Monday, December 22, 2008
But that's not how education should work. An alternative is teaching to mastery, where students are given the time they need to master the material and not allowed to move on until they have. Grades aren't needed to rank students, because they don't move up to the next level until they have all the material mastered; they can't flunk as long as they show up and try to learn (although they might stay in one stage a long time). Bright students who would do well under grading can move ahead quickly, covering more material in a given time; slower thinkers (who may be equally intelligent) can master the material at their own pace.
This is how young children learn, moving on to a new task when a prior one is mastered. In school settings where the technique has been tried, it has been so successful that it tends to anger the school organization (especially when the "dumb kids" are getting As in a class). If the goal is to get kids to learn the material, grading is a failure; it is only successful as a way of ranking kids based on how fast they learn, not how well.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Dark and Stormy (Source: Rachel Ray)
3 oz dark rum
Fresh ginger sticks
Fill a pint glass three-quarters full of ice, squeeze in all the juice from the lime half, then drop the rind in the glass. Add the rum and fill with the ginger beer. Garnish with ginger sticks.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tasteless, colourless, odourless and painful, pure capsaicin is a curious substance. It does no lasting damage, but the body’s natural response to even a modest dose (such as that found in a chili pepper) is self-defence: sweat pours, the pulse quickens, the tongue flinches, tears may roll. But then something else kicks in: pain relief. The bloodstream floods with endorphins—the closest thing to morphine that the body produces. The result is a high. And the more capsaicin you ingest, the bigger and better it gets.
Which is why the diet in the rich world is heating up. Hot chilies, once the preserve of aficionados with exotic tastes for cuisine from places such as India, Thailand or Mexico, are now a staple ingredient in everything from ready meals to cocktails.
One reason is that globalisation has raised the rich world’s tolerance to capsaicin. What may seem unbearably hot to those reared on the bland diets of Europe or the Anglosphere half a century ago is just a pleasantly spicy dish to their children and grandchildren, whose student years were spent scoffing cheap curries or nacho chips with salsa. Recipes in the past used to call for a cautious pinch of cayenne pepper. For today’s guzzlers, even standard-strength Tabasco sauce, the world’s best-selling chili-based condiment, may be too mild. The Louisiana-based firm now produces an extra-hot version, based on habanero peppers, the fieriest of the commonly-consumed chilies.
For connoisseurs though, the macho hullabaloo about ever-hotter chilies is distasteful, even vulgar: rather like rating wine only according to its alcohol content. Steve Waters, who runs the South Devon Chili Farm, says even the idea that the spectrum runs on a simple one-dimensional axis between “hot” and “mild” is misleading. He prefers the more complex Mexican matrix, which categorises chilies both by heat, and whether they are fresh, dried, pickled, or smoked. Any of these can produce big changes in flavour: he highlights the Aji (pronounced ah-hee), a Peruvian chili, which “ripens to bright yellow, with a strong lemony taste when fresh, very zesty. When dried it picks up a banana flavour.”
From this point of view, the most interesting trend is not in ever-higher doses of capsaicin for the maniac market, but in the presence of chili in a range of foodstuffs that previous generations would have regarded as preposterous candidates for hotting up. Chili-flavoured chocolate, for example, has gone from being a novelty item to a popular mainstream product. Mr Waters sells “hot apple chili jelly” as a condiment for meat, and chili-infused olive oil.
The reason may be that capsaicin excites the trigeminal nerve, increasing the body’s receptiveness to the flavour of other foods. That is not just good news for gourmets. It is a useful feature in poor countries where the diet might otherwise be unbearably bland and stodgy. In a study in 1992 by the CSIRO’s Sensory Research Centre, scientists looked at the effect of capsaicin on the response to solutions containing either sugar or salt. The sample was 35 people who all ate spicy food regularly but not exclusively. Even a small quantity of capsaicin increased the perceived intensity of the solutions ingested. Among other things, that may give a scientific explanation for the habit, not formally researched, of snorting the “pink fix” (a mixture of cocaine and chili powder).
Friday, December 12, 2008
The full Moon of Dec. 12th is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. It's no illusion. Some full Moons are genuinely larger than others and this Friday's is a whopper. Why? The Moon's orbit is an ellipse with one side 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other. In the language of astronomy, the two extremes are called "apogee" (far away) and "perigee" (nearby). On Dec. 12th, the Moon becomes full a scant 4 hours after reaching perigee, making it 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons we've seen earlier in 2008.
A perigee Moon brings with it extra-high "perigean tides," but this is nothing to worry about, according to NOAA. In most places, lunar gravity at perigee pulls tide waters only a few centimeters (an inch or so) higher than usual. Local geography can amplify the effect to about 15 centimeters (six inches)--not exactly a great flood.
Okay, the Moon is 14% bigger, but can you actually tell the difference? It's tricky. There are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters. Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full Moon looks much like any other.
The best time to look is when the Moon is near the horizon. That is when illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. On Friday, why not let the "Moon illusion" amplify a full Moon that's extra-big to begin with? The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset may seem so nearby, you can almost reach out and touch it.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The title of the book I am reading, Fools Crow, is a perfect example: Is it noun-verb (the fools are crowing) or verb-noun (he fools the Crow Indians)? In this case, it is the latter, but it took me a while to know. A friend pointed out that if you hear the title and can't see that there is no apostrophe, it could also be noun-noun (the crow belongs to the fool(s)).
More examples: I briefly stumped my kids recently when I said that I appreciated their presence. They weren't sure if I meant the fact that they were there, or the gifts that they had given me.
And from Wikipedia:
- Teenagers shouldn't be allowed to drive. It's getting too dangerous on the streets. (Are the teenagers the threat or the threatened?)
- I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know. (Groucho Marx)
- At a used-car lot: Why go elsewhere to be cheated? Come here first!
At our drugstore, we dispense with accuracy!
- Eat our curry, you won't get better!
- Professor to student, on receiving a fifty-page term paper: I shall waste no time reading it. (Often attributed to Disraeli)
- No food is better than our food.
- Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
At least now I know a new way to describe what I do as an editor: I eliminate amphibolies.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The refusal to include some kind of "other" category, to recognize that not everyone fits in the neat categories that fit the image of people working full-time for major companies until they retire, fits in with the push to tie health insurance to employment. That plan seriously penalizes all the people who don't work for companies - all the consultants and free-lancers and self-employed people who make up a large part of the workforce in smaller communities (and possibly larger communities, too). Policy- (and survey-) makers ignore the huge variety of working arrangements that exist in real life, possibly because they are used more often by women who are balancing work and family. Or maybe because it is simpler that way. Too bad real life is often messy!
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?
A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it - don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.
Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.
Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!
Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.
Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good!
Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING!!! .... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?
Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.
Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!
Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A:If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.
Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!
Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets. And remember: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO HOO, What a Ride!"
AND...... For those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on nutrition and health. It's a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting nutritional studies.
1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
5. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I think that what I am best at is fine-tuning assignments for each kid. I always start out with a grand plan for what I will teach in a given year, which includes different focuses for each child, depending on their interests. So a son who is interested in military history might have an emphasis on battles won and lost, while my daughter will have more emphasis on literature and another son will read about the great buildings of the period.
As the year goes on, I find myself drifting from my plan, in response to feedback from the kids. I reduce a too-heavy reading load for one child; switch emphasis from architecture to food for another; I shift the workload from history to science to accommodate an interest in astronomy; I add assignments for a teen who has just come out of the dreaded brain-dead stage or thin them for one who is entering it; I adjust for other commitments or travel; I re-arrange an assignment sheet so it is more congenial to its user. One child gets more structure, another moves closer to unschooling. It sounds crazy, but I find that when all my kids are happy with their school, when their assignments fit their abilities, interests, and time, life is simpler for all of us.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
When I went looking for a link for this entry, I found that reviewers for the New York Times disdained this book as meandering, pious, and full of writerly self-congratulations; but then, the reviewer admits to finding "the marvelous tedious and the tedious... marvelous", so he probably shouldn't have been reviewing this book in the first place. On the other hand, Ursula K Le Guin thinks it is a wonderful book. Lucky for authors and publishers that there is such a diversity of opinions among readers.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
My daughter loved it immediately and spent several hours in the car talking to me about ways she could meet the flexible assignments. She is very excited to be able to spend more time studying the subjects she is most interested in, at her own pace. On the other hand, my two boys promptly rejected the new system. Neither of them gets excited about school, and they don't want to have to think about school enough to use the new system. They would rather go down my checklists and do what I tell them to, then be done to work on other things. I'm batting .333 - so much for my helpful advice!
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Americans now believe that every young person can benefit from going to college, said Marty Nemko. It's just not so. For students who graduate high school in the bottom 40 percent of their class, college is usually a waste of money: More than two-thirds of such students who enroll as freshman, research shows, fail to earn a college degree. Colleges, which are businesses first and foremost, gladly admit these ill-prepared students, cashing their tuition payments but doing little to prepare them for the real world. When they wind up dropping out, these failed students leave campus "with a mountains of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles." When high school students show no aptitude for or interest in academics, their parents do them no favors by insisting on college. Such young people are far better off earning a career-oriented associate degree at a community college, joining the military, or enrolling in job-training programs in a thriving small business. They may not get an expensive diploma to hang on the wall - but they will get the skills they need to hold good jobs and lead happy, productive lives.
They're afraid they'll relax and unwind.
It's perfect for Halloween, but it also applies to a lot of mummies I know - if they relax too much, they might not be willing to take up the yoke again when the vacation is over...
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
My indebtedness to the Atlantic Ocean must be acknowledged first. In perverse conspiration with the S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, it lengthened my crossing to Europe and compelled me to remain in my stateroom for the greater part of the journey. To this forced immobilization can be attributed the first sixty-two pages of this thing. For continued encouragement, I am deeply grateful to G.D. Searle and Company, makers of Dramamin, a new seasickness remedy.
Thanks are in order to the Pullman Company, whose new type of automatic folding toilets makes me appreciate the joys of staying home. To home, where a defective incinerator poisons my daily life, thanks for making me appreciate the joys of travel. For continual criticism of what I was thinking, doing, planning to do or write, thanks to my beloved wife, Viola, without whom this book might otherwise have been much longer. Selection of the text was greatly facilitated by my secretary, Miss Peters, whose well-timed loss of a particularly boring chapter in a New York taxicab led to its complete elimination, and my blissful relief. To the mosquitoes who made writing unbearable on the beach at Porquerolles, and chased me to Zermatt, I must credit a lovely month of June in the shadow of the Matterhorn.
To the makers of my ball point pens, may I extend the thanks of the dry cleaning industry, which has been kept busy removing spots from most of my bedsheets, pajamas, tablecloth, evening shirts, white poodles, upholstery, and Lanvin neckties during the genesis of this book. To the airlines, thanks are in order for the countless hours of leisurely waiting at airports and bus terminals, where many chapters have been written on empty popcorn boxes, travel folders to Mexico, and other deadly airline literature. Acknowledgements are in order to Ella, my cook, who reduced the printing cost of this book by conveniently dropping a saucerful of hollandaise on a batch of illustrations, thereby materially cutting down printing expenses.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks to my dear friend Peggy (Mrs. Howard) Cullman, who, after reading the first two parts of the ms., assured me that she had read much worse, thereby supplying the final dose of enthusiasm that I so badly needed to finish the job.
He got his revenge on the airline industry, at least, with a detailed description of a fiasco of a trip across the US.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Recently I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport. They had announced the departure. Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said, "I love you and I wish you enough." The daughter replied, "Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom." They kissed and the daughter left.
The mother walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on her privacy but she welcomed me in by asking, "Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?"
"Yes, I have," I replied. "Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?"
"I am old and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is - the next trip back will be for my funeral," she said.
"When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, 'I wish you enough'. May I ask what that means?"
She began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone." She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more. "When we said , 'I wish you enough', we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them." Then turning toward me, she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory.
"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting. I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye."
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
One advantage to her approach to clothing is that I can easily read her mood just by looking at what she is wearing. Another is that she always looks great.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
By noon, half the leaves on the ash tree were gone, and by late afternoon, there were about 8 leaves left on it. The forecast is for 4-6 inches of snow in the valley tonight.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
I prefer to teach literature in context, so that the stories inform the study of history and culture, while the history clarifies and enriches the stories. Basho's haiku illustrate the medieval Japanese aesthetic, and the aesthetic explains the haiku; in a vacuum, the haiku is just pretty words. Plato's scheme to take children away from their parents and raise them communally makes sense now that I know that in his time, scheming parents maneuvering to position their children well were a major threat to the stability of Athens. Literature gains immensely in power when the context is known, even imperfectly.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The second article was about large-animal veterinarians, especially those who work with cows, pigs, sheep, and other food animals. They are getting harder to find, apparently because kids aren't growing up on family farms and learning about the animals early. Without hands-on experience, kids don't have the interest or the background to follow the profession.
So thanks to our increasing emphasis on computers and urban living, we may be starving our construction and agricultural future. That is good news for the few people who do want to build things or take care of farm animals, but not for the rest of us.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Conventional therapeutic wisdom would have us believe that a person who "bottles up" his feelings is setting himself up for explosive consequences down the road. But everyone deals with trauma in his or her own ways, says a new study by psychologists at the University of Buffalo. In fact, researchers found, people who never vocalized their feelings about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are happier today than those who sought catharsis. There's an "assumption in popular culture, and even in clinical practice, that people need to talk in order to overcome a collective trauma," researcher Mark Seery tells LiveScience. But those who prefer not to dwell on their pain, he says, should not be pressured to talk. "They can cope quite successfully and, according to our results, are likely to be better off than someone who does want to express his or her feelings."This makes me feel better about the future mental health of my boys who don't like to talk about their feelings.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, is the best book I've read for understanding how the US still works, even if it was written in 1833. The insights into the democracy of the period are interesting historically, but they are also helpful for understanding what has happened since then, both in the US and internationally. The US is still substantially the way Tocqueville describes it, and the changes are generally extensions of the characteristics he noted or predicted. I sometimes found it hard to follow the distinctions he makes between various forms of governing (legislative vs. executive; governors as magistrates) but trying was enlightening - I had never made the distinctions before.
The main difference between the 1830s and now is that the Federal government was weak and the individual states strong; people looked first to the state to exercise power while the Federal government mostly mediated between the states, and its influence on citizens was generally exercised via the states. Over time, as population mobility increased and local attachments faded, as interstate commerce expanded dramatically, the Federal government gained strength; it now controls a vastly greater portion of daily life than Tocqueville foresaw and is much stronger. Part of this may be a result of the Civil War, which Tocqueville predicted; but he felt that the union would disintegrate under the strong action of the states, rather than holding together and subduing them. For reasons that probably turn on leadership, the union didn't come apart, and the United States of America made the transition from a plural noun and idea ("The United States are...") to a singular one ("The United States is..."), from a federation of mostly sovereign states to a unified country. The Civil War wasn't just a sibling fight, it was a turning point in the evolving concept of the country.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
In another week, the entire tree will be orange, a great accent for our grey house.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
My new goal in life is to find a legitimate project that stumps Gary.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Cheesy Bread Pudding (Or you can call it Breakfast Casserole, if that works in your household; it doesn't in mine.)
Start cooking 3/4 pound of bacon. I use the microwave because the tray drains off the fat, but a skillet will work fine. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
While the bacon cooks, cut up some slightly stale, chewy bread into 1" chunks, enough to loosely fill your baking dish; I used 2/3 of a sourdough baguette that had been languishing in the fridge for a week. Place in a large bowl. Add two small cans of diced green chilies and 1/2 pound of grated cheddar cheese. Dice the bacon and add it. Mix well and place in baking dish; you may need to smash it down a bit to make it all fit.
In a bowl, combine 6 eggs (ok, crack them first and add everything but the shell) and 50% more milk than eggs (maybe a cup). Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend well and pour over the bread mixture. Grate a little more cheddar on the top.
Cover with a lid or tinfoil and stick in the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove lid and let cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes while everyone finishes waking up. Serve with orange juice.
Friday, September 5, 2008
This is seriously cool packaging! I love the pattern and the design of it. When you remove the top layer of foam and the computer and cords under it, this is the bottom layer of foam, echoing but not copying the upper design:
The silver package opens up like a gift to display a booklet (Everything Mac) and a package (Everything Else) with a monitor wipe, the re-install disks, and some additional information. Instead of being a utilitarian task (at best - more often an exercise in frustration!), getting the Mac out of its box is a delightful chain of packaging surprises, like opening Japanese packages.
Regardless of Apple's computer technology, they beat most US companies on packaging, hands down.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
This is relevant because it was selected as the initial One Book One Bozeman read, with the idea of inspiring people to see what they can do to change the world. I dutifully read it, but to be honest, I mostly found it annoying because it makes me feel so...incompetent. Last year's big feel-good book, Three Cups of Tea, was much more inspiring because Greg Mortenson comes off as someone real (if unusually determined), someone I can relate to; I think that maybe I could do something like what he did, and so I am moved to try.
The only reason I made it through the Mountains is that is was well written; it is definitely better written than Three Cups of Tea, which can't decide if it should be in the first or third person. The narrator's voice is consistent and better at filling in background; and Tracy Kidder's early discomfort with Farmer helps blunt the hagiography. Actually, the only reason I made it through the book, when Kidder succumbs to Farmer's personality, is that I was too stubborn to quit so near the end. But Mountains Beyond Mountains definitely doesn't make my list of books I would recommend to anyone.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Unfortunately, "begs the question" is now generally used to mean "raises the question"; it is used this way so often that a careful writer can no longer use it correctly. Which is too bad, because begging the question is still a useful concept that deserves a phrase - especially during the presidential elections. Luckily, it is very close to the concept of circular reasoning, in which two related assumptions are used to prove each other (simplistically: "The Bible says God exists. The Bible is the word of God, so it must be true. Therefore God exists."), so there is a useful term still available to unravel political arguments.
Come to think of it, it is really hard to find a good example of an argument that begs the question, so maybe it isn't too bad a phrase to lose. Now if journalists would just quit using it the wrong way.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
On the surface, this looks like a pretty strong argument that, as the author would have us conclude, places designed for cars are hurting or kids, and anecdotally it is interesting. But, without more details, it is nearly worthless as evidence. The quote itself raises questions: Did the Vermont kids actually walk more, or did they just have more potential mobility? How does TV watching correlate to mobility? Could the Vermont TV times be low because those kids spent more time on the computer (rather than walking)?
"A study comparing ten-year-olds in a small, walkable Vermont town and youngsters in a new Orange County suburb showed a marked difference. The Vermont children had three times the mobility, i.e., the distance and places they could get to on their own, while those in Orange County watched four times as much television." (Jane Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation)
Then there is the nebulous study itself. Even if it was well-designed, how could it really control for all the non-car differences between a small town in Vermont and a suburb in California? Controlling for population density, economic status, and weather is pretty obvious, but what about parental attitudes? People who raise families in a small town in Vermont tend to have different values than people who move to California to raise kids, and those values extend to modes of transportation. It is conceivable that the California kids lived in a very walkable neighborhood but that their parents don't encourage (or want) them to walk places for status or convenience reasons (it is easier to monitor your kids when they are at home in front of a TV rather than outside on their own). There are several other possible explanations for the differences cited, too; the author's conclusions may be valid, but there is no way to know from this snippet of relevant-sounding information.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The other reason I started it was to follow a year around the seasons with food and the ebb and flow of plants and animals. I'm doing less cooking now, so there is less excitement to share on the food front. And now that I've gone a full year, it is harder to record the changes again - even though they are a little different each year. On the other hand, I will be doing natural history with one of my kids this fall, so maybe I will have more things to note again.
I'm not abandoning the blog, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few months.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
But the presidents didn't call directly for lowering the drinking age, they called for discussion. And that has a lot of potential for changing college drinking habits. Unfortunately, MADD and DARE have so poisoned the public discussion that it is difficult for reasonable parents to even discuss teaching their kids how to drink. Any parent who would even consider teaching their minor child how to drink responsibly must be irresponsible at best. We teach them about driving and safe sex; why is it that we can't teach them how to drink properly? An open discussion about the drinking age is a good thing, especially if it gives us a chance to deal with alcohol responsibly - but it is threatening to groups like MADD that have made their name (and money) by repressing it.
Well-meaning groups like MADD and DARE teach young kids that alcohol is evil and no one should ever drink (which went over like a lead balloon at our dinner table). Unfortunately, kids get older and figure out that adults do drink, hypocritically, and therefore the adults must be keeping something special, something grown-up, from kids. Forbidden fruit is all the sweeter - then we wonder why they drink so eagerly.
If kids learn that alcohol is a normal, reasonable part of life, to be enjoyed with food or friends, for the taste rather than the drunkenness, and are allowed to do it, then why would they binge drink? Of course, this requires adults to teach their children these things, which is challenging in the current MADD/DARE environment. Parents who understand kids and their penchant for forbidden fruit, adults who have a rational approach to alcohol consumption, can teach their children that, used in moderation, alcohol is an enjoyable part of a full life. But at the moment, that education had better occur quietly or you will be a bad parent.
In part, kids binge drink because, if they want to drink, there aren't many options, and none legal. One reasonable compromise would be a "learner's license" for drinking. Kids 18 (or 19, to keep alcohol out of high schools) to 20 would be allowed to drink wine and beer; at 21, they could drink anything. It is harder to get drunk (especially dangerously drunk) on wine and beer, so it would be safer than simply lowering the drinking age for all alcohol. In addition, wine and beer are generally drunk with food, so kids could start to learn, even if their parents didn't teach them, how alcohol can be used properly. This would give young adults a chance to drink, in a safe manner, and would probably decrease binge drinking (usually of hard liquor) quite a bit. It might even lead to a more rational approach to alcohol than the current "all or nothing" attitudes.
Monday, August 18, 2008
So I talk them through cleaning the bathroom or a shotgun, or encourage them to call their grandfather to find out how to wrap a pipe with insulation, or wait patiently while they figure out the best way to lay out a garden wall. I listen to them argue that they shouldn't have to do this chore, or that they can't do it. I make sure that my sons do household cleaning and my daughter helps with the cars. I let them make mistakes where it won't be catastrophic, and let them make the corrections or clean up the mess. Things take longer initially, but once they learn the task, they can repeat it in the future. They know they can learn how to do things, so they are willing to tackle another task. In short, they become competent (and make my life a little simpler in the process).
Once again, it is trust and verify: trust that they can do the job, then verify that they did it reasonably well.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Our desire is naturally to give the buying public the most advanced product that research can develop and technology can produce. Unfortunately, it has been proved time and time again that such a product does not always sell well. There seems to be for each individual product (or service, or store, or package, etc.) a critical area at which the consumer's desire for novelty reaches what I might call the shock-zone. At that point the urge to buy reaches a plateau, and sometimes evolves into a resistance to buying. It is a sort of tug of war between attraction to the new and fear of the unfamiliar. The adult public's taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if this solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm. In other words, they will go only so far. Therefore, the smart industrial designer is the one who has a lucid understanding of where the shock-zone lies in each particular problem. At this point, a design has reached what I call the MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) stage.Raymond Loewy
Many designers seem to aim for Most Advanced, leading to objects that are simply baffling or ugly, or Acceptable, leading to boring objects; they seldom achieve the balance that makes an object both interesting and pleasant. The balance is so seldom in evidence that Target has created a nice niche for itself simply by designing thoroughly acceptable items that are somewhat advanced; these objects, although not perfect, are so clearly more interesting than most of what is on the market in household goods that I almost always start at Target when I want something for my kitchen or bathroom.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
A quarter mile up the road, two vehicles were raising clouds of dust. Although the road was wide enough, I pulled to the side and waited.
As they drew near I could make out two brand-new SUV’s, one tailgating the other. Both had out-of-state license plates, but I waved to them as I would a friend because we had found each other in gorgeous light on an empty gravel road. Assuming the drivers were homeowners or investors, I hoped they might stop and tolerate a few questions about what was happening higher up on Rock Creek.
I got a dust cloud for my trouble. The drivers stared dead ahead as they whizzed by. I don’t think they even saw me. The dust settled and I kicked my bike into gear.
Maybe it is a little thing, an insignificant one, to notice a man waving at the side of the road or miss him altogether. Maybe it was a fluke, or the drivers were just in a hurry. Still I cannot shake the feeling that they inhabited a different world, a strange Montana bearing little resemblance to the place where I work and live.
Their Montana did not require attending closely to the hooves of cattle, or to clouds building above the Pintlers. It had not taught them to study the condition of grass plants, or learn the etiquette of gravel roads.
I continued uphill across cattle guards that rattled the bike. New gravel was spread on some of the corners, so I took them slowly. As I rode, I pictured the dead-ahead stares of the drivers, and it worried me that the new owners of this place might reduce a complex ecological and social landscape to a house, a mountain view, and the road to get there.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Virginia Fried Chicken
Start with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 2 for every three people. Slice them into 4 pieces crosswise, then halve any that are quite thick; for a large breast, you should have about 6 pieces. Put the pieces in a bowl and cover with buttermilk and a little hot sauce of some type; we used chili oil, but any variety would work; don't add enough to make it hot, just enough to add a little flavor, maybe a tablespoon or less. If you don't have buttermilk, plain yogurt, stirred in, would work. Let sit while you get everything else ready.
In a wide bowl or deep plate, mix half flour and half cornmeal; add salt and pepper to taste. Pour a half-inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat over medium-high until it pops when you toss in a droplet of water. Lay out some newspapers near the skillet for draining the oil off the chicken. One at a time, take a piece of chicken out of the buttermilk, dredge it in the flour/cornmeal, and add it gently to the oil. Depending on the size of the skillet, you will be able to cook 3-6 at a time; don't over-crowd them or they won't cook properly. Fry for 3-4 minute, until the edges of the chicken/coating are turning golden brown. Turn over and cook for the same time on the other side, then remove from oil and place on the newspapers to drain. Cut one piece open to make sure it is cooked through. Repeat until chicken is all cooked.
Serve with your favorite accompaniments. We used hot wing sauce, dipping sauce, and blue cheese dressing for the chicken, plus biscuits and a salad. These would be good in buffalo-wing wraps, too. Recycle the newspapers after dinner.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I think that what she missed even more was conversation. Our dinners aren't always homemade - or even at home - but they are usually full of conversation (except nights when we are all too tired to be pleasant) and often laughter. Nothing is off limits except rudeness. When we all make it home for dinner, the meal tends to take half an hour to an hour; it is a chance to be together, to catch up on the day or the week, to enjoy each other, to make each other laugh. But dinner at the friends' house was a chance to eat a meal, to refuel before the evening's activities; meals generally lasted about 15 minutes and had little in the way of conversation beyond logistics. I suspect that the lack of dinner conversation was harder on my talkative daughter than the unfamiliar style of meals.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Having said that, it works because I really do trust my kids to be honest enough with me that I could catch any discrepancies. The technique breaks down if you have a kid who is determined to keep a secret and willing to lie convincingly and consistently.
Friday, August 8, 2008
I am also eager for school to start again, but not so I can get my days back; it is so I can get my kids back. They have been busy with camps and work and sleeping late all summer, and I miss spending time with them. I miss the companionship and the routine that comes with school. I am used to having my kids around most of the day, and I really like them; they are growing into people I want to spend time around (ok, not all the time, but most days). They are what may be the perfect age: still young enough to be an integral part of the household but old enough that I can leave them for lunch with a friend, or get some work done on my own while they work on their projects. I am looking forward to seeing more (not less) of them next month!
Thursday, August 7, 2008
And here is the Metro Map for the same area; note what happens to the river.
The Metro map is much more graphic, with all its bright colors and neat lines, but it only loosely reflects reality - just enough to be useful without being confusing. The challenge for the designers is to find the right balance between simplicity (so that riders can easily figure out routes) and context (so that they can figure out how to get somewhere once they get off the subway). An endemic problem with these maps is that it skews the apparent distance between stops, disguising trips that would be faster on foot.
The London Tube map was the first map to use stright lines instead of actual routes; it is generally considered a classic design, but one that doesn't always transfer well to other uses; some uses of the style are spectacularly unsuccessful. (For an interesting route map of the world, go nearly to the bottom of this page, to the Aug. 29, 2006 entry.)
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Chicken and Sausage Quick Fry (for 2-3 people)
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 spicy sausages, such as andouille, hot Italian, or chorizo
1 to 1.5 cups of frozen stir-fry peppers mix (red and green peppers, onions)
1/2 C sour cream
salt to taste
Cooked rice or pasta
Slice the chicken and sausages into bite-size pieces. Heat a large skillet over med-high heat and add the meat. Cook it fast and keep stirring; the meat should carmelize a little bit and the sausage juices should infiltrate the chicken. Add some salt , less than a teaspoon or to taste. When the meat is cooked through, move it to the outside of the skillet and add the frozen veggies; keep cooking and stirring until the moisture has evaporated and the veggies are warm. Turn the heat down to med-low and add the sour cream. Stir well; the sour cream and the sausage juices should form a thick sauce. Serve over rice or pasta, spooning the sauce over the meat and veggies.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
This quote is from Mark Kac, a Polish mathematician who was born today in 1914 in a Russian part of Poland; he came to the United States in 1938, just in time to avoid the start of WWII and the persecutions that came with being a Jew. He liked to play with words as well as numbers: he once asked "Can you hear the shape of a drum?" as a way to think about spectral theory (no, you can't). And he made a useful distinction between an "ordinary genius" like Hans Bethe and a "magician" like Richard Feynman.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
There are definitely people who have moved to Bozeman for the scenery and the chance to get outdoors regularly, who don't care about the local culture and are all for making changes to civilize Bozeman. There are also people, especially farming families, who have lived here for decades and feel displaced by the changes that are occurring. But there is a vast middle ground of people who don't fit these well-hammered stereotypes: recent transplants who value the local culture and work hard to fit in; people who have lived here for decades who appreciate the improved medical services, increased job opportunities for their children, and interesting cultural events; people who come here because they can have a microfarm, raise vegetables and eggs for the farmers' market, raise children in a safe community. The blending of all these people makes for a tolerant community that can accommodate most tastes and pocketbooks, from the $6.50 beef roast at the Western Cafe to the $9.95 panini at a nearby coffee shop or the $12 hamburger at Ted's Montana Grill; some locals patronize all of the above.
Many of the "new west" characteristics can't even be blamed on the newcomers: the local symphony has been playing for over 40 years, the opera for over 30. The farmers' market started in 1977. There has been an increase in coffee shops over the last decade, but that is a national trend, not one imported by West Coasters, and we probably don't have that many for a college town. On the other hand, new and old residents have worked together to keep downtown alive, build a wonderful new library, support a regional museum and 4-H, keep the county fairgrounds alive and healthy, and encourage a flourishing equestrian community. For most residents here, there is a blend that works sometimes and not others, rather than a clash of values. But a clash makes better press, I guess.
I was born in Bozeman, my father is a rancher, I shoot guns and go to the symphony, and I drive an Audi. What does that make me? I think it makes me a Montanan.
The editor in me can't resist picking on this paragraph: "At times, downtown Bozeman feels like it's inhabited by two different tribes. Main Street is lined with Audis and Subarus topped with mountain bikes and kayaks. Half an hour out of town, the polish on cowboy boots gives way to scuffs, and gun racks outnumber roof racks." How can a small downtown contain someplace half an hour out of town? That's a logical impossibility, as well as all the way to Three Forks, clear across the valley.
I saw the raspberries as I was hanging clothes out on the line this afternoon (which was only partially successful, since I left them on so long that the lawn sprinklers got them wetter than the washing machine did). That was also when I realized that the caragana pods are snapping in the hot sun; when the seed pods get dry enough, they twist and break apart at the seams, flinging seeds across the lawn. I love listening to the random snaps on a hot afternoon; I know high summer is here.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Watching them, I wonder if most of “normal adolescent behavior” is actually caused by sleep deprivation. Teenagers are prone to shifted sleep cycles, so they literally can’t fall asleep at night between about 9 pm and midnight, which makes getting to school by 8:30 (or 7:30 if you have an early-morning class) difficult. Then they have school all day, sports and other after-school activities that often go until 9 or 10 at night, and then they have homework to do. When do they sleep? I don’t see how they can get even a normal eight hours of sleep a night, much less the nine or ten hours teens usually require.
I vividly recall sleep deprivation from when my kids were babies, and I know it is insidious and all-pervasive in its affects. Physical symptoms that threaten future health include a compromised immune system, heart disease, hypertension, and tremors; more immediate physical issues include slower reaction times, slurred speech, a tendency to eat too much or the wrong foods, and increased effectiveness of caffeine and alcohol. Emotional symptoms include grumpiness; poor judgment; aggressive or inappropriate behavior; an impaired ability to think, moderate emotions, and handle stress; lower concentration levels; poor memory; rigid thought patterns; and depression - all common teen characteristics. How much of that behavior would go away if the kids simply got a good night’s sleep on a regular basis?
I doubt we’ll find out any time soon, because that would require two major mental shifts in our culture. First we would have to set up school to accommodate teen sleep cycles rather than adult convenience; even shifting high-school hours an hour and a half later, 10:00 to 5:00, would help. Teachers could use the productive (for adults) morning time to prepare for classes instead of doing it late in the day when they are tired, and students would be more alert if they weren’t so tired.This change would force logistical changes in bus and parental schedules, but it could be done; it is no worse than the shifts to year-round school that many districts have already made.
The bigger challenge is for American culture to move away from glorifying activity for its own sake. We admire people who “get a lot done”, who are always busy; someone sitting quietly and thinking, staying in bed long enough to get a full night’s sleep, or even reading a book (unless it is work related or they are on vacation) is lazy and unproductive - possibly the American cardinal sin. This attitude is what keeps kids busy morning to night with band and speech team and booster clubs and who knows what else, all to make sure their college applications look “impressive”. We need to start valuing time to think, getting enough rest, doing a few things well rather than everything in a frenzy – for everyone, not just teenagers. Without this shift, activities will simply move to the morning hours before school and kids will still be short of sleep. With this shift, it would be easier for everyone to get enough sleep, to stay healthy, to enjoy life; and maybe adolescence would be easier to survive.