Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Typhoid Mary

History Lesson for the day:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Retreat! Retreat!

This last weekend Vicki and I went away on a trip that is best called a "Parent's Retreat." It really was a win-win-win: We got a relaxing weekend to do nothing and be waited on for a change, Katie and her grandparents each got the opportunity to spend some time with each other.

I came back feeling like my batteries where recharged. We'll see how long it takes to drain them again.

Then last night, sitting on the precipice of the "the daily grind", we sat down and watched a special on George Washington as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army. They stated that one of Washington's greatest insights was realizing that he really didn't need to win the war - he just couldn't loose. As long as he kept his army together and healthy as possible, he would be around to cause the British Army more problems. Eventually they would tire of the game, and look to sign some sort of a treaty.

Therefore, Washington was not afraid to retreat. And in doing so, he was able to salvage as much of his resources and possible, regroup and strike the Red C0ats another day. He was recharging the Armies batteries. And while maybe some in Congress judged him on his apparent lack of victories, in the end he got the result everyone wanted: the Colonies became the United States. Smart use of resources - and an occasional retreat - were much more effective than letting National Pride (and his own ego) drive him to do something that was more direct and satisfying, but more draining on the future capacity to fight.

Which is really the same conclusion I drew on my Parent's Retreat. Initially, I felt guilty leaving Katie behind for the weekend. I was worried about any number of things going wrong - and I wouldn't be there to deal with it! But in the end, I was reminded that her grandparents where very capable of dealing with any situation, and that Vicki and I would come back fresher, better parents for the experience.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The value of "Play" versus "Drill"

Lately, I've taken to listening to NPR on the radio while in my car. The other day I heard this broadcast about new Youth Soccer guidelines. It really caught my attention, and not because I have a deep interest in Youth Soccer. While the story itself is about soccer, I think it hits on bigger issues in our general approach to learning in America.

The basic summary is that soccer coaches need to coach less, and let the kids play more. Don't force the kids to play set positions, don't run drill after drill, just let the game flow more like a pick-up game. I couldn't agree more.

In today's world, everything is optimized, prioritized, and streamlined. The basic theory seems to me to be: look at how things are best done, come up with goals and/or milestones for moving from novice to this "expert" level, and then drill, drill, drill - always focusing on reaching the next milestone.

While this may make sense from an analytic standpoint, it's really boring. As they point out in the audio, a large portion of kids drop out by 12. In my case, my passion was computers. If I had learned computers this way, I'd probably be managing a McDonald's somewhere. Instead, I was fortunate enough that my parents bought me computer and let me "play" with it.

Which is what they also point in the audio, the best soccer players just learned by playing. The advantage of this is that you learn what works, and what doesn't work all on your own, without someone telling you. And I think these self-taught lessons mean more, and "stick" more than just learning it in a theoretical sense. There is another even better advantage: you don't know what you can't do. You bring a fresh perspective on things, new ways of looking at it, you push the envelope. You think outside of the box.

I'm not saying that there doesn't come a time when refinement and coaching come into play, but even so, leaving some wiggle room for "play" will always be important.

Another concrete example of this fallacy of this teaching method is "whole language." Traditional "phonics" reading education taught kids to "sound out" words that they didn't know, and try to deconstruct their meaning. Whole language teaches kids to read the way many adults do. We look at a word, and instantly see the word as a whole, not individual letters, and move on to the next one. If you don't know exactly what a word means, you can figure it out by context and remember it next time. The problem with this of course is doing all that takes lots of practice. And in the beginning, when the kids don't already know much about reading, they are lsot. This is in essense saying, "Children eventually need to move around. We move around best by walking! Therefore, we will teach these children to walk upright first, there's no sense teaching them to crawl, because it is an ineffecient method of moving around."

In other words, teaching to the end goal (or test) is not always the best method to get there. Sometimes the best road is not always the direct one. Or even the same one for everyone else. And people get there better if they think they just having fun than it being some required milestone.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A short guide to my blog

I probably should have posted this a long time ago. My goal with the blog is more than just a place to share my musings with family and friends. My intent is for it to be sort of a "hub" for all my online activity.

A perfect example of this is the beige "My starred items" sidebar. This box contains links to the last 5 articles I found interesting on the Net. So if you're ever looking for reading material, here's another yet another place you could look. (As if you probably don't have enough.) Clicking on the "Read in Google Reader" will pull up ALL of the articles I've marked (in Google Reader which is my RSS reader of choice).

Under that is my XBox Live Gamercard. If I owned an XBox 360 you could see interesting things about the games I've been playing lately. But since I only own a lowly Original XBox, there's not much to see here.

Also of note, is the very top sidebar: "Links". This has links to Matt's blog and Google News, along with more Mike Goodness.

"What's" is a link to my site. is a "Social Bookmarking" site - which means it's place you can keep bookmarks (Favorites for you IE-only folks) online and access them from any computer. And you get to share these bookmarks, and look around other
bookmarks for interesting stuff. This is sort of like my "My Starred Items" list, but more for general web sites rather than news items.

"Dugg" is a link to my news stories that I liked over at Digg is another news site that relies on it's readers for content. Other digg readers submit the news, vote on submitted news (Digg it), and the site shows the top ranked ones of the Front Page.

That's it for now, but eventually I also plan on including a way to view my digital pictures online and more.

If there is something else you would like to see here - no matter what - let me know!

Monday, May 22, 2006

OMG Dragons!

Well, I've really wanted to be able to post something here that is not political, technical, or personal. I think I found it.

A new dinosaur named after Harry Potter's school, Hogwarts.

Friday, May 19, 2006

And suddenly, one day you wake up and realize...

...that your 10 year Wedding Anniversary is only a few short weeks away. How could that be here already? Aren't Vicki and I too young to be reaching this milestone? And how come we can't afford that 10 Year Anniversary trip to Hawaii we promised ourselves 10 years ago?!?!?

Oh well. At least our careers.... well, no, let's not go there either.

Let's see, we like our house. Sure, it's small, and old, and has about as much land as one of the Thousand Islands, but it's ours. That does remind me, though, that I still need to replace that hot water heater... oh, yes, and the chimney needs repointing as well...

Well, there are some good things. Great things really. First of all, there's Katie - she's definitely a wonderful addition to our lives.

Maybe we don't have a whole lot to show for those 10 years, but you know what? They were a good ten years. Maybe that's why they passed by so quickly. We've had great friends and good times. We got the chance to live in three different states. We went to the West Coast once, and Europe once. Florida lots of times. :-) And we've taken a lot of other neat vacations. We got try lots of different kinds of cuisine. I told the same few bad jokes several times, and Vicki pretended to laugh at them most of the time. We might have had a drink or two once in a while. ;-) And did I mention the great friends?

Well, I better get going. I've got to buy the perfect Anniversary gift. And I have to get ready for the next ten years.

Here's hoping that they are as good as the last ten were.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ok, so it's been basically a month since I posted anything on the blog. I could whine about how busy I've been, but I know everyone these days is. It's actually been sort of a theme for me for quite some time - always too busy to do things.

So I'm not sure how, but I'm going to figure out new ways of arranging my schedule to make time for the important things I want to do, and try to eliminate time wasted doing other less productive things. Again, I haven't figured out how I'm going to accomplish this, but I'm applying a principal I learned from President Bush: Legislate the outcome, and the details will figure themselves out. I'm calling it my "No Digital Picture Left Behind Program."

Also, I've been hearing a lot of you complaining that the reason I gave for starting this blog was to keep everyone informed and that, well, this site has not been doing that very well. My response to all you naysayers is that you need to understand that creating this blog is hard work. And while there have been stretches of time with no posts, there are others timeframes where I posted every day. See, you're not looking in the right places. This blog will someday inform you all of what I've been up to. We need to stay the course. Stopping blogging now will only create a void of information, and we all now what that leads to. (I will not answer any questions on where this information has been hiding.)

And now, for something completely different. If you've read my past posts, you know that I've written a bit about the "patent problem" - the granting of overly generic software patents and "patent troll" companies making a business model out of collecting and making money purely off of patents. This post is talking about an excellent solution to the problem that the USPTO itself is giving a try: peer review.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, make sure to head over to Matt's Life and check out his entry on the Colbert Report.