Monthly Archives: September 2011

Don’t you hate it when you see an article with a headline that suggests something rather outrageous (pertaining, to say, some policy), then when you read the story it’s actually a rather reasonable policy?

It makes it so you just can’t trust outrageous headlines anymore. And you have to read the article. Suck.

Category: Newsroom

Do DC’s speed cameras count as extortion? As I’ve said before, if they ever want to get serious about speeders, they simply put cameras everywhere. It won’t be long before cars come equipped with GPS sensors that prevent you from unconsciously speeding and, because they know they will get caught, people will stop speeding. Of course, that creates a revenue problem.

Seven reason computer glitches are never going away. There’s actually a tidbit in there that relates to a commensation I had with Brandon Berg about Taiwan.

Some interesting tidbits about men and women and love.

A really interesting look at the short-term and long-term effects of marijuana from Wired.

This Washington Post article on Texas’ fast-track from the classroom to the courtroom is disturbing. At the same time, the deleterious effect that disruptions and the chaotic atmosphere can prevent almost everybody from learning. I think that part of the issue here is that the schools themselves are prevented from appropriate discipline, and so they turn to the courts.

Catherine Hakim on erotic capital.

I’m pretty sure I have a Linkluster item where I wrote on this previously, but stories like this make me think of the lemonade stands busted by health or permit inspectors. It’s antithetical to who we are. It’s a video about Los Angeles County’s attempts to chase people out of their dilapidated homes. Which sounds reasonable, until you realize how far away from everybody they are. I honestly didn’t know that such places existed in Los Angeles County.

Is productivity killing our economy?

Category: Newsroom

One of the “no duh” things I have learned while substitute teaching is the extraordinary difference in time horizons between young people and older people. I don’t mean this in the typical sense that kids can’t think too far ahead. I mean it in the broader sense… that what we would consider a little time is actually a whole lot of time for them.

One place where this comes up is with recess. Recess at Redstone elementary schools runs at about 10-15 minutes. To me, 10-15 really isn’t enough time to do anything. But to say that they are thrilled about it is an understatement. Not just as a break from the tedious monotony of classwork. In the same 10-15 minutes that isn’t “time enough to do anything” they just bounce from one activity to another. They play this for a couple minutes, then that. And sometimes they ask for an extra five minutes. Five minutes is a half or a third of the time that isn’t sufficient to do anything, but it just makes their day if you give it to them. Five minutes.

Recess more generally is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s good for kids to be able to go out and play. I have become a believer that recess should not be considered a reward but rather a good thing in its own right. I didn’t used to really believe this all that much because back when I was in elementary school, we spent recess doing things other than running around as often as not. But judging by the Redstone kids, we are the exception. Or maybe it was related to the fact that we had PE almost every day and they get it once or twice a week.

On the other hand, as a substitute, that 10-15 minutes out of an 8-hour day (including lunch) tends to be the cause of about a half or a third of the major problems I’ve faced. A good portion of the time when they come back in, I hear stories about how so-and-so hit so-and-so. How it may have been an accident but the retaliation was real. And the bad blood from the playground can color the atmosphere for the rest of the day.

Category: School

Toledo cries foul:

Toledo wants Syracuse’s 33-30 overtime win against the Rockets to be vacated after a Big East Conference official acknowledged that replay officials wrongly awarded an extra point for a kick that was no good.

Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien says he has asked the Mid-American Conference commissioner to request that the Big East give Toledo the victory.

Toledo made a field goal to force overtime Saturday, but the Orange came back with a field goal to win. The Rockets are upset because video showed Syracuse narrowly missed an extra-point attempt after an earlier touchdown. Officials who reviewed the kick let the extra point stand.

I feel for Toledo. This would have been a big win for the program and, indeed, they probably should have won. I say “probably” because there were two minutes in the game and if Syracuse had been up by two instead of three they might have had some extra urgency on stopping Toledo’s final field goal to put the game into overtime. The thing is, we’ll never know. That, to me, is another reason not to change the results of the game as it was played.

Several years ago when Southern Tech was playing a game against ESU where the conference title was (more or less) on the line, we got robbed on a particularly bad call as we were working towards the endzone to take over the lead in the final minutes of the game. The ESU defense had clearly not gotten off of the field. Flags were down everywhere. Our quarterback, who knew this, took the opportunity to throw a pass into the endzone to see if it took. Knowing that there would be a replay on the down. It was intercepted. The problem was that the flags that were down were for something on our side. ESU declined the penalty and got the ball on their twenty. They got a couple first downs and the victory formation and that was the end of the game.

It’s not exactly the same, because we hadn’t actually scored the touchdown (but there’s no question that we would have, we were on a roll). And arguably the QB shouldn’t have made the assumption on the flag. But just as clearly, there were 13 defensive men on the field. But that’s simply the way that it works. You pick up and move on. You don’t change the score after the fact. Much less the outcome or even the point spread. Human referees are an element of the game. If you don’t want them to matter, put yourself ahead by enough that they don’t.

A few weeks ago the Pac-12 did retroactively change the score on a game between USC and Utah. It didn’t change the results, but did change the point spread (to the collective groan of bookies everywhere). That was made worse by the fact that this was based on a new rule regarding celebration penalties that I do not believe should exist.

Late last season, in another game involving Syracuse, there was another excessive celebration penalty that ended up throwing the game over. And, of course, there was the Ty Willingham incident, where sports-writers everywhere were just outraged on behalf of Ty Willingham, only suddenly realizing that excessive celebration penalties can be kind of silly when the target is a media darling

A few seasons ago, it took Oklahoma fans half a season to stop demanding a reversal of the Oklahoma-Oregon game where the (Pac-10) refs consistently made mistakes in Oregon’s favor. It was actually the whining over that when I started digging my heels on the subject.

Historically, I’ve been against even so much as the Instant Replay, though over the last few seasons they have done a bang-up job of speeding up the process so that it’s not intrusive. The downside to that, of course, is that things like the above get missed. I wonder if a part of it is that the replay officials know the original call. Maybe what they ought to do is strip it of its context (“This is the game-winning field goal”) and strip them of knowledge of the original call. From there, they decide one way, the other way, or too close to call. And if it’s too close to call, they go with the original call. That would be harder to do with somethings (such as when there is a ref with arms signalling a touchdown or a good field goal in the footage), but I wonder if sometimes these mistakes are made in too great deference to the refs on the field. It seems that almost all of the weirdest calls are actually where they stand by the refs.

Category: Theater

We Need More Dogs!

Tommy West’s exit speech from Memphis. It’s not as colorful as the previous video, but a good call-to-arms to a school that needs it.

His successor went 1-11 and laid a huge egg against Sun Belt team Arkansas State a couple weeks ago and is 1-3 with its sole victory against a lower division team and a combined score of 44-154 (excluding the lower-division game: 17-127)

Category: Theater

The folks at the Frum Forum have retracted their article in opposition to red light cameras, saying “they work.”

I don’t actually disagree with that. And honestly, if done in conjunction with other things, such as longer yellow lights and preferably a light timer, I would support them. There are two counterarguments to lengthening yellow lights. The first is that it causes all kinds of traffic problems because of the “very specific formula they use.” Which is interesting, because they don’t seem to have a problem shortening the duration of yellow lights. The second argument is that people adjust to the shorter duration and it doesn’t make any difference. Here’s a quote:

We did notice immediately that the number of violations dropped significantly. But within four days what we found was that people had changed their driving habits. They knew that they had extra time. And it was virtually the same number of red light runners occurred within 4 or 5 days after we changed that light.

Does this jump out at anybody else? Four or five days? How many people are going to even notice such a change, much less adapt to it? At least some drivers probably haven’t even driven through the intersection during these five days. It would have been more credible if he’d said “within six months” or something. Five days? That’s just… not credible.

And I don’t have to, because it’s been studied. The National Motorist Association, which is critical of red light cameras, has a host of studies on the subject, including one in Fairfax, Virgina:

Skrum continued, “Fairfax County records show that ‘events,’ red light violations, captured by the camera fell from an average daily rate of 52.1 per day before the yellow time increase to just 2 per day afterwards, a reduction of 94 percent.

“Fairfax County records also show that citations being issued dropped to just 0.82 citations a day on average during the 67 days after the yellow time was increased.

“This camera was activated February 8, 2001 by Lockheed Martin under an agreement with Fairfax County. The Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for operating these signals. The decision to install a red light camera at this intersection confirms that this intersection was considered a location of serious violations with increased potential for accidents.

I could actually be convinced that it takes more than 67 days for people to adapt… but they’re already on the record as saying “4 or 5,” so there you go. Now, the NMA is a biased source. But what about the Texas Transportation Institute? They determine the following:

A before-after study is described and the resulting data used to quantify the effect of increasing the yellow interval on the frequency of red-light violations. Based on this research, it was concluded that: (1) an increase of 0.5 to 1.5 s in yellow duration (such that it does not exceed 5.5 s) will decrease the frequency of red-light-running by at least 50 percent; (2) drivers do adapt to the increase in yellow duration; however, this adaptation does not undo the benefit of an increase in yellow duration; and (3) increasing a yellow interval that is shorter than that obtained from a proposed recommended practice published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is likely to yield the greatest return (in terms of a reduced number of red-light violations) relative to the cost of re-timing a yellow interval in the field.

Both #2 (highlighted) and #3 are important. If we are going to use red light cameras, part of the package has to be following the proposed recommended practices of the ITE or independent civil engineers of some sort.

There are two important things to note about the TTI. First, they have also studied red light cameras and have determined that they are effective (even taking into account the increase in rear-enders). So, unlike the NMA, they are not saying anything about yellow lights in order to further an argument about red light cameras. Second, the original article cites the authority of… the TTI… in making its case.

So what have we learned here? We’ve learned that maybe there is reason to believe that we should institute red light cameras. We’ve also learned that there might be alternatives. But really, these alternatives are not mutually exclusive. We can do all of them. And if the goal were public safety, we would do them as a matter of course.

Above I mention light timers. By which I mean the thing they have on crosswalks that tell you how much time you have before the light changes color. The lazy cynical response to this is that it will just encourage more people to wait to the wire. This assumes, however, that everybody who runs red lights does so intentionally. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the ambiguity of not knowing how long you have causes people to ramp up because by the time the light turns yellow, they don’t know how long they have to get through, and they weren’t ready for the yellow light to begin with. I’d happily accept the results of a study on the subject, though, provided that it’s by an organization like the TTI or ITE rather than by someone with a real skin in the game.

Category: Road

I saw an article titled “Men are living almost as long as women” and I suspected that this is because men are living longer rather than women living shorter and (b) was mock-surprised that they didn’t title it something like “Women losing ground on aging compared to men” because… you know… that’s how articles like this are so often framed. Sure enough, I get to the third paragraph:

So the guys are catching up to us. This trend is partly due to the advent of Lipitor, bypass surgery, and other medical advances that are helping to keep men from dying early of heart attacks. Yet even as their lifespans are getting longer, ours are not keeping up at our historic pace. Researchers say this is because women are so stressed out these days that they’re resorting to unhealthy habits such as skimping on sleep, grabbing fast food, and relying on meds, alcohol, and cigarettes to cope. Ouch! Here’s hoping we can learn to mend our ways and stop literally killing ourselves slowly.

So the moral of the story, as when we hear sob stories about how tough it is for women when men lose their jobs en masse, is that women are being cheated.

Not long after, I read this article about how you can wipe out the male spacial skill advantage with a female-empowered culture. So it’s the patriarchy that is preventing equality! Indeed, this new study “suggests that spatial reasoning differences may also be the product of society.”

Quite interesting! So what did they do? They looked at two societies, one which favors men and another which favors women. The result? In the society that favors men, men did better. In the society that favors women… it was a tie. What do I mean by “favors women”?:

Among other differences, the Karbi are patrilineal; women do not typically own land, and the oldest son inherits the family’s property after the death of the parents. The Khasi could not be more different in this regard. Men are not allowed to own land at all, any money or goods earned by a male are handed over to his wife or sister, and inheritances go to the youngest daughter in the family.

So, if we want parity in this specific arena, all we have to do is strip men of all of their rights. Yay! This is going with the long theory that where women outpace men, it is earned and we should not concern ourselves with it. But when the inverse is true, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Here, apparently, lies the solution.

Less snarkily, if the study reveals anything, it’s this: If you give men every conceivable advantage, they unsurprisingly outperform women in this arena. But there is apparently no social order (short of just killing the men or refusing to educate them) where women can outperform men. This suggests the opposite of what the article says it suggests: there is something innate going on here.

Category: Newsroom

I had my first two substituting assignments last week. Both involved the third grade.

It’s always a good sign when you’re substituting for a male teacher. That’s because he’s usually a coach. And coaches, at least in Redstone, really have the plum jobs. Something to justify their salary and little more. It was frequently the case in my district that they taught the most basic of subjects, but in Redstone it’s not even that.

The time when I was teaching at the alternative school and had six students over three periods? Coach!

The time when I was doing a votech class on “workforce studies”? Coach!

And last week, it was “library tech.” Computer class! Coach!

The main thing was to avoid being bored while they listened to their headsets and learned to type using some free web site involving animated rhinos. The teacher (coach) said all I had to do was prevent them from talking and make sure that their posture was good. He was very concerned about their posture. When he left, he yelled “Posture!” and everybody sat up straight.

At the end of the day, I got to tell a teacher that her students were very well behaved in computer lab. I like getting to tell teachers that their classes were good.

I met the principal at this school (the last one I hadn’t substituted at before, I’m pretty sure), and this time not for a bad reason (it’s typically not good when a principal knows who you, a substitute teacher, are). We had lunchroom duty at the same time. I told a couple kids to stop running and he said “Actually, let them run. They fall, they hurt themselves, they are more careful about running in the future.” I’m not sold on the school itself (though the building itself is awesome), but I respect the attitude. On the other hand, during my off-period I was walking out to my car and a bunch of first graders were playing outside on a lawn near the parking lot with a huge hill unattended. I can think of 100 ways for something to go wrong with that.

There is a story in the background on all of this I cannot divulge because it actually got national news coverage and would give away my location. Frustrating.

The next day was a standard third grade class for a full day. It was at Creston, one of the “good schools.” The difference between a good school and a bad school is that (a) a good school you spend 50-75% of your time teaching or helping them learn and 25-50% of your time putting out fires and in a bad school you spend 50-75% of your time on classroom management, and (b) in a good school when you scream at the kids to be quiet, they do or at least try.

Things started breaking down towards the end of the day. The third grade is the first grade in which they have to stay all the way to 3:00 and the kids seemed to mentally check out at about 1, when they used to leave. I had to leave a less-than-stellar note for the teacher. She showed up before I left, however, and I talked to her about it in person. I told her that the kids weren’t bad, they just had trouble keeping quiet. She pounced on the latter part and said that she would give them a good talking-to.

It sort of feels like leaving reviews on eBay or the Subaru questionnaire where anything less than a perfect review is a bad review. It makes me almost want to say that they were perfect, because they were more good than bad.

Category: School

In Illinois, a man faces up to 75 years for recording police. This hopefully could be the beginning of the end, of however. A circuit judge has declared use of the wiretapping law unconstitutional a young woman in Illinois was acquitted of a similar charge in what can only be described as jury nullification.

Is a major automaker fudging its mileage numbers? I’d be surprised if it were only one. I was disappointed in the mileage of our new Forester, which wasn’t living up to the posted mileage, but actually determined that the problem was all of the uphill/downhill. Still, that others might be lying is hardly surprising.

Three funky things about sweat. Allegedly, the optimal sleeping temperature is 68 degrees, rending this entire piece suspect. The optimal sleeping temperature is 78 degrees at the lowest.

So a dog walks into a bar… well it can’t. Not in New York City anymore. It was actually already on the books but rarely enforced. I do understand that there are some health risks, but this definitely falls under the category of letting the consumer decide.

So apparently, we should go with our gut.

A good, and surprisingly fair, analysis of density and productivity. Yes, density does increase productivity. And people in the cities make more with wages improving at a faster rate. However, it’s really hard to compensate for the astronomical costs of living.

A couple of articles on decision fatigue. It’s worth noting here that this sort of thing plays a role in weight management. Since dieting (or “lifestyle change”) is a matter of choosing, over and over and over again, not to eat something, the system is prone to break down.

When women want to be romantically desirable, they shy away from STEM majors.

Jon Last has a really interesting article about toys and Chinese knockoffs. When both the originals and the knockoffs are cheap plastic made in China, what exactly is the difference?

Category: Newsroom

Maybe you had to go through presentations like this in school, but I not only literally laughed out loud when I saw this (which I don’t generally do), but I laughed myself red.

Category: Theater