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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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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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Monday, April 3rd, 2017
2:35 pm - Karamazovs on Screen
So, the Brothers Karamazov being a classic novel, I wondered what TV/movie versions are out there.

Well, there's this 1958 one with Yul Brynner as Mitya, Richard Basehart as Ivan, and William Shatner as Alyosha.

I'm not kidding. Here's the trailer:

Here's a scene between Mitya & Alyosha... and if you're familiar with the novel, you see what a mishmash they've made of the plot.

Bald, moustacheless Dmitri is so wrong. Richard Basehart is way too old (so is Yul Brynner). But William Shatner as Alyosha... surprisingly works. He's in his late 20s, so a bit old for Alyosha, but he kind of looks right. So I may have to go find the full movie. It might be worth it....but the issue is the novel is hyuuuuuge, and the movie is about 2.5 hours. A little long for a movie, but kind of short of the novel.

So I found a TV miniseries from 2008. In Russian. Some of the parts are on YouTube. I finished up part 1, which was a fairly faithful following of the novel thus far. The first part I found had only one comment on it (bitching about not finding all 12 parts), but the second one.. boy, did I hit YouTub comment territory!

The video is here.

Comments on the video:

Jan Gubat9 months ago
the actor playing dmitri karamazov is irritating as fuck
Dude, Dmitri is annoying as fuck in the novel. You want to strangle him because he's such a fool. What's interesting is that he's fairly well-educated, and not stupid in an intellectual sense. He is just a pain in the ass in controlling his behavior.

Mitya can't control his behavior, and Ivan can't control his thoughts.

While this Dmitri doesn't have the big moustaches that Dmitri should have, it's okay. The Alyosha looks very young, and the Ivan looks appropriately dour.

ROHIT KING C.2 years ago (edited)
The 1969 Movie is so much better. This 2008 Fyodor Pavlovich and others are "absolute-zero" compared to the 1969 ones :) Old is Gold !

Now I have to find the 1969 ones!

Maybe He means this Dutch version, or ...wait a sec... there's a Japanese adaptation?! I HAVE GOT TO GET THAT.

An Italian one from 1947, a British one from 1964 (ok, find that one), a meta-movie from the Czechs in 2008, and someone making a joke, I suppose.

Anyway, I think ROHIT KING meant the 1958 movie, because it has some really good reviews, so maybe I should see it anyway.

samwisegamgeese3 years ago
Well close to the book in wording but not quite how I imagined Dimitri, Fyodor is superb though and Ivan too......... the book infers a little more from Katerina (wink wink)!

Michael Meo5 months ago (edited)
I agree, the guy doing Fyodor is the best actor there. To me, the fellow playing Alyosha is totally wooden.

Alyosha would be a difficult character to play well. He doesn't speak much, and he's more of an onlooker. Dmitri acts, Ivan talks, Fyodor buffoons. Alyosha carries messages between people and slowly matures, being lovable all the while.

It's tough to do "lovable" (no matter the age or sex). It's too easy to tip over into the "you've gotta be kidding me" range. I think Dostoevsky manages it in the novel, but I can see actors having trouble with it.

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Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
9:16 am - Hanging with the Karamazovs
Since discovering Dostoevsky a couple years ago, I keep pondering whether I prefer the Brothers Karamazov over Crime and Punishment. They are both great novels, and have a few similar themes, but on one score the Karamazovs are well above Crime and Punishment: characters I'd like to party with.

Playing FMK with the three brothers is about the easiest one to consider (Mitya, Alyosha, and Ivan, obviously), and too many fanfics for any literary works revolve around the whole FMK game.

I'm more of a "who would it be fun to party with?" person. So let's consider the characters (not exhaustive)

If I wanted to get roaring drunk and have a great time: Mitya, hands down. I may be female, but I'm too old and not curvy enough for him (at least not in the right places), so I figure I'm pretty safe there.

Not so much his dad, Fyodor. Fyodor considers all women fair game. Also, he's the least surprising murdered character (look, it's mentioned in the first chapter) in literature. For a few chapters before the murder actually happens, I'm yelling GET MURDERED ALREADY. Kind of like the death of Little Nell.

Ivan would be a morose drunk. And if he starts to monolog, he's tedious.

Alyosha... not the partying type. That said, if I was in an expansive, drunken mood, he would provide an audience to whatever I wanted to say. He's a good listener. Also, I know he wouldn't gossip about me later or betray any confidence.

Grushenka: might be fun. She wouldn't consider me a threat, but she obviously prefers the company of men. Me, too, sister.

Katya: oh hell no. She's a super bitch. I end up wanting to throttle her, just like I want to throttle Mitya, but for different reasons. Katya and Ivan deserve each other.

Madame Hohlakov: I would totally brunch with her, the woman's version of partying. She'd have the best gossip. And you never know what insane thing she will go on about.

Lise - I assume she'd be part of the brunch with her dear mama. She's too young for drinking, but she'd provide interesting conversation.

Rakitin - no. He always has a hidden agenda. You can't party with people like that.

Maximov - no. He's a sloppy drunk. Same for Snegiryov. I feel sorry for Snegiryov, but not enough to hang out with him.

Marfa &/or Grigory - are you kidding me? hell no

Smedyakov - absolutely not. The guy is a murderous psycho.

Miusov - a pompous bore who always tries to one-up everybody.

Father Zossima - Absolutely. Maybe not the other monks, especially since they keep themselves separated from women, but Zossima would be good for a nice cup of coffee. I've had a good time hanging out with priests in my life. They've got great stories, and Zossima's final story in the novel is pretty damn good.

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Friday, March 24th, 2017
5:59 pm - The Art of Influence
Apply this to any situation you like whether man-driven global climate change, health care reform, Sarah Palin, Tiger Woods, or actuarial credentialing [this last one is actually what I'm dealing with] I want to ask about a particular tactic and how effective this is in influencing opinion.

Let's say there is an official position A being put out there, and then strong opposing position B. The A-supporting guys are the leaders, in position due to elections or appointments, and A has been put forth multiple times previously and every time rejected. But this time, they think, they'll be able to get it through as they outnumber the B people overwhelmingly amongst the official leaders.

But what do the onlookers think about the situation? And how to influence them?

The A-side people cast aspersions on the intelligence and the intentions of the B-siders. Is this effective in influencing the opinion of onlookers? When the B-siders are attacking the specific qualities of A as opposed to the characteristics of A-supporters themselves?

What do you think?

[A resurrected post from December 8, 2009]

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5:55 pm - Digging up Old Blog Posts from Elsewhere, and On Meep Being Pissed
So, I've blogged at other people's websites in the past, and many of those past websites are now gone (which is why I do my blogging on my own site now. It's not fancy. I don't like fancy.) Well, I've forgotten a lot of what I wrote, and I'd like to grab some of it back, and I've mainly been using Internet Archive to help me.

But first, let me tell you a story.

I read this dumbass piece this morning:

The advice hackers give when looking for dirt in a pile of data is to search for words such as pissed or angry. They suggest figuring out to whom the most emails are sent, since that signals a trusted relationship. And to use Facebook to suss out relationships--ex-girlfriends, college acquaintances--to spot dubious interactions. Deleted photos are telling, as are erased emails. And they say to always, always look in the draft folder, which houses the truly horrible stuff people are too smart to send. The draft folder is each and every one of our personal Nixon White House tapes.

Remembering my prior foray into searching my email for particular terms, I thought "why not?"

I searched on "pissed", and while it reminded me of all sorts of things, I wouldn't be the person embarrassed by those particular emails being aired out in public. I got 118 results.

Because it is almost all about actuarial politics. I'm not joking. When it's not about actuarial politics, it's about the politics of public pensions.

If they dig through the person I get most emails from, they'll find people I've never met who are sending me stories about public pensions.

I have some of the most boring email dirt there is. Mainly because I do not use email for spicy stuff. If I'm going to be nasty over personal stuff, I'll do it over the phone or face-to-face. I like the personal delivery to be close.

Here is some stereotypical text from me using the word "pissed":

Likewise, clamping down on legit emails so that you're not annoyed by various spam (and to prevent dangerous email worms) means you get more pissed-off people and more phone calls if it's not intelligently implemented, which is not necessarily increasing productivity. Especially when said system is implemented during the heaviest time for exams.

I was emailing somebody at the Society of Actuaries about their new spam filter, which they started during an actuarial exam sitting, which is when they have their highest incoming email traffic.

Even more stereotypical:

I started out on the Actuarial Outpost in dispute with fellow
actuaries (I was working with annuities, and was getting pissed off
with pension actuaries), and then started branching out beyond that
when I saw the extent of the public finance mess.

Anyway, I can just imagine people begging off on such a "hacking" assignment for me. They'd probably go... "how the hell can someone get so pissed off at a payroll growth assumption? Is that normal? I can't stay awake!"

And when I went into my Drafts folder, 38 were just empty. There actually might be more in the 124 drafts that are left, because if it's an empty email at the end of a thread, I didn't notice. Most of my drafts aren't sent because something bobbled and I forgot to delete the draft. It wasn't because I was agonizing over not sending the email. I bet at least 30 more of those drafts are empty, if not almost all.

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Saturday, March 18th, 2017
2:55 pm - Bring back finishing schools
So I read this piece by Kyle Smith at the NYP and, well, let me excerpt:

‘Adulting’ classes prove millennials’ nitwit parents are to blame

Millennials are shamelessly signing up for “adulting” classes to teach them how to be grownup. Why didn’t we ever need to use “adult” as a verb before? Simple. All of youth was spent taking responsibility, learning to be independent, achieving maturity. Adulting was simply growing up. You were mature long before you were an adult.

Not anymore. Today’s young adults seem baffled and overwhelmed by ordinary grownup stuff (see the video “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots — the Crosby, Stills and Nash of the participation-prize generation). “I see a lot of suffering around not knowing how to do the ‘adulting’ thing,” Maine psychotherapist Rachel Weinstein told the online magazine Quartz. Along with elementary school teacher Katie Brunelle, she created the Adulting School, which pitches itself with these words: “We know you’re sick of feeling like you’re pretending to be a grown-up and that someone’s going to realize you don’t know the sh%#t you’re supposed to know.”

The Adulting School sets out to teach basic stuff. Really basic stuff: The first item on the “Adulting Quiz” (which is not a quiz but a series of statements to which the respondent is supposed to answer yes or no) is “I know how much money I have and how to access it.” Another is, “I’m comfortable following recipes.” Another is, “I know when to use which form of correspondence . . . for example, I wouldn’t break up with someone over a text.” Jeez, in my day, everyone knew the proper way to dump someone wasn’t via text: It was via ceasing to return phone calls.

To a certain extent, I don't think this is fair. First off, only kids from a certain level of privilege can get through childhood not knowing how to do certain substantive things. This is not an across-the-board problem. Secondly, I remember similarly clueless college kids 25 years ago at NCSU, who didn't know how to cook for themselves or do laundry. To be fair, I don't think their parents really knew how to cook, either. They could stick something in the microwave, no prob.

Yes, parents should be helping their kids to acquire life skills, but there have been finishing schools of various sorts before, so why not our own version now?

So yay with the adulting classes and getting shit done.

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Monday, March 13th, 2017
2:53 pm - Too much fun with mortality research...
...ok, I would argue I'm having exactly the right amount of fun, but whatever.

Before I share my laughs with you, I've been doing a series of blog posts on my main blog, STUMP, called Mortality Mondays.

Here they are so far: (for clarity b/c of my lj format: each bullet item here is a link to the post)

Now to my fun.

I've been reading through a paper titled "Why Men Die Younger", (Barbara Blatt Kalbenm FSA, EA, MAAA (2000). North American Actuarial Journal, 4:4, 83-111) which has a nice overview of sex-differentials in mortality -- which apparently goes back to at least 1330 in European nobility (and non-nobility from more recent periods). Even with death in childbirth, women tended to live longer than men (men have always been more likely to die of homicide and other violent causes, for example... and no, it's not only war.)

So a few items I pulled out:

If you want to cite a paper written by a monarch:

James I, King of England. 1604. A Counterblast to Tobacco, as transcribed in Two Broadsides Against Tobacco, 1672. London, England: John Hancock.

If you're interested in what King James had to write: Full Text of Two Broadsides Against Tobacco.

Here is the concluding paragraph:
Have you not reason then to be ashamed, and to forbear this filthy Novelty, so basely grounded, so foolishly received, and so grosly mistaken in the right use thereof: In your abuse thereof sinning against God, harming your selves both in Persons and Goods, and raking also thereby the marks and notes of Vanity up∣on you; by the Custome thereof, making your selves to be wonder∣ed at by all forreign civil Nations, and by all Strangers that come among you, to be scorned and contempted; a custome loathsome to the Eye, hateful to the Nose, harmful to the Brain, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest re∣sembling the horrible stigian smoke of the Pit that is bottom∣less.

Here is a quote from a paper from 1954 on why work kills men more than women (from a public health physician named Wilson Sowder from his paper titled "Why is the Sex Difference in Mortality Increasing?", Public Health Reports 69(9):860-864.)

It is possible that women escape the consequences of worry, frustration, disappointment, and tension to a greater degree than men by being more vocal about these conditions, through tears, or occasionally hysterics. The reaction of men, on the other hand, may be in the form of coronary disease, hypertension, or ulcers"

A different theory from Herb Goldberg, from his book The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege, published in 1976 was that the male is afraid that he can't survive without the woman.

Now that comes off as a bit laughable, but you need to remember when that was written, but also various items were quoted: higher male mortality after divorce and being widowed (see the Broken Heart Syndrome post); higher suicide rates after maternal deaths; higher suicide rates among single men than single women.

And many of these aspects do still persist, fwiw.

The sex gap re: mortality is not a new thing, though it's smaller now than it was mid-20th century... but the gap was a lot smaller in centuries past (when everybody died quite a bit more often from infectious disease).

This is 20 years old now, but in 1998, there were only 6 out of 72 detailed causes of death by the CDC where the age-adjusted death rates were higher for females than males. Two you can guess easily: breast cancer (which some men do get) and pregnancy/childbirth.

Here are the other four: Alzheimer's disease, asthma, rheumatic fever, and kidney infections.

Note that this is not merely because women tend to live longer -- these are age-adjusted rates, so that means these are more prevalent for women.

The 6 causes listed were the cause of only 7% of female deaths in 1998, though.

Anyway, I'll be looking into that more later, but I find that stuff interesting.

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Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
6:43 pm - Are advanced students being left behind in school?
I'm not quite sure that's what this study really shows:


By Matthew C. Makel2, Michael S. Matthews3, Scott J. Peters4, Karen Rambo-Hernandez5, and Jonathan A. Plucker6


Conclusion 1: Very large percentages of students are performing above grade level.
Conclusion 2: Large percentages of students are performing well above grade level.
Conclusion 3: These percentages represent staggeringly large numbers of students.


Implication 1: Federal and state education policies focusing on grade-level proficiency are irrelevant for a huge number of American students.
Implication 2: The U.S. K-12 context, which is organized primarily around age-based grade levels, needs serious rethinking.
Implication 3: States should require each district and school to report its percentages of above-grade-level performers and to disaggregate students’ average growth by starting scores.

Currently, the evidence suggests that between 15% and 45% of students enter the late-elementary classroom each fall already performing at least one year ahead of expectations. Our initial question – How many students are learning above grade level? – needs to be extended. The more important questions may be:

1. How should we reorganize our schools, now that we know that large numbers of these students exist?
2. How can we best meet these students’ learning needs, if they already have mastered much of the year’s content before the year has even started? And lastly,
3. How can schools balance the potential for excellence against the need to achieve basic proficiency, when the variation in student achievement within classrooms and schools is so vast?

Okay, there's a bunch of problems with this.

But the main thing is whether the "grade level" from these tests have anything to do with what those specific kids are being taught in school.

Here's a graph made in this blog post -- Study: Smart Kids Are Being Held Back

Here's the deal: I was never in a "nth grade English class"... in any grade! Yes, I know tracking isn't exactly popular, but it still goes on under a variety of names. I wouldn't assume that just because students are "above grade level" that they're really missing out on being challenged in the classroom -- to wit, there's nothing really connecting those test results with what they're actually being taught. Many schools have programs specifically for people who are well ahead or way behind, keeping them in age groups for social reasons, not academic reasons.

Now, the issue is that they want to say individual student progress should be measured, as opposed to comparing to a floor. I suppose that's okay.

But the "fix" isn't necessarily to advance someone to a higher grade, even. Someone who has a very high achievement level for their age is not going to perform the same way as someone at the same achievement level in terms of skills/knowledge, but at the "average" age for that achievement.

My point is that simply advancing students a grade doesn't fix the issue, because they may very well continue to learn faster than the people in the class they're in. They're still not being challenged.

The particular author of this linked blog post from the same site may have been helped by skipping a grade, but I know it wouldn't have helped my situation. When I was in calculus in high school, and I was a 10th grader and all the other students were seniors... I had a much easier time of it than they did. Even though they were advanced for the school. If I had merely "progressed" one year per year, even after being skipped a few grades, I would have been well behind where I ended up in terms of actual knowledge. It's not a fix to stick the really fast students with slower, much older students at the same level. To be sure, I'm talking about some really extreme extremes.

That said, when the student body is fairly small (as is the case for my kids), I agree that "grades" may be very unhelpful ways of grouping the students. A one-room schoolhouse model may be a better fit. You progress when you've achieved, and you move on. But that requires a lot more one-on-one work.

In any case, I don't see why any of this needs to be a federal issue. If you're going to define education policy at the federal level, you're going to try to cram the problems of huge schools from densely populated cities into the same buckets as those in rural or suburban areas. How about just providing guidance of reasonable levels of achievement for certain grades (the percents above show that perhaps these standards may be a bit low), and then let people know where they land?

I'm very pro-gifted education, and I definitely think there shouldn't be such strict age segregation in schools. There should be multi-age socialization going on, if they're concerned about social issues.

But I don't think this study really shows much. Yes, many people are better than average. Shocker.

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Saturday, March 4th, 2017
9:53 pm - Retelling Old Tales
To begin with, this is a plug of Neil Gaimain's recent work, Norse Mythology. In particular, I'm pushing the audiobook version where Gaiman himself is "performing" the book.

And performing is a good verb to describe it. He's like the fun uncle who does all the voices ... though given his age, he's more like my husband who does all the voices.

But before I get into just rambling, let me explain why you should get this book/audiobook: because they're good stories, well-told.

No, Gaiman did not invent these stories. But I think too often our current society over-rates "originality". There are excellent stories that should keep being retold, and you can update the stories to make them more compelling to the current age.

Yes, one can go this route:

Man, that's an awesome book.

But of course, Thug Notes is giving a really short version of a really awesome (and very long) book. I was laughing my ass off throughout that book, but your mileage may vary.

The point is, the Norse myths from the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda really kick ass. And Gaiman was careful to pick the most compelling of the stories from those traditions. To be sure, I have not read either work (in translation or original language), but I have read various derivative works, including some off-shoots from Gaiman previously (like American Gods and The Sandman).

But...well...let's think. I don't read/speak the language of the Poetic Edda or Prose Edda. So, at the very least, I'd read in translation. And as Gaiman (and others) have remarked, these are not necessarily consistent sources on stories. And we're obviously missing explanations about various deities. But again, some of the most important Greek(Roman) gods didn't have intricate stories surrounding them... what could one say about Hestia? But if that fire in your household went out... you could be in trouble. Think about power outages now. So pick what's interesting, not necessarily what's important.

I actually had my own experience of the Norse myths in childhood similarly to Gaiman, but I happened to have read the book by the D'Aulaires. They also had some nice books on Greek myths. These books are both in my local library, and I thought to open them up today and.... was underwhelmed. As a child, learning about these stories for the first time, it was enough. And they had color illustrations! But as an adult... they lack vitality. Like learning about Julius Caesar from a schoolbook.

And then you get to see the Shakespearean play. (ok, Brutus was more alive in that play, but you know what I mean)

And that's what Neil Gaiman's version is like. All the stories in Neil Gaiman's book are in the D'Aulaire version. But... the characters in Gaiman's version are more alive. Thor & Loki definitely have better explained personalities, as does Freya, I think. Odin, unsurprisingly, is a bit more aloof. I'm on my third re-hearing of the audiobook (because the kids wanted to hear the stories from the beginning), and I'm picking up on a few details I think Gaiman dropped in to provide a more long-term narrative arc to the project, though it's still necessarily disjointed.

Even more to the point, they're more like living stories, like the stories my grandma told. My Carolinian relatives know what I speak about when I mention the stories that ended like "....and they never did find the head." Yes, the Norse myths are very like that (though they generally tell you where the head ended up, most likely floating in the well as a tattletale to Odin)

The funniest of the tales is Freya's Unusual Wedding and my favorite of the tales is the Mead of the Gods/Mead of Poetry (the part I particularly like is the source of bad poetry).

There is something very refreshing in the Norse myths in terms of the behavior of the gods and the shape of the tales. It's not that they're better-behaved (or worse-behaved) than the gods of other traditions, but I do like how little humans are actually involved in these stories. The most depressing part of the Greek myths is how the Greek gods invariably screw over some human who probably didn't deserve it. While in the Norse myths, there's definitely gratuitous murder, but at least it's just the gods and the giants/ogres/monsters killing each other while humans stand on the sidelines.

Thor and Loki are such a fun pairing, they really deserve some kind of buddy movie deal. Heck, they could do an entire series of Thor & Loki. No, the Marvel Universe isn't the same. I've not seen Marvel Thor, but I assume he's not as ... simple as the mythic Thor. And Loki... I really doubt the mythic Loki who had a goat tied to his dick to attempt to make a frost giant laugh.... yeah, I don't think Marvel covered that particular side of the character.

Anyway, the audiobook was very fun. Gaiman reads his own work very well and he puts to mind what the traditional storytellers must have been like (not that surprising, given storytelling is his vocation). His timing is good, and his voices work very well. I think he portrayed Thor, the various dwarves (especially Brock), Loki, and Freya very well. Oooh, that Freya. I can see(hear) why everybody wanted to marry her. The other characters are difficult to judge, especially Odin...he doesn't get as much time as Thor & Loki do, frankly. Odin is a really intriguing figure, in keeping his own counsel.

But I have been thinking there need to be more re-tellers of good, old tales in various formats. I think we miss, sometimes, that we're not really getting the stories of Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Dickens because various purists demand we read their works in the close-to-original. I remember hearing stories of how people who don't speak English get to enjoy Shakespeare more because he's translated into their current vernacular, while we poor English-speakers are being forced to listen to a script that's over 400 years old.

I have seen extremely good productions of Shakespeare where they are very good in conveying what was meant (I love Branagh's versions...Henry V was excellent, of course, among others), but it's still a foreign language to a certain extent. Hell, the best incarnation of Shakespearean comedy I've seen was Verdi's version of the character Falstaff, pulling from three different plays, set in Italian, and I'm having to read subtitles in English. And there's nothing more harrowing than Verdi's Lady Macbeth. I haven't seen his Otello, so I'll have to get back to you on that one.

So for all people bitch about reboots and sequels, I really enjoy when people re-tell engaging stories in their own way.

There is something to be said in telling a story really well, even if you did not invent the characters, plot, setting... anything. Just the choosing of the words and the pacing of the story is a skill in itself.

(also, Gaiman, you magnificent bastard, I caught the natural poetic alliteration when you used it. That made me smile.)

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1:33 pm - Warning: Old Injuries Can Cause More Pain Years Later
This is not some sort of figurative or emotional type of injury I'm talking about -- I'm talking about physical damage.

Specifically, on Thursday & Friday, Stu was in the hospital for pain (and other symptoms that I don't want to detail). For a while the doctors were baffled, but we think the source of the pain was found in the final procedure done.

The likely source: scarring from kidney stones... which Stu last had over 15 years ago.

Stu has passed kidney stones twice in his life. The first time, I took him to a shitty hospital (which later closed) and his stone was never captured & analyzed. The second time, we went to a better hospital, and the stone was caught, analyzed, and with the help of the book No More Kidney Stones, Stu has never had a problem with kidney stones since.


It seems the scar tissue from the old injury to the ureter (the tube from the kidney to the bladder... where most of the pain in "passing" the stones comes from, I believe) can grow over time and cause similar pain as kidney stones themselves.

The treatment was a stent in the ureter, and it seems to have done the trick (that said, it's not even been 24 hours, and the stent comes out on Monday).

Anyway, this is just a warning to my friends who have had kidney stones -- even if you're not getting stones any more due to dietary changes, you can still have trouble from them years later. Just be aware.

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Saturday, February 18th, 2017
3:32 pm - Limits
no, this isn't math.



I am in pain. I don't mean this in some kind of figurative or existential way. I've got a screwed-up neck, a screwed-up brain, and I've had bad pain all this week. I've had to .. I've just had to.

and I've had it.

So fuck it.

When I say "fuck it", I mean I'm gonna listen to opera, read comics, and leave the damn post about asset returns in pension plans I've tried THREE FUCKING TIMES AND GOT EATEN BY THE INTERNET

I am annoyed, is what I'm saying. I've got some Mozart to listen to furiously.

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Sunday, February 12th, 2017
12:40 pm - Some Call Me.... Mrs. Stu?
Just a quick response to this bit on female patronymics:

The lawyer Miriam González Durántez was unimpressed this week when she was invited to speak at an International Women’s Day event by someone who addressed her as ‘Mrs Clegg’ (she is married to the MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg). The Daily Mail deplored her ‘aggressive feminism’, while below the line its readers, inevitably, complained about bloody foreigners with no respect for British traditions.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Emily Thornberry MP–who is not a foreigner but rather the Shadow Foreign Secretary–protested to the Speaker after Theresa May called her ‘Lady Nugee’ (Thornberry’s husband, it transpires, is Sir Christopher Nugee). Whereas ‘Mrs Clegg’ seems to have been a careless mistake, ‘Lady Nugee’ was evidently a deliberate taunt. Even as May apologised, she found it necessary to inform the House that she herself had been known by her husband’s name for the last 36 years.

You might have thought that if there was one thing we could all agree on in the year 2017, it would be the right of every individual to be referred to by the personal name of their own choice. English law affirms that right: as long as you aren’t trying to defraud anyone, you may go by whatever name you like. So why is there still so much controversy about what married women choose to call themselves?

There's plenty more at the blog post, including some interesting history. The whole thing is more a breach of etiquette than anything else. FFS, use the last name people prefer (unless they're being absurd, but using their actual legal name is not an absurd assertion in the etiquette realm).

Now, I don't really care what name you use for me in the social realm. I'm fine with being called Mrs. Grace, Mrs. Stu, Mrs.-Diarmuid's-Mother - whatever it takes to identify me to whatever audience. I'm a fairly tolerant person. I use several names that aren't my legal names (examples: meep, meepbobeep, Mary Pat Campbell), but I don't require anybody to use those.

But I will give warning: I am not Mrs. Mary Pat Grace. If you want to call me Mrs. Grace, that's fine as-is, but full name use, it's Mrs. M. Stuart Grace. I'm a Miss Manners stickler on these forms.

It's just about politeness, and if you break the etiquette rule, I'm going to assume you're being annoying on purpose.

(Okay, I don't actually get worked up over Mary Pat Grace. As I said, I'm really tolerant. But it's properly Mrs. M. Stuart Grace.)

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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
3:41 pm - Opportunity Knocks; Luck Says "How YOU doin?"
Okay, not sure where I was going with that metaphor, but just a quick response to this:

The Key to Good Luck Is an Open Mind

Luck can seem synonymous with randomness. To call someone lucky is usually to deny the relevance of their hard work or talent. As Richard Wiseman, the Professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, in the United Kingdom, puts it, lucky people “appear to have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and enjoy more than their fair share of lucky breaks.”

What do these people have that the rest of us don’t? It turns out “ability” is the key word here. Beyond their level of privilege or the circumstances they were born into, the luckiest people may have a specific set of skills that bring chance opportunities their way. Somehow, they’ve learned ways to turn life’s odds in their favor.

“[Wiseman's] research is hilarious,” says [Christine] Carter. “He takes people who self-define as lucky and people who don’t say they’re lucky, and then he puts a $20 bill in the street and the lucky people notice them and pick them up. And unlucky people don’t.”

The experimental design may seem a little silly, a superficial way to distinguish the fortunate from the unfortunate. Yet this was the kind of result that Wiseman found in several related experiments over the course of about 10 years, from about 1993 to 2003. In one such study, Wiseman provided a group of volunteers with a newspaper and instructed them to count the photographs inside. Written in large font on half of the second page was this message: “Stop counting—there are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” A similar insert placed halfway through the paper read, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” Overall, the self-identified unlucky participants were left counting. It suggested that luck could have something to do with spotting opportunities, even when they were unexpected.

Wiseman didn’t stop there. He turned these findings into a “luck school” where people could learn luck-inducing techniques based on four main principles of luck: maximizing chance opportunities, listening to your intuition, expecting good fortune, and turning bad luck to good. The strategies included using meditation to enhance intuition, relaxation, visualizing good fortune, and talking to at least one new person every week. A month later, he followed up with participants. Eighty percent said they were happier, luckier people.

I will just talk about the first item: maximizing chance opportunities.

I call this "Go do stuff". Sometimes it just means going to an event, or going for a walk for 15 minutes, or whatever.

But many of the random opportunities I've gotten came from me going up to somebody and telling/asking them something, because I was so moved.

Example: Early in the days of "googling one's name", well, let me not re-write what I wrote before:

Friday, August 30, 2002
Mary Pat Campbell's puzzle solution

A couple years ago, in a little competition with a friend of mine, I searched on my full name at google.com (we were trying to see which of us had more mentions on the web). And I found that there was a letter to Games World of Puzzles, praising an extra-large Paint-by-Numbers puzzle (it was of a butterfly) and asking for more! more!

I noticed that this was on a little site called conceptistech, and I noted that it gave me "attitude" because I didn't use Internet explorer, so I sent a pissy email to the people running the site... and the rest is history.

The rest of the story is how I came to write the original letter to Games World of Puzzles, but let me tell the story of the pissy email to Conceptis. (I'm infamous for my pissy emails.) I don't have the original (it was from my grad account at NYU), but I basically bitched them out about how crappy IE was and couldn't they use something better like Netscape?

And they said "How would you like to test puzzles for us?"

I said "...HOT DAMN!"

For several years, I got pdfs of the puzzles they wanted to be tested -- I would print them out, time how long it took me to complete, and my gauge of the difficulty. They were using my results not so much to let others know these things, but to train their code for automatically grading difficulty/time for puzzles. Conceptis is still around, though they re-branded. I still play their puzzles online, and I've got their apps, too.

But my point is that I "get" these opportunities because I communicate with lots of people about things I care about. Sometimes it's stuff that's complimentary -- it's not just bitchy letters from me (it's just that I find the responses to those to be really funny, and it's usually due to what I'm complaining about.) Sometimes it's just asking a question.

But the point is that I respond, and I go do stuff. Some of the bitchy letters (and complimentary ones, and questions) end up with no response at all, but that's okay. I'm not going into this expecting any particular result. I certainly wasn't expecting to test hundreds of puzzles (and I was basically paid in free puzzles, including the puzzle portrait of me), but man, free entertainment! I loved it! I've gotten side jobs, picked up some email pals, free CDs (and free drinks) from hanging out in bars -- all sorts of things. You just never know. It's not all the time, but it's often enough to keep life interesting.

The issue is that some people go in with "luck" and "opportunity" looking for something extremely narrow, and miss all sorts of possibilities that surround them because they've got the blinders on. I find that with various professional networking functions. Blech.

So just wander about, say howdy, and maybe luck will say howdy back.

And it may not be something you were ever expecting in the first place.

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Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
4:12 pm - Story of a playlist
There will be videos, so give me a moment to be nice.

videos! videos for all!Collapse )

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Sunday, January 29th, 2017
7:55 pm - Regifting
Last weekend, I was in South Carolina for my Grandma Campbell's funeral.

This is not about the funeral.

can you find it?Collapse )

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Sunday, January 15th, 2017
12:38 pm - Never Forget: Thoughts on To Build A Castle - a Dissident Memoir by Vladimir Bukovsky
This is not a full review; not yet. Here is a link to the current US Amazon listing for the book; I will be re-posting a cleaned-up review later this year. I mentioned the specific project to publish an e-book English version of this book, and I await the final form.


After reading the copy I had, I posted the following review to Goodreads:

Amazing book, chronicling Bukovsky's run-in with the absurdities that kept the Soviet Union afloat for a while. Specifically exposes the abuse of psychiatric diagnoses for imprisoning/abusing political targets. I am a child of the 1980s, so Bukovsky's narrative is of an earlier Soviet Union that is forgotten by many. Just as Nazi era narratives are important, this is very important for people to read to know what it was like to be an individual caught up in the machinery of the Soviet Union.

There is a thread of humor, reminding me of Crime & Punishment by Dostoevsky, where I just had to laugh. The pyramid scheme of prisoner complaints to gum up Soviet bureaucracy was genuinely funny.

Key passage in the book:

Why should I do it?” asks each man in the crowd. “I can do nothing alone.”

And they are all lost.

“If I don’t do it, who will?” asks the man with his back to the wall.

And everyone is saved.

That is how a man begins building his castle.

I bolded the bit from the book itself.

This is important. It is the heart.
Thoughts and quotesCollapse )

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