editions of The Washington Post's Outlook section:

5 Myths About Our Ailing Health-Care System
is a very concise list of misconceptions about the US healthcare system. It foreshadowed this longer article. Our healthcare system is terrible. Too many people are not covered and we don't do a good enough job preventing problems. As a country, we spend more money on healthcare than any other country, but we don't get the return on investment we should be getting. I don't think we need to spend more. I actually think we could pay less and get more. The system is broken.

I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq is by a former US military interrogator (writing under a pseudonym). This made me think back to one of my earlier posts: Mixed Feelings About Omar Khadr's Gitmo Interrogation and some articles I have read on the topic of torture's efficacy. Torture is bad. It isn't just bad because it's morally reprehensible. Many people who are tortured don't deserve to be treated nicely. Many of them are bad, dangerous people. When I condemn torture, I am not saying that these people deserve better treatment; I condemn torture because it is ineffective. Worse, I agree with the author of the Post article: Torture helps create enemies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Best Slashdot Sigs, Volume 1

I am an unabashed and total geek. Actually, this site says I am 81% geek, while this site has a quiz that is too long, but at some point, I should try it out.

I have attended and taught at two of the geekiest places on earth. When I was a freshman in college, I had a T-shirt with Maxwell's equations just like this one (but in yellow). Most people have never heard of my favorite number (e). While at the beach this summer, I read a book about the number pi.

My Linux distro of choice is Ubuntu for my home computer. I own (and often use) a couple graphing calculators. When in grad school, I had an HP 11c calculator that used RPN. It was a great calculator, but the best part was that it was totally unusable by almost everyone I knew.

I own at least 13 boxes of comic books (though I haven't collected since the early-nineties), and I'm pretty sure I still have my old D&D and Traveller characters in a drawer somewhere in my basement.

Two of my favorite web sites are xkcd and Slashdot.

Anyway, the original point of this entry was not to enumerate all the ways in which I am a geek. The point is to say that people who post comments on Slashdot often have amusing signatures on their messages; here is a small sampling:
  • There are 10 kinds of people in the world... those who understand binary and those who don't.
  • Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak...
  • The ratio of cake to people is too big
  • Fascism starts when the efficiency of the government becomes more important than the rights of the people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Soapbox: Pro-Life Often Means Pro-Some Lives

In this blog, I have generally avoided really controversial issues. One exception is my stand against the death penalty, but generally I have tried to avoid most of the big social controversies. Now to reveal my true crotchety nature. I'm sorry if this means that I will alienate people, but what can I say: I gotta be me. If you disagree with me or see a hole in one of my arguments, then please point it out. I am a fan of the dialectic.

Something about the abortion and death penalty debates has always bugged me.

There are people who call themselves pro-life, but still are pro-death penalty and many of those are also pro-war. OK, I know that few people are really "pro-war", but many people are fans of our military going around the world and killing in the name of freedom or oppression. Note that the Republican party platform is explicitly pro-life and pro-death penalty. Here are a couple quotes from the Republican Party Platform:
  • Courts must have the option of imposing the death penalty in capital murder cases and other instances of heinous crime.
  • Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.
So, here is my problem: How can anyone who fights abortion because of "the sanctity of all human life" turn around and defend having the government kill people? My guess: The difference is that the unborn are potential converts, while killers and "evil" people in other countries are not people they want to convert. If all human life has sanctity, then that's it. It shouldn't matter whose life we are talking about.

I know that some will say that those who kill have given up their right to life, but if that right is sacred, then I submit that no human can decide that it has been given up. Note also that I think any Christian will agree that we are all sinful. As I recall, that's kinda the point of Jesus, baptism, and confession. So, there is no question about whether people are sinful; we all are, but I don't really want to go down that particular rabbit hole unless someone drags me there.

"Pro-Life" is an inaccurate label for anyone who is in favor of the death penalty or thinks that war is ever justified. I suggest that we use "Pro-Some Lives" or "Pro-Potential Convert" instead. Note that I have a similar issue with pro-choice people who say they are strict pacifists.

If there is ever a time when a life can be taken, then it makes sense to me that the battle between life and choice/freedom is one with some gray areas.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Remy Raps

GoRemy is hilarious.

Slow Jam: This made me laugh out loud

McDonald's: The Rap

Two Percent Milk: The Rap
best line: You pour yourself a bowl, then you drop in the deuce.

Other raps:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Right Way to Warm Up Before Exercise

When I was a kid in P.E., we were taught to bounce as we stretched. Imagine a gym full of kids bent at the waist bobbing down trying to touch our toes like a bunch of drinking birds.

This was clearly stupid. It's amazing that none of us ever snapped a hamstring like a cold rubber band. When we started to just hold our stretches for a twelve or twenty count, we were clearly doing it right. Some of our favorite stretches were:
  • Hurdle stretch (lean forward, then lie back)
  • Neck rolls (all the way around)
  • Straight-leg toe-touches
  • Torso twists
Mmmmmm... feel the stretch.

OK, so then it turned out that all of these stretches were risky, so we stopped doing them. Frankly, it's a miracle that we didn't end up in traction after all that dangerous stretching. Some of these stretches were modified (don't lean back in the hurdle, don't roll your neck back, torso twist slowly), but we eventually ended up with a good list of safe stretches.

So then it turned out that starting out by stretching was just plain dumb. Who came up with that idiocy? Clearly, the right strategy is to do some warm-up (perhaps a short jog) before stretching. Stretching is clearly important, but you have to get the muscles warm before you can stretch them well. Finally, we had this stretching thing figured out: start with a warm up, and then perform safe stretches. Just hold them--no bouncing.

Now it turns out that static stretching isn't the best way to prepare to exercise. The New York Times broke the news in Stretching: The Truth. It turns out that dynamic stretching is the way to prepare for exercise. Static stretching is now relegated to your cool down after you have finished exercising.

To summarize: static stretching used to be the first thing you were supposed to do, then it was the second, but now it is the last. My how the mighty have fallen.

In another fifteen years, Boy Kid and Girl Kid will marvel at the fact that I was so stupid that I thought dynamic stretching was a good idea.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Soapbox: Marriage Should Not Be the Government's Business

I thought I had written about this before, but as I searched through past posts, I couldn't find any evidence of it. Perhaps I have talked about this topic so often that I have written about it in my mind.

California's Proposition 8 has effectively shut down gay marriage in the state. Many gay people are mad about it and I sympathize with their frustration over not having the same rights as heterosexual couples, but my solution to the problem is not the same one many people want to see.

I am against government recognizing gay marriage, but then again I am against the government recognizing heterosexual marriage. Marriage is not the government's business. I'd rather see us go to a European system where churches marry people, while the government only deals with civil unions. Note: I am not talking about civil unions for gays and marriage for straights. I'm talking about a complete separation for everyone.

Civil unions should be allowed for any committed couple. Whatever rights the government currently confers through marriage should instead be conferred through civil union and should not be subject to any religious interpretation or filter.

Marriage is a religious thing. If one religion decides that marriage can only be between two people of the opposite gender, while another decides that marriage is only between people of the same gender, while a third religion says marriage is only between sheep and Swingline staplers, then more power to them all. What do I care? I don't want the government telling religions what to do any more than I want religious views being put into our government. All committed couples should have the same rights before the law.

Note that my argument is essentially a semantic one. I truly believe that the biggest problem with gay marriage is that the word "marriage" means different things to different people. To many religious people, "marriage" is a sacrament. To others, "marriage" is an institution through which government and other non-religious institutions confer civil rights. Both groups are right, but are talking about different types of marriage. I think it would help if we referred to the latter as "civil union."


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Markets Run Amok

Eliot Spitzer wrote a piece for Sunday's Washington Post titled How to Ground The Street. It's a quick, but worthwhile read. Here is one (but certainly not the only) of his compelling points:
...unregulated competition drives corporate behavior and risk-taking to unacceptable levels.... A market is a product of laws, rules and enforcement. It needs transparency, capital requirements and fidelity to fiduciary duty. The alternative, as we are seeing, is anarchy.
As we move forward, Spitzer says:
  • ... we need better control of systemic risk...[because]... nobody can really understand the full risk facing the financial system.
  • ... investors must be protected with adequate, accurate information. Firms must offer transparency both to individual investors and to government regulators.
  • ... we have to step back from the current environment in which government has become a guarantor of all major risk. Only if private actors have to bear the real risks they incur will the market function properly. We are now perilously close to nationalizing risk.
In the same section of Sunday's paper, check out A Recession Can Clear The Air, in which Charles Morris makes an argument for letting the recession run its course without pumping tons of money into minimizing the short term pain (but ultimately extending and worsening it).

I hope that Obama is listening to really good financial people, but the perfect plan won't be enough. He'll also need to figure out how to sell the plan to the US public.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Music Monday: Political Tunes

These video smash-ups are funny.

George W. Bush: Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Bush: Imagine/Walk on the Wild Side

Tony Blair: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Year 1: Looking Back

A year ago, I started with a post titled Starting Off. It turns out that my list of topics was not entirely on target, but at least I have kept it going. I've enjoyed having a place to put my random thoughts.

I thought about looking for some of my favorite entries from the past year, but I really hate reading my own stuff. If anyone wants to suggest any favorites, then post them in the comments. If a few entries make it to the comments, I might compile them into a post next week.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on any of my posts (in person or online) over the past year. As I have said before, writing this is mostly therapy for me. Still, It's nice to know that I helped provide somebody with a new thought, a laugh, or a way to waste some time online.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pirsig on Quality

When a senior in college, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (the book is available on PDF here) and it made quite an impression on me. I really felt I could relate to the lead character's philosophical journey.

I wrote out one quote from the book and kept it on my bulletin board for years and years. Here is a snippet from immediately before the quote I like so much:
The result [of skill devoid of Quality] is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of "style" to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony.
I immediately picture McMansions when I think about this veneer of style. Cookie-cutter style with a long list of features ("veneer"). Pirsig continues...
It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style.
This isn't an indictment of style. It's an indictment of superficial, shiny style that is really just a thin cover over a lack of Quality. Finally, here is the big payoff. This is the quote that has stuck with me for years:
Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.
Amen, brother. It's gotta have "good bones." This way of thinking applies to many, many areas: companies, employees, software, homes, marriages, etc. Quality has to be there from the beginning.

Beers & Bone Marrow for Brez

A family friend's daughter was recently diagnosed with Leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Beers & Bone Marrow for Brez is an opportunity for you to find out if you are a bone marrow match for Michele.

I don't know Michele well, but her mother (Faye) is an incredible teacher and person. Twenty-six years later, I'm pretty sure I could still do pretty well on her final exam if I took it today. Faye kicked cancer's butt back in 1987 and now it's Michele's turn to do it, but she needs bone marrow to do it.

Just like everyone should give blood often, everyone should also get into the bone marrow registry. It only takes a quick cheek swab to test for a match.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homey and Homeboys

In Living Color was a great show. They had some really memorable characters. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Homey the Clown was my favorite recurring character.

The Homeboy Shopping Network even inspired a movie (Mo' Money).

On another note: Black People Love Us: I'm sure Homey and the Homeboys would just love Sally and Johnny.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hell-in-a-handbasket: Old Bands with New Lineups

I recognize that most bands can swap out their drummer or bass player without changing the essence of the group, but once you start replacing significant chunks of personnel, maybe you no longer have the original band.

Here are some rock bands that kept using their original name after some crucial pieces left:

Yes without Anderson, Wakeman, or Bruford
Last great album: Close to the Edge
Continuation story: Chris Squire owns the name, so they have kept on putting out albums through many, many different configurations.

Led Zeppelin without John Bonham (whose death precludes much touring) or Robert Plant (who is still alive)
Last album: In Through the Out Door
Continuation story: After Bonham died, Led Zep went a long time without playing together, but they have recently announced that they plan to tour without Robert Plant.

Pink Floyd without Roger Waters.
Last great album: The Wall
Continuation story: David Gilmour and Nick Mason put out a couple more albums without Waters.

The remaining people in these bands don't (or didn't) seem to understand the nature of their bands' success.

What other bands have I left off this list?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Music Monday: Some of My Favorite Symphonies

Franz Schubert's Italian Symphony is best known as the music that was used in the bicycling movie Breaking Away. It still makes me want to go out and start racing against trucks on big, flat roads in the midwest.

Camille Saint-Saens' 3rd Symphonie (The Organ Symphony) has a second movement that is absolutely sublime.

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique has been a favorite of mine ever since my Freshman year in college when I took music appreciation with Lowell Lindgren (I have posted about this piece and this course before.) Symphonie Fantastique is a unique, fun, impressive piece that really tells an interesting story in a moving way. I'll always remember the snippet Professor Lindgren played for us to identify on the final (timecode 8:18-8:27).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quotes: Some Smart People's Thoughts on Government

Here are some things that really smart people have said about government.

Richard Feynman
The real question of government versus private enterprise is argued on too philosophical and abstract a basis. Theoretically, planning may be good. But nobody has ever figured out the cause of government stupidity -- and until they do (and find the cure), all ideal plans will fall into quicksand.
Bertrand Russell
There is no nonsense so errant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.
P.J. O'Rourke
Giving money and power to Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Aftermath, Part 2

Here are some election limericks from

When engaged in a contest political
Running mate choice is most critical
Avoid giggles and winks
Pick a partner who thinks,
And possesses some skills analytical

"It's the economy, stupid" they say,
'Cept for McCain on that fateful Fall day.
Did it cost him the crown?
Or is Palin the clown,
Who cares - we enjoyed Tina Fey!

This limerick is written by Palin,
And I'm just gonna ignore your liberal media "gotcha" rules and requirements
About rhyming, which is also
A socialist agenda
So too and also in my experience
As a mayor of the buckets of job creation
I can see Russia from my house

Friday, November 7, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Multicolor Calling Zima

Multicolor Search Lab is amazing. I could play with it for hours. It's a great way to discover photos and to explore color combinations you do and don't like. If I were an interior designer, I'd use this to show clients color schemes.

Hollywood Is Calling is funny. The best part is the walk down memory lane with some of these former celebrities.

The Greatest Chick Drinks of all Time includes an homage to the recently discontinued Zima.

More election fun:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The GOP Lost Its Conservative Way

I heard an article on NPR's Fresh Air: The Future Of The Conservative Movement. It's an interview with Mickey Edwards, a former Republican Congressman who wrote Reclaiming Conservatism. He made great points about the trajectory of the Republican party over the past decade and a half.

Edwards is a true conservative. He was a GOP congressman from 1977-93. He is also co-founder of the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank). He was a policy director for the Reagan campaign in 1980. His conservative chops are indisputable.

Some of Edwards' points:
  • The Bush administration has run rough shod over the constitution and it's been supported by the Republicans in Congress. The GOP used to be the party of individual freedoms, but now they have set them aside because it's convenient.
  • Some of this started when Newt Gingrich (initially as the party's Whip) said that the Republicans in Congress should fight Democrats at all times. It was all about non-stop political warfare. Standing for their principles and serving the public took a backseat to winning elections.
  • Under Gingrich, the GOP members in Congress were told to look to the President (Reagan, then Bush 41) as the leader of the party. This destroyed the separation of powers and the way the branches were supposed to interact.
  • Edwards supported (and voted for) Obama. He doesn't agree with most of Obama's political positions, but he likes Obama's temperament.
Edwards says:
I like the Republican party, but I care a lot more about my country than I care about my party. Somehow we [the Republican leadership] got that reversed.
Anyway, the people I find most interesting right now are the Republicans who are doing serious introspection. When Democrats rip apart the Republicans, it seems partisan to me. When Republicans rip themselves for their failings, I see hope. A strong, limited-government GOP would be an important voice in our government. I hope they can find their way back to being a party I respect and away from being a "...tool of southern-fried moralism."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Aftermath

All I wanted to do all day today was pore over polling data and political analysis. I could have lived on news and political sites all day. Instead, I had a work deliverable and personal stuff to take care of, so there was no time for fun. Here are a few articles I think made some interesting points about the task that Obama is up against.

NY Times: For Obama, No Time for Laurels
Washington Post: Hard Choices And Challenges Follow Triumph
New York Post: Now Govern

For a preview of what Obama's cabinet might look like, give a listen to Chocolate City by Parliament Funkadelic:

WFMU played the song over and over again for at least an hour this morning.

The Onion: Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Haikus

Tomorrow will probably be my day to analyze election results, so today is a day to think about voting, but not about candidates.

Ze Frank's readers wrote Election haikus. Many of them were partisan, but a few were not. Here are a few of my non-partisan favorites.

A classic cultural reference.
A campaign promise:
He likes big butts and can't lie.
Mix-A-Lot: '08.
Though the author might have had one candidate in mind, I think this could apply to either:
He's a terrorist:
Manchurian candidate.
My friends, believe me!
As a former teacher, I really like this one, but the author mixes his imagery ("gym" is a mismatch with "fish sticks")
Local middle school
Your gym holds our tomorrow
Yet smells like fish sticks
My rewrite #1:
Local school poll place
Vote in Cafeteria
I still smell fish sticks
My rewrite #2:
Local middle school
Your gym holds our tomorrow
Yet smells like sweat socks

Election Day Fun, Part 3: Very Mysterious

Here is a report about a magical voting booth.

Very mysterious....

Election Day Fun, Part 2: First Poll

Comedy Central brings us The First Exit Poll Is In.

Election Day Fun, Part 1

All hail DRE-700

Voting Machines Elect One Of Their Own As President

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Predictions and Random Thoughts

Will White People Riot? is interesting, but I think it misses the point. The thing that would incite a riot is not that one person won or lost. The incitement to riot would be if it looks like the election was not fair and large numbers of people were disenfranchised. If that were to happen, I could imagine riots. If McCain wins after trailing in all the polls, many people will think things smell fishy.

Prediction: There will be big problems on voting day. Guaranteed. The only reasonable hope is that the vote is not close so that a 5% swing is not a big deal and re-counts are unnecessary. If it looks like 1% voter fraud, but the spread is 10%, then everything will be OK. On the other hand, if it looks like 2% voter fraud and a 1% spread, then things will turn ugly. I really hope it doesn't come down to a single state such as Ohio.

The Economist has endorsed Obama. Their article about the endorsement is called It's Time. They make several excellent points in the article. They bring up just about every one of my problems with Obama, but they also bring up all my problems with McCain. Here is one of my favorite quotes:
A spell in opposition seemed apt punishment for the incompetence, cronyism and extremism of the Bush presidency.... Somehow Ronald Reagan's party of western individualism and limited government has ended up not just increasing the size of the state but turning it into a tool of southern-fried moralism.
Anyway, It's an excellent read.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Scary Bunny Movies

Angry Alien Productions has a series of 30-second movies starring cartoon bunnies. Their creator calls them "movie parodies in bun-o-vision." Most of these re-makes of famous movies are quite fun. Here are some of the great scary bunny movies. There are other scary movies at the site and several other non-scary movies, but these are just the scary ones I have seen.
I've watched a couple bunny movies for films I never saw, but they didn't really work for me. When you've seen the movie, the bunny re-make is a nice reminder of what made the movie so great (or so bad).

BTW: One friend at work does a great job of impersonating the bunny saying "sometimes" like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She knows she'll get a chuckle out of me when she does. It's one of those gifts that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Scary Supermajority

If things break just right, the Democrats could end up with more power than any one party has had in a long time--and it scares me. If the Democrats end up with 60 seats in the Senate, they will have a supermajority that is fillibuster-proof. Unchecked power is a bad thing and is bound to lead to several bad outcomes. The Wall Street Journal gives us A Liberal Supermajority, which describes some fears about this scenario. I'll focus on the two that are clearest to me.

Wanton expansion of governmental power -- The recent economic downturn has cast a very bleak light on the free market system. Oversight is needed and the lack of it is among the factors that have led us to this very ugly economic place. Many people lost lots of money at the expense of greedy people and so there is significant appetite for governmental action. Democrats are poised to surge to increased power on the wake of this crisis and my fear is that they might go too far with governmental action. A fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a president who is on their side could mean that the democrats can completely ignore the Republicans.

Backlash -- Now to be really cynical. When the feds make big mistakes handling our current economic problems (mistakes will definitely be made) and when the situation in Iraq (remember that big issue?) doesn't start looking really good really quickly (it probably won't improve quickly), the Democrats will have nobody to blame. This could swing things back the other way.

What is the answer? The mileage the Republicans have been getting out of Joe the Plumber's "That sounds like socialism" comment should give the Dems pause. Even though they won't need to politically, the Democrats would be well-advised to reach across the aisle on big (especially economic) issues. Perhaps some help from the GOP can keep the Dem-controlled federal government from pushing too much toward making Joe's fears a reality.

A couple days after I drafted this, I read David Frum's Sorry Senator, Let's Salvage What We Can in the Washington Post. About the federal government's "...huge ownership stake in the nation's financial system....", Frum says:
The United States needs Republicans and conservatives to monitor the way Democrats wield this extraordinary and dangerous new power -- and to pressure them to surrender it as rapidly as feasible.
Amen, Mr. Frum.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Funeral

A few notes about my eventual funeral.

First of all, if anybody attempts to perform, sing, quote, or even hum Wind Beneath My Wings, I will come back from the dead and steal a single sock from the perpetrator's dryer every time they do laundry. I'm serious. It's been done enough. I'll admit that the chances of anybody I know wanting to sing that song at my funeral are slim to none (and slim is driving a Ferrari out of town), but I want to make sure.

Anyway, the funeral should be a celebration of life. I recognize that people need to mourn, but I don't want people wallowing at my expense. Instead, everyone should share their favorite Reston Kid stories. When did I make you laugh (with or at me)? What did I help you learn? What did you teach me? What did we share?

I'd like to have some music, but I don't want to make people sing. Hymns are not my thing, but what about an organ playing nice arrangements of:
  • Highway to Hell by AC/DC
  • Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python
  • Good Riddance by Green Day
OK. Those are a bit out there, so they probably won't work. hat about:
  • Enjoy Yourself (its later than you think) by The Specials
  • Mercy, Mercy, Mercy by Cannonball Adderley
After the funeral, it's on to the repast, for which I should work up a playlist (check my iTunes for a "my repast" playlist). Afterwards, those who are willing should head to Poly Esther's or some similar dance club for a rip-roaring time.

BTW: I want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered at any (or all) of these places:
  • North Shore of Oahu, HI
  • Memorial Drive in Cambridge, MA (just West of the Harvard Bridge in the Fall as the sun sets)
  • Glade Stream in Reston, VA (somewhere between Gold Cup and Hunting Horn)
I suspect that Mrs. Kid is still going to make me write up a real will to make all this official, but at least it's out there.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Music Monday: Scary Music

In honor of Halloween Week, I present some of my favorite videos that have a scary theme to them.

Michael Jackson: Thriller. Embedding is disabled, but it's worth the click. This video is one of the all-time greats.

Squirrel Nut Zippers: Hell

White Zombie: I'm Your Boogeyman
This version kicks the original's butt, but i do like this more recent live version that's part of a medley.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Best-of-Craigslist Favorites, Volume 3

Here are some more entries from Best of CraigsList:
And here is a bonus funny: Obama and Palin on Dancing with the Stars. They make a nice looking couple. Perhaps he'll toss Biden (or Michelle?) aside and....

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Really Good Words: Eponym, Eponymous

There are several words that I just plain old like. These words generally are fun to say and hear and in some cases have meanings that lead us to interesting places. Every once in a while, I'll share some of my favorite words and try to give you some sense of why I like the word(s) so much.

When referring to an artist's self-titled album, it's so much more fun to say the album is eponymous. Also, the idea of the eponym is a fun one. When you start looking for eponyms, you find all sorts of interesting stories behind words such as sandwich, guillotine, and bloomers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hell-in-a-handbasket: Intro and Legos

This is the first of an occasional series in which I will discuss signs I have seen that indicate that society is going to hell in a handbasket. Sometimes it is clear whether the sign is a cause or a result of this trip to a hot place in a woven, wooden structure, but it is often unclear. I won't usually judge causality, but will generally judge that these signs are bad.

Frankly, this could be a blog unto itself. I am imagining a site like What White People Like, but from a border line Gen X/Baby Boomer perspective. People like me who grew up in the 70's see signs that are specific to our age.

So, to start us of:

Lego Sets with Complicated Directions
Back in my day, legos had very simple shapes. Nothing was slanted. No curves. No directions. We got a box of rectangular bricks and started creating. We could make airplanes, cars, houses, boats, and other things, but we had to figure out how to make them with a set of rectangular bricks. When more types of rectangular shapes came out, we were happy (e.g., two-by-one bricks were an awesome addition to my Lego collection). When shapes that were not completely rectangular came out, we didn't know what to do with ourselves. Such options!

Nowadays, Lego sets come with pages of directions and usually have all sorts of crazy pieces that have curves and angles. Check out Lego's City line! That stuff is insane. Lego is doing more of the imagining and kids are doing less. I know that creative kids will ignore the directions or take the same pieces and do something really interesting with them, but I liked the days of having to bring your imagination to make things out of incredibly rudimentary building blocks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cattle Drive: Too Much Calculus

I have already argued that we push too many kids to Algebra too early. Now to complain about the other extreme.

High school students are often driven like cattle through their math courses. Those who can withstand the cattle drive make it to the fertile pastures of calculus. Sadly, many of the herd don’t make it and are left along the side of the trail.

Not every student belongs in calculus. Though students who plan to be engineers, physicists, mathematicians, or economists need calculus, many others have abilities or interests that make them better suited to other mathematical destinations. The cattle drive hurts kids who lose interest in a destination they don’t care about.

Don't get me wrong: I love calculus. It is beautiful, useful, fun stuff, but it isn't for everyone. Everyone should master Algebra, but not everybody needs to master calculus. Why not map out different mathematical pathways for different kids? After Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, maybe some kids would be better served by courses in discrete math, probability, statistics, logic, or some other mathematical topics.

I know I'm tilting at windmills, but I'd like to see the cattle drive identify some other destinations. There is lots of great math out there. Too many people think they hate math because they hated the cattle drive they were on in high school.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Music Monday: Prog Rock at Its Best

I have always liked rock that is slightly out of the mainstream.

Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 are all on YouTube. This stuff is tremendous and I love watching them perform it live. This is my favorite sort of video. It's not a studio recording, but it's also not an arena. I feel like they are performing for themselves, and really getting into it.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Endless Enigma I, Fugue, Endless Enigma II

Yes: Heart of the Sunrise

Is anybody making music like this now? That was not a rhetorical question. Please let me know who you think is (or was recently) making music like this and I will check them out.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Eyeballing Lunatic

The Eyeballing Game is pretty cool. My average error for my first set of tries was 3.81. My best was the right angle (1.1 error). The game is by Matthias Wandel who built the binary marble adding machine I first saw some time ago. Cool stuff.

Matthias also has some simply amazing marble machines, wooden machines, and projects. Woodworking is really fun. If I ever retire, I will have to check out his site and figure out how to do some of the stuff he does.

The Lunatic Express is a blog by a guy who is traveling around the world on scary modes of transportation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Polls Don't Matter

Here is what I don't really get: Why do people focus so much on national poll numbers for presidential elections? We don't elect the president directly. It's all about the electoral college.

CNN's Electoral Map Calculator is a nice visual. You can make your own guesses about the outcome or look at other people's guesses. The campaigns must have this sit up all the time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Weekend with Girl Kid

This past weekend turned out pretty well. It wasn't perfect, but Her Royal Highness Princess Girl Kid (HRHPGK) didn't spend the entire weekend crying for mommy.

Day 1 (Friday): My folks pick up Mrs. Kid and Boy Kid at 6:30 AM to take them to the airport. HRHPGK isn't happy about this, but she does OK for most of the morning. She cries when I drop her off at pre-school, but they don't have to call me to pick her up early. The afternoon and evening at home are fine and I actually get some work done. Day 1 is a qualified success. No big break-downs and her hair isn't too bad.

Day 2 (Saturday): Breakfast at Silver Diner, then to Home Depot to get supplies to fix my broken closet organizer, and finally to the Farmer's Market. Much of the day is spent working on the closet, playing dominoes with HRHPGK, and trying to install a couple dimmers. For dinner, I made garlic with spaghetti and some tomato sauce garnish (I need to tone down the garlic next time I make pasta and red sauce). Her hair is getting worse--it looks like the hair for an extra from a Mad Max movie.

Day 3 (Sunday): Morning run while pushing HRHPGK in a jog stroller. Errands are capped off with a trip to Lowe's to get the jacked up dimmer (three times the cost of a normal dimmer) we need for the dining room. Much of the day is spent finishing up dimmer installation, cleaning up after the closet insanity (clothes and hangers were strewn around Boy Kid's room), and watching some football. HRH paints some pictures and plays with Play-Do. Her hair looks like a muppet that put its finger in a light socket.

Day 4 (Monday): Bring HRHPGK to the office for the morning. She starts off mega-shy, but warms up pretty quickly. She draws and plays pretty quietly while I take care of work stuff. HRHPGK naps well, so the afternoon is productive. After a nice evening and an M&M Blizzard from DQ, I was feeling pretty good about the weekend. We had a good time together. She played alone sometimes and with me at others. I was able to get stuff done around the house, but also spent a fair amount of time playing with HRH. Anyone listening to me brush her hair in the morning would have thought I was removing her fingernails one by one. After all the sturm und drang, the hair still ended up looking like Sasquatch and Hair Bear had a baby.

In a fit of stupidity on Monday evening, I asked a question I should never have asked. After reading a book to her at bedtime, I said "I had a good time this weekend. What about you? Did you have fun this weekend?" If I were smart, I would have left the question unasked. Based on my perception of the weekend, I would have assumed her answer would be "I had a great time, Daddy." Instead, I had to ask and thus had to hear her answer: "No. I missed mommy too much." So much for my hopes of thawing her mommy attachment. It was a good weekend for daddy, but HRH is still mommy's girl.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Music Monday: Air Drumming

Floodwatchmusic brings us: List: My Top Five Albums to Air-Drum Along To. Amen, brother. I used to be a big air drummer, but haven't given it the time it deserves over the past few years. Maybe I should start training for the championships.

Rush's Spirit of the Radio is one of the great air drumming songs of all time.

Dance to the Music (by Sly and the Family Stone)is a fun romp. You can air drum, bass, trumpet and anything else you want with this one:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Bubble Tanks

bubble tanks: This game looks really addictive.

NASA's MESSENGER probe has sent back the first fly-by photos of the planet Mercury. This is really cool.

In case you missed it: On Tuesday, an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere and exp0loded with a force equivalent to a small nuclear bomb . The asteroid burned up before hitting the ground, but the fact that it was identified a day ahead of time gives us hope that we might have some warning before we get hit by an asteroid that results in a mass extinction of homo sapiens.

This PSA about Digital TV conversion is morally reprehensible (but funny).

Bonus Post: A Weekend with Girl Kid

Here is an email I sent to my colleagues at work. It's pretty self-explanatory:

From: Reston Kid
Subject: Friday and Monday with The Little Terror

My wife and son are heading to San Francisco to visit my sister-in-law and her family for the long weekend. That leaves me at home with Her Royal Highness Princess Girl Kid. I plan to be in the office for a couple hours on Friday morning and Monday morning, but it's also possible that HRHPGK will not go to preschool voluntarily, so I might end up at home from Friday morning through Monday evening with HRHPGK crying that she wants her mommy.
I don't care if you pray to Yaweh, G*d, Krishna, Darwin, or Joe Pesci. Just please pray for me.
-- rk
btw: If anybody wants to stop by in the mornings to do her hair, just let me know. Hair is not my thing.

When Mrs. and Boy Kid return, Girl Kid will be fed, reasonably clean, and (probably) healthy. On the other hand:
  • Her clothes will not match and might not even be put on correctly (does she really need all those darn buttons?)
  • Her hair will resemble a pad of steel wool that has been used one too many times to shine up the runners of a sled.
  • She will have eaten nothing but Five Guys hamburgers and Domino's pizza all weekend.
We'll get by, but I am way out of my depth.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Early Algebra: Crushing Kids

Some states want to get all their students to take Algebra by the end of grade 8. The idea is that this will provide equal access to challenging curricula.

The Washington Post's Jay Matthews discusses the issue in Recalculating The 8th-Grade Algebra Rush and the original report is available here: The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra

I'm a fan of Algebra and a fan of helping as many students as possible master it, but I am not a fan of aggressive time lines for when it has to get done. Pushing all 8th or even 9th graders into Algebra is a problem. Kids who are not ready for Algebra would be better served by shoring up their math foundations. They need better arithmetic skills and they need better number sense. Students who are pushed into Algebra before they are ready are doomed to fail and are probably doomed to hate math forever. I don't want them to take silly math classes that lack any rigor, but I don't want to throw them into classes for which they are not prepared.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is also a push to get good math students to take Algebra in seventh grade or even earlier. Not every kid is ready for Algebra in eighth grade. Very, very few kids should be taking Algebra before eighth grade. If a kid is that good at math, why not provide a more rich mathematical curriculum for the kid instead of just having them rip through the same old courses more quickly?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thoughts from National Math Panel

I recently attended a National Math Panel (NMP) Forum and it was quite good. The NMP produced a report that outlined what we know about preparing kids for Algebra. The report covered every aspect of our mathematics educational system, but it also did something really different for education: it placed a focus on good research.

Here are some key findings from the NMP:
  • When students understand that the brain can change and that effort can make you smarter, they perform better. This is directly at odds with the "either you got it or you don't" attitude toward math ability. Everyone needs to embrace this different way of looking at math. Every teacher and parent should read Intelligence vs. Effort: Stop Reading, Start Trying!
  • Procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and problem solving all buttress each other. Recent "math wars" have pitted those old-school math folks who want to emphasize algorithms and rules against new-age math folks who want to emphasize conceptual understanding. They are both right and wrong. You need to have it all intertwined. It's not a matter of either/or.
  • Arguments about whether a classroom should be student centered versus teacher centered lack any foundation in real research. The differences between teacher effectiveness are all about the skill of the teacher--not about the type of classroom she runs.
  • There is a tremendous lack of solid research for many aspects of math education. We don't know what really works.
Anyway, there was much, much more to it. If you want to see or read more about the NMP, check out the NMP website, this video that highlights some key findings, and the Doing What Works site. Lots of good info on all these sites.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Math Illiteracy

On his Uncertain Principles blog, Chad Orzel provides an interesting look at the problem of our culture's math illiteracy in The Innumeracy of Intellectuals. Professor Orzel's essential point is that people are generally ashamed of a lack of knowledge about art or culture, but can have a sense of pride about their lack of mathematical knowledge.

Epsilonica has this post: Lockhart, Jenkins and compulsory maths about how he wishes he had been taught math.

I don't think that everyone needs to love math any more than everyone needs to be an artist or a musician. On the other hand, here are three reasons I think everyone should master some key mathematical skills and concepts:
  1. We are constantly bombarded by information and much of it requires some analysis. Sometimes, we need a solid grasp of logic, and at other times, we need to understand some basic statistics or probability. Math helps us make sense of many situations.
  2. Math is a great problem-solving tool. The more math you know, the more ways you can see that it can be helpful as a way to model real-world situations.
  3. Math is beautiful.
Point 1's implications: I think everyone needs basic knowledge of algebra, probability, and statistics. That's it. No calculus. No trigonometry. Nothing too fancy.

Points 2 & 3's implications: These are a bit trickier. You need teachers who really have used math and teachers who are passionate about math's beauty. Neither of these is a slam dunk. In my experience, most math teachers are academics who have lived their entire lives in schools. Some of them really love math, but most have never really used math to solve real problems in the real world to make a living. Not every teacher needs to have earned a living with math, but I think most schools would benefit from a broader mix of backgrounds. Some academics, some turbo geeks, and some practical mathematicians should be in every math department from high school on down to at least middle school.

I will complain about elementary school math, arbitrary timelines for learning algebra, and the inflated importance of calculus courses some other time. Those are big topics unto themselves.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Music Monday: Some Great, Melancholy Songs

It's nice to wallow every once in a while. I don't do it often, but when I do, I like to do it right. Put on some nice melancholy music, grab your drink of choice, and pick a spot where you can sit and stare off at nothing in particular.

REM: Everybody Hurts
This is a really nice video that augments the feeling of the music.

Nick Drake: Pink Moon
This song carries sadness because of the artist's tragic story.

Ben Folds Five: Brick
Nice and depressing here. See the video here (can't be embedded.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Ducks

Duck, Think Outside the Flock is an addicting game.

xkcd's Height is really nice. I want this as a poster (hint to Mrs. Kid)

Downsizing. These are just funny images of cars.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

23/6 Is Laugh Out Loud Funny

Thanks to my e-theta brother for pointing me toward this.

23/6 is pretty funny. If you go to the video page, it will serve up a series of pretty funny videos. Here are a few of my favorites:
Also good: Sarah Palin's Blog. Some fun stuff.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Breaking Your Dependence on Microsoft

Here is an article about How to Get a Windows Tax Refund. This refers to getting a refund for the price of the Windows operating system (known among Linux folks as the "Windows tax") that is passed through into the cost of any PC you buy.

This got me thinking about Microsoft's hegemony in the personal computer software market and what chances there are for breaking through it.

Apple's market share for retail PCs is up to about 14%, which is pretty good. Still, many of those machines end up running Microsoft software. Specifically, MS Office seems to be the big, ubiquitous beast.

If you want to end (or at least lessen) your dependence on Microsoft, try some or all of these solutions:
  • Ubuntu replaces Windows: Linux used to be for only the most ambitious turbo geeks. Installing it meant knowing more than anybody should ever know about hard drive architecture, video drivers, and disk partitions. That has all changed. With distributions such as Ubuntu, anybody can install Linux with just a few clicks.
  • Firefox instead of IE: I have liked the Mozilla browsers forever. Firefox has great features and superior security.
  • gmail instead of MS Outlook: gmail's contacts feature is much-improved and synchronization with my blackberry is finally possible. I can access my gmail from anywhere (including from my BlackBerry,) and I really like the labels feature.
  • Google Docs instead of MS Word, MS Excel: Now, I can write, read, print, and share documents without using MS Office.
I still use a PC for media management (iTunes for music, Picasa for photos), but once I get comfortable with the Linux tools that are out there (yes, I have heard about Amarok and Picasa for Ubuntu), Microsoft might have no hold on me at home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dark Flow or an Epistemological Limit? brings us an article about Mysterious New 'Dark Flow' Discovered in Space. It seems that scientists are seeing things that are moving as if something incredibly massive is outside our observable universe. Really interesting stuff.

OK. Now to tread the fine line between geeking out and keeping this somewhat interesting:

To start a discussion about my thoughts on this, read what one commenter at Slashdot said:
What bugs me is that this "bubble" of the known universe really isn't a bubble at all, it's just the physical limit of our ability to observe; we have no means of determining the extent of this "bubble". Therefore, claiming that there could be "giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe" just outside this bubble seems somewhat... convenient.
Here is another Slashdot quote:
To paraphrase David Hume: There is no reason to believe that the laws of physics have always been what they are today at all points in space and at all points in time. While it is well within reason, and quite likely, that the Universe follows neat patterns quite specifically, when one runs into really odd data that doesn't fit into your tidy boxes it might be time to rethink things. Dark matter/flow/energy or whatever the new buzzwords scientists come up with are stop gap measures meant to really say, "we haven't the foggiest idea what's going on, but it doesn't quite add up".
There are limits to what we can really know at both ends of the physical continuum. As the LHC breaks things down into smaller and smaller pieces, I have complete confidence that we will keep on uncovering more things we don't know. Similarly, as amazing telescopes look farther and farther into space and further and further back in time, I'm sure that more questions will be raised than questions are answered.

Maybe the "dark flow" is really God's left foot. Maybe it's a bunch of galaxies made out of dark matter. It seems to me that we are getting to a point where these theories are being built on a little bit of data and lots of beautiful theories.

I'm a big fan of scientific inquiry, but am sometimes skeptical about the theories they come up with for things that are very large, small, far from us, or in the distant past or future. I like many of the stories (theories) and am impressed when theories have good predictive abilities, but ultimately I feel like there is a limit to what people can know.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout and CEO Compensation Updates

The House voted down the $700 Million bailout. Here is a great quote from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) explaining his opposition to the bill:
If we lose our ability to fail, we will soon lose our ability to succeed. If we bail out risky behavior, we will soon see even riskier behavior.
Well put. Still, I have conflicting feelings about the idea of a bailout. Saving a failing economy seems like a good idea. Figuring out the solution on such a tight timeframe seems like a bad idea.

More CEO compensation numbers for failed companies:
Maybe this crisis will bring more reasonable compensation plans. Yeah, right.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: MixTube and Cosmic Variance

MixTube is a cool site. You can create an audio mix of clips from YouTube. Here is a mixtape of The Beatles. Here is one I made based on videos blogged at CosmicVariance: John Coltrane tribute.

CosmicVariance is quite exemplary. The topics seem to cover pretty considerable ground (like this blog), but the folks who write it are really, really smart (unlike this blog's author.)

This is just plain nutty: PETA wrote a letter to Ben & Jerry's urging them to ... well ... read for yourself.

Something Awful
brings us How Is Babby Formed? Blogger Shamus Young wrote an interesting post about this. BTW: The greatest thing about Shamus' blog is the ability to change the color scheme from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil or True Neutral. D&D references like that give me a little touch of nostalgia.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Tale of the Nastiness Behind Wiretaps

The Washington Post had a two-part series about the behind the scenes battle over the Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program. The series started here and finished here.

Here is my favorite quote:
"The analysis is flawed, in fact facially flawed," Comey said. "No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it."

Gonzales said nothing. Addington stood by the window, over Cheney's shoulder. He had heard a bellyful.

"Well, I'm a lawyer and I did," Addington said, glaring at Comey.

"No good lawyer," Comey said
Awesome stuff. As the Libertarian Party's Platform states:
The defense of the country requires that we have adequate intelligence to detect and to counter threats to domestic security. This requirement must not take priority over maintaining the civil liberties of our citizens. The Bill of Rights provides no exceptions for a time of war. Intelligence agencies that legitimately seek to preserve the security of the nation must be subject to oversight and transparency.
Amen, brothers and sisters. This idea that the government's powers should be limited is one of the things the Republicans are supposed to value, but they discard the principle anytime it's an inconvenient obstruction to them.

Let's hear it for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who are suing the NSA, Bush, and Cheney.