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.