Thursday, June 29, 2006

This is Kinda Neat

A web site where teachers post lesson plans and helpful documents and the like and other teachers can get (purchase, mostly, but some are free) them for use in their own class rooms. I'm not so sure about the whole paying aspect (teachers, already at the bottom of the pay scale have to spend even more of their own money?), and the CNN article touts the ability for teachers to make extra money from this, but I suppose that getting the support for doing this as a free service could be a challenge (though ad revenue could maybe help).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Higher Education

So this report says that higher education needs a bit of an overhaul. They are right and wrong. Is there wasted money? Sure. Are students learning less? Yes, actually. Will the government be able to recommend real change that will help? Oh, God no.

The wasted money issue is a tricky one, so I'll get back to it. The fact that students are learning less is not surprising, and the reason is that there are more students entering college (as a percentage) than ever before. More students means that the average student will be...less capable, intelligent, whatever. No, this is not because poorer people are less bright, but because college has become a default for the middle class, which is where most new and, therefore, most poor quality students come from.

Notions that all people are the same are complete bullshit. Some people are better than others at certain things, and that includes education/learning. When college becomes a default there will be more of the less capable type entering than before. When this happens several problems result: Schools need money to educate them. Schools need students to get money. Schools need to be desireable to get students. Schools need more money to become desirable. Desirable comes in several categories from social life, to academic quality.

All this leads to a horrible mess of spending money while trying to figure out what works best. Another problem is the way money is distributed within a university. More students in a program means more money for that program, but, aside from required courses, one of the best ways to get more students is to be seen as either a soft or a fun option. Soft means grade inflation and fun means less total work, but both mean less education and more money for the time spent in class. (Yes, there are exceptions; I'm talking in general terms.)

Factor in a much more common feeling (among students and parents) that cheating is not wrong, the fact that university students are adults (they don't have to learn what is presented to them if they don't want) and the difficulty of failing poorer students (it's a hassle that most professors do not want) and your result is spending more money per student to force more inept kids through some degree granting program (the most inept group--on average--is undergraduate business majors, followed by undeclared pre-meds). Can government make rules and regulations that will fix this? No, and that is because it all comes back to money. Universities, even those that recieve government funding, require tuition to make ends meet. If the various schools could be guaranteed full funding, then they could take all required measures to improve education, and would do so. Government dollars always come with a hitch, though, and most universities can see the stick tied to the carrot. The end however is simple: higher education is meant as an indicator of ability to learn so that newly hired employees are less risky in terms of their abilities. If a new employee turns out to be a dud, then they are shuffled aside or fired (this is not France). If a school repeatedly turns out duds then companies will stop hiring from that school and students will stop going there. All told the system is self correcting, it is just that the influx of students and the expense of educating them has not yet been balanced. It will happen. The government should just back the hell off until it does.

In the meantime, for all students: cheating is bad, there are stupid questions (and students), and a grade of "A" is not and should not be the result of effort or money, but of demonstrating understanding.

Friday, June 23, 2006

French Earth

The French have unveiled a project much like Google Earth. (They allow users to zoom in on satellite images of the planet--well, France for theirs.) As google's maps (including Earth) are not very high res when leaving this country and a few other spots on the planet this should be good, but when I heard about this I was reminded of the peculiar sense of French nationalism. This is a nation that has the Académie Française which, among other things is dedicated to Frenchifying--mostly English--words. The idea is that a word with a foreign origin (like, say, "email") being adopted by the French more or less as is will dilute the language and take away from the identity of the French people. Not that this is all that different from our congress naming English the national language or the like, but if "email" is going to lead to the downfall of your language, then it is probably already headed there.

Of course when they name it "La Terre Froogle" they will end up with a whole other problem of words costing them.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

World Cup

Congradulations to Ghana! I mean it. It would have been nice to see the US advance, but they have yet to play like they wanted to win...not even in thier gutty performance against Italy, where they played hard, won 50-50 balls and controlled the game, despite being down a man in the second half. Ghana, on the other hand, has been fun to watch.

The sad thing is that many people in this country will now ignore the rest of the Cup. That's really too bad, because it is about to get really exciting. I'm waiting to see England continue to play horribly and get beat up for it. I'm waiting to see Brazil pull Ronaldo from the starting line-up and give us the excitement we expect from their team. (note: Ronaldo scored 2 in the afternoon match...I still think he doesn't run enough.)

I have not been able to watch as much of the Copa as I'd like (I actually prefered the 3 a.m. starts in 2002 in Japan/Korea, when I could watch a whole game before leaving for lab), but there are more (relatively) weekend games during stage two, and I am ready for some futball.

Statistical Driving

A study was released showing that young (16) drivers with restrictions on driving (hours and number of people in the car) have fewer accidents--20% fewer in fact. I know I complained a bit about stats before, but here is another that lacks something...hmm, oh, I know, perspective. The comparison was between Oregon (strict laws) and Ontario (not so much) and OR teen drivers had 20% fewer crashes. Of course, not mentioned in the article, was whether that reduced the number of crashes because teen drivers were more careful, or because the rules mean that teen drivers drive fewer hours per day. Yes, a person can get into a car and drive 2 minutes and rear end someone, and someone can drive 2 hrs a day for years without ever being involved in an accident, and yes, overall, better drivers have fewer accidents, but the total amount of time will make a big difference, and if Ontario 16 year olds are driving 2-5 times more hours than in Oregon, then maybe the statistic indicates that teens in Ontario are better drivers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Science: The Investigation of Bad Results

I really like science. The physical universe, from distance stars to the local fauna, is a fascinating thing. The way matter and energy interact, the way a handful of very simple phenomenon can create something as awesome as sensory perception, the way that singular unpredictable events when multiplied generate highly reproducable results, are all amazing to me. But what is the most amazing is how much science is from bad or inexplicable results (like this idea about bubbles in the bow shock of earth's magnetic field). One of my favorite Q&A's that can happen with laboratory students goes like this:

Student: "Was this supposed to happen?"
Teacher (regardless of what happened): "Yes."

Then there would be an explanation that whatever happens is always what is supposed to happen, but if it differs from what is expected then the understanding or practice was flawed. (In the case of lab experiments it would be the latter.) I'm sure this pisses students off, but it is truly profound. It is also a mainstay of scientific exploration. If systems always behaved as we expected them to then there would be no need to experiment. The nature of the universe could be constructed through thought problems alone. Science practically depends on hypothesis breaking down in order to advance. It keeps people from thinking along the same line; it forces researchers to step back and re-examine the what's and why's; it opens new possibilities.

Fat Kids

Okay this crap still pisses me off: Oh my God! Children are fat! They drink soda and eat candy bars! Shut the hell up. Of course they are, and it's parenting, not schools that are to blame. Maybe if little 8 year old Johnny didn't have $20 of disposable income a week to spend on garbage, he wouldn't eat as much of it. Of course I've ranted on this before.

What I really want to complain about here is bottled water. One of the quotes from the article is:

"The nation's highest grade, an A-, was awarded to Kentucky, where school vending machines are filled with bottled water and dried fruit instead of soda and snack cakes."

Why, oh why do people routinely plunk down $1 - $3 a pint for water, when they can get it for free from a drinking fountain (or for ~$0.01 /gal at home from the tap...maybe 10 cents for filtered)? Sometimes (at a park, hot day, lots of people, few working fountains...or in the car on a road trip...or immune issues...or low quality city HOH...) it's okay, and even necessary, but to do that day in, day out, as a primary source of drinking water, in most places in this country? You are a moron.

Monday, June 19, 2006


The international whaling commission (IWC) just voted for a resolution that stated the ban on whaling was meant to be temporary. It is largely meaningless as lifting the ban would require a separate vote with support of 70% of the commission in favor. Japan was accused of effectively bribing a host of smaller nations into voting for whaling and, itself, largely ignores the ban (in practice) anyway (yes Iceland and Norway also ignore it). I'm generally of the opinion that, properly regulated, whaling could be okay. The problem, of course, is that it will not be well regulated and what regulation there is will lead to petty bickering, and be largely ineffective. Whaling is not a sustainable enterprise, in terms of a real source of food, when considering the number of whaling nations and the number of people and the number of whales. Whale meat is a luxury item if you live in Japan or a nation that can receive imported whale meat. It will continue to be so if the ban is repealed, just that more people will have access.

The funny thing about the article was a pro-whaling argument offered by the delegate from St. Kitts and Nevis. He basically said that whales were responsible for the depletion of fish stocks and whaling would boost fish numbers. "That's like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation," was the counter to that rather idiotic statement. Over fishing is a real problem. Food production in general is becoming one. Solutions short of socializing agriculture are difficult to see. As the world is now, yes, we can produce sufficeint foods to keep everyone from starving to death. Of course, what happens when better fed populations explode? They will, if only because people will not be dying off as quickly. Sounds callous doesn't it? It is. That does not make it less true.

Humanity has not been a sustainable life force on this planet. We over consume. Every environmental problem we have is due to the greed of humanity. Our greed is from our value for life. Sounds weird, but it is true. We place a greater value on human life than we do on any other thing, likely more than we place on all other things combined. The result is that we take more from the planet than we give. The end result of this continuing (possibly millenia from now) will be that it kills us. Ironic, huh? Keep in mind: we are killing ourselves...not the planet. Notions of saving the planet are wrong headed, because this planet will be here long after we are extinct. Environmentalism is the long term preservation of humanity, not whales. I wonder if environmentalists know that...

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Moment of Silence

This (Friday) morning I heard a call from a (GOP) representative for a moment of silence for the soldiers that died. People like moments of silence. They project an aura of respectful thought, and there may be good intent, religious or otherwise, behind the gesture in many cases, but on the floor of Congress, it is not right. Not immediately before a wasteful, nonbinding resolution that is meant as a political tool for comming elections. Besides, does (whichever) congressman believe that the dead are served by silence and a meaningless vote. Would it not give greater honor to those who have died in the service of our nation to act in a meaningful way?

Maybe our congress should support our troops by giving them timetables and deliverable objectives. Maybe our congress should honor our vetrans by providing them with care (health, unemployment, counciling, ...). Maybe our congress should provide full funding and material support for our troops (without burdening the next generation with a massive federal debt).

No? I guess not. The dead get a moment of silence and an empty vote, and the living soldiers and vetrans get nothing more than rhetoric. Congress "supports our troops." Just not more than they support tax cuts for millionares or misrepresenting science, and not enough to actually lay out real deliverable objectives or devise a timetable for withdraw. United States Congress: the ultimate yellow ribbon bumper sticker.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Increasing Violence

The FBI has released some figures that show the violent crame rate in this country has had its largest jump in 15 years. I wonder how much of it is anti-(insert specific group here) and carried out by so-called "Christians." There is certainly a caldera of misplaced hatred churning there as can be seen in this game. A rundown on what is really going on can be found here, but it's long so I'll say some stuff and call it a summary.

In the game (called "Left Behind: Eternal Forces") you are in New York City and you convert people to christianity...or kill them. Wow. So the Christian belief is summed up as: think and believe like us or die. Cute. Nevermind the collosal hypocracy, or that it is the same type of thought as that which spurred people to fly airplanes into the WTC and Pentagon. Obviously their religion is wrong, but "ours" is right (religious right, that is). Yea, it's just a game, and I don't have a problem with GTA, which is way more graphic. Of course it is a game that was distributed in church pews. It is a game that they are trying to get a 6+ yrs rating for (so 6 year olds can convert or kill). It is a game that is being released by a religious associated group that also has published books on how violence in games is bad.

This is the crux of the religious right in this country. The notions of killing (literally or metaphorically) people with different beliefs is obviously wrong headed, and yet it is embraced with enthusiasm. Speak out against it and you are labled as someone who lacks the values/morals/whatever of the American people, but I suspect the American people don't really feel that butt sex and Hinduism are greater evils than killing or otherwise disregarding as human those that disagree with you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Helmets and Personal Freedoms

So by now most people have heard about the Rothlesburger incident. He rides a motorcycle. He does not wear a helmet. He says (said) that he is very cautious/careful, and since there are no helmet laws, his not wearing one is ok. He is a complete and utter moron. They are called "accidents" for a reason. If he doesn't want to wear a helmet, then fine, but he can not then say that he is careful or safe or not patently stupid. Now people are saying that there should have been a helmet law. There are such laws in much of this country. There are also seat belt laws. Neither of them should exist.

Not as they are anyway. Seat belt/helmet laws should only apply to minors in the car/on the bike who are not licensed to drive/ride it. It's a issue of personal freedom. If people want to be dumbasses, they are more than welcome to do so. If the government is going to start protecting people (of right mind) from themselves, then where does it stop? No rock climbing without a minimum of 3 anchors and one other person? No running down stairs without pads and appropriate shoes (or ankle braces)? No cutting vegetables without wearing a chain link or otherwise cutproof glove on your off hand? No keeping your head under water for more than 30 seconds... Sounds rediculous right? So are helmet and seatbelt laws.

What about the lawsuit issue? Simple: people who choose not to use said safety equipment forfeit the right to sue if they are injured in an accident, even if they are not at fault (if that equipment would have, likely, reduced or eliminated their injuries). The role of laws is to prevent people (or companies) from impinging on other's rights, not to protect an individual from their own stupidity. In dealing with personal safety issues, someone not wearing a helmet is not even being deprived of their right to some measure of safety. It's a choice, and the government should stay the hell away from it. It's Rothlesburger's own fault his head got so beat up. Even if the other driver is found to be at fault, Ben chose not to wear a helmet. Dumbass.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Crazy Codger Strikes Nail Firmly on the Head

Lou Dobbs normally strikes me as a crotchety old man, but in this post I agree with pretty much everything he has to say. The hatemongerers who want to write discrimination into the US Constitution really are a very small portion of this country. Even people who are offended by the notion of gay people getting married, generally don't think we should amend our constitution as a result of it, and the numbers for people opposed to the notion are dropping. But none of that really matters here. This is a purely political pandering action that has no real meaning and addresses none of the myriad real problems this country has right now. It is a waste of time, and by extension, tax dollars. We pay the men and women of the United States Congress a pretty hefty sum and for them to waste a week of debate for a vote every one of them knows is going to fail on a matter that is not even on the radar of the majority of their constituents is appalling.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Selling Sex

I have no problem with men and women who wish to buy and sell sex. Heck, the more chauvinistic are firmly of the belief that that is what dinner and a movie equals (or a diamond ring, for the traditional, Christian chauvinist). I have no desire to take part. I believe that those that do, by and large, have issues. Mostly, however, I find it very strange how affronted our nation is by the notion of sex for money, or, for that matter, sex in general. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of Americans has had sex. A large majority has even had sex with someone to whom they are not married. So, I don't get it. Why is it more offensive to see a penis or vagina (or even a friggin' breast) than it is to see someone get their head blown off? Why is it ok for a president to send our troops away to war, to lie to the American people and to disregard the Constitution, but it's morally repugnant to the point of impeachment for a president to get a blowjob? Theories abound, but none that really explains it. There is something horribly wrong and backwards about the way this country (and, really, most "religious" individuals/countries) views sex--especially when compared with violence--and I just don't understand why.

That's pretty much it...this was kicked off by this article about prostitution, Germany, and the World Cup.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Horray Women, Boo Statistics

Women are getting more degrees, more jobs, but apparently making less money. The first two are good, are not surprising, and are fine by me. The third thing is suspect, at best. The problem with the money thing is that it is never presented in such a way that it could be considered legitimate. If it is a legit statistic that means one of two things: either many companies selectively pay men who are equally qualified more, or the companies that pay more, on average, selectively hire men over equally qualified women. (I'm assuming that the very lopsided things like pro athletes are not considered in the stat.)

I'll believe that there is still a fair amount of discrimination, but I do not believe it is as overt as either of those statements. Companies, if only for fear of lawsuits, will not pay men at the same level more than women. When hiring, if anything, they would be more likely to hire a woman over a man if both are equally qualified. It would take some deep seeded predjudice to persist with a mode of operation that would deliberately value women less than men. Think for a second about this: in order to maximize profits it makes the most sense to get whoever can do the job and to keep them happy so that they will continue to work. Any company that practices any form of discrimination is shooting itself in the foot anyway, and corporate America knows this.

The only other option resulting in women being paid less is that women make choices resulting in lower paying jobs, which makes the statistic total bullshit. But, why, you ask, would women do that? For the same reason I would. There is more to life than money. If I could have a dream job in a fantasy location, then I would accept a pittance for it. I think women, more than men, feel this way. I don't know why. It could be because of a still persistant notion that men need to provide, or a crazy notion that money = success, or the idea that men need money to be desirable to women while women need only breasts to be desireable to men (I personally believe the last one, at a subconscious level, is a driving force).

Basically I think that men make more money because they, on average, place a greater value on making money. To continually pull the 76 cents on the dollar statistic is misleading at best and a viscious lie at worst. Just because men and women are equally capable does not mean that men and women approach life in the same manner. In fact, the other things the article points out (more women in college, more women getting degrees) indicate that women may place a greater value on education than do men. For logical reasons, the greater value one places on education the less value that one would likely place on money. If you are intelligent and you value learning then you probably also realize that more money does not bring the same value as more happiness. You are probably also better at saving and budgeting, requiring less. Of course, pointing that out may give those who are discriminatory an excuse to pay women less, but I doubt it...even if slime like that needed excuses, that one wouldn't pass any legal challenges and money is still more important to them than keeping women down would be.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The FDA Just Doesn't Get It

Americans are fat. True. Americans are capable of making intelligent decisions with regard to their health when presented with all the facts. False to the power of 100. The FDA has suggested that restaurants provide healthier foods and more nutritional information to their customers. The idea being that, when presented with better options and knowledge, people will chose differently and eat fewer calories saying, "If companies don't tell them, people have no way of knowing how many calories they are being served at restaurants. And chances are, they are being served a lot more than they realize." (I'll wait for the laughter to die down now.)

Every box of twinkies and ho-ho's has nutritional information printed right on them. Trans fat info has even been added to the mix recently. Are people not purchasing that junk food anymore? Of course not. Even people who never eat out are not likely to know how many calories or fat they consume because people just don't check. Even those that do look don't likely follow the recommended serving sizes. Most looking is more along these lines: "Wow, when I finish these three burritos I will have consumed my saturated fat for, like, the whole week, and my salt for a month! Cool." People do not portion correctly. They don't keep mental totals. Making these changes at restaurants will not do anything to change how fat Americans are.

Three things: first, yes, some people do pay attention and portion correctly. They also don't eat out much, and when they do they have a fair idea about what they are consuming. Also, they aren't fat. Second, while people eating more food (# of calories) is a problem, the larger problem is people getting less exercise. The crazies who compete in ironman triathalons can consume 10,000 calories a day and not gain fat. Someone who works from home and gets out once a week to go to the grocery store for ding dongs and butter may be getting fatter even if they eat less than 2000 cal/day (yes, this depends on body size/type & even the type of work).

Third, homeostasis. The human body is a rather amazing thing. A really nifty thing that it does is regulation to maintain homeostasis. Basically this means if you eat 2000 cal/day you will burn 2000 cal/day regardless of exercise. It also means that if you happen to eat less or more on a given day you will burn less or more to accomodate it. This happens through several pathways including nervous twitching and heat production. One of the extentions of this is that fat on body does not necessarily = unhealthy. Losing weight (specifically fat) is something your body fights. You must exercise to (properly) lose fat. Fat burning starts only after all the readily available sugars have been burned, typically ~30 min aerobic workout, which means that exercise for 1 hr straight every other day actually burns more fat than 30 min/day (#'s vary somewhat person to person). If someone starts exercising daily (less than 30 min at a time) and eating more healthy foods, then that person may not lose a single cm from their waist, but he/she is getting healthier.

The homeostatis thing is also why dieters frequently yo-yo. When eating less, the body lowers calorie burning to accomodate as well as it can, below that it must burn the reserves (fat, then protein...the latter of which is bad). When coming off the diet and eating normally, the body will react by...not burning more calories until it has replenished its reserves, meaning building fat. Fat reserves will actually build up faster than they were depleted, making the dieter sad, and resulting in another diet. Over time this will reek havoc with the body and the dieter will die earlier.