Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ten compliments and a big ol' pile of bleh.

I saw this headline, and out of curiosity followed the link to read the article.

10 compliments your husband needs to hear

I didn't expect to be more than amused by it. As I began reading, I found the article quite compelling. As I read each compliment listed, I found myself thinking, "Yeah, I do like to hear that, even hunger for that in a way..."

Just reading them in the article was a bit of a self-esteem booster. I finished the article feeling pretty upbeat. I was also thinking that I could do a better job of complimenting my wife more frequently (Hey, it felt good! Pay it forward!).

Then I made the mistake of reading the comments. Hopefully there are more, and better comments when I read them. There were only a couple at that point. A few men crying that they never get such compliments, a few more cynical posts regarding the (perceived) worthlessness of modern men. A response post to the whiny men, inferring that women are too busy doing much more work, for much less appreciation, to take time and be appreciative of the men (I've seen a few memes carrying that same message of late). It hurt my heart to read them.

My first thought was have we become so absorbed in "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Married with Children", and etc... that we have completely absorbed them as reality? What happened to "Andy Griffith" and "The Cosby Show", how did we come to be so completely ruled by sarcasm, cynicism, selfishness and jut plain mean-ness?

My second thought was no wonder there is such a problem with cyber-bullying. They learn sarcastic and cynical from their parents. We spend hours laughing at clever insults in television comedies - That seems to be the primary content of modern comedy. we celebrate the endless stream of invectives, the more brutal, the better. How is it that we are even surprised that this is the behavior youth exhibit? Our occasional public messages against bullying are shining examples of hypocricy.

I should've stopped with the story...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dealing with your spouse's flaws

I figure since it's our thirteenth anniversary, I should take a few minutes to tell on my wife.

First, I have to divulge something about myself. I am horrible with names. I mean really horrible. Like someone from work will walk by - someone I see and interact with daily, and they will say "Hi Ed", and in that moment, I cannot for the life of me recall their name.

Once at church as a youth, the Bishop stopped me and asked "Where is David?".

I thought to myself, "Why is the Bishop asking me about David? Do I even know anyone named David?"

After a pause, he asked "Is your Brother here?". Oh, yes, of course, 'David' is my brother's name...

I don't know what it is exactly, but for some reason, names are groups of letters to me, and people are faces, and events, and the two don't have a very solid mapping in my mind. (Actually, I saw a video a few days back titles what English sounds like to foreigners [I won't  link it because it contains profanity at the end. It pretty easy to find it if you want, and if you exit right when she comes back into the room with the cake, you can skip the profanity.]. And as I watched it, I had a sort of epiphany. That is kind of what English sounds like to me. When people talk, I don't seem to process it in a normal way. It's like I catch the words, but out of order, so I end up having to take a few moments to process the words, re-piece them together, so I can understand what was meant. Anybody else have that problem? But I digress...).

So anyway, I have this problem with names, and I find it very embarrassing, so I generally try to cover it up. I feel awful when I can't remember someone's name. I am always afraid of hurting their feelings.

Enter my wife. I may have sort of vaguely mentioned this problem of mine to her at one point, I really don't recall. I do recall however, a number of times at social gatherings, when she would whisper the name of an approaching person to me. And when we would run into old friends of mine who she didn't know, she would often intervene by introducing herself.

I am very appreciative of the way my wife deals with this flaw of mine. She is truly amazing.

Happy Anniversary Tennille, Love you.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gasoline, plumbing and paint: a history of violence

I discovered an interesting article recently (several actually, but this one does a good job of summarizing them all, without getting too involved in the emotion of politics, as so many popular "scientific articles" seem to do of late.

The short story: a number of studies have turned up a very interesting, very strong correlation between childhood exposure to lead, and adult tendencies to violence.

In other words, there is a possibility that much of today's violence is the result of childhood exposure to leaded paint, leaded gasoline, and lead plumbing pipes. The suggestion is that childhood exposure to lead impacts normal brain development (there is evidence that it does effect IQ), in a way that causes an increased tendency for violence in later years (we've been trying to outlaw guns, when we should have been outlawing painters and plumbers).

In theory, that means we should expect a continued reduction in levels of violence in the US over the next decade or so, as the last of those who grew up in the leaded gasoline era pass away. Lead paint is already mostly gone in the US. Lead pipes are likely still a problem in older structures, particularly in Larger cities. The middle east appears to still be using the stuff, so they are likely to be mired in violence for the foreseeable future ...

The implications of this, if proven true are considerable. For instance many of the current autoimmune disorders (Crohn's, MS, IBS, etc...) are thought to have environmental triggers. Will a similar correlation be found for these, related to some other, now common substance?

The most notable point is the time span. This correlation was not discovered until decades after contamination occurred. Based on the observed correlation, the symptoms didn't manifest until roughly 20 years after contamination. This is a significant issue considering our relative lack of ability to effectively and accurately, acquire and retain sufficient quantities of data to really see the possible long-term correlations (In fact, a fairly significant effort goes into the hiding and/or destruction of old [often meaning older than three months] data, in an effort to protect against litigation, or preserve "state secrets").

We need to get better at collecting, managing, and understanding data.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Is modern math education broken?

I was helping my daughter with her math homework the other day. It was multiplication of various 2-digit numbers (ie 80x52=?). The instruction were to select a 'method' and then solve using that 'method'. The 'method' was one of a half-dozen or so 'tricks', which the previous days homework had listed and demonstrated. I only remember two of the names ("friendly numbers" and "halving and doubling"), and I only remember how one of them works (using halving and doubling, 20x 12 = 2 x 1/2 x 20 x 12 = 2 x 10 x 12 = 2 x 120 =240).

My daughter only remembered "friendly numbers", and she had turned in the previous homework, thus had nowhere to go for the list of 'methods'. Many tears were shed as we struggled through these problems. One problem, after giving her a hint as to a way to make it easy to solve (changed the previously mentioned problem to 8x10x52), she argued that she couldn't do it because the didn't know the name of the method, and In frustration I told her to call it "the smart way" (I really hope I didn't just kill her straight A streak with that).

Having shared that story, I am going to try and not rant for a minute...

I remember a math teacher by the name of Scott Ziegler. Our first couple days of class he had us start building a notebook. On the first few pages we listed properties, by name and description.
 Commutative property of addition:    a+b = b+a
Distributive property: (a+b) x c = (a x c) + (b x c)

We then went on to build theorems in the book, which would allow for faster solving of problems, those theorem had to be demonstrated to work, with a valid proof.

Then, when we solved homework and test problems, we were expected to show our work, each step, with the property, postulate or theorem we applied to each step documented to the left of the line on which the step was performed.
80x52 =
= (8x10)x52       --> Substitution
=8x(10x52)       --> Associative property of multiplication
=8x520            --> substitution
=4160              --> solve

If we didn't explain a step with a property, or if we used a theorem for which we didn't have a valid proof, we'd lose points.

Based on what I have seen of my daughter's homework, and based on posters I have seen in at least one math classroom of one middle school, this mathematical rigor I experienced has been replaced with memorization of tricks. The math classroom I walked through a few weeks ago had a poster, which more or less listed the additive and multiplicative properties, but they were presented with no rigor, no precision. Instead they were presented as 'tricks'.

This concerns me. I have known people who relied on the 'trick' method. They were able to solve problems very quickly, so long as they were problems which fit a 'trick' that they new. But they were completely lost if the problem did not fit one of their problem solving recipes. they were largely incapable of solving novel problems.

I am concerned that this method of teaching (common core? That was written at the bottom of the homework pages) is doing our children a great disservice. They are being trained to be nothing more than code monkeys - able to quickly churn out solutions to problems which have already been solved, but unable to truly innovate, unable to really advance science, technology, or human knowledge in any meaningful way.

I realize I may be looking at this through my particular filter. So I am trying to keep an open mind as I reach out to those working in education. Can you please help me understand this? Is there something I am not understanding about the current teaching method? Or is education seriously broken?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Does the shutdown, Debt Ceiling really matter?

The US is an empire in decline. It started sometime in my generation. The generation (or two) before mine were the reasons for it's rise. They were a generation of workers. A generation who made sacrifices - tires rations, gas rations, sugar rations. They made do with less than what they had and they applied their energy to building roads, dams, power grids. telecommunications.

My generation... well... we were kinda spoiled. We enjoyed the surplus the previous generation built up. Then we enjoyed our stuff, then we enjoyed our children's stuff, and now were are enjoying our future grandchildrens' stuff

This is what debt is after all - using the future to pay for the present. Problem is, you can only do that for so long. Take the story of Joseph in Egypt, from the Bible. Whether you believe it to be a true account or not, the concept taught is valid. In the story, Egypt experienced 7 years of abundant harvest, followed by 7 years of famine. Thanks to the Pharoah's dream (and Joseph's interpretation). They were prepared. They stored up the abundance, and lived off it during the famine. That is a pretty obvious and applicable concept. Famines happen. Job loss, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods,...

And if you have no food, because you wasted all your money on trinkets,... well... you starve.

Given that. Does this whole shutdown and debt ceiling matter? So what if it happens? Seems to me it will only hasten the inevitable. And to my way of thinking, better it hit us - the one's who created the mess - than our grandchildren, the unfortunate heirs of our irresponsibility.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"Stupid nitwit"

I went for a walk this afternoon, along a highway near work. As I approached a road leading form the highway into a neighborhood, I saw a car approaching. I have never been a really good judge of speed or distance, but the car seemed to be going a bit slow for the highway, so I slowed my pace a bit, in case the car was turning right into the neighborhood. As I reach the cross street, the car's speed seemed constant, and was certainly close enough to be signaling the right-hand turn. I saw no turn signal, so I stepped into the road and began to cross. Now the car began to obviously slow down. and at the point I was 3/4 of the way across the street, the turn signal came on. The car was maybe 20 feet from the turn when this happened.

My immediate thought was "Stupid nitwit. If you would have engaged your turn signal on time, I would have known, and waited to cross the street!" I don't know if that showed on my face. I made eye contact with the driver. She had one for those formal, half-smiles that could have meant anything.

The result was either she got stinky-eye or neutral face from me, and then continued either oblivious, indifferent, or perhaps sad/angry/indignant.

Two second later The thought occurred to me, what if she saw me, and slowed down to let me cross, so I wouldn't have to wait for her?

So I started evaluating all the possibilities, She was either oblivious, courteous, or a poorly trained driver. My response could have been either condescending (what I thought), neutral (what I think I did), or gracious (i.e I could have smiled and waved, maybe mouthed a 'thank-you').

Regardless of her motivation, a condescending response provides only a neutral or negative outcome.

A neutral response, probably a neutral outcome, maybe a negative outcome, if she was oblivious, or stupid, and she was annoyed that I was in her way.

If I had gone with the positive response... well... she still might have been annoyed, or she might nave not cared on bit. Or maybe, it might have acted as a positive reinforce for courteous, encouraging further courteous acts. Maybe it wold have just given her a warm fuzzy to have someone smile, and then maybe she would returned home in a better mood, more easily able to deal with the miss her children had made in her absense.

In other words, regardless of her motivation, the probability of the best outcome would arise from me assuming the most positive motivation on her part, and responding accordingly.

Lesson learned. I hope. Now the trick is developing my ability to identify the best motivation option more quickly (was a a few seconds late this time). Call it my "Postive Motivation Assumption Reflex" (P-MAR?). Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 6, 2013


My littlest boy is just about to finish out the fall soccer season. One game left, and no losses. They have in fact fact won many games by significant margins. I am feeling a little mixed about that. Of course I am happy his team has done so well, but...

I should mention that score keeping is up to each individual, they don't keep an official score. And I don't like that.

I think youth sports are of value when they accomplish the following objectives.

1. Allow the youth to develop coordination, physical 'knowledge', and fundamental skills.
2. Teach the youth to function as a team.
3. Teach the youth to win with grace.
4. Teach them to lose with dignity.

If they don't keep score, and if they don't have well balanced teams, those last two get missed. They are critical life skills. It is important to know how to accept failure, to see it as an opportunity to grow. It is also important to know how - as the champion on any given day - to reach out a hand , to lift up those who you have 'defeated'. I fear we do our youth a disservice when we prevent them from gaining that experience.