Thursday, December 27, 2012

Grey Explains

C.G.P. Grey is really kinda awesome. He has a series of videos called Grey Explains. Each video is short, but crams a ton of information (and more than a little humor) into its 3-6 minutes. Here are some of my favorites:

The United Kingdom Explained
The Difference Between Holland and the Netherlands (and a whole lot more)
Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever
Death to Pennies

Just awesome. I really need to watch each of these several times.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Music Monday: Buddy Freakin' Rich

I have a ton of holes in my musical knowledge. I have started filling one of them: Buddy Rich. I remember his appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but I never really listened to him since then.

Live in The Hague in 1976
This concert is a good intro to what he and his big band were all about. Skip the first 5 minutes unless you want to practice your Russian, but once the music starts, it's a great concert. My favorite part starts at about 37:20. Birdland is a wonderful song, then at around 45:00, Channel One Suite includes one of the most amazing drum solos you will ever hear and see. Just wow.

One O'Clock Jump
This is a Count Basie standard on which Buddy's band does a nice job.

Seinfeld and the Buddy Rich Tapes
OK. This isn't his music. This is more about how much "fun" he must have been to work with.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Web Stuff Friday: WeatherSpark and Nand2Tetris

WeatherSpark -- Such a great way to visualize the weather. Their tagline is "Beautiful Weather Graphs and Maps," and I agree. It looks good.

From NAND to Tetris is an interesting idea: It is a course that endeavors to have students build and program a working computer from first principals. Both Boy Kid and Girl Kid will have to do this at some point, but it will take some time for them to develop the necessary background. One of the founders of the effort has a YouTube video: Nand2Tetris in a Nutshell as well as a TED Talk: The Self-Organizing Computer Course (more on those ideas will come in a separate post).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On Nostalgia and Repetition

Chuck Klosterman's article Nostalgia on Repeat at Grantland struck a chord with me.

Like Klosterman, I had a limited set of albums and cassettes when I was a kid. When I lived in Sierra Leone between the ages of 4 and 6, we had no television, and radio was pretty useless. All I did was listen to a short list of albums:
  • Easy Rider (motion picture soundtrack)
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by The Beatles
  • ABC, by The Jackson 5
  • The Sound of Music (motion picture soundtrack)
  • 1812 Overture, by Tchaikovsky
  • Carnival of the Animals, by Saint Saens
That's it. I listened to those albums pretty much every day for easily a year and a half. I put a lot of time in listening to these albums, and thus listening to anything from them brings back feelings that are out of proportion to the quality of the music (though you gotta admit that it isn't a bad list of albums. It could have been a whole lot worse, right?).

The great mathematician John von Neumann said "Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them." As a math educator, I interpret this as a call to practice, practice, practice. I wonder if this idea can apply to music as well? Perhaps the key to really appreciating music is to listen, listen, listen.

I still sometimes get into a mood where I listen to the same album (or short list of albums) pretty often in a short time. The good new is that I'm pretty sure that Boy Kid does the repetition thing, too. The bad news is that his list of albums isn't nearly as good as mine was. One step at a time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Music Monday: Tiny Desk Concerts

NPR's All Songs Considered has a series of Tiny Desk concerts. In a sense, this is sort of a polar opposite of the Concerts a Emporter, which are recorded in various open air locations around France. The tight space makes for an interesting setting, and a diverse set of artists have tried it out.

Booker T. Jones: Green Onions, [conversation], Born Under a Bad Sign, Down in Memphis
Holy cow! This is THE Booker T with a Hammond B3 right there at the tiny desk. Green Onions is such an iconic song, but he breathes new life into the classic he wrote 5 decades ago. He then describes how he first encountered the B3 and the story is delightful. If you only watch one of these videos, let this be the one.

tUne-yArDs: You Yes You, Doorstep, My Country
OK, so Merrill Garbus is insanely cool and she rocks that sample pedal. Watching her spin her magic on the fly is great.

Adele: Someone Like You, Chasing Pavements, Rolling In The Deep
Everyone seems to love her, but I've never really sat down to listen to Adele. I can see why she is so well loved. She has tremendous talent.

Foster the People: Houdini, Helena Beat, Pumped Up Kicks
The contrast between this and the beautiful energy they exude in full concerts is remarkable. Honestly, I am rather sick of Pumped Up Kicks, but this version is nice.

More that caught my ear:
  • Givers: Meantime, Up Up Up, Atlantic
  • Basia Bulat: The Shore, W Zielonym Zoo, Heart of My Own, In the Night
  • They Might Be Giants: Can't Keep Johnny Down, Cloisonne, Fingertips
  • The Cranberries: Linger, Tomorrow, Ode To My Family, Zombie, Raining In My Heart
  • Bill Frissell: Nowhere Man, In My Life, Strawberry Fields Forever
  • Beirut: East Harlem, Santa Fe, Serbian Cocek
Check out some of the other concerts: Tom Jones, Yo Yo Ma, Noah and the Whale, Gogol Bordello, YACHT, Esperanza Spalding, Fanfarlo, and many more.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Grantland Friday

Here is an attempt at a new feature. I first blogged about Grantland about a year and a half ago, and my devotion has only grown.To say that I read Grantland pretty regularly is an understatement. Honestly, Mrs. Kid is probably sick of (but also probably getting used to) the idea that about half of the conversations I initiate begin with some form of "So there was this article on Grantland that was really funny or interesting...."

Anyway, this first entry is about the regular columns I read on a somewhat regular basis:

Lists of more specific articles (especially the really informative features) will come, but this list has many of the recurring columns I follow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crazy Compensation

Here are a few articles about compensation/finance/economics:
As I've said before, I have no problem with people making a ton of money. What bothers me is when people make money that is way out of whack with the value they bring to their organization and/or society. Kobe Bryant makes millions, but he has performed at a high level for a long time and is a major part of why the Lakers have won multiple championships and why the NBA makes so much money. Sergio Marchionne deserves his millions for bringing Chrysler from bankruptcy to profitability. He helped save a company, and thus tens of thousands of jobs.

On the other hand, just as there are pro athletes who bring no value to their teams in return for multi-million dollar contracts, there are corporate executives who make a ton of money for either presiding over a failing company, or successfully gaming the system. My theory is that most people aren't bothered by people making a ton of money if they bring value. What gets people annoyed is seeing some no-talent at the end of the bench who will make more in a year than the best 2nd grade teacher in the country will make in her career. Similarly, people hate to see a CEO make millions for driving a company to ruin.

As an economy, we should find ways to drive down the number of people who make tons of money without providing commensurate value.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Luckiest Guy Around

I'm a really lucky guy.

Not everyone is lucky enough to find a person with whom they want to share their life. Mrs. Kid and I have entered a phase where we are finding that some friends and family had marriages that didn't stand the test of time. As I said in Marriage and Your Inner Economist:
When we focus on love, commitment, and partnership, happiness seems to flow. As we successfully work as a team, we get positive reinforcement that makes for a happier relationship and thus leads to less stress and more happiness. I love Mrs. Kid and I love our partnership. She makes me happy not because she has to, but just because she does. Does she make me happy 100% of the time? No, but I love her 100% of the time and am happy about the commitment I made. 
Today is our 18th anniversary, so I think we have a pretty good idea of how well we work. I've had 18 years of the greatest thing that could happen to me. I'm sure I don't say it often enough, but I know that I am incredibly lucky to have her.

As lucky as I am, Boy and Girl Kid are also lucky (or is that a curse?) to have parents who agree on just about everything that matters. We have similar visions for our life together, and for our kids. That sort of simpatico on the stuff that matters seems to be kinda rare, but I am lucky to be a part of it.

Everyone should follow Joseph Campbell's sage advice: Follow your bliss. I'm lucky to have Mrs. Kid as my bliss.

And here is the first song we danced to on that lovely late-autumn day:

It was a wonderful way to begin our life together.

Music Monday: Good Covers

Some covers of well-known songs made me smile recently.

First, the Beastie Boys and Biz Markie made me laugh out loud with an Elton John cover:
Benny and the Jets

Then, Gnarls Barkley covered the Femmes:
Gone Daddy Gone

After which, the Femmes covered Gnarls Barkley:

That last one might be the greatest cover of all time. It's right up there with Iron & Wine's cover of one of my favorite New Order Tunes:
Love Vigilantes

Covers and remixes make me happy. Coming soon: Good Remixes.

Luddites: Fearing Technology's Impacts for a Long, Long Time

I've been reading "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick, and in it, he has a quote that I had to dig a little deeper on. Here is a slightly longer version of something Gleick quoted:
For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in [this technology] will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom,....
So, who was this Luddite railing against technology? Though this could easily be my mother or father, it was actually Socrates in Plato's Phaedrus. He was warning of the perils of written language, just as others would eventually complain about the printing press and then radio, film, TV, and every other transformative information technology.

What's funny is that I had already captured this quote and saved it in a blog draft when I read a FB post by one of my fraternity brothers in which he said:
"He seemed to think that [...] statements might be accepted without the test of dialogue -- of people asking ʻIs this really true?ʻ" Some Luddite skeptical of the Internet/Google/Wikipedia? No, Plato skeptical of literacy. (Quote from Joan Acocellaʻs piece on the history of female literacy, in "The New Yorker" 10/15/12 issue.)
Anyway, I had connected this thought to my thoughts about My Life, My Crutch, but this issue is broader. This isn't just about how each of us do or don't use technology to manage our daily lives. This is also about education. What skills do we need to teach? What does it mean to be educated, and how does that definition change over time? 

In Plato's time, you could be considered educated even if you were illiterate. In the 1970's you needed to know how to read, but could still be considered well-educated if you had no clue about how to use a computer. What about now? More importantly, what about 10, 20, or 30 years from now?

Note: I am not trying to wade out into the depths of the battles about whether technology is making kids worse students. New York Times has Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say, which does wade out into those scary waters. I just think the changing nature of what it means to be educated is an interesting thing to keep an eye on.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Life, My Crutch

Boy Kid is working on his organizational skills. He's not particularly good at keeping track of his assignments and projects and stuff like that. Honestly, he's in 6th grade, so his life isn't that darn complicated, but he needs to start learning how to manage information well.

When I was a student, I struggled with the same things until I started using a weekly planner to track all my events and tasks. It became such an important device, that the little black book (actually a new one every year) became known as my "Life." I still have several of my Lives on a shelf in the basement. Looking through one is an amazing stroll down memory lane. They have names, phone numbers, events, places, concerts, and so much more. I think it's time for Boy Kid to create and use his own Life.

In the mid to late 90's, my Life was replaced by a Palm Pilot PDA.
In the mid aughts, my Life moved to a blackberry.
Now, my life is in the cloud and is accessible from my Android phone, my tablet, or my computer.

Over the years, there have always been people who looked askance at my crutches. They think I am being intellectually lazy. Why can't I just remember dates? I should take the time to memorize my parents' phone number. I should use my brain instead of relying on technology.

Honestly, my brain ain't all that great. As a wise man once said "A man's got to know his limitations." My choice is between a crutch and total disorganization. I choose the former, and am fine with sharing that choice with Boy Kid.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Kicked in the Gut

Damn, this sucks.

I watch a lot of sports. I like football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. Heck, I'll even watch tennis and golf. Plus, I love just about every Olympic sport that isn't a major sport (this disqualifies soccer, basketball, tennis, etc., but includes skiing, archery, skeet shooting, curling, track & field, and any 'athlon).

You could say that I am a fan of sports.

On the other hand, I am one of those sports fans that some people hate. I rarely have a strong feeling about the teams. I have just about no paraphernalia from any sports teams. I'm a homer who likes the Redskins and Capitals (I'll jump on the Wizards bandwagon if they ever stop sucking), but I am not a rabid fan.

The Nationals have pulled me in. For the first time, I am really a fan of a team. Their owner is not a jerk who only cares about buying success (I'm looking at you Snyder). Their players aren't petulant thugs (I'm looking at you Andray Blatche and Agent Zero). The Nationals are my team.

As a result, last night hurt. Our pitchers let us down (giving up a 6-run lead?), and Davey Johnson let us down (Storen should have been yanked), and for the first time, I am really part of the "us."

Damn, this sucks.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


When I rolled out of bed on July 4th, I grabbed a cup of coffee and my android tablet. When I fired up Plume (Twitter client), I was greeted with the greatest twitstream I have seen. Several people I follow were tweeting about the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer)
who? Writes the Bad Astronomer column for Discover Magazine
favorite tweet: Higgs! Higgs! Higgs! #Higgs

HAL 9000 (@HAL9000_)
who? The computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey
favorite tweet: The size of the applause Fabiola Gianotti just got at the #Higgs presentation you'd think she had just unveiled a thinner iPhone

Lifey (@9to5Life)
who? A funny guy on twitter
favorite tweet: Comic sans on the CERN presentation slides because fuck the haters.
honorable mention: I actually just clapped, alone, like an asshole.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson)
who? Astrophysicist, author, science superstar
favorite tweet: On the day we reserve to tell ourselves America is great - July 4 - Europe reminds us that we suck at science. #HiggsBoson

Other folks such as Mike Scully (@scullymike), Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt), and many others chimed in as well. Reading through that stream was tremendous. Sincere thanks to all of you. That was really, freaking cool (in a totally geeky kinda way).

For anyone who wants to figure out what the big deal is, here are some resources for learning more:
  • The video What's a Higgs Boson(thanks to The Guardian) is a quick, simple explanation of what the Higgs Boson is.
  • Phil Plait's Higgs! (Bad Astronomy blog at Discover Magazine) has the big statistical plot that shows the "bump" at about 125 GeV that represents the Higgs Boson. His article has a ton of excellent links to other articles with background info.
  • To learn more about the Standard Model (the physics theory for which the Higgs Boson provides long-awaited validation), check out The Standard Model.
  • Matt Strassler's The Higgs FAQ is a really good and informative read.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Music Monday: Take-Away Shows

The video series Concerts a Emporter (Take-Away Shows) is worth checking out. My wife the francophile should love the settings for these.

Menomena: Wet and Rusting
Check out the kids that appear about halfway through. As one of the musicians says "that is the cutest thing I have ever seen."

Phoenix: 1901
In this video, the couple that is getting married totally steals the visual show.

Vampire Weekend: The Kids Don't Stand a Chance
They seemed to stumble early on, but playing in that space must have been a huge challenge. Also, couldn't Rostam have put the keyboard up on the hood of a car?

Architecture in Helsinki: Heart It Races
Love the beginning of this. The sound quality seems a bit off to me, but it still works overall.

The Shins: Gone for Good and Turn on Me
Nice work here.

Jason Mraz: It's a Lovely Day
We have some spray paint art at home from that same spot where he was looking at street art (by the Centre Georges Pompidou). That is my favorite place to hang out in Paris. Maybe it was staged, but tt seems like he improvised that song based on what a barefoot Bulgarian street performer was doing. Pretty impressive.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Paying for Cheap Gas

A few weeks ago, xkcd had the comic Working, which put to mind an app I need to develop or commission.

Whether it makes sense to drive out of your way to save on gas is more complicated than just the economic argument the xkcd comic puts forth in the image. The caption gets at the more interesting thing to me. When you drive farther, you are using up more (probably expensive) gas.

Let's take a simple example. You need 10 gallons of gas and have a gas station right on your way to work. But if you go 2 total miles out of your way (let's say it's a mile in the wrong direction), you could save 5 cents per gallon. Does it make sense to make the detour?

If your car gets 20 mpg in the type of driving you do for this detour, then you are using an extra 1/10 of a gallon to save 50 cents. If gas costs less than $5.00/gallon, then your detour makes sense (ignoring the cost of your time and the increased wear and tear and maintenance for your car).

Now, let's try another example. Let's stick with the 20 mpg because it's an easy number to work with and probably not too far off for many non-hybrid cars.

detour distance: 5 miles (1/4 of a gallon)
save per gallon: $0.10

This scenario makes sense if the cost per gallon is less than $4.00/gallon.

Now, let's look at a decision I get to make. These numbers represent the data for my nearest Costco gas station:

detour distance: 20 miles (1 gallon)
save per gallon: $0.14

This scenario makes sense if the cost per gallon is less than $1.40. Notice that this detour doesn't even make sense if you drive a car that gets 40 mpg.

Anyway, it amuses me that people start going out of their way to save money on gas when the cost of gas goes up, but when the cost of gas is high, the detours make less sense than they do when gas is cheaper. I need to write an app that doesn't just find cheap gas, but also allows you to put in your fuel efficiency and gallons needed to help you determine which cheap gas is worth the trip.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Music Monday: International Jazz Day

Happy International Jazz Day. Seriously. The UN says so. In honor of this auspicious occasion, I decided to post something for the first time in ages.

First of all, the International Jazz Day site has videos of some concerts featuring Herbie Hancock. Herbie doesn't come out until about 22:00 in the first video, but it is worth a listen.

Now for two songs from Duke Ellington, and one each from Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Actually, for some of these, I am linking to multiple versions because each version is remarkable.

Duke Ellington: Take the A Train
With his Big Band Live at Newport Jazz Festival. This version really swings.
With a trio. This is a very smooth, cool (and longer) version of the tune.

Duke Ellington: Caravan
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers do a nice version of this classic.
Wes Montgomery's version swings, baby.
Oscar Peterson's piano work is incredible.

Miles Davis: So What
Live in Stockholm in 1960
Herbie Hancock, et al do the song justice in their tribute to Miles.

Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage
The studio version from the album of the same name is lovely. Freddie Hubbard's trumpet solo absolutely gives me chills every time.

Monday, March 12, 2012


A friend at work sent me this link to a 60 Minutes article Khan Academy: The Future of Education?

I haven’t seen the 60 Minutes piece, but have tired of the idea conveyed by the title. I have blogged about Khan before, so I'll keep this short.
I could go on and on with links to articles that put Khan in some reasonable context, but I’ll spare you the pain. The basic idea is that I am not alone in thinking that if Khan is really the future of education, then we are in deep doodoo. Frankly, I would not really call Khan Academy’s stuff “education,” but rather would consider it “instruction.” If we turn education into nothing but a series of activities that a microchip can perform, then we are on a very dangerous path.

Don't get me wrong. Khan isn't bad. Using it as a way to support struggling students, or as a way to help flip a classroom and allow teachers to focus on engaging with students, it could have great value. The Daily Riff has The Flipped Class Manifest, which provides some insights into how and when flipping a classroom can work, as well as a nice set of links to articles that provide more depth. 

Regardless of its benefits, my concern is that Khan Academy could be used to replace teaching with instruction, and I think that's bad.