Month: September 2009

Edumacation: Where we need to be

I’m starting to use major headings for blog posts. If you’re not familiar, Edumacation is sort of a Bushism pronunciation of Education.

Over the Labor Day weekend I had some interesting discussions with a friend. He has the unique benefit of having been involved with education for the last decade. I have the unique benefit of thinking ahead to the future needs of this country.

Before I go into this let me outline my educational background because I’ll use it for comparison.

I attended Catholic schools from grades 1 through 12. Chose a private university for my B.Sc. One of the features of grades 9 through 12 was that we were tracked. You fell into a .1, .2A, .2B or .3B class. Most of my classes spanned .1 and .2A, most of which were the math and science subjects. Only thing I got .2B on was a western civilization class.

Catholic schools are more structured and they can be somewhat discriminatory in who they will accept as students. There’s the money thing. My last year at LaSalle Academy was $2,000 for the year it is now $11,900 per year, or almost $50,000 for four years. My B.Sc was on $24,000. Catholic elementary school comes to a total of $5,000 per year. Projecting out, if costs remained fixed (Which it won’t, when I was at LaSalle it got more expensive each year!) it comes out to $90,000 for 12 years of education. If you’d done public schools it would cost $132,000.

But schools like LaSalle Academy also have another way of weeding out the undesirables. There is an entrance examination. Matter of fact when I was a kid I took the entrance exams for both LaSalle and for Classical (Providence’s premier high school). Got accepted to both but for some reason chose the Catholic school. Weird I know, it was kind of a revenge thing.

In a way I’m supporting a voucher program that would kick say $1,000 a month for eleven months. It would be spectacular. 12*11*1000 = $132,000 but like I said the Catholic schools would be $90,000 so 12*11*n = 90,000 where n is equal to $681 a month.

If I had a child, even though I’m a flaming atheist, I’d want that child in Catholic schools. I think I’m good enough to counter the religious indoctrination. I may have the problem another friend of mine had. His 8 year old son announced to a nun that religion was “bullshit”. That got him expelled from the school. I’d teach a child of mine the art of subterfuge when it comes to religion.

But the point that my other friend and I discussed was this:

We test kids at several points during their primary and secondary education so we absolutely know their capabilities. In order to fix public education we need to add a discriminatory element. Not discrimination by race or ethnicity, but discrimination based on cognitive ability.

The kids who test poorly could be shunted into a vocational track while those who have higher level skills would be shunted towards higher education.

The only thing I have to say about this is that even with the standardized testing we’ve done, there’s still a problem. The language barrier is one, since some of the kids in schools don’t use English as a first language. So you’d need some way of compensating for that.

You’d also have to seriously enhance the educational environment. This means teacher evaluations, and changing union rules so that we can rid the system of bad teachers. Take NYC as an example. It’s a real pain to discharge a non-performing teacher. Granted they also need an objective adjudication division too. Maybe a panel made up of their peers, or some such.

The nugget of all of this is that not everyone can be a rocket scientist. But if you can’t be a rocket scientist, maybe you can be an engineer or technician that helps build, maintain and diagnose issues with the next generation of space exploration vehicles.

Disappearing Libraries

I still love my dead tree copies of books like the classic by Robert Heinlein, “Strange in a Strange Land” or perhaps Manchester’s “The Arms of Krupp 1587-1968” or even Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. BTW, I find the attitude of Rand to be insufferable and the book is far too long to make the point but it exists in my library and I have read it.

But I note schools in RI are starting to go all digital in a big way when it comes to their libraries.

Case in point, the new $60 million Hanley Career and Technical school in Providence, and now one at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, MA (90 miles west of Boston).

The world is changing. I embraced the net when I was first exposed to connected computers on BitNet. BitNet was just a bunch of IBM 360’s and 370’s tied together. I had an account on the University of Rhode Island mainframe and accessed it through there. I use to be – long since gone. But as I said, my first true net (TPC/IP) exposure happened when I started working at Brown University in 1993.

I just hope the DMCA and copyright code get updated so that it doesn’t hamper a fully electronic library.

More on perjury and penalty

I posted my charge of perjury against Governor Donald Carcieri of Rhode Island in a the comments section on the Providence Journal.

Some one made a good point, almost all of our elected representatives take the exact same oath and all of the have perjured themselves.

Here’s the thing. As a a former state employee I can tell you what the biggest problem is in the legislature, Governors office, Attorney General’s office, Secretary of State’s office and even the issues our elected federal representatives face. That is, ever 2 to 6 years depending upon what office you’re running for re-election.

And having gone through two transitions I can tell you some things. The first isn’t going to astound many people. To get elected to public office doesn’t take a genius. Put it this way our current Sec of State isn’t the sharpest crayon in the box. And dare I say it our current Attorney General, well, not the smartest guy. I’m sorry but anyone who puts a Spider Man quote on the outside of a building that stand for justice just doesn’t deserve my respect.

There is no intelligence test required before you can run for office. It’s only a popularity contest at the moment.

What most people don’t realize is the amount of damage wrought when a new elected officers comes on board and replaces people with institutional knowledge with cronies.

I thought about what would solve this. Maybe lengthen terms out to a decade but with a very strong recall option.

Actually most of our political decisions could be made by expert systems. Imagine, you present your evidence to the expert system and it does the cost/benefit analysis as to the proposed legislation and makes the recommendation to either pass it or reject it.

But do we really trust computers that much?

My favorite Art

I’ve realized something. I really dig 19th century art. My two favorite artists from that period are Henri Regnault, and John Singer Sargent.

I’ll start with the latter:

Hercules by John Singer Sargent
Hercules by John Singer Sargent
Atlas and the Hesperides
Atlas and the Hesperides
Disegno 9
Disegno 9
Recumbent draped figure
Recumbent draped figure
Chiron and Achilles
Chiron and Achilles

I get the distinct impression that Sargent was gay. Lifelong bachelor, a slightly younger protege. You get the idea here. Probably why I’m drawn to his work. He understood the male body.

Now onto Henri Regnault, not as many from him but still some good ones.

Automedon with the horses of Achilles
Automedon with the horses of Achilles

The above painting is phenomenal. It’s just breathtaking in its detail and composition. And of course it makes you just wish the cape would shift just a little bit more but alas, it won’t happen.

Head of a Moor
Head of a Moor

I get the feeling that Regnault might have been a friend of Dorothy too. He was young when he died, only 28. But he produced some very good art.

So there you have it. Now you know what to get me for my birthday or for a holiday gift.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?

I like the idea of a national strike. I’ve long known that corporations control government.

Here’s my proposal, lets put our money where our mouth is. Lets finance candidates who are beholden to “We the people” and then make a very simple change to the U.S. Constitution. In the 14th Amendment just insert a half dozen words or so that unequivocally state that the rights enumerated by the Constitution and its amendments apply only to flesh and blood beings.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Traffic and Pedestrians in RI

I’ve noticed that in the last week or so we’ve had one pedestrian struck and killed and another seriously injured in the urban area of Providence and Cranston.

I can tell you in both cases they were struck by ignorant drivers. How do I know this? Because I walk around the city quite a bit. There are areas where there’s right turn on red that people just keep streaming even though you have the right of way as a pedestrian. They don’t realize that the right on red rule says you stop and then proceed with caution. This is at an intersection with full traffic lights mind you.

Then there are free standing crosswalks. I’ve had people barrel down to try to get around me in a crosswalk, or barrel right towards me. I’ve adopted this look, I’ll look the driver right in the eye and tell him to stop his/her fucking car using appropriate hand gestures. Keyron tells me I’m kind of aggressive that way, and you’re damned right I am.

The worst offenders are the boys in blue. No lights, no sirens, but they’ll blow through a red light, through a crosswalk, whatever you have. Sometimes they’ll even hit the lights and siren to get through a light. It’s great fun btw, I’ve gotten to drive a vehicle equipped as such and it speeds things up. But it’s asshole behavior of the worst kind.

But then here in RI there’s this thing with about driving. I’ve driven everywhere on the east coast from Boston on down to Orlando. Here’s what I’ve noticed.

In states other than RI if you signal a lane change, a hole opens up. In RI drivers see the signal as a challenge and they’ll close any hole.

In addition, a red light in RI is merely a suggestion. A lot of that has to do with screwing with yellow light timing but alot of it is that when we see yellow it means hit the gas.

And the gods help you if you are at an intersection without a left turn signal. You can go through 4 or 5 light cycles before someone finally lets you through. This leads to what is referred to as the Rhode Island Slide. You just keep inching your car out into the intersection so drivers coming from the other direction can either stop, or hit your car.

Speed isn’t to much an issue on highways. I-95 once you get out of Providence starts moving along at 70MPH even though the speed limit is 55MPH.

I think what is missing is a little bit of courtesy. Slow down and/or stop for pedestrians, let the guy across from you make the left particularly if he’s signaling it. For the few seconds you take you improve the safety of the road for both cars and pedestrians.

Think about it, take 20 seconds to let a pedestrian cross five lanes, or hit the pedestrian and pay and pay.

This is why I’m such a supporter of autonomous vehicles. Right now the biggest obstacle in roadway safety is the human driver. Each driver has their own motivations etc. when they’re driving. Let the computer do it. The latest round of urban tests showed a clear winner. And that technology will only improve with time and filter down into production automobiles.

It’s already starting to happen. Toyota includes lane tracking and parking assist on it’s Prius. In other words, the car can identify the lanes and keep track of them. That wouldn’t work too well here in RI as most of the lane markings are so faded in places that the car would just freak out. But they use cameras to do the lane following. Which means they’ve figured out how to detect at least lines if not other objects.

I’d say we’re less than a decade from autonomous vehicles. And I can’t wait until they get here, just so long as they don’t use the Windows operating system.