Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ballroom Dance Show

I've spent the last few weeks taking my oldest to extra ballroom dancing practice sessions. She's finally had a chance to dance with her new partner and within two weeks they start practicing for this show. The show is different than regular ballroom because they actually had to learn a routine to dance and they danced the same dance with the three other couples who took part.

Even though she was a bit down about ballroom dancing after losing her first partner, with all this show practice she has even asked if she can practice more! I'm so glad to see her doing something she loves. It's also cheap! It's not everyday that enjoyment meshes with affordability, but our dance instructor, John Vitti, has group lessons for the kids at $5 a kid for an hour (as long as we can get 8 kids to dance, preferably couples).

They did two shows. My girl and her partner performed better at the second show, so I'm putting that first. She's the shortest girl (in the center of the video, of course) wearing a black and white dress.

Here is the first show.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"How Did We Find Out" Science Book Recommendations

Even as a mechanical engineer, geeky, science-fiction-loving, experiment-enjoying homeschooler, science has been the absolutely worst topic ever. We do very little actual science. We've done some stuff with leaves, the human body, and some microscope work, but it's all haphazard and not at all hierarchical as recommend in the Philosophy of Education and Objectivist Epistemology.

I will say that I've found a series of books that are as close as I think I'll ever come to finding a close-to-hierarchical presentation of some concepts written by a non-Objectivist. With very little reservation I recommend the How Did We Find Out series by Isaac Asimov. Asimov is not fearful of technology and does believe that mankind can solve lots of problems. He presents the greenhouse gases as 'some people believe' (which I thought was OK) but does seem fairly opinionated about the stupidity of war ("How Did We Find Out About Solar Power?").

In "How Did We Find Out About Earthquakes?" he takes us through first blaming gods for earthquakes, then Europe ignoring quakes because they didn't occur frequently in that continent, to the full force of science trying to predict them and understand them. How the theory of all the continents being together was posited and then dismissed and then accepted after discovering about the trans-Atlantic fault. He explained about rock strata being crooked in some areas which made people think the surface of the Earth was actually moving. It was pointed out that the development of sonar after the war allowed us to map the ocean floor and find the faults defining the plates. There is a wonderful diagram showing earthquakes in relation to the faults discovered. He discussed the seismograph machines and how different types of waves of the quake allowed us to figure out about the crust, the mantel, and the molten core of the planet.

Another great book is "How Did We Find Out About the Beginning of Life?" The subject matter and presentation are wonderful. Toward the middle of the book he discusses molecules without much of a background, but I can live with that for now. It starts with the idea of Spontaneous Generation and how the idea began to be questioned. Then how scienticst discovered that maggots are actually from microscopic fly eggs. He then talks about the experiments performed (including Pasteur) that showed the very small microorganisms in a 'broth' and how, if they're all killed off through boiling, they do not reappear. He discussed the atmosphere of a young Earth (ammonia, methan, carbon dioxide, water) and the experiments that combined these gases with energy (heat or electricity) and how the experiment resultanted in more complex molecules. Further experimentation showed these larger molecules forming chains of amino acids and then these chains taking a circular shape similar to a cell.

These books are not perfect. They move quite quickly and not every discovery is explained. They can touch on quite in depth topics (or start with very in-depth topics like "How Did We Find Out About Nuclear Power?"). They are approximately 55 pages of mostly typed text. The writing style is simple and includes phonetic pronunciations of names and some scientific principles. There are some illustrations included, but mostly portraits and a few diagrams. There are 37 books in the series and they are no longer printed. The age ranges recommended seem to be anywhere from 9 years to 9th to 12th grade. The more complex the topic, the older the reader for whom it is recommended.
The titles in the series:

How Did We Find Out about (Our) Genes?
How Did We Find Out about Antarctica?
How Did We Find Out about Atoms?
How Did We Find Out about Black Holes?
How Did We Find Out about Blood?
How Did We Find Out about Coal?
How Did We Find Out about Comets?
How Did We Find Out about Computers?
How Did We Find Out about Dinosaurs?
How Did We Find Out about DNA?
How Did We Find Out about Earthquakes?
How Did We Find Out about Electricity?
How Did We Find Out about Energy?
How Did We Find Out about Germs?
How Did We Find Out about Lasers?
How Did We Find Out about Life in the Deep Sea?
How Did We Find Out about Microwaves?
How Did We Find Out about Neptune?
How Did We Find Out about Nuclear Power?
How Did We Find Out about Numbers?
How Did We Find Out about Oil?
How Did We Find Out about Our Human Roots?
How Did We Find Out about Outer Space?
How Did We Find Out about Photosynthesis?
How Did We Find Out about Pluto?
How Did We Find Out about Robots?
How Did We Find Out about Solar Power?
How Did We Find Out about Sunshine?
How Did We Find Out about Superconductivity?
How Did We Find Out about the Atmosphere?
How Did We Find Out about the Beginnings of Life?
How Did We Find Out about the Brain?
How Did We Find Out about the Speed of Light?
How Did We Find Out about the Universe?
How Did We Find Out about Vitamins?
How Did We Find Out about Volcanoes?
How Did We Find Out the Earth Is Round?

I picked one up from a library book sale. After reading it, I was so excited that I located 28 others and they're on their way to me now! I ordered a few through Paperback Swap. The others I found on Amazon in the Marketplace (when you find the title, click "Used & new" or click through to the product page and select "See all buying options"--they are usually less than a $1 each and then $3.99 for shipping).

Friday, April 18, 2008


I narrowly avoided hitting a coyote on my home one day. I only know it was a coyote because I did a Google image search to find out. One of the coyote images showed up on a site called Advocacy for Animals. It's straight-up animal rights BS with all of the Hey-bad-people-live-nicely-with-the-predators-and-stop-destroying-their-natural-habitat philosophy that goes along with it. No news here, pure bias.

About this Site

Encyclopædia Britannica presents this site as a source of information, a call for action, and a stimulus to thought regarding humanity's relationship with the animals with whom we share our planet. We support worldwide efforts to ensure humane treatment of animals, develop our understanding of their nature, promote their survival, and protect and restore the environment.

It turns out that the site is run by the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I was really dissapointed to discover that a reference material I always trusted is actually using its influence to peddle this kind of crap. It's like crack for non-thinkers and haters-of-mankind. Just a little shot makes them feel worthwhile and all-powerful all day and they need hit after hit as they slowly realize that this philosophy should mean that they either need to go back to living like cavemen or just leave this mortal coil altogether.

So before you visit the Encylopedia Brittanica or purchase any material from the company, be aware that they'll use some part of that money against you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Homeschooling Carnival

At Nerd Family

Scholastic Warehouse Sales

Scholastic is a publisher and distributor of childrens books. When you see a book fair, it's generally put on by Scholastic. Homeschooling families can qualify to go to their warehouse sales where all of the books are 1/2 off! One is coming May 10th through 23rd, 2008. Check here for your state.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hosting a Course for Homeschoolers

This year my husband and I decided to host a homeschool course on astronomy. We have it at our house every Wednesday and listed it with a Yahoo homeschool support group, a general homeschool support group, and our local classical education group. We offered the course for free on Wednesday evenings. The format of the course is an hour of presentation time and an hour of observation time (which had lengthened considerably from the advertised one hour total). The response was fabulous. The follow-through was not so fabulous. Here's a summary of our experience to date and some details of what I would do, or what I feel it is important to understand, for a second go-round.

My husband has been an amateur astronomer since his own high school years. It's a hobby that he's come back to time and time again. I had once bought a telescope for my father and quickly realized that astronomy was not as easy as 'point it somewhere and see what's out there.' There are certain terms and knowledge that are much easier to learn in person than through a book or trial and error. I thought that there were probably a bunch of homeschoolers who had purchased telescopes only to figure out, as I did, that it wasn't particularly easy. When I asked him if he would be willing, he jumped at the chance. He started planning the course before I even had a chance to ask if anyone was interested.

We decided that the best bet was a weekly class beginning in winter. Winter is a wonderful time for astronomical observations due to the clear, low-humidity sky and the early sunset. January was also a good time to start something new, like a new semester time. We knew that the course would have to be timed for hubby to get home from work and so that the observation time would be in the dark. The start time necessarily moves later and later with sunset and daylight savings time. With the class being very late, homeschoolers would be most likely to be able to attend given that they can sleep late if necessary. Since hubby was making the course up from scratch, he got to decide on the scope of the course (all of the universe), the type of presentation (detailed overview), the order in which to impart information (since it is a general information course, he presented information about Earth, then the Moon, then the Earth-Moon-Sun system, then the other planets of the solar system), the presentation style (power point slides with people seated around our home computer monitor), and the length of the class (this was actually defined by the scope and the method of presentation).

I had anticipated a decent drop-out rate. I made the assumption that a few homeschoolers would jump at the opportunity and not fully understand the effect on their schedule. Homeschoolers are usually able to determine that something is or is not working for them and adjust it. Flexibility is a big reason to homeschool but that type of behavior can be frustrating for those trying to offer a service. In only our first month, we had a number of people miss the class because of other commitments or come fairly late. After one particularly bad week, we had to really clarify whether some of the people coming were actually willing to commit to the class. After the first two months we settled down to a regular attendance of seven kids along with my own oldest. It was unfortunate because we had a waiting list and we had been willing to host as many as 12 children. If we had known sooner the true interest of many of the families, we could have invited kids from the waiting list. Most of the kids seemed interested. Some of the kids who did leave after the first month did not show much interest anyway.

As it stands now, the kids who are attending have wonderfully thoughtful parents who arrive on time and take a serious interest in the topic as well. I think the class is now composed of homeschool kids AND their parents! Many of the attendees do additional work on their own and bring it to share. Hubby has been very impressed with the level of interest and how well the class seems to work with a large variation in age (7 through 14 year-olds). Some of the parents have been teaching some lessons to their kids about sitting patiently and contributing constructively.

Overall I would say it was a very positive experience for us. Hubby definitely offended at least one person after stating that her level of commitment (missing four classes in a row) would inhibit her children's understanding of the class too much. Everyone else we met has been very positive, even when the scheduling did not work out for one reason or another. Science seems to be the type of coursework that could really use some hands-on help in the homeschooling community. There just aren't that many homeschooling moms who have the background to present it on their own. There are a number of curricula that I haven't looked at and there are math and science-type moms out there, but I definitely perceive a lack of science related coursework, even in co-ops. Hubby and I both have some ideas for more classes.

Lessons we could take away from this would include:
  • Preparation of the course a few weeks in advance and having a detailed outline was invaluable. If asked a question, hubby could say that he'd be talking about that in a few weeks because he knew what and when he was going to cover. As a corollary, he could discuss it fully at the time if he knew it wasn't going to be covered.
  • Prepare for what you'll be covering in that class in advance. Account for all of your material and have it on hand and enough of it. Hubby reviews his presentations the evening before, checks the weather, decides what objects he'll be observing, and takes out the telescope before the kids arrive.
  • In cases of inclement weather, have some activities planned. There were some 'labs' that we felt would be beneficial to the presentations, but decided to save them for evenings that were cloudy.
  • Be sensitive about bad weather. We were hosting at home and it's easy to forget that others have to travel further and may not have the same level of risk tolerance as someone who is used to driving in blizzards to get to work everyday.
  • Ask for some money. I wanted to offer the course for free and we did. We also found that when people didn't have to commit to it with money, they were less likely to commit to it with time and respect. If your goal is to make a business doing this, then perhaps check out what similar activities cost. I've seen extra-curriculur classes (like sewing) for $10 per class per kid. That would be about $43 a month for a weeky class of an hour for each child. Decide if you'll have people pay by class, by month, or for an entire session.
  • This is a great way to meet other parents and other homeschooled kids.
  • This is not a great way for your kids to make friends. We did not start this course with friendship in mind. It is a structured course with little free time and the kids and parents are there for the class. Kids make friends when they get a chance to play together. If you want friendships for your kids, this would introduce you to other homeschooled kids and they would have something in common, so you could try to arrange a play date. Actually, it turns out the kids have a great time playing together while they're waiting for their turn to look through the telescope and both of my daughters consider kids from the class their friends. I don't know if the sentiment is returned. I guess we'll find out at the end of the class.
  • Announce the class with a set schedule. If it is interesting enough, people will make it anyway. In this area there are so many different activities each family may be involved with that we could have gone crazy finding the optimum time. If you really want specific people to come, hammer out some detail with a smaller subgroup, then do a general announcement.
  • Belonging to some groups really helped get the word out.
  • The course could be weekly, every two weeks, or monthly. We chose weekly because we felt we could support it (wasn't a big hardship for us) and the amount of material would take too long to cover any other way.
  • Make clear what type of class you're running. I made sure to point out that this would be a lecture class with additional time outside in the cold weather to look through the telescope.
  • As part of your announcement, explain how long you feel the course will last. We knew that we were going to run from January through May, at least.
  • Decide whether or not you will have room for the parents and let them know if they can stay, if they should drop off, and whether they can sit with their kids. It turns out that every parent we have prefers to take the class with their kids. I don't know if that is so they can keep an eye on them (make sure they know how to behave in a group classroom situation), know what they're learning so they can discuss it later, don't have to make small talk with other parents (a big chore for 2 1/2 hours), or because they find the information so compelling they really want to know too. We had enough kids drop out made it possible for kids and parents to take the class together. The parents seem to enjoy it.
  • Have a talk with your own child about the type of behavior you expect from them. My daughter felt that because it was held at our house, she could come and go from the class as she pleased or playfully tease daddy like she normally would. We had to explain that this was a class we expected her to attend and that her side comments were distracting and could be misconstrued by others attending.
  • If you're holding a class after hours and it's science related, expect a lot of dads to attend! We love our dads (and moms too, of course). I just find it fun that the dads are into the class and the moms are getting a break. The moms who attend are really into it as well (and may be getting a break from even smaller ones at home).
  • Weekly classes in your home require housework (at least a clean bathroom, uncluttered presentation area, clear path to move in more chairs, a location for coats, and a kitchen that inspires confidence that people won't need to be treated for food poisoning if they eat something cooked in it). I have actually found this to be particularly beneficial for me because I can now host people at my house when usually I would ignore it long enough to become a complete disaster. I find the motivation to have it presentable each week has had a positive outcome on my desire to keep it decent daily.
  • The kids will happily eat all of the food you prepare. The parents almost never partake. I haven't figured this one out yet. I don't know if they don't eat because they're worried about putting me out (already made the food, you know), don't want to gain weight (certainly a possibility), don't think they'll like the food (I thought I was the only picky one), or want to leave as quickly as possible (most likely explanation). That brings up a whole other post topic about how boring entertaining is in our health-conscious, drunk-driving-sensitive time.
  • Having a four-week old to take care of when starting a new course makes it extra difficult to prepare snacks!

An Early Lesson in Justice

After my daughter's ballroom dancing competition in January (did I forget to mention that? She was so cute), we had a bit of an issue. My girl dances with the youngest of three boys. We got a phone call from the boy's mother stating he didn't want to dance anymore, perhaps she would be interested in dancing with this other boy who's looking for a new partner? My sweet daughter was devestated. She was convinced she didn't want to dance again. We accidently found out the mother lied. Her oldest son wanted a new partner. She decided to take his current partner and pair her with the middle son and now the middle son's partner was going to be with the youngest son. Of course, I understand her competitive nature and the girl that is now paired with the youngest boy is a close family friend, but the lying is digusting. A grown woman who couldn't face up to the consequences of her own actions.

My daughter was confused, needlessly upset twice and wondering why an adult would lie. My daughter was trying to understand it by making excuses for the mother. I had to explain that, unlike children, once you know that an adult is willing to lie, they are liars. They lie and lie again. I explained that the mother didn't want to admit that she really wanted someone else for her son's dance partner. I told her it was wrong and that the mother behaved very poorly and that my daughter was right to be angry.

It turns out that her new partner (who we learned about from the lying mother in an attempt to redeem herself while lying to us) is great. The whole new group is more friendly and she gets on well with all of them. It turns out that the dance instructor wants the original three brothers and our new group to perform a show together. The new partner's mom was really nice. She asked whether I felt we could interact with the other family, knowing that things ended badly. I told her that it was the other mother who should be ashamed and that I certainly wanted to participate in what I think will be a great opportunity for the kids. When I told my daughter about the arrangement (we need to practice with the old group), she was quite concerned about seeing that family again. I told her that I understood her reluctance but that we had to remember that we did nothing wrong and it was the other mother who should be ashamed. We wouldn't let her bad behavior keep us from doing something fun.

We had our first practice. I was wondering even how I would handle seeing her. I am not usually one to hold a grudge. I have had people behave badly to me before, but I tend to brush it off and not let it change how I act. I've always felt it was way too much energy on my part and too inconvenient to me to really take those types of things seriously. However, I believe that this is the first time I met someone whose bad behavior wasn't just a mistake--that it was deliberate and escapist. It was also the first time someone's bad behavior hurt a, my, child. I expected that the lying mother would want to pretend like nothing had happened and that is exactly what happened. I couldn't pretend along with her. I ignored her.

Afterward, my girl was incredulous that the mother "said 'Hi' like nothing happened." I explained to her that the mother wants to pretend that nothing happened so that she could not feel guilty. I told my daughter that she didn't have to pretend at all and if she was upset, she didn't have to talk to that mom ever again. My daughter was concerned that it would be rude (we're big on manners). I stated my view that manners are great for people you haven't met yet and people who are nice to you. However, once an adult proves themselves to be a liar or bad in any other way, that it was perfectly OK to not talk to them, even if they talk right to you. I told my daughter that she did not need to help this woman try to pretend that what happened wasn't wrong.

I am glad that we're going to continue with this show even though it initially stressed my daughter out. I want her to know that life continues after bad experiences and that she is confident enough to know that what the other person did was wrong and that she doesn't have to be burdened because they want to pretend nothing happened. I am also glad that my daughter now knows that not all adults are trustworthy (it's an idea that we've discussed before, but this was a particularly concrete example that she'll never forget). My daughter now understands that we can give strangers the benefit of the doubt, but once an adult shows their true colors, we need to understand that, for good or bad, that is the type of person that they are and they should be treated accordingly. They chose their own path in life and if they've chosen badly, it's not our job to help them pretend like they didn't.


I must admit it. I've already been acting this way and now, with some introspection, I understand why. What does it mean to accept it?

I've been acting, for at least a while now, like I want my philosophy handed to me on a silver platter. How should one raise children? What kind of education is appropriate? I sit on the edge of my seat waiting for the next The Objective Standard (of which I really only read the science and education articles). I enjoy listening to my hubby and our friend who comes to discuss philosophy on Thursday nights, but don't contribute anything worthwhile. I'm useless in applying philosophy and don't grasp subtleties or some of the underlying issues and contexts. I love when others do the work and, if I've found their reasoning convincing or I've come to expect good thinking processes from them in the past, I'm more than happy to accept their conclusions in applying the philosophy. If it disagrees with some opinion I've already formed, I'm letting the existing opinion stay in place without doing the necessary work to see why there's a difference.

It is not an optimal way to live. Why is it that I'm willing to accept others' conclusions now? Why is it I'm hoping to see more and more in applied philosophy in the areas I'm interested in? How can I continue to think something that others have reasoned would be incorrect? In thinking about it, I've discovered why I'm being so divorced from the derivations myself. I haven't read original Rand writings in a while. I never did finish Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. As it stands right now, I won't for a while.

The reason I have lost my focus on philosophy recently is: I'm too tired, lazy, busy, and I've yet to recover brainpower after child-birth (a little thing known as "mommy-brain"). I feel really tired trying to think hard right now. I don't seem to have enough time to sort things out, mentally. My concentration is shot. Priority-wise, it seems that the minutiae of everyday living has taken over.

Can I live with this? Should I live with this? Do I need to live with this? My current answer is yes. I need to clean, do laundry, teach the kids, feed the baby, feed the family, get my kids a social life, and have a hobby that I can touch and feel something real as a product. I cannot be an intellectual (someone whose main career is producing philosophical thought and writing) because I haven't gone to school for philosophy. Ayn Rand certainly recognized that not every person is a great thinker, or is even capable of it. I am, currently, going with the flow. I can live with this for now. After I feel that I've got the business of every day living to a point where I've got a decent amount of free time and a whole lot less stress, I'll re-evaluate.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Questionable Humor

From questions, of course. When I was first introduced to Objectivism by my now hubby almost 11 years ago, I did a lot of internet searching for Ayn Rand. One of the websites I encountered was an 'artificial intelligence' experiment. Students could submit questions and the 'artificial intelligences' would answer. One of the characters was Ayn Rand. I found the whole thing pretty funny, but I was not a fully immersed Objectivist. I wonder if anyone else might enjoy it, or enjoy excoriating it. It's also got quite a bit of flashback potential.

When searching for it for this post, it turns out it's defunct going on 7 years. I found it, however, courtesy of the Wayback machine (which of course always reminds me of Rocky and Bullwinkle).

Here is a simulated dialog:

Ayn Rand,I believe that the 'callcc' function in the SML/NJcontinuations package is incompatible with Reason. This isbecause it uses currying as opposed to a tuple, whichMinML's 'letcc' uses instead. Tuples are better becausethey more closely resemble fine-grade railroad steel. Yourthoughts?


[ simulated persona = "The Cube", node #116, max search depth 13%, neural variance 28.524 ]
While you are bouncy, darling, you are not actually a weasel.

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #16, max search depth 38%, neural
variance 13.350 ]

Stop wanking off with functional programming languages, and get a job in the steel industry already. By using SML you deny reason.

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #50, max search depth 25%, neural
variance 8.850 ]

Excuse me, but what is wrong with SML/NJ?

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #207, max search depth 11%, neural variance 16.820 ]
It is immoral.

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #115, max search depth 40%, neural
variance 9.999 ]

How so?

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #21, max search depth 64%, neural variance 8.268 ]
It denies "A is A".

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #143, max search depth 28%, neural variance 7.415 ]
Show me.

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #15, max search depth 28%, neural variance 0.392 ]
Standard ML of New Jersey, Version 110.0.3, January 30, 1998 [CM; autoload enabled]
- A = A;
stdIn:17.5 Error: unbound variable or constructor: A
stdIn:17.1 Error: unbound variable or constructor: A-

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #208, max search depth 44%, neural variance 27.960 ]
You have to define A first.

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #21, max search depth 9%, neural variance 17.501 ]
I do not have to do any such thing! Criminal!

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #37, max search depth 16%, neural variance 3.423 ]

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #76, max search depth 62%, neural variance 7.779 ]
The only programming language that follows the principles of Objectivism is Mathematica.

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #211, max search depth 8%, neural variance 27.159 ]
Oh please.

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #17, max search depth 31%, neural variance 15.470 ]
$ math
Mathematica 5.0 for Linux
Copyright 1988-2003 Wolfram Research, Inc.
-- Motif graphics
initialized -- In[1]:= a === aOut[1]= True

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #96, max search depth 14%, neural variance 27.456 ]
I rest my case.

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #8, max search depth 2%, neural variance 9.865 ]
So, this property "a = a" is supposed to hold for whatever "a" I happen to come accross?

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #248, max search depth 61%, neural variance 28.689 ]

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #248, max search depth 36%, neural
variance 5.530 ]

No exceptions?

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #124, max search depth 23%, neural variance 12.319 ]
No exceptions. Stop denying reason already.

[ simulated persona = "Dr. Andrej Bauer", node #153, max search depth 62%, neural variance 24.497

$ math
Mathematica 3.0 for Linux Copyright 1988-97 Wolfram esearch, Inc.
-- Motif graphics initialized -- In[1]:= a := Module[{a},
a]In[2]:= a === aOut[2]= False

[ simulated persona = "Ayn Rand", node #13, max search depth 14%, neural variance 15.229 ]
I decry your immoral 20th century mathematics.

As a warning: this is a bunch of college students dicking around and it is very much likely to offend in it's misapplications and insults (Ayn Rand is fodder for "humor" as well as any other number of celebrities and philosophers). Warning Will Robinson--Danger! This is probably the least tasteless.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Discussion of Restrictions of Free Speech

Noodlefood is trying to understand some restrictions Ayn Rand would put on displays of pornography and where that fits with the rest of the philosophy. It is an interesing discussion to me because I think it relates to concerns I have about child-rearing and protection if we were to have an Objectivist legal system. I am concerned that many Objectivists feel that the standard for intervention for protection of children appears to be at the point of the child's death. I wonder if that drops the context of the child's fledgling rights and that the government, though hand-cuffed considerably, should have more obligation to protect those nascent rights than most Objectivists would ascribe to it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I've Received the Summons

Jury Duty. Dreaded words.

Actually it's not so bad. This is the second time I've been asked to show up since moving to Connecticut ten years ago. I got a letter from New Jersey when I was in college but couldn't make it because it was during the school year. My biggest concern is the children. It is likely that I wouldn't be picked to serve on a jury anyway (I'm betting that most people get dismissed), but if I were picked, I'd really be up a creek without a paddle. I don't think my husband could really justify taking vacation days to care for the children and I don't have relatives nearby. They do not give an option on the form for an exemption because of children. Yes, I do believe that primary care-givers (women or men) who want one should have an exemption because of having children if those children are under twelve and not already in care. My date is something like May 12th.

Homeschooling Philosophy

This is related to what people usually think of as 'homeschooling philosophy.' A question like "What is your homeschooling philosophy?" would automatically bring to mind whether you're an unschooler, a Montessorian, a classical educator, or a child-centered (as opposed to hands-off unschooling) homeschooling family. Those methods are most likely how you are trying to accomplish your goal, but may not actually be your true goal, just how you're trying to get there (pedagogy versus goal). The philosophy I'm talking about may be different (though the method could very well lead to certain goals that you may or may not have anticipated).

What is it that you really want for your children? What is so important that you've decided that you need more control over your child's schooling? Those questions should help you answer "What is the primary purpose of education?"

I've been listening to Philosophy of Education, by Leonard Peikoff. He touches on this point in his introduction. It is fascinating to hear the different end-products and how that would drive pedagogy (how to teach). It makes sense that your ultimate goal for how you want your child to be as an adult will drive how you teach them. As an example, if you're primary goal is a child that is a creative being, you will allow them to do pretty much whatever they want whenever they want because you wouldn't want a lot of structure to dissuade them from doing whatever might strike their fancy. If they happen to pick up a lot of information on the way, that's fine but what you're really after is the creative part. If your ultimate goal is knowledge, then you pretty much just want them to read, read, read, listen, read, memorize, read, cram, cram, cram. If that child also learns some other stuff on the way, no problem, but your goal is to 'stuff them full of facts,' as stated by Peikoff. Another ultimate goal often put forth by education (and this is one of John Dewey's primaries so this is generally what the public school is trying to do) is socialization. Everything else that may come from going to school (like information or thinking skills) is secondary to getting kids to work together and, indeed, to rely on the group for everything. The kid may learn how to read but what is most important is making them feel impotent without others doing the same thing. Thinking skills are a recent bailiwick of current (the last 60 years or so) educational thought as well. Thinking skills, according to this idea, are more primary than anything else--including information. If a child struggles with blocks long enough they will develop the thinking skills needed to add numbers together. Their interest does not include facts or creativity, but if those come along, well, it's not the end of the world.

The stand in Philosophy of Education, by Leonard Peikoff is that the primary purpose of education is to teach knowledge and thinking skills together--it does not have to be a dichotomy of one or the other. The other goals listed above (socialization, creativity, and there is also individuality) can be included as nice side effects of a good education, but the PRIMARY goal of education should be to teach knowledge and thinking skills. These ideas are not independent because in learning facts in the proper order one can see how human knowledge progressed and thus understand the thinking that occurred to get us from point A to point B. Once students have seen good thinking demonstrated, they learn good thinking themselves.

Look at how your children are currently learning. What is it that they are doing? What traits and understanding do they take away from their education being structured in such a way? Does that type of environment mate with what you believe is the ultimate goal of your homeschooling journey?

Are they flitting from activity to activity with each whim that happens to suit their fancy at the moment? Are they becoming encyclopedias that can recite facts but don't understand how human kind got that information? Are they spending a lot of time discovering that red and blue make purple when it is something that should only take two minutes to be taught and demonstrated?

This is the homeschooling philosophy that I'm thinking about this week.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Chemistry Blast...

...From the past, that is.

Hubby gets to help his oldest daughter from his previous marriage with school work occasionally. Her most recent bump in the academic road has been chemistry in eighth grade. Her class is going over Lewis diagrams (also known as electron dot diagrams) and how bonds are formed. This was really hard to help with!

I found it just the kind of puzzle that I love. I know that with enough work we could find the answers and in going through some examples I saw some of the assumptions that she was making that were leading to wrong answers and I got a chance to learn something new myself.

Quick summary: as you recall, an atom has a number of protons (positive in charge) as indicated by the atomic number. A neutral atom has an equal number of electrons (negative in charge) as protons. The electrons orbit the nucleus in shells. The first shell is considered full with two electrons. The second shell is considered full with eight electrons. More electrons move into shells further and further out and the numbers of electrons that settle in the further out shells can vary, but if there are usually still eight in the outermost shell. Once a shell is full it is off the combination market (in our simplistic view) and is a stable atom. The periodic table is arranged so that most of the elements in a single column have the same number of valence electrons in the outer shell. The last column of the periodic table (the one that contains Helium, Neon, Krypton) is known as the Noble Gases because they are very stable--because of their full outer shell.

Electron dot diagrams are made by looking at the number of electrons that are available for bonding in the outermost shell of an atom. These diagrams can help you see how many electrons are left in the outer shell (the valence electrons). Let's remember that atoms are more stable with full outer shells. So atoms with outer shells that have less than eight electrons (or less than two in the case of helium) have space and are more stable by combining (bonding) with other atoms.

There are two types of bonds that we were learning about. Atoms can get stable, or full, outer shells by either taking an electron from another atom (ionic bonds) or by sharing pairs of electrons (covalent bonds). Ionic bonds occur when each atom will have a full outer shell because of giving the available electrons away. If an atom loses an electron to the other atom it is bonding with, it will have more protons (positive) than electrons (negative) and will develop a positive charge (a charged atom is called an ion--hence the name of the 'ionic' bond). If the atoms do not have the proper number of valence electrons that would lead to giving up the electrons, then both (or all) of the atoms need to use electrons simultaneously to have full shells: the covalent bond.
As an example, lets take one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms (methane molecule). We know hydrogen has an atomic number of one, which mean one proton and, thus, a neutral atom will also have one electron. The electron dot diagram will have the element symbol (from the periodic chart) with the number of outer shell dots shown around it: H . (imagine that period a little higher, please). Thus we know the element and the number of valence electrons available. It is important to remember for hydrogen and helium that a full outer shell will only need TWO electrons. All other elements will need eight. Next we need to look up carbon. Carbon has an atomic number of 6; six protons and six electrons. The first two electron fill up our inner most shell (which only needs two to be full).

The last four are then in the outer shell just waiting for some company. So the electron dot diagram for carbon will have a C with four dots around it (as shown below). The electron dot diagram is also used to show the molecule bonds.

Here they are with just the dots. You'll note that each hydrogen now has two dots, representing electrons, next to it, indicating a full outer shell. The carbon atom now has eight dots around it(four shared with the four hydrogens) and now has a full outer shell. Everyone is stable and happy.

Some color coding and another representation using Xs to indicate which electrons come from the hydrogen.

The with the electron dot diagram it becomes much easier to see which atoms have shells to fill, which kinds of bonds are made, and how many bonds form between the atoms.

Which reminds me of a joke. An ion walks into a bar and looks really sad. The bartender says, "Hey, why are you so upset?" The ion sadly says, "I lost an electron." The bartender asks, "Are you sure?" and the ion answers, "I'm positive." Which is just a joke I love! If you're lucky you'll never hear me tell the one about the piece of string who walks into a bar.

For All You Math Geeks, or Those Who Love Geeks

Please, please, please watch this!

Found at Kitchen Table Math, the Sequel

Saturday, April 05, 2008

This I Just Don't Understand

Beatie legally became a man after undergoing a sex change operation - but
kept her female reproductive organs.

This is a quote about the 'pregnant man.' The story it just fine. It is the entire content of the above sentence. Exactly what would you call a 'sex change' operation if the female reproductive organs are kept?? What about that indicates a change in sex?

ADDED: Who's going to find the men's maternity clothes.

Lego Goes Vintage

Famous photos restaged for the Lego fanatic! It's not just Barbie and Ken kids and get to pretend to kiss.

Doing Too Much is Not a Good Thing

Apparently they've backed it up with studies of some sort (someone who's more study and statistic saavy and tell me about validity). Very interesting!

via Kitchen Table Math, the Sequel

Massachussetts Leads the Way in Mandated Medicine

And guess what--the more intervention, the less it works:

The share who accept new patients has dropped, to barely half in the case of internists, and the average wait by a new patient for an appointment with an internist rose to 52 days in 2007 from 33 days in 2006. In westernmost Berkshire County, newly insured patients are being referred 25 miles away, said Charles E. Joffe-Halpern, director of an agency that enrolls the uninsured.

Shockingly (read with sarcasm), they're going to fix what they've broken by intervening more. It's like a broken record. They've mandated health plans for everyone as their universal coverage--the same plan Clinton wants foisted on the rest of the nation if she were elected.

On Being Stuck in an Objectivist-Free Zone

How lucky am I that I've discovered a few other Objectivists in my area? I'm pretty lucky! Now, being an hour and a half north of New York City and the thriving Objectivist community there (hi, Bob!), you'd think I wouldn't feel isolated--only I'm a chicken (I realize I say that about myself a lot) about driving/traveling into the city. The Big City. The Biggest City in the World. Yup--it's big. And crowded. And has a transportation system that is much more complicated than the car in my driveway. At any rate, big city life just isn't my bag, baby.

I got to visit with a family that my daughter met through her History at Our House program. Yes--I'm talking about that again too. Turns out we're the only ones in the northeast (that I know of) and we actually took a trek to have a visit yesterday. It was a long day with the baby in tow, but our hosts were very accommodating and welcoming and the girls all played really well together. Thanks for having us!

It's kind of funny, but whenever I meet another Objectivist, why is it that I feel like I need to lay out all of my major conclusions and most of the minor ones so that they can 'approve' of me before I sully their house with my own half-formed and continuously in progress integrations? You'd think there would be a little more room for trying to recognize differences of well-derived application in a philosophy that has so little applied theory to work from. Just my two cents.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

John Stossel Archive

John Stossel has a regular column at Real Clear Politics. This is great because his TV specials were too few for me. He's touched on some interesting topics, like homeschooling and underage sex.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cool OBlogger Widget

After visitin One Reality and 3 Ring Binder, I see a really cool feed widget. It's awesome! I wonder if there are still instructions available to add it or if the boat has sailed past me in my post-baby downtime.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Copyright and Cost

So many book publishers have been concerned about reducing the protection of copyright on their books. When the copy machines first came out there was a great deal of worry about people copying books and not buying from the publisher. Jerry Pournelle (a Sci-Fi author with libertarian leanings) is thinking that writing as a lucrative career is getting tough (via Instapundit).

I find it interesting (and depressing) that I spent $15 on a 300 page softcover book from Barnes and Noble. I almost never buy my books in a bookstore, if I buy them new at all. I tend to use Amazon for the large selection and additional information (reviews and such) for purchasing new and frequent library fundraising sales and use Paperback Swap a great deal for used books, and also enjoy electronic copies of books no longer bound by copyright protection (or released with a limited protection), which I download from the internet.

Library fundraising sales sell books the library is clearing out of their system (usually old books) and resell books donated by private individuals. Paperback Swap is a website for people to trade their books. You list books you no longer want in the system and if someone wants it, you mail it to them. For sending out that book you can select someone else's book to receive in return.

You'll notice that most of the books that I aquire with copyright protection I'm either not buying them at all or paying a small fee to a third party that will not forward any proceeds to the publisher. I am gaining the product of the book without the author receiving any royalties whatsoever.

How should that play with a philosophy that holds property rights and the protection of intellectual property dear?

I believe that the library system (based on improper premises though it is) may be the answer. It seems that libraries pay a premium for material. Subscriptions are more costly than for the layperson because, built into that subscription pricing, the assumption is that many people will be enjoying that newspaper or magazine and thus not ordering for themselves. It may be that publishers can take trading and reselling into account in the initial price of the book (limiting what a new owner of a book can do with it is possible, though unlikely to be effective). Another possibility is one that has lead a science fiction publisher to make limited texts available. From the Baen Free Library Page:
Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.
It's certainly true that I can't find everything I want at these free or reduced price places and have discovered a number of new subjects and authors that I would not have been willing to pay full price to read.