Apr 30, 2008

the moral universe of Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV: now better at making you better at being worse.

meet the memristor

Leon Chua's dream finally came true:
Chua showed that his predicted device could remember the last voltage applied to it, and how long it had been applied. He dubbed the property "memristance" but the memristor was quietly forgotten because it was unclear how it could ever be built.

But Williams' team has now done just that, using nanoscale circuits including molecules of the active ingredient of sunscreen – titanium dioxide....

He is now working to find which materials make the best memristors, and why it has only been seen so far in nanoscale devices. Williams then wants to attempt to build memristor-based memories, which will store information as resistance values and therefore need no power to hold on to the data.
The future is rosy...
Chua, now close to retirement, is thrilled at the finding.... "We can now expect many new unconventional applications, including super-dense memories and brain-like computing chips."
...because the sun's about to set on humanity. It was fun while it lasted.

balance the OSD budget for yourself!

The Olympia School District recently publicized a list of potential cuts (with a few additions) for the next fiscal year, and it's set off a firestorm of controversy, mostly because folks aren't sure what's really on the chopping block. The Board wants direction from you, concerned citizen. Here's where I can help.

Using the initial document [pdf] offered by the Olympia School District, I've created a spreadsheet where you can try to save dollars and programs in your own attempt to balance the Olympia School District budget for 2008-2009 by cutting roughly $2.5 million.

Want to keep the Drill Team intact? Better delete it from the "potential savings" column. But what will you cut instead?

More options will be added as they become available. This morning, District and school reps met to discuss other potential cuts and additions, so I'm sure I'll have to update this soon.

If you have questions about the spreadsheet, email me; my contact info is at right. If you have questions or concerns about the budget, email Peter Rex. Better yet, show up at one of the two community forums: Tuesday, May 6th, at the Knox Building, 6:30 p.m., or Wednesday, May 7th, Marshall Middle School, same time.

Before you go, download the spreadsheet and give it a whirl. Maybe you can find a clear path to politically tenable savings.

Update: I should add that the spreadsheet is interactive: it balances the numbers as you save or cut programs. If you don't have Microsoft Excel, Box.net offers its own online editing program, so you can still crunch the numbers.

Read this doc on Scribd: Web-Ready Budget Worksheet

Mandatory disclaimers: this work is my own, using public information supplied by the Olympia School District. It is not endorsed by the District, and is for educational purposes only. Values are subject to change; check the District website for the most current information.

a new face after all: Allen Miller throws hat in OSD ring

Turns out I got a premature report from the ESD yesterday; The Olympian says that Allen Miller, a local attorney, has jumped out of the seats and into the ring.
Miller has a long list of civic activities, including past campaign chairman and past president of the United Way of Thurston County, a school board member of St. Michael School, Olympia Planning Commissioner, and board member of the Olympia-Yashiro Sister City Association, South Sound YMCA and other organizations.

Miller said his experience with mediation could be an asset on the board.

"I'm an attorney and I've been involved in arbitration, and I've been a mediator and arbitrator," he said.

"I try to bring people together, and I've been able to look at all sides."
The ESD 113 Board meets at noon on Wednesday, May 14 to interview Miller and the other existing candidates.

So... any new conspiracy theories? Did Miller once knit a scarf for Bill Brumsickle's Christmas stocking?

Apr 29, 2008

spring cleaning

As I was guiltily going through the links I hadn't read for a good long while--and that to my own detriment--I realized a couple had gone stale. So, I tossed them out of the fridge, but have added a new one: Intellectual Effluent, a fresh blog with great potential.

Guess I better straighten up the RSS reader, too. Later.

watch those eyebrows

Not your own. Your students'. They might harbor surreptitious gang signs.
Some students at Centennial High School have shaved vertical lines into their eyebrows in a trend recently made popular by hip-hop star Soulja Boy. School officials say the mark looks like a gang symbol.

Centennial administrators are telling students with the lines that they can't return to school until they shave their eyebrows off. Assistant Principal Mark Porterfield said the students are not suspended, but they are not allowed in school until they cooperate.

Four students have been sent home. One returned with a bandage covering the shaved brow.
Life must be pretty good at Centennial High, if they have time to enforce perhaps the pettiest rule in the history of secondary education. (Given that history, no easy feat.)

Sadly, if my administration asked me to monitor my students eyebrow grooming, I'd have to meekly go along with it. RIF lists suck.

Apr 28, 2008

OSD programs face the ax

A lot of cuts in the suggestions, with a few additions as well, so it's not quite accurate to describe this document [pdf] as solely a series of cuts. Still, the budget bleeds pretty red.

The four largest recommended changes:
  1. Cut transportation, $1 million saved.
  2. Eliminate 5.5 elementary positions, $429,000 saved.
  3. Reduce High School electives and increase class sizes by 2 on average, $409,500 saved.
  4. Eliminate MS Assistant Principal/Dean of Student positions at JMS, MMS and RMS, $270,000 saved.
On May 6 and 7, the Board will take public comments on the suggestions. Want to make sure Drill Team doesn't get the ax? Better show up.

(More on the overall process here.)

time to throw concrete math instruction out the window?

This... could hurt.
In the first experiment, involving 80 students, some participants were given one concrete example before testing on the children’s game, while some were given two or three examples. One group only learned the generic symbols.

When tested on the children’s game, the group that learned the generic symbols got nearly 80 percent of the questions right. Those who learned one, two or even three concrete examples did no better than chance in selecting the right answers.

“They were just guessing,” Kaminski said.

In a second experiment, the researchers gave 20 participants two concrete examples and explained how they were alike. Surprisingly, this still did not help students apply the concept any better and they still did no better than chance when tested later about the game.

In a third experiment, the researchers presented 20 students with two concrete examples and then asked them to compare the two examples and write down any similarities they saw. After this experiment, about 44 percent of the students performed well on the test concerning the children’s game, while the remainder still did not perform better than chance.

This suggests that only some students, not all, benefit from direct comparison of learned concrete examples.

Finally, in a fourth experiment involving 40 students, some learned the concrete example first followed by the generic symbols, while others learned only the generic symbols. The thought here was that the concrete example would engage the students in the learning process while the generic symbols would promote transfer of that knowledge.

But even in this experiment, students who learned only the generic symbols performed better on subsequent testing than those who learned the concept using the concrete example and then the generic symbols.

The authors said that students seem to learn concepts quickly when they are presented with familiar real objects such as marbles or containers of liquid, and so it is easy to see why many advocate this approach. “But it turns out there is no true insight there. They can’t move beyond these real objects to apply that knowledge,” said Sloutsky.
Compare that with, say, the recent math-athon in the North Thurston district.
Pre-calculus students at North Thurston High School will show display boards of photographs of everyday objects that are examples of conics — circles, parabolas, ellipses and hyperboles.

“I just wanted them to see real math in the real world,” said their teacher, Julie Cassidy.

Boards showed photographs of nail polish bottles, mustard containers, bicycle racks, basketballs, garden hoses, shoe soles and more.

“I really liked it because it kind of gives you a more hands-on idea of math. I’m the type of person who likes to get out and experience in the world. I can’t sit at a desk and remember it,” said junior Raewyn Heim, 17.
Obviously, further studies are needed to see if Heim has it right. It could be that the hands-on aspect provides greater motivation for learners who aren't already college undergrads, the subjects of the OSU experiment. Also, if Piagetian principles are at play, the older students might just be more facile in the realm of abstraction. Still, as an English teacher, I have to go with this quote by one of the experimenters: "Story problems could be an incredible instrument for testing what was learned. But they are bad instruments for teaching."

Now you have a scientific reason to hate story problems.

no one else applies for District 2 seat

Update: Well, the person who told me about it told me wrong. Happens, I guess.

The ESD deadline passed Friday April 25th, with only John Keeffe, Paul Parker, and Theresa Tsou again filling out applications for the vacant seat on the Olympia School Board. Up next: the ESD collects materials, irons out the process, and then interviews candidates in a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 14.

For those hoping for a return of the fabled Kevin Douglas Donahoe, sorry.

Ben Folds rocks the college circuit

At the end, you look at the piano keys to see if they're smoking. Ben Folds doesn't tickle the ivories. He torches them.

Last night, April 27th, Melissa and I met Josh at the UPS Fieldhouse to watch some poor schlub warm up for Ben Folds. The wife and I, at any rate, were not disappointed. He had enough new material to pique my interest, enough old songs to summon waves of nostalgia, and enough piano hacks (Altoids cans, pie plate, maraca, distortion pedal) to mess up my notion of pianism forever.

Moby showed up for all of three minutes, jammed on the organ, and then disappeared back under the stage.

Update: Well, that explains why Moby was kept on a short leash: he wasn't Moby. Ben Folds, you crafty devil. (For the record, I remember thinking that Moby's jam session with Folds was pretty crappy. That explains it.)

Apr 26, 2008

you call that front page news?

I usually read The Olympian online, so I was shocked to find that the print edition put this story on the front page:
Margaret Dutch's daughter ran into an unusual math problem while taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning at Capital High School last week.

Her daughter, a sophomore, was given a school-issued calculator without a square-root function for the math test. Later, she found out that nearly everyone else in her class had a calculator with a square-root button.
The District has already promised to investigate the matter, ensuring a correction if the square root is the only thing between the sophomore and passing the math section. One minor mishap out of several hundred administered tests--is this even news?

I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to blog

That was the sound of the blogosphere exploding:
Yesterday we learned that despite all evidence to the contrary, "allergies are no fun!"

Say it with me, and don't forget the exclamation point.

"Allergies are no fun!"

"Says who?" you say with a healthy dose of skepticism.

"The federal government," I answer.
No, really: the federal government has a blog.

[Via David Postman]

the email address personality test

NewScientist reports that a study confirms that others are largely able to guess your personality traits based solely on your email address--but the article doesn't offer any clues as to which features match which quirks.

But never fear: I was leaked an advance copy of the study, and will condense the results below.

An address that includes your name signifies narcissism.

A free service means you are a cheap bastard.

Punctuation indicates punctiliousness. And also narcissism.

Your soul has been in corporate cold storage for several years now.

You are a 12-year-old girl.

Openness and narcissism in equal doses, with a dash of pretense and a sprig of condescension.

Give up.

Apr 25, 2008

smell the hubris

Snipped from an interview with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of NPR's Radio Lab:
We were talking to these kids who work with this bacteria called E. coli that smells like poop. It's uncomfortable. So as a matter-of-fact solution to their practical problem, they designed a different E. coli. A friend of theirs at Purdue sent them a wintergreen gene, plucked from some other creature, and they plopped in the wintergreen to mask the poop smell, thereby solving the yuck factor of being in the lab by simply creating an E. coli that had never existed in the 70- to 100-million-year history of E. coli. Suddenly, their lab is smelling wintergreeny as opposed to poopy. Then they have another problem: How long do they have to wait to work with it? So they put a trigger onto the E. coli, which when it actually slows down its multiplication rate, it smells like a big, rich, creamy banana. If they smell banana, then they go in and do their work. I sat them down and said, "Did any of you consider the sheer awesomeness of what you just did? You created essentially a creature new to nature." And this 19-year-old goes, "Uh, yeah?"
Is this not trolling for divine wrath?

they are citing the blogs

Woe unto all! Blogs are slowly, surely invading the courts.

Apr 24, 2008

an English teacher's nightmare

When I taught sophomores, I spent a good month out of a year helping them craft perfect resumes and cover letters. I even had my older sister, a professional recruiter, visit my class and offer advice to my students. I'd harp and harp: "Obvious spelling mistakes send you on a one-way trip to the trash."

I've battled chatspeak and emoticons for over half a decade, never surrendering to the sins of syntactic commission and omission. I know it's a losing effort, but I still have to fight until I'm relieved or dead.

Or maybe not. Maybe I should just give up:
Apparently, looking at Lolcats all day is an appealing job. Ben Huh, founder of the site and chief executive of Seattle-based Pet Holdings Inc., has received 250 applications since the job was posted on Monday under the headline "Kittehs Want Moar Workerhumans."

"I got a stack of resumes that I can't even go through," Huh said. "You know how they say, 'Spell everything correctly because the people reading your resume will toss it out otherwise?' Well, we can't even do that. We won't knock you out for spelling.... The traditional resume screening methods don't apply here."

T. rex, grandfather to the birds

I'm still amazed that the proteins recovered after tens of millions of years in skeletal storage have confirmed the ancestry of modern birds.
To build the family tree, Asara and colleague Chris Organ compared the T. rex sequence with collagen from other animals. Those with similar collagen sequences were grouped closely together on the tree, while differences in the sequences suggested the animals had long diverged.

For the most part, the collagen tree captured relationships palaeontologists and evolutionary biologists had little reason to doubt, including T. rex's kinship to birds and the mastodon's ancestry to elephants.
Not so much that the connection is there--anyone who's followed evolutionary science even obliquely knows that the fossils point to a dinosaur-bird link--but that after 68 million years, scientists can extract and sequence collagen from a dinosaur bone..

It's one thing to imagine ancient rocks, but ancient organic material--astounding.

two mediocre tastes that taste mediocre together

Arby's, home of the talking glove thing, now owns Wendy's, home of the Spicy Defibrillator.

skepticism'll clear that up

The 85th edition of The Skeptics' Circle includes much linky goodness, including the expected bashing on Expelled, as well as a persistent debunking of the illusory connection between autism and mercury-based vaccines that has somehow slithered into this year's presidential race. (And no, no major candidate comes out looking good on this one.)

Check it.

[Today's tie found here.]

Apr 23, 2008

Olympia School District notes

  • ESD 113 is now taking applications for the District 2 seat the Olympia School Board failed to fill, but only until Friday, April 25th. If you'd like to join John Keeffe, Paul Parker, and Theresa Tsou in seeking candidacy, better act fast.
  • With the passage of Resolution 440, the RIF process has officially begun, but it's in exploratory stages, as the Board and school and District administrators crunch the numbers. Until we know how many teachers are leaving or retiring, it's all up in the air. Staff on one-year contacts will find out their status by May 15th. Added: Beth Scouller estimates that 8 teachers are retiring, and another 25 or so are on 1-year or retire/rehire contracts. Right there, assuming a cost of $50,000 per member to the District, we have over $1.5 million in potential savings if those positions aren't refilled. (The only problem: already big class sizes would get bigger.)
  • The Board voted 3-0, Carolyn Barclift abstaining, to send the Barclift legal controversy to an objective auditor. The Olympian describes the situation--which I'll admit I've been too busy to follow--here.
  • The District, hoping to make the process of selecting a student representative a bit more equitable, is putting the election on a rotation, starting with Avanti in 2008, then going to Capital in 2009 and Olympia in 2010. (For the record, Olympia's current envoy, Adam Buchholz, has acquitted himself quite well.) I'm glad to see that Avanti will actually have a chance at representation.

retraining the brain

In a brief NewScientist interview, Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist, describes the insight into her thinking a stroke in her left hemisphere provided.
Yes, renewing or rerunning neurocircuits was a cognitive choice. The non-functional circuits started to come back online one at a time and I could choose to either hook into that circuitry or not feed it. For example, when the anger circuit wanted to run again, I did not like the way it felt inside my body so I said "no" to its running. Every time it tried to get triggered and run again, I brought my attention back to it - I did not like the way anger felt so I shut it down. Now that circuit rarely runs at all, mostly because I feel it getting triggered and nip it in the bud....

So, I look at us as a collection of neurocircuitry of thoughts and emotions and physiological responses. When you see the brain as the kind of computer network that it is, it becomes easier to manipulate. But you have to be willing. People say "Oh I'm so much more than my thoughts, I'm so much more than neurocircuitry," and I'm like, yeah, I had that fantasy once, too. I don't any more. As human beings we all have the ability to focus our minds on what we want to think about.
The more I learn about neuroscience, the more my thoughts on morality drift toward Aristotelian virtue ethics--that we, as a collection of neurally-inscribed habits, can reshape and retrain our behaviors betterward.

Taylor's twenty-minute talk in the video below is by turns tragic, mystical, and hilarious. "But I'm a very busy woman! I don't have time for a stroke!"

Apr 22, 2008

democracy on the march... in April!

As Pennsylvania decides the Democratic hopeful for Pennsylvania Avenue--no relation--we should all remember that the law is an ass. There may be an omen in there.

Incidentally, the tacky tie is a "new" one.

Okay, one more metaphor: the Mariners will be weighed in the early-season scales this week with a visit by suddenly dangerous Baltimore. If we come out victorious, we can set a pretty good tone for the rest of the month. If we can't beat the Birds now... we'll, let's not think about that.

Update: No need to think. With Putz back in action and a slumping Vidro knocking in the winning runs, we held 'em off. For today.

pissed pedagogue won't WASL

Seattle teacher Carl Chew refused to administer the sixth-grade WASL to his students, taking a two week unpaid vacation as a consequence.
Carl Chew, 60, who teaches science, wanted to take a stand against a test he considers harmful to students, teachers, schools and families.

"I did it because I think it's bad for kids," he said.

He said he knew he would face consequences, and might even be fired.

"When you do an act of civil disobedience, you gracefully accept what happens to you," he said.

Before the WASL started at Eckstein last week, Chew said he told Eckstein administrators that he would not give the exam. He said they tried to talk him out of it.
Or into it, really.

I'm surprised he wasn't fired straight up for insubordination. He must have a pretty good record--or a pretty forgiving administration. At the very least, he's sincere, knowing full well what his mini-rebellion would entail.

Click through and read the whole thing.

Apr 21, 2008

journaling solves everything: an exercise in point-of-view

Thought of this over the weekend, and tried it in my Creative Writing class with decent success. It's good for intermediate to advanced students who are already somewhat in control of narrative--for example, if they're already using flashbacks or multiple narrators, this is for them.

Journaling Solves Everything

Step One: The Diary Begins.

Have students start by writing "Dear Diary," and going from there in a typical first-person perspective.
Dear Diary,
Today I met with Mr. Beens, my guidance counselor, who suggested I lower my expectations. Harvard won't take a three-sport athlete with a sub-3.0 GPA, he said. I told him that I know they're selective, but that my dad just bought a cyclotron for the physics lab, and that oughtta boost my admin index by at least a few points. When he asked what a cyclotron was, I said, kidding. My dad installs mufflers at Midas. Mr. Beens got pretty mad.

I saw Jenna in the hall today, making out with that loser Kenny. They were hanging all over each other outside Ms. Carlstad's class. Ever since I dumped her she's been going from guy to guy like a...
Have this continue for about 5-7 minutes. Then say "Stop." We're ready for the next step.

Step Two: The Real World Intrudes.

Wherever they are in their piece, students halt, either with a period or a long dash, signifying an interruption. They skip a line and write their name (or a pronoun), and follow it with "stopped writing." Their next task: explain why, and build to a conflict.
Chris stopped writing. His mom was perched at the door, holding the phone. "It's for you," she said. "Police."

Chris's face blanched except for a red patch on his forehead, which throbbed crimson. "I don't know--"

"Take it," his mom snapped. She threw him the phone and stormed downstairs.

Chris's hand shook as he cradled the phone, hearing the mechanical voice on the other end. Mr. Mondale, this is Detective Hall. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about something that happened at school. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Chris nodded stupidly, then realized he was on the phone, and stammered, "Y-yeah."

He's in a coma, said the detective's disembodied voice. Your friend John is down here at the station, in Booking. You wanna tell me what happened?...
This should take about 10 minutes. Then we're ready for the last step.

Step Three: The Diary Solves It

In this last step, the student links what's in the diary entry to the conflict, finding a potential (or actual) solution.
Chris's mind wheeled. He realized it wasn't John at all who pushed Tyler off the bleachers in the chaos of gym class. It was Kenny--it had to have been Kenny. Hadn't Tyler been dating her just a week ago? Hadn't Kenny told Tyler to f--- off and find someone else? Chris's hazy memory sharpened as the scene replayed...
This exercise has several benefits:

1. It gets students writing in multiple points-of-view, and able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
2. It immediately increases the sophistication of the narrative, and opens up a new option for intermediate writers.
3. It's fun.
4. It leads to new story ideas based on their own lives, since you start them off by writing about themselves.
5. Since they end up writing about themselves in the third person, it increases self-reflection and and is almost therapeutic.

I think I'll try it again with another group of seniors, and see if it turns out as well.

Apr 19, 2008

going medieval on them

For the perpetually delightful Dr. Nokes, going medieval isn't a form of abuse. Rather, to that English lit prof and unashamed crypto-medievalist, it means restoring equity to the canon.
Here's the balance I've struck. In Brit Lit I, I spend the 1/3 of the semester on Old English, 1/3 on Middle, and 1/3 on Early Modern. In other words, my students are 2/3 of the way through the semester before they get out of that first teeny volume. I would argue, however, that it's perfectly justifiable, if one wanted to do it as a true survey, to take all of Brit Lit I as medieval, because even that gives modern all of Brit Lit II, when it is only 1/3 of the period supposedly being surveyed.

Nor are our modernist colleagues offering us anything close to the same courtesy. Spend about ten minutes looking at the online syllabi of non-medievalists teaching the Brit Lit surveys, and you'll find that the norm is to teach zero medieval texts, though a good number will teach one and only one (generally Beowulf or [Canterbury Tales]). Quietly take a peek at the syllabi of your colleagues in your own department, and you'll likely find the same thing.

The only way to change these survey courses so that they actually survey the first millennium of English literature is to teach them that way. No amount of cajoling your colleagues will help. Even if they editors of the Norton & Longman Anthologies read this post, it's doubtful they'll lose any sleep.** To change this, we have to offer a proper view of what the English literary canon is -- mostly stuff written in the Middle Ages.
Now, my inner smartaleck tempts me to respond "It's not quantity, but quality," and my inner empiricist wants to point out that even if it's quantity, the sheer numbers of authors and texts from the invention of the printing press onward has to outweigh the Parchment Years.

Nevertheless, my conscience makes me cry "Mea culpa!*"

Though I don't teach a BritLit survey course, I am an English teacher, and am a product of the Norton Anthologies, woefully underinformed in the ways of the Anglo-Saxons.

*However it translates into Old English.

Apr 17, 2008

the pre-RIF notice notice

Today, Olympia School district employees received this notice from Beth Scouller in Human Resources:
Dear Teachers and other certificated employees:

I am writing to let you know that on Monday night, April 21, the School Board will be considering a motion that allows the District to carry out a reduction in force (RIF) process. As you may have heard, the District is facing a budget shortfall of more than $2 million for the 2008-09 school year and is looking at many different options to close that budget deficit, including reductions in programs and staff.

At this time, we are not certain as to whether a formal RIF process will be necessary or not. My goal is to establish and maintain regular communication with you so we can try to alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty that accompany prospective cuts to our staff and programs.
Approximately 85% of our funding supports personnel, so it's no surprise that, facing steep cuts, the District has to consider the RIF process. The motion before the Board this coming Monday will doubtless pass, because without it, the District would be legally unable to pursue any personnel reductions for the coming year.

Those of us who survived the last RIF notice--I was the last standing secondary English teacher in the District in '04--hope that this early communication is, if nothing else, a sign that the chaos and confusion that reigned then aren't repeated now.

If we do get to the point where a RIF is necessary, you can be sure I'll blog all about it, especially focusing on the changes instituted since last time.


Patterns are sane, predictable. Patterns are destiny. In this case, the pattern: when I proctor the WASL, I lose my voice.

I don't miss it terribly, but it does make teaching difficult.

Apr 16, 2008

a freeway, a freeway, my COLA for a freeway

Dino Rossi's transportation plan is all over the news today, the candidate pushing for new projects to the tune of $15 billion dollars.
"The bottom line is we need these projects. We have no choice," Rossi said. "We have to do these projects ... or we'll be stepping on our own economic air hose in the future."

Rossi, who is running against Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire, proposed paying for the work in part by spending 40 percent of the state sales taxes on new and used vehicles for transportation projects — a total of $7.7 billion in 2007 dollars projected over the next 30 years.

He also would eliminate state sales taxes on transportation projects, thus lowering their cost.

That tax revenue currently goes to the state's general fund where it's spent on other programs. Rossi doesn't say how he'd make up that loss in revenue, but he says he would not raise taxes or cut programs supporting education, nursing homes and the developmentally disabled.
The opposition isn't buying the no-education-cuts angle. Debra Carnes, communication director for the Gregoire campaign, notes,
It looks like he’s back to proposing some of the same things he’s done before. Much of the revenue to fund his plan comes from the general fund, more specifically to the tune of $10 billion. That’s real money that looks like yet another attempt at suspending funding for COLAs and class size reduction.

In yesterday’s press conference, Robert Mak of KING 5 asked this question:
Q: Should teachers write off their COLA's?

A: We'll have to look at where we are at that point. I fixed the problem in 2003 and can do it again if necessary.
Apparently, his “fix” in 2003 was to suspend the COLAs. Overall, it’s a bad plan that isn’t good for Washington and may be even worse for educators.
If Carnes is right, is it worth it? Should teachers sacrifice their cost of living adjustment to keep gridlock's foot off the economic air hose?

reasons to teach English: #24

Chairs all throughout our school sport "Correctional Industries" stickers on their undersides; they're apparently made by inmates at the Stafford Creek Correctional Center. Every student who has ever helped stack 'em has pointed out the irony--but without using the word "irony." That's where I step in.

Apr 15, 2008

what in the

Some kind of crud is strangling my sinuses and ambushing my adenoids, it's Tax Day, the Mariners moderately stink and risk further odoriferousness, the Mazda's in the shop, and I'm proctoring a WASL test the takers don't even have to pass. Yet next to this guy, my biliousness is positively minuscule. (Update: there was a lot more going on than initial reports let on. Turns out the bombmaker who blew himself up had a dark criminal history.)

Besides, it's not only Jackie Robinson Day, but Tacky Tie Tuesday. My wife comes home in a half hour. I think I'll make it.

Apr 14, 2008

I'm not skipping the math WASL

Because I'm proctoring it, I don't have to pass it. Technically, neither do the seniors who'll be retaking it under my watch--but that's only if they're passing their third year of math.


You're not alone.
Although there are alternative means for students to achieve the state’s current math standard, such as a “Collection of Evidence” that gathers tests and papers from a student’s high school career to prove mastery of WASL skills, or substituting a college entrance exam score, students still must attempt to pass the math WASL each year.

Two years of high school math are required for graduation. But the state mandates members of the Class of 2008 who did not pass the math WASL to pass a third year of math; members of the Class of 2009 who didn’t meet the math standard must pass two additional years.

Not everyone who is taking those mandatory credits is passing, Caba said, which could affect their graduation. And while some students have submitted a “Collection of Evidence” and others may use college entrance exams, not all of those scores are in.

But even if they are pursuing these options, re-taking the math WASL is mandatory.
Tomorrow's going to be fun.

Apr 13, 2008

Greg Maddux: man, magician, messiah

Tim Keown's addition to Greg Maddux's burgeoning hagiography is a great way to wrap up your week of baseball stat-harping, if such is your passion. No pitcher is--ever was?--smarter, humbler, goofier.
The first pitch glanced off the top of Risinger's mitt and hit him in the mask.

"That's enough," Maddux said, walking off the mound.

"One more," Risinger said.

The second pitch hit Risinger square in the pocket, but something went awry. Either Akerfelds' "Now!" was too late or Risinger's mitt squeeze was too slow. The ball dropped at his feet.

"That's enough," Maddux said.

"One more," Risinger said. "Please?"

Maddux wound up and threw. By now, pitching coach Darren Balsley was watching, along with a few other Padres who had received word that a strange experiment was taking place involving a catcher attempting to catch without the benefit of vision. The ball left Maddux's hand, and Akerfelds yelled "Now!" and Risinger clenched his mitt around the ball.

He opened his eyes. There it was, in the mitt.

Arms were raised in celebration. It was a beautifully stupid scene. Risinger laughed so hard he fell down. Akerfelds was doubled over, laughing to the point of tears. Maddux looked on with a wry smile, shaking his head.
More, much more, in the entirety. Read it all, and marvel at the man named Maddux.

Barack Obama will not be your next president


does it take the brain 7 seconds to make decisions conscious?

Surprising research suggests something to that effect:
When Hayne's team later analysed the fMRI scans, they found that the prefrontal cortex – a part of the brain that is involved in thought and consciousness – lit up seven seconds before the subjects pressed the button.

By deciphering the brain signals with a computer program, the researchers could predict which button a subject had pressed about 60% of the time – slightly better than a random guess.

"It seems that the brain is making the decision before the person themselves," he says.

Although we make some choices in a heartbeat, Haynes thinks his experiment captures the dawdling tempo of daily life.

"In most cases, we decide internally in a self-paced way: 'Now I want to get some orange juice' or 'I'm going to get some apple juice instead','" he says.

Our brains might pick beverages long before we realise, but Haynes thinks such decisions are still a matter of choice. "My conscious will is consistent with my unconscious will – it's the same process," he says.
Note the careful choice of language in the title to this post: "make decisions conscious," not "make conscious decisions." If, with further repetition and refinement, the results bear out, the adjective's order matters a great deal. (With a small sample size and crude technology, the "if" is rather large at this point. We'll have to see.)

abolish middle schools

Abolish middle schools.

1. Now, if not sooner.
2. For the children.

That's the feeling I get when reading Is Literacy Enough?, a carefully crafted, researched response to the Early Literacy Push of recent years. Its authors, Catherine E. Snow, Michelle V. Porche, Patton O. Tabors, and Stephanie Ross Harris, deserve a wide audience among teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

The answer to their question, if you haven't guessed it, is "No." Literacy is, for the most part, essential to school success, but, as any veteran high school teacher will tell you, and as the authors conclude, too many strong readers are derailed in the middle and secondary years, lacking home support, motivation, and thoughtful interventions by caring adults.

The authors concede that policy can't address every aspect. However, tempering their pessimism, they show how it can produce an environment that, if not always creating success, can cut the losses, through specific changes. Smaller class sizes or schools. Well thought-out advisory programs like Navigation 101. Engaging, student-directed learning. These are all within reach.

As for the provocative title, it comes from the authors' finding that the middle level is where the wheels start falling off. Or, in the authors' more academic prose:
The mismatches between adolescents' developmental needs and traditional school environments include the following:
  • Middle schools typically emphasize competition and social comparison during a period of adolescents' heightened focus on self.
  • Fewer decision making opportunities exist for adolescents during a period of increasing desire for autonomy.
  • Fewer opportunities exist for adolescents to develop close personal relationships with teachers during a period when adolescents may need extra support from adults.
One answer might be to delay the transition; the authors' own research shows that low-income 6th graders show less engagement and worse study habits than those who wait until 7th grade to move to Junior High. Another might be to set up K-8 schools that incorporate features of the middle school model for the older students, avoiding the problem of an "isolated student body of immature adolescents all experiencing puberty, novel responsibilities, and novel risks during a relatively disorganized period of human development."

The one thing you will absolutely not find in Is Literacy Enough? is a call for increased standards, or testing, or teacher leadership, or any other politically savvy trend. Rather, the authors advocate more thoughtful and targeted and responsible use of the resources we already have--with caring relationships at the center.

Apr 12, 2008

red light cameras coming to Lacey this May

At the intersection of Sleater-Kinney and Pacific:
A City Council committee gave final approval Friday to activate the systems, after directing that drivers who run red lights receive warning notices for the first 30 days. Starting June 1, violators will be mailed $124 citations.

"This is going to go on for a long time," Councilwoman Ann Burgman said in support of the grace period. "We'll just get them settled in."

The start dates could be pushed back as the city makes final preparations, Police Chief Dusty Pierpoint said.

The city began exploring the use of the cameras in late 2005.

Pierpoint and council members have said they expect the program to be "revenue-neutral" and that the motivation is public safety, not getting money. They say drivers running red lights is a growing problem.
At least six other cities around the country told the same lie at the outset, but then succumbed to temptation, reducing yellow light times to boost earnings. That may not happen in Lacey--but there are many more reasons to distrust red light cameras. See here, for starters.

Apr 11, 2008

sympathy for the accused

Blog neighbor TRP sends us toward a story of "Butterbean," an innocent accused:
It was an experience that was hard to shake. My employer suspended me when it became known what had happened. My neighbors all treated me differently when I came back home. Heck, it took me a week to put my place back together after the cops had turned it inside out looking for a weapon.

I don’t envy Scott Morrison right now. He’s going to be looking over his shoulder wondering, “What next?” for a while. And, like me, he’ll probably find it difficult to trust the police again. But the memory will fade over time. I do hope everyone learns a lesson from this.

Having once been in Morrison’s shoes, I know I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge.
Good advice for anyone--especially us bloggers, the experts in judgment-snapping. To learn how the author, Chris Snethen, learns his lesson and earns the nickname, read the whole thing.

how badly do the M's need J.J. Putz?

Some perspective from Jayson Stark:
How good is J.J. Putz? Heck, Matt Morris gave up more hits in spring training this year (45 in 24 innings) than Putz allowed all last season (37 in 71 2/3 IP). In fact, Putz allowed the lowest opponent batting average (.153) of any 40-save man in American League history last year. So he's as irreplaceable as any pitcher in baseball -- especially in a bullpen in which no one else had a single career big league save until Tuesday.

Thanks to him, the Mariners went 75-0 last season when they led after eight innings. Now they've already lost two games in the ninth this year, coughed up another one in the eighth and have seen their whole promising season turn upside down.
Which means "badly." Get well soon, J.J.

Costochondritis can't keep you down forever. Can it?

Monty Hall confounds psychologists

Many experiments testing rational preferences suffer from a flawed perspective of the Monty Hall problem, writes John Tierney of the New York Times.
The Yale psychologists first measured monkeys’ preferences by observing how quickly each monkey sought out different colors of M&Ms. After identifying three colors preferred about equally by a monkey — say, red, blue and green — the researchers gave the monkey a choice between two of them.

If the monkey chose, say, red over blue, it was next given a choice between blue and green. Nearly two-thirds of the time it rejected blue in favor of green, which seemed to jibe with the theory of choice rationalization: Once we reject something, we tell ourselves we never liked it anyway (and thereby spare ourselves the painfully dissonant thought that we made the wrong choice).

But Dr. Chen says that the monkey’s distaste for blue can be completely explained with statistics alone. He says the psychologists wrongly assumed that the monkey began by valuing all three colors equally.

Its relative preferences might have been so slight that they were indiscernible during the preliminary phase of the experiment, Dr. Chen says, but there must have been some tiny differences among its tastes for red, blue and green — some hierarchy of preferences.

If so, then the monkey’s choice of red over blue wasn’t arbitrary. Like Monty Hall’s choice of which door to open to reveal a goat, the monkey’s choice of red over blue discloses information that changes the odds. If you work out the permutations (see illustration), you find that when a monkey favors red over blue, there’s a two-thirds chance that it also started off with a preference for green over blue — which would explain why the monkeys chose green two-thirds of the time in the Yale experiment, Dr. Chen says.
Whether this statistical oddity takes down the entire "free choice paradigm" remains to be seen; not all experiments might have used methodology falling prey to Monty Hall's charms.

(For an explanation of the Monty Hall problem and its counterintuitive solution, see here.)

Apr 10, 2008

one blogger's vigilante justice

Stories like this are going to become more and more common, as more people are empowered to use technology to aid the authorities or simply seek justice for themselves. The Army of Little Brothers grows every day.

sports will break your heart

Item: ESPN takes a long-term look at the 2005 NFL draft, and finds many of its instant evaluations essentially worthless.
Who knew the 10th overall pick, wide receiver Mike Williams, was going to be a bust in Detroit, or that fifth-round pick defensive end Trent Cole was going to be a Pro Bowler? These twists of fate are what make the draft worth watching, but they also are why it's tough to tell how good a team did on draft day until three years later.
Arizona, Detroit, and Minnesota got hit the hardest. Fully a fifth of the class of '05 are no longer in the league.

Item: The Sonics' owners are weasels.
E-mails obtained by lawyers for the city of Seattle show Sonics owners were talking enthusiastically last April about moving the franchise to Oklahoma City — despite telling the public and the NBA they were still interested in keeping the team here.

The city cited the e-mails in a motion filed Wednesday in a New York federal court seeking to enforce a subpoena for NBA financial documents and other records.
But you already knew that.

Item: Nevertheless, hope springs eternal.

Apr 9, 2008

ESD 113 Board re-opens applicant pool

This is how I spend my spring break: watching the ESD 113 Board eat lunch. Oh, and discuss important business, including two new agenda items addressing the Olympia School District's inability to fill its District 2 seat, vacated when Rich Nafziger abruptly resigned.

After all the experience watching the Olympia School Board go through 2007 Election II: Son of Rancor, it's somewhat surprising to see people having reasonable, non-fractious discussions of ongoing issues. (It's also good for one's perspective to remember that the Olympia School District is only one of many in the region--at present, our problems pale in comparison to the struggles of North Thurston, the district that's praying its scaled-back levy passes in May.)

The tables are arranged in a horseshoe facing a projector screen, and observers--Olympian reporter Venice Buhain, a teacher from McClane Elementary, myself, and a few ESD staffers, and Marilee Scarbrough, Policy and Legal Services director for the WSSDA--sit in a horseshoe outside the horseshoe. Vice Chair John Gott says that this is because the Board wasn't expecting visitors, and jokes, "We can put your chairs in the center if you like."

The initial informal debate: whether Kansas won, or Memphis lost, the national championship. That settled, the meeting commences at 12:09.

Out of kindness, the Board moves to discuss the additions earlier than their standard agenda position. The first, a proposed amendment to Policy 1250. The amendment reads,
Candidates submitted by the local school board members will be considered for appointment. In addition the ESD 113 Board of Directors may solicit and consider additional candidates as it may find to be appropriate.... from a pool of qualified candidates by majority vote.
Given the next item on the agenda, this is certain to be adopted after the second reading.

Up next: the Action Item, the detailed process for appointing a local director when the usual process fails. The discussion here livens up a bit. Dr. Bill Keim notes that the last time the ESD had to step in, it wasn't because of conflict, but because of a lack of applicants. There's brief talk of declaring an emergency, given the urgency of the budget problems facing the Olympia School District, but that won't be considered until later.

If you've been reading The Olympian's comment boards, you'd think there was a grand conspiracy among the "good old boys" (and a girl) to ensure that John Keeffe is the heir apparent to Nafziger's throne. That's deflated quickly in the meeting. Remember what I wrote above about perspective? The Board Members--who, for better or worse, come from other districts--haven't been following the controversy. Dr. Keim, remarking on the Olympia School Board's wrangling, says on multiple occasions, "We don't know what their process was." He mistakenly thinks that the only candidate dropped from consideration, Kevin Douglas Donahoe, quit when he heard the position wasn't paid. (Donahoe was voted out unanimously in a rare moment of solidarity.) Various ESD Board members don't even know if all the candidates are interested in continuing.

Even more deflating to the conspiracy theorists: Howard Coble, Olympia's rep, is the one who moves to open up the applicant pool again, advertising it as soon as possible. His words:
I think we have a very important responsibility to the Olympia School District to choose a candidate that best serves their needs. In doing so, we want to help them solve some of the divisiveness and move back together. I would argue for advertising for additional candidates as a backup, and not be limited to those three people that were considered.
Motion passes. So much for the automatic Keeffe ascendancy.

After a brief discussion over some of the finer points, John Gott makes a motion:
It seems to me that we need to have a very carefully thought out plan for conducting these interviews, and to that end I would like to have the following Board members constitute a subcommittee to wrestle that problem and get us prepared to do that. Dean Winner (former Director), Bill Brumsickle (former principal), and Howard Coble (OSD rep) to develop a system for us to use in interviewing these candidates that would assure that we are objective and fair and evenhanded in our consideration of the candidates.
Winner notes that he's going to be out of the country after April 30th, so things would have to move quickly. "To the best of my knowledge, sir, you are not excused," says Gott, to general laughter.

And, with that, the wheels are in motion. All previous predictions are moot; we don't even know who will comprise the final pool of applicants. At least the ESD Board recognizes the importance of moving quickly, openly, and fairly. We'll see if they can get the job done.

Tentative Dates
Monday, April 14: The ESD will verify that the position is unfilled, and request contact information for those still in the running.

Wednesday, 4/16: Post the invitation to all qualified and interested parties in the district, including the three remaining candidates.

April 25th: Deadline for applicants to submit their information to the ESD.

May 2nd: Arrange interviews.

May 14th, 10:00 a.m.: Interviews around noon. Executive session, then concluding in business session, and, hopefully, selection of an applicant.

The Olympian: not wrong, not quite right

Today's editorial shaming the entire Olympia School Board gets one thing right: all the members share a certain level of blame for their inability to compromise on an applicant for the District 2 seat.

Let's look at the instant replay to see what went wrong.

1. At the meeting where the Board members first publicly announced their choices, Bob Shirley promoted Theresa Tsou, and Russ Lehman nominated Paul Parker. Instead of having each member list their preferences, motions were made to vote for or against each one. Thus, Frank Wilson and Carolyn Barclift had to vote against Tsou and Parker in order to speak in favor of their first choice, John Keeffe. Subtle opposition, not conversation, began the process. (I don't see any particular blame falling on the Board here; it's a quirk of the process, one that bears thinking through for the future.)

2. When it came time to discuss Keeffe, Shirley attacked his motivation, while Lehman said Keeffe's experience "is exactly what we don't need right now." Wilson had described Keeffe as being "all about the kids;" Lehman responded,
The term that I served with John, well, just look at some of the answers to his questions, and for being on the Board twelve years, the first answer to the question, What should the Board be about?, it's about the kids, well, that's a cliché that everybody says, and certainly nobody who's been on the Board more than a year should ever say it's about the kids, as the sole answer to the question, Why be on the Board?
This statement, deriding Keeffe's motives and digging at Wilson's own inexperience, was the crucial juncture in the discussion; both Barclift and Wilson would verbally respond, Barclift saying to Lehman, "Russ, quite honestly, you don't believe anyone on this Board has done anything worthwhile," and Wilson saying that the Board's focus really is all about the kids. At this point, the lines were drawn. Shirley and Lehman stated absolute opposition to Keeffe; I predicted that his chances were slim to miraculous.

Until this point, the discussion had been a little tense, but otherwise framed positively. After this point, though, the election of 2007 replayed in miniature.

But maybe compromise was never a possibility. While Barclift and Wilson gave Keeffe a glowing recommendation, I can't remember one occasion where they publicly stated why Keeffe was the only rational choice. Even if he were the best choice, as the saying goes, why let the perfect be the enemy of the good? I figured the best hopes for compromise were with Wilson. Barclift had been personally endorsed by Keeffe, and received campaign donations from Keeffe, so it was always unlikely that she would budge, especially in the face of opposition from Lehman and Shirley.

I thought Frank Wilson would

Apr 8, 2008

evolving RNA in real time with a "Darwin chip"

Ewen Callaway of New Scientist describes a nifty new process:
Paegel's team wanted to see if they could evolve a better ligase by natural selection.

To do this, they took a form of ligase that is not very good at recognising RNA molecules, and dumped it in a pool of RNA. After letting it duplicate for a while, the researchers gradually reduced the number of RNA molecules in the pool, meaning that only the more efficient copies of the ligase could survive.

All the reactions occurred in a miniature chamber on the "evolution chip". After reaching a specified level of efficiency, a miniature pump automatically sucked up a small amount of the contents and plopped it into a new chamber. This started another round of selection.

After 70 hours and billions of duplications, Paegel's team stopped the reaction and analysed the last few batches. The ligase molecules they pulled out were able to find and stitch RNA molecules 90 times more efficiently than the ligase the team started with.
The team has its sights set higher, on entirely new chemicals, saying, "We took a potato and made a really tasty potato, but we would really like to discover broccoli – something completely different." In the closed environment of a Darwin chip, that might be more difficult than in the wild and woolly world, where selection pressures can shift in catastrophic fashion, viruses can inject DNA bits into genomes, or organisms can swallow others up in symbiotic relationships.

Apr 6, 2008

bless you, George Karl

I'm watching the Sonics-Nuggets shootout (don't ask), and happen to notice that former Golden Boy coach George Karl is wearing a green and yellow Space Needle tie. It's a calculated move, Jayda Evans reports. A silk slice of history. Classy and stylish.

(The photo is from back when Karl was coaching the Bucks. Hope to find a better one.)

breaking: Board chooses no one; decision goes to ESD

The Olympia School Board deadlocked again, and, unless a miracle occurs, the decision rests with ESD 113's board of directors.

I'm certain The Olympian will publish a summary, with all the quotes; I was feeling too analytical, too reflective to liveblog.

Little changed between Thursday and today. Both sides held their positions, Frank Wilson and Carolyn Barclift refusing to name a second choice, Russ Lehman and Bob Shirley calling for compromise. At the impasse, Lehman and Shirley voted against a motion to send the list of three candidates to the ESD, and the matter ended with adjournment at 3:24.

Free of charge:

Shirley gave a five minute lecture on the proper role of the Board, Lehman accused Wilson and Barclift of merely paying lip service to diversity, and Barclift ended a sentence with "I'm not gonna go there." When Wilson said the Board should quit wasting time, and that the ESD could make a "good decision," Shirley asked him point-blank why the Board couldn't just do the same itself. Overall, there was enough general orneriness that you might think you'd walked into a church's choir practice.

What happens next? Word is the ESD Board, hamstrung by Policy 1250, which says it has to request a slate of candidates chosen "by majority vote" from the local Board, will have to amend its procedures and choose whoever they prefer. (This process usually gets frustrated when no one steps up.) Once April 13, the ultimate local deadline, passes, the ESD has to find a replacement for the District 2 seats "in a timely manner," which means whenever.

I'm disappointed, not so much by the outcome, which at times seemed inevitable, but by the failures in the process. The personality conflicts and political wrangling were no surprise to anyone who followed this fall's election, but if the Board had a preferential, rather than simple "majority rules" decision in a three-way contest, we may have already reached agreement, politics aside.

May. Also the name of the earliest month this affair might be settled--and when the district will send out word that, if it has to, it'll make a RIF list. After all, that budget shortfall isn't getting any shorter.

Update: The Olympian's summary, which gets some of it right, is posted.

wherein this pundit predicts the outcome of this afternoon's School Board meeting

The odds:

2:1 Goes to the ESD.
8:1 Theresa Tsou is chosen.
8:1 Paul Parker is chosen.
1000:1 John Keeffe gets the nod.

If I were a betting man--and trust me, I'm not--I'd put my money on Tsou first, ESD second, Parker third.

you can't help anthropomorphizing the robot

It seems to be a natural reaction to robots, New Scientist reports.
Kathy Morgan, an engineer based in Atlanta, said that her robot wore a sticker saying "Our Baby", indicating that she viewed it almost as part of the family. "We just love it. It frees up our lives from so much cleaning drudgery," she says.

Sung believes that the notion of humans relating to their robots almost as if they were family members or friends is more than just a curiosity. "People want their Roomba to look unique because it has evolved into something that's much more than a gadget," she says. Understanding these responses could be the key to figuring out the sort of relationships people are willing to have with robots.

Until now, robots have been designed for what the robotics industry dubs "dull, dirty and dangerous" jobs, like welding cars, defusing bombs or mowing lawns. Even the name robot comes from robota, the Czech word for drudgery. But Sung's observations suggest that we have moved on. "I have not seen a single family who treats Roomba like a machine if they clothe it," she says. "With skins or costumes on, people tend to treat Roomba with more respect."
Much more at the link. The upshot: whether robots ever truly act like people, to some degree, we're going to treat them like people. Maybe someday they'll return the favor.

Apr 5, 2008

RedBox attacked by identity thieves

I like RedBox DVD rentals. For only $1 per night, you can rent a decent range of new releases. Better, you can preorder online, and go straight to pickup at the kiosk. You can return a RedBox rental to any vendor, and there are no late fees--just $1 per day, for however long you keep Barbie: Mariposa.

Sure, there are a couple downsides--the one-at-a-time service kiosk means that slow people clog the system, and they won't always have what you want--but as a Netflix gap-filler, RedBox is just about optimal.

So, I was sad to get this notice from RedBox in my email:
A few days ago redbox detected and removed an illegal credit card skimming device at one of our 7,400 locations. At the same time, redbox also discovered evidence of skimming attempts in two other locations. Skimming involves the placement of an illegal device above the credit/debit card reader on a vending machine, ATM, or in this case a redbox. These devices are used to illegally read or store personal credit card information....

Although there is no evidence currently that these skimming attempts were successful, consumer security is a top priority for redbox. Reviewing transaction records, there is a possibility that up to 150 customers may have been affected. Although only a small percentage of the millions of customers who use redbox each month, redbox has notified the major credit card companies so that they can monitor the situation. The redbox team is also working with local authorities to investigate the incidents and ensure your security.
The company has put the warning online, along with pictures of legitimate barcode scanners compared to skimming devices. It's not linked from their main page, though, which I think is bad form. Potential users, and not just current users, need to know about the very small risk a DVD vending machine presents.

Update: RedBox did the right thing and added a link to their homepage.

Apr 3, 2008

just do what the balustrade says

I've been leading my 12th-grade lit class through an investigation of photographer Richard Ross's Architecture of Authority, tying it into discussions about 1984 and, less ominously, urban planning and the recent political squabbles over height limits and density in Olympia's downtown. Examining the intersection has been quite illuminating. Today, for example, students scoped out areas of the school, sketching architectural highlights in preparation for tomorrow's synthesizing discussion.

If Ross ever wants to shoot "Neckwear of Authority," he can start right here.

breaking: Olympia School Board fails again

At 7:10 Thursday night, the Board reconvened out of executive session to once again publicly debate its choices for the District 2 seat, a debate that once again ended in a 2-2 deadlock.

Reading a prepared statement, Frank Wilson moved to select John Keeffe, citing his past Board experience and advocacy. Bob Shirley, saying "It's time to give someone else a turn," voted against. Lehman reiterated his opposition as well.

Carolyn Barclift, also reading a prepared statement, described Lehman's previous denigration of Keeffe's experience as "conjecture, based on a lack of knowledge." She spent several minutes outlining Keeffe's contributions during his 12-year tenure. She also cited the will of the voters, noting that her constituents far and away supported Keeffe as the best choice.

The motion failed, as the lines drawn at the last meeting held. Student representative Adam Buchholz noted that the decision was vital, and that experience wasn't the only indicator of future Board success.

Bob Shirley then moved to choose Paul Parker, his second choice. Lehman cited Parker's experience on the Budget Advisory Group. Wilson said he would vote no, since, compared to Parker, Keeffe would be able to "hit the ground running." The motion failed.

Lehman then moved for his second choice, Theresa Tsou, Shirley's first choice, again noting that adding her would diversify the Board, and strengthen its approach to important issues in math and science. Wilson noted that if he were voting in an election, he'd have only one choice, and again voted no; Barclift followed, motion failed.

Barclift wondered if the Board would like to meet again in a special session; Shirley said that he'd be willing, but didn't see how going over the qualifications again would change his mind. Wilson echoed this sentiment, as did Buchholz and Barclift. Lehman said that it's still worth one more meeting, "In the off chance that someone will change their mind."

That said, the Board decided to meet once more at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 6.

Earlier this evening, applicants Keeffe, Theresa Tsou, and Paul Parker had come by at 6:30, only to hear that the Board, in an unsurprising move, would move to executive session for a half hour.

Carolyn Barclift came down first, at 7:07, alone. "I figured I'd come down and give you a start," she said, as her tiny audience laughed. For a moment, this blogger hoped, even minutely, that a decision had been reached. Alas.

Apr 2, 2008

sugar is sweet, and that's why I like it

Laura Moser bravely swore off refined sugar. The results were mixed:
I liked saving money, and once past the initial withdrawal period, I started to feel pretty good about my random self-betterment scheme. In no time at all, my skin was unmottled and my stomach improbably flat. Why had I ever touched refined sugar?...

Over the course of that month, a pattern emerged. After about six days on the wagon, I would leap out of bed gripped by a raging obsession with some very specific proscribed food: pad thai, say, or a plain white bagel or a Mrs. Fields' semisweet chocolate-chip without nuts. I would then hit the streets—often still in my pajamas—in pursuit of that food. Once that food was in my possession, I would consume it on the spot, with or without chewing....

These days, I'm mostly surprised by how well I've kept it up. I'm also surprised by how completely unnecessary so much of the food I used to eat was, and how little I miss those ice-cream benders. But I'd be lying if I claimed that my sugar cravings have vanished altogether. Chai is one thing; chocolate is still chocolate.
In the end, Moser discovered what the Greeks knew all along. No, no geometry. Moderation.

As for me, I'm sticking with sugar. Sugar's been good to me.

Apr 1, 2008

Fafblog... is back?

This'd better not be an April Fool's prank. Fafblog disappeared for almost two years. If it vaporized again, I couldn't handle the ensuing depression.

[via Jason Kuznicki]

the day the grading program died

Recently students in Evansville, Indiana woke up to a nightmare--or dream, depending on their GPA:
Second semester grades for thousands of students in Evansville's public schools vanished during last week's spring break.

A computer crash, officially described in a news release as a "hardware malfunction," zapped the information Thursday.

It happened during scheduled maintenance on the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. server.

"Disk errors occurred when the system was powered back up," the release stated.

News of the mishap was spread Monday via an e-mail from EVSC. Teachers, parents and students were stunned.
Of course it would malfunction in the middle of a backup. That's the way Murphy's Law operates.

My favorite quote comes from a high school math teacher who kept her grades on paper:
"So it's not a major inconvenience for me," Oliver said. "I guess I'm a bit old school."
Here in the Olympia School District, we use Skyward. Sometimes it goes down. I don't think it's ever erased data. Sounds like it might be time for once-per-month mandatory paper trails, just in case.

Ah, technology. Makes life easier.

April first comes and goes

This April Fool's, I did not fool my students, or even attempt to.

No fooling.

I did wear an Elmo tie, because I've recently set up the Elmo document camera for my classroom. (Some teachers call the camera "the Elmo," which I find unprofessional.)

My life, post-National Board, is suddenly pregnant with whimsy.

(I defy you to find someone else who'd ever say "pregnant with whimsy" with a straight, or crooked, face.)

I do still love parentheses.