Monthly Archives: October 2012

A really interesting story about how a renegate geoengineering project sought to mine the ocean for carbon in order to get carbon credits.

Texas has opened the nation’s first 85-mph highway. There are concerns that truckers may shun it due to the toll. There is also concern about hogs. The thought occurs to me that for $12 a trip, you might be better off just speeding and paying out the tickets.

Okay, very, very valuable. Not as surprising as the fact that it has little to do with being actually supervising employees. Precisely, anyway.

The French, apparently, are nuts. Germans, too.

This sort of thing drives me batty on a number of levels. The primary one is logistical: You know what I don’t want? Any more incentives for convenience stores not to stay open late (or make themselves less accessible when they do).

Illinois Illini head football coach Tim Beckman was chewing snuff on the sidelines and got busted. Adam Jacobi thinks this should be allowed. I have mixed feelings, but lean a bit towards the NCAA’s view of this.

So apparently some Italian scientists were convicted of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake (or rather, giving “false reassurances” that it wasn’t coming). The National Review makes the case that this is what happens when the scientific community speaks with such certainty and we are expected to rearrange our economy shortly. I have the vague concern that the result of things like this would only increase the incentives to doomsay.

Sarah Butrymonwicz says that Mitt Romney’s scholarship plan in Massachusetts backfired in every imaginable (and to some extent mutually exclusive) way(s). Minorities and poor kids were left out, but those that weren’t left out were really harmed by the program! I almost don’t know where to begin how to make any counterpoints since, whatever it did, it was wrong, and the way to make it right is to disregard merit.

Our current unemployment figures are flawed, but throwing out numbers like this aren’t better if they count retirees. It appears that they did (as well as college students?). At least they aren’t counting kids, apparently. But “adult Americans” needs to be replaced by “working-age Americans.”

Category: Newsroom

We’ve taken to using Google Hangout for our family video conferencing. I was introduced to it at The League and found it was easy enough for all of our family members to use. The downside is that it requires Google+. It says it doesn’t, but it does. The other downside is that nobody uses Google+. I finally got around to getting my profile completely set up (places I’ve lived, jobs I’ve worked, schools I’ve attended, etc.) only to discover that it’s even more a ghosttown now than it was when I first created the account.

Google does a really good job of encouraging people like me, in the Googlesphere, of going ahead and setting up an account. I use Gmail in order to organize my contacts for the phone. Throw in the Google Calendar, and I’m relatively entrenched in a way that Microsoft never did with Windows Mobile. I’ve actually come to like the setup on G+ a little bit better than Facebook. Beyond that, there is some redundancy involved. It somehow annoys me, though, that G+ is useful for chatting but I can’t find much of any other use for it. I thought about making it a repository for cross-posts (things I put on Twitter, or Facebook), but it’s not good for even that (apparently they are stingy with giving developers the tools with which to do it).

One of the frustrating things about Google+, and the fact that nobody uses it, is that few people that have an account even have a profile picture. I’m extremely OCD about these things. I’ve gone in and added some picture or another to every person on my contact list. If I have a picture of them, I add it. If not, I add a picture of some relevance. I have an irrational hatred of default silhouettes. My sisters-in-law went about creating the G+ accounts and I had to implore them to add a picture so that I wouldn’t be setting up chats with a bunch of silhouettes.

Sometimes, I think I’m not normal.

Category: Server Room

John T. Tierney gives the case against AP tests:

AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high-school AP course didn’t begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses. My colleagues said the same was true in their subjects.

The traditional monetary argument for AP courses — that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits — often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don’t receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that’s a bad idea, and that they’re better off taking their department’s courses.

The scourge of AP courses has spread into more and more high schools across the country, and the number of students taking these courses is growing by leaps and bounds. Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams. The school where I taught essentially had an open-admissions policy for almost all its AP courses. I would say that two thirds of the students taking my class each year did not belong there. And they dragged down the course for the students who did.

The AP program imposes “substantial opportunity costs” on non-AP students in the form of what a school gives up in order to offer AP courses, which often enjoy smaller class sizes and some of the better teachers. Schools have to increase the sizes of their non-AP classes, shift strong teachers away from non-AP classes, and do away with non-AP course offerings, such as “honors” courses. These opportunity costs are real in every school, but they’re of special concern in low-income school districts.

To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification — a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry. The courses cover too much material and do so too quickly and superficially. In short, AP courses are a forced march through a preordained subject, leaving no time for a high-school teacher to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest. The AP classroom is where intellectual curiosity goes to die.

Michael Williams talks about his own experience, concurring.

I personally do not have any experience in the way of taking AP courses. As far as my school district was concerned, I was closer to “remedial” than “advanced” despite my being a top performer in most of the (non-honors) classes I took. In middle school, my math teacher inquired about putting me advanced math, but was denied on the grounds that I had been tagged a near-remedial student (I was actually making mostly A’s and the rest B’s at the time, but that wasn’t what they were looking at). Honors classes were out of reach in high school, and AP classes moreso. The colleges took a different view, and I was being recruited by a directional school specifically for their honors college. Southern Tech, where I did attend, accepted me unconditionally into its Honors College.

When I got to Southern Tech, they had me take a placement course. This wasn’t for college credit, but was for bypassing the sequence as Tierney mentions. I scored into the highest English and Math courses, though it turned out not to matter: The Honors College required that I start at the bottom floor in English and the College of Industrial Technology required that I take specifically designed “technical math” courses, which were not appreciably different than the sophomore and junior high school classes I did take. I could see why I otherwise would have tested out of them.

I am, on the whole, glad that I did not take AP classes. It may not have done me any good for math and my Honors English classes were awesome. The only ones I would have wanted to test out of are those that I might not have (namely, science) and ones I would have (Social Studies, English) are ones I was glad to take at the collegiate level.

Tierney points to what I consider to be some solid reasons why AP classes have gone off-track, as far as that goes. On the other hand, some of the same arguments can be used against tracking (Honors/Standard/Remedial/etc) and I am a fan of those. The bit about intellectual curiosity comes is interesting because my impression from my friends – many of whom took honors classes – were that it was much more freewheeling than the classes I was taking. Without thinking about it, I would have guessed AP classes would have been the same. But if the class itself is geared towards preparing for a specific test, I suppose that makes sense. It does seem a little bit odd to me that the best teachers would be teaching these classes, though. I’d have thought that teaching to a test is something that they would avoid (and, along those lines, that non-AP honors classes were considered better because the framework was not as rigid).

Category: School

Okay, so apparently almost all homemade porn ends up online:

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The vast majority of homemade pornography and private images on personal computers ends up on public websites called “parasites.”

Eighty-eight percent of homemade pornography, including videos and still images, finds its way onto porn sites, often without the owners’ knowledge, a new study from Britain’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has found.

The study analyzed more than 12,000 sexually explicit images uploaded by young people and found that the great majority of images had been stolen and published to what the organization calls, “parasite” websites.

I cannot for the life of me understand how they came up with that figure (with, or beyond, the explanation provided).

Category: Server Room

Maryann Thompson argues that there’s a problem with all scientific findings.

A look at the oil industry reinvigorated with the new oil boom. I was reliably informed in the 1980’s that by now we would be about half-way to powering things with physical labor again.

Kansas is using debt relief to boost its rural population. It is underreported how much of the unemployment has hit cities and how the rural states – even the struggling ones – tend to have lower unemployment.

Christopher Beam from Slate points out that the Chinese aren’t just copying foreign products, they’re improving on them.

While Half Sigma has pointed out, our failure to discuss HBD arguably feeds into broader social problems, but this [NYT] is one of my main concerns of fighting the common perception of random distribution. {Comment with care.}

Ken Popehat has a great piece on how to confront people carrying the banner of dubious science. I believe that one of the reasons that Young Earth Creationism is so influential is the behavior of its critics.

How carmakers are making hybrids cheaper. This is about the only thing that gives me hope for Obama’s sky-high CAFE standards proposal.

At some point, I want to go back and learn a lot more about what we (think we) know about neanderthals.

Verizon is expanding 4G into Twin Falls, Idaho. Twin Falls, Idaho. When we talk about how crappy our cell coverage is, the fact that they make the effort to expand into Twin Falls, Idaho, should be a part of the conversation.

I’ve been waiting a long time to read about things like this. Outside of super-economical places like Walmart, there’s not much reason that a lot of these places can’t try more to blend in.

Category: Newsroom

If you take Spam, cook it in a frying pan, put it in the freezer, and then eat it straight out of the freezer, the results are interesting.

I am in the habit of buying Spam because I’ve determined it’s less expensive than the bacon bits I really like and serves the same function. It’s fattier, though. But I take it and cut it into little cubes. Then I cook it in batches. Previously, I’d just put it in the fridge. However, with Clancy due for maternity leave and with her extreme aversion to the smell of cooking Spam, I took six cans (half turkey, half low-fat whatever) and did it all at once. Which is how it ended up in the fridge.

What do I use it for? Well, as much as anything, as a snack I take some Wheat Thins, put a little bit of cream cheese on them, and then top it with either the bacon bits or Spam. I’m trying to ween myself off the stuff as it’s quite addictive. The perfect snackfood and I try to keep really good snackfood away from me.

Category: Kitchen

Cute kitten pictures make you more productive. Someone needs to do a study on geekier things.

Reihan Salam explains why Japan’s rail privatization worked, but Britain’s did not.

A foreign visitor takes a look at American anxiety. [NYT]

Bakadesuyo tells you everything you need to know about influence, persuasion, and negotiation.

East Germany is apparently the most godless place on earth.

Is The West Wing a terrible guide to American democracy? It depends who is watching. No, foreign dignitaries should not be taking it too seriously, but given the ignorance of the average American as to how the process works, you could do a lot worse.

Forbes contributor David K. Williams explains why it’s good for employees to stay at their job for more than ten years. For a variety of reasons, I’ve never had the opportunity. The next article needs to be an explanation to employers as to why you want employees to want to stick around.

DC turned its budget around with traffic cameras and rich dead people.

More on 3D Printers. It’s an interesting thought that as we presently replace manuals by regular printing, we may be able to replace parts in a similar fashion.

Woohoo! All is not lost for us long-term unemployed! Things are not looking so good in Europe, however.

Though it’s true that correlation does not prove causation, I too am tired of this being used as an intellectual way of saying “I refuse to consider your evidence.” At some point, you have to consider the data that you have. Demonstrating a correlation does not end a conversation, but it should at least be the beginning of one.

Category: Newsroom

I consider Obama’s presidency to be a mixed bag. There are things he has done that I support (Ending DADT, credit card reform) and things that I oppose (PPACA, Cash For Clunkers, GM Bailout, increasing CAFE Standards, offshore drilling moratorium). A lot of the things that really inflame fellow Leaguers (drone attacks) don’t particularly inflame me. There is at least one thing he has done that has sent me through the roof, however. Not because it’s of tantamount importance in the greater scheme of things, but because of how unnecessary it was and how I simply cannot put a positive spin on it.

I speak of the Administration going from “As a general matter, [we] should not focus federal resources individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” and “We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity…with state laws.” to “The intertwined subjects of medical marijuana, Montana law and medical necessity have no relevance to determining whether the government has proven the crimes charged in the indictment … Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law … and can’t be dispensed under a prescription.”

I don’t expect much from Democrats when it comes to pot legalization. I expect less from Republicans not named Gary Johnson. The most that can be said is that McCain would have raided more dispensaries than Obama did. Yet, even if this is true, it’s not the raids themselves that have me up in arms about this. It’s the announcement that encouraged the businesses to form in the first place only to have the founders arrested later on. Enforce the law (which is legally right) or don’t enforce the law (which is morally right), but it’s very important that everybody is clear on which route you’re going to go.

If there is any confusion as to the relationship between the Ogden Memo, which suggested that enforcement would not occur, and the proliferation of the dispensaries that garnered exceptional legal liability, this is from the Great Falls Tribune:

Many people in the medical marijuana community believed the Ogden memo demonstrated that President Barack Obama had fulfilled his 2007 campaign promise to “not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users.” {…}

In the span of just two years, the number of medical marijuana patients skyrocketed from 3,921 in September 2009 to more than 28,000 by the time the Legislature convened in January 2011. During that same period, the number of Montana caregivers authorized to grow marijuana for patients jumped from 1,403 to 4,833.

The problems that were occurring under Montana’s Medical Marijuana law shouldn’t be understated. They were significant and well known throughout the Mountain West region. So much so that the debate within Montana – a state in which MedMar passed a public vote by a substantial margin – was whether it should be mended or ended. The raids occurred while this debate was happening – literally, while a state senate panel was voting, the DEA was arming up.

Montana’s first registered dispenser died in prison about six weeks ago. His son is serving a five year sentence, his wife is serving two (for bookkeeping).

Being the federalist that I am, my view is that even if Montana law was spinning out of control it should have been allowed to remain a Montana issue. If the federal government was unwilling to allow it to continue, however, I would have understood that to if an announcement had been made to that effect. But whatever should have happened, this should not have happened. Maybe we should have a completely black and white view of the law and if it’s illegal it should be illegal. Maybe there’s room for gray. But the rules, official or unofficial, should not be changed after legitimate business licenses are allowed to be issued.

Category: Courthouse

The previously mentioned case against Minnesota State head football head coach Todd Hoffner is apparently falling apart.

It’s probably wrong that I am enjoying the revolt against healthy school lunches [NYT]. Is Michelle Obama creating a generation of future Republicans?

If you believe that schools should be measured by the attendance of its students, you shouldn’t be surprised when school districts start proposing that kids be tracked with microchips.

I have mixed feelings about the criticism Obama is facing due to his sending form letters to the families of fallen soldiers. On the one hand, who expects that as a good use of the president’s time. On the other hand, it impresses me that Bush was able to do otherwise and there’s something to be said for that.

Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) makes the case for reforming credit card swipe fees. I’m actually wondering if alternative payment methods will render this moot.

In the real world, dressing as Batman and trying to assist cops gets you arrested.

The Big East Conference, thought to be near-dead, lives on! One of the things that a lot of people don’t seem to grasp is that excluding West Virginia, many of their best teams were left behind in realignment.

An interesting look at the offense of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, run through their… center. LaTech is 5-1 this year, having just suffered its first defeat in a barnburner against Texas A&M. Interesting, Louisiana-Lafayette is 4-1, Louisiana-Monroe is 4-2, and LSU is 6-1. All of the losses to noteworthy opponents and most of them within a single score. Out of five teams in Louisiana, only Tulane is doing poorly.

Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that Google is taking this terrible advice. Yes, GoogleMaps is the best bar none, but this provides an impetus for Mapquest or someone else to really give them a challenge.

Public polling is getting harder. I don’t consider this an altogether bad thing. Too much confidence in how we believe things are going to turn out can have a deleterious effect on democracy and can become self-reinforcing.

How going off the fiscal cliff would affect Americans. The median cost being only $2,000 makes it seem… less serious than I would have guessed.

Texas Governor Rick Perry continues to carry the banner for making college cheaper. Meanwhile, one of the architects of the tuition race regrets nothing.

Category: Newsroom

Marc Ambinder thinks that the era of affirmative action may be coming to an end.

[Justice Anthony Kennedy] endorses the idea that affirmative action can be used to achieve a diverse student body, so long as race is considered as one part among many others, and so long as applicants are considered individually. It is hard to imagine him not finding fault with the racially conscious 15 percent admissions process. For Kennedy, race-conscious policies are permissible (barely) if (and only if) diversity cannot be achieved any other way. Plainly, the University of Texas has found a way to achieve some measure of diversity without affirmative action before it takes race into account.

Perhaps Kennedy will try to salvage affirmative action, but it is hard to see the court’s conservatives allowing him to do so. They have their chance to end it, not mend it. Though John Roberts has said (and told Congress during his confirmation hearings) that he values precedent and wants the court’s decisions to be incremental rather than sweeping, it will be hard to resist the temptation to sweep away racial preferences.

It seems to me that he actually put his finger on why affirmative action won’t be banned wholesale. If Kennedy wants to preserve affirmative action, but can’t justify it in Texas, he can merely write an opinion stating that affirmative action is not permissible where the aims are being met by other means. That would abolish affirmative action in Texas, while continuing to allow sympathetic jurisdictions an opportunity to keep with the policy. To universalize from Texas’ experience, Kennedy must be judicially confident that any state could achieve the manner of diversity through a Top 10% policy like Texas has. This may be true, but it’s far from certain for a whole host of reasons.

It seems to me that Kennedy remains relatively sympathetic to affirmative action. If I’m wrong on that, then maybe it is dead in the water. But if I’m right, he can either uphold it in Texas (by declaring that the existing racial diversity is insufficient) or uphold it everywhere else (with the above argument).

{Comment with care.}

Category: School