Friday, March 16, 2007

Correcting the Teacher

I was one of those students that had no qualms about correcting my teacher in school. Occasionally it was minor errors on the chalkboard; other times the teacher would have to rethink through what they had just spent some time on. Most of the time I was right, sometimes in haste I would be the mistaken one and had to recognize that they after all did know their stuff.

These habits are hard to break. A couple of years ago, we had some training at work on the Theory of Constraints and Critical Chain which was really just another way of making a schedule using some nifty new tool that someone thought we should spend money on. There were a couple of things I learned in that class unrelated to the theory that my management wish I hadn't learned, but the main problem was the math. It didn't add up. As the instructors went through the explanations, I took pencil to paper, got past their hand waving, and came to the conclusion that the math didn't support their claims. Now anyone who has sat in any corporate training knows, the people that actually know the stuff don't do the training, specialized trainers teach the class. Being the exacting engineer that I am, I made a comment explaining why the math didn't work. The response from the instructor was classic, "I don't have a degree in mathematics, but the man who came up with this was an astrophysicist and is very brilliant. He must know what he's talking about." Appealing to a higher authority. One of the best logical fallacies out there. Fortunately another participant piped up. "Actually, I have a Ph.D. in statistics and he [referring to me] is right." After the session, they did admit that once you run things through their method, you just fudge the numbers to come up with the end date you want. To quote Solomon. "There is nothing new under the sun."

Another case where the math did no add up. My 2nd grade daughter said to me the other day,
"Do you know what A.D. means?"
"Yes, I do, but tell me what it is."
"After Death"
"Then what is B.C.?"
"Before Christ"
"And what do you then call the 33 years in between? Did your teacher actually tell you that is what A.D. means?"
Later, I had her ask my wife the same question. Without batting an eye "Anno Domini".

As a father I want to teach my daughters not only to critically listen to what they are taught, but to also respect those in authority. Now here's the question: Once you tell your daughter the correct understanding, should you let her inform her teacher that she's wrong? Accuracy vs Respect. Maybe the teacher was just trying to simplify things for 2nd graders, but there's no reason for teaching something that is so just plain wrong. She already seems to think she knows it all (and she's not even a teenager yet). This is something my wife and I are trying to work on with her.

Something like the definition of A.D. is pretty minor, easily corrected, and not a big deal, but.... I'm sure there will be other things that she will be taught that are a bigger issue. Some of these will probably be in conflict with our mores. She needs to respect her teachers, but she also need to think critically and be willing to question things that aren't right. In addition, she needs to know that here parents care and want her to learn what is right. How do we keep the communication paths open that she will come talk to us about these things and trust us to teach her the truth? Where's the balance?

Monday, March 12, 2007

What time is it?

Our wonderful government doesn't know when to leave things alone. "Hey if DST (Daylight Savings Time) saved a bunch of money in electricity when it was enacted, let's make it longer and we can save more money." There were even some that thought if we observed DST all year long, we'd save even more money. Ugh. Lights are not the biggest draw on the electric supply any more. It's the always on computers, stereos (even when they are off they are on), etc. Lights are just a fraction of the deal. At least in our house, we end up using the same amount of lights in the morning and evening regardless of how light it is outside. If anything, with the time change, they are on more as I am now getting up before sunrise again.

Now, we also have many gadgets that have built in DST settings. Computer patches and upgrades were issued, and our IT deperatment did their best to get things right, but at least one application seemed to jump forward by not just one hour, but a whole day. Go figure. But my VCR doesn't have a firmware upgrade for the DST change. Nor did the banks' outdoor signs. When Y2K came around, the banks were the first to notice the problem, and spent tons of money upgrading and testing for both Y2K bugs. (Yes there were two: one was the problem with only storing the last two digits, the other was a lack of understanding of the leap year rules.) But on my way home from the store after picking up some pepper seeds to get started, my daughter was surprised that despite the amount of sunlight, the time was getting late (around 6:30pm). As we passed a bank, she also noticed that a bank had the wrong time on their public service time / temperature sign. (Did you know that banks are required to have these signs?). Anyway, it was more than one bank that didn't fix their signs. Now, they might have ditched DST and stayed on CST, but I doubt it.

But the real reason for the DST fix was to keep the economy moving. When it's dark early, people tend to get depressed and hibernate. When then the sun stays out longer after people get home from work, they tend to go out and be better consumers and spend money and keep our economy afloat. It has nothing to do with saving energy. The energy policy wonks will show that we saved X number of KwH of electricity, but will not mention the increase in gasoline usage during that same time.

There is one good thing though that will come to light from the DST change. Halloween in the fall will be just a little bit brighter for the kids to be trick or treating. It won't be quite as dangerous to be out into the evening. The kids will be able to visit more houses. We'll probably even need to buy more candy because of it. Which gets me back to my point. It's the economy, stupid.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Fixing My Back

Our family has a knack of getting injured with amazingly boring stories. My wife last summer tore something in her shoulder, not from refereeing between the kids or doing something crazy like hang-gliding; she just reached a little too far to get that itch on her back.

I managed to get injured a few weeks ago and thought it would work itself out. But the knot in one shoulder grew a twin in the other which is even larger. All this from an afternoon of sitting in a comfy chair reading (boring work stuff).

So I've been back to the Chiropractor for an adjustment. It's more like a small overhaul. He turns my head one way. Crack. And the other way. Crack. Breathe in and out. Crack. Again. Crack. Finish it all off with a little electric current to relax the muscles.

My daughter thinks I can fix anything. She told me tonight that again after I reattached the head to one of her dolls. She said I was good with glue. Hopefully the glue holds. The way she dresses and undresses her dolls, we'll see. Going to the chiropractor seems kind of the same way. Hopefully the adjustment holds. When it doesn't I'll go back, and back, and back, all hoping he'll fix my back.

Fortunately he doesn't have the penchant for clamps that I do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Gettin' Old

Last week I celebrated my birthday. Not a milestone birthday. Just a normal run-of-the-mill one that's not even over-the-hill. I'm not one to make a big deal about my birthday or fret over how old I now am.

I'm the youngest old fart you ever met. At work I'm known to have a great disdain for GUIs and prefer the command line. Even this post was written in my favorite editor (vi). If I have to use the mouse, I feel like I've been slowed down. Now, I'm not completely opposed to progress. I do use a virtual desktop (with pretty much everything mapped to keyboard shortcuts) and there are some tools that are better in a GUI world. In this day and age, writing documents in LaTeX is not really needed when you have a full-featured WYSIWYG desktop publishing program like FrameMaker at your disposal (Word on the other hand gets in my way).

Yes, I have computers older than some of the some employees at my company. But none of this makes me feel old. What sort of gave me that feeling of getting older was my annual ski outing with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. After her lesson, her instructor was letting me know what she needed to work on. When he was done explaining that she needed to lean forward in her boots, he said "and as for you..." What!? Was he watching me ski around taking pictures while she was in her lesson. No. My skis were old. They've been obsolete for a couple of decades. My boots, rear-entry. They only made those because, at the time, the plastic technology wasn't far enough along to make it reasonable to get into another type of boot. After seeing that he was wearing a local ski shop jacket, I figured he was just trying to get a sale, but later on the lift, not once, but twice, a fellow lift rider would make a comment like, "That takes me back. I haven't seen a pair of straight boards in ages." That's the kind of comment that someone would make to an old geezer. Not a father out with his elementary aged daughter.

Maybe I am getting old...did I tell you about skiing with my daughter last week?