Friday, January 18, 2008

Cargo Cults and Safety Margins

I described cargo cults to you once as religions that sprung up in the south pacific during WWII as a result of us being there.  I did a pretty bad job of explaining them, so if you haven't read the article you should.

So then I was reading about cargo cult programming, and I found the idea interesting.  I know you don't care too much about programming talk, but this is only slightly about programming.  CCP is when you do something you don't understand to solve a problem, and in the process do unnecessary things.  If for example you didn't know what a function did but you knew it solved a problem you had so you always put it in your programs.  Another example was if you were told that commenting is good, so you comment every line including stuff like 'Print "Hi"; //this prints hi on the screen'.  I expanded this idea to all of life.

I think this is one of the big problems with working with people.  They establish certain things that serve no purpose but solve or at one time solved a problem, so they keep doing it.  Often doing the full process is wasteful, and sometimes it's not needed at all (as it doesn't solve the problem, or the problem doesn't exist anymore).

I know I also told you of a story where pigeons where put in a box that gave food at the press of the button, and they learned to press the button. Then new pigeons were put in boxes that gave food at random.  The pigeons 'learned' elaborate superstitions for getting food.  If they just happened to jerk their head when food came out, they keep jerking their head, and eventually more food would come out.  They'd use that as confirmation of that particular head jerk movement.  Over time they'd add more and more complex rituals to the process.  I don't know what relevance this has, but I felt like mentioning it.

A real world example I was thinking about was boiling water to kill bacteria.  There are a few different rules out there about how much you have to boil water to make it safe.  The problem is anyone can type up something that looks very authoritative and it's believable.  How are we to know, or independently test how long it takes?  Realistically we must put our faith in some other source, but how to determine that source?

A problem arises with safety margins.  Say the real answer was 1 minute. Then say some government agency was preparing a guide that had to do with this.  The guy decided how long to tell the public to boil water would likely put in a safety margin over 1 minute.  You don't know if maybe you made an error in determining 1 minute, or if people will think water is boiling when it's not quite yet, or if altitude or other environmental factors will effect it.  So they may say 2 minutes to be safe.  No one wants to say 1 minute, then get people killed because they drink unsafe water (or get sued because of it).

Then someone else comes along, say some school or company that wants to put out it's own guide.  It'll use the government's report as a source, and take it as a reliable source.  However, they will too add a safety margin, which will then make the info even less accurate.  The problem could even arise with different government agencies.  If one agency sees that another already did the work of a study they will likely go with the published results. Further down the road the original agency may want to republish an updated guide, at that time they may see that a different agency had published a different time, and use that.  The original team might not even still be there, or they may put more faith in the other agency.

That actually leads to another interesting problem.  People often put more faith in others to not mess up, simply because they know they may mess up. People will usually put more faith in some other guy, even if they don't know them, when it comes to figuring out something important.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Colonizing Planets

I think we (as in you and me) need to start thinking about what planets we are going to colonize. Mars is always the popular choice, but I think there area a lot of better choices. First off the moon. The moon is great because it's so close, and it's tide locked to Earth. That's the only real benefits it has though. It has almost no resources and no atmosphere. So everything we need will need to be taken there. Thus we first need either a space elevator or a launch loop (get working on that), or some way to get stuff into orbit for cheap. Then we can build solar collectors on the light side, and telescopes on the dark side. The great thing about telescopes on the dark side is that they will have no light or interference from Earth, and being on a body, with people living on it, it would be easy to service.

Next up Mercury. A lot of people doubt living on Mercury, something about 'surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead' or some such nonsense. Well I'm not made of lead, so why would I worry about that? The poles though are much colder, and some think that some craters at the pole could actually be cold enough for (water) ice. Plus the days are like 180 days long and thus you could spend a few months on the shaded side exploring or whatever while it is cold. The benefits of Mercury are that it has tons of solar energy (6.5 times the power Earth gets outside the atmosphere), it's surface contains valuable resources, including He-3, and iron.

Moving on we can hit up Venus. Venus is an interesting planet, as it has the exact opposite problem of all the other inner planets, too much atmosphere. I think Venus is actually probably the best confident for colonization, with the possible exemption of the Moon (or maybe this Earth place I keep hearing about). You could start with the atmosphere, build floating habitats, that would let you take advantage of a good temperature and pressure. The solar power is 1.9 times Earth, plus the clouds reflect it back up, so you can have them double sided. The atmosphere is made up of mostly poison, but at least it's an abundant amount of something. Granted we won't be breathing the atmosphere, but as long as we build durable structures we can use the stuff as fuels for something.

The other thing is that terraforming Venus actually could happen. It's closest to Earth in size, and distance from sun. Plus it already has the atmosphere, we just need to strip the excess, which is easier than creating an atmosphere out of nothing. If we could just cool down the planet some, it would be a positive feed back loop that would further cool down the planet, and then we use plants to turn the CO2 to O2 (get working on this, too).

A side note here. I just got back from lunch and it's snowing hard. I really look forward to hiking in the snow. Mainly in actual snow coming down, not really just the snow on the ground. Hopefully we'll get the chance (if this weather control device you are tasked to build [as of now] ever gets completed I guess we will).

Now we can move on to the outer solar system. The outer solar system is much farther, so longer travel times, can't use solar power, and colder. The benefits are that you have a lot more options, both the planets and the 800 moons. A lot of the moons have valuable resources, some have liquid water.

I've lost interest in this topic since lunch, so we'll see if anything else pops into my mind.

Well, nothing.


This topic about companies duty being to grow is interesting to me. This ties in with something I came up with a while ago. I prefer to use the term entity, and use it to describe anything that takes in money and uses it to grow. An entity could be a person, a company, or a government. One entity could be a part of another larger entity. Now one thing I hate is the anthropomorphication ($10 word) that people use on things like companies and the Earth (Gaia). People say stuff like the Earth doesn't want us here, or that a company wants to grow. When using these phrases you have to be careful to just be using them as analogy, not to actually be implying that a company has a sentient desire to grow. A company does want to grow, but it's just the results of all the parts that make it up, and the way they interact. I suppose we could debate that a person's conscience is just the result of the parts that make it up, and the way they interact, but that's another debate for another day.

First you understand that any entity that gets money will try to grow, and get more money you can start to understand how entities will interact. Companies and government are supposed to be enemies, balancing each other out, and often they do. This can be compared to any environment where there are forces competing for a limited resource (food, money). At this point I really wish you had read the Dawkins books, because he explains a lot of competition stuff that I'd like to use as analogies. However, to simplify, animals almost always compete for the same resources, but sometimes it's in both their best interests to work together (those fish that clean sharks teeth, ants and some crazy things that live in their colonies breaking up leafs). This is how we can think of entities working. They will do what is best for them, usually that will be at the detriment of other entities, but sometimes that'll be mutual beneficial for both entities.

Again I'd like to remind that an entity is a person, company, government, school, organization, or anything else that collects money and grows. Remember here that taxes are detriment to the individual, but a benefit to the government (some people like to say it hurts one person, but benefits everyone, which is not true, it hurts one, and benefits many, a slight but important difference). In the case of a individual giving up money to a government you can think of it as pure intimidation, the same thing that would make a rat give up food to a tiger (or whatever), you lose a little, but if you resist you lose a lot. Remember that money is power for entities. I'm sure that in practice there are a few other things that give an entity power besides money, but money is easy to measure and see, and it always gives power.

Any entity that gains money will use it to get itself more money. As it gets more and more money it will have more and more ability to gain money. It doesn't matter if it's a person, company, or government it will use it's money to gain money. It's often said that a companies desires is to grow, which matches what I am saying, but I take it to a greater scale, everything desires to grow.

(I want to say Obviously,) The only entities that matter are people. The other entities are made to aid and help the people. Companies and governments are both vastly different organizations, but both tend to reach the same goal. By getting money for many different people they can provide things better than each individual by themselves.

Now that I've (re)explained my entities growing idea, I'm not certain how it ties in with your story. SWA, Continental, the US Govt, and each person, each wanted what was best for them, in some cases this meant working with other entities, in some cases it meant working against them. But in all cases it was only doing what was best for itself, never did any of them have any altruism (opposite of selfish [often used by Dawkins, I didn't know it at first]). To say that SWA has a social responsibility is at the same time true and naïve. Ideally every non human entities only purpose is to better serve humans, but realistically the only thing that any entity does is grow, and help itself.

The key is organizing it, and the environment it works in, so that the only way it can grow is by helping people. Continental found a way to grow so that it didn't have to help people, and it exploited it. The government found a way to grow that didn't require helping people and exploited it (presumably they got money from continental).

To actually address what you said, neither SWA or continental is going out of business. Even after 9/11, and without government subsides (remember subsides is another way to say the government forcing you at gunpoint to give money to someone else). That's the beauty of capitalism, if something is a valuable service people will pay for it, and if there is something people are willing to pay for then someone will provide it. The airlines may have had to drastically slashed prices, but they'd stay in business. Even if they did go out of business providing flights is very valuable, people will pay for it, and someone else would buy the planes and facilities at bankruptcy auctions and provide the service cheaper, and with less waste. That would be bad for the current presidents of the airlines, as they wouldn't be in charge of these new airlines, which means no money for them. Again remember that the presidents are entities, that want their own best interest, not the companies best interest, at the same time the company is an entity that wants it's best interest not the peoples. The CEO's/companies don't care if the people have air flight, they only care if they are providing it and getting lots of money for it.

To restate my main point, had the airlines gone out of business others would have moved in the fill the gap, and done a better job. I guess I didn't really talk about your points, because to me they are all givens. The fact that companies want to grow, and will use the government to do so is nothing new. I'm more interested in how to fix it. And to fix it we must understand the process of how it happens.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Energy Storage

Today I read about energy all day.  I was thinking about potential and kinetic energy a lot while on the bike Monday, and today I was reviewing energy.  As you may know, energy storage is a big problem today.  It's one area that has only improved slightly while most others have had explosive growth.  Chemical batteries aren't going to be improved much, we need to find a new technology, but so far fuel cells have only minor success.

One really interesting form of power generation (not really storage, but technically and effectively it is [odd that it would be technically and effectively true, yet not really in common usage]), is radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG).  Since I never know what to assume you know, my policy is just to review everything.  RTGs use a little chunk of radioactive material, and as it decays uses the heat it generates to create power.  Pretty simple really, and they have great qualities.  They are often used for space exploration.  They have a high power/size ratio, run practically forever, and are very low maintenance.  They are pretty much the promised nuclear batteries that run forever.  Since people are terrified of the word nuclear you'll only find them in the most exotic of applications.

Another form of storage though, that I had only slightly herd of before (mainly from Slashdot talking about it in UPS in data centers) is the flywheel energy storage (FES).  These are also pretty simple, yet have some interesting qualities.  It's just a wheel that spins very fast, and when you need power you use the spinning motion to power a generator.  At first this would seem absurd, but they work quite well.  They run in a vacuum with magnetic bearings so there is virtually no friction, the article claims they can hold a charge (keep spinning) for years.  It also claims they are over 90% efficient (the power you get out is 90% what it takes to spin it up). Also they are very low weight (for the amount of energy stored), long life, low maintenance, no memory effect, and they can be charged up are drained very fast (which is a big problem in chemical batteries).

I suppose there are some downsides, something about a metal wheel spinning over 50k rpm in your laptop (sitting on your genitals) could be frowned upon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Housing Bubbles

An idea I had a while ago is a new way of defining adulthood.  I think there should be 3 phases to life, child, adult, elderly.  You are born into childhood, then at any point you wish you could take some sort of test to graduate into adulthood.  Once in adulthood you'd have to regularly retest and whenever you failed you'd pass into elderly.  The test would have to be more than just knowledge, it'd be hard to test maturity or whatever, but you probably could figure something out.  Another issue would be if you failed once in the middle of your life you couldn't become elderly just like that, you'd have to be able to retest after a month or something, and 3 failures would be elderly.  Another issue would be people who want to stay a child. Being a child you'd be supported by your parents, and they couldn't throw you out.  You couldn't vote, or drive, or buy alcohol, but if you didn't care then you could cheat the system.

I suppose it'd also be capped how many hours you could work, like not more than 20 hours, and 5 in a day.  Then you could only get crappy jobs, and while your parents would have to feed and cloth you, they wouldn't have to give you anything extra, so you'd probably grow tired of it pretty fast. The other choice would be if you weren't an adult by say 20, you'd automatically become the responsibility of the state, and they would put you in some crazy place for special ed kids.  That would likely suck, and discourage people from taking advantage.  I'd guess parents would have the option of keeping their kids with them if they wanted, but this way the kid couldn't force the parent to support them for life.

The other end of this is that it would ends elderly rights.  It's pretty crazy that my grandmom who doesn't know what day, month or (likely) year it is, and thinks she might need a phonograph to play a dvd can vote, or drive, or do basically anything else.  Many people would agree that old people shouldn't be able to drive, but that is just a minor problem that people only complain about because they drive slow.  The real issue is that they can still vote, which is insane.

I'm also intrigued by your interest in the recent housing bubble.  Bubbles happen all the time, in every market, and housing is always a high volatility market.  I don't think this bubble was that bad, prices shot up, now they have fallen and are stagnating, thus over the long term they go up in step with inflation.  It seems to be your fear that prices could go up higher than an average person could afford.  That can't happen though, as who would buy the houses?  Regardless of what price you put on a house it's value is what will be paid for it, if people can/will only pay $200,000, and you are asking $500,000, then the value is $200k.  Should is meaningless, the median income will always be able to afford a home, as long as the supply of homes is enough to cover the majority of population (or at least the demand of population that wishes to own a home).  Again your use of justified is strange, there is nothing justified in a free market, just what happens.  If you are selling your house, which is only "worth" $200k, but you get a buyer to give you $500k, then it is worth $500k.

You seem to favor some sort of government regulation in preventing bubbles. I am strongly against that.  Any new government is inherently bad, and you must justify the cost/benefit.  Free markets tend to regulate themselves, that is a core believe of libertarianism.  However, I differ from most liberationists in that I'll agree that not everything can just be left to the free market.  There are some natural monopolies, and some areas where we benefit from the government doing things.  With housing though, I do not think the government has any place regulating prices, not unless they reach some critical level, where people are truly living in the streets.

Lastly your statement about more efficient housing is interesting.  I assume you mean with a static sq footage, and an increasing population we must fit more people per sqft (more efficient).  However, this makes a false assumption, that we have a static sqft.  First off it's not sqft, but cuft, since we build in three dimensions (I know I'm debating assumptions that I assumed you made, but these are general assumptions I could foresee someone making).  You may say we have a static cuft though, and that only delays the problem.  However, we have an effectively infinite cuft.  We can build down to the center of the Earth, and build up to the edge of the universe.  We don't know if the universe is finite, but assuming it is, this still gives us more space than we could possibly need for at least 100 years.  Not only that but we have the ability to expand land into the oceans (which we already do), or just live in the oceans.

You may think it's silly to argue we could build infinitely upwards, but I'm sure people of the Roman Empire would have thought it absurd to consider building 1000's of feet upwards.  I know that's a lame come back, but it's not the whole point.  The point is we have unlimited space to build, it's just that the cost to build there goes up as we use it.  This is the same situation as people crying about limited natural resources.  We have plenty of oil left, it just gets harder and harder to reach.  This is why there have been reports saying we have 20-50 years worth of oil left for the last 50 years.  They mean there is 20-50 years worth that is about as easy to reach as what we are using today.  As we run out of that oil though, new technological advances, and just greater needs will drive us to use the harder to reach oil.  I think I remember reading that there is enough uranium to power the world in the ocean, but extracting it is very expensive.  The point is we will never reach a point where we run out of energy (well not until we use all the entropy in the universe), it will just get harder and harder to use.

The point of that tangent was to say that we will never run out of housing space, it will just become more and more expensive to house people.  At some point the costs of housing will get high enough so that people won't have kids, either because they can't house them, or because they can't afford kids plus housing.  This applies to all growth problems, to include food. The only issue becomes if there is a sudden decrease in the supply.  With housing this doesn't really apply, but with food it could happen.

The Katrina lawsuits are absurd.  I can't imagine any circumstances that would justify an individual from being awarded a billion dollars ever.  I didn't pay hardly any attention to any of that story, but I remember that people were pissed with the federal government.  You should already know I will say the federal government has nothing to do with hurricanes, or disasters.  Actually upon confirming that I found this, which is interesting: Article I, Section 8: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;"

General welfare does sound like it could include disaster relief.  It also could include health care, education, or just about anything else.  This is a common problem with the constitution, much too ambiguous.  It is pretty well known what the founders wanted to express, but they couldn't get a constitution passed that was that explicit.  Even 230 years ago politics prevented the country from getting what was in it's best interest.

Anyway, when you asked about what should be done (and you seem to have much more knowledge of the situation, as I've never heard of any of the wards), it made me think.  On one hand I want to support the free market to fix itself.  If people want to build there, let them build.  On the other hand though, it is the state's responsibility to support it's people.  If a disaster hits then the state should help them out.  With that in mind is it fair for the other people of LA to subsidies the poor choices of the people of NO?  Is it fair for the state to restrict people from living in certain areas?

I think the state should emanate domain all the land, level it all (thermonuclear weapons work well for this).  But then what?  Do they just let it go back to nature?  Do they sell it to private parties with the restriction that they pay some extra tax to support future disaster relief? Do they only sell the parts that are relatively safe, and make sure the leave system is solid first (hire some Dutch engineers)?  I think it's a decision internal to the state of LA, and it's people.  Whatever happens they have to pay for it, and they have to decide what to do.

A cap on lawsuits is another interesting topic.  Almost everything I find online deals with a cap on just medical malpractice.  I think something needs to be done, but that something is a hard thing to answer.  I don't know if a straight cap on damages is good.  First off it'd need to be so high that it would be meaningless.  Even if it were $1m (and I can think of legit reasons to sue for more than that), if I sued you for $1m because you called me stupid would still be frivolous.  One thing commonly discussed on Slashdot is to prevent a corp from suing an individual.  That would help, but a lot of the problem is individuals suing corporations, and I don't think anyone would say we should stop that.  Another interesting topic is citizens suing their government.  It's interesting because when they win the money is their own tax money.  The government will only have to increase taxes to get they money they lose, so it comes down to anyone who is taxed by the government but not in the lawsuit paying them money.  On the other hand I think it is a good way of keeping government in check, still interesting to think about.

Back to our cap though.  Something I've had in mind for a while, would be some sort of penalty for filing a frivolous lawsuit.  I'm not sure how they decide civil lawsuits now, but I think it's either in favor of plaintiff or defendant, no neutral ground.  I think if you file a lawsuit the judge should be able to decide that it was frivolous, and then you would be penalized part of your claim.  So if I sued you for $1m, then the judge could decide it was silly, and award you $100k (10%).  The problem is you don't want to discourage people from filing honest suits, so it needs to be really sure that it is frivolous.  Currently when you sue they can countersue you for expenses, which is similar, but you can only sue for what you can prove you lost.

I think that would work well, although I could still see problems.  Someone suing the government for $3 quadrillion wouldn't care if it got declared frivolous.  They'd have to pay the government $300 billion, they'd just laugh and file chapter 7 (actually I think court imposed fines are exempt from bankruptcy, but have fun ever getting $300 billion out of them).

Another thing I've thought about is the favor money gives you in any court. I've always found it strange that you can hire a team a lawyers in a court. The only real solution I could see to this would be to make all lawyers government employees.  Lawyers probably wouldn't be a fan of this, as government pay is a bit less than the $x per hour (where x is the most absurd number you can think of) they charge now.  But it does make sense. Everyone else in the court is a government employee.  The government makes the laws, they should be best able to train someone to best understand the laws.  When you are involved in a court case, civil or criminal, both lawyers should be randomly provided by the state.  You would have the option of defending yourself.  This seems like a pretty simple idea, so I would think it has already been brought up and countered.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Education Reply

So my reply to your education reply.  People shouldn't need laws to tell them not to kill, but they do.  Lot's of things shouldn't, or should be, but that doesn't matter.  Again, stop looking this as helping someone, I'm not doing this to help the people, I'm doing it to help the country the government represents as a whole.  Big government and admin costs are really the same, and I don't think either would be a big deal.  Anything the government does will add costs, and require more people, the question that needs to be asked is is it worth it.  Everybody hates welfare in general, the entire purpose of the government though is welfare to one degree or another.  There is nothing the government does that isn't forcing others (at gun point) to pay for things that make you better off.  Again I think it all reduces down to if the reward is worth the cost.

Your concern about the increased volume is valid, I hadn't thought of that. I think those are the only valid problems, the increased amount of people going to school.  Although I'm not sure if they can be called a fault of the system, they are a fault of the school system.  It would be the same situation if some anonymous source started paying for education.  I think the market will fix it, the schools that let everyone in will lose reputation, and the price they can charge will go down.  With the additional tuitions school will be able to hire more teachers and build more room.  It will all take over a decade, but it's not like people will be dieing in the streets in the mean time.  It will be a short term decrease in quality of education for a long term net gain.  I'm not too sure how the process of starting a college works, but assuming it is kept as free of barriers as possible it will be a great opportunity for people to start a new school to fill the void as needed.

I think you noted I didn't like the GPA, but I feel it must be based on actual performance in the class, not on potential performance.  By percentile I assume you mean like those standardized tests we had to take, that tell us what percentile we are in intelligence wise out of the population as a whole.  Just look at me, I would score high on those tests, but I refused to do work in school, yet the state would pay for my education, which I wouldn't take seriously.  I hold very little weight with standardized tests, they are too easy to cheat at.  You may say you can cheat your way through an entire class, but you can do anything, but it's easier to cheat a single test than a months long class.

One of the biggest problems with No Child Left Behind, is with the test system it uses to rank progress.  The problem is that the test is a way of gauging the student and the teacher, thus the teacher is inclined to help the student cheat.  That is just one example of what can happen when you put all your faith in a single thing (a test).

I had a lot of complaints about school in high school, but I never felt the grades were that bad (one exception would be that absurd attempt to improve education by raising the numerical grade thresholds for each letter grade). In general two students would perform about as they should, even with different teachers, and at different times.  You may argue that the teacher has a huge role in how a student performs, and I'll agree.  Although it should never be that large.  I think a large problem in general about schools is long term teachers reach an unfirable state, and then can do whatever they please.  They often use their position to further the way they think other subjects should be taught.  An example is the math teacher that forces essays to be written, or those horrible classes were you are graded on keeping a notebook.  That is a problem with the administration of the school though, they shouldn't put up with such nonsense.

A big problem (and it's much bigger than this situation), is how to deal with a group of people that want something not in their best interest.  In general the population controls what is taught, and the population (or at least certain populations) may very well like a class were to get an A you just need to mindlessly copy notes.  Since we aren't training scribes that skill is all but worthless.  Lots of things teachers do is just to make their own jobs (of grading) easier.  Again though how do you handle a population that doesn't want it's own best interest?  How do you decide fairly what is in the best interest of a large group if they can't make the decision?  I'd like to discuss this further with you, but I've been thinking about it for a while, and I'm starting to suspect there may not be any fair way to do it.

So back to grades.  You say you don't need a higher education to build a better taco, and this is where I think you miss my main point (as well as the subtleties of taco construction).  A better educated populace would move up, and that would create a void at the bottom that our endless supply of illegals (that we won't stop) will fill.  I know this comes back to another old discussion we had, but with the whole population better educated they would be able to do a higher job.  Thus the taco maker would no longer be a taco maker, he'd move up, and the whole chain would move up, and it would create new jobs at the top.  More jobs at the top mean a better standard of living for all.

However, that was my weak point (as you may remember, I always present my points weakest to strongest, works well in email as I end with a strong point, but not so great in person since you cut me off and it takes an hour to give my strong point).  A better point is that we aren't just concerned with jobs, and economic growth.  You said your self the level of debt is proportional to the lack of finical training in school.  People need more training to prepare for life.  Life has grown much more complex than it was when the K-12 system was devised.  Very little of what would be taught then (the basics) is no longer needed, but much more new is needed now.

A better educated populace is better off for everyone.  Stop looking at it from the individuals point of view (helping with welfare), and stop looking at it from a job point of view.  Look at an entire population, then decide if they would be better off with a higher or lower education.  My number one concern in life is maintaining the balance between government vs people, and I think this is much less important in your eyes.  There is no denying that the people of the US couldn't care less what their own government does. There's something called bread and circuses, which says as long as you keep the population well feed and entertained they could care less about how you do it, or what else you are doing.  We reached a point a while ago where keeping us feed and entertained was no problem, now that the basic needs are meet, the government is free to do as they please.

As you should remember me saying, money = power, and our government has more money than any other entity on Earth.  The group charged with keeping them in check (us) couldn't care less what they do, as long as they live comfortably.  The worst part is they don't even need to be that well off, they just need to be convinced they are better off than they were, or than they could be.

The total apathy of us towards politics is appalling (and as someone who prides himself on general apathy I think I'm qualified to talk).  Not one out of ten could describe even basics of our government.  No one understands why we have states, and as far as they are concerned they are nothing more than administrative districts, larger than counties, smaller than the country.  Not understanding, at the least, why the country was founded out of states, and not just one country is a huge flaw.  This can be shown by the huge support to eliminate the electoral college after that election were the popular vote differed from it.  No one could understand how the winner could be different from what most people wanted.  I'm sure there were some people who understood the electoral college, and the history of state vs federal rights, and made an informed decision (for whatever reason), that a stronger federal government was better, but they were out numbered at least 100 to 1 by people who don't even grasp why we are called the united states of x.

A better educated populace is harder to trick, and would be at least slightly more educated in how things work and why they work that way.  I'm sure people would still be apathetic when all their basic needs are provided for, but at least they could make an informed decision if the need arose. You mentioned how you couldn't blame people for believing in gods when there were so many more unknowns in daily life.  But, you can't expect the fact that things are known to someone else to have any effect on people.  People need to know for themselves how things work.  I'm not just talking about civics, or political history, but just everyday understanding of how the things around us work.  How many people today couldn't explain half the things they interact with every day?  How many people do you think could explain how a microwave works (without using the word 'nuke')?  Such ignorance of our surroundings can only lead to poor choices.

I find it interesting that you support more things being taught, but yet not extending the period to teach them.  You want more practical stuff being taught, I assume at the expense of things you don't think are relevant.  We also seem to disagree on the additional subjects.  As you probably remember my policy in highschool was to do as little as possible and graduate.  This meant I didn't take any of the recommended classes, only those required by the state (as evident by my lack of a foreign language, which I remember surprised you).  Thus, I took a lot of practical classes that were meant for those not headed for college.  In particular I took 2 years of business, which largely covered personal finances.  I slept the entire period every day for 2 years and still got A's all the way through.  The class was even a joke to the other kids in the class.  I doubt any one ever got a C or below, and I doubt even more that any of them could remember even the most basics of the class today.  I also took a typing class, which covered letter writing, again a joke.

Making these classes a requisite would help, but there would still be levels, and the low levels will always be a joke.  In a way this is good, the system expels as little resources as possible on those that don't care, they get their minimum level of education to operate in society and then those who want more go on to college.  That's why I advocate the teaching in college as opposed to highschool.  Now I'm sure the counter argument is that the majority of those in college are just there for a piece of paper to help getting a job, but at least they are there of their own free will.

The subjects I'd like to see covered would be more general science and logic, statistics and probability, early US political history (the history of the political system, not the US), and more computer stuff.  Highschool should probably have less electives, recover the basics.  I didn't understand the basics of English in highschool (I still don't know what a preposition is), yet I was forced to read pointless novels about crap no one cared about, which were all to easy to get by with out doing.  Rehash the basics of grammar, and allow reading to be a elective (English should probably only be 2 years or so).  Math is much more needed.  Algebra is needed, but geometry and trig aren't that great.  Provide them as electives, but Algebra is the highest level needed, instead require statistics, and finance.  General world history is ok, 1 year of that, but much more extensive political history, and civics.  People must understand why the founders set things up they way they did.  More science, but more general. A combo year or physics, bio, chem, but then a few years of just how science works first.  Understand the scientific method, and how to solve a problem reasonably.

You may be noting that people would leave my highschool with less understanding of the world then before.  But the point is that they get what they need, a better foundation, then they can choose to pursue a higher education.  Highschool's goal would be to teach why, college to teach how.

This ties in with what I was saying about the good of the people vs want of the people.  Obviously the fact that I want more science and math, and less english wouldn't be much of a surprise.  I'm sure other people would want more english/history/gay crap, and less math/science.  I support the well roundedness of college, I think it is important to give people a view from all angles.  But not in highschool.  The goal there is to get people to understand why things are.  But, our problem arises of how to decide what needs to be taught.  Is teaching math/science better for people than the english/history?  How do we know for sure, and then how do we justify teaching others?

I'm opposed to your grading system.  First off, the fact that C is the middle ground is part of a much bigger problem.  It has to do with the way people refuse to be accurate, or reasonable (110% as a minimum).  I know I discussed this exact problem with you before.  I read about someone who tallied up the rating for video games from a bunch of different places over a few years.  The average was like 8/10, with like less than 10% under 5/10. A funny side quote is some past president who was alarmed to be told that half of American were below average intelligence.  My way of making this point when explaining how skewed the 10 point scale was, when rating girls on a 1-10 scale you never hear 5's.  Everyone is either very high or low. If you told a girl she was a 5 you'd get slapped.  Even if you told her she was a 6 she'd be pissed, yet 6 is above average.

However, the solution is not to dynamically change grades to make up for it. The number is a percentage of how well you did, and that is the only true gauge of you.  The letter is just there to help present the information faster.  I always found the letter silly.  The border between 89/90 is no more important than 90/91.  Before I discuss your system, let me review how it works to confirm I'm not misunderstanding.  It seems to be the standard grading on a curve.  The top 15% of grades in the class no matter how poor or well they do will be A's, the bottom 15% will be F's.

Assuming that you still will tie an F will a failure of the class this should have the effect of 15% of you class won't graduate every year, right off the bat.  But that's not even the biggest problem (points weakest to strongest).  The biggest problem is that two students that perform equally well will be given different grades depending on their peers.  You could get 90's on every test, yet if all your peers were getting 95's you'd fail. Looked at the other way if all your peers were getting 30's then you could get a 40 and get an A.  The only counter argument I can think of is that it would reflect the real world, in that your performance only matters in relation to your peers (the classic I don't have to out run the mountain lion, I only have to out run you).  My problems with that, is highschool isn't the real world.  Too much of highschool was justified as pretending to be the real world, just for the sake of 'preparing' us.  But they silly play we put on didn't prepare anyone for anything, and just got in the way of highschools true purpose, preparing us by giving us a basic understanding of the world.

If an entire class does well they should all get A's, and if they all do poorly they should all get F's.  I don't have any problem with adjusting the class, from year to year, to attempt to keep the grades matched up to a general break down of half getting about the C mid point, half below.  But that should be done be adjusting the difficulty of the tests, not be arbitrarily changing the grading system to fit the results.  You need to take in a larger sample than a single class.  A class could be as small as 10 people.  It wouldn't be unreasonable for 8 or 9 very smart or dumb people to end up together, skewing the results of the normal person.  By using the average grade in the class as a whole for a year you get a more accurate picture to adjust the tests.  Also it leaves a better audit trail for why a student did as they did.  If some kid gets a 30 in a class, you can look at the tests and say he didn't know 70% of this stuff.  If it was all on a curve all you could say is that he knew less than x other people.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ron Paul

So, doing some Ron Paul reading.

It was talking about he sponsored some bill to give a $1k tax cut for teachers, and a $5k cut for anyone who spent any money on any sort of education expense. I know you would probably be against this as you are against extra cuts, but I think education is a good area to spend money.

Obviously the one child left behind thing is terrible, but that's because it's just a way for the federal government to control an area it has no right to by giving funding then getting that area addicted to the funding then threatening to withdraw funding if they don't comply with insane requests. That is why it's a bad idea to let the fed get involved in those areas (to include insurance), and why it's a bad idea to let the fed have an (basically) unlimited money supply (let the states collect taxes directly, then give some to the fed).

So like I was saying investments in education are always a good idea. I'm in favor of any long term thinking, and education is the ultimate long term thinking. A better educated population is a better population in every area. Even a better educated Taco Bell employee will make a better taco (our number one problem today [poor quality tacos]). So, while I'd guess you'd be against it (maybe not, but seem to be against additional spending, and helping people out in general), I'd propose a GI bill for the whole population type thing. It would follow the same general outline as the GI Bill but adapted somewhat.

First off, let's say $1000 a month, with cost of living allowances. It would be a maximum of 36 months, and you'd get a percentage based on how much of full time you were going (so 2 classes is 50% full time, you get 50%, $500 [you'd also only use half a month, so you'd get 72 months worth in all, but still the same grand total {36k}]). Just like the GI Bill you'd be able to spend it on any expense that would help you get a job, like certifications. Also, like the GI Bill it'd pay the same no matter what your tuition would be. That $1k a month (so about $9k a year), would be the same even if you spent more or less. I think not having to work would help a lot while going to school.

The one major change I would put would be some sort of requirement on grades, I'd say A's and B's, and maybe some partial amount for C's (but it would still count as your whole month). I know they use that ridicules GPA system, and I don't really know what translates to what in it, I think it'd be 3.0, but that may be high. Also I think the GPA is an average (the word average in grade point average gives it away), and that would mean you could do horrible in some classes and still get the money. Instead I would like it where any class you got less than a B in you wouldn't get credit for taking (you still get the credit hours, just not the money). So if you took 4 classes and got 3 B's, an 1 D you'd get paid as if you were only going to school and taking 3 classes, (75% full time, $750).

There'd also have to be some sort of stipulation to pay off school debts if they happened before this. I was actually thinking of a system that would only pay off debt. It may be better because it would be able to only pay people that actually got degrees. And pay more based on how well you did, plus how high a degree you got, (and maybe what field you got it in [quantum physics > African arts]).

Some people would likely complain, if they had just recently paid off their debts. My response to this would be approximately "boo hoo, too bad, so sad", I suspect politicians would respond differently. The answer could be instead to simply pay for degrees, a set amount based on the above factors. I don't really like that, as it would pay out a lot more money, plus it's supposed to help people who couldn't/wouldn't go to school before go to school.

Like I said I suspect you'll oppose this, as it'll increase taxes, and create more bureaucracy (admin costs). It'd also be highly unconstitutional, but it'd be easy enough to implement on a state level. Ignore the help it provides to people, just focus on the return it would provide. Like I said above a more highly educated populace would improve all areas of life, and boost our GDP, thus tax revenue.

One unintended consequence I could foresee, would be that it would increase school costs, plus decrease pay for having a degree. Simple supply and demand says that as more people go to school the price will go up, and as more people have degrees the pay for that will go down. That is ok, as long as it's reasonable. What I don't want is for schools to raise their tuitions to effectively be old tuition + $1000 a month.

Anyway here is some other stuff I found in the Ron Paul article: "Paul charged his fellow legislators with voting for the Patriot Act without reading it first; more than 300 pages long, it was enacted into law less than 24 hours after being introduced. In response to such Congressional actions, Paul introduced "Sunlight Rule" legislation, which would not allow votes on legislation to occur until ten days after its introduction, with the intent of giving lawmakers enough time to read bills before voting on them. The bill requires allotting 72 hours for House members and staff to examine the contents of amendments."

"He proposed legislation to decrease Congressional pay by the rate of inflation."

I'm still reading other stuff, but it's time to go home.