Memorial day

May 30, 2011

A few weeks ago, I spent a day with my mom at the business where we were to buy my father’s memorial stone.  The owner was a patient for the doctor my mom worked for, and was offered a substantial discount on the stone.  The stone arrived about two weeks ago, and was, sometime in the last week installed in the ground.

This particular design was designed by the owner’s mother, who had herself designed memorial stones for years before turning the business over to the daughter.

In the upper left are crossed anchors, representing dad’s time in the navy.

On the right is the outline of a chalice which contains chaffs of wheat and a cross.  Mom really liked the design, so I didn’t want to bring it up to here, but she later realized that a cup that holds wine, and chaffs of what looks like hops or barley could have a double meaning.  I think she thought that the double meaning might serve as an interesting message to whomever might see it later.  The “Gampa” is what Maddie called him.  For many weeks when she would visit the house, and dad would be in the bedroom sleeping, she would go up to the room and close the door saying “Gampa’s sick”.  Even after he had died, she would come over and repeat this for a time.  One time, mom told her that “Gampa isn’t really in there.”  She replied “I know, Gampa’s with the angels”.  Maddie and her brother Liam have been very good for mom over the last few weeks.

I will claim credit for suggesting the bottom line after the fact.  Before the proof was made, I suggested using the last line of text for something suggested by the Serenity Prayer.

I think mom made an excellent choice.  The stone is black and highly polished, which helps it to stand out against the other stones in the area, which are mostly light grey or reddish.

Visiting the cemetery today, I had forgotten that my mother’s father is buried two space over from my father (the intervening space is reserved fro mom), and the last space is reserved for ….

… well, for many years, it was assumed that it would be for me, though as time is passing, it may be more suited for Scott.  Normally, he would have been buried with his wife, but I have to wonder if he will ever get remarried (he is still dating the woman he cheated on my sister-in-law with … I don’t have to tell you that this creates numerous uncomfortable moments.  She is nice enough, but my sister-in-law is like my own sister!  I don’t like how my brother has treater her!  For my mother’s sake I am keeping quiet.

Scott and Pepper have refused to go to the cemetery.  This wears on mom a bit, but I can hardly blame them.  Scott got into his grand philosophy a bit and mom started crying.  Far be it from my brother to think much.

That being said, we had our first post-dad barbecue today.  Friends will know that dad loved to barbecue.  He was good at it, but I always thought that he limited himself and didn’t like to experiment.  Today I got to experiment with adding some spice to the hamburgers, using real poppy-seed buns for the hot dogs, and even tried barbecuing the corn.  Dad never did any of that.

I am trying to think positively!

Italian scientists face manslaughter for not predicting the future

May 27, 2011

Some Italian geologists are being charged with manslaughter in some 300 deaths in a 2009 earthquake.  They are charged with not predicting the earthquake.

Proof that science illiteracy is not wholly an American concern.

The New Education …

May 27, 2011

I have spent the last four months in and out of the classroom taking part in a working group that is examining how we in our district assign grades.

I think it is always a good thing to take time and examine why we do things, even if you think things are honky-dorry.  I am constantly tinkering with how I do things to see if I can make them better.

But no sooner than I had sat down in the first meeting, than I got one of those Han Solo “bad feelings”.  There was some of what I considered “legit discussion” regarding things like some teachers giving too much extra credit, and inflating grades …. some teachers counting too much homework, and thus artificially raising grades to not reflect mastery of material.

But some of the other things got me queasy …. like some teachers saying “homework shouldn’t count at all” …. “late work should never be given a zero” …. “anything behavior related should not count toward a grade” … “if a student chooses not to do something, it is incumbant on the teacher to come up with something different”.

I got into some trouble because I started asking questions …. the answers did nothing to dissuade the queasiness.

“If I have a student do a lab experiment, and they refuse to do it, am I allowed to give them a zero”.

“Can you replace it with another form of assessment?”

“No … lab experiences cannot be easily replaced.”

“Can’t dissections be replaced?”

“They are by mandate when students have ethical or religious objections, but very few teachers consider them an acceptable alternative.”

“Oh.  I would say that you should do everything you can to have them do the lab.”

“And if they refuse?”

“This isn’t likely.”

“I agree, but I find it more likely if our district adopts a policy that allows students to opt out on a whim.”

“THEN you could give a zero”.

“Can I even grade labs?  They are a behavior oriented experience.”

“Behaviors should not be graded.”

PE Teacher: “What if a student opts not to dress and perform in PE … the entire grade is behavior oriented.”

“I think you mean ‘skill oriented’, and you should have a rubric to decide how to grade”.

PE Teacher: “No, I don’t mean skill oriented … we don’t grade students poorly who can’t run a six mile or shoot a basket … their grade is largely based on participation.”

“That may have to change”.

This went on and on … the point is that more and more, there is this belief among some educators that grades don’t mean anything because a grade can be based on something other than strictly “this is what you know”.  I would argue that in some cases, a grade becomes meaningless if some of the lazy inteligentsia can get high grades without actually doing something … something that becomes easier to do by choosing to take classes below your ability level.  A student might be advertised to colleges as an “A” student, but be completely incapable of functioning in a collegiate environment.

Let me take some perspective here:

I think that different levels of students need to be dealt with a little differently.  Take your AP/accelerated students.  I think teachers need to be careful about inflating grades (you wouldn’t dare have an AP class where even 1% of your grade was extra credit).  On the other hand, you want to make sure that these students can handle a college level work load (in addition to some college level knowledge.

The more average students, depending on the school, may also be college bound, and while they may not need to know as many details, they had certainly better be ready to handle a college workload.

Lower level students (and I am assuming that they have the chance to move up if they can handle the skill set/knowledge base) often times are not going to remember a great deal that they learn in terms of details, but they can be very hard working students … a trait that can pay off for them in future job situations, or even a community college setting.

It seems that “ability to complete work” needs to be a part of everyone’s grade … though to what extent may be a point of debate.

The other thing:  the current feedback we are getting from colleges has very little to do with “the kids are too dumb” … quite the opposite … the kids have a good knowledge nad skills base, but they are dropping out in large numbers before their junior year because they cannot handle the combination of workload, independence, and separation.  At least a part of this can be blamed on helicoptor parenting, but I think that a great deal of this is the push toward removing “work” from a student’s grades.

I handle my students a little differently.  I never do extra credit, and I don’t accept late work for credit.  I de-emphasize homework with my seniors a bit, but really hammer them with tests, so we spend some time talking about study habits.  With my sophomores, a great deal of their grade is “Behavior” based (I look at their notes, I look at their homework … their tests aren’t quite worth as large a part of their grade.

After three meetings, the team is taking the summer off, but will reconvene in the autumn to try and put together some proposals to the Board for their consideration.

Spirit lost

May 26, 2011

Back in 2004, NASA sent two remote controlled rovers to Mars … a follow-up (to Sojourner) experiment in being able to remote control exploration vehicles from great distance in addition to continued exploration of the planet.  Each of them was supposed to run about 90 days.

Which was almost 7 years ago!

While the little rover Opportunity is still trudging along, its companion Spirit was declared lost a couple of days ago, and its part of the project has reached an end.

Spirit had severe tire damage, though that still allowed it limited travel until March, 2010, when it finally got stuck.  The controllers were able to move it a little more to give it optimum alignment for its solar panels, but alas, the signal was lost, as they thought, due to entering power savings mode due to a lack of sunlight.  The hope was that when the summer returned, they could try to see if it was revived.  Throughout May, there were attempts to restore contact, and on May 24, the team decided that Spirit was beyond their ability to revive, and thus ended one phase of NASA’s most successful missions.

While Opportunity continues to roll around and poke its nose around craters and rocks, it will not be alone for long.  Curiosity is ready to go for a November launch, and should be leaving tire tracks in the red dust some time in August!

Movie Review: Thor

May 22, 2011

If you haven’t seen it, and you plan on seeing it, don’t read any further.

Fathers and sons … not to mention brothers … have a notorious time getting along!  That’s something I can relate to, and while I have not read any Thor comics, I suspect that this create a lot of the conflict in the plots … it matters not if you are mortal, or if your address is Asgard.

The opening narration is from Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and explains the backstory as to how the Asgardians came to protect Earth from an invasion of frost giants.  Odin’s forces were victorious after a long battle which saw Earth protected, the frost giants stripped of their powers (contained in a glowing blue casket), and Odin minus an eye.  We are then introduced to Odin’s two sons: Thor and Loki.  As eldest, Thor is in line to succeed his father.

We fast forward to the day of Thor’s ascension.  He is respected by his fellow “gods”, though Odin has his doubts.  The ceremony is interrupted when frost giants are killed trying to reclaim their glowing blue casket.  Thor is enraged, and demands permission to travel to the frost giants realm to seek retribution.  Odin refuses, but Thor gathers his fellow Asgardians together, and manages to start a small war that only ends when Odin arrives to bail him out.  Back at Asgard, Odin and Thor argue … to which Odin strips the arrogant punk of his powers, takes his hammer, Mjolnir, and casts him down to Earth … throwing his hammer after him by saying that he who is worthy can take the hammer and be granted the power of Thor.  Thor ends up in New Mexico.

It turns out that Thor is picked up by an astrophysicist (Natalie Portman) who is interested in wormholes, and thinks that the occasional storms that pop up around the world (really the opening of the Rainbow Bridge, Bifrost, to Earth) is an Einstein-Rosen Bridge.  She picks up Thor who is strong, but pretty powerless.  Sometime later, his hammer lands in a crater nearby, and attracts SHIELD agents.  Thor attempts to retrieve his hammer, but is unable to lift it, since only Thor or his father can lift the hammer.

Meanwhile, back on Asgard, we learn that Loki was in fact the orphaned child of frost giants, whom Odin claimed at the end of the war, because Odin felt sorry for him, he was adopted as Odin’s own son.  We also learn that it was Loki who snuck the frost giants in to Asgard.  Odin falls into a coma, and Loki assumes the throne of Asgard,

This sets up the end game whereby Thor must reclaim his powers and defeat Loki’s plans to destroy the Earth, and unite Asgard under his rule with the frost giants.

One of the problems with all-powerful godlike superheros is that the choice of villain is limited.  This has been the long problem with translating Superman to the screen … in order to come up with convincing villains, you often have to decay the story into cheesy improbable bad guys.  Certainly, Loki is not that case, but to go further would be a problem.  The key to successful heros is always in the villain (this is why Batman translates better to screen).

Overall, it was not a bad film, but I did not think it compared favorably to Spider-Man or Iron Man.  The one point I thought this film did a great job with is the melding of science and fantasy.  Thor at one point notes that the Asgardians are not really gods … they merely possess a level of science so advanced that it resembles magic.  Asgard looks like a fantastical city, but it really does run on a technology that happens to be advanced (as noted, the famed rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to various realms is a piece of technology which opens a wormhole).  This doesn’t explain things like Thor’s hammer, but I was very willing to overlook a little inconsistency.

It was also interesting to see that Sif, one of the female warrior Asgardians, was integrated into the story very well … she was the first to doubt Loki’s motives, and fought equally along side the rest of the Asgardians in battle … a really strong (if not supporting) female role.

Overall, it was a solid film.  I’m not sure that we will see a sequel, which might be a good idea, though Thor will be back as a part of The Avengers in 2012.  That should be a fitting coda for a hero who does have a good following through the years.

There was certainly nothing questionable for the kids, so it might be an interesting film for even younger kids who want some eye candy.

Even if it was not the very best film I saw, I got to see it with long time friends Ed and RJ … so the evening was far, far from a loss!

If you can’t shoot ’em, RUN ‘EM DOWN!

May 20, 2011

Thanks to Elizabeth for passing this along … as if Illinois didn’t have enough to make it the laughingstock of the United States.

Illinois has a problem:  not enough money!  So, one of the cuts being made is to the highway crews who go clean up the various carcasses left on the side of the road when a motorist hits one of the many forms of wildlife, today ranging from armadillo (recently found in Kane County) to alligators (two pulled out of the Chicago River last summer) to coyotes (one was trapped in a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago two years ago) … not to mention raccoons, skunks, weasels, polecats, politicians, foxes, bobcats, otters, beavers, rabbits, mob informants, deer, opossums, and squirrel (among others).

Leave it to Illinois to find a solution!

The Illinois House has begun debating a bill that will allow citizens to claim these carcasses as if they had been hunted (provided they have the appropriate licenses and the animal in question is in season).

Oh …. of course, the law requires that the animal was hit “accidentally”.  The next time a highway patrolman comes across a hunter strapping a herd of 6-point elk to the hood of his semi, its possible the hunt was legal.

Make me think that Illinois is turning into a bad episode of “Squidbillies”.

Washington referees punished for pink

May 20, 2011

WARNINGthis post contains some harsh language.  Children under 21 should not read further unless they are given express permission from their parents/guardians.  Viewer discretion is highly advised.

As a follow-up to an earlier story that I wrote about, it took the Washington Athletic Officials Association a whopping seven months to decide on a punishment for over 100 officials who chose to rebelliously mock football tradition by using pink whistles in support of breast cancer awareness.  These referees also volunteered to donate their game checks to the Susan G. Korman Breast Cancer foundation.

The punishment:  the offending officials are going to lose two years of privileges to work playoff games.  The referees’ association they are part of is also on three years probation, which means one more slip up and the association is decertified in Washington to officiate games.  What raises this to an even higher level of idiocy, is that originally the commissioner stated that he would not fine the officials.  I’ll give him credit, he didn’t lie.  He just became a weasel the size of a 10 foot pole cat!

Let that stand as a lesson against decency!  The next time anyone tries to cross the Grand Exhaulted Commissioner of Washington Officials, they will know that punishment awaits any transgression.

Seriously … this doesn’t even arise to the level of “douchebaggery” … if this crap went down in Illinois, I would like to think there would be such outrage from the schools and coaches that this would get overturned … though I am normally opposed to this, you could bet some politician would get involved and bring pressure on the Commissioner/asshole … not to mention that the “Commissioner” would find himself ass-kicked to Wisconsin.  On top of this, you have to figure that in Washington, the assignments for officials to playoff games is based on some sort of merit system.  This being the case, expect somewhere some team to lose a game because of poor officiating.