Being Occupied

November 26th, 2012

At the moment I'm only employed part time. My family likes it because I'm around a good portion of the day and they get to see me. We've spent years reducing our bills to the smallest footprint we could, so we can get by on my very small salary but only just barely. Our margin for error is very low and we have a hard time affording maintanence items on cars and such.

It would be nice to have a way to do something with my free time that would bring a small amount of income. I used to do light construction but found trying to manage jobs and still show up on time for my main income undesirably stressful. 

I keep coming up with things I'd like to try but I keep having to remind myself that I can only compete in areas where the products cannot be easily transported. Otherwise China will beat me out in price every time. In an economically depressed area that has been depressed long before this current reccession, price tends to win out. That means that if you can put it in a shipping container I'm not going to make any traction with it.

It comes down to, I'm being extremely picky choosing the conditions that I want to work under. Mainly because I have no compelling need at the moment to take on an undesireable task. I'd probably take a range of full time jobs if one ever presented itself but I have been looking and applying but so far nothing has materialized.

The problem with an industrial society is that, because all other products are mass produced and inexpensive, people expect everything to be that way. I'm more likely to be able to produce a few products that are not transportable or can be reproduced.

On site labor is not easily transportable, this would include construction jobs. I have some experiance with training so I've thought of offering computer training aimed at people who don't know how or why they should use a computer. I know there are plenty of people that could use the training but I'm not sure if people are willing to pay for it.

Marginal Survival

November 26th, 2012

Large organizations like corporations and countries measure how they survive in terms of growth each year. For established organizations, a single percentage point means a lot. Loss of a single percentage point can mean widespread poverty.

I just got done watching National Geographic's Guns Germs and Steel and if the central premise of the show (and the book that came before it) is correct, then all society operates at this tiny level of modest expansion if it is to thrive. 

What can an individual learn from this? Usually individuals don't think that they operate at this scale of making 1-3% growth per year because income often stays stagnant for years at a time. Another problem is that 1-3% for a household income for someone taking home $40,000 a year is between $15-45 a paycheck. The difference between personal growth or ressession is the price of a pair of shoes. Tell that to your wife the next time she says that she "had to have them".

In truth, most people don't have any kind of growth. To be growing, they'd have to have a surplus at the end of a year. Corporations pay this out in dividends. Governments pay down debt or they can make investments in reasurch. You and I would have to have a savings account to really have personal growth, otherwise we squander what could be growth on meaninless perchases.

What would it mean to a person or family to have an economic growth rate of 1-3%? Ideally the same thing it does for the big guys, a buffer against economic loss. The ability to hold onto where we are economically with the prospect of being able to weather financial turbulance without going back into the negative.

The problem is that, unless you're very disciplined, it can be very hard to not spend every penny that comes into the bank account. There are always wants and needs that will quickly gobble up that $15-45. Corporations are that disciplined because they're entire existance hangs on that growth rate. They have accountants that watch that needle like a hawk and sound the alarm the moment it dips. Governments are more like you and I, their needs and wants are more maliable and therefore squander their growth more readily.

So how can you and I hold onto that growth? Savings that you're not going to impulsively dip into is one way but if you don't have a surplus at the end of the month how can you save? Making more money is another but probably the most difficult to accomplish. Then there's the one that everyone thinks of first, cutting thing out of a budget.

I'd like to develop some personal tools to help me monitor my personal financial growth. I had developed a budget program that was doing wonders for me personally but I kept tweaking it until I broke it. I'm thinking that I need to dust it off and put it back together.

The Deep

February 24th, 2012

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17013285

The BBC News has a neat interactive infographic about diving deep into the ocean. Check it out here. Great stuff for learning about what lies beneath and maybe even teaching the kids a thing or two.

Autism and Expansion

December 8th, 2011

Back in May I wrote a post about ideas that underly the mechanical cause of autism. Quickly, the idea there is that an autistic child's brain is growing faster than it can establish structures used by most people to process information. Dr. Eric Courchesne is lead author on a paper that focuses on just such a mechanism as the cause of Autism.

The paper reports that boys with autism have 67% more brain cells than nurotypical brains and weigh 17.6% more. This means that the individual brain cells are smaller than normal and that has been looked at as being a possible cause in the past. However this new paper is suggesting, just as I did, that it's the overproliferation of cells that could be the actual cause.

Flying

December 8th, 2011

This is probably one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. Please watch the video. I could see this being big at an amusement park. The flying rig probably isn't that expensive but the jetski rig would be. The idea that these common vehicles can generate this much pressure is amazing.

I just noticed the price on this thing! I was expecting it to be in the range of a car that I couldn't afford. I thought $30,000 for sure. Nope $6,600. Anyone want to go in with me on one of these? That's a lot for me, but it's not impossible.

Hmmm. Maybe I could sell rides for $50 apeace. I couldn't do it in New York though the insurace would kill me.

A Fillion Dollars

August 21st, 2011

Definition: The number of dollars that it takes for Nathan Fillion to make a personal appearance at your home. This is a variable number dependant on the personal life of Mr. Fillion but is considered to be a substantial sum.

Other uses: I'm a Fillionare!

It would take Fillions of dollars to fix that interstate, it's a real wreck.

The lotto jackpot is now one Fillion dollars!

 

I had this going through my head last night as I slept. Every time I woke up I had "a Fillion dollars" in my head.

When in doubt reboot

August 21st, 2011

If you're a tech support kind of person you know that mantra. It sounds stupid but you'll be amazed at what problems it solves. The sad thing is that it's a frustrating victory when it does solve a problem.

I was on vacation with my family recently and the air conditioning in my Chrysler 300M started to blow hot air. It was hot out and we had to drive home in a car with no AC. It wasn't just that the vents weren't blowing cold air or even cool air, it was hot air as in the heat was on full blast. The only thing I could do was turn the air off completely and roll down the windows.

I went online to see what I could figure out. Every article said the same thing "You refrigerant has leaked out". I knew that wasn't the case because when I touched the high pressure side of the lines they were cold. The compressor and the refrigerant were doing their job.

We had someone who knew how to fix cars come over and look at the car. This was just as a favor so he wasn't going to tear the car appart. He agreed that the compressor was working. I had heard about the internal temperature sensor failing in a car before and that caused the air to blow hot because the car was designed to default to heat if the sensor failed. That makes sense if it failed in the winter, it could save someone's life. In the summer it's just inconveniant.

I monkeyed with the temperature sensor but to no avail. Our friendly car mechanic agreed with me that I was on the right track and that it would probably need to be replaced. I called around to junkyards to see if anyone had a Chrysler 300M that I could pull the climate control out of. No luck.

We drove home in the heat. It wasn't horrable, just unpleasent.

I got home and called the local Chrysler dealer. They wanted $90 just to diagnose it. $50 an hour just to look at it.

I looked on ebay and found a climate control system for my car for $99. What a deal! I ordered it and waited. When it came in, I ran out and swapped the parts, turned on the car and. . . hot air. I was upset.

I went in and started to do some reading on AC systems, again every answer said "Your refrigerant leaked out". But then I found a web page that mentioned a few more possibilites. One of them that was possible was a stuck "Blend Air Door". If the door was stuck the car might blow heated air no matter what. That sounded like a possibility. The bad news was, it's an 8-10 hour job to tear apart the dashboard to get to this device. Every article said "give up". Okay really they said go to a licenced AC servicer, same thing.

Then I saw a post, somehere buried in a list of posts that said "Pull the M1 fuse out or disconnect the battery for 10 minutes." If you've ever seen the battery for a Chrysler 300M you'll know why I went for the fuse.

The fuse must power systems on the car while shut off. Things like the radio clock and dome lights. I pulled the fuse and started the car. Hot air. I turned the car off and on again. Then, I felt it, the air went from hot to cold! I put the fuse back in and it kept working. The Blend Air Door must have a position tracker in the car's computer and it had gotten out of position. Rebooting the computer, or at least the tracking system allowed it to reset.

Anyone want to buy a climate control system for a Chrysler 300M? I've got two of them now. . .

On Autism, Eggs, The Cosmos, Infants Counting and Entropy

May 23rd, 2011

An Egg is a low entropy object. It is ordered and structured. If that order and structure is disrupted it stops doing what it is intended (as a reproductive structure) to do (and becomes breakfast). Entropy is chaos, crack an egg and it becomes more chaotic and entropy increases. The egg is commonly used to explain what low entropy can mean. In short low entropy means order.

The observable universe has it's share of high entropy and low entropy examples and as a general rule entropy increases. Things break down from low entropy to high entropy. Only gravity, crystals and life seem to actively buck this trend although crystals and life require energy to be formed.

Cosmologists talk about the universe expanding. That not only can things move away from each other, that the universe itself is expanding like a giant rubber band being elongated. They theorize that as the universe expands, energy will become so diffuse that all the stars and galaxies will eventually (billions and billions of years from now) fall apart and cool off. Their structure drawn asunder by space expanding (sort of). Entropy becomes the winner.

It often is said that each person's own personal universe consists of what is in their own mind. This is of course a metaphoric thought but still compelling. Just like the universe it has it's structure. In fact the structure in a human's brain may be more complex than the whole rest of the universe (counting all the cellular complexity).

Just like the universe, man once thought the mind to be relatively simple. The more man peers out in telescopes into the universe the more structure he sees. In the same way, the more man investigates the mind, the less of a jello like grey blob it proves itself to be.

It would be easy to imagine the mind as a series off nondescript neurons that self assemble connections to each other as input from the senses are provided to them. If this were true though, everyone's mind would be completely different than the next person's. That is not the case, while there is individuality to every mind, there are structures. Some control the hands, some manage vision, some handle danger, from conception these structures are slowly forming as the brain grows and they don't stop forming, maybe ever but most notably until a person is in their mid twenties (then we start killing it with alcohol). These structures are evident in that an infant can count logarithmically, meaning it will notice a change from one item to five, then ten then twenty. No one teaches them this skill. In order for a baby to do that, they must have a structure in place that is formed in their brain. A structure that is meant to handle numbers in that way.

Now what happens to those structures when space expands faster than the structures can form? Entropy increases, chaos. How could that happen in a brain? So far I've been explaining what thoughts are leading to my thought on Autism.

An Autistic child's brain is on average 2% larger than a normal child's brain at age 2. Some go all the way to 10% larger. Then by age 5, although their brains stay larger than average, the growth rate slows. Normally people would think that a bigger brain would be a good thing but perhaps not when the brain is trying to form and grow at the same time. The structures may be diffused by the unusual expansion of the tissue they are forming in.

As evidence some autistic children act fairly normally until about age two when quickly and dramatically they loose social and verbal function. Now to be clear, some children's autism is observable nearly at birth by telltale behaviors but commonly enough, major symptoms can arise very quickly. Something that was there, breaks. Some structure that used to exist stops working.

Which structure breaks and how much function is lost is random and variable from one child to the next. Perhaps if the expansion is minor, with some work the brain can repair the structure over time. Then again if the expansion of tissue is severe in just the wrong place, a vital cognitive structure could be rent apart, never to reform.

Then there are those that are savants. How does this happen? This falls a little more intuitively under the idea that a larger brain would seem to be better. Some structures may be disrupted only marginally or at their periphery. The holes are repaired and either give rise to more computational potential in the structure or a different but still valid structure. In most cases these are an autistic person's quirks. In some they may disrupt filters that prevent a person from taking in details that are normally thought of as irrelevant. In some they may allow the person to more actively manipulate their mental process. There are any number of ways that the expansion could do some good over time as the brain struggles to catch up.

This would seem to match the pieces of the puzzle that I am aware of. This could be testable by looking at an fMRI and seeing which parts of an autistic 2 year old's brain are bigger than average and then seeing if the corresponding parts are linked to where they later show disfunction. It also may be possible that the whole brain grows and the amount of disruption only occurs in some of the more delicate structures of the brain.

RPE-Role Playing Education

May 5th, 2011

There's a real problem with engagement in classes. Students dutifully finish their assignments. They practice over and over to become perfect but there's a problem with this approach. Students study to accomplish the goal, to pass the class. Once they pass, some of that knowledge stays with them and a small sliver of it may find a use some day, most of the effort, the memorization is wasted. It isn't the student's fault. They're never told why or how to use the knowledge.

Educators typically tell a student information on a subject but there's something that writers know about delivering information that teachers don't use. There is a mantra in writing "show don't tell." Meaning that if you can, give the reader a scene that explains what is happening and have the characters explain as they go. A teacher that shows instead of tells is usually remembered as a good teacher.

Game designers one up the writers though. Their mantra is "do don't show." Meaning that the game player shouldn't watch a scene, they should experience it. There are teachers that do this and when they do, they are remembered as excellent teachers. Why are they excellent? They engage the student. By doing, the students learn not only what to think but how to think about what they've learned and how to dig even deeper.

Educators observe teachers that do this all the time but don't usually figure out how to replicate it. They know that there's something that teacher is doing different but can't put their finger on it. After all, they're teaching using the methods they're given, how could an entire system of education fail to give them the tools they need?

The reason why the adequate educator and the excellent educator teach differently is because the excellent educator loves their subject (or subjects). Not that the adequate educator doesn't like their subject, they do, but they don't have a mastery of it. Teaching something you have a mastery of is effortless. That mastery comes from thinking deeply on the subjects and practicing that deep thinking. Deep thinking is effortless when you love the subject. I have a suspicion that the love of subject isn't hurt by just being naturally smarter than the average educator.

Where does that leave our adequate educator? Is there a way to transform what they know into the kind of memorable teaching they aspire to? We could simply say to them "Learn to have your students do instead of telling them what you know." That could get some of them to think deeply on how to accomplish that goal but what most hard working educators need is a set of tools. They don't have the time and energy to develop their own.

Ideally all the students could be put into a real world environment where they would learn the skills required. They could be put to work in factories, on construction sites or in offices but they would almost certainly be pushed to the sideline and told to get out of the way. Why? They don't know how to do the work at hand and will only slow down the people trying to make a living. Obviously this was how young men and women were educated for thousands of years and society functioned well enough but society has moved on. Another problem with this method is that you usually have to choose one job to learn at a very early age and then you're stuck with it.

A more flexible option is to have the students role play a series of jobs starting with the very simple and moving up in complexity as they progress. This doesn't mean that a school has to become a stage with costumes and props, there's already a model for how to recreate a complex world with little or no budget, the RPG.

Role Playing Education

Getting students to do instead of telling them what they need to know is not a new idea. Science lab classes have been doing this for long enough. Building a structure that will get students to learn history in the same way is a bit of a different animal. What would a class of students learn by role playing a day in the life of a typical household in ancient Rome? The students aren't just reading about the subject, they get to live it the same way players of a RPG live in the worlds they create. Suddenly transitioning High School students to this idea would likely be met with a lot of resistance unless done very delicately but younger children would more than likely adapt quickly. If they grow up role playing history it isn't a jarring change.

Just as there are GMs that develop their own campaigns, some teachers will likely want to develop their own RPE "campaigns" (more likely to be referred to as developing their own curriculum) but they may not have to. If pre-made RPE curriculum was available and all a teacher had to do was run through it like a GM runs through a pre-made game, then the teacher will have a much easier time adapting.

The only question left is does the RPE curriculum need a system? What would the D20 system do for a RPE? As much as I'd love to hear teachers all over the country saying "Ok class take out your character sheets and one die tens" I don't know if the metaphor should go that far.

I see all the RPGs out there and I'm struck with the feeling that if five percent of that energy was translated into RPEs the effect could be enormous. I wouldn't expect schools to jump on the wagon, not until study after study said that students learn better with RPEs and those studies were buried in an egyptian tomb and then unearthed by a post human society but what about home schoolers? What about private schools? What do you think?

Space Battleship Yamato

March 18th, 2011

When I was a small boy, there was a cartoon on TV called Star Blazers. It was my favorite show at the time and was a big part of my boyhood imagination. Later on came Robotech and that only added fuel to the fire.

As soon as I could find it in my late teens or twenties, I purchased the whole first season of Star Blazers on VHS. Sadly, unlike Robotech, Star Blazers did not hold up to my memories of it. I couldn't keep watching it after a few episodes. Now, the Japanese studio that makes Godzilla movies has come out with a live action movie remake, and it looks amazing!

My Japanese is so rusty now, I can't pick out what's going on. I hope I can find an English Dub at some point. There is word on an American production of the movie but I don't think Hollywood could do Star Blazers right like Space Battleship Yamato looks like it does.

This movie was huge in Japan. It was a blockbuster beating out Harry Potter.