Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

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Bugs in the System

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:15 am PDT

A few articles related to bugs in the system, either literal or figurative ones…

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Wednesday News Chum: Children and Education, Barbie and Teen Driving

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Feb 17, 2010 @ 11:52 am PDT

Ah, Wednesday lunch. Time for some chum to chew upon. I’m not sure if there’s a theme in these items yet — perhaps you can find it.

  • From the “Government Intrusion” Department: The New York Times has an interesting article on the National Children’s Study. This is a multi-billion dollar study authorized by Congress whereby the National Institutes of Heath will be following newborn children from before birth to age 21. The study’s goal is to examine how environment, genes and other factors affect children’s health, tackling questions subject to heated debate and misinformation. To do this all sorts of data will be collected. For exampel, quoting from the article, for one pregnant woman… “Researchers would collect and analyze her vaginal fluid, toenail clippings, breast milk and other things, and ask about everything from possible drug use to depression. At the birth, specimen collectors would scoop up her placenta and even her baby’s first feces for scientific posterity.” Here’s another quote, regarding the specimens collected: “Specimens include blood, urine, hair and saliva from pregnant women, babies and fathers; dust from women’s bedsheets; tap water; and particles on carpets and baseboards. They are sent to laboratories (placentas to Rochester, N.Y., for example), prepared for long-term storage, and analyzed for chemicals, metals, genes and infections.” It sounds like quite an effort, and for some, quite an intrusion. So, the real question: to what level are intrusions appropriate (with informed consent, of course) in the name of science?

  • From the “Pick a Career” Department: You know that flighty-blond Barbie. She can never seem to settle on a career, be it Astronaut or Doctor. So what is she doing this year? Voters have made her a news anchor and a computer engineer (the latter, the article notes, was designed with the help of the wonderful organization SWE). An interesting article in CurbedLA notes what careers were not chosen: in particular, they declined to allow her to pursue a career in environmentalism, surgery, or architecture. With respect to the latter, the Mattel spokeswoman stated that Barbie’s target audience (girls aged three to eleven) could not understand the complexities of an architect’s career. (Oh, SWE, did you hear that? Perhaps we need Civil Engineer Barbie). The article also mentions a professor at University of Buffalo, who put together an “Architect Barbie” exhibition at the University of Michigan as a response, with students and faculty creating their own archiBarbies (including a pregnant Glass Ceiling Barbie).
  • From the “I Picked The Wrong Day To Become a Woman” Department: More bad news for the girls out there. According to the Chicago Tribune, Allstate Foundation’s “Shifting Teen Attitudes: The State of Teen Driving 2009” report indicates that 27% of girls admit to speeding at least 10 miles over the speed limit, vs. 19% of boys. Also, 16% of girls report that they are very aggressive while driving, up from 9% in 2005. Meanwhile, 13% of teen boys admitted to being very aggressive while driving, vs. 20% in 2005.
  • From the “School Days, School Days” Department: A trio of interesting articles related to high school…

    In Arizona, school officials in a Tucson suburb took notice of the long bus rides… and decided to do something about it. According to the NY Times, they outfitted the bus with free WiFi. Surprise, surprise. The bus has become rolling study hall. Although some students do play games, many use the time to get a jump on homework assignments, do research, and yes, socialize on Facebook.

    In Utah, the school districts are facing a significant budget shortfall. One legislator’s solution: Make 12th Grade Optional. Basically, the proposal would offer incentives to encourage students to graduate early. The thought behind this is that most seniors take their senior year off. Hmmm, perhaps in Utah.

    But eight states are going even further: they are permitting students to enter community college after 10th grade. These states (Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont) are introducing a program allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college. Students who pass but aspire to attend a selective college may continue with college preparatory courses in their junior and senior years. Students who fail the 10th grade tests, known as board exams, can try again at the end of their 11th and 12th grades. The tests would cover not only English and math but other subjects like science and history. The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, England, Finland, France and Singapore. It’s a pilot program. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but then I’m a traditionalist.

Hmmm, I guess this post did have a theme after all.

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College Planning and Civics Education

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 06, 2010 @ 11:38 am PDT

Today at lunch I saw an article in today’s USA Today about the update to the FAFSA form that supposedly makes it easier to fill out. Now, I’ve never filled out the form yet, although I will be facing it in a few years, but it is currently on my mind. This is because, based on an interesting talk given by Sam Mikhail at my daughter’s high school, we’ve begun working with his company to plan for the eventual FAFSA and applying to college. I’m doing this for the same reason we go to a CPA for our taxes: growing up in a family with CPAs as parent, we know that sometimes you need to plan for the presentation–that is, structuring your assets in the correct way to maximize benefits legally. You do this with taxes when you use your 401(k)s or 403(b)s, or use tax-free funds, or even pay your mortgage in one tax year vs. another. So just as I could do my own taxes but choose not to in order to get maximum benefits, I’m doing the same here. Plus, Sam will be working with our daughter (in fact, they are meeting this afternoon) to help her learn what to look for in college visits, and how to pick the right college for her interests. Teens seem to instinctively not listen to parents in this area, so having a neutral third party should help. I should note that they do more than fill in the FAFSA; their services are detailed here.

So why am I writing this note. I’m not sure, other than the fact that it is on my mind and was triggered by the change in the FAFSA.

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In a related note, does anyone read the comments that are posted in response to articles in places like USA Today and get worried about our society? I read them, and all I seem to see are angry people that look down on others for being stupid, or that seem to like to blame all the ills of the world on their favorite target (usually Obama or Al Gore). These are the folks that believe “Global Warming” means it gets warmer everywhere, without realizing the real notion is climate change with wider climate shifts. These are the folks that see an article about earmarks being reduced in quantity by one-third, and castigate Obama for not bringing them to zero immediately. These are the folks that expect instant, perfect action, from their leaders, without realizing that that mantra of a representative republic is “progress, not perfection”. If they want leaders that give them instant perfect results, they should move to a dictatorship, where the dictator can dictate what he wants and is by definition perfect. With representative government, there are by nature comprimises to get legislation passed. But go read the comments to such an article. These are also often the folks that feel that people should get what they deserve (if not more) [in the sense of “oh, you got no aid because you were to stupid to fill out a form”], and in general don’t show compassion and give the benefit of the doubt to others. It just leaves me disallusioned.

I sometimes fear that the country is in the poor shape it is in, including the divisiveness and partisanship, because true civics education is so poor. I think much of the country just doesn’t understand how the country works, both in terms of the idealized process (i.e., how representation should work) and in real-life.

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Musings on High School Stress

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 25, 2009 @ 11:31 am PDT

My daughter is going crazy.

No, not literally. But stress-wise, yes. She’s at school from 7am to 7pm, constantly working on homework (luckily, we don’t have to remind her to do it), studying, studying, studying. She comes home, takes a nap, and then works to midnight and does it all again. In tenth grade, she’s occupied with two AP classes (stats and world history), honors classes, and working on the technical crew for the performing arts program.

Gee, I didn’t have that schedule until college.

So, over lunchtime, I’ve been wondering what we’re doing to our high school students. Certainly, this isn’t the 1950s idyll of high-school that we saw in movies like Grease, American Graffiti, or popularized in TV shows like Happy Days. Who has time to hang out at the burger joint? It doesn’t fit my recollection of high-school in the 1970s: I don’t remember that much stress or work, and certainly not as many AP classes. We had perhaps four for the entire school, and kids didn’t start taking them until 12th grade. Most kids didn’t do AP (I never did).

Our children are stressed (and we then wonder why they snap). They can’t have fun on their summers: they have to build their resume to get into a good school (as well as making money to attend it). Extracurricular activities are measured not in the energy but in the points for college. They can’t explore what they want to do; they have to make up their minds earlier and earlier.

So why are we overstressing our youth? Is it to prepare them for the stressed business world? Is this really the lesson we should be teaching? How does the life of a high-school student today differ from when you went to school (and I know I have folks reading this who were in high-school in the 1960s if not earlier, as well as folks who are currently in high-school or just graduated)

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And You Thought You Had It Bad

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Nov 12, 2009 @ 7:27 pm PDT

To all my daughter’s friends who thought college testing was bad: At least you don’t live in South Korea. There, the entire country stops for a day while all college-bound seniors take their college placement test, from 8am to 5pm, all on the same day. There are no make-ups, no other dates. You get one chance.

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Your Daily Quota of Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Oct 13, 2009 @ 7:32 pm PDT

Today brings a few intersting bits of chum… certainly worth chewing on…

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Tuesday New Chum: Twitter, Hidden Meanings, Blue M&Ms, and Practical Majors

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jul 28, 2009 @ 11:35 am PDT

Some interesting news articles, gleaned from recent lunchtime skimming of the papers:

  • From the “Tweet, Tweet” Department: More and more interesting uses for Twitter are arising. The New York Times reported last week that more and more small businesses are using Twitter to promote themselves (one need only look at the roving restaurant scene in LA to see this). The Daily Breeze reported that another service allows people to send tweets to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where they will be printed and inserted in the wall. We see more and more newspapers advertising themselves on Twitter (and Facebook). So it’s growing… but is anyone listening? The Los Angeles Times is reporting on a recent study that showed most people don’t even know what Twitter is (of course, it is interesting to see that next to the ad about the LA Times on Twitter). BTW, I also wonder about the corporate impact of these companies being on Twitter and Facebook: it means that corporate firewalls will likely be opened to allow access to those sites, as they are now legitimate news sites. Once that door is open, oh the time that will be wasted.

  • From the “Find the Hidden Meaning” Department: Newspapers often run contests to collect reader photos. A few current contest have caught my eye. The New York Times is collecting photos of reader’s dogs. On the other coast, the San Francisco Chronicle is collecting photos of pregnant women’s bellies. I’m trying to figure out the hidden meaning in this. Any ideas?
  • From the “Green M&Ms” Department: Growing up, we all heard the rumors about green M&Ms. Well, CNN brings us a story about the health effects of blue M&Ms: they supposedly help your back. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that when they injected the compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG) into rats suffering spinal cord injuries, the rodents were able to walk again, albeit with a limp. The same blue food dye is found in M&Ms and Gatorade. The only side effect was that the treated mice temporarily turned blue. Hmm, medicine that turns something blue… that brings a poem to mind. All together now…

    I did not sow, I did not spin,
    And thanks to pills I did not sin.
    I loved the crowds, the stink, the noise.
    And when I peed, I peed turquoise

  • From the “Practical People” Department: The Ventura County Star has an interesting report on college students and their majors. It seems in these days of frugality and economic turmoil, students are forgoing their dream majors, instead opting for majors that will bring them a well-paying job… and trying to get that degree in less time. Actually, this isn’t much of a surprise, but it is starting to affect the programs offered by universities to attract students.

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Come Saturday Morning, I’ll Chum Away With My Friends…

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 02, 2009 @ 4:08 pm PDT

The wife’s at the CDF Conference, and my daughter’s off at her middle school helping with the lighting design for their next musical… so I’m home alone to clean the house and skim the papers. A few items for your enjoyment:

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