Archive for June, 2007

Astoundingly, spectacularly stupid idea

June 29, 2007 2 comments

Step one: the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board Of Regeants endorses a plan that would encourage college professors to carry guns on campus, to counter campus shootings like the one that happened at Virginia Tech.  (Because you know, those are just happening all the time… or is it, like, one or two per year, worldwide?)

Steps two and three: media finds out about the plan, and a public information officer says; “No decision has been made” on the plan to arm professors.  Really.  We’re just thinking about it.

Gee, fellas, how much time do you really need to think about this one?

Categories: Stupidity

Science Friday open thread: the Bridgekeeper’s Questions Three

June 29, 2007 8 comments

In joining the new blogging tradition (it seems absurd to speak of “tradition” and “blogging” in the same sentence) of “Science Friday”, I wanted to draw attention to interesting science-related, or even just reality-related posts and articles that I’d found around the net that week.  The problem is in choosing, not finding; I am fascinated by so many aspects of our natural world.

Today, like the bridgekeeper of The Bridge Of Death, I have three questions, and hope to start a discussion:

  1. What in our current education system stands in the way of teaching math and science?

  2. How can we stimulate kids’ interest in math and science?
  3. Would anyone like to share an especially good or particularly bad personal experience in math or science education?

Multiple and conflicting answers are fine; surely it’s a multifaceted topic.

I’ll go first:  once we had a total eclipse of the sun in our area.  Instead of planning for and exploiting the educational value of this once-in-a-lifetime event, the local school district decided to keep all the kids indoors with the blinds drawn.  I took my kids out of school, and we drove to the central point of the eclipse a half-hour away.  There, with correct eye protection and a pinhole solar viewer, we observed the eclipse.  It was amazing, not least because of how the local environment changed – the drop in temperature, the thousands of sun-images projected on the ground through holes in the leaves of trees, animal behavior (quiet), and the eerie light which suffused everything.  But the science education, if any, was performed by nature; all we had to do was be there and pay attention.

Yes, I skipped questions one and two – I hope to find inspiration for next week’s post in your answers.  I’m working on an original science education post based on a photograph and one of my kids’ other science education experiences.

OK, this is the phone for me

June 29, 2007 1 comment

I like durable stuff, and I want one of these Casio ruggedized phones.  Thing is, I hardly ever use my cell phone anymore.  But it’s so damn cool!

Categories: Geeky, hardware

And you thought American political journalism was crass…

June 28, 2007 3 comments

I almost hesitate to post this.  BBC briefly posted this image, then took it down and replaced it with a video… a Polish magazine Photoshopped up a cover depicting their country’s rulers suckling the breasts of German Chancellor Angela Merkel..  (Don’t say I didn’t warn you…)  German pols threw a fit over the images, but Merkel said she wanted “to have relations with Poland”.  :-)  

Ok, the actual news summary, hilariously mis-translated no doubt, was that she “hoped to have relations with Warsaw equal to those her country enjoys with France.”

Nope, it’s still funny.  Here’s the reaction on the street to the cover.  :lol:   I don’t even want to think about what that magazine would do if Hillary were president   :gulp: 

Categories: Politics

REALLY ambitious blogging

June 28, 2007 1 comment

The cognitive psychologist author of Mixing Memory is taking on a huge project:

So the other day, I was talking to someone about one of the studies I was planning on posting about. I mentioned one of the results, and he said he’d really like to see the means and standard deviations. I thought to myself, “Alright, I’ll put those in the post,” but when I actually started writing the post, I began to fear that including standard deviations might just be confusing to people who don’t have any background in statistics. So I left them out. But I didn’t feel very good about leaving them out. So I decided to take action, and write a series of posts on the basics of the sorts of statistics that are used in the research I and other behavioral science bloggers post about.

I’ve now written 8, yes 8 of them.

Wow.  He wrote them all over a 2-day period while he was sick.  That’s furious work for being under the weather.

He plans to start posting them on Friday, then every several days, covering normal distributions, confidence intervals, and much more.  I can’t wait to see them.  As they come out, I’ll update this post with links.

Categories: Science & Technology

DIE!, foul creature, DIE!

June 27, 2007 4 comments

I’m typing email addresses into a spreadsheet.  Excel helpfully turns them into hyperlinks that automatically start up a “new message” in Outlook if I click on them.  They reformat themselves into unreadable 7.5-point, blue, underlined type. 
I never asked Excel to do any of this.

After some investigation, I found out that the auto-correct options have been moved to “proofing” which is buried under the “Excel Options” button which is well isolated from the flow of menu items, under the new “Office” icon in the upper-left of the screen.  I drilled down and killed the offending feature, but IT WON’T DIE!!!  I’m still getting tiny hyperlinks when I type in email addresses.

It’s probably because the spreadsheet was created in Excel 2003 – not that I care about the reason for Microsoft’s incompetence – but when will they get it through their heads that fancy isn’t necessarily better, and just because they can dream up a function is not a sign from heaven that we want it in our software.  I have seen many users reduced to screaming rage by the counterintuitiveness of their uncooperative applications.  Sometimes the voice is my own… it is difficult to be certain.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Her “new” $170 computer

June 24, 2007 11 comments

Operation “swap-out MrsDoF’s computer” went very well yesterday as I decomissioned her 4-year-old generibox running Windows 2000 Professional and put in an IBM ThinkCentre mini tower running Windows XP professional.

Her computer desperately needed rebuilt which presented me with a couple options:  scrounge up an XP license, or install Ubuntu.  Having used the Uuu on my laptop for a while now (and less than enamored of it) I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have her navigating that learning curve.  And the time required for a reasonably secure XP rebuild meant she’d be computerless for several days at least – no thanks.

eBay to the rescue!  For $145 and $25 shipping, I got an off-lease IBM ThinkCentre P4 2.4ghz with 512 ram… including an XP license.  So I could take my sweet time and make a sweet build with all her favorite, familiar software.  I may pop some more ram into it later, though she says it is very fast and smooth already.

Her software includes OpenOffice, Firefox, Filezilla, Notepad++, and XnView, plus McAfee antivirus. I do lots of little tweaks and customizations to the OS and apps.

The ThinkCentre is a very well-built computer – it runs Windows with a solidity that you only get from a motherboard that is engineered several notches above average. It has so many USB-2 ports one would never need to purchase a hub. The power supply is excellent and the case is as solid as they come.  The case can be opened and serviced without tools and has a carry handle on the top front.  The front panel is securely mounted but there’s a latch to release it for vacuuming.  But I do have a few criticisms.

The plastic front of the computer slants backward a little.  I suppose this is intended to be stylish but it necessitates the CD/floppy drive cage is mounted in the case at a nonlevel angle.  This means you can’t install an extra hard drive in that cage – hard drive spindles need to be horizontal or vertical.  The hard drive is mounted vertically in the metal front of the case, which is fine, but there’s nowhere to mount a second hard drive, so we have a mini tower that can only hold one hard drive.  That’s just dumb.

Most of the USB ports are on the rear, but there are 2 on the front of the case.  OK, fine, except they’re recessed three quarters of an inch into a the channel at lower-right Still accessible, not as bad as the insane, downward-pointing USB ports on some Dell computers, but what’s so damn hard about making the USB ports flush with the front of the case?  Compaq, Dell, and IBM all try to hide them, which is just dumb.

The power button is flush with the front panel – sort of hard to find by touch alone, and when you push it in, you are in contact with very small-radius plastic corners.  I made this same criticism of an Apple notebook – what’s so damn hard about smoothing parts that come into contact with human fingers?  Style over ergonomics, which is dumb.

The keyboard and mouse were excellent but MrsDoF uses a Microsoft Natural Keyboard which worked fine with this box.  I will probably install some Linux distro on her old computer, stuff a giant hard drive into it, and put it downstairs as a backup server. 

All in all, the ThinkCentre is a very good computer for < $200.

Categories: Geeky, hardware

Science Friday: teen sex, transformers, roofing materials, floating houses and a bear

June 22, 2007 7 comments

Five things I found interesting this week:

1) We liberals enjoy crowing about how Abstinence-Only sex education doesn’t work and sure enough, it doesn’t.  Kids who get the “keep it zipped” curriculum – even the ones who take virginity pledges, have sex at about the same rate as anyone else.  But does any sex education work?  In his post, ‘Sex Education, why it doesn’t work’,  Jonah Lehrer of Frontal Cortex quotes an essay that questions whether we have anything to be smug about either, followed by analysis of an R-rated study on teen male sexuality.  Valuable stuff to be sure, but one phrase in particular caught my eye;

You can put an adult in front of a classroom or an assembly, and that adult can emit words, but don’t expect much impact.

You think this problem is confined to sex education?  Seems to me it applies to algebra, history, the whole education model.  While we’re up in front of kids talking, learning is incidental to boredom.  Kids (at least when they’re young) are watching to see what interests us and they can tell we’re not interested in the multiplication tables.  They’ve pretty much tuned us out entirely by the time we get to sex education, unless we’ve managed to keep a real relationship alive.  They only pay attention when we say something unexpected.

Kids expect us to say “don’t have sex” and they may appear to pay attention.  They may even tacitly agree, but when Mother Nature plants her 500-foot billboards in their bloodstreams, they won’t ignore her, and that’s the worst possible time for self-deception.  Want your kids to pay attention to you?  As the old saying goes, “If the bishop says there’s a God, that’s all in the way of business, but if he says there isn’t, you’d better listen.”  Tell them the truth they don’t expect to hear from you.  I told my kids, teen sex is like juggling live hand grenades – exciting, but better avoided.  But if you do it, don’t deceive yourself.  Go to Planned Parenthood with your girlfriend beforehand, and pay attention as if your life depends on it.

How to apply the principle of the unexpected to teaching algebra?  Hmmm…

2) I linked a post from Cajun last week, but here’s a couple more that I just found so darn entertaining, about transformers.  Not the idiotic new movie about shape-shifting machines, but devices for changing the voltage of a circuit.  Briefly, you use a soft iron core to rout a magnetic field from one coil of wire to another.  The ratio between the number of windings in the two coils (and a few other things) determines the change in voltage between input and output.  The device only works with oscillating current at a frequency faster than the magnetic field collapse in the core.

Transformers are everywhere – you probably have a few hundred in your home and garage.  Your cell phone charger is a transformer.  There’s a couple in your microwave oven, your TIVO, your TV, your computer, your alarm clock.  There are miniature transformers in circuits that serve impedance-matching functions. The ignition coil in your automobile engine is a transformer.  And so is that large can-shaped object up on the phone pole behind your house.  Larger transformers can be seen at electrical substations. 

When your cell phone charger breaks, you just pitch it in the trash and buy another one.  But some of the transformers in industry are “mission critical” and… well read for yourself.  The demise of an extremely important transformer the size of a half a loaf of bread in Old Crap and another, much bigger transformer in Brotherhood of shared misery.  The latter, sadly humorous in the “glad it happened to somebody else” vein, is Cajun’s 2400th post.  And if you liked those two stories, here’s another.

3) And this one got me thinking because I’ll be needing a new roof in the next couple years:  white roof saves the planet?  It makes intuitive sense to me that a lighter-colored roof – not necessarily white – could save a butt-load of electricity during the roasting-hot Illinois summer.  And, I’m interested in alternative roofing materials, like composite panels and such.  We’re accustomed to shingles, but is that the best way to do residential roofs?  I notice businesses don’t use them.  I should start researching this – materials, building codes, etc.  Might be time for some new thinking on what’s overhead.

4) And speaking of unconventional ideas in housing – New Orleans please take note – check out Saving Holland.  Houses that float?  Might be a challenge securing them against high winds while letting them rise up to four meters with the flood waters, but it’s a neat idea.  “Oh, ho-hum, it’s another flood.  What’s on TV?”  (You’d only be that blase’ if you also had a floating garage, I suppose)

5) Finally, a story about a bear.  When I was a kid, our pets travelled with us.  Once in the Canadian Rockies, a bear came into our campsite.  Our cat simply teleported onto the top bunk of our camper, but our dog rushed the invader, snarling and barking.  “Time to get a new dog,” I thought.  But the bear ambled off into the woods. 

A funny story, but here’s one that could have turned out a lot differently.  A bear wanders into the campsite, the 6-year-old kid (as dumb as my old dog) throws a shovel at it, and the bear charges the kid.  And what does dear ol’ dad do?  Let’s just say, he’s getting one hell of a father’s day present next year…

Breakfast over, time for work

June 21, 2007 2 comments

Breakfast is over.  She’s off to a day’s errands and chores, I’m off to work.

Categories: observations

But how do we draw “bright idea lightbulbs” over cartoon heads now?

June 21, 2007 1 comment

I often change bulbs in LCD projectors.  The high-pressure bulbs run so hot they require elaborate cooling fans, yet still shorten the life of the rest of the projector.  Picture quality degrades as they near end-of-life, and a new bulb (often with less than 1,000 hours on it) costs $350.

Various LED arrays stacked with optical columnators come to mind, but here’s another idea I like a lot: the microwave lightbulb.  Far more efficient (and thus cooler-running) and it wouldn’t die. It would vastly improve the economical practicality of classroom projection systems.  It could even be used in other applications like room lighting. 

(from Pure Pedantry)

Categories: Issues, observations