Thursday, August 30, 2007

Obesity in the US

One cure to rising obesity rates is simple. Turn off the electricity. Knowing that it'd work leads to many thoughts about our society. Convenience is a double edged sword.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Delicious Stinks

I much prefer diigo for "social tagging." It also adds social annotating (shared post-its on the www), which could be an awesome tool.

My #1 problem with delicious was this, right out of their FAQ page which explains that I cannot import and share my current bookmarks:

How do I share all my imported bookmarks?
To make a bookmark public, click the "share" link located on the right of its description. We don't have a "share all" button right now for a few reasons...

So right out of the gate, they are making excuses for why I can't continue to make my bookmarks public via their system. Customer service is not their strong point.

I've been saving my bookmarks online since Netscape was the world's web browser. I'll not waste my time moving thousands of bookmarks one at a time.

If you watch the RSS feed from my delicious account, you will see added bookmarks. That's because I've set diigo to automatically update delicious for me, rather than force others to use the information system I've chosen. The *only* advantage I can find with delicious is its large user base. Thank goodness diigo offers a bridge between systems that lets me do what I want...with the potential for other more exciting features as well.

Monday, August 20, 2007

There's a growing trend to evaluate our educational system based on test scores. Undoubtedly, our test scores will improve, but at what price? Are those tests designed to help students who will never attend college? It might surprise some people to realize that half of our students are below average! As important as education is, Academia will not save the world by raising test scores. It is a worthy goal to bring a college education within reach of all children, but not realistic. Luckily, there will always be a need for manual labor.

There is a solution which helps everyone. The solution is to teach all students a variety of skills, and not just academic skills. Among those skills is the ability to do things with your hands. John Ratzenberger created because of what he sees as a crisis in America. You probably remember him as the actor who portrayed "Cliff" on "Cheers." He is also the host of a TV series called "Made in America" and the author of a book called "We've Got It Made In America," which I own and would be glad to share. His message is that kids love to tinker, and we need to foster that inquisitiveness. It is the curiosity of how stuff works which makes for better engineers, inventors, and even art museum archivists(1). What he does not say, but bears pointing out, is that a manual skill can be applied even if one does not pursue higher education.

Ratzenberger's position is that promoting manual skills prepares kids to be the inventors of tomorrow. This past summer my 9 year old son attended a week long summer camp called "Camp Invention." It would come as no surprise to Ratzenberger or myself that the kids' favorite part of the week was the "Take Apart" activity during the "I Can Invent" module. They had a blast learning to use hand tools and examing the gears and pulleys inside discarded appliances.

While the idea behind No Child Left Behind is an honorable one, it will do us more harm than good if it serves to distract our efforts from those things which have historically been our strengths. The teaching of technical or manual skills is just as imperitive as the teaching of the 3 Rs or digital skills if we are to prosper in a future of unknown problems solved by unknown tools.

(1) an Aug 19, 2007 article in our local paper depicts art museum archivist using an open end wrench to tighten a nut on the tail of a 1930 Savoia Marchetti flying boat. My initial response to seeing the image was "Why on earth would he be ruining that nut with an open end wrench? A six point box end wrench should minimize the marring of a museum piece!"

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wikipedia's Weasel Words

There are apparently a growing number of useful wikis available on the 'net. Wikipedia has a Manual of Style that aims to make the site read more like an encyclopedia. It is interesting reading if you've ever wondered what makes wikipedia a civil place for contributors and credible resource for researchers, while maintaining the feel of an encyclopedia. The term weasel words is among my favorites taken from that manual. The full weasel words page is a quick read, but just in case you're a strict RSS type reader I'll include the following excerpt:

Wikipedia, as an encyclopedia, aspires to be authoritative by definition. Including the opinions of "some people" in an encyclopedia article implicitly gives credibility to their opinion and vouches for its relevance, because if it weren't important or relevant, it wouldn't have been included. Given the unique nature and status of Wikipedia, this makes its articles troublingly easy to exploit in this way in order to spread hearsay, personal opinion and even propaganda. The first line of defense against this is verifiability policy, which provides specific criteria for the sort of support a claim must have to survive a challenge in article space.

As you read the core content policies you see how ironic it is that Wikipedia in one way doesn't contain any data. It is a collection of metadata with references to published data--effectively a huge database of links maintained by the public. How backward is that?

Monday, August 13, 2007

PTA Needs

Tonight's PTA meeting featured the results of a survey which asked about interest in information meetings. Respondents entered ideas and comments for future speakers and events. Top billing went to "study tips & rewards", but tied for second place was "Internet Safety." I doubt there's anything unique about our school. I wish this were already part of standard Extension programming, but I'll start with my own brand of good will. We can do this, Extension People.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Universal Dispenser II

If you happen to own a Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator (or one of its sisters of a different name), there's something you should know, other than how NOT to use it to dispense Coke.

While removing my Coke slushy from the ice reservoir, I determined that a mixture of ice, Coke, and running water tends to produce some very sharp ice cubes. These icy razors don't last long enough to serve a useful purpose, unless you think combining the medieval practice of bloodletting with the 1970's practice of making a Coke Icee to be useful.

Given that this fiasco happened at the end of a very long day, my reaction was somewhat similar to that of Tom Hanks' character in Money Pit when his evening bath went awry.

Be safe out there. The kitchen is no place for a hurry-up offense.

The Universal Dispenser

How not to save time using your Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator with "ice-n-water through the door"--

1) place one can of Coke in the ice container for quick cooling.
2) dispense one glass of ice for a family member
3) dispense a second glass of ice, complete with chilled Coke ready for immediate consumption...(after adding a triple shot of your favorite "relaxing" additive).

This could be considered a "feature" since the fridge will actually dispense Coke and ice together through the door, but it is a very messy feature.

As it turns out, there is a bar which stirs the ice to keep it in individual pieces and allow free feeding to the door. That bar can also rip an aluminum can in half.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Doubt the importance of perspective? "Clockwise" is the opposite of what you'd expect when looking at a wall clock from the wall's perspective!

Always consider the other point of view.