The acoustics in our house are such that the sound from the television is loudest in every room except the one in which the TV resides.  Perhaps that is not literally true, but to those trying to work or sleep while someone else watches television, it certainly seems that way.  Hence our joy when Porter's "thank you award" came from IBM:  a set of wireless headphones.

Fortunately, there was no need to understand in detail the instructions, which contained several gems.

This wireless headphone is worked based on optical-electricity transition.

Well, of course.  What else would it be worked based on?
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 10:06 am | Edit
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Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Thanks to Tim at Random Observations for alerting me to this interesting commentary on John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.  The book and the movie derived from it have formed our national image of the Depression and the Dust Bowl.  The trouble is, that's a false impression.  Like Amadeus and Braveheart, The Grapes of Wrath tells a good story based on historical events, but without letting the truth get in the way of the narrative.

Someone with a solid knowledge of the historical situation might be able to imbibe the story without harm, but the rest of us, unfortunately the majority, are learning history through these media, and learning it wrong.  We're left with a mish-mash of fact and fiction we may never sort out, and upon which we will unconsiously base our philosophical, political, social, and moral decisions.

Whoever said (I've seen various attributions), "Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws," might just as well have been speaking about its popular books, television shows, and movies.  The only antidote besides a healthy (uncynical) skepticism is a solid grounding in history, preferably from several viewpoints.  Mea culpa; my own knowledge of history is abysmal, and I did not do much to help our children achieve more.  But if I were designing a home eduation program now, the tripod on which I would rest the entire academic program, beginning from the earliest stages, would be: language, mathematics/logic, and history.  Those who are strong in these three areas will not easily be duped.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 28, 2008 at 11:00 am | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

On rare occasions I have the opportunity to hear National Public Radio's Car Talk program, which I find amusing as well as informative, which is saying something since I have little interest in cars beyond their usefulnes in getting me from Point A to Point B.  (Okay, so I make an exception for a certain Ford GT, but that has more to do with the people involved than the car itself.)  The shows usually feature a "Puzzler," which since it involves cars often leaves me clueless.  But every once in a while (well, twice) there has been one that I have solved almost instantly, which of course makes me feel great.  Thus the inspiration to share them with you all.  The first was many years ago, and the second I heard today, so you can gather from that how good a Puzzler puzzler I am, or perhaps how often I hear the show.  For a hint, I can say that my ability to solve them both so quickly was due to personal experience with the situations involved.

Puzzler #1

Puzzler #2
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 8:54 pm | Edit
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Category Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices is a New York Times article about research at Ohio State University that may have profound implications for the teaching of mathematics to young children.  Unfortunately, just what those implications may be is completely obscure to me, as it is, I daresay, to the researchers.

I've written before (here, and here) about my belief that many children can learn abstract math concepts much earlier than is commonly supposed, and do not need to be limited to practical, real-world mathematics until they reach Piaget's magical age of abstract thinking.  So I suppose I should have been pleased to read about a study that purports to show that children actually learn mathematical concepts better through abstract symbols than they do through practical examples.  Not so; I'm also a fan of practical math, and believe both to be important.  In any case, it's hard to draw any conclusions one way or the other from this research—or at least from the Times report.

In the experiment, students were taught a mathematical concept either through abstract symbols or through concrete examples such as combining liquids in measuring cups.  They were then asked to apply that knowledge to figure out the rules of a game.  Those who had learned the concept abstractly did better at that application than those who had learned through the concrete examples, and also better than those who had been taught first the concrete examples and then the abstract ones.  Supposedly the real-world examples actually obscured the underlying math.

I'm going to break the post here, because some of you will want to look at the puzzle yourselves before reading about my experiences.  I strongly encourage you to read the article, but if you don't do that, at least follow the link and click on the link in the upper left under "Multimedia" that will show you the problems.  (It's a javascript pop-up, and I can't figure out how to insert it here without offending someone's copyright.)  Then click the "more" link after this paragraph to continue reading this post. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 25, 2008 at 11:27 am | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Okay, so it may not generate any cash income, but my status as a blogger has earned me a free, one-year subscription to the Encyclopedia Britannica online!  Many thanks to Groshlink for the alert.  I'm grateful for the existence of Wikipedia, the hare in the online encyclopedia race, because of its wide-ranging, rapid-response (if not necessarily dependable) fluidity, but the opportunity to be able to access, and link to, a steady, reliable tortoise like the Britannica is not to be missed.

The application site has been swamped, it is claimed, but my blog was approved for the free account in less than 24 hours.  Try it with your blog, before they change their minds!
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Computing: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]
With polygamy in the news these days, it seems a good time to report on my discovery of one of our stranger cousins. Fourth cousin five times removed to both Porter and me (through different lines), Aaron Johnson, born in 1806, the tenth of the thirteen children of Didymus and Rahuna (Stephens) Johnson, was just another name in my genealogical database, discovered during a convoluted search for the ancestors of Stephen Johnson, husband of Lucina Burr (sister of Porter's great-great-great grandmother) whose grave we found last summer in a small cemetery in Haddam, Connecticut. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Edit
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Category Genealogy: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

It's easy to dismiss the Yearning for Zion Ranch as a collection of kooks, but even kooks have rights in this country, or should. Innocent chidlren, especially, should have their rights firmly protected, including the right not to be torn from their homes without clear and compelling evidence of immediate danger.  Yet the State of Texas has abused the children of the Yearning for Zion families in just that way, on the strength of one anonymous phone call accusing one man of abusing his 16-year-old wife.  Over 400 children were turned over to strangers, subjected to medical examinations, and even though there was no evidence of abuse have still not been allowed to return home.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (not to be confused with the "mainline" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called Mormons) certainly is bizarre, and if they are forcing people to marry against their wills (underage or not), if they are breaking the laws of Texas, they are in the wrong.  But living in an isolated community, wearing old-fashioned clothing, and teaching one's children that obedience is a godly virtue are not crimes, no matter how odd they might seem to mainstream America.  If the laws against underage marriage have been broken, let them be investigated and prosecuted with due process, not with hysteria and actions that will forever scar young lives.

"Laws against underage marriage."  Hmmm, I wonder where the activists are?  The ones who think it's so natural for children to have sex that they're pushing for condom distribution in middle schools?  The ones who insist 13-year-olds need access to abortions—without parental consent or even notification?  It's okay for young teens to be sexually active and have abortions, but not okay for them to marry and have children?  Now that's what I call a bizarre belief system!
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Edit
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Category Health: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer story about Diane Goslin is a good summary of, or introduction to, Pennsylavnia's home birth problems. Such struggles are not limited to Pennsylvania, but are a good example, like the recent California homeschooling crisis, of how rights and practices that we have relied on for years—centuries!—in our country can be stripped away in an instant if not specifically written into our laws. I don't blame midwives, like the one who assisted with the deliveries of Noah and Jonathan, for fearing that legislation will bring more restrictions rather than fewer. That's what homeschoolers feared 30 years ago, when the modern home education movement was going through its own birth pangs; in some ways they were right, but when society's attention makes it no longer possible to stay under the radar, the protection of the law becomes necessary.

The concern of the U.S. Supreme Court for the religious freedom of the Amish (Wisconsin v. Yoder) was a significant force in the eventual acknowledgement of the rights and responsibilities of all families in the matter of their children's education, though as California has proved, we must be ever vigilant. The wisdom of the serpent is a complement, not a contradiction, to the harmlessness of the dove.  May the Amish also succeed in establishing recognition of the parents' rights and responsiblities when it comes to the birthing of those children!
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 5:22 am | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

The Story of an Experiment is another interesting story from Perla (see previous post), which she posted to support her contention that children should not be taught arithmetic, except as connected with real life experiences, until they are at least ten years old.  I write about it here, not because I agree with her, since I most emphatically do not, but because the story nonetheless makes some excellent points.

In the early 1930s the superintendent of schools for Manchester, New Hampshire tried an experiment—several experiments, actually.  Essentially, he abandoned math as it was taught in the elementary schools, and concentrated instead on language and logic:  reading, reasoning, and speaking, with arithmetic introduced only as it came up in the course of the rest of the studies.  The results, as he reports them, were spectacular, with the "new curriculum" students far exceeding the abilities of their traditionally-taught age-mates, even in mathematical reasoning, and where they were behind (in basic arithmetic manipulation) they caught up quickly when formal study was introduced in sixth grade. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I can hardly count Perla Adams my friend, since we met online and I only visit her blog occasionally.  It's in my feedreader, but the posts and comments in Spanish get ignored.  I'm not proud of my monolingualism, but must deal with it.  Still, I'm not sure how to speak of her in this introduction.  "Internet acquaintance"?  "Fellow blogger?"  Nothing sounds quite right.  Anyway, this delightful person, of whatever label, recently wrote a post (in English) that provoked me to comment, and when I write that much I usually can’t resist sharing in more than one place, i.e. what I’ve written ends up here.  You can find Perla’s original post on her blog, The Classical Mommy.  (That's actually her main site, with all sorts of interesting things.  The post on math is here.)  My response, with a few modifications, is below. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 11:05 am | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver.  (HarperCollins, 1995)

My sister-in-law gave me this book about a year ago.  I started it on vacation, but didn't get very far before we returned home and it got lost in a pile in my office.  That turned out to be a happy accident:  I'm not sure I would have finished it had I not been prepared by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I love the way Barbara Kingsolver writes; as I said about the first book, even if I had found the subject dull—which I didn't—I would have enjoyed reading it. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Edit
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Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Is it any wonder Americans are such poor money managers when you look at the behavior of our government? Or should I perhaps say that the other way around?

Only a few short years ago, the State of Florida was enjoying a large budget surplus, because tax revenues went through the roof thanks in part to all the rebuilding necessary after our four-hurricane year. Naturally (but stupidly), everyone clammored to spend the "excess." There were plenty of claimants for the money, but few indeed were the voices of reason, and they did not prevail. It should have been obvious to anyone with any sense at all that boom times don't last, and the years of plenty are when you put away your surplus to help you through the lean years.

Now the rebuilding is complete, and people are being more careful with their money, so Florida is hurting for sales tax revenue. Suddenly we are cutting programs, laying off public prosecutors, and—that whicih inspired this post—threatening to demolish the wonderful Road Ranger system that I wrote so enthusiastically about after I was stranded on the side of the highway, at night, in a non-functional car. If we had invested that surplus when we had it, we could be using it now to go along normally, and avoid the expense of restarted when economic conditions improve. Basic economics, Finance 101, just plain common sense.

Or not so common. God Himself had to teach Joseph this strategy, and then Pharaoh thought the idea so impressive he put Joseph in charge of the whole kingdom. But you'd think we'd have learned something from that story.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Edit
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Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

It's true that Barack Obama scares me.  He has so much charisma that I'm afraid an Obama presidency would actually succeed in implementing his harmful agenda.  I'm not saying that Hilary Clinton's and John McCain's agenda's aren't harmful—just that I think they're less likely to succeed in bringing them to fruition.

Nonetheless, there's no point in making too much out of his regrettable comment that small-town Americans "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment" because they are bitter about their economic circumstances.  True, the remark is offensive, out of touch, and just plain wrong, and Obama didn't improve the situation with his attempt at recovery.  "I didn’t say it as well as I should have,” he admitted, but “I said something that everybody knows is true.” (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 7:06 am | Edit
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Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I don't agree with John Stackhouse on everything—no surprise to those who know me; I'm not sure I even agree wtih myself on everything—but greatly appreciate the way he can take a controversial subject and shake it out with clarity and common sense.  I have little patience with the whole "postmodernist" idea that there's no such thing as real, absolute truth,  but at best only a useless, mealy-mouthed "true for you" or "true for me."  But equally frustrating are those whose claim to know the truth about something leaves no room for doubt, and what is worse, no room for the possibility that they might, in fact, be wrong.  Stackhouse addresses the latter situation with refreshing rationality in I'm Certain that There Are Two Kinds of Certainty.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 12, 2008 at 7:09 am | Edit
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Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

As dictated, unedited, while Mom, Dad, and Noah were napping.

There was a bear.  And then he started hunting.  Then the bear found a fox.  And the fox started scratching the bear.  And the bear could not beat the fox.  The fox started wildly jumping and kicking and swinging its tail around wildly. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 11, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Edit
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Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]
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