25 Feb 2013, 11:53pm
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An OpenCourseWare Experience Part I

I recently said to a friend that I felt I needed to learn more about databases.  That’s kind of an odd thing maybe, since I don’t really have much direct involvement with databases, but I like to learn.  He suggested I take an free online course from Stanford and sent me the link to Stanford’s Introduction to Databases.  The course opened up for me a whole new concept, OpenCourseWare.  Oh I’d heard of it before in the context of Wikiversity and MIT’s recordings of their live courses, but this was different, an instructor led course with homework and quizes and exams and deadlines.  53,000 people were signed up by the first week of class, around 16,000 took the first quiz on schedule.

The course is awesome.  The first week we got an overview of relational databases and then dove into XML, DTD’s, XML Schema and JSON (which, BTW, are not relational databases), then we went heavy into Relational Algebra, which reminded me why I liked set theory in elementary school so much and made me wonder why set theory wasn’t really even talked about in high school (something I’ve wondered many times, actually, sets rock).  Next we slid into SQL, which is specialized programming language used for managing data in Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMSs) and originally based on relational algebra.  I had a bit of trouble with some of the SQL modifications and I haven’t done much of the challenge level exercises yet but I am having a lot of fun. Lastly we covered Relational Design Theory, including multi-valued dependencies.  This past weekend we had the midterm exam and I did well.

I have thought for years that we need more distributed models of education and this is a step in the right direction, several steps really because, among other things, it’s free! Many of the students were not in the US and were not native English speakers. Yet they were able to participate. We collaborated through a combination of piazza and IRC (both had their places but I much preferred the latter). This is moving us towards a true democratization of ideas. And it seems that the teachers find it rewarding to, even more so than their normal teaching in some respects. Professor Widom, the chair of CS at Stanford, heads this course and she blogged a year ago that this was “one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.” 1

Some of the courses are eligible for credit – at other institutions.  Others are a reasonable prep for credit by exam at a university or for a CLEP or DANTES testing.  Of course, the course may not mirror the exam and that could be a problem. What we need now is to establish an institution that distributes education this way entirely and finds some meaningful way to authenticate student identities and validate their scores, thereby obviating the need for a separate examination.  We could even group source the faculty.

At the same time, we need professional organizations to recognize this form of training for continuing professional education, such as is required in law, medicine, accounting, etc. Such continuing education is often costly, especially for those not actively practicing.  These programs should count for continuing professional education wherever other college course do (and even without accreditation they would likely already qualify in many jurisdictions, albeit with lengthy paperwork requirements).

Most importantly though, these have immediate value for personal/professional development.  You can learn about almost anything, asynchronously (i.e. without fixed class times) and free, in a semi-structured environment designed to not require expensive texts.  And, there is so much relevant knowledge to learn.

I’m compiling a list of OpenCourseWare materials on my wiki.

Notes:

  1. Widom, Jennifer, ACM Sigmod Blog, “From 100 Students to 100,000″, http://wp.sigmod.org/?p=165
8 Sep 2012, 1:46am
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Uinta

Tired feet in Tevas, only haf-way through


Some friends recommended a few places to go while I’m here, unfortunately, they were all 6 hours away. On Monday (Labor Day) afternoon I finally decided to get out of the hotel and drive to Timpanogos National Monument and see what was there. I had read online that it would be impossible to get a cave tour without ordering a ticket in advance, especially on a holiday and I didn’t really bring good cave clothes, so I didn’t even bother to try. I paid the six dollar entrance fee and told the Ranger that I just wanted to walk around. She gave me a cheesy trail map. After driving a bit I left the monument and entered Uinta National Forest, then things on the map started to appear. I oriented myself and decided the Tibble Fork trail looked promising. The area was crowded, there is a small reservoir there where people were boating and fishing and an “OHV Parking Area” (I had to look it up, OHV stands for “Off Highway Vehicle”). Four wheelers and dirt bikes abounded. I crossed the dam and quickly located the trail, it was two miles to the ridge though it seemed further. I wasn’t used to either the hiking or the elevation. Mostly it was lightly forested and brushy and there weren’t a lot of good views until towards the ridge. I took pictures with my iPhone 4 and I haven’t really sorted them yet. I took multiples trying to get the light right, so what follows is really an unsorted gallery of all the pics I took. I may come back and sort through them and throw out a few but if I do that now this post won’t be out before I go back to Maryland. Here are some from a few of the meadows on the way up:

At the ridge the views became substantially more impressive, though I was dismayed that there was no Biergarten, the top of every good mountain should have a Biergarten. I proceeded Easterly along the ridge trail, the first few are looking Easterly and Northerly, then follow some looking Southeasterly.

I wore my Tevas, they held up well and are normally good for such things, if you leave out the fact that hiking in shorts and sandals in the Rockies is not exactly in accordance with snake awareness. Unfortunately, maybe the pads on the straps were old and my feet were not used to it, I got nasty blisters. They started to appear as I approached the ridge and got progressively worse, not much for them at that point but to walk thru to the end.

Then some pics of the way down the Mud Spring trail toward Tibble Fork Reservoir, even with blisters I decided it was better to take another way back:

I saw a deer, a Muley, I think, though you can barely make him out in this picture:

Finally, back at the base there were a few rather good shots, though the sun was behind the mountain in question, so the light isn’t the best:

I thought this sign was interesting as I was surprised shooting was allowed in a National Forest:

But maybe I’ve just been in Europe too long.

Some of the photos of peaks make the mountain tops look like they have snow, this is just overexposure required to get any detail of the landscape below.

Overall, it was a lot of fun. I only met 13 people on the trail in the 5-6 miles and probably 3-4 hours that I hiked, which was a relief as the reservoir below was pretty crowded as were the parking areas and there were many OHVs as mentioned above. Unfortunately, of those 13, three were on dirt bikes and they nearly ruined it. The sound and the smell were so horribly inconsistent with everything else on the trail. The others were either walking, riding bikes, or on horseback. The trail was missing something though – besides the Biergarten at the top – a group of 20 or 30 friends, neighbors, and acquaintances and a cabin at the bottom with food and beer; but that’s for another post.

2 Sep 2012, 2:59am
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Ungemütlichkeit

I look across to the other side of the bar where
Young men stand drinking shots, there are no long tables here.
Whom shall I Prost?

Young women order rum and coke and stand behind me, sneering,
Pissed, either they think I’m hitting on them or wish I were.
Whom shall I Prost?

I look down at my 10 oz. five dollar beer that they call
strong here in Utah and I laugh
With what shall I Prost?

I ordered Gemütlichkeit but all I got was a three-two draft.
I am in my motherland, yet in this place
I am the only foreigner now.
Why should I Prost?

Lines 11 & 12 are adapted from lines 5 & 6 of “Dorfabend”, by Hermann Hesse, published in Gedichte, 1919.

29 Feb 2012, 2:05pm
Opinion Racism
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H8 teen girls – gasp and blush at silly sports writers

Reading the article in the Huffington Post about the two girls who made the racist YouTube video, I was appalled; not by the comments that the girls made – the sadness there would be merely that the girls believed them and found them funny – a rather common symptom of youth, rather that others showed far greater ignorance and intolerance by threatening to kill them, thus forcing them into hiding. The dismissal from school was puzzling too. As a veteran of school boards and courtrooms, I’m not quite clear what the grounds for expulsion were, nor how these could possibly meet with constitutional scrutiny, unless the girls attend a private school – something I think unlikely by the substance of their comments. But these are teenagers for God’s sake and teenagers say stupid things, most of which they learn from adults.

Speaking of learning from adults, adults say a lot of stupid things too. The same day I read the article about the comments about Nicks player Jeremy Lin and the corresponding article about the ESPN apology. Although there were a lot of upset groups, I got the strong impression that most of the trouble came from the drop-jawed WASPs who just couldn’t believe that anyone would make a joke that clearly appeared to utilize Lin’s race. I didn’t see anyone calling for the death of the sports writers at fault nor the president of ESPN or the NY Times. They were all too busy laughing at Saturday Night Live’s parody on the whole thing.

The NY Times and ESPN quickly apologized, of course they did, there’s money at stake, but ESPN’s done the very same thing before (even used an identical headline), I question their sincerity and most importantly whether anyone at ESPN really is concerned that they’ve hurt Lin’s feelings or they had actually implied that Asian superstars are really failures waiting to happen.

The girls also apologized almost immediately, they had to, they were probably forced to by adults around them. I’m also suspicious of their sincerity, but not in the same way. I think the girls are actually scared and they ought to be – though I don’t think they ought to have to be.

My friend and fellow attorney, D.C. lawyer Salsassin commented insightfully on the Huff and notably these girls say in their video (yes, I listened to the whole thing), that they have black friends. I agree completely with Salsassin that these girls were salvageable minds. Now they will likely learn to fear blacks and hate liberalism (by this I mean classical liberalism, traditionally characterized by a love for open mindedness); because clearly they should think of themselves as white trash who don’t deserve to live.

In high school I remember meeting a girl who’d moved to the area who was a real racist. She didn’t know what she was talking about anymore than these girls but she was a darn sight more serious about it. She made it clear to me that she felt sorry for me that in the National Guard I had to take showers in the same places that black people did, let alone maybe even at the same time. That was a new idea to me at the time and I asked her a lot of questions to try to figure out what the hell she was on but I could tell that she was afraid of getting the cooties I’d probably caught and I think her family soon left the area, either that or they took her out of school when they realized we thought the right side won the war. We also had a commissioner in our county who was a serious racist and made it obvious at public meetings. The girls in this video are different. They aren’t even real racists. They just need to learn some stats and history and meet some more decent folks of all races. Hell, they just need to learn to pay attention to their audiences and media and they could be decent Republicans – and I say that as one who has been one, Republican that is.

Unfortunately, the response to hate has been hate. Like the paradox of completely open minded thinking, “should we allow closed mindedness in our midst” apparently we have rejoined “Don’t be a H8er” with “H8 a H8er” at least if the H8ers are a couple of teenage girls.

Film is Alive – with the Help of eBay

I’ve been thinking for years about getting back into film photography including processing my own film.  These days that seems quite anachronistic and I was wondering whether anyone even still did it – while at the same time I was hopeful that some of the gear was cheaper than it used to be.  I did a little research, much of which is preserved in the links on my wiki, and discovered that film is alive and well as  sort of a cult of traditional photography made up of artists, advanced amateurs, a few professionals.  The artists seem to scan their own negatives and slides, the professionals mostly seem to send theirs off – of course some of the artists consider themselves professional photographers and some of the professional photographers likely consider themselves artists.

20 years ago when I was doing my own black & white and color reversal (slide) processing and shooting some color and sending it off the lab like most people – now, nearly everyone seems to be shooting either B&W or color reversal, with a few shooting both regularly.  Practically nobody I found on he web is shooting color negative film, even those who are sending it out for processing – there are good reasons for this but this article will have enough diversions without discussing film that much.  Additionally, in contrast to 20 years ago, a huge proportion are shooting medium format, or “MF”, (almost entirely 120/220, with a very few actually respooling 620), of course that may not be many more than 20 years ago, it’s just that they now make up such a large percentage of film photographers because so few people are shooting 35mm film anymore – it’s not really competitive with digital for many applications and it’s certainly not as easy for amateurs and family snapshots, but I don’t really care what’s competitive.  Many of the people who are shooting MF are also mixing in some 35mm but 20 years ago MF was the great barrier through which only studio professionals and artists passed, often never to return.

The biggest difference from 20 years ago though is, as I had hoped, the price.  Film is no cheaper but not much more expensive, either and processing is more expensive though maybe not in adjusted dollars.  But film cameras, on the other hand, are very inexpensive with the exceptions of a few elite cameras and some highly collectible ones, and because most of the application is artistic, a multi-thousand dollar camera isn’t necessary – and what was multi-thousand dollar camera 20 years ago may now only cost a couple hundred plus lenses, even new out of the box.  Lenses are still expensive, partly because they are so easily damaged but largely because the big camera companies have kept their lenses relatively compatible, so they’ve held their value; though prime lenses, especially the basic ones that often come with the camera, are reasonable enough that one can pick up a very good system for under $100 in many cases.  Some people even specialize in taking artistic pictures with cheap cameras.  Even more, twin lens reflex (TLR) cameras are a great opportunity, they are MF and wicked cheap.  35mm range finders (RF) are also excellent buys.  I used to think they were for the less advanced, now I understand they can be very serious cameras, even those without interchangeable lenses. – I started wondering where I put my old Chinon 35EE which continued to take good pictures even after I fell on the ice in Korea 21 years ago and the back broke open and had to be held shut with duct tape (I even salvaged most of the pics from the roll that was in it! – So, off to eBay; particularly as folks don’t do yard sales around here.

I submitted ridiculously low bids on several items on a whim to see what happened and of course nothing did.  Matt Denton suggests bidding early to “get your name on the board” and then waiting until the end to bid again, I tried that and got a nice little Argus Argoflex E for $18.53 plus $12 shipping last week – but I might have gotten it even cheaper if I’d read another guide earlier as I’ll discuss below.  The Argie got here very quick and although it has a few issues with the aperture and shutter, there are instructions on Matt Denton’s site and some photos of the guts on Marcy Merrill’s Junkstore Cameras site to explain the necessary service and repairs.  But what I really wanted, based on everything I’d read, was a Yashica or maybe a Mamiya.  The latter have, nearly unique among TLRs, interchangeable lenses; however Ken Rockwell says he had poor experience with them.  But Ken, Matt, and Karen Nakamura all speak positively of the Yashica TLRs, either the Yashicaflex D/635 (the 635 is just a later D with the ability to shoot 35mm as well, a pointless gimmick, especially today, but otherwise identical to the later Ds which had particularly good glass for what was billed as an amateur camera), or a Yashica-Mat, which was the professional TLR line from Yashica.  The original Yashica-Mat and the Yashica-Mat LM and EM had darker viewing lenses compared to the 12, 24, 124, and 124G.  The Yashica-Mat 12, 24, 124, and 124 G were really all the same camera but for a few inconsequential differences, the largest being that the Yashica 12 only took 120 film and the Yashica 24 only took 220, whereas the 124 and 124G took both.  Everyone says that the 124Gs are overpriced versus the 124s but, at least on eBay, I didn’t see a substantial difference with apparently quality cameras from sellers with decent ratings running between $100 and $150.  Yashica 12s and 24s are much less common and seem to price only slightly lower.  Because 220 film is not as readily available and comes in a much narrower selection of speeds and types than 120 film, the 24 is of limited use and the 12, 124, and 124G are all of nearly equal value for actual photography (as opposed to collecting).  So, I made up my mind to look for a decent 12, 124, or 124G at a reasonable price but that I would consider an LM, EM, or Yashicaflex D/635 under $75 including shipping.  Fortunately, before I bought, I read Ken Rockwell’s guide to eBay.

Anyone thinking of buying on eBay should read the whole thing, but there are basically three rules: 1) never ever bid until the last moment, 2) when you finally place your bid, bid as much as you would be willing to pay less shipping – or put another way, bid the amount which if you saw anyone bid anything more on that item you would say “that was stupid”, and 3) never bid more than 80% of what you can get it for new (not a problem with TLRs only the Rolleis are still in production and they are way out of my range).  That helped a lot but another point in his advice was what really got me what I wanted (I hope, I haven’t seen this one yet).  He says to select items you want to bid on based on a descending priority of factors: 1) the rating of the seller, if the seller is rated low (which he defines as less than 99.6%) don’t bid no matter how rare the item is – but on the other hand a high rated seller may be worth the risk even if there’s little information, 2) the photos, 3) the description – reading mainly to see if the seller is forthcoming about problems, showing the seller’s honesty.  He basically says to ignore the quality of the writing or even whether it’s intelligible – noting that many sellers don’t have any idea what they have.  He insisted there are no deals on eBay anymore but I think that’s only true if you assume everyone follows his advice; as I shall now describe:

Shortly thereafter (as in, within hours), I came across this listing, with a minimum bid of $25 and no bids, closing about 3 days hence, from a seller with a 100% positive feedback (albeit not very many sales, but the seller was from the US and not from NY or Chicago and wanted payment via PayPal, so I wasn’t too worried about a scam or stolen camera ring – especially for a TLR):

“yashica 15 twin lens reflex”

Well, I had been doing a lot of research on old cameras over the past week or so, especially TLRs, and Yashicas had made no small part of that, yet I had never heard of a “Yashica 15″ and it didn’t fit with the 12 and 24 and 124 naming convention, because on a 6×6 cm sheet of film one will get 12 exposures from a roll of 120 and 24 exposures from a roll of 220 – if I remember right you might get 15 exposures from a roll of 120 if you were shooting 645 (6 x 4.5cm), but that’s generally only done in TLRs with modifications or gimmicks.

So, I looked at the pictures – well there was only one, just  a frontal shot and not very much detail but it clearly said “Yashica-12″ on the camera.

Then, I read the description, it read as follows:

“the cover over the glass is bent and is some aggravating to open the cmaera hasnt been used in over 40years .it is no in like new condition,”

I mulled over the last clause, it sounded like the camera was “not in like new condition”!  But finally I settled on Ken’s theory, the description is largely irrelevant and the seller’s marketing skill and even grammar have no correlation to the quality of the product or the seller’s service.  I wrote to the seller, not because I wanted clarification but because he said he shipped via UPS and I wanted to see if he would ship to an APO (which requires shipping by the US Postal Service).  He replied that he would but that “the camera might need some minor repairs”.  Hmm, since he volunteered that I thought I’d better ask what repairs he was thinking of.  I asked a few detailed questions about the shutter and the lenses and asked him what he thought might need repair.  He replied to me (but did not post his answer to the listing) that basically everything was fine except that the viewfinder hood was “sprung” and he reiterated his return policy.  I was on it.  There was one bid in now at $25, I waited.  5 minutes before bidding ended, the bidding remained at $25, I logged out and logged back in to ensure I wouldn’t have a problem.  1 minute before the bidding ended I reloaded the page to ensure I had the time right, still bidding was at $25.  10 seconds before the close (I have a slow connection) I placed a “max bid” of $101.  The way eBay works it placed a bid for me at $26 and then when 5 seconds later another bidder bid $33 it raised my bid to $34 and the auction closed.  Sweet, $34 plus $11 shipping is bringing me a Yashica 12*.  Thanks Ken Rockwell for your help!

*Actually there are a few ancillary fees from PayPal and eBay that are of little consequence since they are percentages of the selling price.

8 Aug 2010, 3:02pm
Opinion Philosophy
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Thoughts on the NY Times opinion column “The Stone”

On 16 May, the NY Times introduced a new opinion column called “The Stone” which describes itself as “a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless”.  They billed the series as “a rotating group ” of “contemporary philosophers”.  The same day, the chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York and the moderator of the series, Simon Critchley, posted the inaugural entry:  “What Is a Philosopher?“  While an interesting read, somewhere between Plato and . . . well, Plato – as that seems to be his only point of reference, the author failed to mention his apparent criterion for all philosophers: a Ph.D. and chair at a prestigious university.   How exactly this becomes important, I’m not at all sure, but over the coming weeks a number of self-proclaimed, university proclaimed, Times proclaimed, or simply Critchley proclaimed, “philosophers” make a number of comments on anything but philosophy, often throwing in a comment by Plato, Kant, or (God help us) Hegel here and there to remind you that they do know something about philosophy.  I’m not sure that life in the ivory tower actually precludes one from becoming a philosopher and several of the writers take offense at the suggestion that they live in ivory towers, but those who pretend to philosophy rate a fare share from the peanut gallery and so I will comment on a few of their ramblings here, or at least I hope to, if time grants me the chance, in which I will attempt to point out the flaws in their thinking and maybe make a comment or two of my own on the underlying area of philosophy.

One more general comment for the time being, first I would note that at least one of the authors suggests that the fact that he has stirred up a huge volume of comments means that it has been successful, at the same time he seems quite upset at some of the comments.  Plenty of political commentary draws a lot of response but that doesn’t make it philosophy.  One’s ability to tug at heart strings and enrage or enthrall may make for good poets, musicians, and actors, and these are not at all bad skills for philosophy, but they certainly don’t define good philosophy.  If they did, philosophy would be as simple as suggesting a mosque in any US village or making an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor.

13 Feb 2010, 10:33am
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American school threatens suspension for 2″ Lego gun; German Kindergarten invites children to bring firearms but leave the ammunition at home

The irony of juxtaposing these two items is overwhelming. The first is a story from Staten Island NY where a 4th grader was threatened with suspension for violating the school’s zero tolerance policy against toy guns for bringing a LEGO navy man with machine gun (less than 2 inches long) to school, full story here.

The second is an announcement to my 4 year old and 2 year old that their German Kindergarten is having a party for Fasching (Carnival). The announcement reads:

    Unsere Faschingsfeier findet am
    Frietag, den 12. Februar im Kindergarten statt!

    An diesem Tag benötigt Ihr Kind keine Brotzeit!
    Fürs leibliche Wohl ist gesorgt!

    Die Kinder dürfen sich verkleiden, wie sie möchten!
    Schusswaffe sind nur ohne Munition erlaubt!

    Der Kindergarten ist durchgehend bis 13.45 Uhr geöffnet!
    Bringzeit – wie gewohnt
    Abholzeit – 13.30 bis 13.45 Uhr

    Wir wünschen Allen lustige Karnevalstage – Helau!

(all emphasis original)
Note the third paragraph, which means:

    The children may dress however they like!
    Firearms are only allowed without ammunition!

Cancel Christmas – It’s an Inverted “U”

Paul Krugman in his recent op ed in the NY Times titled “Stimulus timing”, (@NYTimeskrugman) appears to be criticizing the administration’s stimulus package. Considering Paul has won the Nobel Prize in economics, this should be something to be concerned about, but is it really as bad as Paul suggests?

Although the timing of the stimulus package is his tag, he spends little time discussing the timing of the package relative to the real world and focuses on how the numbers graph out. First he subtracts out the underlying GDP to show the effect of the package. Although this makes good academic talking, it doesn’t take into account any possible change in the underlying real world GDP, it doesn’t even discuss it. That means it also ignores the possibility that he stimulus could, uh, stimulate and it seems to assume the money actually leaves the money supply the day after we get it.

He goes on to show how the stimulus is an inverted “U” (a somewhat lopsided one in this case) with maximum effect up front. He briefly describes the elements of his graph and then displays a nasty looking chart and comments “You can see why I and many others are worried about the second half of next year.” I’ll grant him that we are going to get less and less new benefits from stimulus from here on out but he makes it look like the world is going to end next summer. But what does the graph really show us? It shows us how horrible the day after Christmas really is.

Let’s use an example, a much simpler one but using the same numbers. Over the next 9 days I’ll buy things from you, not because I need them but because business is bad and I have cash to burn, so I just want to help you out, let’s call it a “stimulus”. I’ll spend $770, but I’ve decided you need a real boost right now so I’m not going to give it to you evenly distributed but in a sort of lopsided upside down “U” . Let’s tabulate these as PK does, P1, P2, etc. are the payments:

Rate Change Cumulative

P1 35 +35 35
P2 80 +45 115
P3 110 +30 225
P4 120 +10 345
P5 125 +5 470
P6 120 -5 590
P7 100 -20 690
P8 50 -50 740
P9 30 -20 770

I’ll try to manage posting a graph for this later but, guess what, there’s a perfect one at PK’s article and it happens to be the very graph I want to critique, so now I will borrow very liberally from that article:

“Now think about three questions you might ask. The first is, how much higher is [your income] this [day] than it would be without the stimulus? This should depend on “Rate” — on the quantity of goods and services [I am] buying right now.” In other words, your income is higher today than it would have been without the payment by exactly the amount of the payment! Amazing isn’t it, now if you really want to see something take the month of your birth and multiply by 7 . . .

“The second question is, how much faster is [your income] growth this [day] than it would be without the stimulus? This should depend on “Change” — on the extent to which [I'm] buying more stuff than [I] did [yesterday].” In other words, your income growth will be faster (or slower) than it would be without my purchases, by exactly the amount by which I change my payments from one day to the next. Some days I’m going to give you a lot of money but by showing you the change, you will be so scared you won’t spend it and if I show you this beforehand, you may even ask me not to give you the money.

“Finally, you can ask, how much of the stimulus money has been spent?” At PK’s column a Nobel laureate will explain to you how to figure this out, but here’s a test to see if you can do it on your own: take $10 to the store, pick out a couple candy bars and a bottle of soda but don’t look at the price, then hand the clerk the ten, look at what you have left and tell me how much you spent, for this example it doesn’t even matter if the clerk gave correct change. Come on PK, really?

As we’ve discussed, the “Rate” is an inverted “U”, and that PK says, is exactly his point. “The peak effect on the level of [your income] comes at the top of the curve, but the peak effect on growth comes earlier, before the curve flattens out. In the table above, [my] spending peaks [on the fifth payment], but the peak impact on growth is in the [second payment], [if we look at this at the end of day three], it’s behind us. That’s true even though by the end of [day three] less than a third of the money has been spent.”

“And when the spending begins to tail off, the effect on growth turns negative.” Uh, yep, that’s what an inverted “U” graph does, on the back end it goes down.

Another way to put this is that if I give you a present today, tomorrow you’re going to get 100% less than you would have gotten if I’d never given you anything! That’s even worse than an inverted “U”, it’s an inverted “V”! So, PK, don’t sugarcoat it, let us have it straight and stop charting change and start charting percentage change so we can see just how bad it really is. Cancel Christmas next year, we can’t possibly deal with December 26.

11 Oct 2009, 10:50am
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What’s a “Beer Stone”?

Last night we had some friends over for dinner. We had der Rehsbraten (roast roe deer), das Blaukraut (red cabbage), and die Klöße (potato dumplings; the word is related to the English “clod” and is pronounced somewhat like clues, only not so much, and with an “eh” sound on the end). Of course we had das Bier and also das Wein (we’re on the border between a famous wine region of Unterfranken and the beer capital of the world, Oberfranken. I commented on my beer glass, a very nice traditional Krug from the local Fußballverein, not one of those gaudy Oktoberfest ones that you buy in the airport, and one of the guests asked what it would be called in English.

Now, I’ve known since my first day or two here that beer glasses are called die Krüge (singular der Krug) and that der Stein means “the stone”; but I still thought maybe some of their beer glasses, such as the ceramic ones, might sometimes be called steins. First, I said that the style I had would just be a mug, but he said “I think a mug is for coffee”, so I told him yes, we’d call any large beer glass (other than an English pint glass), but especially a German style mug, a “beer stein”, but the generic name is mug. He was quite puzzled by “beer stein” as that would mean a “beer stone”. He explained that all German beer glasses are called Krüge, but that the ceramic ones are more precisely Steinkrüge (stone glasses). No one would ever think to call a Steinkrug a “Stein”, though.

Although we didn’t get into this last night, to confuse things a little further, a glass of beer can also be called ein Seidel (which refers to the quantity, today it is translated as a half-liter). In Franconia, where we live, this is known as a Seidla, the “la” ending being roughly equivalent to the English “ette” – smallish and not exactly manly. Although the half-liter is the most common volume of beer these days, ein Maß (or very locally in this part of Franconia: a Moß), a liter krug, is the traditional volume, primarily reserved for festivals now.

16 Sep 2009, 8:54pm
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Erster Schultag

Wednesday the 15th of September was the first day of school for William and Sam. Sam is in the first grade and the first day of first grade is a big deal in Germany. We had to get him a schultude, which is a cardboard cone filled with candy and other cool stuff. We bought him what we thought was a mid-sized one but when we got the school we found that most of the kids had ones made for them in Kindergarten that were much larger than the largest ones for sale at the store! Oh, well, if we’re here long enough, Lloyd will get one of those since he starts Kindergarten in a couple weeks.

First we went to Sam’s classroom and met his teacher and the kids did a few things to get organized. William was pretty much on his own at this point, which isn’t easy for him I’m sure. He’s been homeschooled until now, and entirely in English. Now he’s in the third grade in a rural German public school, quite a shock.

After Sam was more or less organized, we all went to the local church for a special first day of school service, around here almost everyone is römisch-katholisch (pronounced cutOlish – English is one of the only language with either of the th sounds we have). There is freedom of religion but they understand that to include certain religious rights. They educate all children in religion and all Catholic holy days are official state holidays in Bavaria, which is predominantly Catholic (Bamberg is a former seat of the Holy Roman Empire and the resting place of the only Pope buried north of the Alps and they are serious around here about the Catholic church it is part of everything). When I enrolled the boys in school, the school asked what religion the boys were on a form. I asked what that was for and the principal said, “oh, because we have to know what religion to teach them” (!) I was pretty sure that even if the UCC exists in Europe, the name wouldn’t translate well, so I asked what the choices were. I think they might have been worried I’d say Jewish, because then they’d probably be required to find someone to teach it and if they thought finding a German tutor for the boys was hard! I can’t imagine looking for a Jew around here, let alone a Rabbi (there are Jewish monuments in the city and you can tell that the stars on them were added back at some point – in a European city the size of Portland, Maine I have yet to see a man wearing a skullcap – if I did I’d guess he was the Archbishop sooner than a Jew). Anyway, I said I was Protestant and they didn’t understand at first and then they said ahh protestantisch! (which although it looks the same is pronounced with emphasis on ”ant” so it’s understandable that they couldn’t tell) and so they wrote down evangelisch. I asked what it meant for fear that it was a bit more conservative than we and maybe I’d better choose katholisch after all, and they shrugged and didn’t really know what to say. I asked if it was Lutheran and they said “ja, ja, Lutheran” but I wasn’t very confident in this answer. I later learned that evangelisch actually does mean Lutheran.

Returning to the service, the priest wasn’t around, a woman led the service – maybe a deacon. William’s class was there too but Sam’s class had to go up the alter and do something special, I think she marked crosses on their heads with water. I couldn’t really see. We were able to sing along a little as there was a handout and singing in German is not really that hard if you have the words. We also recognized the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father but otherwise we had no idea what was going on. There was apparently some discussion of caterpillars turning into butterflies because the lady had a stuffed toy caterpillar that she could turn inside out and it became a butterfly. Unlike almost everything else in Bavaria, there was no beer involved.

Then we walked back to the school but we went to the gym (which they call something entirely different which I have forgotten - ein Gymnasium is a high school). There the principal talked for a bit and then the second and third graders (I guess – William was with them anyway and they were divided into two groups) sang songs and read showed off the ability of the second graders to read a highly alliterative children’s book.

After this we went back to Sam’s room and the teacher told us to say “Tschüss” (the German equivalent of “Bye”). We did and then she closed the door. On the way out we saw that William’s class was at recess so we went to see if William was OK, he was on a raised area above us and he walked to the rail to speak to us, a half-dozen kids or more followed him. I thought they were just curious and wanted to hear him speaking with us in English. A little while later we saw him walking by himself in a different part of the schoolyard so I asked him why he wasn’t with them trying to make friends. He pointed out that they were all girls. Not having been followed around by girls since Montessori School, I really couldn’t relate.

We left and came back at 1120, the first day of school got out early. We then went out to eat with all the families from our village who had children in the first grade and I ate too much Schweinshaxe and nearly got ill.

The next day (Wednesday) the boys rode the bus to school and in the afternoon they had their first Fußball practice. Saturday they have there first game! They don’t mess around with Fußball around here, it’s serious business.