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Wednesday, January 1st, 2025
7:42 am - Thoughts on education
I've been on lj over 12 years now, and I've had lots of thoughts on education [also, I was posting stuff on marypat.org in longer form from 1996 - 2002; I've also written a lot at the Actuarial Outpost on this subject]

So this post is simply to amass posts as I find them, and categorize them. I am defining "education" very broadly here. I may be linking to some friends-locked posts, and will note that when I link. Some of these posts may need to be moved around for better organization.

12 Days of LearningCollapse )

My thoughts for starting schools, business related to educationCollapse )

Responses to Charles MurrayCollapse )

Gifted education/IQ stuffCollapse )

Math educationCollapse )

Online educationCollapse )

Females and math and scienceCollapse )

Actuarial educationCollapse )

UncategorizedCollapse )

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Tuesday, July 25th, 2017
5:11 pm - Aggressive Squirrels are No Joke
Har de har har, an aggressive squirrel in Brooklyn:

Residents in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, are on high alert for an tiny rodent terrorizing the neighborhood.

New York City Health Department warns locals that there is a potentially rabid squirrel on the loose that has attacked and bitten at least five people on separate occasions. Although squirrels rarely have rabies, officials urge those who have been bitten to seek medical treatment.

According to the New York Daily News, all the squirrel attacks occurred near the Parkside and Ocean Ave. entrance to the park. Four of the five bite victims have been identified, and authorities want the fifth person, bitten while jogging, to come forward to help catch this crazed creature.

One of the bite victims is 7-year-old Maria Guerrero. According to WABC7, Guerrero's family said the squirrel leaped into the air and sank its teeth into the child's arm, completely unprovoked. When Guerrero's dad tried to pry the animal from his daughter's arm, it relentlessly came back for more, attacking two more times before climbing up a nearby tree. WABC7 correspondent N. J. Burkett tweeted photos of Guerrero's bitten and bandaged arm following the attack.

If you go to the story, you can see pics of the girl who was attacked. No, the wounds aren't particularly bad, but have you had a full course of rabies shots? (I have... and so has Stu, Mo, Bon, and D (and he was 1 year old)).

I've long had an issue with squirrels:

Speaking of the pigeons, may I say those critters are mighty forward
around here. I got about three of them perching on my arm when they
decided I was not distributing the bread quickly enough. They'll grab the
bread right out of your hand. Pigeons don't scare me, though; Squirrels
scare me.

When I moved to Manhattan, a squirrel mugged me once, trying to take my chocolate milkshake out of my hands. It didn't get the milkshake... but I did get the damn shake all down my front when I dropped it in surprise. The squirrel ran away.

Squirrels have teeth and claws and can mess you up good. Also, the whole rabies thing.

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Saturday, July 22nd, 2017
3:42 pm - What Math Should Be Required in Community College
I could have gone with the incendiary "Is Algebra Racist?" title instead, which has been the preferred path in reacting to This NPR interview:

Say Goodbye To X+Y: Should Community Colleges Abolish Algebra?

Algebra is one of the biggest hurdles to getting a high school or college degree — particularly for students of color and first-generation undergrads.

It is also the single most failed course in community colleges across the country. So if you're not a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, math), why even study algebra?

That's the argument Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college system, made today in an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel.

At American community colleges, 60 percent of those enrolled are required to take at least one math course. Most — nearly 80 percent — never complete that requirement.

What are you proposing?

What we're proposing is to take an honest look at what our requirements are and why we even have them. So, for example, we have a number of courses of study and majors that do not require algebra. We want to take a look at other math pathways, look at the research that's been done across the country and consider math pathways that are actually relevant to the coursework that the student is pursuing.

At which point, one breaks in with this SMBC classic:

The red button comic provides the real punchline:

Now, I've had the unenviable crap adjunct teaching jobs where one teaches: college algebra, the whatever-the-math-mediocre-have-to-take-for-math-credit at NYU, GED level math, and intro probability/stats. NONE of these classes are for STEM majors, except possibly the prob/stats course which was a bit pre-med heavy.

I hated teaching those classes. Not because I hated the subject or even hated the students, but because the students often hated me. Well, not me, but the concept of academic math in general. They went through K-12 being at best fuzzy on the concepts or outright lost (and then bored and/or pissed off).

I did the best I could, and if this were my full-time job, I would do other things to get the students up to speed at this point. I wouldn't be the person setting standards. For one, I would put all the students on Khan Academy and see where they had holes in arithmetic (almost definitely in fractions and percentages, if not long division).

So I've had up-close-and-personal experience with this crap, and it is extremely depressing.

I did read the whole interview, and never saw what Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college system, recommended as the math requirement.

I have a very concrete recommendation: a personal finance course. It would, as a matter of course, cover such mathematical concepts as percentages, exponents, and the like. I would have the students work with spreadsheets (Google Sheets is free) and work on such thing as: learn how to compare loan terms, credit card transfers, mortgages, insurance rates (auto and homeowners/renters); how to budget; tax calculations (income, sales, etc.), simple accounting for a small business. Dealing with a bank account.

No, that's not abstract at all. No, it doesn't lead to STEM careers. But it does lead to getting a grasp on a really important part of people's lives.

I was talking with a retired colleague recently who volunteers with the local United Way, in a program that works one-on-one with low income people to help them get their finances in order. He has been getting more involved with a local college, and he told me that it wasn't just the low income people in the city that had this issue, but that the college students themselves never got this stuff together. It was he who gave me the idea as the real requirement should be personal finance.

I absolutely agree that algebra shouldn't be required for a community college degree. It's not that I think that level of abstraction is beyond community college students, but that you need to have something concrete to work with first. And money is extremely concrete for many people. Also, no, not everybody needs formal algebra.

Yes, it would be good to have a personal finance course in high school, but in high school finance is extremely abstract for many kids, because they're not responsible or eligible for the kinds of things involved in personal finance. I actually had a course like this in middle school, but it was like that exercise in taking around a hard-boiled egg pretending it was baby. None of it seemed all that real to me. I learned more finance from my first year in college and living on ramen noodles more than anything else.

I think requiring a personal finance course for graduation is an excellent idea.

Heck, I would even require personal finance for full bachelors degrees. You could "place out" by passing an exam on the item -- after all, to get my degree, I had to prove that I could swim (no, not joking... land grant state institutions sometimes end up with odd, but very practical, requirements). Why not requiring that one can navigate a mortgage refi?

ADDITIONAL: Since I am all about sharing info, if you're interested in learning personal finance yourself, here are some links (ALL FREE RESOURCES)

Personal Finance from Purdue

Personal Finance at Khan Academy

Personal Finance 101: Everything You Need to Know

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Sunday, July 16th, 2017
8:42 pm - I was gonna write something else...

....but then livejournal popped up "try our new post editor"

I'm game!


Ok, I like being able to HTML myself. Let's see what happens!

[UPDATE: it was ugly. I've fixed it.]

Why don't they look?

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FuTCmNkMSfs?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

[UPDATE 2: I've tried 3 times. I have no idea how to embed a youtube video.]

You're just gonna eat that sandwich a little bit... oooh, speaking of which: I Am David Brooks’ Friend With Only A High School Degree. I Have Never Seen A Sandwich and All I Know Is Fear.

Let me quote that:

  I have never summered at the Library of Congress. I have never eaten a primary source. I have never read Infinite Jest but my friend David Brooks says that is okay. In fact, he likes that. 

I think I will continue never reading Infinite Jest. I dunno about this editor.

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Monday, June 19th, 2017
10:53 pm - When did I get old?
There are loads of stories in here, but I will remember them for my own use when I mention that Stu brushed off the balance board for the Wii and dug up my backup copy of Wii Fit Plus today.

The backup Wii boxes I had bought on ebay a while back got brushed off, too. And we found that all the Miis living on the Wii were attempts at reproducing cartoon/video game characters. Some were more successful than others. The Pac-man, frankly, could use more work, but the Luigi was recognizable as were the Terence/Philip & Kenny characters.

So I tried to do the "easy" stuff on the Wii Fit.


I lasted all of 15 minutes, and I wasn't even doing the stuff that's supposed to be strenuous.

I mainly was doing some of the balance games to show D what the goals were. I remember D doing some of these a couple years back and doing really well on them, but you've got to get him oriented to the "normal" goals as opposed to the "make the game emit a funny sound" goal he has.

In any case, both my back and knees were aching after only a few minutes. I have a lot to work on.

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Friday, June 16th, 2017
12:33 pm - Dear Authors of Books: REALLY think before reading for your audiobook version
- You may know the word, the meaning of the word, and even some really cool subtleties about the use of that word.... but not have any clue how to pronounce it

- This is especially true if you're sucking in phrases and names from other languages. It's okay to do an American or British (or whatever) version of pronunciation, but it needs to be within spitting range of what the word originally was

- Yes, I noticed the pause right before you attempted the word you did not know well in speaking terms. It highlighted your ignorance

- You may have a lovely vocal tone, you may have all sorts of people who remark: "wow, you have a beautiful speaking voice!", but you may have accent issues that will annoy listeners

- Holy shit, some of you do not know how to properly pace a sentence when reading it aloud

Those are semi-random thoughts, but the main issue is that spoken word and written word differ.

Some authors, like Neil Gaiman, Davis Sedaris, and Sarah Vowell, have had lots of experience with radio, book readings, etc. Some of them started with pieces performed out loud, as opposed to read individually by their audiences. Them reading their own books for audiobooks is just fine for many things, and I picked those three people specifically because they have very distinctive voices. Some of the stuff they write works best in their own voice. In Sedaris's case, he pretty much has to be the reader for all his own books.

But many things do not require the author's own voice -- even when it's their own memoirs.

Accent is not actually the problem - it's that reading written words is very unnatural, and if you wrote your book to be read in one's head, which involves a certain kind of crafting, you did not necessarily structure your work to be read aloud by anybody.

Good reading for audiobooks is a skill, and some people are definitely better at it than others. But the other thing to think about is that it's =work=. FFS, you don't even put in the couple of seconds it takes to look up how to pronounce a word (and there is an entire YouTube channel of word pronunciations - and there are multiples of this), but in some cases I can tell the person didn't even know they needed to look up the pronunciation of something.

Professional readers do have to do this, and write this stuff out. They may have large vocabularies, but it's really knowing what they do know and knowing what they don't.

But more than that, they know how to get the most out of a text for somebody who is listening, and often a person who is doing something else while listening (specifically: driving).

It's not only an insult to the audience when you do your half-assed attempt at reading your book for an audiobook, but you're also often making your text look bad. I haven't named any specific audiobooks above, but there was one audiobook where I was really interested in the topic, and the audiobook version was so awful, I was hesitant to pick up the original text. I came across it in the library and took a look -- the text was just fine. The audiobook was hideous.

Because the dumbass author thought it was smart to be the reader for the audiobook. It wasn't.

While I doubt any author doing that dumbass thing will be reading this post (or if they do, that they care about my opinion), but I will say I consume lots of audiobooks on my commute. Really, really long audiobooks. My sweet spot is about 30 hours or so -- because that's about 2 weeks of commute for me. I noticed when I go to the truck stop I usually gas up at, they've got a lot of audiobooks on display near the counter. I wouldn't be surprised if long haul truckers & people with superlong commutes like me are the biggest consumers of audiobooks. So keep that in mind.

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Tuesday, June 13th, 2017
10:39 pm - Living vicariously
I love seeing the pics of people's vacations. Of the cool meals they're eating. Of the nifty new hobby they're doing.

There's a lot of things I can't do much more than watch.

Ahem. That's not exactly what I mean....

Anyway, I really do like to see whatever awesome things y'all are up to. Or maybe you don't think it's all that awesome, but it's just quiet enjoyment of whatever. Enjoy your stuff! Share your enjoyment! I want to see pics of your new gel wraps! Got a cool new shirt? Yeah, I'll look at that, too!

Cute otter animated gif? OH YOU BET! GIMME GIMME GIMME

I'm just saying that I'm fine with having to enjoy certain things through other people's eyes.

I have been having a difficult time lately, and I would be very happy to see other people being happy.

Or otters being happy.

I'm not picky.

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Thursday, May 25th, 2017
4:13 pm - Laughing at Bad Movies
Amazingly, this isn't about MST3K, though it's MST3K that got me thinking about this. (And you should really check out the new season on Netflix)

What got me thinking was a couple of the movies they riffed this new season, in particular: Cry Wilderness

It's such an incredibly goofy movie, even without the riffing, I was laughing my ass off.

And it reminded me of two times I just lost it because the movies were so bad, incredibad you might say, and I found them extremely hilarious.

Once was going to see Casper (as in the friendly ghost) when I was in college. I have no remembrance of how I was talked into going to see this, but I do remember having tears streaming down my face in laughter because it was unbelievably stupid. (6.0/10 on imdb?! Yeah, they do have grade inflation there.)

But the one that was extremely funny was a bad movie I never intended to see in the first place: Mannequin 2: Mannequin on the Move. (4.1/10? Yeah, that's more like it)

You see, I really intended to go see Dances with Wolves, which was the big hit right then. But I was at a boarding high school with limited transportation options, and I convinced my RA Marlene to take me and a friend, and she would pick us up when the movie was over. Well, this was at a theater that played only one movie at once. This was in the days before the Web (and I don't think we had Moviefone in Durham then) so I was going by the listing in the newspaper or something.

I don't remember the logistics, but I do remember when I got to the box office, Dances with Wolves was gone. The Mannequin movie was there instead. Well, Marlene wasn't going to be back for a couple of hours, so I might as well watch what they had. Besides, I really liked the first Mannequin movie.


I realized pretty early on that I was not getting an amusing romantic comedy. It was a complete stinkburger, and within the first half I was laughing so hard that I was watching this idiotic movie instead of the good movie I wanted to watch (though, at my current age, I'd probably be laughing at Dances with Wolves, for entirely different reasons. Ah, too-earnest Kevin Costner movies.)

There is an inherent enjoyment in bad movies -- but they've got to be of a certain nature. A certain amount of earnestness/seriousness in the movie (doesn't mean that they don't try for comedy, but that they have some premise they're taking seriously), enough elements of interest and keeping the action moving, and actors who are committed to their stupid roles.

It also helps to throw in some outrageous accents and goofy costumes.

Not just any bad movies will do -- Ed Wood movies work, but Francis Coleman? No. Can't really laugh at that. And then there are the moviemakers who obviously have contempt for their audience, like whoever did Monster-a-Go-Go.

Bert I Gordon? Yup. Roger Corman? Oh yeah. Ed Wood? Goes without saying.

Hell, I even love Sandy Frank, though he mainly took other people's work and pasted it together.

But yeah, even without MST3K, there's a certain amount of fun in bad movies I just can't get enough of.

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Friday, May 19th, 2017
9:50 pm - Confessions of a Loud Sneezer
Yeah, I'm loud. I'm loud in many things.

But I'm an especially loud sneezer.

I may have tried to stifle a hiccup or a burp, with variable success, but when it comes to sneezing I just let loose.

I'm not sneezing right now, or I'd give audio (and possibly video) proof. Maybe I'll catch one of my sneezes in the wild at another time. I don't actually sneeze a lot... up here in Yankeeland. This is one of the reasons I stay up here. Sneezing season lasts less than a week for me. WOOT.

I like to use hankies, which I have lots of. I inherited some from my Pop Pop (my ma's dad), but when my last grandparent died this year (my dad's ma) I bought about 20 plain cotton hankies and brought them to the funeral with me (giving them to whoever needed them). Cotton hankies are great, and something something environmental something.

But just saying cotton hankies are a better conversational punctuation marker. If you can't poke a person with a cigarette, waving a hankie at them may do.

Also, you can use hankies to wipe finger marks off your tablet or phone. And make you look like a fogey at the same time. I'm just saying there's hipster value there.

If the hipsters also start sneezing loudly, I will not take the blame. The hipsters have all sorts of good ideas, like beards, and stupid ideas, like being assholes, and while sneezing loudly may be an asshole thing... wait, I'm not sure where I'm going with this.

I'm just saying that some of us fellow humans are very loud sneezers, we're unlikely to change, and you can do whatever you want about that.

I recommend giving them a hankie if they don't have one.

Because loud sneezes often accompany wide sprays if not controlled. And that's just nasty.

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Tuesday, May 16th, 2017
7:26 pm - I miss my dad
Last weekend was Mother's Day, which was not as mother-y as I'd like for a variety of reasons (mainly because I was having a really bad flare-up of my chronic pain situation).

But now that I'm on the "wrong" side of 40, I know an increasing number of people who have at least one parent, if not both parents, dead.

I'm semi-special person in that I entered that group when I was 16. My sisters were younger than that.

I'm now 43. You can do the math. I've been alive longer without my dad than with him. And I never knew him when I was an adult. But many aspects of him stick in my memory, and as I get older and am plagued with my less-than-stellar health, I can understand some of his behavior when I was a kid. For all I know, he had many of the pains I am suffering now, and in his case, his life-limiting behavior to alleviate his pain was his smoking. I have my own bad behavior that may be shortening my life to achieve some relief, so yeah I get it.

But man.

So much my dad would have enjoyed if he were still alive.

He introduced me to MST3K. I can imagine talking with him for hours over the new season (which I contributed to in the kickstarter) and whether Cry Wilderness or Carnival Magic was the most insane movie they ever covered.

My dad died before I went to college. Or grad school. But I can imagine discussing how far carbon nanotubes have gone since I was doing highly theoretical computer simulations of it, how much bullshit string theory is (a real memory: when I was about 12, my dad gave me his copy of Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach saying "This is really theoretical. You'll love it."), and revisiting his idea of deep ocean farming.

We'd be talking about the new dinosaur fossil find, on compressing pop lyrics, and who is doing better in the most recent Hackerrank coding contest.

I can imagine having dueling blogs where dad made fun of my love of opera, and I point out that his love of Camelot and the Rocky soundtrack was pretty much from the same source.

Anyway, my dad died too young. And I miss him.

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Monday, May 15th, 2017
2:31 pm - The Last Time
I was reading this review of a recent opera, partly because one of the people in the Met Opera fan group on facebook said this review made them cry.

And I got to this part:

We often hear fretting along the lines of “What if this were someone’s first Rosenkavalier?” or “What if this were someone’s first opera?” What is less often asked is “What if this were someone’s last?” Some of the people around me Saturday will not see another Rosenkavalier. Indeed, I may not; no one guarantees us any number of years. If I never saw any other opera, I would feel I went out on a high today. There is a long list of things in life that time erases and memory mocks. Great performances such as Saturday’s will never be on that list.

Part of what spawned this thought in the reviewer was that this was Renee Fleming's last Rosenkavalier, because she's decided that would be her last. Similarly, it was Elina Garanca's last time singing Octavian. In the case of Fleming, she is 58 years old, and she's stepping down while her voice is still very good. Garanca is moving on to a different set of roles, because her voice is changing as she ages (she's younger than me, fwiw).

But sometimes something was the last time, and you didn't know it at the time. I'm not talking about death here, though the reviewer was saying something along those lines. There can be reasons for a last time because something has changed that you didn't anticipate.

For example, I will never ride a rollercoaster again. Now, this is not a huge sacrifice for me. I enjoyed riding rollercoasters, but it wasn't like I was a thrill ride junkie. But after my neck troubles, and even a run-in with a relatively sedate ride at Epcot, I will no longer ride on anything that has a warning for people with back/neck problems. Indeed, I'll just probably stay off most rides. But I can't remember what the last time I was on a rollercoaster was.

This is different from a last time caused by death. Here I am, knowing something will never happen again, and I have an indefinite amount of time during which I will be aware of that.

Maybe I had my last time watching live opera at the Met a few years ago I'm hoping this Rosenkavalier is picked up for my Met Opera On Demand subscription -- many, but not all, of the Met productions that are sent via satellite to movie theaters do make it onto the On Demand site (some of the ones that don't make it... it's for good reason.) But I have trouble with taking the train into Manhattan, as the train jostles me and sometimes the ride itself is such that I might as well have hopped on the rollercoaster. I love the city, and I used to love riding the train. But it's a problem. I may never be able to work in Manhattan again. I don't know.

Perhaps one day I'll have a last time I read a book, because my eyesight is gone (of course there's audiobooks...), or the last time I listen to music because my hearing is gone. Maybe medicine will catch up such that I need never fear for my sight or my hearing; there have been loads of progress there.

But even if medicine does fix my pain, I'm never going on a rollercoaster again.

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Saturday, May 13th, 2017
6:01 pm - On reading mystery novels on kindle
I was gonna say: "Don't do it!", but it turns out it was premature.

So yesterday, I saw a deal on Amazon for Agatha Christie books (just a selection) for $1.99 each... and their "normal" price is about $13 (okay, that was the upper end)


Let us ignore how idiotic e-book pricing is for the "prestige" publishers. I usually end up buying hardcover instead of kindle for those. I don't mind - I've got Amazon Prime and already have shipping wrapped into my membership (ftr: I have the Prime membership for reasons other than the delivery discount.)

But one aspect of kindle that I enjoy, which is highlighting favorite passages, making notes, and the like. But this can be dangerous.

One of the default settings is that you will see passages underlined with a dashed line if some threshold of people highlighted the passage. I'm not sure the algorithm that goes into that, and sometimes the crowdsourced "fave quotes" are well chosen.


If you're reading a mystery novel, you might notice something "special" about what gets underlined. In most of the novels I read, people underline something "quotable" -- you know, something like "Wherever you go, there you are." Something that works out of context.

But in mystery novels, people underline clues.

Now, I'm in no danger re: Agatha Christie because 1. I've basically read all her mysteries 2. Yes, I remember the solution and 3. The ones I haven't read (which are really obscure), I will probably know the solution, because she kept re-using plots.

(I will explain another time why I re-read mystery novels.)

But I noticed a few things underlined in one of the books I'm currently reading, that I thought "Oooh, most people would have missed that if it weren't emphasized by the underlining!" But then I found some people were either being tricksy or not terribly clever when I found some of the red herring items underlined as well.

In short, turn off that feature of kindle if you're reading a mystery novel for the first time. And readers, ffs, don't underline clues!

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Thursday, May 4th, 2017
1:12 pm - Announcement: plus MEEP SIGN change
So I am retiring I AM HE-MAN for right now -- it may come back, maybe when I'm 80, but I think as a woman of a certain age, I need to update my style to something more appropriate.

So this is me right now:

And the reason that is me right now is that I figured out how to use VBA in Powerpoint (having never done that before) to switch all the layouts of slides based on a certain rule system.

I need to get me hot pink lamé dress.

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Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017
7:15 am - That time when I competed against a bunch of Japanese schoolkids...
...and I was an adult.

I went digging in my Japan journal for this, but this was all I found:

Trip to Aomori - Aomori is on Honshuu, a different island from Hokkaido so
the train went through an underwater tunnel which was about 55 km long and
went to about 260 m under sea level. In the train there was a board w/ a
picture of the tunnel and lights along it indicated where we were in it.
There was an LED board underneath that every so often told us how far we
went and how deep we were.
Then we went to the Sports Festival - where we got chopsticks and a door
hanging just for showing up.

Oh, Here's the next entry:

6 Aug 94 - =one= more week!

Continuing w/ the Aomori theme -- at the sports festival, being in silly
races like bagging a goldfish, sometimes competing w/ kids, sometimes w/
their parents, everyone who participated in an event would get a prize -
but the prizes for us were special - the ones for the Japanese were stuff
like toothpaste, dishwashing liquid and foil, but =we= got ceramic dishes
& dolls and nice fans and stuff - once I found out that you get a prize
that good no matter how well you did, I tried to participate in as many
events as possible.

So this "sports festival" was just like a regular school field day, and while some of the "competitions" had parents involved, it was mainly the kids, who were about 10-12 years old, if I remember correctly.

Before we went on the trip, we were supposed to sign up for slots in the various competitions, and I signed up for a couple. I think everybody did.

But when we got there, and found out they had us doing stuff like blindfold races against little kids, a lot of people didn't want to participate any more. We were primarily college students (I was 20), and I think many felt foolish to run races against kids.

But when I saw what they were giving out as prizes (and we basically got good stuff no matter how we performed, just as long as we participated) I started taking other people's places. Now, the stuff they were handing out to us were just tourist tchotchkes, but I thought them rather nice tourist tchotchkes. I still have many of them.

For example, the ceramic apple picker doll:

I also got some sake cups, that are still somewhere around.

I have no shame.

Gimme gimme gimme.

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Monday, May 1st, 2017
9:30 am - Public Pension Primer: Discount Rate
[post resurrected from May 1, 2010]

I want you to understand the perversity of allowing a pension plan, public or private, to pick a discount rate based on expected return on assets.

The core problem is highlighted in this WSJ editorial:

The Stanford study uses whats called a risk-free 4.14% discount rate, which is tied to 1-year Treasury bonds. The Government Accounting Standards Board requires corporate pensions to use a risk-free rate. [screw up, WSJ, off the mark], but it allows public pension funds to discount pension liabilities at their expected rate of return, which the pension funds determine. Calstrs assumes a rate of return of 8%, Calpers 7.75% and the UC fund 7.5%. But the CEO of the global investment management firm BlackRock Inc., Laurence Fink, says Calpers would be lucky to earn 6% on its portfolio. A 5% is more realistic.

Last year the accounting board proposed that the public pensions play by the same rules as corporate pensions. But unions for the public employees balked because the changed standard would likely require employees and employers to contribute more to the pensions, especially when interest rates are low. For now, it appears the public employee unions will prevail with the status quo accounting method.

Well, watch this space. It's not so simple. There are a lot of complicated details, but let me show you a concrete, simplified example of the impact of discount rates by showing you what present value means.
Say you need to make a payment of $1,000 ten years from now. How much money would you need to have on hand right now [invested at a given interest rate] to be able to make that payment? That's the present value.

Before making a calculation, obviously, the higher the rate of return, the less you need on hand today as compound interest will help you. but how much?

Let use the rates mentioned in the editorial [and rounding present value to the nearest dollar]:
4.14%: $667
5.00%: $614
7.50%: $485
7.75%: $474
8.00%: $463

From the lowest rate, we get a 44% higher present value than the 8% rate. The impact is more pronounced the more years you go out and these pension benefits are projected decades into the future, not a mere 10 years.

So perhaps you can see why those wanting more lavish benefits want it to look like investments can pay for it through higher returns if taxpayers have to pay right now to fund an accrued benefit, as opposed years in the future when the payment is actually made, you'll see that the taxpayers won't let the promise be made at all.

Here is the perverse part of the current valuation policy: we generally see that riskier assets have a higher expected rate of return, but that also comes with greater volatility [more likely to have fund shortfall... like we're seeing now]. So a fund that plays it safe with the pension liability funding gets a lower discount value, and thus higher present value even if a riskier fund with the same market value [and higher discount rate on liabilities] has a much higher probability of falling short.

So by making the discount rate the expected return on assets, without adjusting for the risk, there's an incentive for these funds to get involved in deals they really shouldn't be.

Such as, oh, synthetic CDOs packaged by Goldman Sachs.

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Sunday, April 30th, 2017
11:31 am - What I would give to be bored
So, I have this thing with my favorite authors where I usually can pick a character I really identify with (for a variety of reasons). For Dickens, it's Aunt Betsey Trotwood. For Austen, it's Admiral Croft. For Conan Doyle, it's Jabez Wilson (the red-headed guy in The Red-Headed League, my favorite Holmes story).

For Pratchett, it's Nanny Ogg... but maybe it should be Rincewind. Because what he wants more than anything else is boredom (because when he's not bored, it's because the end of world is nigh and he's somehow involved.)

In any case, this is all a prelude to saying that D put a bunch of cookies in the dryer and let it run. For a couple cycles at least, it looks. So I broke out the vacuum & baby wipes. Because some of those crumbs were really baked on there. As it were.

This isn't really all that funny. I understand how Rincewind felt. It would be nice to rest.

Oh, and in the middle of this, I went back to the washer/dryer, because I did an empty cycle of bleach to try to clean out the washer (I didn't see cookies in there, but eh, it could use it); and came back to see D sitting at my laptop with the Weird Al videos on top.... he had closed a bunch of my windows/tabs to find the one where I had YouTube playing.

Thank goodness livejournal auto-saves entries as I go along. I doubt I would have retyped even that much.

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Thursday, April 27th, 2017
11:25 am - LJ 18th anniversary - and my 17-LJ-iversary

#mylivejournal #lj18 #happybirthday

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11:22 am - Opera Hijinks
So something was going around facebook re: 9 musical acts you've seen live, and one lie. I know I've seen at least 9 acts live, but I didn't care to play the game. So I changed the game:

Okay, a different game -- the following operas I've seen live (no lie) -- guess which I walked out of after the first act:
1. Samson et Dalila
2. Handsel and Gretel
3. Rigoletto
4. La Boheme
5. Tosca
6. Elektra
7. Don Giovanni
8. The Mother of Us All
9. L'heure espagnole
10. For the Love of Three Oranges

This was something of a trick question.

First, I definitely walked out of Elektra after one act.... because it is a one-act opera. And that act is plenty long.

Second, while L'heure espagnole is one act, it was paired with another Ravel opera. So I didn't exactly "walk out". Here is what I had to write about the Spanish Hour:

The first one was "The Spanish Hour" (this is all in French - I think the title is L'Heure Espagnole or something like that.) It's the day that a Spanish clockmaker is supposed to go around town doing maintenance on the official clocks, and his wife uses that day of the week for her trysts. Right before the clock guy leaves, a mule driver (who carries mail over the mountains with his mule) comes in wanting his old watch fixed. Mrs. Clockguy is pissed, because her husband tells the guy just to wait in the shop while he's out doing his duty.

Mrs. Clock doesn't want this guy hanging around, so she has the muleteer take a large clock from the show floor up to her bedroom. While he's doing this, her lover, a poet, shows up. Mrs. C wants to get it on and even grabs the poet's hands to put them on her bosom, but he won't stop singing poetry about clocks. Muleguy is coming down the stairs, so poet hides in a corner, and to buy time Mrs. C decides she wants this -other- clock up in her room - but first take the first clock back down. So she tries to get it on with poetboy again, but he's pissing her off. She gets the idea to put poetboy in the second clock (and he starts singing a song likening the clock to his casket and mortality...etc etc etc). Muleguy brings the first clock down, and hefts up second clock to go to second floor (did I mention there are three automata in the corner that get up and about doing this little routine with a clock in the shape of a heart? no matter.)

Anyway, while Muleguy is taking clock with poetboy inside upstairs, this old lover of Mrs. Clock shows up -- the guy who gave her husband the municipal clock gig (to get him out of the house). Mr. Pompous says that considering the trouble he made for her, she should give up a little of the good stuff. Well, she's intending to go upstairs to her much younger lover, so she blows him off (ahem), and trips lightly upstairs, drawing her shades after getting in the bedroom. Mr. Pomp decides he's being too serious for this young woman and hides himself in the first clock (remember, Muleguy brought it down earlier) waiting to surprise her. Muleguy comes down to the first floor singing some kind of paean to a generous hostess who suits tasks to her guests, but is interrupted by Mrs. C. yelling for him to take the 2nd clock down ("It doesn't work!").

While Muleguy goes upstairs to bring the 2nd clock down, Mrs. C is huffing downstairs and is taken aback by Mr. Pomp cuckoo-ing at her. Mr. P finally persuades her to get busy by reminding her that he may not be young, but he has more experience with and appreciation of women. She thinks, why not - first guy was a loss, but I might get a little action. So Muleguy comes down with the 2nd clock, takes the 1st clock upstairs. Mrs. C pulls poetboy out of his clock and tells him off. He sings about the difficulty of love. She's sick of this, and he decides to perservere by hiding in the clock (?)

Mrs. C goes upstairs after the 1st clock (with Mr. Pomp inside), and Muleguy comes down, singing about this lovely woman again. Again, he is interrupted by Mrs. C yelling that she can't stand the 1st clock, he must take it out of her room (it seems Mr. P is so fat he can't get out of the
clock). Muleguy cheerfully complies. She's at her wits end, then realizes there's been this young guy who can haul about large clocks with men inside. So when Muleguy asks Mrs. C what does she want to take up now, she requests him to go upstairs to her bedroom without a clock.

The two discarded lovers are downstairs in the clocks, one refusing to leave, the other unable to get out, when Mr. Clockmaker gets home. He thinks these are two customers inspecting the clocks, and he sells them their respective clocks. Then there's the only ensemble piece of singing:
a quintet bearing the motto: "Even the Muleteer gets his chance."

The End.
Did you get all that?

Yes, that's the sort of opera I like.

I did actually sit all the way through The Mother of Us All, though I probably wouldn't put up with it today. Or I dunno. Maybe I would.

The non-tricky answer, though, was Rigoletto. Mind you, this was in the late 90s, I had gotten cheap tickets for me & Stu, and googling answers/checking on Wikipedia wasn't really the thing yet.

Stu asked me what the opera was about -- I did remember that it was about a clown or jester, and told him I figured it must be a comedic opera.

We walked out after one act.

It took me many years to give Rigoletto a chance again, but come on -- all the good stuff is in the two later acts!

I mean, I like the bit with Sparafucile in the first act NOW, but I couldn't believe what we had gotten ourselves into, and just left.

Anyway, this is to note: there is nothing funny about Rigoletto. Other than I thought because it had a clown in it, it must be a comedy. I may have been in my 20s, but even I should have known then what a stupid assumption that was.

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Thursday, April 13th, 2017
8:46 pm - Notes on an Insurance Law/Regulation Meeting
a sequel to my actuarial meeting notes, I guess.

spoiler alert: I'm the only person in the intersection of these two meetings.

Names not noted because I have to work in the biz. And I don't feel like pissing off lawyers. Even if they're only law profs.

The title of the conference was Insurance in the Age of Trump, but there was actually very little Trump-related content. (Look, this is our idea of fun ("us" being the people who are into insurance regulation))

photo proofCollapse )

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Thursday, April 6th, 2017
9:21 pm - Search fails me

I =know= I once posted about how it was okay to lie in response to questions like "Does this make my butt look big?"

I know the Judge responded, and that St. Augustine was referenced, and I just couldn't win the argument except by saying CUZ I SAID SO.

So I can't find this post. I swear this was on livejournal, but the search function is crap.

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