Saturday, October 31, 2015


As I took my kids trick-or-treating, they collected for UNICEF.  We were repeatedly told we were the only folks collecting.  What's up with that?  Since I live in an East Coast City where everybody goes to different schools (neighborhood, charter, private) it's quite possible that my school is the only one doing it.  Has UNICEF fallen off the map?  Are schools afraid to distribute orange boxes?  Do they need the money themselves?  What's going on? 

Friday, October 23, 2015

What happens when form overwhelms function.

This video is making the rounds again on twitter (even though it's from 2011) and I assume it's because it's a school project done in Minecraft.   It's getting the kinds of "look what kids can do if we just let them!" feel to it mojo.  Cue technofuturists, school reformers, blah, blah, blah. 

I admit, the project looks cool.   I'm sure it took a ton of time.  And the kid was good at minecraft.   But the project is about creating a self-sustaining village and on that level, it's a complete failure.  It shouldn't be held up as example of good work, it should be held up as an example of what happens when form overwhelms function and kids (and adults) end up missing the point. 

The assignment was to create a self-sustaining village.  To be a good place to live a village would need a) a food supply b) a fuel supply sufficient to cook food (if they are doing that) and heat homes and workplaces (if they need to) c) a water supply and d) a method of getting rid of waste.  To be self-sustaining they also have to have energy outputs that don't exceed their energy inputs.  (In other words, they need a source of power that they aren't going to use up). 

So let's see how the kid did.  Food supply.  I hope they like bacon, eggs,  and crappy bread because that's mostly what they are eating.  And maybe some sheep's cheese.  The cows will mostly be dead since they won't have anything to eat that I could tell; the sheep will take up most of the grazing and the villagers aren't growing hay.   So it's all pork products all the time.  With maybe some mutton.  To go with that, they'll have plenty of god awful bread to eat. 

But not for too long, the small amount of wood that is left is their sole source of energy and also is used for building materials (and maybe as torches?).  Planting the trees close together will stunt and kill them, by the way.  The folks who live here are going to be in a wood-shortage pretty quickly.  Without wood, they won't be able to preserve the pork (there's no salt anywhere for food preservation which is also going to mean the bread's going to suck). 

Even more pressing is the water supply issue.  There's a well and baths, but no river or sewer system for disposing of wastes.   Most of the folks here will be dead from dysentery right quick.  (And come to think of it, the fields don't have irrigation either.  One drought and they are done). 

Further, the population here is massive.  There's an army and tons of workers to build the cathedral.  They have to extract this wealth from somewhere that isn't this village to support all those folks. 

Even if we assume that redstone and glowstone are basically free energy, there's not nearly enough inputs here to equal the outputs.  Clearly those soldiers are using their archery skills to raid nearby villages for wood and food and slave labor to work those mines. 

And if you think, I'm being overly harsh, this is all middle school curriculum stuff.  For example, I could have pointed out that the well next to the mines means that the mines are constantly flooding and that the drinking water is likely contaminated.  But I didn't did I?  I'm not vindictive.  I'm not trying to beat up on the kid.  What I am trying to do is point out his project isn't very good no matter how creative he is.  Creativity shouldn't be an end in of itself.  It can't be.   It has to serve some other end. 

Otherwise you wind up with very pretty castles, where everybody dies. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

On Utley

I never liked Chase Utley much.  I've always been a Rollins guy (I met him once).  It irked me that Utley never spoke up about the racialized discourse around he, Rollins, and Howard wherein he had "grit" and Rollins and Howard didn't.  They were "athletes." Utley's "grit" cost the team games and likely shortened his own career.  We would call that stupidity.  Dropping an f-bomb in public didn't help. 

 In short, I thought Utley was a bad teammate and a bad person.  When a white guy who has a certain amount of respect in town has the opportunity to speak out about a racialized discourse, especially one that targets his teammates, I think he's morally obligated to speak out about it.  He never did.  

Now Utley did something else really despicable.  He intentionally broke a guy's leg.  I hope it tarnishes the legacy of a good baseball player who was a bad man.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

View Mastery

      So Audrey Watters is ranting on Google, and I can't say I blame her.  I am reminded of the following story involving Viewmasters though.

       As an elementary school kid, our family viewmaster, basic black and metal circa 1955, was one of my favorite rainy day toys.  My grandparents were world travelers and they brought back viewmaster discs from around the world.  On a day when outside was unavailable and the tv was declared off limits, I liked nothing better than to tour the world in my living room.  For some reason, I remember the ones about Egypt, Gettysburg, and Lake Louise the best although we had about forty reels from all over the place.  Viewing the slides and reading the brief textboxes gave me endless pleasure. 

Fast forward about five years to ninth grade.  I got diagnosed with a learning disability.  Specifically, I only used one eye at a time.  I was in and out of "resource room" as it was called.  It was a mostly useless exercise for me.  The special ed teacher had me do vocabulary (I already read at a college level), but couldn't help me with Geometry (which I couldn't conceptualize at all.  How do you rotate a triangle in your mind when you can't think in 3-D?).  So we got the LD diagnoses revoked and because we were rich and had good health insurance (thanks Dad!), or maybe because we could afford to  pay out of pocket, I made a once weekly trek (thanks Mom!) to the South Shore of Long Island to see a vision specialist who taught me to use my eyes at the same time (thanks Dr. Goldstein!). 

Fast forward another five years.  My niece and nephew are visiting my parents.  They have their Viewmaster (red plastic) with them.   I look in and see an incredible 3-D scene.  "Hey," I said, "These things are 3-D now!"  I made all my other family members look.  They explained that Viewmasters had always been 3-D.  I was dumbfounded.  They were dumbfounded.  "You played with them all the time" said my older brother.  "I thought they were cool slide viewers." I said. 

The point here is that technology isn't a game changer.  Here's what are game changers:  resources (my family had them), a correct diagnosis (that comes from resources to see multiple specialists over many, many years); and the time and money to invest in some heavy one on one remediations (which goes back to resources).  So tell me again about Google cardboard?