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.