Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Concentration: "Concentration means directing one's attention on whatever one intends. We all have a natural ability to concentrate. Have you noticed how difficult it is to get young children's attention when they are playing? Do you remember the time when you were completely engrossed in an interesting novel, a super film, an exciting match or an exhilarating piece of music? You were concentrating then. "

We also know this as flow.

A Very powerful and very useful skill and one well worth learning.

Occasionally I go tot he library to "get away from it all," but sometimes there are some people who just don't get that a library is supposed to be quiet. If I can here someone talking on a cellphone a good 50 feet away they are talking way too load. The library is generally well designed, it has a separate children's room that keeps the noise under control, but some of their chairs are absolutely awful, they cut into you spine if you try leaning back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Why No Child Wants To Study Math and Science

Kansas City area students recognize that their generation had better master math and science.

But too many of them, according to a survey released today, answer, “Who, me?” when asked what they personally intended to do about it.
from theKansas City Star

Most engineering schools stress subjects like differential calculus and physics, and their graduates tend to end up narrowly focused and likely to fit the stereotype of a socially awkward clock-puncher. Richard K. Miller, the president of the school, likes to share a professional joke: “How can you tell an extroverted engineer? He’s the one who looks at your shoes when he talks to you.”
from The New York Times

I have noticed that children aren't all that dumb, they may not be able to tell you in some may words why they know something is bad but they do have the gut feeling that something is wrong. They read Dilbert and see that it is too close to the truth, when their Uncle Bob or their friend's dad is laid off and it takes months if not years for that family to recover.

They might not have a plan on what they should do but they do have a clue about what they know won't work out. How many times do you have to hear on the news that more engineers are being laid off and jobs moved offshore before you realize that engineering is not a good, safe job.

Getting a math, science or engineering degree is hard work, and then when you do get a job, even if you do a great job solving a problem that had never been solved before, it is all that was expected of you, but if something doesn't come out in just the right color, you're fired. The story of the guy who invented the blue LED and got $11,000 for it is real. And there are tons of other stories about inventors getting fleeced. One of my former bosses had founded a company but he was little more then a show dog for them, he would invent things and get hardly anything back from the company after he gave control to the VCs who put in their own management team.

The kids see "All pain, no gain" so obviously they are going to choose to go in another direction.

An engineering degree is a long hard slog, I remember we had a whole college lecture and the speaker asked how many expected to graduate in 4 years, only 1 person raised their hand out of 1500 students, most expected 5-6 years. And when you do get out of school you end up doing huge amounts of grunt work, until you are ready to do real work.

If they are even the slightest bit diligent they realize that businesses aren't really interested in engineering for the most part. Engineering wages have been stagnant for decades, except for a blip for the dotboom period. They hear their parents or the parents of friends about how the engineer slaves all day and night but the English LIt manager gets all the reward.

Why should they ever think of going into the hard stuff when the soft stuff gets better rewards.

I have got to give Olin credit here. Helping engineers be more entrepreneurial will help them far more then another math class ever will.

Friday, September 28, 2007

MIT Entrance Examination, 1869-70: Exhibits: : Institute Archives & Special Collections: MIT

MIT Entrance Examination, 1869-70: Exhibits: : Institute Archives & Special Collections: MIT

This is pretty cool and fairly tough. These are scans of the test questions and are not for the faint of brain.

If you are homeschooling it is a glimpse into what was important to people then and that is important to know. It is a way to think about how you might want to test your own children and see what is important to you.

I wonder if the tests actually got them the poeple they were looking fo or someone else. These tests are there to exclude people. But were they the right ones to exclude?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

TCS Daily - CEOs Learning About Education

TCS Daily - CEOs Learning About Education: "They also recognize that restrictions induced by the federal No Child Left Behind act 'have made it more difficult for high schools to take a radically different approach to curriculum and instruction.' In other words, the autonomy required for the replication of successful enterprises is currently stifled by central planning."

It is amazing how some well meaning group can spend so much money to learn something that a million+ people figured out without spending any money at all.

The school system is tied up in its own red tape and cannot change. The administrators are going to do everything in their power to protect their jobs, that is natural. Everyone wants to protect their income and therefore their family.

We, the people, just need to make it painful enough for them to make it in their interest to change. But that doesn;t help our children so we homeschool.

We've been officaially homeschooling for a couple of weeks now and she is generally quite excited about schooltime. Not always but then she is 5 and that is okay we toss plan A and pull out plan B and see what she would like to do and add some material to it to make it more educational.

It is the full Moon right now and we were driving around and she mentioned that the Moon was following us. I explained why it looked that way. And so it goes.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Significant Literature

The article linked above (from hatrack) really hammers home something I ran across before, that modern literature doesn't seem to do any heavy thinking any more. I've noticed in school that a lot of the books I read in my English classes where rather meaningless. They didn't really go anywhere and didn't do anything or have anything to say at the end of the trip. Finishing the book was like finishing a sit-com, that was a waste of my time.

I've long been a fan of sci-fi and fantasy and now Harry Potter. They tended to wrestle with hard problems come out with something that may or may not work.

Almost everyone ignores or disdains those genres, and that is okay by me. It's really for the best. What they don't know can't challenge their mindset.

The thing is I remember when Star Wars came out. I saw it 9 times and drove my parents crazy about it. They see what they believe is everything that it is about. A space shoot-em-up and rescue the princess story. Eventually it made its way through the Iron Curtain, and the censors saw the same things: a nice safe space western, no threat to the Party. Talking to my cousins after they'd seen it, they saw what I saw, the little guy can make a difference and destroy the empire. I might not be the Luke but I can be the Biggs that let's Luke get his shot off.

People see what they expect to see. There was someone railing against Harry Potter because it isn't Christian because it is set after the ministry Christ and doesn't talk about it, while The Lord of the Rings is okay since it is set before. That just made my head spin and I had to stop reading, it made no sense to me whatsoever.

If you want to write something that is going to do some serious thinking forget about trying to get into traditional literature, you have to go into the children's or fantasy genres to do it. Pixar is doing the same thing very well. The Incredibles taught that happiness is found through honesty to ourselves and families. Cars; there is more to life then work, and Ratatouille explores loyalty to self, family and friends. Much deeper then the comedies they appear to be.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The economics of parenting

I came across a couple of really tough articles via Instapundit. I've known for a while that being a parent is pretty hard stuff and that it is getting to be very hard to raise kids, I know I worry about things my parents didn't, and I am censoring myself just by talking about it.

This is worth a little compare and contrast.

From Pajamas Media:

Piano lessons, tutoring, art classes and vacations to Europe can all be very enriching. But they become nothing more than highlights on a resume when they are forced upon a child whose life is completely controlled and scheduled.

From TCS Daily:

Parenting was always hard work, of course. But aside from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too. But in recent decades, a collection of parenting "experts" and safety-fascist types have extinguished some of the benefits while raising the costs, to the point where what's amazing isn't that people are having fewer kids, but that people are having kids at all.

There are a lot of downsides to having children. DINKs have been around for a while but not all that long in the grand scheme of things. It isn't just the economics that are bad it is all the small and petty annoyances that really get you.

The money quote has got to be this one:

NPR reported this month on “competitive birthing,” an example of wealthy families choosing to have many kids because they view it as a status symbol. While higher incomes have historically led to smaller families, in the past 10 years the number of rich parents having three or more kids has increased by 30 percent.

That is bucking a trend that has been around for a good long time, but I guess it isn't a surprise. It used to be if you were rich you wanted pale skin because that was a status symbol of saying you didn't have to work outside. When a large portion of the population moved to the city and office work and everyone was pale then the status symbol became having a really good tan. The symbols change over time as the middle class follows the symbols, so now it is birthing.

I would not call this a good sign for our society.

Aug. 17, 1807: 'Fulton's Folly' Steams Up the Hudson

Aug. 17, 1807: 'Fulton's Folly' Steams Up the Hudson : "Nevertheless, he persevered and by 1807 'Fulton's Folly,' as the local wags christened the Clermont, was ready to sail. It was a leisurely trip, taking 32 hours to reach the state capitol while steaming along at about 5 mph. "

A great day in history.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Forced to Pick a Major in High School - New York Times

Forced to Pick a Major in High School - New York Times: "Two years ago, Akelia applied to the magnet program%u2019s law and public safety academy because she wanted to be a lawyer. But after finding many of the legal cases boring and hard to relate to, she was unable to take classes in other fields because she was locked into her specialization."

At first I was thinking this might be a good idea for some students, but as this quote shows all they are doing is following the European model. I spent quite some time in Europe and one of the things I've noticed was the enormous amount of time, money and energy they spent on hobbies.

Europeans tend to be very hidebound in their thinking. "This is the way it's always been done." Even being a non-conformist there is very structured, I wish I had taken more street pictures showing how all the "free-thinking" kids were the same city to city. Being anti-x is not the same as being different.

The problem here is that it isn't going to help. With the loss of pretty much everything outside of college track there really isn't much choice here. They dropped shop and home ec a long time ago.

This is going to be terrible.

We have to take control of our children's education, it's too important to leave it up to the professionals.

The most important thing about learning is making it interesting, which is very different from entertaining.
• One great way to learn electronics is to get a Ham radio license and start building your own antennas and radios.
• Want to learn small engine repair, which scales nicely to larger engines, is to grab an old dead lawnmower at a garage sale and fix it up.
• If business is something you want to learn you could turn that lawnmower repair experience into real summertime business. Setup the corporation, hire employees: someone to gather lawnmowers from yard sales, someone else to repair them and someone to sell them.
• want to learn archeology there may be a dig not all that far away from your home.

The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Little Learning Is an Expensive Thing - New York Times

A Little Learning Is an Expensive Thing - New York Times: "When I was a college president, I was never able to give incoming freshmen the honest talk I wanted to. But had I done so, here's what I would have said:"

The realities of the situation of the price of higher education.

Start saving now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Education 2.0: What%u2019s most important to do in college today? � Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk

Education 2.0: What%u2019s most important to do in college today? � Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk: "In general I think college kids should prepare for the work world by learning to make friends with a wide range of people on campus and lay off the books. But maybe that%u2019s because I found that the time I was getting straight A%u2019s in college was the time I was learning the least."

On the one hand I agree with her. Sacrificing a social life for education is a problem. On the other hand if you're not trying to do something important with your education why are you spending the money?

What I have to encourage my daughter to do is to balance these things. Spend time getting to know and network with other people and work on hard problems and generally be a nice person.

Friday, August 10, 2007

U.S. Drops Out of Global Math Test - Newsweek Education -

U.S. Drops Out of Global Math Test - Newsweek Education - : "The United States has quietly withdrawn from an international study comparing math and science students."

Ah, we don't really need math anyway. Besides it boosts school test scores

A whimper not a bang.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007



Engineers are just as bad. I've have similar conversations with my 4 year old and my wife actually.

Feeding the desires behind these questions are great, but it does get murky when gone far enough.

I am always amazed by people who say science has all the answers. They just don't get it. They've just stopped asking why too early. The fun part is when you get to the point of saying, "I don't know." If your next statement is, "I want to find out." You are a scientist.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Teaching and Learning Teamwork

"I'm glad that people who love sports have had a good time with them. But don't ever, ever say, "This is a life lesson that you just can't learn any other way." There are no life lessons that you can't learn any other way.

And a kid who's lousy at sports but good at music or theatre or writing or videogames should get as much encouragement and honor as any athlete.

But he won't.

And that's what I hate about sports. That these physical games get treated, by kids and adults, as if they mattered more than activities that are just as valid, just as competitive, just as rewarding -- and maybe more so.

There is no excuse for athletes being more respected and honored in school than scholars. But few indeed are the high schools that provide scholars and musicians and actors and poets with anything remotely like the honor given to athletes. And it's not because athletics is harder than those other activities."

One of the top business skills out there right now is teamwork. It seems like everyone wants team players for their team. If are are going into management team building skills are in huge demand. Obviously there is a disconnect between the desire and the reality.

I want our children to learn team skills. But I've been on sports teams in the past and those are just not the skills that are needed. "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." "Taking one for the team."

My boss was a soccer coach last year and he loved the kids but hated the parents who wanted to win at all costs. This year his 8-year-old is on a team that has practice 5 days a week for at least 2.5 hours until the season starts and then it will only be 3 days for 2 hours. He complains that pro teams don't do that much practicing. But they still go. I am not sure that lessons learn there will be ones that will provide for a good and happy life.

I enjoy being part of teams. I readily admit I don't know everything or am the best at any particular skill, but with a team we multiply are skills in ways that I've never really seen in sports.
In my dorm at the university the 6 of us quickly got a reputation for "knowing everything." Between engineering, physics, chemistry, computer science and political science, we did seem to know an awful lot about all kinds of stuff. One guy even complained about us having forgotten more math then he ever learned. But still people came for help and we did what we could which often was a whole lot.

Lots of good teams I've been on haven't lasted very long, sometimes just a few hours someplace to clean up a historical site or help out at the community cannery.

One experience at the cannery was amazing. We needed to assemble the boxes to put all the cans in. A few of us went to do that job and we were all going it alone getting a box, opening it, taping it, and putting the dividers in. A few minutes of that we realized that was too slow so we formed into an assembly line and cranked out more boxes then they needed by the time the head guy came around again to see how we were doing.

There are lots of places to learn teamwork and most of them aren't sports. A band, a choir, a theater group, Ham radio club (our current project), a scout troop, or any where that a group comes together to accomplish something is all you really need and a desire to dive in and help.

We want our children to learn teamwork but sports may only be one place out of many to learn that.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Teach your kids to read, no one else will.

Current View: "But if you are concerned about your children, teach them to read. Do it yourself, or in concert with other parents, but do not entrust them to either the public or most private schools. The teaching profession is dominated by professors of education, few -- if any -- of whom ever taught small children to read."

Make sure to read the article that Jerry links too as well.

Can the schools be fixed? It sure looks like they don't want it to be fixed and that is where the real problem lies.

Gateway Educational Subjects

We just took the first lesson in a Ham Radio class and I realize that getting a Radio Technicians license is a great gateway subject into electrical engineering. It's a bit of math and electronics and a whole lot of fun.

A gateway subject sparks the fire of curiosity into a line of inquiry. People learn faster and better when they are interested in a subject.

There are other educational subject that are gateways to greater understanding.
Cooking gateways into physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Alton Brown of Good Eats does a great job of relating cooking to science.

Algebra for higher mathematics. If you have algebra down everything else is pretty easy. We used to complain in our calculus class that the calculus was easy the algebra afterwards was hard, mainly because that was the place we make the most mistakes.

Swimming may be a good gateway to other physical activities, by knowing how to swim you can be confident in water which is a good thing, and is gentle to your body for a workout.

Piano can be the gateway to greater musical talent and appreciation.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Teacher Grows Disillusioned After a ‘Fail’ Becomes a ‘Pass’ - New York Times

A Teacher Grows Disillusioned After a ‘Fail’ Becomes a ‘Pass’ - New York Times: "Mr. Lampros’s introduction to the high school’s academic standards proved a fitting preamble to a disastrous year. It reached its low point in late June, when Arts and Technology’s principal, Anne Geiger, overruled Mr. Lampros and passed a senior whom he had failed in a required math course."

The dumb thing is that this girl will suffer most over time and society will have to bear that burden. She is not likely to reach her full potential.

It may be even worse then we fear. At least the graduation rate is still good a that school.

27 Skills Your Child Needs to Know That She’s Not Getting In School | zen habits

27 Skills Your Child Needs to Know That She’s Not Getting In School | zen habits: "What follows is a basic curriculum in life that a child should know before reaching adulthood. There will probably be other skills you can add to this list, but at least it’s a starting point."

This is a pretty good list. Something we are working on for our daughter.

To Read with Speed, Get Hooked on Phonics, and…: Scientific American

To Read with Speed, Get Hooked on Phonics, and…: Scientific American: "The three processes: phonics (a letter by letter sounding out of words); contextual clues (earlier parts of sentences that help readers anticipate upcoming words); and holistic word recognition, or the physical shape of words."

There are many facets to reading faster and this study is interesting that way. It doesn't cover directly how to do it. But there are plenty of other that do.

From BoingBoing

Math Book Helps Girls Embrace Their Inner Mathematician

Math Book Helps Girls Embrace Their Inner Mathematician : "McKellar's math book for junior high girls, called Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math and not Break a Nail, will be at bookstores Thursday. It has the look and feel of a teen magazine, but puts heavy emphasis on fractions and pre-algebra.
Smart woman. I'll have to find this. Looks interesting.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

This is an old essay well worth reading. We have been given great and powerful tools that we need to use to find out more about the world around us.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Classic Films, Back to College - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything: "Now this is science! A fifty-year-old anthropology professor, who has done fieldwork in primitive societies in faraway lands, realizes that she knows almost nothing about the lives of undergraduate students at the American university where she teaches."

How easily we forget our own past, much less history. Okay, admittedly someone who becomes a professor has different motivations compared to most students who just want to get a "good job."

But this is going to be very useful to many students particularly homeschoolers who go on to college. Most homeschoolers don't have the tolerance to BS that is so prevalent in most bureaucracies and college is just another bureaucracy.

Most people stick with the familiar, I just I was very unusual as I went to college without knowing anyone. I made friends, some of whom I am still in contact with, and found a wonderful wife.

I was one of the "witches," I asked questions about things I didn't understand and couldn't find an answer to and that wouldn't be on the test. But yeah, there was that "go along to get along" riptide in there.

"Go along to get along" is indoctrinated into children as soon as they get into school. It never goes away. I do think that we may be programmed for that in general but it doesn't allow for much innovation.

I am looking for a good home broadband provider, the first on the list was Comcast and when I mentioned that I used a Mac they started telling me I should get a Winbox to be like everyone else. I hung up on them at that point. I spend my days "fixing" PCs, I like my Mac since it gives me way less trouble and I can actually get work done. All they need to do is provide an Internet connection they don't have to care what kind of computer I have to connect to it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The aim of education should be to teach us rather
how to think, than what to think - rather to improve
our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than
to load the memory with thoughts of other men."

- Bill Beattie

Moebius strip riddle solved at last - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Moebius strip riddle solved at last - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation): "Popularised by the Dutch artist MC Escher, a Moebius strip entails taking a strip of paper or some other flexible material.

You take one end of the strip, twist it through 180 degrees, and then tape it to the other end.

This creates a loop that has an intriguing quality, dazzlingly exploited by Escher, in that it only has one side."

Sometimes, math is hard.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Open Library

About Us
(The Open Library)
: "What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book—our planet's cultural legacy."

Ambitious: Yes,
Doable: Yes
Worth it: Yes

Saturday, July 14, 2007

How Would a Duck Count

We all know how we count from 1-10 on our fingers but how would a duck make a number system.

Ducks have 3 main fingers on each foot. So they might start with 1 and instead of their last toe being 6, like we might use, it would be their ten. So they would count 1 2 3 4 5 10, 11 12 13 14 15 20, and so on. What we call eight they would call 12. We call this base 6, because they use only 6 numbers as the basis of their number system.

A horse with only 2 hoofs would count 1 10, 2 20, 3 30 and so on. We call this base 2 also known as binary. Counters use base two as their native language as they are made up of switches that can only be on or off. Computers count like this. 0 1, 10 11, 100 101 110 111, and so on.

Schoolhouse Rock's Little Twelve Toes does the same thing with base 12.

Computers also use base16 a lot, 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F, 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 1, 1B 1C 1D 1E 1F, and so on.

The ancient Mesopotamians in Babylon used a base 60. In our terms they go through all our numbers, and our entire alphabet almost twice before getting to use 0 to create their equivalent to 10.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Current Chaos Manor mail

Current Chaos Manor mail: "The Sphericity of the Earth"

The Earth was known to be spherical for a long time and not really lost. But everyone thinks it was. I wonder why that was.

How to Change the World: Ten Things to Learn This School Year

How to Change the World: Ten Things to Learn This School Year: "It seems to me that schools often teach the opposite of what's necessary for the real world. Perhaps in school people have plenty of time and no money, so long papers, emails, and presentations are not a problem. However, people in the real world have plenty of money (or at least more money) and no time. This is a list of what I wished I learned in school before I graduated."

There is a big difference between school and business and that is a real problem. Why spend 16+ years learning to get good at something that is of no use in the vast majority of the economy?

How do you reform something that is built around the opposite assumptions you need it to have?

I am thinking more and more that it just isn't possible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Counting and the start of Addition are the Same

We are trying to teach our daughter to go beyond counting, which she can do pretty well up to 26.

The essence of counting is relating counting to real concrete things. 

3 eggs and 3 blocks and three rocks are all the same number of things.

But once you have counting down moving to addition is straightforward. 

and so on. Kids pick up on the pattern pretty quickly. 

Monday, July 9, 2007

Quarks to Quasars, Powers of Ten

Quarks to Quasars, Powers of Ten: "This site is a study on the effect of adding another zero. Since I was young I have been fascinated and inspired by the essay 'Cosmic View' by Kees Boeke and the book The Powers of Ten, written by Philip and Phyllis Morrison and the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. The idea was to examine the relationship of the size of things from the atom to the entire universe. I have used these sources as a jumping off point for this presentation. The internet provides a flexibility unavailable to the linear structure of printed books."

The old powers of ten scaling. It shows you the power of math.

Neatorama � Blog Archive � The Origin of Everyday Punctuation Marks.

Neatorama � Blog Archive � The Origin of Everyday Punctuation Marks.

= was invented in 1557 by Englishmen Robert Recorde but took over a century to displace the curly symbol Descartes used who actually came later.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Current Chaos Manor mail

Current Chaos Manor mail: "A good friend, who was once on the school board (and the only totally sane SB person I've ever known) told me that 'We can't, in six hours a day, make up for what happens with the kids during the other 18 hours.' And yet, NCLB and the state level testing require them to do so, or pretend to do so, so what we get is a system that is rigged to show the 'results' mandated by these bad laws."

Hmm, interesting. To me and my friends and the people we know it is more like "we can't in 18 hours a day make up for what happens in 6 hours of school." Though in reality it is often less then an hour after homework, chores, dinner (prep, eat, cleanup), sleep and all the rest. Wasn't there a study not long ago showing most parent end up only spending 20 minutes with there kids a day?

Obviously there are goals in conflict here. 

Many parents say they want the best education for their children, but aren't sure what "best" is and don't have any time to figure it out, and looking at problem is like looking for a book in a library without a catalog, just too big of a problem. So they just go with the default the school has and try to get into the "good" schools but good isn't exactly defined either.

School bureaucracies  seem to try maximizing the amount of money they bring in. More money is more pay. Makes sense. 

A big problem is what is vitally important to parents in New York is completely irrelevant to parents in Idaho. A nationalized education system is just not able to work, much as we may hope for the best that way. 

Each local school should have a school board made up of parents with children in school. The results will be a lot more consistent that way.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The new age of ignorance | Review | The Observer

The new age of ignorance | Review | The Observer: "Angier's tipping point, the reason she came to write the book, was a decision made by her sister. When the second of her two children turned 13 the sister decided that it was time to let their membership lapse in two familiar family haunts: the science museum and the zoo. They were, the implication went, ready to put away childish things, ready to go to the theatre and the art gallery, places where there was none of this 'mad pinball pinging from one hands-on science exhibit to the next, pounding on knobs to make artificial earthquakes'. They had grown out of science."

This is the saddest things I have read  all year. It explains so much yet tells us so little.

Reason Magazine - Why Poor Countries Are Poor

Reason Magazine - Why Poor Countries Are Poor: "We still don't have a good word to describe what is missing in Cameroon and in poor countries across the world. But we are starting to understand what it is. Some people call it 'social capital,' or maybe 'trust.' Others call it 'the rule of law,' or 'institutions.' But these are just labels. The problem is that Cameroon, like other poor countries, is a topsy-turvy place where it's in most people's interest to take actions that directly or indirectly damage everyone else."

Maybe it is just me but there is a whiff of similarity to Cameroon and our school system. You can also see it other places like our health care system. There is something systemic about it that makes it worse. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy doesn't seem to explain it all to me either. Economic theory even expects people to be self-interested which should cause people to work together and make things better. But things continue to get worse.

If we don't have a word for it, its hard to talk about. 

Another way to solve a problem

  • Accept the problem
  • Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen?
  • Gather some good knowledge.
  • Try to figure out possible problem along the way.
  • Ask for help
  • Let go of the need to be right
  • Come up with more than one solution
  • Redefine failure
  • Break down the problem into smaller pieces
  • Use the 80/20 rule
  • Use Parkinson’s Law
  • Find the lesson or opportunity within the problem
  • Actually talk about the problem and communicate clearly
  • Create fewer problems
  • Use the power of words to your advantage
  • Keep your motivation up.
These are really good and sure beats Feynman's Method.

Monday, June 25, 2007

ScienceDaily: How Dads Influence Their Daughters' Interest In Math

ScienceDaily: How Dads Influence Their Daughters' Interest In Math: "'We've known for a while now that females do as well as males on tests that measure ability in math and science,' said Pamela Davis-Kean, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). 'But women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math graduate programs and in careers based on those disciplines.'"

I am concerned about this with my daughter. I believe her to very smart and plenty capable to do this kind of work but there can be other factors at work to. The cultures found in the math and sciences are not totally women friendly.

I wonder if it may be that they have the impression that these things don't relate to anything in the real world. And get out of it because they want to do other more realistic things.

That is my biggest problem with most curricula is that everything is taught in a vacuum. Each subject is taught without any relation to any other subject. History is a set of names, places and dates that are rarely ever related to each other except that they happened before or after each other.

I learned far more calculus in my physics class then in my calculus class. Mainly because it hooks into other parts of my knowledge. Newton used calculus to be able to explain how physics works in a quantitative manner.

I totally loved "Connections" because history was suddenly a action oriented where one thing happened which caused or allowed something else to happen and we see the results in our daily lives.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Families' Eldest Boys Do Best on Tests -

Families' Eldest Boys Do Best on Tests - "Boys at the top of the pecking order - either by birth or because their older siblings died - score higher on IQ tests than their younger brothers. The question of whether firstborn and only children are really smarter than those who come along later has been hotly debated for more than a century."

Reading the article it seems that they can have up to a 3 point advantage, but 3 IQ points just isn't all that much. You'd be hard pressed to work with someone over time and notice that difference.

I can see firstborn children getting extra learning from teaching their siblings about how to do things. But I have also noticed that younger siblings start doing things earlier because of that teaching or imitation.

IQ seems to work best in academia. The higher your IQ the better you do in school. That doesn't always translate to doing better in the real world.

From Slashdot

A Student's Guide: Research -- Taking Notes

A Student's Guide: Research -- Taking Notes: "Well, the first rule is quite simple: To take good notes is to know in advance what you are looking for. "

Keeping good notes is always a struggle but well worth the effort.I've mainly gone to the Hipster PDA index card system with data dumps into VoodooPad to keep things safe. However that spellbook from yesterday has fired my imagination. Mainly because it is fun.

From Ask MetaFilter | A Resource for Parents of Learning Children | A Resource for Parents of Learning Children

They want to become the WEbMD of education sites. This could be useful.

from CNet

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Children See, Children Do

Too True.

David Seah : Modern Spellbooks

David Seah : Modern Spellbooks: "As technology gets newer and I get older, learning new things becomes frustrating"

Actually I do similar things when I need to learn something.
When I need to do sensemaking, I create a learning journal. Just someplace to toss all the things I learn as I learn them. I generally use a text file rather then an actual book.

Right now I am learning Dreamweaver for work as we revamp one of our websites. It isn't hard but there are a few pit falls and such that make it interesting. I have created a Dreamweaver Procedures file where I just dump things as I learn them that I think I will need again when I come back to it in a few weeks and won't remember how I did something.

Calling it a spellbook is just so darn cool. though. I'll be using that on a number of new projects I'm starting.

Duckon 2007-Steve Ward's Singing Tesla Coil video

Duckon 2007-Steve Ward's Singing Tesla Coil video: "This is a solid-state Tesla coil. The primary runs at its resonant frequency in the 41 KHz range, and is modulated from the control unit in order to generate the tones you hear."

Serious cool!

Teachers learn pragmatic plan for classroom |

Teachers learn pragmatic plan for classroom | "If you walk into a department store to buy $26 worth of clothes at 7 percent sales tax, how much will you owe?

If you give the cashier two $20 bills, how much change should she hand back?

If bottles of water are $8.50 a dozen or 75 cents a piece, which is the better deal?

Those are examples of relevant, work-related questions Georgia high school teachers are told to ask students at a math workshop this week presented by the University of Georgia's workforce education department."

Math doesn't exist in a vacuum, why is it taught that way?

Timeline of knowledge-representation

imhoFAQ timeline of knowledge-representation, part 1

Here is a marvelous timeline of what we (humans) have learned. Very impressive.

The Denver Post - AP Impact: Fire inspector says school open despite violations

The Denver Post - AP Impact: Fire inspector says school open despite violations
: "The head of Colorado's public safety inspection division allowed children and teachers to occupy a charter school despite warnings from a state inspector the building was unsafe, The Associated Press has learned."

Is your child's school actually safe?

There are lots of laws out there to protect our children. That is good, a civilized nation protects the weak and helpless. Education is good too. But all of these things are expensive too.

The hardest part of it is that there are all those well-meaning people working against each other. How to make it work better?

How public schools must react to test scores

"The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to meet annual goals largely based on student test scores. When schools fail to make "adequate yearly progress," the law assigns them a label and requires them to take certain corrective steps."

The article continues in outlining what needs to happen over the course of six years before a public school is required to actually do anything substantive.

6 years is half of your children's educational lifespan. We really can't afford to have our children be in a underperforming school because it will take too long.

When I was in 5th Grade I got bumped up, but only after the school year had started, I was totally bewildered by all the things they were talking about, while it didn't take me all that long to catch up, it was demoralizing at first.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Go outside and play

Coining the term "nature deficit disorder," Louv has argued that indoor kids are more prone to a range of childhood problems, including obesity, depression and attention disorders. He contends that they miss out on the spiritual, emotional and psychological benefits of exposure to the wonders of nature, including reduced stress and improved cognitive development, creativity and cooperative play.

Nature Deficit Disorder? This is just a little over done.

I was one of those kids who's Mom always said, "Go outside and play." I would much rather have spent even more time rotting my eyes reading a book. TV was okay sometimes but mostly the world of books was far richer.

Putting a name to something makes it special, I understand that but let's not go overboard here. I know it is scary for parents to send their children outside nowadays. We are wrestling with that right now. We want to have a place with a nice little yard, big enough for a garden a swing set and a place to cook out and eat out.

Right now our daughter loves being outside so much she'll come up with any kind of excuse including "the car needs a hug."

Balance, moderation, variety is what we need to be looking at. A day here, a day there and maybe a little less fear. My wife is all worried about not being able to teach PE to her, I've watched our daughter, let her outside and she'll get all the PE she needs. I'm not going to worry about rules of games for a while as she might be able to come up with something new.

Link from Instapundit

Monday, June 18, 2007

Boing Boing: Map shows how kids aren't allowed to roam around

Boing Boing: Map shows how kids aren't allowed to roam around: "The Daily Mail has an article about how kids have been restricted from roaming far from their houses when they play or go to school, and why this is bad for their mental health. It includes a map that shows how, over four generations, the roaming range afforded to kids has shrunk to the size a a backyard."

My wife and I are talking about this right now. She is leaning more toward homeschooling because the school is just under a mile away, there is no way we can let a kindergardener walk that far alone and across a major road.

It isn't abduction that is our big fear, it is all the crazy drivers around here. They have some good crosswalks around here and some bad ones. You can guess where we are:(

The US isn't Ready for the Next Big Thing

Inability to meet "grand challenges" of physics likely to hurt US competitiveness
: "Although the US has dominated the field during the 20th century, a number of reasons are listed to suggest that it is poorly positioned to continue at this pace. As someone who has followed the funding situation in biology carefully, the problems facing physics appear to be essentially identical."

It comes down to this. Our children don't have the education to solve these hard problems. They are too busy getting schooled.

The Universe of Discourse : How to calculate binomial coefficients

The Universe of Discourse : How to calculate binomial coefficients: "I ran across this algorithm last year while I was reading the Lilavati, a treatise on arithmetic written about 850 years ago in India. The algorithm also appears in the article on 'Algebra' from the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1768.

So this algorithm is simple, ancient, efficient, and convenient. And the problems with the other algorithm are obvious, or should be. Why isn't this better known?"

Okay, this is pretty darn advanced stuff, but it goes back a long way. The Seljuk empire was coming to a close at that time in Turkey but it controlled Northern India, as was the Sumatran Empire. So it was an exciting time of change.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TV's 'Mr. Wizard' Don Herbert dies at 89

TV's 'Mr. Wizard' Don Herbert dies at 89: "'He really taught kids how to use the thinking skills of a scientist,' said former colleague Steve Jacobs. He worked with Herbert on a 1980s show that echoed the original 1950s 'Watch Mr. Wizard' series, which became a fond baby boomer memory."

Now this is something terrible. Mr. Wizard was one of the greatest uses of television ever. Science was real when he was on. We'll miss him. Math is the language of science but he made it easy to understand and do.

The saddest thing of all is that Amazon doesn't seem to carry any of his shows. But you can head over to Mr. Wizard Studios to get them.

Science is dangerous and I think a lot of people are afraid of the nannys who sue when they see something dangerous. Heck, I remember reading that someone wanted to bring back an old chemistry kit but a third of it was illegal to sell and of the rest no corporate council would sign off on the risk. And we are wondering why there are never enough scientists and engineers to go around.

There aren't many science shows out there. Junkyard Wars, Mythbusters, Bill Nye and Alton Brown are the only ones I can think of. Sadly most of the other science shows skip the important parts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

How testing is changing kindergarden

The Times has a article that is troubling to me. I am a father of a 4-year-old and she just makes the birthday cutoff by 3 days. We are still a few months from the start of school, but I am not sure she is ready for kindergarden just yet.

My concern is that since she is so young, she will be put in the "gift of time" group which will put her at a disadvantage in school for the next decade. They tracked the effects of being too young into the 8th grade. She has shown us great creativity and problem solving skills. I really don't want her to be mind numbed just because of her birthdate.

I am sure that over time, that more and more schools will be moving up their birthday cutoffs just to do better on the standardized tests that come years later. They would be stupid not to, but I do not believe it to be in the best interests of the children to do it this way. But the best interests of the individual has never been a primary focus of education but rather the group, the state.

Homeschooling is looking better and better to my wife.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Its not the school, its the parents.

There is a lot of talk about successful schools and failing schools and how one stacks up against the other and so on. And I have come to realize that it isn't about the schools or the teachers. its the parents.

It is annoying when something is staring you in the face and you just don't notice it. This has been one of those things.

Many parents move so their children will be able to go to the "good school." Often these good schools are in the more affluent part of town. They spend lots of money on a house they can barely afford to help their children get a good education. These are the parents who make their children to do their homework before television and games. These are the parents who teach their children real world skills.

How many times have I heard teachers lament, "The parents aren't involved in their children's education."

With parents like these, these children would do well virtually anywhere. Look at the Asian community, they are often enough mixed in with everyone else but the parents make sure they do their homework and study for tests and they are involved, pushing and challenging their offspring.

Kansas city spent enormous sums of money on their school system a few years ago and nothing changed. The buildings were upgraded and everyone got books and lots of computers were made available but the parents stayed the same and so did test scores.

Are parents going to change? Not likely, they have quite enough to be going on with already. I just want to make it easier for those that do want their children to be successful.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Children can perform approximate math without arithmetic instruction %u2014 The Harvard University Gazette

Children can perform approximate math without arithmetic instruction %u2014 The Harvard University Gazette: "Children are able to solve approximate addition or subtraction problems involving large numbers even before they have been taught arithmetic, according to a study conducted at Harvard University by researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard."

This is a good thing to know about children's abilities..
Approximation is a useful skill and can be used all the time, but that is not mathematics.
My only fear is that they'll not leverage it but rather use it against our children to teach them more estimation and less actual math and hurt their innate abilities.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Loss of Creatively In Children

In a recent newsletter from Brian Tracy he mentions a study he found,
"In one series of I.Q. tests given to children ages 2 - 4 years, 95% of the children were found to be highly creative with curious, questioning minds and an ability for abstract thinking.

When the same children were tested again at age 7, only 5% still demonstrated high levels of creativity. In the ensuing years, they had learned to conform; "If you want to get along, you had better go along," is what they had discovered.

They had learned to color between the lines, to sit in neat little rows, to do and say what the other kids did and said, and to do as they were told. Over time, they lost the wonderful fearless spontaneity of youth and learned to suppress ideas and insights that were unusual or different."

Now I could not find a reference to a study nor could I find anything like it after a quick search on the web. So I have to ask myself do I believe this?

I have a 4 year old right now and she can be very creative, she found a basket of clothes pins and proceeded to use them as building blocks for a fence and then a little building. She also asks lots of questions which we try to answer as best we can in a manner she can understand.

I've also noticed that she'll pick up what other children are doing. Children about this age also are eager to please often enough.

School at the very least teaches conformity. Change activities when the bells ring. Stop doing one thing no matter how interesting or fun and do something else no matter how dull or boring. That works for managing large groups of children but it hurts the most important asset we have and that is the creativity of our children.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Worry Reduces Brain Function

"The women start worrying about screwing up which uses up important short term or working memory which could otherwise be used performing the task," said Sian Beilock, assistant professor in psychology at the University of Chicago and lead investigator in the study. "

Typically you have about 5+/-2 active memory slots in your mind, this is your short-term memory and is filled with things like what you are doing now, what you plan on doing next, how you family is doing. Worry will take up one or more of those precious slots.

If you start worrying about how well you're doing something then you will do a worse at it. It doesn't really matter if it is math or sports or writing.

People are deathly afraid of speaking in public, and they do badly because they are afraid of making mistakes.

When you're writing how often do you do editing at the same time, all the time. When really you need to do writing and then come back separately for editing.

How to overcome the worry handicap
Once you are aware that worry can impair your mental function you can do things to overcome it. One of the best things you can do is be "in the moment", which sounds rather new-agey and zen, but is the right idea. Basically, all you're trying to do is put all your worries and concerns off on the side for a while.

A couple of brain hack techniques I have used are:
1) Write your mind clutter down. Get out a piece of paper or a word processing document and just brain dump everything cluttering your mind onto it.

2) Use a worry box. This is a little woo-woo but works for me. Actually when I first heard of a worry box it wasn't about a physical box at all, it was about how as this one person aged the less she worried about things and described it as her worry box getting smaller. I simply take a physical object and let that represent all the worries, concerns and directives I am currently worrying about and I put it to one side. For example, I need to focus on writing a blog post, but a lot of things in my mind are producing lots of mental static, I let my watch represent all the worries I have, and put it in my pocket. This clears my mind and lets me work more effectively. When I am done I put my watch back on and things are back to the way they were, more or less. Usually less since I got at least one thing off of my To Do list.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How To Read Faster

zenhabits had a post today on speed reading but the interesting part were the comments. It was amazing to see how many people were citing studies and saying so many things to explain why they couldn't possibly learn to read faster. The funny thing is that it isn't impossible. I tested twice for reading and comprehension and scored at 1700 and 2000 wpm. and the 1700 score was when I was tired. I once when I went home for Christmas break I stopped by the bookstore to get some light reading, I finished a stack of 5 book (150-250 pages each) in about 8 hours. Am I doing the impossible? The Guinness Booke of Records has the fastest reader at 25,000wpm. I am less then 10% that.

Reading at a high rate of speed is possible. You can do it too. It won't be fast or easy. You won't expect to start a workout program and not experience aches and pains, even temporary weakness. The same will happen when you start trying to do something different with your mental muscles.

It takes 500-1000 hours of study to become expert in a new skill. At about 1 hour a day it will take a year or two of steady practice to get to a really high speed. That really isn't all that long.

Also you won't want to use speed reading techniques when learning something new or if you just want to enjoy something you are reading, like a poem.

If you are not careful you may end up not enjoying authors who are not prolific as they don't take the time to develop their stories and worlds very well. You'll end up having to read authors with greater then triolgy series like Clancy, Jordan, Eddings, Card, McCaffery.

The greatest benefit of speed reading is that it allows you to leverage that most precious resource: time. Time is your one resource that cannot be replenshed, but can be leveraged. What to learn something? Many people have written books after spending years--decades, even--learning how to do something well. You can gain that experience in a matter of hours just by reading. Take the Bible for example. After compiling hundreds of peoples and thousands of years of experince we can read it in a matter of days. Reading is a shortcut we won't live long enough to think all the thoughts that have been thought before. We can spring board off of their thinking to expand our own.

How to read faster

First you'll want to set up a reading training area. A comfortable seat in a quiet place with a good light and something to read and a timer.
A comfortable place to sit is important because if you are not comfortable then you'll be distracted by the pains in your body.
A quiet place, again you are trying to minimize distrations, eventually you'll be able to speed read anywhere but you are just starting out now, so make it easier on yourself.
Good lighting is primary, your eyes are photon receptors--the more photons they get the better. There are even special reading bulbs that put out 150+ Watts of light that are really very helpful.
A book, this doesn't need to be anything special, but don't use something important to read by tomorrow, you could use a book you've read before that you liked. that way you can tell if you missed something.
Record your starting page. Set the timer for 20 minutes. And start reading as fast as you can stand without skipping.

One of the first things you'll notice is that you're sounding out the words even if you aren't moving your lips. That is called subvocalization and tends to slow you down. Put a pencil or something between your teeth and that should help stop that. This is be the biggest boost to your reading speed.

Another thing that you'll find happening is that your eyes skip back to reread something from time to time. Rereading something you just read is not very efficient so you can use a finger or pointer of some kind to force you eyes to follow the page. Another thing that can help is a magnifying rod that magnifies one line at a time, this also helps make the words bigger and easier to read.

After twenty minutes you'll want to take a rest. Record what age you stopped on. Your eyes may be feeling a little strained you are using muscles in differenet ways. You may also have the beginnings of a headache as you have also been processing information more quickly then usual.

Stand up and stretch, and be sure to look at something far away to give those eyes a rest. Do something else and do it again tomorrow. After a week increase the time by 5 minutes. Once you get to an hour keep it there as by this time your body will have adjusted to this new work you're giving it to do.

It takes 500-1000 hours of study to become expert in a new skill. At about 1 hour a day it will take a year or two of steady practice to get to a really high speed. That really isn't all that long.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Strengths and weeknesses

There are a couple of ways with dealing with strengths and weaknesses. You can go to work on your weaknesses and make them strong. You can also outsource your weaknesses and have someone who is strong in that area do it for you.
You can't outsource dealing with an addiction but you can outsource things like bookkeeping and janitorial services. Once you figure out what you are trying to do you can decide what you personally need to do and what can and should be given to someone else to do. Not everything needs to be done by you, it just needs to ge done. Taking out the trash is a great example. taking out the trash is not rocket science and having a rocket scientist taking out his own trash is wasteful of his time, energy and money. If you want to run a business knowing bookkeeping/accounting is a good thing. but is being your own accountant a good thing? Not usually an entrepreneur should be creating new products and selling things. hire a bookkeeper to do the accounting, which leaves you more time to do more financially valuable things.
I see the economy moving towards more of an enterpreneurial condition, large companies have no disire to have large permanent staffs anymore. more and more people are becoming contracts whether they want to or not and that is a skill set that is not taught in school.
Microsoft did not become what it is because Bill Gates could do all the jobs, but because he hired the best people to do the jobs he couldn't do. Google is the same way. Thomas Edison did the same with at Menlow Park. He gathered the best and brightest he could find and pointed them in the direction he needed them to go, and let them find the best way there.

Getting to know yourself.

Know thyself has been one of the best pieces of advice out there. Finding what there is within you is vitally important to your happiness.

What things are you good at?
Persuading others
Building things
Intense curiosity

Everyone has a talent of some kind. Finding it can be a challenge sometimes if it is not obvious. It isn't enough to just know what your talent is but to take the time to hone it and perfect it. Far too many people who have a talent don't develop it as much as someone who isn't as good but has more desire to get better at it. Those people who take the time to perfect themselves, do the best and that makes all the difference.

How you deal with your strengths and weaknesses is an important factor in how well you do in life. By strengthening your strengths and understanding your weakness you can get far more done.

Say you want to start a business and you are good at making chairs. Making chairs tends to make a lot of sawdust. Now it is fairly important to get the sawdust out of the way from time to time. It can interfere with the tools and become a fire hazard. But if you are not good with a broom, then hiring someone to clean up the dust from time to time can free you up to make more chairs more quickly.

If, on the other hand you have weakness that is interfering with your life, an addiction or something that someone else can't do for you, it is important to for you to grow by confronting it and overcoming it making it a strength.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Despite all the talk of socialization, few children actually learn teamwork in school.

Oh, its not that they don't work in groups, but their work doesn't really allow for real teamwork. A team brings people with different capabilities together to accomplish a certain goal. This happens only with sports teams and the band/orchestra but most other teams have pretty much faded away to make more time for getting ready for the test.

In most group learning situations the person who knows the answer hands the answer out to everyone else. When I was in school this was called cheating and hurt the cheater more then the cheatee, mainly because they got the grade but not the knowledge. In some cases the person that knows understands that giving the answers away is not fair, but between a grading system that gives the whole group the same grade and peer pressure they see no other choice. They could try teaching the others but the other students don't believe that the knowledge is all that important or the teacher would actually make them learn it. The fair thing to do is to split all the problems evenly between the student and they each do them. But that is just individual learning, and back where we started and then we still test them as individuals.

I am not sure how this happened but a lot of good teaching ideas just seem to end up reinforcing the idea that knowledge is worthless.

To learn team work you need to have a team, people with different abilities working together toward a common goal.
A sports team is obvious but there are plenty of others.
A band or orchestra, even a garage rock band is a team if they are going to sound good.
A theatre troupe.
Many clubs have goals, in a rocketry club they could build a rocket that is fastest to height or carries the heaviest payload or something. A birdwatching club can do a species survey.
Join a volunteer group or even start a business.

It is differences working together toward a common goal that makes a group a team.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Learning New Skills

Becoming an expert a new skill often takes 500-1000 hours of study and effort. That's 4-6 months of regular office time. My second boss a great old guy said most people can learn a new skill in 90 days. I wasn't sure I believed him at first but he reminded me of how long a semester of school was.

Can you learn a new skill faster? Sure you can.
• A mentor, someone who has learned it before can help guide you past some of the pit falls and it can cut your learning time in half.
• If you are passionate about learning something, and the material is presented in an interesting way then you can learn something at 30 times the normal rate.

Most schools take a couple of years to teach algebra, presented in the most brutally boring way imaginable. The fundamentals of algebra don't actually have to take up that much time. For those interested in it, it only takes about 20 hours to learn.

There are two ways to learn to remember something, keep repeating it to yourself until you brain cries, "Uncle." and remembers it for you or you can make it interesting, not entertaining but interesting, and it will remember it right off.

Learning New Skills

Becoming an expert a new skill often takes 500-1000 hours of study and effort. That's 4-6 months of regular office time. My second boss a great old guy said most people can learn a new skill in 90 days. I wasn't sure I believed him at first but he reminded me of how long a semester of school was.

Can you learn a new skill faster? Sure you can.
• A mentor, someone who has learned it before can help guide you past some of the pit falls and it can cut your learning time in half.
• If you are passionate about learning something, and the material is presented in an interesting way then you can learn something at 30 times the normal rate.

Most schools take a couple of years to teach algebra, presented in the most brutally boring way imaginable. The fundamentals of algebra don't actually have to take up that much time. For those interested in it, it only takes about 20 hours to learn.

There are two ways to learn to remember something, keep repeating it to yourself until you brain cries, "Uncle." and remembers it for you or you can make it interesting, not entertaining but interesting, and it will remember it right off.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Getting to know yourself.

Know thyself has been one of the best pieces of advice out there. Finding what there is within you is vitally important to your happiness.

What things are you good at?
Persuading others
Building things
Intense curiosity

Everyone has a talent of some kind. Finding it can be a challenge sometimes if it is not obvious. It isn't enough to just know what your talent is but to take the time to hone it and perfect it. Far too many people who have a talent don't develop it as much as someone who isn't as good but has more desire to get better at it. Those people who take the time to perfect themselves, do the best and that makes all the difference.

How you deal with your strengths and weaknesses is an important factor in how well you do in life. By strengthening your strengths and understanding your weakness you can get far more done.

Say you want to start a business and you are good at making chairs. Making chairs tends to make a lot of sawdust. Now it is fairly important to get the sawdust out of the way from time to time. It can interfere with the tools and become a fire hazard. But if you are not good with a broom, then hiring someone to clean up the dust from time to time can free you up to make more chairs more quickly.

If, on the other hand you have weakness that is interfering with your life, an addiction or something that someone else can't do for you, it is important to for you to grow by confronting it and overcoming it making it a strength.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Do you think our schools are just fine?

The Denver Post - School reform: A major '08 pitch: "The biggest problem school reformers face nationally is that the majority of people think school systems are working well, said education-policy expert Van Schoales."

Lots of people do think our schools are just fine. I am not one of them.

How much math Chinese students learn in elementary school doesn't concern me much. I worry about whether these reformers are going to be pushing for tighter and tighter standards and even further away from the education that made this country so great.

The younger years of our children need to be a time to explore and experiment. They need to learn what they like to do and what they hate to do and figure out how they can spend the most time doing good.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Virginia Tech Fallout

It looks as though you can't talk about what to do if something similar happens in your classroom.

For all the protestations about not restricting academic free speech, there certainly seem to be some areas that are strictly off limits. It is interesting to see what comes up that way. I would not have thought personal safety would have been one of them.

It is best to think about the unthinkable before the unthinkable starts happening. The thing of it is that bad things happen and ignoring them won't keep them from happening.

You can decide now if you will stay away from drugs, alcohol and how you might react to a terrorist attack. The Boy Scout Motto is "Be Prepared" I am an Eagle Scout, and what I learned most about being prepared is, it is more about mindset then equipment. Not that equipment isn't useful but knowing what to do in a situation helps you overcome the "freeze" when your mind is trying to figure out what to do and you've not thought about it before.

Virtually all training is centered around the idea of "when this happens, do this." This radically decreases the amount of time that you will take to react to a situation. Typical reaction times are around 0.2 sec. While a person will decide on a whether a website is good or not is about 3 seconds. So you can save quite a bit of time if you do the decision making process first, not in the moment, which takes a long time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Systemic Problems

The Establishment Rethinks Globalization: "Americans can choose to blame China or disloyal multinationals, but the problem is grounded in US politics. The solution can be found only in Washington. China and other developing nations are pursuing national self-interest and doing what the system allows. In a way, so are the US multinationals. 'I want to stress it's a system problem,' Gomory says. 'The directors are doing the job they're sworn to do. It's a system that says the companies have to have a sole focus on maximizing profit.'
There are a plenty of systemic problems in many large complex systems. I believe that our schools have systemic problems. Many companies have internal systemic problems, just call for support on a computer problem and more often then not you'll see what I mean. How many bureaucracies exist when the problem they were created to no longer exist?

He talks about shovel to shovel competition, sure we can build a bigger shovel but we are not 4 times stronger then most other humans. Sure we can innovate and build a machine that can move huge amounts of dirt, but it can be built there as well as here.

Most people work to maximize their profit, which isn't always a paycheck, and an organization will do that too. Change the nature of the game and the rules are no longer restrictions but freedom.

Library books

Libraries are great things, you can find all kinds of good and interesting things to read. I am reading the History of Mathematics but it is a somewhat dense book and so it will go back for a little while. Actually it is beginning to get interesting since I reached the Greeks, we have primary documents about them and what they did, not all but enough to get an idea of what they went through in their exploration of mathematics.
They sure were a contentious bunch, on the one hand wanting a perfect system that explained everything but they kept finding things that blew their theories out of the water. Some of them didn't want to accept that so they fought about it.
I'll get back to it soon enough, but I need to recharge a bit first.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fight or Flight and Predetermined Decisions

How do you react to a situation depends a lot on what you have already decided to do. The sad thing is that most people never think about what they should do in a situation, so they end up panicking and not really deciding anything and often just going with the herd. It also doesn't help that Hollywood often shows what not to do being successful in many films for cool visual effects.

It doesn't matter if you choose fight or flight both are valid responses to critical situations, by deciding beforehand you remove the freeze that comes when you are busy trying to decide when there is no time to decide. The hesitation is not all that long but when things are happening in small fractions of a second, not having that hesitation can save your life or the life of others, as you act while others are still trying to identify the problem.

I was involved in a car crash a long time ago when a drunk driver crossed the median of the interstate. While I had imagined such an incident, not something you can really practice, I was ready to steer onto the shoulder. The only problem was that he wasn't traveling straight down the street but diagonally across it. I was able to get my foot on the brake, which amazed the cops, but violently turning the wheel at freeway speeds does nothing for a very long time. I survived and learned.

Prepare your mind to act by deciding what you will do beforehand and that way you will act quickly when the time comes, when there is no time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech Shooting

The shooting at Virginia Tech is a terrible thing. My heart goes out to all the victims who were just there to learn something to make their lives better. My heart also goes out to the shooter, he should not have done it, of course, but college can be very hard and demanding, far from home and without a support system until you make one yourself. Which can be very hard when you are going to school, doing homework and working.

What to do in such a circumstance? First don't panic, find cover, determine what is happening, and evacuate the area in a rational manner. The police are going to take a very long time to show up, so don't expect to be able to sit there and be rescued, you need to rescue yourself.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Babylonian mathematics

I am finding the History of Math book most fascinating. The Babylonians based their number system on base 60.

To given you an idea of what that would be like here is how we represent base 16:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 A1 B1 C1 D1 E1 F1 20...

To do the same with base 60 we would end up using the English alphabet, the Greek alphabet and still come up a bunch of characters short before we could use zero to get to "ten." Obviously it could handle really large numbers quite easily.

The funny thing is that we still use it to a limited extent today. We divide minutes into 60 seconds and hours into 60 minutes, there are also 360 (6x60) degrees in a circle.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thought Books

I don't really care for "great literature" mainly because all the great literature I had to read in school was all the same. The protagonists, I can't bring myself to call them heros, made some bad decisions, gets smacked with piles of irony and them dies. Four years of that kind of story and people wonder why no one reads books any more.

That said there are a number of books that should be read because they have influenced a large number of people. These will only be a sampling but I am sure you can find some more. These are the kinds of things don't study at the beginning of your education but closer to the middle, where you are ready for some challenges to your own paradigms. For good or bad these books have inspired people and it is best to be aware of them.

Primary religious books have influenced the greatest number of people. They have inspired some people to endure great suffering and other to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty.

Economic books have had great influence on thought as well. Authors like Adam Smith, John Keynes, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Marx and Ann Rand are some of the top influencers. Right or wrong they have gotten nations to act in certain ways. It is interesting how something called the dismal science and that doesn't really try to go out and be influential, they have made some very large impacts in the lives of virtually everyone on the planet.

Those are the most influential books, then there are the much smaller inspirational books that you may have heard of, these are optional reading, because while they have been influential to many people the groups have been very small and haven't been organized to really do anything. These include works like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Art of War, Ender's Game, Spiritual Marketing, How to Win Friends and Influence People. You'll find a lot of these in the Self Help section of the library or bookstore.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - The Official Dilbert Website by Scott Adams - Dilbert, Dogbert and Coworkers! - The Official Dilbert Website by Scott Adams - Dilbert, Dogbert and Coworkers!


Keep Going Kathy

Kathy finally posted again and is wondering where to go from here. Blogging is not about money, as it is most often done for free. Blogging is about community, it is about bringing people together on a particular topic and discussing it.

I want her to keep blogging but it need not be daily and a group blog would be a wonderful thing. I gladly volunteer to provide content.

I encourage her to start a project and continue on in greatness. Kathy has created a lot of love her and her products and ideas, and Newton's Law being what it is some people are hating her for that.

While I feel bad for Kathy, I feel a great pity for those who did this to her. They tear down instead of building the greatness within themselves. They are so wrapped up in envy and hate that it is a wonder they can function at all. They just remind me of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings.

There are plenty of people who have gone negative. "That will never work." "Yeah, but...." We need to surround ourselves with positive people and we will acheive something great.

There is also the Blogger Code of Conduct that has been posted and is being discussed. I just don't see the point. The poeple who act like they did are not going to stop and reconsider just because of a silly badge. They left civilized behavior behind long ago, if they ever learned it in the first place.

This is just a skirmish in the larger war of civilization. It is not just the war on terror, though it is a part of it, but it involves the daily decisions we make on the playground and in the boardroom and at the water cooler.

Civilization is organized enough to build the tools we need to defend against the bullies of the world, whether they are armed with keyboards or bombbelts. I no longer hate them or fear them, but I will exclude and ignore them. If they wish to grow up I will welcome them, if they want to build I will help them.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Potential homeschooling pitfalls

I think homeschooling is wonderful for some families, it doesn't work for everyone but for more then enough to make it worthwhile. More people do it them they think, if you help your children with their homework, you are homeschooling really.

The main objection to homeschooling I hear is "What about their socialization?" My general thought I if that is the best you can come up with there are some deep problems on your side. Not that it isn't a potential issue, if you get a ll insular then your children can run into some issues, like not being able to stand filling out forms and waiting for a bureaucracy to accomplish something.

Getting involved with group activities is important that way. Volunteering for some community service, joining a sports team or the local Boy Scout troop will make a big difference there. Schools have cut virtually all extracurricular activities not directly related to the sports teams, so often you'll have to go outside the school anyway.

There are clubs and associations for all kinds of things, bird watching, rocketry, collectable card games, and more then I can imagine, I keep running across groups doing things I would never have thought of. Go to your local library they are often the focal point of contact for these kinds of groups.

While there are lots of groups out there they may not be doing what you want to do, that is okay. That means you may have to create your own social group to do things with. You might as well do it right as part of training for the real world. Create a name, rules of association, choose a leader or committee of leaders and so on.

People are social and it is best to do a lot of that and also to create bounds to make what you are doing clear.

Friday, April 6, 2007

BrainTeaser: Would the Plane still take off?

I ran across this brain teaser a while ago and I thought I'd post it.

If you built a 100 foot wide, mile long runway that was a conveyor belt that would exactly counter the effect of the wheels on an airplane would the airplane still take off.

How to solve this?
One question to ask is; does it matter if the plane has wheels? Of course not, there are seaplane that use pontoons to take off from the water, and planes can also be fitted with skis for taking off on snow. We could take the physicist take on that matter and set the plane on a frictionless plane instead. So really the wheels are not all that important to the problem.

Plane fly because of the flow of air over the wings that provide lift and the trust of the engines, the drag of the aircraft itself and the force of gravity.

So back to the problem, when the pilot spools up the engines, the plane pushes itself forward, the wheels will move forward slightly, the conveyor with have to move forward slightly to counteract the roll of the wheels, that will still move the plane forward. All the plane wants to do is to move forward so it can have airflow over the wings and that is happening even if the wheels are not moving.

So the plane should take off normally.

The History of Mathematics

Is a book I just found in the library. It caught my eye because the forward is by Isaac Asimov the most prolific writer ever.

It is starting out in Egypt, and how they developed geometry. He discusses two major theories of why they developed geometry:
1) because they needed it to determine where everyones land was after the annual flooding of the Nile
2) because the priests had leisure time to think about such concepts.

To my mind it has to be both. There has to be a need defined, how much land was redeposited and who owns and what recompense needs to be made to those who lost land and what extra taxes need to assessed to those now with more land.

There also needs to be time to think about and develop the rules to solve the problem and do it right each time.

The pursuit of math for maths sake or anything for that matter has been a conceit of the modern world. Most people like to solve problems not just create castles in the air just because it is interesting, but because it put food on the table.

I'll be commenting on this book from time to time. It does look interesting.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

What Schools are skipping on the way to better grades

The Mrs. has quite a post on what the terrorist playbook is, the saddest thing is that we've encountered this playbook before.

The anarchists used the same plays to try to spark the revolution that ended up starting WWI and ended with the Bomb at WWII which begat the Cold War and the War on Terror. And all they really want is a major incident they can spin so they can gain personal power over more people. All we need to do is deny them that, and that is what we are doing, though most people are of the opinion things are going badly.

Sadly, history and most subjects really are being skipped to put more time into passing the test so the teachers will continue to get funded. This is no great surprise either, people will spend lots of time doing that which will maximize their return on investment. That's just basic economics but, economics is being skipped too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


"Sticks and Stones
may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me."

This old refrain is something parents use to help comfort their children when someone says something bad about them. But it isn't true.

The truth is that words hurt far more and have a longer lasting effect then physical hurts ever will. Words are vastly powerful. Words are what Hitler used to stir up the German people, words are what Churchill used to rally the Brits against the Nazis.

Words have been used to lift people up and also to destroy them.

Words are so important that the Founding Fathers make the First Amendment about freedom of speech, yet we still have and need libel laws and you can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Poets, politicians and copywriters spend long hours in wordcraft, because they know just how powerful words are. The poet seeks to elicit certain emotional responses, the politician to persuade us to vote for him and copywriters to buy his stuff. Bullies use words more then violence to get their way, because it is easier and more effective. Terrorist are even using words to make make it seem like what they are doing is justified.

Many people are clueless as to what power their words have, thinking that their actions and even volume level is enough. Having control of words is a more powerful tool then any other.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

How to Read a Scientific Research Paper--

How to Read a Scientific Research Paper--: "Reading research papers ('primary articles') is partly a matter of
experience and skill, and partly learning the specific vocabulary of a
field. First of all, DON'T PANIC! If you approach it step by step, even
an impossible-looking paper can be understood."

This much like the technique I have used for any kind of new material I have to read.

This is sensemaking really.

1. Skim the information to get a handle for keywords, jargon (look these up), referenced books and authors. This will take a few books and several articles.

2. Build a mental framework, try relating it to things you already know.

3. Find the experts in the field and get to know what they have written.

4. Keep a journal and record it all.

Monday, April 2, 2007

April is Math Awareness Month

The American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics announce that the theme for Mathematics Awareness Month 2007 is Mathematics and the Brain.

Getting Started in Learning

We talked to my niece over the weekend and she is thinking about educating her boy, the schools where they are are just not very good.

Now, their son is only a year old so there is a little time to get something together but I have found some really good things online.

There are three places that I have found with great material for free.

Google Books:
Project Gutenberg:
Internet Archive Text Archive:

They are chock full of all kinds of wonderful material, if you can find it.

Since these things are changing rather quickly it is best to search from time to time.
The search terms that have been most profitable to me have been:
• Primer
• Elementary
• Introductory
• Primary

You get whole books like a spelling primer from Noah Webster (the dictionary guy), the New England Primer for teaching reading, the McGuffey Primers for early reading, primary math books from Joseph Ray, and much more. Many of them are out of copyright and so you can download the whole book and use it any way you want.

Supporting Kathy Sierra

After this little time of quiet it is time to make noise.

The only way for bad to win is if good does nothing and I am now doing something.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A week of no blogging

I started this blog becuase of the inspiration I found from Kathy's Creating Passionate Users Blog, and If find what has happened to her most disturbing.

I am joining with Scoble to be silent for this week to emphasize that this behavior is wrong.

“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”

– John Wayne, actor

I might not have blogged much before but this changes things.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Math team solves the unsolvable E8 | Tech News on ZDNet

Math team solves the unsolvable E8 | Tech News on ZDNet: "Project leaders said that the work is important for several reasons. First, it brought together 18 math professors who typically work alone, in a landmark project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Second, that large-scale computing factored heavily into solving the equation means that other difficult and long-standing math problems could be understood this way. And the work might lead to new discoveries in mathematics and physics. "

This is Big Math writ large. There are lots of big hard problems that are only big and hard because they require so much calculation that it would takes hundreds of people thousands of years to work though. With Moore's Law holding up as well as it it, we'll be solving more of these types of problems.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pi Day

Today is Pi day. That most useful mathematical constant which relates the diameter of a circle to its circumference.

The ancient Greeks knew about it. They did have a slight problem, their number system didn't help them think in terms of non whole numbers. It wasn't as primitive as the Roman system which was little more then tally marks.

But they did understand ratios so they could approach it pretty well.

They attacked the problem in a great way. They would draw a circle and then draw a square inside. Finding the circumference of a square is easy, but it really isn't very close to the circumference of a circle. They knew that too, so they kept drawing polygons with more and more sides, like hexagons (6 sides) and octagons (8 sides) and so on.

Not only did they work from the inside but also the outside surrounding the circle with polygons with more and more sides. They were using the Limit Theorem which wasn't quantified until Newton and Leibnitz.

So after all that work they knew that pi was a little more then 3. We know it is 3.14159... which would have driven them crazy as its a irrational number, they liked the purity of whole numbers and even coined the term irrational number to ridicule the idea that numbers could be anything else.

Not that it stopped them from using it. They wanted to know how big the earth was. They understood that it was round. So they devised an experiment. Using two deep wells a known distance apart, they were able to calculate the circumference of the Earth with an error of something like a couple of hundred miles, which is amazing. Sure now we can measure it to less then centimeters but they didn't have near our technology.

Now it wouldn't be Pi day without a Pie recipe.

I really like Alton Brown's Pie dough
But our filling is a little different:
About four apples, Cameo or Granny Smith, sliced thin
3-4 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 Tbsp cinnamon powder
In the pie shell layer the apples with some dabs of butter, and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Learning Languages

There are several languages that we use everyday, many of which we are not really formally taught in that I want my children to learn. These are tools to all them to express themselves better:

• English
• Second Human Language
• Mathematics
• Music
• Art
• Body
• Computer Language

I am going with English as a first language, but you can go with whatever your native tongue is. And I want her to also learn another language. I learned a lot more about English in my German classes then I did in my English grammar classes. I don't really care if its Latin, Spanish or Mandarin, learning a second language is a bit for work that provides great insight into your native tongue.

Mathematics is the language of money, business and science. It doesn't get much more important then that. Lots of people seem to be proud of not getting math. I think that is sad. It is much too useful not to master.

Music enhances emotional experiences. It is also pervasive, go into any store and music will be playing. Music is a wonderful way to express yourself. So learning a instrument and how to read music is a great gift.

I am classifying Art as virtually everything outside of music just because music has a vastly different notation, but whether you are using watercolors, marble or photography as a medium you still learn the vocabulary of dimension, color, perspective and balance.

You body is expressive as well. I use body instead of sports as sports is often linked to a game like baseball. It could just as well be dance or rock climbing. Knowing how to use your body is a good thing. Learning to control and maintain your body is a big deal it needs to last and knowing how to take good care of it is important.

Computers are everywhere, they are an integral part of our lives now and for the foreseeable future they will only become more pervasive. Learning to program a computer may just be as vital a skill as driving a car. At least a good understanding of it can only be helpful.

Finally, each of these languages provides a mindset, a way at looking at problems and how to solve them. I found a lot of my learning in school locked these into different compartments in my mind. Breaking down the walls between them has been very valuable to me and I am sure to my children.