December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

I meant to do a long very meaningful post earlier today... okay it just didn't happen. So, here's to the end of 2005! May 2006 be a much better year for all of us!

In Best News of the Night category... Sissy Willis has posted that her lovely kitty Tiny - who has been under the weather... has gotten a very good report from the vet today. She should be fine - now THAT'S the way to start the new year!

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December 29, 2005

Bully Bully

Dr. Helen has a post and a long discussion thread at her place about bullies in school and what can be done about them. Which reminded me that I had wanted to post about a small news snippet I found a couple of weeks ago.

Students To Be Punished For Rumors

Bellingham, Mass., is looking to shut down the often-nasty junior-high rumor mill.

Administrators at the town's middle school have rewritten the student handbook. Kids can now be reprimanded, even suspended, for starting a bad rumor. The Boston Herald reported that the target of the new crackdown is girls who often get revenge by spreading malicious stories over e-mail.

Psychologists like the plan. They said even the

When I first read this I was astounded - the number of things wrong with this attempt to suppress bullying in just 3 short paragraphs, boggles the mind.

First - this seems to concentrate solely on girls and verbal bullying... what about girls and physical bullying and boys and bullying? Are they under the delusion that using this method to try and stop a single type of bullying instance, will make life better for all?

Mind you, I do realize that trying to do something is better than doing nothing... but this particular method is doomed to fail. Oh they might maybe possibly stop one or two kids from using email to slime a classmate, but the chances of this are extremely remote. You will notice that they are aiming for email - a nice safe technical solution that means they don't have to get involved in actual conversation with the girls... just monitor the email. How easy is that!!!

Which brings me to point number 2... monitoring the email of these girls. How are they going to do that? They don't mention if it's school email or home email... and they seem to forget the legalities that come into play - unless they can get permission or a court order, how are they going to find out the email addresses used by the girls - are they school emails? It doesn't say.

Also, they would lose big time in court because... it's an electronic medium that is known for its insecurity! In other words, just because the email says it comes from Jane's email box, does not mean it was

a) written by Jane or
b) even sent from that particular email box

So, all the parent has to do is take them to court and make the school system "prove" that Jane sent the email. Unless they are using a camera - one that can read what she is writing to the screen and shows Jane actually wriing it, there is no concrete proof. Then Jane's parents can sue the school district for all kinds of nice reasons.

But the big problem here is that once again - instead of confronting a problem on a personal level - bullying in the schools. They are hiding behind a computer - let the computer decide who is doing what and who gets punished. (they are Idiots!)

Last of all, if their little crackdown does work and there is no protest by parents of such an egregious monitoring of their child's communications... what makes them think that the girls won't go right back to the tried and true - word of mouth rumor and notes passed around from girl to girl.

They solve nothing by this approach and may even make it easier for a real bully to get their victim in trouble by using the victim's email to spread rumors and then calling it to the attention of the Principal. Do they think that kids aren't clever enough to do this? Then they have NO business in the teaching profession!

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December 28, 2005

Hi My Name Is Barbie...

My blog daughter Mathcog Idiocy has proposed a discussion on whether or not Math is Hard. She points to a very short post on Ars Mathematica that simply says "discuss" and mathematicians proceed to give their point of view.

Since my point is off at a tangent I thought I would post it here.

Now you must understand, I have not reached the higher branches of mathematics I have a minor in Applied Mathematics and I was 2 courses shy of a double major in Computer Science /Applied Math - but I didn't have the time or energy to finish the last 2 classes way back then.

What I found - returning to school as an adult student is that (for me at least) math simply required concentration on my part. Very diligent concentration - I had to make every class - I did all the office hours I could - I did all my homework (even without the incentive of a homework grade). When I did all this - I did very well in the math classes. I am NOT by any means a natural mathematician... I worked damned hard at it. The thing I am most proud of was my second test in my Calc 2 class where I got a 100% - I so wanted to frame that baby and hang it on my wall! I loved Calc 2!

Now here I will repeat myself for the umteenth time (sorry but it still annoys me so much it makes my head nearly explode). When I decided to go back for my CS degree I had to go back and retake College Algebra and Trigonometry. I had taken those classes way back in high school and then had to repeat them in college the first time I was there. (they were my math credit for my Nursing School degree... I should have known then that Nursing was not quite the thing for me... but I digress)

When I went to enroll in those 2 classes - the counselor at the Community College said "are you sure you want to do that - math is hard"!!! Yes, she actually said this to me. I wanted to bite her... but instead I just smiled and said, well don't worry about it, just sign me up for the classes. She said, "well maybe you should just take one of these". As I clamped my finger nails into the palms of my hands I said, "I've already taken these classes 2 other times, I think I can handle it, just sign me up".

I continue to wonder how in the hell we EVER have women who major in math subjects with counseling like this!

After the refresher semester at the Community College, I moved on to the University. I had looked at all my options and decided to go with the Computer Science degree and the theoretical emphasis. Mainly because this looked like the one most likely to tell me how everything worked - down to the nitty gritty. If you know the basics - you can always learn the applications that are built from it. Well, the guy who was the head of the department (at that time CS was a fairly new major... maybe about 5 years old or so) was a math PhD. He would get together with groups of students before they entered the program and talk to them about the differing types of emphasis.

After the group discussion, which seemed to be aimed primarily at younger kids (I was 32 had a husband 2 kids and a dog - not the traditional student), he talked to each of us individually. When he got to me he said, "are you sure you want to do the theoretical emphasis? The math is hard you know. You might like something such as the application emphasis more"!!! This from a man who was a Math Professor! I just gritted my teeth and said, "oh I like math I think I'll be okay" and then I had to walk away.

I could only attend school part time because of the kids so it took me a total of 5 years to finish 2.5 years worth of work. On asking people in every class I took... I never found one other person that had been told "math is hard" by the department head - not the girls and certainly not the guys. There weren't any other housewife types like me and none in my emphasis! (I am paranoid and begin to wonder if the word STUPID is tattooed on my forehead and I just don't see it...)

Back to the post on Ars Mathematica... one of the commenters (PeterMcB) says...

Teaching undergraduate computer scientists has led me to the belief that if maths is hard, then computer science is harder. While it is true that mathematics CAN require abstract thought, not all mathematicians are good at the kind of abstract thought required to be a programmer.

This simply blew me away! I always thought programming was so very much easier than any of the math I had to do. (mind you I find it nearly impossible to write a program with pencil and paper and I have a very difficult time following a printed out program - put it on a computer... I'm good to go) Sometimes the concept of how to logically code a program was difficult - but it is logical and as such a programmer can outline what they want the program to do, and then write that program in the language used in the class. I wrote programs in Fortran, COBOL, C, Pascal, Assembler (IBM and PC)... maybe one or two others I don't remember right now. It was simply a matter of getting the correct language oddities into the correct places - once you had a pattern in your head of how the logic worked.

In the end - math and programming both have their difficulties. For me the math difficulty is that I don't retain what I don't use - so all those math classes wouldn't help me a bit now - I don't use Calculus for anything or Linear Algebra for that matter. I think the only thing that makes math "hard" is when someone is not the least interested in learning about it. Once you decide you don't want to learn - you certainly won't learn.

Math is Hard... poppycock!

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Boy I miss lots of things when I'm traveling for Christmas... this incident - the rapid decompression of an Alaska Air flight over the holiday... well, I only heard about it today!

The incident itself is bad enough and it amuses me that the pre-flight litany always makes it seem as if having to don an oxygen mask on cabin depressurization is a piece of cake... but a couple of things he particularly noted, I think I want to comment on from my own perspective.

And as the oxygen masks deployed from the ceiling in a familiar, video-esque manner, we all grasped them in fear - trying to figure out how to breathe through the flimsy pieces of plastic. Parents were the most confused – as the masks were too large for their babies’ faces and were not easy to put on in such a panicked situation.

Because this is the holiday season and people are traveling to see family, I saw many young mothers with children under the age of 2 on board my various planes. None of them had bought an extra seat for the baby. And while the same monotonous spiel about seat belts and oxygen masks was droning endlessly on before take off, I couldn't help but wonder... so what does a mother holding a baby do about oxygen for the baby in that case?

There is only one mask per seat - at least that's the impression I receive from the airline presentation. But if a mother is holding a baby - you have 2 people who need air in one seat... what happens? Do they try to share? The instructions NEVER mention this little conundrum when they are telling you to put your own mask on first and then put the child's mask on... Plus - this would all be happening in the middle of loud swirling chaos! There is never a mention of the extra baby in a mother's lap...

So... Does anyone know what happens in this case?

The second thing that struck me in his account...

Thank god for the help of an amazing cabin crew and pilot. Without them, who knows what could have happened.

Yes, the crew of the aircraft. Let me tell you about the second short leg of our flight out to St. Louis. There is no direct flight from the New England area to St. Louis meaning, a layover is necessary. The second leg of our flight being between Chicago and St. Louis... the aircraft was a pretty small one (CRJ-700) - but a very nice one indeed with more than adequate leg room. It lacked one thing though... flight attendants who acted like mature responsible people.

The sweet young things in charge of this flight both appeared to be under the age of 25... now maybe they know their stuff - BUT actions (as the old saying goes) speak louder than words. The fact that they continually giggled - to the point of having to stop during announcements over the intercom - was just a tad disconcerting. Now I don't mind people enjoying their job, but when you're young (as these girls were) AND you act as if you're still in... oh say 7th grade... giggling in the back of class... I really have to wonder just how in the world are you going to handle an emergency? And quite honestly, after making yourself appear to be too Britany Spears for words... WHY should we listen to you?

Being young can put you in a bad position in this case. If there had been an emergency, I would be willing to bet that none of the men and most of the women would have had a very hard time taking any orders at all from these children in charge. This is certainly not a desirable thing and could be very dangerous.

The thought occurs...Were they even listening during their training, or were they slipping notes to each other about the cute pilot they saw at the airport? Or maybe they were too concerned about what "Tiffani said to Sally about John at the last party"... You see the problem?

The lesson... if you are young and in a position requiring you to take charge in an emergency, don't give people a chance to prejudge you as an idiot by acting in the manner of an imbecile school child.

Yes, THIS is why, even though it's a deadly bore, you should act like an adult in these situations.

Hat Tip Instapundit

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December 26, 2005

Travel for Added Interest

Observations from this latest trip...

Relying on one's sister to pick up and drop off at the airport can be nerve wracking... especially if she doesn't have a cell phone and she says "don't worry we'll figure out something".

People bringing extra large bags onto the plane as carry-ons should be stopped at the gate and not allowed on board with said luggage. Especially if the captain is telling people to sit down so we don't miss our take off slot and the person with the extra large bag can't find a place to put it so he can sit down.

If you feel the need to stretch before getting on a plane for a 2 hour flight... you might consider how it looks if you use the backs of the chairs like a ballet bar... with the sole of your shoe nearly resting on the back of someone's head (even if you know them), in the aisle that people will be using to disembark and board the plane (in other words - smack in the middle of everyone's line of sight). If you like entertaining that much - become an actor or dancer.

If you really really must blow your nose in public (and yes I often must do this because of allergies) DO NOT stand at the sidebar of Starbucks and blow it over the place where people are going to be stirring their coffee and adding cream etc. We don't want your nasty germs even if there is a convenient trash can there. Is this only a St. Louis thing? We saw this happen twice in two days there - I've never seen it happen anywhere else.

If you go to St. Louis for Christmas... do remember just about EVERYTHING is closed on Christmas day - this includes Starbucks, restaurants, even fast food places. Apparently it isn't necessary to feed people from out of town or it is assumed that out of towners will always have access to food and drink from some other source on Christmas day.

This will be the last holiday travel for me. No matter what the incentive - it isn't good enough to get me out on the road again on Christmas. I have said this before - but this time I'm sticking to my guns - if people really want to see me on Christmas... they can come to me.

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December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

May all of you have a Wonderful Merry Christmas! I wish you good food, happy families, and no travel snags.... if you can't have that I wish you the patience to get through it all :-)

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December 21, 2005

On The Road Again...

Oh yeah... traveling for Christmas was something I was trying to avoid like the plague... didn't work. Luckily I can book a hotel with internet access - priceless!

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December 20, 2005

I've Been Tagged With A Christmas Tree!

Tammi has tagged me with the latest meme...

Seems we're supposed to list our five favorite Christmas movies. You know - those flicks that just SCREAM Christmas for ya. So, let's get started.....


1) Miracle on 34th Street... the Natalie Wood version. It's just so very well done and funny. Even at that age Natalie was an excellent actress and never looked "too" cute to me.

2) White Christmas... What can I say - cornball at its very best. I grew up seeing this movie on the Saturday afternoon movies on television in December.

3) The Ref.... I am not a fan of Dennis Leary in any other film or television show, but this one always makes me laugh.

4) A Christmas Carol... the Alistair Sim version. He is just the epitome of Scrooge and he's so delightfully ditzy at the end.

5) The Desk Set... Katherine Hepburn - Spenser Tracy... I adore this movie and watch it every year at Christmas.

There's one more that isn't really a "Christmas" movie... it's a New Year's movie I also watch every year. Bachelor Mother with Ginger Rogers and David Niven - funny funny funny. The New Year's Eve party is a riot.

Okay - that's one over the limit. And no - although years ago I loved It's a Wonderful Life... it was played way too many times and I got a case of over exposure.

Now who to tag....

If you have kids they should be useful.
Irish Pixie
Mathcog Idiocy

_Jon - because it will give him a chance to swear

And friends who may not speak to me again...

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Heart Disease And Children

Dr. Helen is often blogging that Heart Disease gets short shrift in our perceptions of health, especially women's health. Today I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal (print edition - sorry no link).

"Nearly twice as many children die from congenital heart disease in the United States each year as die from all forms of childhood cancers combined"

So, the next time there is a fund raising drive... remember to include the American Heart Association in your donations. If caught early, many if not most heart problems have an excellent chance of being successfully treated.

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Good Because...

Somehow I knew the day would come when somebody somewhere would say, "see this is something good that happened because of a computer worm or virus". Sadly, that day is now here and, even worse, I can see this type of touchy-feely outlook getting a leg up in the world. Too many people who are completely ignorant of how computers work and the damage that these worms and viruses can inflict will start to soften up after reading junk like this...

Computer worm traps child porn offender in Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) - A child porn offender in Germany turned himself in to the police after mistaking an email he received from a computer worm for an official warning that he was under investigation, authorities said on Tuesday.

Well, well, well, a child porn offender who isn't the sharpest blade in the drawer... imagine that!

"It just goes to show that computer worms aren't always destructive," said a spokesman for police in the western city of Paderborn. "Here it helped us to uncover a crime which would otherwise probably have gone undetected."

The 20-year-old was caught out by a version of the "Sober" worm, a prolific Internet virus which can invade computers and then send out messages from a host of fabricated addresses.

In this case I simply MUST call the "spokesman for the police" an idiot! Sorry, but this proves nothing of the kind. What it proves is that this guy had a guilty conscious and when he received an email, he didn't even question the source - he assumed it was true. This has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the destructiveness of the worm itself.

Let's take a look at the Sober worm and what it does once it infects your computer...

The Sober worm first appeared in 2003 and can hijack a Windows-based computer and force it to repeatedly send spam e-mails. The continuous e-mailing can lead to overloaded servers and reduced network performance.

Does that sound innocuous to you? Well, how about if your business is dependent on email? How about the millions of spam this could create, totally bogging down the internet so you can't do your online shopping, bill paying, etc, etc. What about a later version that might drop other "payloads" with severe consequences... such as sending out sensitive files?

Because, you see, worms and viruses mutate over their lifetimes. They are constantly being altered, reused and often have worse payloads as time goes on.

The feeling that a worm or virus might become viewed as a benign or even helpful object, is a view that needs to be thoroughly crushed. Most people don't have the expertise to know what is left on their systems when they open one of these, or how much real damage it can do. For every idiot who turns himself in to police - there are thousands who have to deal with tedious hours of rebuilding systems and maybe years worry about identity theft, businesses that have to worry about proprietary information getting out. Not to mention those who don't know that some or all of their personal information is being transmitted out to the bad guys.

No, even if there was a "good" outcome from one moron who opens this email, this does not make a virus or a worm a good thing. To start a trend of thinking in this direction can only lead to extremely bad things happening in the future.

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