Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Career Goal

I have two career goals.

1) Chief Learning Officer or Chief People Officer for a company.
2) Mrs. Kid's secretary when she becomes a rich and famous author. I'm here to support her.

Now, I can add a third option:
3) Stay at home father with a website that supports me and Mrs. Kid and the little ones.

Dooce: An Epic Vitriolic Screed is a very good blog. Check out her About page to learn more about her and to see the other ways she refers to her husband who is a Stay at Home Father. This is the life I want. All I need is:
  1. The ability to write coherent, interesting stuff.
  2. A more interesting life to write about.
Sadly, I am a functional illiterate who writes prose as interesting as a crossword puzzle. I also spend most of my work week sitting in an office writing and reading math. My boss isn't crazy. I rarely interact with our customers. I don't often interact with Marketing or Sales, both of whom can be counted on for lots of great stories.

Oh well. It's nice to have lofty, unattainable goals. Maybe the answer is to encourage Mrs. Kid to become the next Dooce. It's all about supporting my wife.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mixed Feelings About a Great Man: Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, who passed away recently, was the father of the green revolution. His work to create and make available crops with insanely high yield and great resistance to disease is credited with saving a billion lives and a billion hectares of forest.

He was a great man and a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, but not just because he came up with the method to develop these crops. He was so worthy because he made it his life's work to encourage the use of the technology he developed. He didn't patent it and make a billion dollars off of it.

You might be thinking about the title of this post and wonder "How could anyone have mixed feelings about such an amazing man?" My mixed feelings stem from my concerns about overpopulation. It is great that we can feed so many people, but should we? I know it's easy for me to wonder about this. I have plenty of food. Still, overpopulation is something I think about. Here are some interesting reads about Borlaug:
He was a great and noble man, but I think it is reasonable to think about the ethical ramifications of our technological advancements.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Music Monday: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

As I draft this, I am listening to an album I have not heard in probably two decades, but it is still stunningly familiar.

I bought an audio cassette of Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1984. I was a poor college student, and I had never heard of the album, but there it was in a bargain bin and with two of my favorite artists, it seemed like a good gamble.

The album absolutely blew me away. I listened to the cassette so often that it became great studying music for me. The lyrics and tunes were so in my head that I could let it wash over me as I worked and it wouldn't get in the way. It just helped me get into my studying groove.

It wasn't until B-Sizzle told me that several modern artists have mentioned the album as an influence on their work that I realized Bush of Ghosts was not a completely obscure album known only to me. The Wikipedia page indicates that the album gets rave reviews from just about everybody (Robert Christgau must be a whack job). Anyway, check it out sometime.

YouTube videos:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Geek Scale

When I tell friends and family that I don't rank particularly high on the geek scale, they often don't believe me. They have no idea. I seem like a geek compared to them, but that's only because they don't know the geeks I know. Here is an IM exchange between two friends of mine.

HockeyKing (not his real screenname) is Chief Technology Officer of a small IT company. He is a computer geek who is like me: his friends and family probably think he is a super geek, but they have no idea.

VetteGeek (also not his real screenname) is a real geek.
HockeyKing: still liking the droid?
HockeyKing: or finding issues not happy with?
VetteGeek: oh yeah
VetteGeek: I installed a C-64 emulator
VetteGeek: I was playing "The Castles of Dr. Creep" on Sat
HockeyKing: what's a c-64 emulator?
VetteGeek: Commodore 64
I can't compare to that.... This is a guy who has installed an application so his new phone can act like a 27 year-old computer. Wow.

I'm a geek, but not that high on the geek scale. For instance, I:
  • am a math teacher (of sorts) who was never on a Math Team.
  • run Linux on my home machine, but I generally use the GUI instead of the text-based terminal and I don't compile my own applications.
  • have some superficial familiarity with Java, but don't know Python, LISP, or any low-level languages at all.
  • I liked the original Star Trek series and some other sci fi stuff, but I never watch SyFy network.
Anyway, I admit to being a bit of a geek, but compared to real geeks, I am quite the dilettante.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Music Monday: Xmas Music

I like xmas. I like the traditions, the cookies, the family, the egg nog, the decorations, the candy, the smells (pine, cinnamon, etc.), and much more. Slate's Jody Rosen brings us Why Bob Dylan's Christmas Album Isn't a Joke, which gets at the heart of why I like xmas music so much.

Some videos of Xmas music I like:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Taking Advice from an Old "Friend"

As a close, personal friend of mine (we both had the late Ernie Rabinowicz as our freshman advisor at college, though 17 years apart) once said:
Don't look back
A new day is breakin'
It's been too long since I felt this way
I don't mind where I get taken
The road is callin'
Today is the day
Anyone? Anyone? Name the band and "friend" for mad kudos. Bonus points for anyone who can name the department from which my "friend" received his Bachelors and Masters degrees (without using Google or Wikipedia or any other Internet resource).

As I look at my rather lengthy list of drafted posts, I see a long queue of half-baked ideas and partial thoughts. Still, I think it's time that I got back to them. Stay tuned. "Today is the day."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: xkcd Highlights

If you aren't into the webcomic xkcd because it's too nerdy, here are some entries I think have relatively broad appeal. You don't need to be a programmer or a mathematician to find these amusing:

Lego: That's deep. My only quibble is that the lego house (like grandpa) still exists in our hearts, minds, and imaginations.

Movie Narrative Charts
is wonderful (it's better when big). I like the LOTR and Star Wars diagrams, but really like 12 Angry Men as well.

Scary: This sort of thing gets me all the time. Boy Kid was born a month and a half before 9/11/01, so he is the same age as the post-9/11 era. We have project managers at work who are too young for me to have taught them: I stopped teaching before they entered high school. Holy crap!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Silent People

Silent Monks Singing Halleluia: These kids are pretty good.

People of Walmart: Priceless. As usual with sites like this, the best part is the commentary. It's all about the captions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Redskins Are So Sad

Sally Jenkins got it right in her column Redskins need a GM bailout. The 'Skins are a terrible franchise and it starts at the top.

Update: Superfueled Freaksicle brings us The Grand Unified Theory of Daniel M. Snyder. Simply brilliant.

On an unrelated note, my favorite suggestion for dealing with their name issue is from Tony Kornheiser (and others): Let them keep the name, but change the logo to a couple redskin potatoes. Brilliant.

Here are some jokes a friend sent me a bit ago. I have no idea about the original source, so I am sorry for not attributing it properly.

HEADLINE: "D.C. Police are "cracking" down on speeders. For the first
offense, they give you two Redskins tickets. (If you get stopped a second time, they give you two Nationals tickets.)"

Q
. What do you call 47 millionaires sitting around a TV watching the Super Bowl?
A. The Washington Redskins.

Q. What do the Redskins and Billy Graham have in common?
A. They both can make 70,000 people stand up and yell "Jesus Christ".

Q. How do you keep the Redskins out of your yard?
A. Put up a goal post.

Q. Where do you go in D.C. in case of a tornado?
A
. To FedEx Field - they never have a touchdown there!

Q. What do you call a Redskin with a Super Bowl ring?
A. Senior Citizen

Q. How many Redskins does it take to win a Super Bowl?
A. We may never find out in the 21st century.

Q. What do the Redskins and opossums have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Love Monty Hall

OK, so I don't really love Monty. What I love is the problem that is named for him, which can be stated as follows:
You are a contestant on Let's Make a Deal. Monty has given you a choice of three doors. Behind two doors are goats, but one door has a nice, shiny new red car with a radio! You choose a door. Monty (who knows what is behind each door) then reveals that behind one of the other doors is a goat. He then he asks you: Do you want to switch to the other door, or do you want to stay with your original choice?

The question for you is: Should you stay with your original choice, switch doors, or does it not matter?
If you haven't before, stop and think about the problem before reading on.

Coding Horror has an article: Monty Hall, Monty Fall, Monty Crawl that a friend from work sent to me recently. I agree with the Jeff Atwood, who says:
What's interesting about this problem, to me at least, is not the solution, but the vehemence with which people react to the solution....
Here is a nice, simple explanation of the correct answer courtesy of Antonio Cangiano at Zen and the Art of Programming:
When you make your first choice your probability of winning the car is only 1/3. If you decide to switch, you will win only if the first choice you made was wrong. And since your first choice came with a 2 out of 3 chance of picking a goat, switching will then (logically) give you 2/3 chance of winning.
But don't believe me. Check out these sites:
Anyway, this is a great problem.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Music Monday: Ronstadt Isn't Cool, but I Like Her Anyway

When chatting with B-Sizzle (who has introduced me to some great music) recently, I mentioned that I had just picked up some Orbital, White Stripes, and Linda Ronstadt. The first two were fine, but mentioning the third artist clearly caused his esteem for my taste in music to drop precipitously. Oh well, what can I say? I gotta be me.

Blue Bayou: This is my favorite Ronstadt song. This Roy Orbison cover gets into my brain and doesn't get out.

My Funny Valentine: I've always liked her Nelson Riddle big band-y stuff.

Quiereme Mucho: Her Spanish language stuff is lovely. She projects great passion in these songs.

I know she isn't hip, but I dig Ronstadt's voice and any song that really showcases it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Best-of-Craigslist Favorites, Volume 8

It's been a while since I have gone through BoCL, so this is going to take up a couple posts (and lots of time catching up with everything since the beginning of February).
OK. I am caught up to the end of April. More to come as I get the time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Update: More One Space Stuff

Breaking in a new Project Manager is tough. We need to work together to figure out new ways of communication and roles need to be clarified. I work closely with PMs, so working out a solid working relationship is crucial.

All that said, the toughest thing about a new PM is getting her/him to stop putting two spaces after a period.

It has been a while since I opined on this topic, but here is more info:

Chicago Manual of Style: In response to the question One Space or Two?
One space .... There is a traditional American practice, favored by some, of leaving two spaces after colons and periods. This practice is discouraged by the University of Chicago Press, especially for formally published works and the manuscripts from which they are published.
One Space Between Sentences: Adapted from Robin Williams, The Mac Is Not a Typewriter; Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 1990

Webword: One Versus Two Spaces After a Period is a report that includes lots of references to people who think about this sort of thing. They all agree on one space.

My company publishes quite a bit of stuff, so we really need to pay attention to this sort of thing. I know it's hard to break the bad habits your high school typing teacher beat into you, but it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Innate Intelligence Is (mostly) a Crock; Effort Matters

A colleague sent me an article from Edutopia that I found interesting, but far from surprising. Struggling Helps Students Master Math tells of how students got better at math when they were allowed to struggle with it.

So, why was this not surprising? Because it is consistent with some solid research on similar ideas. All of these are really, really important ideas that every parent and teacher should read and re-read until they are second nature.

Po Bronson: How Not to Talk to Your Kids
We don’t do a good job of praising our children and students. We praise too readily and broadly and in the process, we don’t encourage working hard to solve problems.

Malcolm Gladwell: Explains Success: It's Nurture, not Nature
As a society, we praise short term results and brilliance more than we praise effort.

Carol Dweck: Transforming Students’ Motivation to Learn and An Interview
Once students realize that intelligence can grow through effort, they get smarter.

Anyone who is involved in raising or educating children needs to understand how praise and effort relate to each other and to student achievement.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Against Big Government

A friend recently sent around an email with this quote:
"You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."
~~~~ Dr. Adrian Rogers, 1931
To which I responded:

"Though I agree with much of the sentiment here, it strikes me as ironic when:

1) some of the same people who probably hailed this quote as worthy a couple years ago proceeded to take billions from the government to save their golden parachutes from financial companies.

2) other people will fight any attempts to stop a gravy train that runs directly (e.g., defense industry) or indirectly (e.g., health care industry) from the government to their yachts, cars, and homes.

Sorry to be a hater, but there are those who have been fortunate and who benefit from a bloated and inefficient government, but don't mind as long as the big government is lining their pockets. They only complain when people they don't hang out with are getting stuff."

I know Mrs. Kid will say this is just another example of me being argumentative. She has heard me argue with both of our staunchly liberal mothers. Relative to them, I can be seen as on the other side of this debate. My mother and mother-in-law probably think I am uber-Republican. Meanwhile, the folks to whom I replied with the email above could think I am a big-government defender. Regardless, I'm OK with being labeled argumentative.

I think that government is inefficient and too big, but I am very cynical. I distrust anybody who has ideas about what should be cut. The people who annoy me the most are people who claim to want limited government, but have made their money from the government. If these people want small government so badly, they can start by giving back their expensive homes and BMW convertibles.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Music Monday: Geeking Out

Geeks can rock it out.

Jonathan Coulton is a bit of a geek, but more importantly, lots of his fans are huge geeks.
MC Frontalot has been described as The Godfather of Nerdcore. Like Coulton, Frontalot has real skill.
MC Hawking is quite tasteless, but an amusing bit every once in a while.
Hawking has others, but they are pretty full of expletives. Still, they are funny.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Golf Dock Girl Spider

MiniGolf: I remember being addicted to this years ago. I just scored a 38 (10 under par), so the gauntlet has been tossed.

Print-and-fold iPhone Dock looks amazing. I might have to get one of these things. It would look great on my desk. It doesn't matter that I don't have an iPhone--I want this dock anyway. Maybe it would work for my old Blackberry.

Everyone should check out The Girl Effect. The introductory video is inspiring.

Bonus: The Wood Spider:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ze Frank With a Real Gig: Videos for Time.com

It seems that Ze Frank has a kind of a real gig. I had no idea. I guess I haven't been doing a good job of paying attention to his career.

If you don't know who Ze Frank is, then you have been doing an even worse job paying attention than I. The Show was an inspiring year of video blogging. Anyway, here are some of his videos for Time.com:
I hope he keeps these coming.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Running and Knees

I was a decrepit old man in my thirties. Any time I played soccer or tennis, my heels and feet caused me incredible pain. It got so bad that I finally stopped playing altogether. Without any exercise, I became a big, fat, ball of goo.

It became so bad that I couldn't keep up with (then five-year-old) Boy Kid or (then one-year-old) Girl Kid. Eventually, I realized that:
  • Carrying Girl Kid up the stairs left me winded.
  • It took me a couple days to recover from coaching soccer for a team of kids who where three feet tall.
  • When watching a video that was filmed at my office, I saw some guy who looked like me in a fat suit. The fat guy was me.
  • My size 40 pants were getting really tight.
Anyway, I finally went to the local running store and had them watch me jog and analyze my gait. They recommended Asics Gel GT-2010's. Once I had the right equipment, it took me weeks and weeks to be able to run a mile without taking breaks, but now I am able to run 3-5 miles about three times most weeks. Apparently, running in a straight line is not a problem for me (I am not fast--my top speed is somewhere between a saunter and a mosey), but the real culprits were the turning and changes of direction that came with soccer and tennis.

Gretchen Reynolds' New York Times article Can Running Actually Help Your Knees? is interesting. It gives me hope that I will be able to keep this up for a while. I like being healthier. I can keep up with Boy and Girl Kid, but only if they are running in a straight line. Once they discover my weakness, it will be all up to Mrs. Kid to keep up with them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where the Deer Roam and...um...Number Two

Quick quiz: Where do deer go poo? If you said "in the woods, just like bears and the pope," then you gave the same answer I would have given just a few days ago. Though "outside" is quite accurate, a more precise answer would be "in Reston Kid's backyard."

We have been seeing lots of deer in our backyard recently. Mostly, we see a family of five. Every once in a while, we see a sole buck who has a growth hanging from its throat that looks like a pair of really red, irritated testicles the size of billiard balls. We love our deer (growth and all). Being close to nature is one of the big reasons we are in Reston, so seeing them so often makes us quite happy. Plus, we aren't gardeners, so we don't mind that they eat every plant in sight.

Given how often we have been seeing deer, I should have have known what was coming, but I'm kinda slow. When I mowed the yard this weekend, the backyard had deer feces everywhere. Seriously, every square foot had at least one pile. We have had deer in our backyard before, but I don't recall them leaving so many mementos.

I also don't recall seeing so many acorns in our yard, and yes, there seems to be a connection between the two things that litter my lawn so liberally. Deer love to eat acorns, so....

You get the idea. Sorry to go all scatological on you, but it was quite the experience, so I had to share.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Music Monday: Hardcore Punks Do Mariachi

I heard these guys on NPR this evening. The Bronx are a hardcore punk rock group (here is Past Lives) who decided to put out a mariachi album as El Bronx. When asked why they sing in English, the band's singer Matt Caughtran said:
It just felt like that would be, you know, extremely fake. ... I don't know Spanish.... There is nothing worse in our heads than white guys playing funk. It kinda felt like it would add an element of cheese and it would be wrong if I did that.
Great stuff.

I Would Die 4 U: a nice Prince cover

Cell Mates: my favorite

Holy and Slave Labor have their own charms. The former is all about the guy with the thing that sounds like a washboard. The latter is all about that trumpet. Marvelous. Also great: Clown Powder.

p.s. I know it's been a while since I have posted. I have a ton of draft posts waiting to be finished up and posted. Some day I will scheduled about a month's worth of stuff.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Are the Feds in the Marriage Business?

While watching an old episode of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List on DVR, Mrs. Kid and I heard that there are over a thousand rights that gays are denied because they can't marry. Mrs. Kid mentioned (twice) that she was curious about what the thousand rights are, so I had to find the list.

A GAO memo to the Senate: Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report includes the entire list and this description:
... as of December 31, 2003, our research identified a total of 1,138 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges.
So, my initial question was: Why are the feds so tied to marriage? Then I realized that they have no other option. If you want to tie a benefit, right, or privelege to people who are commited to each other in a real and legally-binding way, then the only way to do it in the U.S. is to tie it to marriage.

I want the U.S. federal and state governments to create and recognize civil unions. Without this, we'll keep on having these big problems with people denying rights to gays because they perceive that doing so would have religious implications.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rats, Blue M&M's, and Ethics

A bit ago, Slashdot had an article titled Dye Used In Blue M&Ms Can Lessen Spinal Injury. Here is a quote from the Slashdot synopsis of the original article:
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have found that the dye used in blue M&Ms and other foods can, when given intravenously to a lab rat shortly after a spinal injury, minimize secondary damage caused by the body when it kills off nearby healthy cells.
As usual, the article is somewhat interesting, but the comments that followed are where the real fun is.

Query in one comment:
Are rats less deserving of our sympathies than "intelligent" humans?
Someone's reply:
Are these humans lawyers, music industry executives, or Microsoft programmers? Context is key.
I understand that saving human lives is really important, but I am wary of getting cavalier about what we do to other animals in the name of progress. I'm not sure how this relates to my stance on eating meat, but disliking sport hunting and maim and release fishing. Killing animals to eat them is a totally different thing from hurting them for sport, but scientific research seems to be in a more ambiguous place. The potential for benefit to humans is great, but the cruelty seems great as well.

I'm not about to join PETA, but I hope the people who perform and benefit from this sort of research think about the terrible things these animals have been subjected to for our benefit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Education Reform

The Post's Outlook section had A Chance to Say Yes that describes the situation for Obama's education reform agenda. Obama's ideas for changing our schools are:
  • Merit pay
  • Get rid of ineffective teachers
  • Try more charters, but with accountability
Full disclosure #1: I am a public school guy. I attended, taught at, and send Boy Kid (and soon Girl Kid) to public schools. I even married a public school woman.

Full disclosure #2: I work for a company that runs virtual charter schools. We also run our own private academy and provide curriculum to some private schools.

Merit pay and getting rid of ineffective teachers are opposite sides of the same coin and are tough challenges. Determining which teachers are getting it done and which are not is easy to talk about, but isn't easy to accomplish. Educating kids is not like building cars or selling widgets or hitting a baseball. Success in the classroom is dependent on many factors.

We need innovation in our schools nand charters provide a reasonable pathway to innovation. As long as each school is held accountable, I am all for charter schools (and have been since before my time working for a company that has skin in the game). On the other hand, I am not a fan of vouchers that allow parents to send their kids to private schools.

My problems with vouchers are two-fold. First, I take the separation of church and state seriously. Having public funds going to support church schools is a big problem. Second, we need to find a way to make our public schools work. Taking money out of public shools and putting it in to private schools seems like giving up.

I hope Obama is able to get some real traction with his ideas. It's a difficult road, but an important one to travel.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Music Monday: Thoughts on Great Jazz Albums

Amazon's list of 100 greatest jazz albums of all time inspired others to try their hand at listing their 50 favorites (ranking 100 would be a daunting task). As you might expect, each list is drastically different.
Why do I find these lists interesting? First, there is no one right list. Second, I learn something new every time I look at a best jazz albums list. I always find several entries that fall into one of these categories:
  • an artist I have never heard of
  • an artist I have heard of, but not heard
  • an album I didn't know existed by an artist I love
  • an album I own, but don't listen to much
As I look through these lists, my strategy is to find a list that has a top ten that looks great, then start digging into the rest of the list. My jazz collection is pretty weak, so this could point me in some good directions as I look to broaden my jazz horizons.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mr. Tony Returning to His Show?

I have never been a morning zoo radio guy. Howard Stern, Greaseman, Don & Mike, and their like have generally not been appealing to me.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of Tony Kornheiser's radio show. Why do I like Tony? I dunno. He's kinda funny, he's pretty smart, and he has great guests. Also, it's not exactly a morning zoo, but I do like his crew: Jeanne McManus, Sally Jenkins, Liz Clarke, and Tracee Hamilton all make for interesting foils for Tony and his ample neuroses. The topics they discuss are generally interesting:
  • Sports: Tony has a bunch of great sports writers as guests on his show. Tim Kurkjian, John "Junior" Feinstein, Mitch Albom, Sally Jenkins, and Richard Justice to name but a few. These people know their stuff.
  • Music: Tony's knowledge of music is amazing. Some of his musical taste skews slightly old for me, but I like music and like to listen to people who are passionate about music.
  • American Idol: I don't watch American Idol, but I enjoy listening to Tony and his guests (including Lisa de Moraes) analyzing the show.
  • Current Events/Tony's life: The dude is neurotic, but I like his stories and his take on things.
Why do I mention this today? On washingtonpost.com, Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog had an entry Kornheiser Getting Ready for Radio Return. Oh happy day! I won't really believe it until I see the press release from WTEM that includes a specific start date and time, but this is definitely reason for optimism. Once he is back, I will watch Satchmo's show on News Channel 8 for:
  1. Updates from the front lines of the animal revolution
  2. Haikus
  3. The OPN
  4. Old Guy Radio
And remember. If you're out on your bike tonight, do wear white.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Music Monday: Music from Bobby, Part 2

My friend Bobby introduces me to great music. I have written about Music from Bobby before, but she keeps the music coming.

Wolf Parade
Album: Apologies to the Queen Mary
Videos: I'll Believe in Anything and Modern World
Powerful rock.

Modest Mouse
Album: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Videos: Dashboard and The World At Large and We've Got Everything
The energy reminds me of early XTC.

Mexican Institute of Sound
Video: A Girl Like You and Cha Cha No. 29
Fun, interesting music.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Geeking Out

WolframAlpha is simply amazing. Check out this video overview from Stephen Wolfram himself. People with whom I work view this tool with a mixture of fear (kids will cheat) and awe (we and our students will be able to do so much with this amazing tool).

Geeky Computer Part Art has some interesting art.

A Gallery of Geeky Galleries has some very cool images.

Speaking of geeky stuff, this is a great T-shirt:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Arguments for Year-Round School

I know I'm tilting at windmills, but.... Ever since I was a teacher, I have wished we had year-round school. When I taught, my main reason was so that I could have a decent snow skiing vacation, but now I have more reasons. I was reminded of the benefits of year-round school when I read Year-Round School? My Kids Love It. Yours Will Too by Brigid Schulte.

I know our traditional school schedule has little hope of changing on a broad scale any time soon, but there are some really good reasons it should:

Less forgetting time: Our summers are too darn long. Kids forget so much over the summer that every school year starts with refreshing kids' memories after the long break. I am not guessing here. There is real research to back this up. For instance, Harris Cooper's paper: Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions. Here is one snippet:
... summer learning loss equaled at least one month of instruction as measured by grade level equivalents on standardized test scores-on average, children's tests scores were at least one month lower when they returned to school in fall than scores were when students left in spring.
A continuous culture of learning: As it is now, kids learn from September to May and play from June to August. Yes, I have excluded June from the "learning" side of this equation because by June, many kids and teachers are so burned out that they have lost energy. There is also a cost at the beginning of the school year. Aside from reminding kids about what they learned, teachers also have to get the kids back into the habit of learning. The gear shift from a long summer to the beginning of the nine-month journey through school can be a jarring one.

More opportunities for help: If a kid is struggling at the end of the first quarter of Algebra, the kid is probably doomed to three quarters of unhappiness. Courses that are progressive in nature (e.g., math, reading, and some sciences) can be miserable for any student who struggles at the beginning. With a year-round schedule, a kid who is struggling at the end of the term has time between terms in which he can catch up and prepare for the next term. There is less need for repeat summer school when kids can be given help along the way.

I have no doubt that year-round school is more expensive than our current agrarian model, but if we are serious about improving education, I think it's a smart investment.

Besides, I want to be able to take my kids to Breckenridge for a week of skiing in March.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is Affirmative Action Still Relevant?

In a recent opinion piece in the Post, Shelby Steele posits that Affirmative Action Is Just a Distraction. His post-racial position is interesting, but I don't completely buy it.
We blacks know oppression well, but today it is our inexperience with freedom that holds us back almost as relentlessly as oppression once did.
Some who read the piece might think that Steele believes that discrimination no longer exists. I would like to believe this, but I simply can't. I agree that discrimination is not the dominant problem facing black America, but I am quite sure that discrimination exists as well. Oppression held back our forefathers, but we still don't live in a world without discrimination.

On the other hand, Steel says:
Today's "black" problem is underdevelopment, not discrimination.
Amen, brother. Discrimination still exists, but I don't think it is what holds us back. For instance, It's sad that the black New Haven fire fighters didn't score higher on the test, but why did they score so more poorly than their white counterparts? Could there be differences in preparation? Educational level? What about the test?

Could there be racial bias in the test? I suppose so, but what does that look like? I'd like to see an item analysis of the test. What is it that the blacks and Hispanics missed? Were there questions about NASCAR? Was there a swimming component to the test? Were there questions about how to maintain a Prius? In this day and age, I am genuinely interested in what racial bias looks like on a test in a way that is not class/socioeconomic bias. If the only result of Ricci v. DeStefano is for blacks and Hispanics to collectively sigh "oh well, racism is alive and well," then we have all missed an opportunity to learn from a failure. We all need to dig down and figure out the real causes of our squandered opportunities.

Blacks in America have lots of soul-searching to do. What's holding us back? In general, it is not overt racism, but what subtle racism holds us back? How can we help ourselves move forward? Now that the overt racism has faded, I think we need to keep an eye out for more subtle bias, but mostly we have to take the ball and run with it. I am not saying that there is no such thing as racism. I am saying that we need to move forward and take responsibility for our own development. Today's blacks need to seize the opportunities for which our parents and grandparents fought.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Care Pessimism

As I hear about Obama and Congress's plans for health care reform, I am encouraged by the fact that people seem interested in discussing these important issues, but remain pessimistic that the most important issues will be addressed. I was ruminating on this recently when I read a piece in the Washington Post: Focus on Health Savings Obscures Other Issues.

It seems to me that there are three major parts to our health care issues:

Coverage: Obama's efforts seem focused on coverage. Small government Republicans will probably resist any single-payer or pay-to-play efforts that give government more control over how coverage happens. From the administration's perspective, the upside to selling this sort of reform is that it doesn't impact the entire health care industry. It simply changes how the bills are being paid.

Inefficiency: We pay more than any other nation for health care, but do not get the best health care in return. I call this lack of correlation "inefficiency." The fact that other countries are getting more bang for their health care bucks implies that we should be able to decrease our spending and improve our results at the same time. Improving the efficiency of the system seems like an obvious goal, but the problem is that many corporations are making money from this inefficiency. Inefficiencies do not result in money floating off into space. Inefficiencies result in more people having unnecessary jobs. Inefficiencies also result in more executives and managers having fancy cars, houses, boats, and vacations than they should have. Improving efficiency is not difficult because it is hard to identify strategies. It is hard because the people who benefit from inefficiency like their jobs, cars, homes, and vacations.

The Tidal Wave: Health care costs are going to increasingly grab a huge share of GDP and the federal budget. Note that these are two separate issues. One (the GDP side) is tied to efficiency in general, while the other (the health care share of the federal budget) is tied to entitlements. The entitlement issue is a tough one: As the government works to increase coverage, that will put upward pressure on The Wave, while efficiency efforts will put downward pressure on The Wave. Ultimately, it seems to me that the only hope is to find ways to increase efficiency so much that increased coverage is more than paid for.

Note also that increased coverage (if done smartly) can drive efficiency up. For instance, providing better prenatal care could prevent costly post-natal issues. Providing better services to decrease obesity could prevent costly diabetes, back, and heart issues. Preventive care is efficient and makes sense, so why hasn't it been done more? Jobs, cars, homes, and vacations. We need to find ways to incent organizations (governments, hospitals, doctors, and corporations) to innovate in ways that drive efficiency up.

Addressing all these issues will be tough, but improving our health care system is a moral imperative that cannot be ignored.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Music Monday: TED Talks, Volume 5

Here is another installment of great talks from TED. These are talks and musical performances that are intertwined.

Evelyn Glennie: How to listen
She is a remarkable percussionist, who has the amazing aim to "teach the world to listen." The fact that she has been deaf since she was about 12 years old makes her even more remarkable.

Benjamin Zander: Music and Passion
Passion like this is quite infectious.

Pamelia Kurstin: Plays the Theremin
This woman has mad theremin skills.

Raul Midon: All the Answers and Tembererana
I saw this guy on a show hosted by Jules Holland. Quite remarkable.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Was OK With It Until I Saw the Hypocrisy

The recent scandal involving South Carolina's Governor Sanford caught my attention. At first, I thought "His private life should be private. If he's a solid politician, then that's all that matters." Frankly, I have often respected his resolve and his willingness to hold unpopular positions. Sleeping on a cot in his office was great. Refusing the federal stimulus money was kinda crazy, but I respected it.

Then, I read these quotes:
The bottom line, though, is I am sure there will be a lot of legalistic explanations pointing out that [he] lied under oath. His situation was not under oath. The bottom line, though, is he still lied. He lied under a different oath, and that is the oath to his wife. So it’s got to be taken very, very seriously.

I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally (to resign). I come from the business side. If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone.

The issue of lying is probably the biggest harm, if you will, to the system of Democratic government, representatives government, because it undermines trust. And if you undermine trust in our system, you undermine everything.

We ought to ask questions…rather than circle the wagons for one of our tribe.
All of these are quotes from Sanford himself. The first three are about Bill Clinton and the last is about how the GOP should react to marital infidelity scandals within their own party (I think Bob Livingston was the topic of the day for that one).

I am not a fan of people being sanctimonious, but when people who act holier than thou turn out to be equally susceptible to weakness, it strengthens my cynicism.

Anyway, I know this is old, old news, but I drafted this when it was still current, then left it for a long time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Number of the Counting

I love Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I remember watching it on my tiny black & white TV when I was in high school, then watching it in the Quartier Latin in Paris, then in college.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my favorite movies. I have fond memories (from tenth grade) of watching it on channel 26 through the UHF snow on a tiny black and white TV while in my bedroom.

Later, I saw it in a theater in Paris' Quartier Latin. It was extra funny because all the college students up front knew English and laughed when I did throughout the movie, while the rest of the audience consistently laughed a few seconds later after reading subtitles.

I saw it again when I went to college, so it became a favorite source of quotes for many of us.

Anyway, one of my favorite parts from any Monty Python movie is the scene in The Holy Grail when they bring out the holy hand grenade.

Here is the original Holy Hand Grenade scene.

When I was looking for that original version of the scene, I stumbled upon a bunch of anime versions of Holy Grail scenes:
There are others, but the novelty wears off after the first few (much sooner for anyone who isn't into anime or Monty Python).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Longer Life, but at a Cost ...

The husband of a friend and colleague was quoted in an LA Times article: Permanent Diet May Equal Longer Life.

Page 1 of the article is all about how eating less is a great idea, but my favorite part is the quote from my friend's husband:
When UCLA evolutionary biologist Jay Phelan put mice on caloric restriction, he got the distinct impression that they didn't appreciate it.

"They bit people and were more agitated," he said. In contrast, the mice who ate a normal diet "would just sit around and let you pick them up."
So, eating less could extend my life by a couple years, but I'd be irritable. The way I look at it: "I'd live longer if I never again ate ice cream, but is it a life worth living?" Moderation is good. Starving myself is bad.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Music Monday: Acoustic Guitar Versions of Familiar Songs

Aztec Camera: Jump (originally by Van Halen)
This is the first song I can remember in this genre. It's still one of my favorites.

Mat Weddle: Hey Ya (originally by Outkast)
Nice acoustic version of a song I like.

Travis: Baby One More Time (originally by Britney Spears)
Nice acoustic version of a song I can't stand.

Gary Jules: Mad World (originally by Tears for Fears)
Cool video for this one. I like the soul he puts into this song.

A Thousand Miles From New York (three guys on a bed): Santeria (originally by Sublime) and Killing Me Softly (originally by Roberta Flack)
I want to party with these guys! Seriously. I want them to jam in my basement. I will supply all the beverages and munchies they want.

Note that I have not included the particular sub-genres of jazz covers of rock songs (The Bad Plus do a great job of this) or lounge versions of songs (a la Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine who rock in an incredibly groovy way).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reston Blogs

I stumbled upon some other Reston blogs. Actually, let me re-phrase that: I stumbled upon some Reston blogs. (This is a "Reston" Blog in name only.)
  • Restonian: News and notes from Reston (tm).
  • GoReston: Reston Virginia's Community Blog
If you are looking to get involved in Reston stuff or stay up on Reston news, these sites seem like good places to start.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Hard Times

Ze Frank has a series of short videos called Hard Times.
They aren't all hilarious, but there is some good stuff in there. My favorite is "Outsource."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Passive Aggressive Blogs

Passive Aggressive Notes is a site I have heard about for a while, but hadn't visited until a friend at work sent me the link. There are some really funny ones in there, but one of my favorite parts of finding a really good blog/site is exploring the blogs to which they link. Passive Aggressive Notes linked to several good sites such as:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Music Monday: The Pretenders

I was watching The Pretenders in concert at Cornbury Festival on HDNet this evening. It's a decent concert. No energy from the crowd, but the Pretenders are remarkably clean in concert. They never depended on slick production and have managed to keep their skills sharp. They really did a nice job.

Pretenders Cornbury Videos has links to each song in the concert.

Towards the end, they started playing Mystery Achievement, which has one of my favorite bass lines. When I looked up from my work to watch them perform, I saw that Chrissie has Michelle Obama arms! She is so buff! Chrissie is old enough to be a grandmother (she has daughters who are 26 and 24), but she is in absolutely amazing shape.

Anyway, the concert is worth listening to and watching. The Pretenders' energy and skill make up for the slothful British crowd.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Catching up with Remy

On Friday afternoon, a friend from work sent me a link to a video by Remy, about whom I have blogged before. The new video is called Arlington: The rap. When I saw the video, I laughed out loud, drafted this entry, and promised my friend that I would clean up the entry and post it this weekend.

What greeted me on the front page of the Post's Metro section on Saturday morning? This article about Remy's video. Good grief. If I were a little faster, I could have been ahead of the curve, but instead, I am posting about a video that is SO last week. Oh well. Here you go anyway:
His songs about food are fun:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

No More Crunches; Do Push-ups for a Healthy Back

Newsweek had an article Stop Doing Sit-ups: Why Crunches Don't Work.

Now they tell me. I have been doing crunches for a while, with little effect on my gut. I feel stronger, but the gut is still there. On the other hand, push-ups rock. I need to increase the number of push-ups I do because they are better for my entire body. Leg lifts are also good, so I am starting to work more of them in to my routine.

Yes, I know that cutting back on cookies and pies and cakes is another strategy, but what can I say? I gotta be me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Random Observation: George Jetson, Time Tourist & Mailman

This is absolutely the most random comment I have ever typed.

I was watching Magilla Gorilla with Girl Kid recently and I noticed that the mailman delivering a package to the pet shop looked familiar. It was George Jetson! What the heck was he doing walking on a street in the 1960's? Was the mailman simply George's doppelganger, or did George travel through time? Actually, maybe the entire Magilla Gorilla series was actually on a holodeck in some futuristic amusement park. My mind was boggling. The scientific and even philosophical implications are too intense.

As I was coping with the possibilities, I suddenly noticed that Mister Peebles looked suspiciously like George's boss Mister Spacely. That sealed it. It couldn't be a coincidence. George and Mr. Spacely clearly mastered time travel. Note that the Magilla Gorilla show started filming after The Jetsons' run was mostly done.

It turns out that I am not the first to notice that Mr. Spacely had an alter ego, but maybe I am the first to notice that George was moonlighting as well.

Wow. As I get older, I see that life is full of rich connections.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Women in Math and Science

I recently read an article about a new study concerning the impact female professors have on achievement. The study showed that female cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy were more likely to succeed in introductory science courses of they were taught by female professors, while male cadets didn't exhibit a gender effect. The original paper has many interesting details about the data and its implications. Here are some quotes I found particularly interesting:
  • Compared to men with the same entering math ability, female students perform substantially less well in their introductory math and science courses.
  • The gender gap is mitigated considerably when female students have female professors.
  • Professor gender seems to be irrelevant in the humanities.
  • The eff ect of female professors on female students is largest among students with high math ability.
  • Professor gender has minimal ef fects on male students' outcomes.
This study made me think back to Lawrence Summers, who was President of Harvard University in 2005 when he made remarks about women in math and science. The most interesting part of his comments (and the reaction to them) was the discussion about the causes of the disparity in female representation in science and math careers. Many people took offense when he said that the cause might not be discrimination. Summers basically said that social causes (including discrimination) are overplayed, and innate ability plays a role. His comments set off quite a bit of controversy and ultimately led to his departure from Harvard.

I'd like to discuss the USAFA study with Summers. Maybe women are under-represented for the same reason they under-perform. Maybe we need more women professors, or maybe we need to show men how to teach more like women teach.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Music Monday: Beatles Cover Bands

Who knew that Japanese Beatles cover band was a popular genre?
For a completely different take on the Beatles, check out the Fab Faux. I remember hearing this article on Morning Edition a while ago. The Fab Faux are great musicians who don't try to look like the Beatles. They focus on recreating the sound of the later albums. You know, the ones that are so incredibly produced that it would be impossible to re-create them live.

I'd love to see them in concert. The Beatles stopped touring, but if they had kept going and given it the effort that bands like Pink Floyd gave to their tours, it might have sounded a lot like this. These guys are amazing.
The Fab Faux's YouTube channel has some other videos, but if you do a search for "Fab Faux" on YouTube, you will find several others.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Orson Illusion Photos

Orson Welles in a commercial recording session is great. If you've ever been involved in studio work or seen what happens when someone who is hyper-talented (but not immensely patient) has to deal with incompetents, you will appreciate this. This is exactly what I imagine it would be like if the Senior VP who is in charge of our History program were ever to review my writing. Several folks have noticed the comedic potential in this:
Ze Frank's Hard Times is a very sophisticated and cool optical illusion. Be sure to follow the instructions. I love high-brow intellectual/technical/psychological stuff like this.

When a friend at work sent me a link to Awkward Family Photos, it reminded me of Rock and Roll Confidential's Hall of Douchebags. The photos are great, but the commentary really make both sites work.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blago Bummer and Mixed Feelings on Sotomayor

Back in December, I said:
I know it's petty of me, but I hope that few black politicians get pulled into this mess.
Oh well. Not only was Jesse Jackson, Jr. implicated, but it looks like Senator Roland Burris is now in it up to his neck as well. It's always disappointing (but hardly surprising) when black politicians shoot themselves in the foot.

On an entirely different topic, I am heartened that some Republicans are condemning (not just distancing themselves from) comments by Rush and Newt about Sonia Sotomayor. She has said some regrettable things in the past, but she seems like a solid jurist.

I'm not sure what I think about Obama's comment that he wanted a justice who could empathize:
...we need somebody who's got the heart — the empathy — to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom.
Thus, we saw the Wall Street Journal's headline proclaiming Sotomayor The 'Empathy' Nominee. Still, when I read Obama's speech in context, I can see his point. I just wish that empathy had been more of a footnote. The Supreme Court is not about empathy. It's about interpreting laws and the constitution.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Some Blogs I Wish Were Still Going

This blog has come back from a couple month hiatus, but other blogs have simply gone on permanent sabbatical. I wish their writers would get back to these blogs.

FKS was hilarious. Dirty (even the title is dirty), but funny.

Kim Jong Il (the illmatic)'s Journal
was a fun fake blog.

Why is that chair empty? (subtitle: The fragile art of a good excuse.) was created by someone from my company about someone else from my company. This could have been broadened to become a blog about great lame excuses, but oh well. It was a good run while it lasted.

BTW: All of these blogs had their last posts within a three month period in 2006.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Orlando/Disney Trip

The family and I went to Orlando a while ago. The trip was mostly all about a little par 3 course and a lazy river pool at the hotel, but we also took a day trip to Disney's Magic Kingdom. By "the family" I mean Mrs. Kid, Boy and Girl Kid, as well as Ma and Pa Kid. It was quite a good trip.

Ride Line Updates
I posted Facebook updates from most of the ride lines. That was fun. I would never do something like that while on a vacation at the beach, but my first trip to Disney seemed like a good time to give it a shot.

The Stories and Characters
When I was on the Peter Pan ride, I realized that Boy and Girl Kid don't know the story or characters at all and I don't remember it enough to care about it. The ride is a total dud unless you know the story and are really into the characters. This ride was a waste of time (and, more importantly, a waste of a FastPass).

This got me to thinking about Disney as a whole. When it comes to the rides at the Magic Kingdom, most of them aren't all that amazing. If you aren't into the characters and stories, then maybe Kings Dominion or Busch Gardens is just as good.

The No Coors Lite Effect
After thinking "maybe a trip to Kings Dominion would be just as good as Disney" for a couple minutes, I realized what makes Disney so remarkable: No Coors Lite. No Bud. No Miller. No booze whatsoever. Why does this matter? It means that nobody gets sloppy drunk and things stay cleaner and more civil. It makes a big difference.

Parades, Princesses, and "Plush"
We watched two parades. The first was painful. It was a sappy, princess-centric thing that made my teeth ache. The second parade was much better. The music was more fun and less sappy, the characters were more fun, and there were men on stilts! Our greatest fear about Disney was that we would see lots of what one friend calls "plush." Girl Kid is terrified of anybody in a costume. Red Robin, the Chik-Fil-A cow, and Chuck-E-Cheese are all sources of terror for her. It turned out that we were able to avoid the plush entirely, so that was good.

After Disney: Golf, Pools, and Pina Coladas
After a day at Disney, the rest of the trip was spent at the Omni ChampionsGate playing par 3 golf and hanging out by and in the pools and the lazy river.

Overall, it was a great trip. Both kids loved Disney and the lazy river, and Boy Kid loved playing golf with his grandparents.

p.s. It's a good thing I didn't know about Orlando's inexperienced air traffic controllers before I went. Then again, maybe Vicki is right.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Music Monday: Godzilla vs. Iron Man

Godzilla and Iron Man are iconic (even archetypal) characters that have played a part in some great art. If you question my assessment of their significance, then just listen to the music they inspired.

Blue Oyster Cult's song about the big, radioactive lizard was never associated with the movies, but it was about the big, prehistoric lizard.
Blue Oyster Cult's Godzilla

Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne started with the title, and then changed the story to avoid infringing on Marvel's copyright, but it's hard to imagine that he wasn't inspired by Tony Stark's alter ego. The song is so good that Marvel used instrumental passages from it to accompany one of the great movie endings of all time.
Black Sabbath's Iron Man

The Bad Plus is a jazz trio that did an absolutely raucous version of the song. The studio version of the song features pianist Ethan Iverson playing a detuned upright with one hand and a Steinway grand with the other. There is great energy in this song.
The Bad Plus' Iron Man

I know that Iron Man has Godzilla outnumbered two to one in this comparison, but hey: Godzilla is about 200 feet tall and has atomic fire breath. Iron Man is a geek from MIT with a bunch of shrapnel threatening his heart.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Sita Math Carousel

Sita Sings the Blues is billed as "The greatest break-up story ever told."

New Math is simple, but sometimes amusing.

Philips Carousel is a commercial that has an interesting way of telling a story.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

TED Talks, Volume 4: Uncertainty

Here is another talk from TED. I enjoy wading through and looking for talks that bring me new connections or ideas. Listening to bright people with innovative ideas provides much-needed fuel for my brain.

Topic: We all have to make decisions under uncertainty just about constantly, and we stink at it.

Dan Gilbert: How we are deceived by our own miscalculations of the future
Note that this also ties into the topic of happiness.

Peter Donnelly: How juries are fooled by statistics
Lawyers and statisticians can make data say what they want.

This topic is near and dear to my heart. I think that everyone should have to take a decent course in probability and statistics. The goal isn't to create more positions for math teachers, but rather to educate people so they can be good citizens.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And You Thought I Quit...

This Spring has been heck.

I haven't spilled personal issues out in this forum too often, and I don't plan to turn the blog into a diary now. Here is the quick version of the story of my Spring so far.

Over the past month and a half or so, I have:
  • Won an uncontested election for a community organization.
  • Gone to Orlando (including my first ever trip to Disney) with the rest of the Kid Family.
  • Finished a big project at work.
  • Taken Girl Kid to the hospital when we discovered her severe allergy to cashews.
  • Helped Mrs. Kid deal with her father's massive stroke and other health issues.
More recently, I am:
  • Working with my brother on an iPhone app.
  • Dealing with the resignation of my company's CLO (who was responsible for me having my current job).
  • Re-importing all my CDs into iTunes (and thus re-discovering some of my music).
Anyway, I have been too tired and too sick of words and my computer to give the blog any attention. Now that I am past some of the drama in my life, I hope to stick with the writing for a while. We'll see. As usual, I have posts in various states of readiness waiting for me to finish them up. Now to start digging them out and try to keep the momentum going.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Bathtub Riding Mykonos

Here are some really cool videos.

Keith Loutit is amazing. His videos look like stop action with little figurines, but they are actually put together with real photos of real people.

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Tomas Nilsson needs to do more videos like Little Red Riding Hood Revamp. I want to see him do the Three Little Pigs and other stories.

SlagsmÄlsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

Sean Pecknold did this and other music videos for the band Fleet Foxes.

Mykonos from Grandchildren on Vimeo.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Music Monday: My Favorite Carts from WGMU

When I was a college radio DJ, we used to keep lots of music on carts. Each cart was a tape in a case that looked like an 8-track tape, but each cart was simply a continuous loop of a single song, announcement, commercial, or other sound bite.

To play a cart, all you had to do was grab a cart off the wall of the studio, jam the cart into one of the cart players, and hit the big, white button. No need to cue up a needle on a record. No need to be gentle with the vinyl. Carts were fun and easy.

We created our own carts from albums and singles we had lying around the station. To record a cart, all you had to remember was "Moo-Bang." This helped with the timing for starting the turntable and hitting the Record button on the cart recording deck.

Anyway, I can't remember most of the carts we had, but here are a few:
Carts have been replaced by CDs and computers in most radio stations, but I have fond memories of them from my time at WGMU.

If anyone reads this who worked at WGMU between 1985 and 1987, drop me a line or post a comment with your memories of carts.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: Frog Debt Fantasy

Frog Leap Test took me pretty close to the two-minute time limit.

The U.S. Treasury Department keeps us informed about The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It.

Sand Fantasy: These are sand art videos. I hate the music, but the art is impressive.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Taking Working From Home Seriously

The Post had an article a bit ago As Cuts Loom, Will Working From Home Lead to a Layoff? and parts of the article bothered me.
"That's what it feels like we're returning to. Work as many hours as you possibly can. Make yourself indispensable. Don't ever complain. Don't ever ask for anything," she said. "I'm just horrified we may as well just forget the last 20 years."
One little sentence in this bothers me: "Make yourself indispensable." Umm... This seems like what everyone should be doing. She probably didn't mean it, but the article read to me like "We've had a sweet deal for a while, but now it's time to start working hard."

Two of the hardest-working, most indispensable people I know are women with flexible work schedules. To me, the article seemed to imply that now is the time for women who have flexible work schedules to start making themselves valuable. This attitude is an insult to people (especially women) who work hard even if they have flexible work arrangements.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Budget Problem

FederalBudget.com is really simple, but still quite effective for me. The bar graphs make it pretty clear that DoD, HHS, Social Security, and servicing the debt are the biggies.

Huge entitlements + Aging population = Impending budget catastrophe

Now, you can take your pick. Read a short, medium, or long article about the problem:
My fear is that the government is going to keep kicking these problems down the road. How will it end? Whenever and however it ends, it will be very ugly.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TED Talks, Volume 3: Climate and Energy

Climate change and energy are two of our biggest challenges. We need to have smart, creative people working on solutions for these problems.

David Keith: A surprising idea for "solving" climate change
I like that he starts by talking about how we have done so little so far. Frankly, the discussion goes downhill after that first minute or so, but the beginning is worth watching.

Juan Enriquez: Why can't we grow new energy?
Interesting perspective.

Saul Griffith: Inventing a super-kite to tap the energy of high-altitude wind

Wow. This dude is amazing. I'm glad there are people out there who think and create like he does.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Music Monday: Music from B-Sizzle, Part 2

B-Sizzle keeps on putting new music in his shared iTunes library, so I keep getting new musical addictions every week.

Vampire Weekend
Videos: A-Punk and Oxford Comma
Fun music. These guys were the darlings of SXSW in 2008 and I can hear why.

Fleet Foxes
Videos: White Winter Hymnal and Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Sweet stuff. Kinda mellow. This is also on Bobby's list of recent favorites.

Battles
Videos: Atlas, Tonto, and Tras
The energy is compelling and the videos work (they make me wish MTV still played music videos). I need to buy the album (Mirrors) so I can get it on my iTunes and iPod. I'm pretty sure I could trim some time off my 5k time if i put together a playlist that includes Tonto and Atlas.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

After Slacking, A Week of Posts

I have been pretty bad about keeping up with posting recently. Life has been just a bit too insane, but I spent some time yesterday filling a bunch of gaps in the post history and clearing out my long line of drafts. If you go back over the past few weeks of posts, you will see that each week looks pretty complete. Much of the past three weeks of posts were actually done yesterday, but back-dated.

Anyway, this coming week will actually have five consecutive days with posts (not including this one), with each one coming on the correct day and time. After this week, I will have only one draft left unpublished, so I will start having new thoughts again.

We'll see how long I keep it up after this week.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Nature of Holographic Reality

A few weeks ago, I saw a Slashdot article called The Universe As Hologram that had a link to an article at New Scientist. Thanks to Ze Frank, we also have The Weather Master's take on this.

Here is my translation (based on reading the article and reading other translations.

A bunch of scientists are conducting experiments to detect gravity waves (which Einstein predicted should exist). Waves are continuous, so if gravity waves exist, then that would suggest gravity is continuous.

As they were looking for these gravity waves, they found that space/time is grainier than they thought it was. They expected to see things get grainy when they got down to something close to a size limit known as the Planck length, but instead things got grainy at a much bigger length than they thought.

So, why do I care about stuff like this? As one Slashdot commenter said:
...it is easy to take empirical science for granted. Empiricism is an epistemological position that must be defended, and to ignore the fact that science is a branch of philosophy is to forget how fundamental epistemological assumptions are to science.
I'm sure that I am over simplifying, but I wonder if the "graininess" these scientists are seeing is a result of a basic epistemological limit. Maybe the graininess is indicative of a limit to how much we can know. Maybe Heisenberg would love this. Regardless, I like the idea of physical reality being grainier than they thought. If it's a hologram, maybe I can get the universe put on my Visa card.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another College Acceptance to Be Proud of

Niece III has been accepted to Wesleyan, Amherst, and Tufts. Last school year, Niece II applied early and had an acceptance to be proud of, but Niece III decided to have more choices, so acceptances are trickling in this Spring.

Tufts loves her so much that they quoted her essay in the acceptance letter they sent to everyone. Pretty cool.

Aside from all the well-documented challenges she has had at home, Niece III has also had to deal with a concussion, more time at home, and following in the footsteps of her accomplished sister. I can relate to this last challenge, but all the other things she has had to deal with are way beyond me. She has shown great resiliency as she has made her way through the past few years.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TED Talks, Volume 2: Choice and Happiness

Choice is pervasive. Is it always good for us? What makes us happy? These TED talks are must-see videos for anyone who is interested in happiness.

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice
Choice isn't always good.

Dan Gilbert: Why are we happy? Why aren't we happy?
We synthesize happiness.

Benjamin Wallace: Does happiness have a price tag?
If something supposed to be the best you can buy, is it really all that great? The big tie-in to Gilbert's talk is in the last minute of the talk, but the entire talk was fun.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Music Monday: Interesting Music from The Headmaster

The Headmaster (previously called C-Dog) is a friend from high school, undergrad (take 2), and grad school. Over the years, we were friends, housemates, and co-workers at AM560 WGMU. He was the Music Director with great knowledge of (and taste in) music. I was a clueless Program Director, but was lucky to learn from The Headmaster. Over the years, we spent lots of time listening to music together.

Joy Division/New Order
Albums: Substance (video: Love Will Tear Us Apart)/Low-Life (video: Face Up)
This band (recall that New Order is Joy Division renamed after Ian Curtis' suicide) resonated with us angst-ridden college kids of the '80's. Love Will Tear Us Apart was a great single, but the album Low-Life really got me hooked. When I was in school, I got into the drama that was Perfect Kiss, but now I love side 2. No single song is remarkable, but the entire side still works for me.

Joe Jackson
Album: Jumpin' Jive (video: Jumpin' Jive)
Jumpin' Jive was a fun album. I borrowed The Headmaster's copy for long periods. Any time I want some music to pick me up, Jumpin' Jive can do the job.

Talking Heads
Album: Stop Making Sense (video: Heaven)
The Headmaster and I saw Stop Making Sense at least twice in a theater. He also had a VHS tape of it that he knew so well he could hit Fast-forward for a while, and then when he hit Play again, he could sing along immediately. Stop Making Sense is Boy Kid's favorite album and that's a good thing.

Others: Psychedelic Furs, Violent Femmes, Lou Reed, Adrian Belew, Elvis Costello

Friday, March 27, 2009

Web Stuff Friday: FaceBook Chicken Scratch

FaceBook in Reality is a glimpse into part of why I am not that into FB. I like connecting with old friends, but that sort of exposure is kinda scary.

Boy Kid is getting into Star Wars, but I don't think he's ready for Robot Chicken Does Star Wars.

Scratch is a programming language. Scratch Day is coming up on May 16. Maybe this is the modern successor to Logo. Here are a few games people have made using Scratch. Each game is silly and simple, but kinda fun.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Life Tips: Changing Jobs

Lifehacker brings us: How To Jump to a New Career. Nice little piece with great advice.

Get Rich Slowly: How to Quit Your Job Gracefully. I have changed jobs many times, so I am getting pretty good at this part.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Entitlement Avalanche

Few people have a good feel for the nature of the federal budget. The picture painted by the graphic Spending Categories from 2008 has not changed significantly. Death & Taxes 2009 is also pretty nifty.

The problem isn't the earmarks. The problem isn't the bailout. The big problem is the way the numbers are going to change in the coming years. Paul Krugman's piece for the NY Times, Entitlements on the Back of an Envelope is a very succinct description of the problem. The big three entitlement programs are going to explode while the number of people paying taxes to support that growth is going to shrink. This is a major problem.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TED Talks, Volume 1: On Creativity

I've always wanted to attend a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference. The closest I will probably get is watching videos of some of the talks. This is the first of a series of posts with links to talks I have found interesting.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
Academic ability has become our idea of intelligence, but that is a very narrow way of looking at it.

Yves Behar: Creating objects that tell stories
This guy does amazing design. Listening to the story behind designs really adds a new dimension.

Stuart Brown: Why play is vital -- no matter your age
I need to play more. Playing with Boy and Girl Kid is great, but I need to do more.

Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

He makes excellent points. Kids need to be exposed to things with which they need to be careful.