Posts Tagged ‘stupid’

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More prescient than even he would have expected

November 19, 2013

demonhauntedIt is well-known that Dr. Sagan was not religious – he described himself as agnostic, believing he had seen no proof of a supreme being. His 1995 book, The Demon Haunted World, was about using the scientific method and critical thinking instead of superstition and pseudoscience.

Admirable goals, and Carl Sagan was very articulate. His Cosmos series and book (PBS, 1980) probably did more to to help laymen understand the universe than any previous media program. (He also wrote the novel upon which the Jodie Foster film Contact was based.)

But I doubt he would have expected that his description of America in the quote above would have happened so quickly, or that we got there in the way we did. He seemed to believe the “New Age” trends he saw in the 1980s and 90s might grow, and that the much-publicized decrease in our ability to educate our students would result in an overall dumbing down of America. He himself did what he could to keep that from happening. I doubt he thought, though, that only two decades after he wrote those words we would have fallen so far and so willingly.

Hat tip to Scott Lowther and his “Up-Ship” blog for tipping me off to this one.

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…and now we’re back to normal…

April 29, 2013

After my post about the unusually large number of spam and bot hits this blog received recently, the number of hits have dropped off even from the average before the assault started. Sorry, bots, if I said something to annoy you…

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Spam! Spam! Spam!

April 17, 2013

I’ve not been posting for a while because of parent medical issues. However, Monday, April 15, the site got about five times the usual number of hits for any given day. Thanks, spambots! And some spam comments are sneaking through the filter. Where are these people? What makes them want to create spam messages? If they are that good, wouldn’t they want to use their skills for something better?

My gmail account has been receiving a lot of variations on the old Nigerian money scam messages lately. Like, a dozen a day. The spam filter is catching them (thanks, Google) but sheesh! I guess if you can get to a billion email accounts and only a very tiny fraction click on the thing, that still could be tens of thousands of idiots waiting to be sucked in.

Oh, well. First world problems, I know. Anyway, I don’t have much to contribute right now. I’m not watching much news or politics, and nothing else has struck me lately. I’m sure that y’all have been hanging on every word…

Later.

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So how’s that space program coming along?

February 17, 2013

asteroids

I found it on Jerry Pournelle’s site. I don’t know where he got it. Can’t read the type on the bottom. If anyone knows who created it, I would love to know…

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Really, Apple? What’s up with Pages and pdfs?

February 14, 2013

So…I needed to produce a short, 4-page newsletter in a hurry, and I decided to use an existing template I found in iWork Pages instead of creating my own in InDesign. I know InDesign, actually have been spending a lot of time with it, but I thought this would be just as fast or hopefully faster since I could start with an existing template that I liked. It had about a half-dozen page choices, fonts that looked pretty good with the design and even a color scheme I figured I would not have to tweak. (I eventually did, but that’s another story.)

It went together pretty well. Pages does some quirky things with flow from one column to another, but I got past it. I have to say, the column flow in InDesign is pretty darned smooth nowadays, far better than back when it was still PageMaker. Things stay where you want them.

I got the newsletter done in a couple of days, on and off, and sent a draft out to the board members of the organization for which it was being created. Nobody seemed to have any problems. I did one more proofreading pass, caught a couple of things, and then exported the PDF.

I checked the PDF in Preview.  It looked fine. Then I decided I was going to add metadata that couldn’t be easily added in Preview (at least, as far as I know it can’t) so I fired up Adobe Acrobat X.

It looked, pardon my French, like shit.

The text wasn’t kerned properly and the letters were not aligned along a baseline. It looked like one of those “kiddie” fonts that tries to duplicate a child’s printing. I zoomed. Still ugly. I zoomed some more. Still not good, but better. Finally I zoomed out to where I only could see one column on a three-column page at once. Finally it was rendering the type correctly.

I tried printing to a PDF instead of exporting. I tried printing to PostScript, then opening that in Acrobat. I checked it with Acrobat 8 and 11 – same issues. I tried the “Print to Adobe PDF” – how is that different from “Print to PDF” – yes, there are a couple of things you can tweak, but that’s it. It looked just the same.

I figured every Windows user in the organization was going to be laughing their heads off if this thing got out. I did some quick Google searches, and found that THIS WAS A KNOWN PROBLEM. WHAT THE FRAK? THIS WAS NOT A QUIRK, IT WAS A FRAKKING CONSISTENT ISSUE!

What good is Pages if you can’t export a PDF? Print is dead, to quote Egon Spengler, and I’ll bet 90 per cent of documents created in Pages are never intended for print.

It has an “export to ePub” function, for cryin’ out loud! But it can’t render a PDF properly? Even Word can do that!

Near as I can tell, Pages doesn’t embed the fonts. If the reader’s computer doesn’t have the font it will only render it properly at the resolution at which the page was created, or something. It couldn’t scale the type nor kern it correctly. There doesn’t seem to be a way to get Pages to embed the fonts.

Finally, I switched all the text that was originally in Baskerville to Minion Pro. I figured that font should be on most of the Windows machines out there. It was on every list of standard system fonts in Win7 I could find. I didn’t like the look of the page as much; I had to actually decrease the font size and increase the spacing between the lines to get it to come out right without rebuilding the whole newsletter.

The newsletter should come out quarterly; I will switch to InDesign for the next one. So much for Pages. It’s just never seemed to be quite ready for prime time. It’s sad, because it could be a pretty nice app – pretty interface, tools that mostly work the way you expect, low learning curve. But as far as I’m concerned, the PDF export issue is a deal-breaker.

I expect better from Apple. I really do. I don’t think of the Apple folks as superhuman; just as a company that cares about the experience the user has with its products. This is NOT a minor point, to allow it to render PDFs incorrectly. I don’t care how much bad blood there is between Apple and Adobe. The Quartz engine should make PDF conversion pretty simple, and it usually is. (Remember, the granddaddy of Quartz was a little thing called Display PostScript…for the NEXT computer.) This is a really sad oversight. I hope Apple fixes it, but it seems to me that updates to Pages and the other iWork apps don’t appear very often.

Sorry for the caps. This really bugs me, not only because I just found it out of luck, and then spent two hours fixing it. I just have higher expectations of software developers. PDFs are such a standard I don’t know how that could have slipped past in beta testing.

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Mac Microsoft Word 2011 save problem – solved?

December 14, 2012

I’ve been working on a book about how to arrange music for marching band, and I’ve been plugging away at it for about a year. I’ve been writing it in Word, mainly, and embedding images as I’ve gone along. There are a lot of music notation examples in the book, so I have been creating them and placing them along the way.

I didn’t originally know if I would complete the book in Word or convert it to something else. Last summer I got Adobe Creative Cloud services for another project and so I have access to the newest version of InDesign. I was a PageMaker guy from way back, and I’ve used InDesign CS3 to do concert programs and the like, but never a large (100+ pages) document.

I decided to move the text to InDesign and I’m in the process of doing that. However, what prompted that decision was the trouble I’ve had with Mac Word 2011.

Lately it’s been switching the document to Read-Only and refusing to save. There have been dialogs popping up about the file being used by another process. I’ve done a little research and I found that others with the same problem have (a) been using large files, in excess of 20 MB; (b) they have been using images embedded in the file, and (c) they have Time Machine backup turned on. There were a lot of suggestions to fix permissions (the generic Mac OS X fix) and I did that, daily, for a while…it didn’t help.

Since I have the first 40+ pages transferred to InDesign I decided to delete the images in that part of the document. The file went from 22.5 MB to 19.9. I’ll see if that helps. I hate to turn off Time Machine if I can avoid it. Maybe it’s the images.

If so, that’s kind of stupid. I’ve worked with documents in Windows Word 2010 that were of similar file sizes, with lots of embedded images. I used to write a lot of computer training documentation and those docs were full of screenshots – and I did nothing to optimize those images one bit. There’s obviously some kind of bug in Word and how it works with Time Machine or some other background process. I’ll report back on this issue in a few days, and let you know if the situation has improved.

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How to improve our standings in the world’s education rankings

December 7, 2012

I recently saw a reference to yet another article decrying the state of US public education. Here, in a nutshell, is what I think:

Like with the recent presidential election, be careful what you wish for.

Huh? I’ll explain.

See, we say we want one thing, but we reward another. I taught high school for 34 years, in rural, blue-collar and then in “high achieving” suburban environments. I saw a wide range of student achievement and parental and societal expectations. What bugged the living hell out of me wasn’t the belief that if the kid didn’t get into exactly the right college, he would be a failure at life, although that pissed me off a lot. It was that there was so much focus on the environment of the school and the social life offerings there.

It was as if the kids and parents were picking a place to go for their summer vacation, not to get an education. The appearance of the campus, the athletic teams, the other social programs for the students, all the stuff completely unrelated to the actual business of learning dominated their thinking.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. We have been looking at education that way all the way through, K through 12 and beyond, for decades.

Schools can’t be demanding, unless it’s an Advanced Placement course. Then you can do darned near anything to a kid and the parents won’t complain, because it’s cool because it’s a college course. We had one at our school that was targeted at sophomores. Sophomores? Really? Since when are they able to handle college material? If they are, why stay in high school? Skip the crap and go get the degree.

But the degrees are watered down in a lot of fields, too, and grade inflation has made “academic rigor” practically meaningless. I laugh when I hear somebody from a regular college complain about the “for-profit colleges” that are out there. To me, they should all be for a profit and not receive any state tax money. You want a college education, you pay for it. You need loans, you get them yourself.

“But college is too expensive.” Sure it is…cut the nonsense out of it, just pare it down to the education, and you can probably reduce costs (and staff) by half. It’s completely gotten out of hand.

But that wasn’t the point of this piece. It’s why we can’t compete in the rankings with other countries.

Here’s how to fix it, if the rankings are the priority:

Shoot the horses that can’t jump. Start in, say, 6th grade, separating kids by examination into college bound and non-college bound programs. Non-college bound will prepare the “workers” our Socialist President thinks we need more of. (How Lenin of him to call us “workers.” Sheesh.) Another set of exams at 8th or 9th grade. Kids who test high in science and math don’t get to be dockworkers or taxi drivers, or investment bankers or hotel operators…they are funneled into engineering and pure sciences, or into medical profession preparation.

You see, in many countries those are the kids who are tested for the rankings – not the entire general population. Every time we include everyone in that kind of testing we shoot ourselves in the foot.

Make businesses run the colleges. For example, if you test well in 12th grade, you can go to the college run by GE, or by Apple, or by BP…their own R&D folks would teach, and you would learn what they want you to learn to actually be of use to them. Afterwards, you work for them for a number of years to pay back your education. No summer vacations starting in mid-May, no winter or spring break…you learn straight through, 8 hours a day. You could do the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in two years, tops, without “Gender studies” and garbage like that loaded in the curriculum. No football games, no fraternities.

This would also give those companies a stake in how the lower grades are handled…I can’t see how that could be worse than the way we in public education are led by the nose by the colleges today.

Sound silly? Japan has been doing this for more than 20 years, that I know of. I know because I was present for a panel discussion with Japanese educators where they laid the system out for us.

Trim the fun stuff out. No more athletic teams. No extracurricular activities. No fine arts. None of those are used in those rankings, so why bother? Do you think the Estonians who rank higher than our kids are all great violinists or soccer players? If they are, it is because their parents decided to have them do that after school on their own, not depend on the school to pay for it and teach it. There are some outstanding concert bands in Japan, for instance – but not school-sponsored, and they for sure don’t rehearse during the school day.

And yes, I know that since I am a former fine arts teacher I sound hypocritical. Remember, I am telling you how to raise our rankings, not to provide the proverbial “well-rounded education.” Obviously that has not been a priority or I would not have had a job for 34 years.

If you know of a country that matches the extent of arts and athletic and extracurricular activities we offer in most of our schools, let me know; I don’t know of one – including those who rank ahead of us.

While we’re at it, we can cut about half the social studies classes – have you looked at what kids are offered today? But American History and American Government, especially learning about that pesky Constitution, are not required. But we don’t cut the Home Ec and Industrial Tech – those are needed for the kids going into the service and technical industries. We need more auto shop, not less.

Full-time school. Sorry, fellow teachers, but the cushy part of the gig is the days off. We aren’t bankers and really it doesn’t make sense to barely see kids 180 days a year. Kids no longer work on the family farm, and that’s what determined the school schedule a hundred years ago that we still use today. Give ’em July off, even, but not Columbus Day, or Presidents’ Day, or whatever, and for God’s sake cut out all the shortened days for conferences and teacher work days and meetings. Just teach the kids. We have been reducing the actual number of hours kids learn for decades. It’s a crime, and I never saw that most of those days were worth the time spent. Most of us thought most of the stuff we did was a waste of time and effort. Often the activities were planned to make it look like the administration had us focused on something new and cutting-edge; then we went back into the classroom, closed the door, and taught like we always had because the old way still worked.

Make teachers accountable. Not in terms of social interaction, but in knowledge of subject matter. I don’t want my granddaughters to get an education from people who teach math but got no higher than a B in algebra – and that is far too possible today. One of the reasons for the turnover in education is because smart people get out to do something real with their lives instead of putting up with the administrative BS, the snotty kids and their arrogant parents. That leaves us with, sorry to say, not the top of the heap. I’m not saying we need PhDs in physics to teach our classes – often those folks have no clue how to teach. But we do need people who know how to teach and what they are teaching.

Look, to a great degree, the effectiveness of a school has to do largely with the raw material. I taught in a district that selected for intelligence just like a Catholic high school that required entrance testing, except ours was based on housing costs. You couldn’t live in the district if you couldn’t afford a house there, and really stupid people rarely could. Or really unmotivated people. Move kids from low-achieving areas to that school and sorry, you wouldn’t get the same results. We were good but not that good. We had smart kids to work with, motivated kids with motivated parents and a history of valuing a good education. So we got results and were ranked high in the state tests. But that’s a topic for another piece another day.

That should be enough to move us up, say, 10 places. But we won’t do it, because we can all complain about the rankings, but we still want our daughters to be cheerleaders, or in drama, or our sons to play football or (heaven forbid) join the Chess Club. And then, when they graduate, we want them to “enjoy their college experience.” When or if we ever get more serious about kids getting an education than about the football team’s record, we’ll see some changes.

Oh, and one more…

Make the schools ethnically and culturally homogenous. According to an article in the UK Guardian, the top 10 countries in reading are:

South Korea
Finland
Canada
New Zealand
Japan
Australia
The Netherlands
Belgium
Norway
Estonia

Math and Science rankings were similar. Show me how any of those countries are as ethnically and/or culturally diverse as the USA. The dirty little secret is that we are trying to be everything for everybody, and to do anything else is racist by the standards of the US. I’m not saying any ethnic or cultural group is less able than another, just that cultures dictate learning styles, as well as a host of other things that help or hinder receptivity to educational processes, and we can’t do everything at once for everybody. I think some of the inner-city charter schools are doing well because they understand this and focus on particular neighborhoods and populations. They have high standards but they don’t have to take their eyes off the educational ball. We are constantly being told we have to do this and that because of culture and diversity. Either we all learn the same way and buckle down or we don’t. If we can’t get to kids one way, we don’t have time to find six others. We really don’t. But other schools can.

When I retired, the smallest department by enrollment was “Educational Services,” or what used to be called “Special Education.” It also had the largest number of faculty. Huh? But that, too, is another piece for another day.

This little piece ought to piss some folks off. But I’m telling you, if the goal is to be better at math than the kids in Finland, we have to become them. We can’t do it the way we have our schools structured now.

Well, what do you think?