Archive for January, 2008

Sky’s a little more than just a hazy shade of winter

January 31, 2008 1 comment

The picture links to an album of pictures I took walking home this evening and a few from a couple weeks ago.  It’s warmed up to a balmy 25 degrees or so and snowing like crazy. 

Incredibly awesome airshow pics

January 31, 2008 8 comments

Dan at A Normal Backyard sent me a link to these amazing air show pictures.  Not only are they great action pictures but imagine what’s involved in flying that way.  Makes you wonder what the limits of human spatial interaction and reasoning really might be.  One albatross makes an appearance – hopefully he decided to land and let the air show finish before taking to the air again.

Some of the pictures show the shock waves created by the jets’ passage with unusual clarity.

Also check out Dan’s pictures from Little River canyon in Georgia. (scroll down).  I didn’t even know that place existed.  It is really beautiful.

Categories: observations

Not a night fit for man or beast

January 29, 2008 2 comments

Last week, the temperature was in the single digits.  Over the weekend, it got warm and at lunchtime today, it was 55 degrees.  Between 3:30 and 7:00 today, it dropped 40 degrees with 50 mph winds.  Now it’s 7 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 mph winds gusting to 40.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…

January 29, 2008 Comments off

I have written about this before but if anyone (yes, I’m talking to you, Ray Comfort) wonders why atheists get a little testy…

Angry behavior may not always be constructive (though many argue that it carves out space for change), but it amazes me when god-shouters play the victim after getting the obvious response.  (Tip of hat to Les at Stupid Evil Bastard).

Update: this cartoon is also being discussed at length over at Friendly Atheist.

(Keywords: Respect find out what it means to me)

Categories: Uncategorized

Secular revival hymn

January 29, 2008 2 comments

I have a confession to make: I really like Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten.  It’s uplifting and fun, and so is the very clever video that goes with it.  So un-fashionably un-cynical.

And here’s the acoustic low-budget version of Unwritten

She’s really easy to look at, too, which I won’t pretend not to enjoy.  But that seems to be a major factor in the success of female artists nowadays.  Is the ubiquity of video acting as a music selection filter?  How much wonderful music are we missing from women who just don’t look that ‘fabulous’ on camera? (It seems to be OK for men to be visually rough)  And how much of the video production is driven to have the great-looking artist on screen?  In the highly ‘produced’ version, notice the level of abstraction needed to say something visually beyond “Man, isn’t she great-looking?” 

I love that scene in the “Pink” video Don’t Let Me Get Me where she says; “LA told me, You’ll be a pop star, All you have to change is, Everything you are…”

Damn, there’s that cynicism kicking in again.  Oh well…

Categories: music, Reviews

I see dead phones

January 27, 2008 1 comment

Click on the photo to see the rest of them.  It’s a couple year’s worth of picking these up out of the gutter, out of snow piles, out of bushes.  Look around and you’ll see dead phones too.

And here’s a video about The Secret Life Of Cell Phones.

Categories: observations

A textbook case - the Open Education Movement

January 27, 2008 1 comment

One of the supposed reasons for playing the lottery is that it gives people the chance to fantasize about what they’d do if they won.  Hell, I do that anyway and the fact that I’ve never bought a ticket has no significant effect on my chances of a big win.

So here’s my fantasy: I’d like to do something about crappy textbooks that schools foist upon our children.  Have you looked at kids’ textbooks lately? They’re garbage.  Seriously, as instruments of study, they aren’t worth the paper the publishers’ advertisements are printed on.

For as much as they weigh and as much as they cost, our kids ought to need their craniums let out to make room for their brains after reading them.  But that isn’t what happens.  Our textbooks are not ‘written’ by an ‘author’, they’re cut and pasted together by a committee, taking care not to offend anyone who might annoy school boards that have purchasing power.  They’re confused, boring, politically correct, and so are the textbooks they create.

These are not books we’d read ourselves, so why do we expect our kids to spend extra time poring over them after a full ‘work’ day?  Make no mistake, a kid’s day at school does not leave them wanting to spend their evenings on the same material.  Do you enjoy spending your evenings on your job?  Or do you prefer to watch TV, pursue a hobby, and relax?  Why is an entire day of regimented subjection to authority not enough time to learn the modest instructional goals of that day?

I’d start an open-source textbook foundation that would recruit good educational authors and pay a base rate for writing, plus a per-copy royalty, bypassing the clunky and special-interested-ridden way in which textbooks are made today. We’d have a testing institute to tweak the books for effectiveness in laboratory classrooms.  Then I’d offer them to schools around the world on a nonprofit, publish-on-demand basis through Amazon or other outlets.  Each book would have its own website with resources and a mechanism for correcting errors.  Readers who identified errors that were later confirmed by expert review within the field covered by the book, would receive a cash reward and honorable mention in the next edition.

It wouldn’t take a lot of money to pay the authors.  My dad wrote textbooks and trust me, there ain’t a lot of money in it, at least not for the author even if the book has one.  And with actual authors putting their names on the content, someone would be responsible for its accuracy and clarity. (Read the link above)

But most importantly, the books would be as free as humanly possible of political correctness.  It’s a math textbook, not a self-esteem enhancer for kids.  It’s a biology textbook, not a slimy way of finessing around evolution for queasy school board members.  Learning math will enhance kids’ self-esteem, and health class should discuss everyone’s health, not just that of middle-class celibate-teen heterosexuals.

OK, I admit that is a nerdy ‘lottery win’ fantasy but it’s mine.  At least the books would be available – at very low cost – to school boards that do want their kids to learn science and math and English.  The way things stand now, it’s almost impossible to buy a really good textbook for grade schools or high schools.  I recommend reading Diane Ravitch’s The Language Police for more on this.  There’s also has a book out from Charles Sykes on how curricula are dumbed down, but I have not read it yet because my blood pressure has been at alarming levels lately.

But it turns out someone is already working on open-source textbooks.  Check these out:

Richard Baraniuk proposes a ‘knowledge ecosystem’ in which textbook content becomes modular, assembled by anyone into tightly focused resources for a given course or purpose.  The content is vetted by ‘lenses’ of review and his organization is listed by the Cape Town Declaration as a ‘Related Initiative’ – along with many others some of which I knew about and some I didn’t.  I may not have won the lottery, but I’ll be exploring this movement to at least find out how it can help our schools.

End Notes:

Categories: Education

Science of the paranormal

January 23, 2008 2 comments

It’s no wonder that paranormal studies don’t receive any respect: not enough sciencitifical-looking equipment.  Well here is the remedy: Look Around You… Ghosts!

But watch out when employing ghosts in the la-bor-atory… they can be naughty!  Also, I’d like to know; is that a plutonium crucifix?

Categories: Humor, observations

Why do people buy MS Office again?

January 22, 2008 10 comments

I’m building a computer for my son – IBM ThinkCentre M50, 3ghz, 2gb, 80gb.  It came with an XP professional license so that’s the base to which I applied Service Pack 3 RC.  Then what?

Well I have ‘built’ (loaded software on a blank hard drive) a lot of computers in my time.  And generally speaking, I can say that free software is better – not just cheaper but better – than the expensive spread.  I define “better” as “less likely to piss you off while installing and using.”

Big difference in installation.  OpenOffice?  5 minutes flat from a single 130mb file versus around 30+ minutes for the whole menu with MS Office 2007.  Foxit Reader?  Beats the living crap out of Adobe’s bloated buggy reader and it weighs in at just over two megabytes.  Firefox?  I’ve seen an IE7 install take a half hour and several reboots but Firefox took less than a minute from a file less than six megabytes.  Notepad++, RealAlternative, XnView… not only install faster than their commercial counterparts but work faster and with less trouble.

And in use these programs all do what they’re supposed to do without hiding necessary functions under tons of buggy inscrutable crap.  Yet people are afraid to use software that they didn’t buy in a box at the store.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer (who is actually Darth Vader’s little brother and Dick Cheney’s cousin) says that free software isn’t “innovative”.  Wonder what kinds of drugs I’d have to freebase to be able to understand what the hell he’s talking about? 

Categories: Uncategorized

Martin Luther King, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”

January 21, 2008 2 comments

…and Mike The Mad Biologist has the full text of his March 18, 1968 speech to striking sanitation workers in Memphis.  A month later, he was gone.

Categories: observations