Saturday, May 03, 2008

1794 Gaithersburg

The wee hours of Saturday, May 3, 2008

I am in Gaithersburg, MD, at a gathering of Maryland and Washington Metropolitan Mensa, at the Holiday Inn.

The drive was a 6.5 hour misery. I decided to blindly follow the GPS, and it put me on route 15, a LOCAL road, heading out of Harrisburg, at 5 pm. This was not good. There is a way to tell it to avoid certain roads and conditions and times - I guess I'm going to have to read the book.

On the other hand, route 15 took me within a few miles of Gettysburg, PA. Back in the dim mid-60s I lived and taught high school math there, so I decided to detour and visit. I almost didn't recognize the place. It used to be a sleepy little village except on summer weekends when the tourists came. Well, the village grew. But it can't expand outward because it's confined by the battlefields, so it just packed more into the tiny space it has. And they forgot parking. There were so many cars! And the streets are still civil war era narrow. It was scary. I don't think I'll be tempted to visit again soon.

I also once lived within a few miles of this hotel. Daughter went to nursery school, Montessori school, and first grade here. Again, this area has changed so much I'm going to need the GPS to find my old house, even though the bank I used and the shopping center where I bought household stuff is right across the street from this hotel. Beyond this corner, I'm lost.

I have some old friends in the area. I didn't let them know I'd be here because the final decision to come wasn't made until Friday morning (like, 15 hours ago). I'll call tomorrow and see who's available for lunch, dinner, or a visit later today or Sunday. [Later - see the confusion. I wrote this after midnight but before I slept, so is today tomorrow or yesterday?]

I got here too late for any of the Friday Mensa programs, but there was a pool/Jacuzzi party starting at 10 pm, so I went to that. Mostly it was just sitting or standing in the water talking, but it was ok. I had forgotten my bathing suit, but was able to buy one in the hotel store. Not too expensive ($25), plain black, and it actually looked ok on.

That was annoying, that I had to buy a suit. I found something that I love as a bathing suit (here, without sleeves). I have one in black, and one in tan. Just this past week I became aware that the manufacturer who used to make them has stopped. Another is making them, but they are a custom order, and who knows how long that will last, so I ordered three more. They should last me for the rest of my life. Buying another suit today because I forgot to bring one of the FIVE I have is teeth-gritting.

My man had said he might come with me this weekend, but he had to take time off from work for a family matter earlier in the week, so he couldn't come. A very nice looking guy in the pool and later in the hospitality room (home of food and drinks and conversation) was flirting with me. Very flattering, but I didn't encourage him.

To tell the truth, I don't know why I'm here.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

1793 Stupid Poll

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I forget where I read this, so I can't link to it, and the details aren't important anyway. It's been kicking around in my head for a few days.

Some group did an exit poll wherein they asked people if race made a difference in whom they'd be willing to vote for. An overwhelming number of people, something like 85% or 90%, said "No."

Then they asked the same people if they knew someone to whom race would make a difference, and a very large percentage said "Yes."

The part that bugs me is that the conclusion of the pollsters was that the numbers didn't jive, somebody must be lying, and therefore a lot more people were racist than were willing to admit it to the pollsters.

Huh? Therefore?

Let's take 10 people most of whom know each other. 1 is racist and the other 9 are not. If we ask them the first question, we get 90% No, which is true.

If we ask them the second question, and 7 of the 9 know the racist guy, then we get 70% or 80% Yes, which is true.

How could they conclude that most people were lying?

Sheesh. Buncha idiots.

1792 Economic War

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hey! It's May Day! When I was in elementary school, on May 1st we used to have a picnic with the procession of the May Queen and her court, over the petals of thousands of shredded flowers scattered by us plebeians, athletic contests, and dancing of white-robed flower-crowned girls around the May Pole, weaving intricate patterns of colored ribbons down the pole. I love May Pole dancing. Done correctly, it's fascinating. I suppose it's now frowned upon as pagan. Bullpoopy! It's just pretty.

Anyhow, back to my topic.

Forty years ago, the theory was that eventually, well, by now, actually, nations all over the world would be so economically intertwined that war would no longer be justifiable. War would hurt yourself more than the enemy, even if you won.

We thought that international corporations, with their worldwide investments and interests and their political influence, would work as a stabilizer.

I guess that was Pollyanna thinking. I guess it didn't occur to us that war could be waged solely for economic gain. (In the hippie '70s you didn't do anything solely for economic gain.) And I guess it didn't occur to us that corporations would have the most to gain from war, making their political influence a destabilizer.

Well, it's possible to wage economic war, without the bullets and bombs. Maybe that's the way to go.

It's possible that Israel could win the war with the Arabs by devaluing oil ("Next Big Future" link).
SUNRGI's "concentrated photovoltaic" system relies on lenses to magnify sunlight 2,000 times, letting it produce as much electricity as standard panels with a far smaller system. They say they'll start producing solar panels by mid-2009 that will generate electricity for about 7 cents a kilowatt hour, including installation.("USA Today" link.)


1791 Watch More TV! Especially if you have kids.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Read this:

"[I]f you ask Christopher Ratte and his wife how they lost custody of their 7-year-old son, the short version is that nobody in the Ratte family watches much television."
It's scary. There's so much wrong with the whole incident. (And I'm purposely being vague because I want you to read the article. It's short, and the link is safe.)

Why didn't the vendor make it clear what he was selling?

Why didn't the concerned citizen simply ask the father if he was aware what the child was holding before alerting security?

Why didn't the security officer and the cop at the hospital consider the father's intent before calling CPS?

Why didn't the medical people say "No harm done"?

Why didn't CPS wait for the aunt to get the hotel room before shuttling the child off to foster care?

Why didn't CPS consider the father's intent before saying that he had to stay away from home?

The answer to those questions is stupidity, love of power, unthinking bureaucrats following rules without concern for the effects. You can't convince me that they were really concerned for the welfare of the child. Could the father's social status have had anything to do with the way CPS responded? The actions of CPS hurt the child much more than the actions of the father. The incident with the aunt is the clincher there. They're just shoveling cases!

As for the father's mistake? The very fact that he didn't know what he bought says to me that he's probably a good father. I prefer that he not be familiar with the like.

The scariest part of all this is that it could happen to any of us who have children. How many times this week could you have lost your children if one of these stupid CPS people happened to see what goes on in your home?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

1790 Other stuff for the side yard

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I ordered two pounds of this* shade wildflower mix last night.

Thinking about it last night, I realized that on my walks in woods I can collect some wild seeds, if I'm careful not to take more than a few. Also, there are plenty of non-seed things that I can collect and disperse, like mosses and ferns. It's not terribly moist in that section of the yard, but when it rains, that's where the under surface runoff goes, so it might work. Moss and ferns do grow among the trees on the other side of the yard where it's even drier.

I hesitate to dig up someone else's daylilies for the sunny bank, but with patience they'll grow from seed and I won't hesitate to collect seedheads wherever I find them.

Wisteria also grows wild around here, and I'd love to have some grow up the trees on the sunnier edge. Cuttings will root. I have clematis in the front flower bed that wants to spread, and some cuttings of that could also be trained up the more-exposed trees.

To spread the ferns, all I need to do is collect some fronds with mature spore packets on the underside, and beat them on the ground.

To spread the mosses, I have a recipe I found somewhere. You pull up some moss (whether it's sporing at the time or not), tap off the soil, and run it through a blender with buttermilk, then spray the mixture on the ground.

All I have to do is throw a trowel and some bags in the car, and remember to take them with me when I go for a walk.

With a little patience, this could work.

* The only reasonably priced shade seed mix I could find: Chinese forget me not, Bachelor button dwarf, Sweet William, Coreopsis, Rocket Larkspur, Baby’s breath, Baby Blue Eyes, Sweet Alyssum, Shasta Daisy, Purple Coneflower, Five Spot, Candytuft, Corn Poppy, Clarkia, Spurred Snapdragon, Foxglove, Garden Columbine.

This mix is designed to grow in "hard to establish" shady areas. It is approximately 55% annual and 45% perennial. With enough sun, the annuals will reseed themselves.

1789 Emptying Minds

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In a earlier post, "My Empty Mind", I described a direction I thought education probably would go, based on what is needed, and the direction it has already turned. I guess what I didn't make clear is that I don't think it should go that way, I just think that it will. It will become more and more difficult to justify a classical education.

In high school, I took both French and Latin. Of the two, I found Latin to be the most useful, because with Latin and a smattering of Greek, I can pretty much figure out the meaning of new words. It's easier to read and understand technical papers, medical terms, even other romance languages. The only downside is the disgust one feels when elementary school authorities call the combination cafeteria and auditorium a "cafetorium", with no understanding of what's very very wrong with that word. That scares me.

It's now rare for a high school to offer Latin. It's considered a dead language, so why bother? In my opinion, it's not dead. It lives on everywhere --- except in the schools.

When I went to college, even though my major was math, we were all required to take Philosophy I and II, critical appreciation classes in music, art and literature, Psychology I and II, writing and composition, and several other general non-major classes, and we didn't graduate until we could draw a bow, hit a golf ball, swim, and bat a tennis ball. The goal was to turn out a "well-rounded individual", capable of carrying on conversations on topics other than TV shows and Paris Hilton.

When my daughter went to college, thirty years later, I was looking forward to having philosophical and critical discussions with her about what of the world she was being exposed to. Didn't happen. All of her classes were technical. She was in a five-year engineering program, and it took all five years to fill her with what she needed to know in math, physics, chemistry, and electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering for her architectural engineering degree. There was no room left for "well-rounding".

I believe that with electronic devices and the internet taking over our skills and eliminating our need to remember things, there will be a change in the purpose of education. I do think that critical thinking, communications and research skills, logic and discrimination, and analysis and synthesis are the most important things one should get from an education. The rest is tools to learn those skills.

The challenge is to select the best tools.

I am sure a change in the purpose of education will happen. I am not sure it will be in the right direction. Students will become increasingly resistant to learning things they think they don't need to know, and in our current social climate, they will not be forced to. Unfortunately, I'm not sure our current crop of educators are repositories of "critical thinking, communications and research skills, logic and discrimination, and analysis and synthesis", and I don't think that's going to get better... matter how many meetings they have in the cafetorium.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

1788 Seeds for the side yard

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We see the world not as it is, but as we are.


Today was cool, too cool for bugs, and perfect for working in the yard.

The Hunk had finished grading, spreading topsoil, and raking among the trees in the side yard, and he spread grass seed in the front half just in time for 2.5 days of rain. Which was excellent timing, since I don't have enough water pressure to run a sprinkler.

I wanted to spread wildflower mix in the back half. I had some that had been table favors at a friend's anniversary party (almost nobody took them, so when I helped clear after dinner, I brought almost 200 packets home). They covered only about a third of what I wanted to do, so I went shopping for more.

I went to three garden centers, and asked for "2 pounds of mixed wildflower seeds for shade, please". Only one place had seeds at all, and it was a sun mix. I bought one pound of those. Maybe some will grow....

I shopped for shade mixes online this evening. I found some, but they all say they need a minimum of 1-4 hours of direct sun daily. Hey, this is woods! They best they'll get is filtered light. There ARE wildflowers that grow in the woods. Trilliums. Dogtooth violets. Other stuff I don't know the names of. Why is it so hard to find deep woods seeds? I'm frustrated. I'll get two pounds of one of those mixes, I guess, and overseed the sun mix.

I also want a gazillion of the wild roadside daylilies, too, for the steep bank and around the mailbox. Nobody had the wild type, but I bought a few potted cultured ones. Everybody suggested that since they grow everywhere wild, I should just take a trowel and a bag, and dig some up along the road. I'd like to, but even out in the middle of countryside, that land is owned, so someone owns the lilies, and I don't feel right about digging them up without permission.

We'll see how desperate I get.

The nurseryman where I bought the lilies said not to plant them today. We're expecting frost tonight and tomorrow night.

Hey! It's almost May! Frost?

1787 Can You Increase Innate Intelligence?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I received this in an email from a friend:

This article: http://www.nytimes.%20com/2008/%2004/29/health/%20research/%2029brai.html? says "YES!".


"A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth.

Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience — what psychologists call fluid intelligence — is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing).

But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works.

The key, researchers found, was carefully structured training in working memory — the kind that allows memorization of a telephone number just long enough to dial it. This type of memory is closely related to fluid intelligence, according to background information in the article, and appears to rely on the same brain circuitry. So the researchers reasoned that improving it might lead to improvements in fluid intelligence


1786 My Empty Mind

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I was going to write about listening to an opera on NPR the other day. I wanted to write about how it was the absolute WORST opera for radio. (I don't know what opera it was, didn't catch the name.) It's hard to write an entry saying what I want to say, because I don't know the terms any more. I once did, there's words like libretto, score, aria, uh, other stuff, but I just don't talk about opera with anyone, so I don't know the right words.

And then I thought, "Well, I can look it all up on the internet....", and then I realized I didn't want to look it up, even though it would be easy.

Why? Because it would mean learning, however temporarily, something I don't particularly need to know. Something I once knew and have forgotten.

I've always had a habit of learning what I need to know when I need to know it, and then promptly forgetting it when I no longer need it. I learn quickly and easily, and thoroughly. Within three months of Jay's diagnosis, I knew everything there was to know about brain cancer in general, and oligoastrocytoma in particular. By the third year, I knew enough to figure out a problem with a stage 2 clinical trial in immunotherapy that Jay was in, explained it to the neurosurgeon and oncologist, and they halted the trial. In the year and a half of the trial, none of the experts had figured out why half their patients were going blind. I nailed it.

Another habit I had was that in many areas I'd learn not so much the answers, but where I could find the answers. You don't need to know something if you know someone who knows, or know what book it's in.

Now that I'm, ahem, mature, I find that I'm purging more and more of the clutter in my mind. I'm less and less willing to carry around information I don't need, and with the internet at my disposal, there's less and less that I need to know.

There's less and less that anyone needs to know.

In the old days, like say Victorian England and before, the educated classes were amazing, men and women. They all knew all about literature and the arts. They all played at least one musical instrument. They knew about plant and animal classifications. They easily read Latin and Greek, and spoke at least one foreign language fluently, and one or two others passably well. They were familiar with all the major philosophers, usually reading them in the original languages. History and political systems (as opposed to politics) were dinner conversation.

The middle classes were perhaps not so broadly educated, but let's just say that today's college graduate probably could not pass an 1860s eighth grade public school final exam.

Even the uneducated people had to know a lot to survive. If you had sheep, you had to know sheep husbandry, birthing, shearing, processing wool, carding, spinning, dying, weaving, besides all the other things necessary to simply survive. Woodworking, soap making, sewing, mending, bread making, canning and preserving, everyone had to know something about everything, and the poorer you were, the more you had to know. Otherwise, you died.

I look back 30 years, before home computers and the internet, and if there was something you didn't know, it wasn't easy to find information. If you could afford to, you hired an expert. Otherwise, you'd better know everything you needed to know, because you weren't going to get any further than the contents of your mind would take you. The role of schools was to fill you as full as your capacity.

Now, we don't need to have much in our heads, because it's all easy to find.

What does this mean to the future of education? There are people now who ask why we still teach math, when calculators are so fast and easy. Do we need to teach skills that a machine can do faster and more accurately?

Maybe we don't need to teach facts at all? How much do you need to have in your head when it's all so easy to find?

Maybe we should concentrate on teaching communications and research skills, logic and discrimination, and analysis and synthesis? The skills needed to use the internet? And only the skeletons of other disciplines, for awareness only?

(And please, please, please, homonyms and spelling! I am so sick of reading about how wonderful is the site of a robin after a long winter! And people who loose their keys - mental image of wild keys running free through the woods.)

I think that within the next few decades, that's the direction education will be heading. Kids have always been bored in school, wondering why they have to learn history or algebra, when they'll "never use it". That's always been a difficult argument to counter, and it's going to get worse.

Oh, yeah, that opera, and why it was unsuitable for radio. The music was ten minutes of the same four notes, repeated, then ten minutes of a different four notes, repeated, then .... all the way through. The singing was the same. No words that I could discern, just "Eeeeeee aaaaaa eeeeee aaaaaa ooooooo oooooo eeeeee" very long and drawn out, and not much of that, mostly just the exceedingly mind-numbing music. There must have been a lot of silent acting and action on stage, but that doesn't show on the radio.

If anyone knows what opera that might be, keep it to yourself. I don't need to know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

1785 The Weekend

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wow. Monday already. And Friday's dishes didn't get washed yet. Ouch.

Saturday I went with a friend to dinner and a dance show in Manhattan (a Broadway address, but not a "Broadway show", if you know what I mean). The only way I got to go was because she's a fearless driver! No way I would attempt it on my own. We took my new GPS even though we had no intention of going the way it recommended, just so we could laugh at the GPS lady when she got pissed off.

It turns out that the GPS doesn't work right downtown. The map was right, and the purple route line was correct, but the little car icon was all over the place, not where we actually were. My man later explained that Homeland Security blocks GPS signals in parts of the city. Which is silly, because the GPS doesn't show important buildings anyway, unlike those nice detailed maps you can pick up anywhere. (Oops. Forget I said that. Don't want some idiot outlawing maps!)

The show was fun, there was a nice wine/cookie reception after, an afterparty a bit further uptown, and late night/early morning conversation with a congenial group in a deserted bar on (I think) Fifth Avenue after an abortive search for food for some of the cast members (who don't usually eat much before dancing). I got home just before 4 am.

Sunday I met my man friend in northern NJ at 4 pm. I told him about driving down the Palisades Parkway on Saturday, so when we went out looking for food he decided to drive the Palisades, too. It's very scenic. He's most relaxed and talkative when he's driving, so I didn't mind that we wandered around and didn't stop for food until something like 8:30.

I got home after noon today and, well, I didn't nap or anything, but I think my mind turned off.

I'm going to be confused as to what day it is all week now, I think.


Oh, yeah, I took Clyde along on Sunday. The man was less amused by Clyde himself than by my interacting with him. When you want to turn Clyde off, it's best to coax him into his sleeping position. That puts his microprocessors into "rest", and curls up his body which protects his servos and gears. To quote: "I cannot believe the most intelligent woman I know is rocking an electronic device in her arms, cooing it to sleep! To sleep! A device! You DO know it's not alive, don't you?"

Silly male....