My Zunivers

29 May 2008

More Reason for Me to Hate Schools

Oh, lookit! More common sense in schools! And more proof that the educational system is run by half-brained wackos.

Some might thing I'm a bit puffish because the story of my life has its own run-in with a similar sort of problem-- one that makes me the few people alive who was born and raised in the USA and earned a PhD despite my own school district and state denying that I finished high school. I submit that my position doesn't just make me bitter, it points out what happens when artificial rules are made and then followed with no regard to common sense. The entire educational system in this country is a collection of artificial rules. It is a set that is rarely fair for anyone outside a certain box (in other words, failing to bend for common sense). A student must be well behaved, mildly extroverted, interested in the proper balance of subjects, and, worst of all, develop as a person along a rather artificial time-line. And don't get me more than started on the focus on feelings.

If you don't believe me, I can tell you about first graders I know whose stellar math and reading was ignored because they didn't improve, or worse didn't care to improve, the all-important life skill of coloring. I can tell you about a kid who was put on his school's dumb track for most of elementary school due solely to behavior and an ignored but perfectly treatable reading problem but who, after a fight from his lawyer-dad to give him a chance anyway after a show of genius, is now halfway done with a PhD in physics. I can tell you about a seventh grader who beat by a good length every seventh to twelfth grader in a private school on the same English test but wasn't honored because it might make the older kids feel bad. I know teachers who were told not to grade in red because it makes students think that grading somehow judges them. And on top of all that, I even know teachers who were unable to fail students who deserved it.

I swear that education kills more people's minds than anything else just because so few people really fit its box. And even if it doesn't kill their minds, I worry about anyone who goes through the system and isn't crushed somewhere by it. I'm not talking about the emotional problems that arise student to student in this pseudo-social system that schools create (the one that parents are so desperate for their kids to face because it teaches important lifelong socialization skills that help people to survive in such diverse settings as-- are you ready?-- school). I'm talking about the system itself shafting not those who do badly but those who don't fit its mold.

No offense to anyone out there with kids in school intended, but if your kid gets through school okay you should be concerned about what talents or interests your kid may have had that were crushed by the very system you thought was going to help them explore and develop those things. If the answer really is no, then congratulations! Your kid fit the box. That's not necessarily bad. I just have a hunch that it is probably nowhere near as common as everyone wants to think. That's what's bad.

Systems of learning that piss on kids who learn better just because of fluffy-fluff deserve to be dismantled. If this kid in Dallas has any idea that she's being shafted, I hope something good happens to her. Maybe if enough of us get screwed over we can someday change the system.

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New Heights in Peek-A-Boo

My kid and I were sitting on a chair with a blanket tonight. Actually, I was doing that "half laying sideways across the chair" thing and the kid was on my lap, facing me. I picked up the blanket and covered my head. The kid did something new. Instead of pulling the blanket off my head, she lifted the blanket and put the other side over her own head, accompanied by a huge grin. I uncovered my head, and she then started to play peek-a-boo with me, hiding herself behind the blanket instead of me hiding myself behind the blanket or throwing the blanket on her head. There was not as much delight from this as there is from simply holding the kid and following someone down a flight of stairs (the kid thinks this one of the world's funniest scenarios, especially when the stairs have landings and she needs to turn her head to the other side to see the person in front of us), but she was enjoying the peek-a-boo and I was enjoying the fact that I no longer need to be the one holding the blanket.

I was also wearing my beard shirt, with the drawing of the guy who looks a lot like me. A few weeks ago she spent a lot of time one day putting her ear on him and patting his face. Today she tried to peek-a-boo with him, too.

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28 May 2008

Things You Don't Want to Hear

On the subject of our sex life now that we have a kid, my wife said "We'll just need to adopt."

By the time she realized her mistake it was way too late to live it down.

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27 May 2008

What The Kid's Been Doing

The Fortran compilers on the clusters at school are out of service due to a hardware change, so while I continue to not get any work done because of other people's problems, I figured it's time to talk about the kid.

For a week the kid has been pulling on her very non-infected ear, so I suspected a tooth on the loose. Teething doesn't cause illness, but it can cause pain in more places than the mouth. The nerves in the face and head are like that. When my mouth is sore in certain ways I can actually have one whole side of my face or head in pain. Anyway, yesterday I found the corner of a nice upper incisor poking form the kid's gum. She spent agood eal of time yesterday licking at her gum to explore this new gizmo. She also figured out how to click her lower teeth on it, which scared her at first but eventually became more comfortable. Last night in bed she figured out how to bite herself in her sleep. That or she's stated having nightmares about her toys destroying her mother's bosum. My money's on the biting.

The kid likes to eat banana. She has pretty quickly learned some of the rules for properly eating food. Don't spit it out. Smash the chunks. Swallow instead of piling it up in your cheeks. Don't stick your hand in your mouth to feel it. Every day or two I feed her a piece of banana in the evening. I'm not sure whether or not it's my imagination, but I think that she might be trying to actually ask for it sometimes. There's a sound she makes that is a little like her "mama-mama" sounds calling for her mother, but that has little more "nuhnuh-nuhnuh" in it and is placated by either giving her to her mother or feeding her some banana. We'll see what that turns into.

The Kid's interest in motion has extended to pulling herself up on furniture. Not that she can actually accomplish this, but she tries. It's cute to lie down on the sofa with her sitting on the floor and, five minutes later, find her holding the sofa alternating between trying to pull herself up even though her legs are jammed under the sofa and trying not to fall backwards because her legs are no longer under her rotund little bod! She can also rotate herself while on the floor, either sitting or on her tummy.

Along with all of this interest in motion has come an interest in communication. The kid now knows how to wave, and will sometimes do so when she sees people come or go. At arrivals this is often accompanied by a strange, breathy, two-syllable grunt reminiscent of a hello. She also will explain to you via body language where to put your hands if you reach toward her-- under her arms or out of her way depending on her mood. It's not subtle language, either. If she wants to be picked up, she will go as far as grabbing your hand and shoving it under her arm. If she wants to be left alone you'll get a good shove. She also expresses her desire when asked if she wants to sit, stand, and be picked up, although the asking process involves more than making a simple verbal statement.

The kid also has impeccable, but slightly unpredictable, tastes in music. There are some songs that make her happy whenever she hears them. When she's happy she flaps and claps. Among the songs are "Jump" by Van Halen, "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, and "Seven Seas of Rhye" by Queen. Strange but true. And it's definitely the music that makes her happy with those. Sometimes she likes what she sees with the music on the computer screen, but those songs make her smile and clap just from the music. There are also some choral songs that she seems to appreciate, but the common theme I found there was that those are either songs she has heard regularly since birth or that I sing from time to time.

I got a picture of the kid looking like a heroin addict in need of a fix. You can find it on Facebook, where the cool people hang out.

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Captian Obvious, and the Ugly Patrol

Hey, get this! Barak Obama says that people might change their driving habits because of gas prices. I'd better stop reading these deep insights before I become inspired!

So, where's my the smiley beating its own face with a hot poker when I need it?

On the bright side, high gas prices will get rid of these foolishly conceived and owned jumbo sized vehicles, things like "Sport Utility Vehicles." You know, those hulks on wheels that are simply vehicles to most of their owners, no sport or utility included?

Oh, wait, they do provide utility? Yeah, sure, they have uses. But they also burn two or three times as much gas as a car while moving one or two or even four or five people's rear ends every day for the three straight years between those time when furniture requires relocation. Uh-huh. That makes sense. Not.

And let's not forget all those arguments about how they are so much safer than cars, making them worth the price. Both physics and statistics demonstrate that they are much less safe for people in other vehicles, and they aren't any safer than cars for their own occupants. And don't forget that because of SUVs the regular cars need to have extra safety features to make what would be simple car-car crashes survivable, increasing the cost of the car and adding weight that requires more gas to move. SUV owners shaft car owners in multiple ways. That should set off some kind of alarm in any decently moral person's head.

Once upon a time in some places normal people couldn't own a truck-like vehicle just to drive around. I'll be happy to see those days return universally. The sad part, however, is that those days will not return because they make sense. They will return because of money, the only motivator of people. And for many people there are going to be a lot of problems with money before it happens. But I still say "Bring it on! We need it."

[Coming back to add-- And of course, I know people who have large vehicles. They range from people who legitimately use them, like my friend in the business of building houses, to people who might as well trade them in for a Mini, like my friend who commutes 35 miles to work and otherwise has no life. That said, it's not a matter of "everyone should decide what's right for themselves." They make their own decision on what to do, of course, but what is right is a different matter entirely.]

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24 May 2008

Little Bits

I got a glowing rejection letter today from the national lab. Hooray! I'm now free of job offers beyond the one I'm taking. Someday maybe I'll work somewhere exotic. For now, I will go to 1,200 feet and keep my current driver's license.

Incidentally, there's been some murmuring in the shadows about how I'm not getting a "real job" because it is temporary. My response is that these people are not only ignorant about how science works, they are ignorant about how employment works. It's not 1943. People no longer fall nicely into the categories "unemployed" and "working for a business in my hometown that will give me and everyone else here a steady income for the next 40 years." When I hear murmurings about how all the elected people, freelance writers, contracted engineers and construction workers, and the rest of that lot don't have "real jobs" then I'll know that the murmurers are consistent. They'll still be wrong.

Usually when I use the computer clusters at work I use them to do what I've called "poor man's parallel processing." I take a program made for one processor and run multiple copies. I discovered this week that there is another approach to poor man's parallel processing. I wrote a program for one processor to do what I really should be doing on several. Bite that, efficiency! Really, what I did today should be called "poor man's parallel processing" and what I used to call "poor man's parallel processing" should be called "rich man's serial processing."

I also learned why my programs run slowly (the compiler can't do certain speed optimizations), and how much money I'll need to beg my new boss for to avoid that problem (by buying a nicer compiler). In other news, I'm worrying about how much my research costs. Just what I need. More proof I'm turning into a soulless los... I mean, a scientist.

PBS is in summer mode. Unlike most of the year, during the summer our station's middle of the night programming is both unpredictable and sometimes not even correct in the print and online schedules.

Does my not wanting to show anyone my photography because I don't like it mean that I am an artist, or does it mean that I'm an insecure twit? I guess that first we need to work out whether there is necessarily a difference. This is actually part of my long-term plan to learn what artists are. I used to think that artists were the people who pontificate that everyone with taste and sensibility needs to like Shakespeare or listen to jazz or understand the sweeping emotional content of Jackson Pollack or do whatever exactly they personally think is proper and educated. I'm coming to realize that such things aren't artistic, they're just immensely twittish. But twittish kinds of things seem universal among the artists. So the art part of artists is clearly something else that accompanies twittishenss. And maybe insecurity is it.

Did anyone else from my undergrad school get a little weirded out by the young woman on the cover? I had to stare at it for a while to realize exactly what looked wrong. Note to graphic designers: don't flip pictures containing obviously chiral objects. For some reason this makes me a little more ticked off at the place. And before you assume, no, it's not because of my rejected application. It's a bunch of other stuff that I wont' get into now. I can tell you about in person if you really must know.

I don't want to move. I need to find a new church and start working with new people. Strangely, it is only these social changes things that bother me. The new apartment, new commute, new shopping, new office, and all that are actually fun. I wish I didn't need to wait for them. I'm bothered by new people. Can't we just pluck up my current social circles and drop it at the new employer? Nope. God have mercy on my squirrelly introverted soul.

Lately I've been finding myself being cynical and brusque to the point of being less than pleasant for even my family and close friends. Thankfully, they're family and good friends, so they're willing to put up with me. I'd rather be neutrally pleasant than be one who needs to be put up with, however, and they should know that I am working toward that goal. Hey, it's the little things in life. I even showered this week.

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19 May 2008

Is This Why We Need Better Math Education?

Okay, let me get this straight. There are private companies that have bid to run the PA Turnpike system. The state and these companies are telling us that this will make money for the state, via the lease for the system paid by the private company, and for the company, via the profits from revenue beyond the the lease amount, so everybody wins.

I have a question-- If the state and a company can both make money with a private company running the turnpike, why can't the state keep control of the turnpike and run the turnpike in the same way, directly bringing both the money it would get from the private company for the lease and the money that the private company would get as profit?

Unless I'm missing something, anyone who says the state will get more money by letting a private company run the system is a lying former mayor of Philadelphia.

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17 May 2008

New Links

I'm adding two links to my sidebar, and I think both will have an appeal for my more sociology minded readers. Actually, most of my readers either think social science is an oxymoron or that education is a waste of life, but poo-poo, I say.

Bradley Wright is a sociologist, something that one (and probably only one)* physicist sometimes wishes he had become. Why do I read what he writes? Bradley works on sociology of religion, a subject he approaches both as a Christian and as a serious social scientist. He has previously worked in criminology and such. He also takes pretty pictures, which he shows on his blog. And he contributes to Everyday Sociology, which amateurs like me find fun to read. Hmmmm.... I should put up a link to that one, too.

A while back I found Brian Jones' blog by some sort of accident (probably from Bradley's blog; he has a link but I don't remember). I've been reading it ever since. Brian is a pastor at a church in the far suburbs of Philadelphia. He reminds me that not all pastors are borefests. He tells us how he sees it, whether people are supposed to talk about it or not. He reminds me that there are evangelical pastors who recognize the complexity of the church in culture and culture in the church. Most importantly, in a world where evangelicals get a bad name just because of their asinine ignorance of culture, including their own, Brian also keeps me sane. I know I'm not alone.

These people are worth reading. If I were into haircutting I'd totally want to be their barbers so that I could pick their brains every few weeks. And if you're not already interested based on my summary, I bet you they will make you interested if you give them a try.

[* For the clueless, that's me.]

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16 May 2008

Happy House

Looking for housing in and around my next employer, we stumbled upon the center of the town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. As we drove along the main strip, my wife, pointing out buildings like the library and post office with an endearing tone in her voice, said suddenly "Who picked us up and dropped us in a Little Tikes village?"

We didn't find a place to live there, but we found something. This is quite a feat, because most people up there find places to live before this point in the year and move there later. Our inner tightwads cringe at the price, which is okay for my income but puts a little dent in the "save thousands of dollars every year" plan that we've had going on for a while. It is about a four mile drive to my office and parking, and less by bike on the local bike paths.

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08 May 2008

Going Mobile

No, I'm not getting a cell phone.

In the past two weeks or so, my kid has discovered motion. She's been intrigued by me crawling around on the floor and such over the past few months. But now she's getting involved. For example, she has realized that she can lean and bend to pick up toys that seem out of her reach. Early this week she discovered that wriggling off of Daddy is a great way to get to the floor to get to a dropped toy (although I still haven't let her actually fall). In the past few days, she has also learned that when someone reaches hands toward her to pick her up, she can pull their hands under her arms or lean herself over so that she's all set to be picked up. Then she figured out how to scooch around on her tummy. She's almost figured out how to get her legs and arms under her torso. And, most recently, she flopped herself from sitting to her stomach so that she could turn around and reach a toy that had been out of range.

Between that and the occasional snack on banana, and yesterday's well accepted lesson on waving good bye, I fear that my kid might actually be turning into a real person. I don't know if she's going to end up like me or like her mother, but I know darn well that two of either of us will change the world forever.

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07 May 2008

Rattle Rattle

I spent today fighting with my research and fighting with some polymer physics problems. Somehow, I managed to knock a bolt loose somewhere in my head. (You can even hear it moving around if the room is really quiet and you easily fall for anything.) So it's been a weird evening.


03 May 2008

Birds Are Funny

We have a bird nest on top of a post on out on the balcony. The people who put the roof over the balconies and building entrance below made a post that comes up to a narrower beam. These are flush on the outside, facing away from the building, giving a three inch wide platform about eight feet off the balcony floor and six inches from the ceiling (or whatever you call a ceiling-like thing that's outdoors). Last year some robins started building a nest there and gave up. This year, overnight, some robins built a really nice nest complete with some support structure. The mother robin spent a few days in and out of it, and then gave up.

Concurrent to this, the local mourning doves returned. After scoping out both air conditioners and remembering how much luck they have had with the bedroom air conditioner, they decided that the living room air conditioner under the balcony roof must be okay if that area is okay for the robins. I don't think it's better, but whatever. they started putting down a mat of crap, which seems to be their standard nesting material.

For some reason, likely including my wife deciding to spend time outside and the mourning doves moving in, the robins gave up last weekend (a few days into their occupation of the nest). This week, the mourning doves, bright as they are, decided to maybe try using the robin nest.

This led to an afternoon of amusement for me. See, mourning doves are a good bit bigger than robins. They were, however, trying to do the funky mourning dove in the robin nest anyway. The female was getting in there and displaying herself, putting her bits smack up against the inside of the robin nest. Once I saw the male fly in and mount her-- backwards. I'd keep my junk away from sharp beaks but whatever.... He did try to turn around, but there was no room. The robins had just enough room to turn around up there. The mourning doves are too big. So he left. A while later he came back, horny and all ready, and mounted the female in the proper direction. Then he proceeded to bang away at the outside of the nest, looking for the spot. You know, the spot up against the inside of the nest? He gave up after a few minutes.

I have seen the two of them around since then, but not up in the robin nest.

In other news, we have ducks that nest in the creek across the street, so we usually get to enjoy ducks walking around cautiously and trying to blend in with their surroundings. This year one of our local males has decided to throw caution to the wind and just run around like a deranged chicken. It's really funny.

Sadly, I have no news to share on the local tits.

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I'm feeling rather bothered by life right now.

I hate the weather. It's in that "too cool to run the air conditioners, too hot to keep the windows closed, too humid outside to make the inside feel better" region. I get told by everyone to buy a dehumidifier, I can't see how that will help. To keep the temperature comfortable, I need to circulate air through open windows. A dehumidifier will dehumidify that situation like an air conditioner will cool when the air is 90 degrees and all of the windows are open. I have two indoor options, hot or humid. I don't like either one. The weather therefore sucks. The only joy I do get is all the unhappy people who can't deal with the fact that the "comfortable" temperatures are not accompanied by blue sky with puffy white clouds. Serves you losers right after complaining about winter for the six months during which winter should have happened. Every kid I know knows that April showers bring May flowers. I see rain and flowers in there. Only idiot adults think there's sun and blue sky involved.

Continuing my griping, I'm tired of my work. I'm supposed to be working on two projects right now. I haven't touched either one all day. Why? It sucks. Part of the reason it sucks is that there is some kind of expectation from above that computer programs to do the research work will magically appear. Um, news flash! I write those things. They take time. Simulations like this take even more time, because I need to run them full out with parameters where I already have results as part of debugging them. (I didn't do that once, and it bit me big time.) I have many, many CPUs at my fingertips, yes. But it's a serial program. I can't make a simulation go faster, I can just do more than one at once... once I know it's working and that I'm not wasting other people's time and bumping my priority level lower just to get files full of garbage.

You know what? I think I'm just going to stop there, because I'm so bothered by things right now that I can't even be nice about them.

Oops! I just chose niceness. I might get fired for that. Scientists can't be nice. Science leads to killing people. My mistake. Oh well, better to be right than happy... or even right.

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