Shredding the competition …

October 26, 2011

I’ve always been lucky to have good friends.  They are good in many ways:

1.  They’ve been supportive.

2.  They all married well (all of their spouses I consider friends, and everyone of them has made me feel welcome)

3.  They’ve been generous of their time, and with their families (I am a biological uncle of two, and by friendship to over a half dozen more).

4.  They are all successful.  They have all demonstrated a high level of success in their chosen walk of life.


Point #4 is what brings me here today.

One of my friends has been working rather tirelessly on a big project for his company … he is a paper shredder specialist.

And while I would never doubt anything that he works on would be top notch and high quality, Consumer Reports, now fully agrees with what I would suspect.  His and his team’s work has been judged the best in the country.

If you aren’t sure who it is, drop me a line.  Congratulations on a job well done!

Interesting short story ….

October 19, 2011


Peter Watts writes “The Things” … a short story based on John Carpenter’s film version The Thing … as told from the perspective of the alien.  It is an interesting take on the philosophy of the monster, but also an alternate take on the film’s ending.










And so the dismantling of science education begins in earnest ….

October 16, 2011



Read this article, and understand that in large swaths of the country, you are seeing the future.  It will not be everywhere by a long shot … but as one of the comments noted:  50 years after Sputnik, we have now traveled full circle.


A middle school in Florida examined testing data and showed that they get better test scores in science when they eliminated hands on activities and replace them with teacher demonstrations, video learning and other non-engaging modes of learning.  In the name of higher test scores and salaries, schools are completely turning kids off to the realities of science.

My favorite quote is from the school’s science department chair:

Kids can see the lowest density rises,” Loumanis said. “If the kids did the lab, it would take longer and it would be a mess.


1.  Yes … goodness forbid things get messy in a science class!  How horrible!!  Perhaps next we can have PE that avoids sweating because that’s both messy and stinky!

2.  Excellent use of poor logic …. because it might save some time to introduce a simple idea like density with a demo, that doesn’t mean the near elimination of hands on experiments.

This article highlights the very worst things about the last ten years in American education:

1.  Test scores are everything.

2.  Teachers will be held accountable for those test scores.  Please note:  they are not being held accountable for educating kids … just the test scores … and those aren’t even close to being the same thing.

3.  Enthusiasm for learning … actually learning things that can’t easily be tested for on multiple choice tests (things like analysis, measuring, higher level thinking, etc) are things that are no longer considered important in education.

4.  In the midst of a huge push for school and teacher accountability, there is a loud call for charter schools and private school vouchers … the two kinds of schools that have no public accountability whatsoever.  Their only accountability is if the parents get what they want.


I cannot comment further much on this without risking a stroke … please read the article … I cannot fathom that this idiotic approach to turning kids off to education in the name of higher test scores is being sanctioned in any American school.






More reasons to worry about government interference in education

October 15, 2011

Some time ago, I posted about the grave concerns about a greater call to remove teacher tenure and increase the power of governments, special interests, and individuals to control education.  The particular article I wrote focused on how some Chinese university students have been barred from learning their own history, except the history sanitized by the government.

Earlier this week, I received an alert from other science teachers asking us all to be vigilant about the “Question Evolution” campaign … it is the standard set of attacks on natural selection:  label it religion, and ask why it is being taught in schools (note:  it is not a religion).  Ask about how so many questions remain unanswered, therefore it is only a “theory”, and shouldn’t be taught as fact (the semantics argument that seeks to confuse people into saying “let’s get rid of it”).

According to this little article … and given its source, who knows if it is true or not … some individuals are going after textbook companies by hammering away in Texas at not teaching natural selection.  Because Texas is still buying state textbooks (states like California and Illinois have stopped buying textbooks, at least for the near future), Texas government officials will have a huge say in what goes into textbooks that are marketed nationwide.  While I doubt that blatant lies will be published, it is far easier to exclude scientific truths via censorship.  In fact, this has happened before.  For many years, California was the nation’s largest textbook buyer, and whatever California mandated pretty much ended up in textbooks.  Even Richard Feynman wrote of attempts to bribe him by publishers to get approval for a physics textbook in California (see his autobiography Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman for his take on this).  Textbooks, as any college student will tell you, is a major racket!

If there existed a system that protected teachers from government (local, state, or otherwise) interference, while still weeding out underperforming teachers, this would be less a problem.

But that’s not what Americans want now a days.

Movie review: The Thing

October 15, 2011

The idea of The Thing goes back to a 1938 novella by John W. Campbell, one of the pioneers of modern science fiction.  In 1951, a film version very loosely based on that work was produced, entitled The Thing From Another World.  The plot was sanitized for 1950s consumption (with a twist of anti-communist Cold War propaganda), with the shape assuming alien replaced by a humanoid plant, and the action shifted from Antarctica to Alaska.

In 1982, John Carpenter went back to the source material in creating his The Thing.  It relied heavily on paranoia and brooding fear as any good gothic horror will.  Thanks to Rob Bottin, the practical effects were particularly gory and memorable.  Carpenter’s key addition to the film was explaining that the alien arrived at the American Antarctic base in the body of a sled dog being chased by the last surviving people from a nearby Norwegian research station who know the dog’s true nature.

Plans for a remake or sequel have been ground through the rumor mills for years … even as recently as 3-4 years ago, there was discussion of a direct sequel being produced by the SyFy Channel.  The producers, wisely, decided  that a sequel might be difficult with Kurt Russell (one of the two survivors at the end of Carpenter’s film) so old, and a remake seemed a losing proposition as it could almost certainly never live up to the greatness of the original.  Thus, a prequel was probably the best route, and that is where this film goes.

I make it no secret … Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all time favorite films, and I have been anxiously awaiting this story for a long time.


Last call … some spoilers from here ….


It is Antarctica, in the late fall of 1982 …

Norwegian researchers follow a radio signal coming from a nearby barren part of Antarctica.  The Sno Cat crashes through the ice, and they find a crashed alien spacecraft.

Cut to the United States … anthropologist Kate Lloyd is invited down to the Norwegian base, as she is a specialist in recovering vertebrate fossils from ice fields.   She goes along on the advice of one of her friends.  Once there, she is shown the enormous spacecraft and what appears to be the boy of an occupant frozen in solid ice.  She supervises its recovery, and it s brought back to the base.

To be honest, the plot is not wholly unpredictable from here.  We already know that there will be two survivors, and that they will be two people who don’t speak English.  Once the creature escapes, Lloyd quickly determines that it has the ability to take the form of any being … but unlike the first film where blood tests were the sole way of determining who was human, and who wasn’t,  Lloyd determines an alternative method that is pretty interesting.  I applaud the efforts to leave the Norwegian base just as it should for the arrival of the Americans later.

This film is very clearly not as good as Carpenter’s;  there was almost no way it could.  There is more on-screen time for the creature, which fans of the original will note seems to be based on some of the original art that was rejected for Carpenter’s film.  There is a conscious effort to show things in the Norwegian base, and how they end up after the final attack there (so that the base will look “right”, as seen in the Carpenter film, which spends a few minutes exploring the base).

The most notable weakness compared to Carpenter’s film  is that the characters aren’t developed.  In Carpenter’s film, you sympathize with Kurt Russell’s MacReady character because he is a functional alcoholic Vietnam vet who is in Antarctica escaping from the realities of the world.  There was a loner who loved his dogs … there was a stoner, a few scientist, a grizzled doctor … in short, there were people with personalities.  In this film, most of the characters look alike and have undeveloped personalities … it is a little hard to tell them apart without a scorecard.  You certainly sympathize with their plight because they are dying to save the world, but it is more difficult to relate with them.  More attention here would have definitely improved the film.

I would also make a comparison to Alien and Aliens.  Where Alien was strictly a horror film, Aliens was more of an action-adventure film.  To some extent, I think the producers tried to go that route.  Where Carpenter’s 1982 film is a text book gothic horror film, this new film is more of a thriller and action film.  That’s where I would stop the comparisons.  Both Alien and Aliens are modern classics of their genre.  Carpenter’s film is too.  I can’t say that this new film reaches the level of “classic”.  Still, far from a bad film.

Book Review: Gratitude, Giggles & Grace

October 10, 2011

Not my usual thing … and I likely would not have guessed that my first book review would be on a book about dating … but here we are.

My cousin Tracy, the author has a nice ability to tell stories.  That’s harder than a lot of people think.  Far too often you tell a story without the right level of emotional punch to it.  Some people tell a story with no emotion, and others tell it with melodramatic emotion (too syrupy or too “this is the end of everything”).   Tracy manages to strike the right chord for what she intended: a humorous book about what it is like to get into the dating world after having a daughter and two divorces.  The fact that she can tell these stories in a manner that allows the humor to develop naturally, all while not going overboard, says as much about the journey she has been on:  she has grown a great deal along the way.  She can look back at her marriages at let go of the bitter emotions she had about them, and learn to focus on finding that special someone who is undoubtedly out there for her.

One particular story tells of a date who started getting a little physical on an early movie date.  She has an excellent use of vocabulary to describe her reaction to the situation.  I was laughing quite a bit until I realized: “Idiot!  You are laughing over a story about a perv feeling up your cousin.”  Of course I realized that she was trying to provoke laughter in her choice of words.  She had gotten over it, so I at least couldn’t get down on myself too much.

Before I picked up the book, I thought it would be one of those “self-help” books, and I was kind of trying to figure out how long it would take before it put me to sleep.  As I read it, I realized it really was as story book … at least until I put the book down.  That was when I realized it was a self-help book, but one that was giving advice in the guise of the stories of things that had happened to my dear cousin (both good and not-so-good).

Now that aside, what would a confirmed bachelor have to gain from reading about the (mis)adventures of a woman looking for husband #3?  That, too, I was unprepared for.  I’ll admit that my initial curiosity was more along the lines of “why, a relative of mine got published!” … but as I read it, I gained some insight into, what I might suppose, is female psychology (a subject I could write 2-3 sentences on … OK an exaggeration, I could write one sentence max).

Some time in the past, one of my friends who routinely reads this blog (and I won’t out him here, but he knows who he is), advised me to get some single female friends … not a girlfriend, but at least a few single female friends if for nothing else so that I can get an opportunity to talk to the and learn about how they see the world.  I really did try and take that up.  I found it nearly impossible.  It seemed that some women just couldn’t accept that a single male guy would be interested in a purely platonic relationship.  However, Tracy also gave me some insight:  as women get into their 30s, and if they are single for whatever reason, and are looking to get married, then the energy that they invest into friendships with men need to be ore single of purpose:  it isn’t that women with this status are necessarily opposed to hanging out with men … just that they don’t have time to deal with men who might not be a potential husband.  Being someone who has no plans to marry, that’s something I hadn’t considered before.

So … even people like me could gain insight from this book.  That’s saying something!  I hope my cousin gets out of this what she wants.

Rockin’ Robin (tweet-tweet-tweet)

October 6, 2011

This evening, I was announcing my high school’s football game (as we can’t play this weekend, being Yom Kippur).  Just before the varsity game, one of the guys who does the radio broadcast (a former student) went through the current sports news … the Tigers-Yankees game was getting underway … Cal and Oregon’s football game was starting … and the White Sox had hired Robin Ventura to manage the team.


I yelled out “WHAT???!!!!”


He pulled off his headphones and quietly repeated the information as his radio partner apologized to the audience for the brash outburst in the press box.

I had been following this with some interest, but figured this wouldn’t be sorted out until after October.  Robin’s name had never come up … he has no real practical coaching or managing experience.

However, the fans do love him.  In the 1990s, it was Robin and Frank leading the way.  Ventura is likely known for:


1.  … hitting an obscene number of grand slam home runs.  He never hit 300 home runs in his career, but he still sits in the top 10 all-time in career grand slams.

2. … being a steady gold glove third baseman.  While Robin was not a terrible hitter, he was a stellar defensive third baseman.  The White Sox fans love their defensive stars!

3.  … oh yeah … he will always be remembered for rushing the mound against Nolan Ryan, and getting pummeled by the 8th wonder of the ancient world.  I remember watching that game live and worrying that Ventura would be remembered for permanently injuring the great pitcher.  I learned that Noaln Ryan, for as old as he was, was a beast of a man.

Normally, I would highly question this decision …

… but I did the same thing when they hired their previous former White Sox infielder to manage.  That turned out OK.  Robin … best of luck!