My Zunivers

26 August 2008

Nate Spouts Off About Parenting

Once at our last church, way way back when our small group was still a Sunday school class, we went through one of those asinine Christian finance books. I think many of you know the type. These are the books that Christians go to only to end up finding that God has no secret magical way for Christians to handle their money. (I've ranted before about churches disappointing people with this sort of thing, so I'll spare you this time.)

Anyway, something came up about how your parents taught you about money or how you think parents should do it. Nobody said anything, so I opened my mouth and said that I liked what my mom did, which was to immerse me into the family money situation so that I could see how real money worked in real life. The guy leading the discussion actually said "That's nice. Anyone else?" and then someone started what became a discussion among everyone else in the room about how essential it is to give a kid an allowance so they can learn how to handle money, with some rather blunt statements about how it's wrong to let kids in on the grown-up finances because that sort of thing is supposed to be private. Most of the people in the room were not parents at the time, so I found this discussion even more sad.

Well, to all of those people, I'd like to submit this article. I think it's worth mentioning to you again that that real-life can be used to teach kids, even if you just want to stick your fingers in your ears until we start talking about how necessary allowances are.

I don't know why exactly Americans have an obsession with using alternate realities to teach children, as if real life is too scary. The sad thing is, these alternate realities can completely fail.

People want to send their kids to school for "socialization" of a type that doesn't reflect what people face socially after school. That's all well and good except that when kids get bullied at school, by students or the system, they get hurt for real. When it works, it works okay. When it fails, it fails miserably. That's not the kind of options I want my kid to face. I'd prefer her to have a rather real life like I did, spending her childhood days interacting with babies and kids of all ages and adults of many sorts. The only reason I was awkward the first year or two of college was because I was surrounded by people who were just meeting the real world. While in college everyone around me became a lot more like me than I became like them. (Not that I'm normal now. I've been screwed up since birth in ways similar to many of my science friends; my being homeschooled had nothing to do with that.) And I went through that with no role models or advice. Now we've got plenty of us homescooled adults around to help all those awkward misguided kids sort out when they are or are not the ones with the problem.

It is no different with money. Give the kid an allowance so he can learn about money if you want. Among my friends who got decently sized allowances growing up, there are two categories. One is run of the mill okay to good at handling money. The others suck at it, badly. The ones who suck at it were the ones who spent all their money as fast as they could and all that. The ones who are okay at handling money were the model of doing the right things with their allowances all along. Some people who couldn't handle their allowance have converted to being financially responsible, but as far as I can see they did so only after more screw-ups as an adult. Contrast this with people like me who were simply on some level immersed in the family economy (there are enough to make the people back in the small group throw a fit, even though I was apparently the only one there). We all do at least an okay job, but notably there are no miserable failures in the lot. (This could be because the kinds of people who immerse a child are also the kind who handle money well. I'm not going to argue that immersion is necessarily the best way to teach every child.)

So I don't understand the obsession with alternate realities. They can work if kids learn well from them and don't get hurt by them. But not every kid is like that. If your kid learns well in the real world, take your kid to the real world. Don't impose arbitrary safeguards that will screw the kid up. Don't think that some model for the real world in principle will be effective, so the kid will learn best that way. School works for some kids. Allowances work for some kids. But there is no imperative in there, so stop looking for one. Kids just aren't that easy.


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23 August 2008

So Many Ways to Spell Colessterall

I started working my way through some local sandwich shops, and my the place was a doozy. They make junk food sandwiches. Yes, that means exactly what I said. The place takes a roll and puts on things like cheesesteak meat, gyro meat, chicken strips, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, and bacon. They've got a variety of high fat, high salt sauces. And all of the sandwiches come with fries... on them. Fresh ones. You can choose from the pre-configured options or go a la carte with the base price plus prices for each unit of crap you want on it.

While I'm not always in the mood for that sort of thing, I have a feeling that I will be back there again eventually.

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22 August 2008

Bicycle Rule #1

If you forget your helmet, and then you realize you forgot your helmet, you should not spend so much time thinking about your helmet that you stop paying attention to the rocky path on which you and your slightly too far inflated tires are careening. You could end up nearly on your face in the middle of the rocky path, glasses in the grass somewhere, a cut on your knee, and your bike somewhere off to your right in the bushes. This is especially true if your front brake is useless because for some reason one of the pads is rubbing the tire, or if you take aspirin regularly and clot slowly.

Yes, I speak from experience. Time to hammer my water bottle holder back into shape.

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20 August 2008

It's Not Just That They Don't Learn Math....

Oh my goodness.... Apparently it is not only discussions of student achievement that suffer from the "argue about everything but what is relevant" syndrome. It's anything in the entire educational system.

In this article about corporal punishment in schools that allow it, we read from Alice Farmer, who wrote a report on corporal punishment for HRW and the ACLU,

"When you talk to local school officials, they point to the fact that it's quick and it's effective -- and that's true," Farmer said. "It doesn't take much time to administer corporal punishment, and you don't have to hire someone to run a detention or an after-school program."

But she said, "We need forms of discipline that makes children understand why what they did was wrong."


Okay, look. Make whatever you want of spanking kids in school. But for the love of all that is based somewhere in reality go find me everyone who really thinks that things like detention and suspension "[make] children understand why what they did was wrong." We can then lock those people in a closet to improve the educational system.

Most kids I have met of any age know the when they are doing something wrong, and most also know why what they are doing is wrong. The only exception is the students with mental or emotional disabilities, and I'm sad they get paddled more because it might be a sign they are not getting the things they need (a typical problem of the school systems in this country). But the regular kids, they just don't care. But as we know from student learning, when apathy is the problem it is, in a fit of something akin to irony, never addressed.

Oh, and for the sake of full disclosure, I do grudgingly admit that I agree with this

"Corporal punishment is not effective at the junior and senior high school levels, and I do not recommend its application," Dobson said on the [Focus on the Family] Web site.

(And by way of an explanation, I don't feel bad agreeing with Dobson and company when it comes to things they actually know about, like psychology and child development. It's when they dabble in politics that they make me all buggered.)

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18 August 2008

An Exercise in What?

I thought about posting this on This Party, but I figured I'd put it here instead (because who reads This Party?).

Today on NPR there was a big deal being made of Barak Obama deciding that he will announce his vice presidential choice by sending a text message to everyone who signs up to get one. The commentator I heard even went so far as to call it a display of "mass democracy." I've seen stories with similar sorts of power to the people sorts of crap.

I am wondering why any of the mainstream media is giving this press. Has it been done before? No. Do we need to take it apart and analyze it to pieces? No. Let me give you the reason. Previous presidential candidates have announced their vice presidential choices with such media as press releases, press conferences, and speeches. These are all public announcements, just like a text message that anyone can sign up to get.

That someone can pull a gimmick that was ultimately inevitable and have it treated like some genius cultural advance is proof of how many suckers are born every minute and how many of them end up as journalists.

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17 August 2008

Happy Weekend

We had some friends over this weekend, and it was good. It's always nice to catch up with brainy friends who don't mind stirring the pot in some of the ways that I like to do it. This weekend I bemoaned the fact that we live so far apart we can't cause trouble together. Oh, well.

So, I'm going to go for a short bike ride... maybe?

Otherwise, not much is happening.

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14 August 2008

Odds and Ends

I'd like to say the Olympics are upon us, but they aren't. We are, however, being treated to our leap year dose of swimming, basketball, volleyball, track, and gymnastics, along with all the associated scandals. This year there is a new twist-- a diplomatic suck-up French-run IOC trying not to offend the asinine Chinese government. You know, the Chinese government that, for exmaple, promised blue skies but, if told they didn't provide, would angrily say "What right do you have to dictate our actions?" Why do we buy things from these people?

I don't like the new international gymnastics scoring system at all. Adding a difficulty score to a performance score? What kind of bloody grade-for-effort pat-on-the-back is this supposed to be? There should be some multiplication in there somewhere. For pete's sake grade for work, not effort. If people want to try something that is harder then they should be grown up enough to lose more if they fail. And the unevenness between different apparatuses? Gag me. I'd rather have the Russians bribing the French. Oh, wait, wrong sport. That's that other sport that dominates TV coverage and marginalizes the interesting stuff.

I finally ordered a bike lock. Actually, it's a chain and a lock. My frame and wheels are too big for many u-locks. I have a cable as well. Between the two, I should be able to securely lock the bike to the rather odd bike racks on campus. The racks are the kind that look like a bunch of steel hangers welded every foot and a half under a larger tube. Blech. Solid? Yes. But there is no way to lock up a rear wheel without most of the bike blocking a sidewalk.

I ordered a bike pump, too. My bike shop is a ten minute walk from my office, and they have a pump on the porch when they're open. I needed something for home that actually works (and isn't from Wal-Mart, who got the broken one back). With the tires I have, there isn't a good way to use a small portable pump. The things hold too much air. I don't plan on being more than five miles from home any time soon, so this setup will be sufficient.

The bike makes my legs hurt a little. I have a few sports on my leg muscles that are rather irritated by riding. This is also a leg specific problem. Because my feet are different lengths by almost an inch, if I do something like change the way I roll my feet when I walk, my legs are irritated differently. The bike, with its repetitive motion, is the same.

There is an Indian buffet down near the bike shop. I went for lunch today and ate my day's worth of meal food. It is a bit cheaper than the one near my last school, and the place was busy. My officemate wants to go with me next time. I would have taken him today but he got to the office after I left for lunch.

I had a change of pace yesterday, doing a literature search. I got to do all sorts of things like dig around databases and make inter-library loan requests and such. So I'm having fun discovering things. You see, I'm a bit of an old school journal researcher. I like to get into things and get into random stuff I find along the way. Its like the good old days when people used paper journals. And unlike most people, except for well known techniques I won't cite a paper unless I have a copy. I want to feel it. My record for oldest article? 1900s. Not the century, the decade.

I need a hobby.

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12 August 2008

A Very Sad Break Up Letter

I love mini wheat cereal squares. They've been my nearly exclusive cereal for a few years. And I think I need to bid them goodbye.

For a few months I've been feeling a little bit loopy after I eat them, more as time goes on. Last week I had them for a few days straight, then I didn't have any more. In about twenty-four hours I had a raging headache. I don't get headaches. Granted, there was some dehydration involved as well. But I see the direction that this is going. Today its a mini wheat headache when I'm mildly dehydrated. Tomorrow I'll be half dressed and shaking under a bridge if I don't snort my two box fix.

After an extended courtship, and a very long friendship, I need to let go of my favorite little bits of frosted toasty goodness. The thing I 'll miss the most is how they slowly get soft in the milk as I travel deeper into the bowl, adjusting my pace with each bite so that the last square floating in the sea of milk squishes just right as I finish.

It might not be forever. I could be back in a few years for more. But until then, farewell good friend! You were a good brunch and snack companion.

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10 August 2008

Observations on an Afternoon Bike Ride

Number of other bicycle riders encountered: 8

Number in ROTC uniforms: 1

Number without helmets: 8

Number wearing headphones: 4

Number talking on a cell phone: 1

Number texting: 0

And that, friends, is why I've become part of an annoying and lawless breed of daredevils.

Actually, I'm approaching the bike the same way I walk and the same way I drive. I'm using my new mode of transportation solely to learn. Nobody should operate any kind of vehicle as a means of transportation until using it is a boring reflex. And I remember that there are laws. Stay off the sidewalks downtown. Ride on the right. Stop at stop signs. Did I mention the stop signs? And I think. Where am I, what do I see, what do I hear, what is happening around me, what can I expect ahead, and where do I go if something happens. Riding a bike up a curvy bike path is no time to wear the iPod. You need ears to hear what is happening around you.

Sigh.

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More About the Kid

My kid had her birthday. I endured my wife's parents' never-ending sociopolitical commentary (do they have any hobbies? I mean, if all you know of me is my blogs, you might wonder the same thing, but if you know me in person you know that my life as a whole is much more diverse) and constant tinkering with the AC (new theory: when the bulk of your life is centered around what is liberal and what is conservative in religion and politics and your spare time is devoted to unsolicited yammering about it, things like teaching the kids that proper house guests don't play with the thermostats is not even on the horizon). I kept my mouth shut, and I hope everyone had a good time because of it.

So, what goes on with a one year old?

The kid ate a tiny bits of her birthday cakes. Yeah, there were two. One was a banana cake-- banana is her favorite food-- and the other was her mommy's mommy's standard birthday cake.

The kid has been growing, as usual. In the past week she has circumnavigated the sofa numerous times. She's still scared to take on the gap between the sofa and the loveseat, which would require letting go of one and taking a step to the other. But she did discover yesterday that she can get from her room to the living room with some support from doors and walls.

I've been teaching the kid my version of Da Moose Da Moose (which, after learning a version from some friends back in the old town, was taken from lyrics online and tweaked into something that I think has slightly more impact). She's got the motion for "Da Moose Da Moose" (which, having been learned at dinner time, is now associated with eating) and "Swimming the water," so all we need to do is get the rest of the song into her. And then we need to get her to sing it.

In the past week or so the kid has become something of a rebel about naps and bedtime. This week she has taken naps on my lap numerous times, something she previously did only once every few weeks. I'm trying to learn what stage of sleep is good for putting her down so I can go do other things. The fact that the rocking chair is too short Does Not Help. My lower legs are longer than the seat is high, so I cannot get up without using my hands. Today the kid fell asleep in the car and I managed to get her to her bed without her waking up. At bedtime, I've started reading a story to the kid. She has returned the favor by playing in bed instead of going to sleep. Mommy, who is there to nurse her, Is Not Amused. One night I got the kid to go to sleep in her own bed without her mother there. (I have the projecting musical nightlight in my arsenal.) My wife and I are not the "Let's get hysterical and hyper and measure our worth as parents based on our child's sleep patterns" type, so we're just fine with it. It's a phase, and by the time the kid is thirty she'll sleep like a normal person.

Through all of this, I have discovered that the kid occasionally babbles in her sleep. I wonder what she's dreaming.

Being a one year old, my kid got dropped off in the nursery at church today. Normally I would have just taken her in back and played with her. The look on my wife's face when I returned to my seat baby-free was priceless. And the kid actually stayed back there for twenty minutes, only freaking out when they stopped holding her to see if she would play on the floor with some toys. Next week we'll all get to see if the kid has decided that the nursery is a Place of Horror or a Place of Fun. I'm all about letting the kid struggle a little as long as everyone else is in on the plan.

My sister was here Saturday afternoon and today for church and lunch. The kid thinks of her as a second mommy of sorts (complete with the occasional grabbing of certain parts when hungry). I hope my sister can come again sometime soon. The rest of my family was here, too (they arrived in the same car). They brought some gifts for the baby and for me. It was my lucky day. Baby toys and cool grown-up stuff.

And so life goes on.

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08 August 2008

Gas

I finally got my bike helmet, so I can start riding to work... once my legs are in shape to do it. And that's a good thing, too.

Where we live now, we don't have a highway for me to get to work. People like to say highway driving is not good on "short trips" under ten miles, but that is wrong. There's no magical switch that makes a car get city gas mileage on a highway trip of 9.9 miles and highway gas mileage on a highway trip of 10.1 miles. A simple calculation will show you that you have 0.2 miles to somehow get gas put back in your tank to do that.

My seven or so miles of highway at the old job did a few things to save gas like crazy.

First, there could be minimal acceleration. The amount of gas you use is related closely to that RPM meter thingy, not to your speed. (The relationship of speed to RPM depends on both the car's transmission and terrain.) If you look at the RPM meter thingy when you're on the highway-- and especially while running the cruise control-- you'll see that it doesn't move much. On the other hand, in the city the thing is constantly moving because the car is constantly speeding up and slowing down. Even though you're not driving highway speed, driving like a normal person often sends the engine speed 50% or more above the highway value. When the RPM meter thingy is the same as on the highway, you're driving more slowly (the transmission is in a lower gear) so you're not getting as much distance per unit of gas. The ramps back home could safely sustain near highway speeds. Also, the hills weren't steep.

Second, the aerodynamics of a highway are different. You don't need to tailgate the 18-wheeler to get drafting effects, although that will give you a big but illegally obtained bonus. Drive the speed limit on US-22 in the Lehigh Valley and let the passing cars going 65 push away some air for you. That's drafting the safe way.

Third, I was driving because I had a place to park for less than $400 a year. I'm a light-footed gas miser who keeps that RPM meter thingy under 2500 as much as possible. In contrast, my wife doesn't have a handle on the concept that most family sedans today accelerate faster than sports cars in the 1970s. I get in trouble for complaining about her frequent 3500 RPM forays uphill after the traffic lights. (I go to work uphill both ways. How? I'm not level headed.) She thinks about driving more as "push the pedal to move" than as a giant real life game of tactical economics and spatial strategy. When we go to her parents house or any other three hour trip, I go for the highway and the food. She goes for the love. When I drive, I'm thinking way too hard about driving itself, observing and calculating and experimenting and planning constantly. When my wife drives, she redecorates the living room in her head.

Anyway, now that we're in Podunkville, my wife is driving more, there are hills, and every traffic light from here to work is red two thirds of the time. I haven't done a serious calculation to check, but I think the slightly longer route to work might save a ton of gas, at least if I drive But, push to shove, our gas is taking us only 60% as far as before. I'm refilling the tank after 200 miles instead of 300.

And that's why I need to ride my bicycle.

Tune in next time for "Nate ignores the newly increased food transportation portion of his carbon footprint because he's saving a buck."

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07 August 2008

Who Do They Think They Are?

I just heard the most asinine thing on the news. After talking about the President going to China for the Olympics, the reporter saw fit to throw in a rant about how the White House press plane was held up for a few hours upon landing, and how this is not normal "diplomatic protocol." And you know what? I'll cry a river for the man when he shows me his red passport, or for that matter when he is important enough to get one.

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06 August 2008

Small Group Meeting Gets Out of Hand

I know that most of my readers were never there, but this sounds a little like a normal small group meeting back when.

And why do I have a feeling I was the one who always started it? Oh, yeah. Now I remember. It's because I always started it.

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03 August 2008

New Wheels

I normally don't post pictures in my blog, but I'm going to make an exception this time. Why? Because I anticipate people asking (or more like posticipate, because I've had inquiries already).

Anyway, meet my new bicycle.



At first glance, it looks like your everyday bike. It isn't quite the stock version, though. The stem and handlebars are not the standard for this model; the regular ones were a little low, straight, and forward for my gorilla arms. The rest is more subtle, just due to the thing being in relative proportion. The tires have light tread, are larger than road bike tires in diameter (thirty inches), are as wide as the widest mountain bike tires, and weigh about a kilogram (just over two pounds) each. The things aren't cheap, so I'll take care of them. The seat is about 41 inches off the ground, which works well for me. I need to add fenders, because I'm planning on riding on wet stuff. I also need to get a lock appropriate for the silly racks on campus.

Here is a properly white balanced close-up to show the color (assuming you have a color calibrated monitor).



I can't identify this color but rumor has it neither can anyone else. I'm thinking of getting black plastic fenders and painting them a nice deep purple.

If anyone has any name suggestions, please let me know.

[* I temporarily closed down the comments due to some problems with them displaying.]

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