Archive for December, 2005

Ahh, the lovely sounds of fine photography…

December 17, 2005 3 comments

OK, I know that Ansel Adams, in addition to being one of the greatest photographers who ever lived, was also an accomplished pianist whose understanding of the musical scale inspired his Zone System of photographic exposure control.  But this seems a little exploitive.  The 2-CD set is not recordings of Adams’ playing, or even his personal favorites recorded – just melodies someone decided to collect and slap his name on for marketing purposes.

Categories: Stupidity

Compensate much?

December 17, 2005 10 comments

I normally enjoy the creative things people do with their vehicles – in our country one’s car is definitely a method of self-expression.  But this one gets a different reaction from me.

The picture you are seeing was taken out the driver-side window of our Mitsubishi 4-door, which is a mid-sized car neither very big or very small.  This truck’s indestructable steel bumper just about lines up with our car window.

There is no functional need for the truck to be jacked up this high; it gleams like a show-car and shows no sign of ever having gotten muddy.  (Though the vanity license plate, which I have blurred out, suggests that the driver is very manly).

This is the reductio ad absurdum of the notion that if a bigger vehicle is safer, one should drive the biggest vehicle possible.  Surely the driver of this truck is safe from collision with any standard car.  But the driver of other the car will be killed.

Insurance companies call this the ‘kill ratio’ of a car: the number of occupants who die in crashes in proportion to the number of people in the other car.  Not surprisingly, car companies do not advertise this important measure.  The ratio in side-impact collisions for typical full-sized SUV’s, for instance, amounts to a 27:1 kill ratio advantage when striking standard cars.  What do you suppose the ratio would be in this vehicle?

This guy is willing to subject others to mortal danger so he can feel really cool.  To paraphrase the old saying; “Any sufficiently advanced arrogance is indistinguishable from malice.”  If he strikes someone I care about, I will regard their death as a deliberate murder and act accordingly. 

Categories: Safety & Health

Lessons of a crazy week

December 15, 2005 1 comment

I work two half-time jobs on campus, and the much anticipated move of one of my jobs from one building to another took place this week.  The building where that office had been is scheduled for demolition so we thought it might be a good idea to move ahead of the wrecking-ball.

Over the weekend I moved our main file server to a third building (the one that pertains to my other job) so it would maintain uptime during the move.  I also had lunch with a bunch of Circus people at a new restaurant where you fill a bowl with stuff, and they stir fry it for you.  The food was good and I highly recommend circus people for company :-)

As the day approached we packed and labelled, and I spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth between the old and new locations, tape measure in hand.

Two days before the scheduled move, bad weather threatened to move into our area, so we moved the move up one day.  The following afternoon, I received a phone call from Verizon; “All the network and telephone jacks are wired wrong.”  In less than 24 hours, heavy furniture would be placed in front of said network jacks and rewiring would become a serious problem.

That was a very late night, but we got the jacks problem solved before the moving vans pulled up.  Verizon set up a phone system I’d once salvaged from another building, vindicating my policy of never throwing stuff away (as it saved a rather significant chunk of cash).

Only problem with the week was that I have to be careful about fatigue.  When I get overtired, my fibromyalgia starts to get worse; but last night I slept reasonably well and this evening I had a good PT session at the gym.  So I should get to the weekend in decent condition. (Fingers crossed – I’m feeling a little bit on the borderline)

Our programmer got back from India, just in time to battle a PhP exploit that hit one of our servers.  Guess we just wanted to welcome her back properly.  She brought sweets her mother made.  One of them is a gelatin-like substance with a reflective coat of silver on one side – I kid you not.  I mean, actual metallic silver.  Some of the others are flat and crunchy, or round balls that taste like nuts.  These all go well with coffee.  As much as I enjoy donuts, I am always ready to try something new.

Everyone is pretty functional in their new offices now – people are amazingly adaptable.  I have some shopping to do tomorrow – have to go get some KVM switches and a db25 extension cable.  This weekend I’ll move our file server into the new location and voila!  we will be moved.

Oh, yes – I said something about lessons!  First, if someone says “we will do the wiring for you,” it is OK to press for details as different standards may be assumed.  Second, I hate Panduit brand Ethernet jacks – I prefer the Avaya kind where you use a punch-down tool. (I’d never seen the Panduit kind before this week, but it’s real easy to get a compression short if you don’t line up the wires just so.  And you’re stuck with 1/2-inch of straight wire no matter what you do – I can get down to a quarter-inch with the Avaya.)  Third, moving is a good thing to have behind you, instead of ahead of you.

In all, a very satisfying week.

Categories: Personal

Midnight in Normal, Illinois

December 13, 2005 4 comments

Our all-wise city planners are devising a $30m hotel and conference center, which means demolition of some ugly buildings.  This was just completed yesterday, which opens a nice view of the University Christian church.  Unfortunately, this view will again be impossible after the monument to small-town hubris is completed.

Categories: Personal

What has changed since last Christmas?

December 11, 2005 3 comments

At the store where my son works, corporate headquarters decided everyone should greet customers with the phrase; “Happy Holidays!”  There have been a few incidents of customers coming completely unglued, screaming at the poor clerks that they’re ruining Christmas because Jesus, something, blah-blah…

What has changed since I last wrote about this issue in a post entitled, Merry Christmas, Macy’s?

The “Christmas war” has been ramped up a little bit.  In his book, The War On Christmas,  author John Gibson complains that those awful secularists are trying to ruin Christmas by removing ‘any mention of Jesus’ from the public square.  But several things have not changed.

That uber-Pinhead, Bill O’Reilley, is still exploiting the issue for ratings and personal aggrandizement.  The ACLU is still not trying to remove Christmas from the marketplace, and they are still opposing tax-funded promotion of any one religion over another.  They have still not sued any private entity, store, or person for any expression of faith.  They are still being accused trying to destroy Christianity while defending the right to expression of faith.

Another thing that has not changed is that it is still extremely bad manners to take offense at a blessing or when no offense is intended.  If there are legal issues to address (such as if tax dollars are involved in the promotion of a religion), then address them.  But it is idiotic to harrass anyone for a friendly greeting.

I am an atheist – I don’t believe in your god.  I might be annoyed if you back me into a corner and start preaching to me.  But if you wish me a ‘Merry Christmas’, or a ‘Happy Holiday’, I’ll smile back and wish you the same.  Christmas is both a religious and secular holiday, enjoyed by people of all faiths and no faith whatever.  What could possibly be wrong with good wishes?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Categories: Issues, News

Do you own a movie theatre?

December 10, 2005 4 comments

I have a small television, don’t have cable, and occasionally watch movies on DVD. So it’s a mystery to me what drives sales of the giant televisions and multi-speaker home theatre systems you see in stores.  Or at least, it was a mystery until I read this comment on a thread about the Narnia movie, over on SEB:

Ulfrekr writes: “So I am sitting here at 10:48, having just gone to a 9:45 showing of “Narnia”. How, you may ask, do I find myself at home a mere hour after the movie started? Well, it’s a sad story. See, some brain trust decided it would be a good idea to bring their 2-year-old kid to a late show on opening night. As a further display of their parental prowess, they decided to sit in the front row of the theater and give their child indulgent looks as he repeatedly tried to jump onto the front railing, giving a little yelp each time. Before long, even the obnoxious teenagers who had started the movie clearly intent on talking through it had shut up and started glaring at this kid. But it gets better. Not content with merely irritating 150 people five times his size, the little prodigy decided…”

It gets worse; MUCH worse as the parents strive to be more obnoxious than their kid.  If you own a movie theater, you should read the whole thing to see why people are willing to spend so much on hardware so they don’t have to put up with this kind of crap.  (There’s quite a bit of well-deserved profanity in the comment)

Every time I see a movie, I have to deal with lesser examples of the kind of behavior Ulfrekr describes.  I also see, on screen, announcements that say; “Please be considerate of other patrons”.  What does that even mean, anyway?  Apparently you have to spell it out.  I suggest a series of live-action PSA’s to be shown right before each movie.  They should be produced by big-name movie-producers, who after all, have an interest in the movie theater industry:

(Tough-looking guy in leather jacket shoves noisy patron out the emergency exit of a theater.  They are now standing in the alley, with urban noises in the background.  Tough guy has Brooklyn accent)
TG:“Hey, what the hell is wrong with you?”  (shoves patron, who trips over garbage)  “Everybody else in there paid for their ticket same as you.  They weren’t payin’ to hear your sorry voice!”
NP: (looking around for help – there is none)  “I – I – hey, I…”
TG:  “Not so talkative now, are you?  You’re pathetic!  If you want people to pay to hear your voice in a movie theater, take acting lessons and suck up to movie producers.  Otherwise, SHUT… UP!!”
(Cut to TG extracting NP’s cell phone and stomping it as NP wets his pants)

There should be a number of rotating scripts so it isn’t the same PSA every time.  They could do ones about kids, talking, cell-phones, and so on.  They could even use famous movie characters: superheroes, Hannibal Lechter, Happy Gilmore, The Punisher, each trying to enjoy a movie and straightening out noisy patrons.  If you make them entertaining enough, people would email them around on the web and the valuable message of “Shut your pie hole when you’re in the theater!” would spread.

In a Halloween PSA, Freddy Kreuger is trying to enjoy a movie when someone in the row in front of him is talking on a cell phone.  He messily dispatches them and goes back to watching the movie.  As blood runs down the sloping floor, someone several rows below whispers to his date; “I hate how the floor is always sticky in movie theaters!”

Categories: Stupidity

The unexpected disability

December 9, 2005 4 comments

How does your state hold up in gifted-education programs?  The states in blue on this map mandate support for education of gifted students, and (crucially) provide funding for that purpose.  On the other extreme are the states in red, which neither require nor fund gifted education.  I am not happy to see where Illinois falls on that continuum.

In an 06 November 2005 Chicago Tribune interview, authors Jan and Bob Davidson (Genius Denied) explain just what’s wrong with spending 143 times more money on special education than on gifted education:

  • Gifted children are often misdiagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder

  • 10 to 20 percent of high-school dropouts are gifted
  • Many gifted children underachieve to fit in
  • Skipping grades is less harmful than most people realize (when the child already has little in common with his or her age peers)
  • Giftedness crosses socioeconomic lines, but is more noticeable among the wealthy because of funding-enabled challenge
  • Straight-A students are not necessarily gifted; they may simply be very obedient

In the long-run, gifted vs. special-ed funding is not a zero-sum game.  There is an enormous social cost when a gifted student drops out of school, and considerable school funding may be directed at keeping under-challenged kids quiet and in their seats.

The authors also have a Gifted Exchange, and point to two other popular works: A Nation Deceived, (How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students)” and Stand Up For Your Gifted Child.

Why does this matter to me?  My middle and youngest sons both tell me I’m deluded to think schools would, even given the funding, do any better at educating gifted children than they currently do with the majority.  But maybe I’m just an optimist.  I like to believe that, if we made it a priority, we could stop pushing talented kids to the edge of failure in pathologically boring classrooms. 

Maybe we could get curiosity and intellectual drive declared as handicaps, so gifted education would fall under Americans with Disability Act.  Hmmm…


  • There’s a discussion of this issue going on over at Mostly Cajun, including some very interesting comments from a Texas special education teacher.

  • I’ve added Catana’s website, the Vorpal Blade to my links column, as she has a strong focus on issues for gifted students and adults.  I hadn’t thought of gifted adults – come to think of it, corporate life isn’t exactly a playground for gifted adults.
Categories: Education

Snow and lights

December 8, 2005 2 comments

We got hit with about 5 inches of snow, blowing with high winds today.  Naturally it happens just as we are preparing to move one of our offices into another building.
On the bright side, our neighbors have set up lovely Christmas lights to reflect off the new-fallen snow.  Though I seldom (and I mean, almost never) have energy for decoration, I do appreciate those who do.  :-)

Categories: Geeky, Weather

Rotten apple for teacher

December 6, 2005 Comments off

If you suspected that it’s hard to fire an incompetent schoolteacher, you are right:

The (Small newspaper group) investigation found only 7 percent of the state’s 876 school systems have attempted to fire a tenured teacher since the mid-1980s, when Illinois passed a landmark school-reform act designed to promote teacher accountability. Of those attempts, 62 percent of districts were successful in terminating the tenured educator.

Of the more than 95,000 tenured teachers employed in the state, an average of only two per year are fired for poor job performance, the investigation found. Another five per year on average are dismissed for misconduct.
- State Journal-Register Online, Illinois public schools rarely fire tenured teachers

Well there’s a shocker.  It calls to mind one of my kids’ Spanish teachers, who couldn’t speak (and could barely read) Spanish.  Or another of my kids’ teachers with kids failing her math class who were making A’s in all their other classes, and who claimed the kids were the problem.  Or another of their teachers who humiliated one of my kids’ friends in front of the class for having yellow teeth.  She won “Illinois Teacher of the Year” and received a grant.  Or the science teacher who once told one of my kids that the reason the equator was warmer than the poles is “it’s closer to the sun.”  I could write more examples, and we put only three kids through the system.

The investigators said that strong teacher’s unions and high legal costs “often scare many school districts from getting rid of even the worst tenured teachers.” The investigation is part of a six-part series, unfolding at  Obviously the investigators have an axe to grind, but it’s damned interesting reading.  I would not think it ‘anti-teacher’ in any way to ask teachers to be good employees, know their subjects, and exercise good professional judgment.

Tenure is a nice idea, and there are a few really brilliant teachers out there who need the protection it offers.  But my experience suggests the reverse is not uncommon; really bad teachers who say, in effect, “What are you going to do?  I have tenure!”

Is it any surprise local school districts and teacher’s unions dispute the study?  Jim Dougherty, president of the Illinois Federation of teachers, said “so few teachers are fired because so few need to be.”

Well there you have it.

Categories: Education

Yes, we still need you.

December 5, 2005 Comments off

25 years ago, I heard he’d been shot.  The assassin was some nutcase named Mark Chapman, who surely cannot comprehend what he took from us all.

Many of John Lennon’s songs I still cannot hear in the presence of others, because my eyes always well up with tears.  There are not enough great lyricists, not enough great musicians, and not enough voices for peace in the world.

Categories: News