Sunday, March 11, 2012

Just the facts, maam.

I just read an article in the Sunday, March 11,  NY Times that describes the transport of a 340 ton boulder to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. As a transportation feat it might compare to the relocation of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse or the trucking of the space shuttle aboard a Boeing 747. For that matter, there have been numerous times when massive structures have been moved to new locations.  Heck, I find the docking of a cruise ship to be an awe-inspiring event. The NY Times states, " It was 4:35 a.m. on Saturday when the block-long transporter carrying a 340-ton, 21-foot-high boulder wrapped in white plastic pulled up in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. " The LA Times states "LACMA's monolith arrived at exactly 4:25 a.m."  Both papers proceed to give somewhat detailed stories, the NY Times stressing the actual movement of the rock, with the LA Times relating more about the museum itself. Both stories are worth reading. (NY Times here, LA Times here).

No doubt this is a news story, reported all over the place.
But is it art?  I would admit that planning out the route to get the hunk of our planet moved 60 miles and then actually moving it almost has an artistic air about it. But plunking it down in a city and calling it art? I may be naive, but art to me implies an artist, and with this boulder I do not see an artist. My neighbor is more of an artist when he mows his lawn. His patterns show creativity at times.  But moving something to a new location does not an artist make. If it did, then theft could be defended as an artistic endeavor.

The LA Times goes on to say "It will take at least a month to dismantle the centipede-like transporter with 176 wheels" while the NY Times says "the 196-wheel transporter idled there under huge spotlights".

Take note: two alleged mainstays of the US news world do not agree on the time nor the number of wheels.  At least two errors were made, one involving telling time, and the other counting.  Not over-the-top skills.

The issue as to whether any of this dwells in the world of "art" is a debate that could go on forever. Art is too subjective for anything else to result.

But the issue as to the accuracy of our news media is critical. When such blatant errors can occur on the simple things, imagine what is happening on the big ticket items. 

Our founding fathers recognized that a successful democracy required a well-informed and well-educated citizenry. I would hope that our media could step up to the plate and do a better job of keeping us well-informed. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Can you count?

How many people?
I don't recall how or when or where I got the above animated graphic, but it is interesting. How many people do you see? Are you sure?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Talk about a fun day...

Yesterday I had the pleasant experience of removing an old toilet and replacing it with the latest new model. During my mid-day break I had the opportunity of spending an hour in a dentist's chair.  The dual experience was definitely a first for me, although I must admit I had some familiarity with the dentist's chair already.

While installing the new tank on the john I had the thought that some people must have had the task of installing the johns in a hotel like MGM in Vegas.  Over 6000 of them. Makes me glad I spent my career in a classroom.

My big question of the day was this: Is that really beeswax that I used?  I may never know for sure, but it did have me looking at a web search, and I found a related issue regarding getting beeswax to use in wood finishes (see here).

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Are Details Important?

 Take a look at this page of mine. The photos there I collected merely as examples of basic errors that should have been detected and corrected, but weren't. Although I was a math teacher, and careless arithmetic was my bugaboo, I pick more on sloppy spelling. After all, the public admits to innumeracy (every time someone hews to the line "I was no good at math...") but rejects illiteracy (except for others). If errors like this make there way to the surface, imagine what other errors are there behind the scenes that cannot be seen. Also, imagine the errors made when the public deals with numbers.

I attribute these creeping errors to two trends: the rapid introduction of calculators in schools, and the push for accepting faulty spelling and bad grammar as long as the student was expressing the way they felt. (see Bad spelling 'should be accepted') Calculators have actually hastened the demise of long division, which had been one of the first forays for kids into the world of an extended algorithm.

History does point out to us that spelling has evolved and grammar has evolved as written language continues its asymptotic approach to spoken language, so in some respects spelling and grammar errors are a bit understandable. But not in the cases given in the photo link above. None of those cases should fall under the heading of someone valiantly attempting to work out a spelling congruent with the spoken word.

Arithmetic errors, however, are totally not good. No exceptions, no excuses.  Unfortunately we are developing a society that is dependent upon calculators for all its arithmetic, which scares me. (Have you never dialed a wrong number?)

Below are some items for my reference and for your reading pleasure.
“It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
Alfred North Whitehead

Study after study shows U.S. achievement falls off the cliff during middle school, when subjects like fractions and percentages are introduced -- exactly the skills you need as a consumer or, for that matter, to move on to algebra, calculus and advanced sciences. ( from Why American consumers can't add)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Teacher? Trainer? Huh?

 This is a short one.

Consider this statement: "One can be taught when to add, but one must be trained how to add in the decimal number system." Do you agree with it? dispute it? believe it? disbelieve it?

Is there a difference between teaching and training?

Can excellent teachers be lousy trainers?
Can excellent trainers be lousy teachers?

Which is more important in a high school chemistry class, teaching or training?
Which is more important in a high school chemistry lab, teaching or training?

Is the club pro at a golf course a teacher or a trainer?

Do you want your Congressman (or Congresswoman) to be well trained or well taught?

Do you want your defense attorney to be well taught or well trained?

Can you be taught how to deal with a new unique situation? Can you be trained how to deal with such a situation?

Is a person trained to be a good teacher, or taught to be a good teacher?

Questions such as these are rarely discussed in our public media. Just about every day you can come across stories regarding teachers, teaching, trainers, teacher trainers, etc.

I am putting together a list of things to read before I answer any of the above questions publicly. This morning's additions to that list are from the web, listed at the bottom. The top link is a new favorite, since it is titled "50 teachers trained to teach software development". I just wonder why it didn't say "50 teachers taught to teach software development" or "50 teachers trained to train software development" or... You get the idea.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Yesterday Continued

An article at today's NY Times website made reference to a shamed men's basketball coach at  Binghamton University having been terminated in 2009 with a $1.2 million dollar buyout.  Even when people are bad, we show our respect for the sport by paying big bucks to get rid of them.  That was at the same time that the economy was tanking. 

Perhaps expectedly, Binghamton's broke an admission record that fall (see here). After all, they had, the previous March, made it into the NCAA March Madness tournament. Rather than being rejected by potential students because of its shameful involvements, it apparently was adored for its athletic success.

I view this as just another indication of our society valuing sports prowess over academics

Another example is the latest news that SUNY Albany is going to build a new football stadium.

On February 18 2012, Pete Iorizzo of the Times Union wrote a column entitled "UAlbany gets priority right" (available here). In it he debunks several arguments against the building of a new facility. In the article he states "And make no mistake: This is a terrific deal for UAlbany. The school gets a new football stadium and only has to raise $6 million to pay for it. UAlbany isn't even responsible for the debt on the bonds. The state is." The price tag has been quoted at $24 million. By my arithmetic, $18 million must be paid by the state taxpayers. Right there we have two of our culture's biggest flaws: an excessive respect for sports over academics, and the feeling that an expense is more acceptable if the taxpayers pay for it.

Regarding the taxpayer burden, just a little info here: I can't speak for current practice, but for years my school operated on the basis that given a choice for a $5 expense that was state-aidable at $3, reducing district expense to $2, vs a direct $3 expense for the identical item through a source that was not state-aidable, the district chose the $5 expense.

With misguided priorities regarding athletics vs academics, and a distorted sense of fiscal responsibility, no wonder we are falling behind in the world.