i'm going to fail all my students. then i'm going to fail myself, then i'm going to fail the system, not necessarily in that order.

to the point .... testing people sucks.... "details to follow" (as they say on TV "news") .....

tests suck for a long, complex reason that i am about to explain.

i gave a test today that was (what i call) a gift.... it should have taken my students 20 minutes, i gave them 40 minutes, they took 60 minutes and still screwed up the test (note the spike in my blood pressure)..... so we have to ask ourselves "why?"..... and i know why this happens.

there is an art to taking timed tests.... if you have X questions of equal value and T minutes to finish the test, the smart thing to do (to get the highest test score for your given level of expertise) is to assign a time value to each question and immediately drop your work on that problem as soon as that time has elapsed and move on to the next question using the same philosophy. if the questions have non-equal value, it is worth your test time to figure out the time per point and then re-assign the time per question, based on the points for each question.

test takers who go through this procedure will score much higher grades than people of equal expertise who don't do this ..... however....

a characteristic of a very good engineer is a person who attacks a problem and hammers at it until it is solved..... if it takes all weekend, so be it, but i will solve this problem. it is a worthless engineer who walks away from an unsolved problem because it is "quitting time" and the real world of engineering blesses the hard worker (who hammers away) and curses the quitter (who drops his/her pencil and gives up because it is 5:00PM).

that is exactly the opposite mentality of timed tests .... and that is a failure of the timed test "system". today, most of my students got "hung up" on the same problem and hammered away at it for the entire test period (meaning that they had no time left for the remaining problems). when i grade these, they will all fail, i am sure..... but they will fail as test-takers and they will excel as engineers..... so .... do they get F's or A's ?

the next person that says to me "teaching is easy" is dead meat.

captain's log / supplemental....

applying some creative ( and generous) numerology, the histogram of grades ended up as follows:


Emma and I gave each other awards for being so smart....

jpg jpg


spent an hour at the SS office today, and they are starting up my SS retirement payments (i still don't believe i am at this point in life), plus the nice lady thought i also deserve a disability payment for being deaf and she applied for that (though higher authorities approve or disapprove that).... is this really me? old and disabled ? .... who let this happen to me? .... why didn't one of my friends shoot me before i went over the waterfall?

jpg after the SS office suggested i may be legally disabled, the day went downhill from there.... i went to CVS and bought a blood pressure machine (as requested by my doctor last week at my annual physical, when it registered 160/90). last night at P&J's house it registered 157/89..... D's registered 90/60 !!!.... my consolation was that P&J's pressures were near mine, in fact P's was slightly higher, but then she is on medication to reduce hers.

this afternoon my new machine recorded me at 157/96.... which is phase 1 hypertension (per the *.gov health web site). so the immediate plan is get outside more, back off on the nightly wine and daily salt, make sure i get potasium, magnesium and calcium.

right now (7:45) it's 164/93, and i'm imagining a website that degenerates to a listing of someone's blood pressure readings every half hour.

or .... for the serious data junkies out there ...

BPN update: 03/04/2008/7:00PM/164/93 ........03/04/2008/7:30PM/160/88....03/04/2008/8:00PM/154/97 ........03/04/2008/3:30PM/176/84

jpg Mar.04.2008

before the rains starts today, i went out for a walk with my walkman radio and headset.

simultaneously alongside me, D was out for a walk with her ipod and headset.

on several occasions i think one of us almost thought about actually speaking, but the tunes and audio streams were too mesmerizing.

TV news story just now about the INS rounding up a group of undocumented foreign women who were here to work in sweat shops at $2.00 / hour, 12 hours/day, no onsite child care, no insurance, no vacation, no assigned SUV parking spaces. (For the immigrants, this is a vast improvement over their previous lives.)

The INS hauled their sad asses back to wherever they came from. They say that this paves the way for the rush of applications the INS is expecting from white middle-class native-born Americans to drive in from the suburbs and fill these sweat-job openings.

So another American shop will close (with all the lost cash flow and taxes), the deportees will again live in jobless poverty in the dumps they left to come here for work, and we will buy our clothes from the sweat shops in China.

He cometh ....... and soon.


jpgat the start, this was not my kind of book, but i read The Age of Innocence three times simultaneously.... i finished it today and the last 12 pages sent me into shock on many levels (that i hadn't until the end realized the story had !!).

the story deals with 1870's new york city society that exists on social perfection .... the wrong color teacup at a party sends notecards flying back and forth and rates a visit from the social patrons to the offending person to help her understand the transgression...... i stopped reading the book 3 times at least but then picked it up again.... i loved the fabulous sentences and the style and that's what drew me back, but the relentless details were tiresome as far as plots and characters go.

.... so i thought..... but then there are the last 12 pages and it is clear that i didnt have a clue (neither did the main character Newland Archer) as to what was really going on around him.

and the last paragraph.... will he go into Ellen Olenska's apartment, where his son and Ellen are waiting .....?

this is a too-long postcript after watching the movie..

note note

(that last ink-smeared phrase is " ... until the last sentence".)

post-postscript.... i have just re-read the last pages of the book again and they read even finer than they did the first three times. a movie could not capture Ms Wharton's narrative that winds around the words and actions of the players.... just a supreme book on many levels.


The Invention Convention

hey!!!.... I know that kid !!!



jpgi am learning about blood pressure.... it varies absurdly.... varies day to day and is extremely sensitive to activity during the day.

nonetheless, mine seems to be getting better as i learn to rest before i take it, cut out salt, caffeine, alcohol and added echinacea, CoQ10 and vitamins to my daily intake.

from the new yorker...


jpgUkelele Root Beer

bottled the second batch of root beer, using only 1 and 1/2 cups of raw sugar (instead of the 3 cups used in the first batch - which was not raw sugar either).

but onto a more serious issue, i worked up a label (packaging is ever so important, i know).... that is a photo of my uke, softened and rotated (GIMP) superimposed on a piece of an image shamelessly downloaded from somewhere.

now.... $1.50 / bottle ? $2.50 for the "Duke's Reserve Blend" ?.... I have weeks to decide while it brews.


Ryan (he is 2 now), Rachel, Rebekah and Jack

jpg jpg

jpg Mar.09.2008: went to the worcester home and garden show.... it was ok. we have a home security guy coming in this week for an estimate. then we ate at texas road house (so easily found by my personal GPS). deb had a pork chop which she loved, i had the ft. worth rib eye (medium rare) which i didn't love, but a corona with lime helped me deal with it.


jpg Peggy called and asked me a detailed question about something I did on the spur of the moment in August.2005...... this reminds me that everything i ever did has eventually come back to haunt me.

so.... i had to connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse to my WinXP-pro computer (that hadn't been booted since last Sept (!)... and wind my way through old emails, notes and powerpoints..... 2 hours later, i had the answer.

but now i was logged into my previous life and i remembered all my VB6 programs and got all nostalgic and tried them out... they still work !!! (of course), and i still love them and i remember now that i wanted to port the best ones over to Tcl/Tk, meaning i need to learn graphics in Tcl/Tk (which i dont know).... this is cool... my favorite was Scaler, which allows you to scale dimensions off any image (once you calibrate the image using one known distance). it also does a ton of other graphics things, as i added to it for about 3 years !!

how could i lie like that, my favorite was SantaFe which i long ago ported to Tcl/Tk ..... and of course, i rewrote the engineering stuff in Tcl/Awk (which is partly what Tikmark is about). Now that i've thought about it, Scaler is my only major VB6 program that i haven't rewitten in an open-source scripting language !

jpg postscript on booting WinXP again ... of course i got bombarded with popup reminders that my virus protection was woefully out of date, scans hadnt been done in months (no kidding!), many software updates were available, that microsaft system check or whatever it is was waiting to do something before i X'd it.... so i ran norton live update and then of course it auto-rebooted my computer for me (thank you).

ask me if i miss it i dont.

jpg Doris was our neighbor back in Ashburnham and a good friend to Debbie. Feisty and opinionated for sure, but a kind person. Got dizzy, went to the hospital, got a headache while there, went into a coma and died.

Talk about feisty and opinionated however, you should have known her husband, Ray !

Mar.12.2008...decibels decibels .... who's got the decibels

jpg had a hearing test today, i didn't really think it would get better, but i was wishing it had..... my hearing is now on the border between severe and profound hearing loss for sounds above 500Hz .... so it's not my imagination, i am getting deafer and i am pretty damn deaf right now.

little factoids...

middle C on a piano is 262Hz, the highest note on a piano is just above 4K Hz.

in human speech, vowels have frequencies below 1K Hz (where i have moderate to sever loss) and consonants are above 1K Hz (where i have borderline severe-profound loss).

unfortunately, hearing consonants is much more important to speech perception (ability to understand words)

when people "talk loud" for us deaf folks, they say only the vowels louder, but deaf people need them to say the consonants (s,t,ch,f,sh etc etc) louder.... but that makes for very weird speaking and people don't do it.

a hearing aid does not make a deaf person hear like a normal person.... it simply boosts the amplitude (loudness) up which helps up to a point.... however, i can turn my hearing aids up full blast, hurt my ears enormously and still not understand what you are saying .... deaf ears don't respond to sound like normal ears.

i asked him to check out a glitch in one of my hearing aids and he said "given the state of your hearing, fixing that won't help".

but the good news is.... i have a fresh loaf of bread going, and a pot of bean-vegetable something, the taxes are done and they owe me a ton of money and i am going to earmark a chunk of that for something personally selfish and indulgent and everyone will envy my good fortune and i will be the talk of the town ...heh heh heh.

march.13.7:16AM ....119/76/66 ..... 107/65/60 ..... 112/72/59 .... lookin' great!

.... follow me....


(the Sandman page is a work in progress.)

March.15.2008 (The Numbers Don't Lie)

after school today, i started sorting out retirement financials ..... IRA's, cash flow, SS, GE pension, a 2008 household budget and coming up with a financial plan for the next 30 years. i wandered around the Fidelity website forever, moved my mutual funds into a safe haven (cash reserves) in anticipation of the impending market crash .... which is actually just a continuation of the crash we've been in for the last 6 months...

need research to figure out what to do with IRA's after the market bottoms out ... bonds feel good today.... we will see.

here is the last 10 years of S&P500 and DJIA,

it shows that the market is back where it was in 2000 .... accounting for 3% inflation, the stock market (and your retirement nest egg !) is actually down 20% from 8 years ago. so if your retirement account was worth $10,000 in 2000, it is, accounting for inflation, now worth $8000. and of course, if you had $200,000 in your 2000 retirement account, you lost $40,000 to inflation.

i just checked, inflation has averaged 2.8% since 2000..... on the left is what happens to the value of $1000 due to 2.8% inflation for 10 years ..... on the right is what happens to a fixed $30,000 yearly income over 30 years (which helps explain why very old people are cash-poor).

jpg jpg

on the other hand, if you are just starting out, and you can invest $3000 a year and earn 5% (above inflation), your net value over the years would look like this....

jpg .... and i think i just created this week's JA class activity !!


jpg made a wine bottle label for J's summer wine. then wrestled with a possible overheating problem on the computer somewhere.... erratic behavior, mike supsected an overheat.... i learned a little about temp sensors and drivers and the fact that vacuuming dust off a hot chip dropped the temperature from 58C (135F) down to 28C (82F). seems to be running okay at the moment.

spent a few hours puttering around the yard.... it felt fabulous to get out there.

then signed a contract with ADT for a home security installation.

then i took a short political test and have been classified as a libertarian .... thats good i hope.

then i discovered stumbleupon and my life will never be the same .... the internet overwhelms me with info and my brain jams up when i want to surf around for interesting stuff and end up with 30million pages of crap and makes me feel stupid because i am not smart enough to find what i am looking for when obviously it must be out there somewhere.

stumbleupon relieves me of that responsibility ... with the click of a button, it takes me to some randomly selected website on the internet ..... it's not ever where i wanted to go but now i can just row with flow and see where we go. i spent a few hours clicking and i am pleased to decide that compared to the crap thats out there, my journal pages here are damn nice.


6 Degrees of Separation

theres a rule somewhere that everyone on earth is connected to everyone else by at most 6 people.... that is..... the connection between any 2 people on the planet only passes thru (at most) 6 other people..... thats incredible i think.

so i think website probably have the same rule.... so i found a sight called TouchGraph.... you type in your web page URL and it shows the spiderweb of links out of and into your website...... here is the tikmark spiderweb....

yet another chunk of useless info from the internet ....png

but ... for some really important data..... my last set of blood pressure & pulse readings were .... 118/78 & 67.


stumbling from here to there (or .... six clicks to nirvana)

png i have spent 2 or 3 nights now using stumbleupon to ....umm... stumble around the internet, and have made a remarkable discovery, that probably is provable by statistical analysis, but i will simply state what the discovery is and leave it alone.

i can stumble onto interesting and informative websites that are randomly selected from the internet (by stumbleupon) with more success than i can find them by using a search engine and clicking the search results pages..... i mean that very seriously and i think that's a profund discovery .... randomly stumbling thru the internet gets you to good information faster than you would get there by trying to deliberately find your own way via a search engine.

remember that you heard it here first.

this may have something to do with the 6-degrees of separation theory (above) .... i think that it suggests the following:

  • punch in a search topic in your favorite search engine
  • go to any page from the search results
  • look at the links on that page and click the link that looks closer to your target
  • do that six times
  • the last page should have the info you are looking for

i call this pathway the six clicks to nirvana

jpg as in chinese checkers (a fabulous game !) ... the best pathway most often begins by moving backwards at first.


an aside..... this reminds me much of packet switching (how the internet breaks up e-mail messages, sends them out in a scatter over the net and reassembles the pieces when they all get to where you sent them .... each piece of the message you sent actually took its own path to the recipient). kind of like randomly stumbling from website to website in your web browser.

another aside also reminds me of the Forrest Gump approach to life ... randomly bouncing through life from adventure to adventure like a pinball machine .... no plan whatsoever .... but he discovered a pretty great life without ever having the slightest idea of where he was going.


( the connection between all of these topics is the use of taking random paths through networks ( and life, in Forrest Gump's case ) and recognizing that chinese checkers is a game of choosing the best available path inside a network. )

The Nine Billion Names of God (Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008)

The legendary sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke died last week. One of his famous (very) short stories was The Nine Billion Names of God, the final sentences of which are ....

"Look," whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.)

Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.



spent the morning (i mean most of the day) collecting bird images (i mean "shamelessly stealing") , then cropping each one, rotating, resizing, adding bevels, round corners (GIMP) and creating a montage (imagemagick) as a new x-mahjongg tileset..... there is death in details and the tileset still looks klunky around the edges when called into x-mahjongg.... needs more tweaks to be perfect.

an x-mahjongg screencap is shown below.


.... and i just thought of a great mahjongg-like game to be written in javascript .... my next project !!


jpg sunny and cold and windy.... i am on the porch writing.... stuggling with javascript .... why isn't this working as planned ?

zak is no help whatsoever ...

debbie made me take abbey's picture for her computer. jpg

and the devil himself requested sabrina's picture ( i stayed on the safe side of her cage....) jpg

tasted the rootbeer today .... it needs more time in the fridge, and i am reading up on alternate methods of carbonating rootbeer .... this yeast method is to hit-or-miss.


jpg made a web page of pictures we have taken over the years working on this house... i had forgotten how much work we have done on this place...

found a very nice garden art web page in horticulture magazine..... this person does beautiful art work with flowers on a flatbed scanner.

after i shamelessly downloaded some of her pictures, i thought ...."hey.... i can do that too".... so i grabbed a few buddies off the shelf and scanned them in against a black felt background.

jpg jpg


when that pot of gold gets here, i will probably buy the ricoh gx-100 as my new every day / casual sharpshooter..... 24-72mm (24mm !!) , a topside removable/ tiltable viewfinder, intervalometer timed shooting, fairly large CCD.... it's unique among digital cameras and will add nicely to my collection.

the only other option would be if the upcoming panasonic LX-3 does something special, but the ricoh viewfinder is pretty unbeatable on top of that 24mm lens.


The Social Security Myth

lots of half-truths and proposals are making the rounds about social security, and one of the common beliefs is that people who receive social security checks (i will be one of these people, 3 weeks from now) are somehow draining the resources of the federal government and the hard working taxpayers.

jpgto be honest, i have believed that myth myself until i ran some numbers this morning, and as we all know ..... the numbers don't lie.

so..... i made a spreadsheet (GNUMERIC, of course) entering all the money i made since i started work (1961), all the money that i "contributed", and my employers "contributed" to the social security tax.

the total contributions from me and my employers over 46 years comes to $215,547 (not accounting for inflation). this figure comes directly from my social security benefits package.

the federal government has been investing that in stocks and bonds so they could pay my benefits when i retire.

jpgif the federal government made only 7.5% / year by investing that money for me, the total return comes to a net value today of $745,091 that is supposedly MY personal social security retirement nest egg.

the top graph shows the year-by-year net value (as of today) of those past investments .... they add up to the $745,091.
the bottom graph shows the cummulative net value over the years of my social security nest egg.

AND..... if this nest egg is currently invested and earning the federal government 7.5% / year, that comes to $55,882 per year of earned dividends !!! .... this is about 2X what my annual benefits are going to be ..... they are STILL making more money each year on my contributions than they are going to pay me each year !!


Social Security is NOT a Retirement Plan...

From the Wikipedia discussion ....

Although Social Security is sometimes compared to private pensions, this is an improper comparison since Social Security is social insurance and not a retirement plan. The payment of disability benefits also distinguishes Social Security from most private pensions. In other ways the two systems are fundamentally different as well. A private pension fund accumulates the money paid into it, eventually using those reserves to pay pensions to the workers who contributed to the fund; and a private system is not universal. Social Security cannot "prefund" by investing in marketable assets such as equities, because federal law prohibits it from investing in assets other than those backed by the U.S. government. As a result, its investments to date have been limited to "special" non-negotiable securities issued by the U.S. Treasury ..... As a universal system, Social Security operates as a pipeline, through which current tax receipts from workers are used to pay current benefits to retirees, survivors, and the disabled.

Translation.... we are all screwed because the Fed never invested our contributions.... it simply pipelined them out to people as the cash came in...... what a total disaster ...... if those investments were made properly and grew with the stocks and bonds market, we would ALL retire with 2X - 3X the income we will be getting from the current system ( *which is collapsing anyway !!! *)...... what a disaster ..... how did this make our lives better ???

gif I highly recommend The Second American Revolutionary War....
let's target 2012 to start it ..... let's say, November 5th.


on a kinder, gentler topic, i like this stuff a lot... esp on a day like today when it's snowing and cold when it should be sunny and warm..... deb's home and watching The V$#w and then O&%$#h (i cant bring myself to type the words out on my web page) .... i am blogging and making up tests for school and laptopping around the internet while drinking tea and watching a synthetic log burn in the fireplace.

gif the level of excitment in the air is ..... wow!

note note

i've been thinking about getting a "hearing dog" for myself...



thank you sherri for my portrait on slate!

( click the image to see the real item !)

Index of Journal Pages

The Names of 4000 Dead US Soldiers