Category Archives: Education

The Decision and the Declaration

Today, on July 4th, we celebrate the Independence Day, when the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress in 1776.

However, history is more interesting than just the event and the date.

On June 7, 1776, the senior Virginia member of Congress, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution stating:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Congress adopted the Virginia motion on July 2, 1776, thereby refuting our status as a colony; this is why John Adams believed that we would celebrate our independence on July second, the date of the decision.

The Declaration of Independence was approved two days later, on July 4, 1776.

While the Declaration of Independence is a masterpiece, and I recommend that everyone read it today, it was not the decision, but merely the explanation to the world as to why the decision had been made. Although we have seen many portrayals of all the Founding Fathers assembled together in Independence Hall to sign the document on the fourth of July, most, but not all, signed on August second; one signer, who was not a member of the congress until later in the year, signed in November.

As is often the case, history is more complex, and far more interesting than the snapshot presented in civics class.

* Thanks, once again to Wikipedia. If you use it, kick in a donation—even a dollar helps.

 

Complain, Complain, Complain!

I haven’t written much lately, or at least not much for the blog. (I have been working on a story, though. For some reason, writing fiction has become more satisfying than writing about reality).  I try, when I write, to focus on the silver lining rather than the cloud. Lately, this has become most difficult.

We’ve already discussed how the news media obsesses on all things negative—or meaningless (What’s wrong with Richard Simmons? Will Johnny Depp survive the breakup? Will Caitlin decide to become Bruce once again?). Every trend dies sooner or later, except, apparently for this one. I suppose it’s because they pick the stories that sell the most erectile dysfunction prescriptions, thereby financially benefiting the media, your physician, Big Pharma, venture capitalists, and investment firms.

I propose that we start anew. First, let’s hold a memorial service for journalism. It had a short and tragic life. The first American newspapers were all opinion pieces, but there was one brief shining moment—a century or so—when factual reporting became the gold standard. Many were thrilled at its demise.

My favorite magazines—National Geographic, Wired, and Smithsonian, and National Public Radio have begun to beat me over the head with more doom and gloom. I don’t care who just wrote a book to announce that they’ve come out as gay; I’m sorry that peasants hack down the rain forests because they need to plant food; I regret that there’s a controversy in reintroducing wild wolves into areas where cattle are raised; and I find it unfortunate that while developed countries used coal in the nineteenth century, we balk at twenty-first century countries using such antiquated (but economically viable) methods.  The difference is that rising sea levels today threaten ninety percent of the world’s population because they live near the coast.

In the 1960s we had a saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Complaining, even if you’re a well-known television newsperson, accomplishes nothing. How do you plan to solve the problem? Like the ghost of Freddie Prinz the response seems to be, “Not my problem, man!”

So?

Memorial Day

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG

 

I don’t celebrate Memorial Day.

I do cook out and consider it to be the summer season and I enjoy the three-day weekend, but celebration brings to mind happier events. I do not wish people a “Happy Memorial Day.” Instead I observe Memorial Day as a day of remembrance, when we honor those who gave, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “The last full measure.”

There arguments as to how it started, but even though decorating the graves of fallen warriors is an ancient tradition, it took root in America after the Civil War. The Civil War was devastating not only in terms of bullets, but disease that swept through the armies before, during, and after the battles.

The North credits the Grand Army of the Republic—the veterans of the Union military—for starting it in 1868. They called it “Decoration Day” because of the flowers on the graves; its first observance was on May 30th because that date did not coincide with any significant Civil War battle.

There are others (including the US National Park Service) who claim that it began in Columbus, Georgia in 1866. There it was called “Memorial Day,” although after the North co-opted the idea (and the title), they called it “Confederate Memorial Day.” There was not a specific date throughout the South.

There is one other theory.  In South Carolina, Union soldiers were held in a makeshift prisoner of war camp that was actually a race course.  At least 257 Union soldiers who died in the camp were buried in unmarked graves. In 1865 freedmen—African-Americans who had been slaves—cleaned and landscaped the site and built an enclosure with an arch that said, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Regardless of its history, we now celebrate it on the last Monday in May with lots of sales at every retail store, and not enough thought of those who died in while in the service.

For clarity’s sake:

Memorial Day—the last Monday in May—honors service members who died while serving.

Veterans’ Day—November 11th commemorating the Armistice of World War I, which occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month—honors all who served in uniform.

Armed Forces Day—The third Saturday in May—honors those currently serving.

 

 

Data-ish Stuff

Data (datt’ a) used to be the plural of datum [ˈdādəm, ˈdadəm] NOUN

  1. a piece of information..
    • an assumption or premise from which inferences may be drawn. See sense datum.
  2. a fixed starting point of a scale or operation.

ORIGIN

mid 18th cent.: from Latin, literally ‘something given,’ neuter past participle of dare ‘give.’*

Somewhere along the line, data became both singular AND plural, although the singular often was used as an adjective, such as “a data point.” Recently I’ve begun to see data used as the singular and datas as the plural. That’s the problem with a living language—it keeps changing.

On the other hand, Data (day’ ta), the android on Star Trek, the Next Generation, will apparently always remain Data.

Or is that just too many datums for you?

* Powered by Oxford Dictionaries · © Oxford University Press

Trying Something Different

 

linuxWe’re on a little trip, with a few changes from the norm. First, we’re using the train for transportation, which we’ve done several times, and after that, either walking or the Metro. Since it’s already a variation on my usual theme, I am not using my regular notebook computer, but instead a vintage 2008 hand-me-up netbook computer. Netbooks are generally about half the size (or less) of a standard laptop/notebook computer and have smaller memory and disk capability. While the modest hardware is designed to support a user who relies on the Internet instead of the computer itself, by using Linux as the operating system (OS) you can pack a lot of capability into a very small package.

Linux, in case you don’t know is an open-source operating system—meaning that developers can modify it to meet their needs, within certain parameters. More significantly, that also means that it is free. LINUX is a rewrite of UNIX, a very powerful—but very expensive commercial operating system. UNIX was written by computer nerds for computer nerds; LINUX, perhaps more so, since its development is shared among many developers. Many of the systems that you may connect with via the Internet probably operate using Linux, yet your Windows based computer is able to interact seamlessly.

This version of LINUX—Ubuntu—has a graphical user interface similar to Windows with similar functions; LibreOffice offers includes a word processor, spreadsheet, etc., all of which are also free. To utilize its most powerful features, however, you use the command line method—kind of like the old Microsoft DOS.

The reason I took this computer is to encourage me to learn more about the more powerful features of Linux by working with the command line. Linux seems to be popping up more often, especially among geek toys and systems. The Raspberry Pi microcomputer runs on Linux (although Microsoft made a Windows 10 version for it once it became so popular). However, Linux tends to be more robust, use less memory, and run faster in most cases.

In any case, so far, so good. Sunday’s blog was written on this machine, and so is today’s. We’ve been too busy having fun for me to devote myself to learning command line LINUX, but I’ve learned some. Having fun and learning all in the same day? Outstanding!

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

The media try to help everyone avoid facts that might interfere with their willingness to accept, without question, the latest sound bite. Combine these efforts with an overall lack of critical thinking skills and a lack of understanding of mathematics among the population and it’s little wonder that we are in the position we are today. With the possible exception of big pharmaceutical companies, no one understands this better than politicians.

Take the debate swirling around firearms, for example. It is rife with anecdotal stories and inaccurate generalizations that lead you to the conclusion that murder most foul is rampant. However, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, gun deaths grew from 6.6 per 100,000 people in 1981 to a high of 7.0 per 100,000 in 1993, then dropped to 3.6 per 100,000 people in 2010. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, reported 10.6 per 100,000 people in 2010, which then dropped to 3.5 per 100,000 people in 2013. Although each group gathers their data differently, the conclusion is the same—deaths due to firearms are lower than 35 years ago. Interestingly, they’re at about the same level as deaths due to automobile accidents.

Then there’s the brouhaha over photo identification in order to vote. The purpose, to prevent voter fraud seems reasonable, as does the statement that you need a photo ID card to get a library card, etc. However, is voter fraud really a problem, and if so, how much of one? Figures are difficult to find, but according to NBC in 2012, “A new nationwide analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 shows that while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.” That’s quite a crime wave—about 172 alleged cases throughout the country, every single year. I’m not certain what other crime occurs at a similar rate—attempts to steal the Statue of Liberty?

Then there’s the arguments between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life (arranged in alphabetical order). The emotional issue that always comes to the forefront is that it would be wrong to deny abortions to victims of rape or incest. Is that a significant group? Needless to say, accurate statistics are difficult to find, but the most frequent numbers buried in the fine print are either “one percent” or “less than two percent.”

I am not attempting to sway your opinion or your vote. I am merely demonstrating how so many issues are presented in a manner so as to elicit an emotional response rather than a rational one. As Jethro Tull sang, “I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think.”

Think back to school when your math teacher deducted points from a test because, even though you had the correct answer, you didn’t show your work. The media has mastered the technique of not showing its work (and some might claim it’s on purpose). In many cases the media loves to report a percent, but rarely do they share the denominator. The number upon which the statistics are based.

What is a 50 percent increase? If you start with 100,000 a 50 percent increase leads to 150,000. Of course, if you start with two, you can claim a fifty percent increase if you get to three.

As the political ad barrage season begins, ask yourself:

  • Is this a significant issue?
  • Is this an issue that can be resolved, or is it an emotional issue?
  • Are those making claims telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

You may have to do a little research (Isn’t Google Wonderful?) to determine what the real facts are, but trust me—it’s worth it.

Content vs. Quantity

brown

 

There’s a famous quotation attributed to various people, but the supposed authoritative sources credit to Blaise Pascal:

I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.

When I first started writing this blog I thought that my goal should be to write and post something every day. Of course, at the time, I had plenty of ideas—some worth sharing, some not. Good, bad, or indifferent, I posted them. Like the codfish, I laid 10,000 eggs hoping a few would hatch. Now, I try to limit myself to thoughts worth sharing. Iay—or may not—be succeeding.

I’m a science junkie. If it were 1955 or 1985 (or for that matter, 1895) I could have been Doc Brown in Back to the Future. The biggest difference is that he had a family fortune to support him while he experimented, while I’ve got a steady job (just as valuable, but less conducive to experimentation). Nevertheless, as kindred spirits, he in fiction and I in reality, we try to see what the next step might be. Which brings me to today’s issue.

Today there is a huge emphasis on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math in the education biz, today—but there is no real commitment. It’s a lot of talk, but no real action. I’m not blaming the educators. God knows that I understand that there’s only so much you can do in guiding a teenager. However, among today’s teenagers, any interest in science is ridiculed. A student interested in STEM requires the commitment of the Maquis (that was the French Resistance in World War II); one must be willing to maintain a low—if not invisible—profile, only confide in a few trusted souls, and be willing to die a thousand deaths (of embarrassment) if discovered.

Kids today don’t realize that the person they call “nerd” today, will probably be called “boss” tomorrow.

In our effort to be politically correct and not impact anyone’s self-esteem we dare not put scientists, engineers, or mathematicians above athletes, gangstas, or “celebrities” who are famous for being famous. Personally, if I’m going to get my brain scrambled, I’d rather it happen in an experimental space craft rather than having repeated concussions playing football or via cocaine, meth, or whatever is the celebrity drug du jour.

Whatever happened to science fairs? High school science clubs? Achievement awards? When did it become shameful to be interested in science beyond the specific items included on the standardized test?

Think about it. To paraphrase Doc Brown, “Our future depends upon it.”