THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 339 December 6 - 12, 2004
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December 6, 2004
There was some activity over the weekend.
Have you considered the impact that the text layout effects our ability to read and understand.
I first encountered comments concerning e-books on the palm. I read a comment that indicated some study had established 40 words per line as optimal for speed and comprehension. I established that on my palm.
I considered news paper columns and magazine articles, and realized that the line length is typically short and easy to read. Squeeze your e-mail on Outlook down to 3 inches, sure looks funny but reads quickly. A word document at 40 characters would also appear funny but divided into 2 columns. . .
Today I was struggling to read your "last weeks day book" and realized I was struggling, due to the extremely long lines, as compared to reading Google News and other sources earlier today.
Could this be the reason I seldom read your site although I certainly find it interesting?
Just a passing thought.
This one I don't understand: I can narrow the window to any width I like, at least in Explorer, and thus make the column width whatever I want it to be. It's easy enough to make it news column width. Should I force everyone to the same length? A printed magazine has a fixed column width, but computers let the reader choose what he likes; or so I would have thought. Is there something here I am not comprehending?
It is column time, and I am grinding away... But I have some thoughts on the laws of war and rule of law over in mail.
I do believe Windows is trying to drive me crazy.
I cannot find out how MY Computer and other such icons get on the desktop. I have no problem getting SHORTCUTS to those on the desktop, and that's what I have on all but one of these machines. Worst, the desktop file shows they are supposed to be in there. It's not important other than irritating.
NEVER MIND. Alex found it for me. Right click on the desktop, get PROPERTIES, DESKTOP, Customize Computer, and Lo! there it is. You cannot find this in Windows HELP, nor is it indexed in any book on Windows that I have. Clear once known, impossible to find if you didn't know it.
Actually you can find it in Windows HELP but only if you know how to look for it; and it's in the knowledge base not in HELP itself.
|This week:||Tuesday, December
Column is done and on the wire.
The US government is saying that publishers need licenses to publish works from dissenters: under this new regulation, a license would have been required for a US publication of Dr. Zhivago. Wouldn't that be lovely?
John Adams supported The Sedition Act which allowed punishment of publications proved to contain "seditious libel", and many think rightly so; even Washington. But Adams would have been among the first and most vociferous to denounce the notion of licensing, which is to say prior restraint, of publications. I'll have considerably more on this another time; I first heard of this today in my morning paper, which shows I have been out of things. I let my dues to P.E.N. lapse because of their unremitting fever swamp left wing events, but I may have to join again: at least they had the courage to stand up to the fatwah against Rushdie, and to bring suit against this latest idiocy.
More later. I am coming up for air after doing 11,000 words...
December 8, 2004
Still recovering from getting the column done.
Subject: Measuring educational success
I'd be interested to learn what you think of my 11:36 post today.
-- Robert Bruce Thompson email@example.com
which is interesting, although he sets his sights far too high in my judgment. No reason not to include questions to sort the high end from the low if you are trying to assess general competence, but some of his questions are quite specialized. I may once have known something of the history of photography, but I have only a vague idea of what Daguerreotypes were and I only spelled that correctly because Word's default dictionary has that word in it.
Thompson mentions the report of the National Commission on Education, Glenn T. Seaborg, Chairman, which delivered its report in 1983, opening with these words:
I copied that from Seaborg's essay written on the 10th Anniversary of the original report http://teidnt3.lbl.gov/seaborg/risk.htm which looks at the Commission's recommendations and what has been done to implement them. Seaborg attempts to put a good face on things, but the fact is that he could have written the original report on its 10th Anniversary without much modification.
The public schools in the US are in the hands of a bureaucracy that has forgotten the purpose of public schools. With some notable and laudable exceptions, our schools no longer even attempt to "educate" students; instead, they provide credentials. Success is measured not in the accomplishments of the students as they become citizens, but in the numbers of credentials that can be provided; and in the averages of test scores.
Now there is nothing wrong with the notion of using tests to measure effectiveness of instruction, but one needs to give some thought to what is meant by effectiveness.
Our schools are required "to leave no child behind." What this means in practice is that much effort is put into seeing that those in the bottom quadrant of intellectual capability are raised up to meet a standard; while those at the top are given little attention because they will get an average or better score on the tests. If true averages were used there might be a chance that some teachers would go for a strategy of getting a lot of very high marks -- Jaime Escalante comes to mind -- and that high average would be noticed and lauded and used to raise averages. What's usually done, though, is cutoffs, and reports on how many students met a minimum standard.
If that's your goal, that no child be left behind, you have set yourself a very difficult task, and one that may not have very great beneficial results. Getting everyone in the class to have a C average, so that there are none with B's and A's, may not produce a very competitive work force. Of course there will be high achieving students, even in the public schools; some are bright enough to figure out the system and learn things on their own. As a product of the general kind of school through 8th Grade I can testify that, given some encouragement by the teachers who have no real time for individual kids (we had two grades to the room and 30 or so kids per grade), you can learn a lot by reading books. However, I don't think I would have got much of an education had that continued: it took the systematic work and high expectations of the Christian Brothers at CBC in Memphis to make me actually get a decent education and even there I have some holes in my knowledge, at least according to Mr. Thompson's proposed test. I have not the foggiest notion of the contributions of those people to photography, and although I certainly knew it at one time, it would take me a while to lay out all the categories of the Linnaean taxonomy from memory (although I could find them in a matter of minutes).
If the goal of education is that no child be left behind, then the way to achieve that is to put all the attention on the low end of the intellectual spectrum, since the higher end will take care of itself. I repeat, this may not be an optimum strategy for a wealthy republic, since it is unlikely to turn out highly competitive workers.
The very high end of the spectrum, and the children of the wealthy, will not face this problem, of course. But if ever there were a system devised to make class structure more rigid, a system of education that tries to raise the averages but ignores the top end -- yet allows the wealthy to opt out of that system entirely -- is it. Indeed, our system is so cleverly designed to produce hewers of wood and drawers of water at the expense of teaching "high normal" children to be competitive that one wonders if it were not planned that way; if this isn't the intention, what would we do differently if it were the intention?
Mr. Thompson's plan to devise a test for general competency and try to raise the bar is useful only if the notion is to see how many we can get to meet that standard -- at the expense of leaving behind those who are unable, or unwilling, to climb that high.
And that, I put it to you, will not happen.
The trouble with democracy is that it tends to pull everyone to a common level: great men cannot rise to their proper level. This was known by Cicero and once known to almost every intellectual in Western Civilization. Now we don't have a Western Civilization, and to the extent that we do our intellectuals are mostly ashamed of it; and while the last thing our Enlightened class wants is real equality, the notion of "equal treatment" is now pervasive. Why would it not be? The official view of man as taught in almost every classroom in the nation is Jacobinism, Rousseau, "Man is born free yet he is everywhere in chains," and the rest of it. Why are we then surprised when a great many people act as if they believe that?
The Framers knew better. The Founders knew better. The notion that within most human hearts beats a burning desire to take his neighbors goods and possess his wife was prevalent. As Chesterton observed, one needs only to read the newspapers to confirm the doctrine of Original Sin. One need not be religious to come to the view that to secure rights governments must be instituted among men. But when the notion of rights, and I'm as good as you and I got to have my rights same as anyone becomes the pervasive public doctrine, there are bound to be consequences.
The original formulation of the Commission's key sentence was written by Annette Kirk better known perhaps as Mrs. Russell Kirk: "If a foreign nation had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightly consider it an act of war." It was watered down to "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." Either way, though, it is entirely true; and of the changes made since that was written, only a few can be viewed as bettering the education system; while the power of the unions, bureaucrats, gatekeepers, and credential mills have made things far worse.
Mr. Thompson notes:
I wasn't, as you suggest, aiming this test at the
right end of the curve, nor does your ignorance of the history of
photography count much against you. In my opinion, if the schools were doing
their job, an average high-school graduate would do reasonably well on such
a test. As I said in my post, "a well-educated person should be able to
respond credibly, if not definitively, to at least half the questions on the
I don't disagree; I do think the expectation for normal -- IQ 95 - 105 -- is a bit high but not excessively so. The real problem for the schools is that some students need "education" in the sense of learning how to learn, and don't need a lot of drills and training; while some students can't benefit much from "education" but certainly can learn skills and become highly productive people. Sorting out which needs what is a primary problem, and the teaching methods for teaching skills are quite different from the teaching methods for "educating", i.e., teaching how to learn. And of course there are those who simply shouldn't be in the classrooms with the others, because they aren't going to either get an education or learn skills, yet will absorb most of the time from the instructors. If we are going to combine rigid legal rights to be in the mainstream with the "no child left behind" philosophy we guarantee that the teachers will concentrate on the poor students and let the bright ones fend for themselves. This is a way to burn out teachers fast; it's also a horrible misallocation of resources, and a formula for economic disaster.
Don't say I didn't tell you so when things really come apart. I may not survive to see us reap the whirlwind, but you will. We have sown the wind.
Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2004 18:48:41 -0800
HR 5382, The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, just passed the US Senate by unanimous consent. Having already passed the House of Representatives, it will now go to the President for signature and at that point become law. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has worked toward this moment over the last year.
The lack of this law would not have been the end of the world for the emerging "alt space" industry, and the passing of it will not solve all problems from this moment on. Nevertheless, we believe that HR 5382 is a significant step forward in establishing a regulatory regime that, whether or not it's perfect, is Good Enough for this new industry to get underway with.
Thanks again, all.
Henry Vanderbilt Space Access Society firstname.lastname@example.org
I have considerable evidence that actions of subscribers to this web site were influential in getting the key House vote. Thanks to all of you.
December 9, 2004
As you have seen above, the Commercial Space Regulations bill passed, in large part due to your help. Thank you.
Mac enthusiasts now claim Apple as the technological leader in small computers, and that development will begin to ferment on that platform due to the superior nature of the operating system. I solicit your views.
December 10, 2004
"The Framers knew better. The Founders knew better. The notion that within most human hearts beats a burning desire to take his neighbors goods and possess his wife was prevalent." [From a disquisition on education]
You know around here, western Canada, we really don't think like that. The human hearts around here very seldom possess such antisocial tendencies. I won't argue that you are right about the US but the rest of the world really is not bent on pillage. This could be the reason that we Canadians, although armed better than any except the US, kill each other in very small numbers. You really believe it's a dangerous world in spite of all evidence to the contrary, dropping crime rates etc. You are freaked out, dangerous and very well armed.
PenGun Do What Now ???
I think you will find that most places with ordered liberty have few problems. You are clearly wrong about "the rest of the world." As Chesterton said, those who do not believe in Original Sin cannot be reading the newspapers. Read about any place you like in Africa; the inner cities in any country including your own; England; etc. Free people do develop habits that often prevail during the breakdown of law and order, and if the breakdown doesn't last long, come out splendidly. For more enlightenment I refer you to The Lord of the Flies, or Hobbes on life in a state of nature. Ordered liberty doesn't just happen, and those who are fortunate enough to live in such a state ought to appreciate it rather than think it falls as manna from Heaven.
We got the Commercial Space Bill. Alas, not all is well. http://www.arcamax.com/cgi-bin/news/story/1017/16783/678201 but there is progress.
The American Spectator for November has some really excellent material. One was Tom Bethel's column on funding and science ( http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=7443 ). Another is a long article on infections in hospitals.
Longer ago than I care to remember, I was Chairman of the Seattle Civic Playhouse, and we put on a fluffy little boxoffice pleaser called "All for Mary", a play by Kay Bannerman that has been made into a movie. It was a lot of fun. Part of the plot involved staying out of hospital while recovering from measles, and there was a recurring line: "Hospital very bad. Many go in. Few come out." It was taken for granted by the protagonists that avoiding hospital was important.
That attitude faded over the years, in part I suppose because of TV programs and the like about how wonderful modern hospitals are. The reality is that in the US at least, infections including incurable infections are on the rise, in large part because of lapses in sanitary procedures among both physicians and other staff in hospitals. Moreover, those who try to raise the subject are generally told to mind their own business, as if public health were not everyone's business.
It all reminds me of Ignatz Semmelweis who discovered the cause of childbed fever was physicians who didn't wash their hands. This was well before Pasteur and the germ theory of disease, back in a time when doctors didn't really know what they were doing. The story is told well here http://www.doyletics.com/arj/tcatcrvw.htm and it's worth reading, in part as a lesson in humility. It ain't the things we don't know that kill us, it's the stuff we know for certain that ain't so.
There's no real point in writing a long essay here. The statistics are easy to come by. Betsy McCaughey's article in The American Spectator doesn't seem to be on line, but others are including http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publication_details&id=2185 . There's no point in shouting about it, either. The only people who are in a position to do anything are physicians, who are going to have to insist on meticulous sanitary procedures every time and thorough disinfections at intervals. That's going to cost money, and there's little we can do about that either beyond paying it.
The lesson is clear: our ancient enemies are still out there, undefeated, and we can't simply declare the war on disease done and go about our business as if we'd won. We haven't. Civilization needs defending, against enemies great and small, and sometimes the smallest are the worst threat of all.
Sue sends this:
Functional Fashion Helps Some Through Airport Checkpoints
By Sara Kehaulani Goo Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, December 10, 2004; Page A01
Rolf Reifgies always got in trouble at the airport security checkpoint because of his suspenders.
Whenever the Wisconsin businessman flew out of Minneapolis, Milwaukee or Madison, Wis., the metal in his suspenders set off the magnetometer. Then, six weeks ago, he discovered BuzzNot, a brand of suspenders with plastic clasps.
"Works like a charm," Reifgies said of the $19.99 pair he found on SuspenderStore.com. Now when he takes off on trips to sell his milking equipment, Reifgies glides right through security. "It's a nuisance if I wear regular suspenders."
In this era of tightened airport security, retailers are coming to the aid of the aggravated traveler, offering new products -- such as bras and shoes -- designed to get passengers through the checkpoints without the indignity of a pat-down. <snip>
One more illustration that the TSA's purpose is not to provide security but to get us used to being docile subjects rather than citizens. If we were citizens we would insist that TSA use the most likely means of increasing security, namely, profiling; but we don't do that any more than we insist that our border control laws be enforced. And now we will give driving licenses to illegal immigrants, while insisting on acting as if driving licenses are internal passports. If the purpose were to increase security would we do it that way?
December 11, 2004
Richard came over. To celebrate the Commercial Space Act we took a 4 mile hike in the dog park, exhausting both me and Sable. She recovers much faster than I do.
December 12, 2004
Sloth, Everquest II, family matters, and more sloth.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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