Sunday, January 31, 2016

Teacher Evaluations, Part 2

This post entails a detour into choices in sampling.  Where you sample, and how you go about it makes a difference.

In the previous post I stated that I was only interested in the lower half of the student performance curve.  This post will expand on the reasons.

Color TV Sets


If you are like most folks, you hung onto the first color television that you bought "new" for twenty years.  It was still working fine, even if the picture size was a little bit small when She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed commanded it gone.  The plastic housing was discolored and the faux woodgrain trim looked dated.  You did not kick because you were going to get a newer, bigger one anyway.

You put it beside the curb for the trashman but it was stolen by some college kids.  It was passed down from one flight of kids to the next.  It was still working eight years later.

It was finally taken to the thrift store (who refused it) and thence to any convenient dumping place when the price of flat screen TVs dropped below $70/horizontal square foot.

The reason for discussing "The History of Every Color TV Set" is that every TV, every brand, every price-point unfailingly worked out-of-the-box for two or three decades.  These are devices that contain the equivalent of 5 million "discrete" devices...resisters, capacitors, diodes, etc.  And the device, in total, demonstrated reliability levels on par with, oh, the gravitational field.

How did they do that?

Sudden Death Testing

The reliability engineers/statisticians realized that the performance of the device, with 5 million discretes, was not characterized by the best performing individual discrete, or the typical performing was fully determined by the weakest performing discrete of the five million.  That is, the longevity of the device was determined by the very, very tip of the "weak" end of the curve.

Sudden Death Testing was one of the attempts to flesh out just the tip, and no more, of that curve.

Imagine a technician making a test bench where he can test one hundred devices simultaneously.  "Old think" would have him test all one hundred devices until failure.  In Sudden Death Testing, he tests until the first of the one hundred fails.  He records the number of cycles.  Throws away  all one hundred devices.  Loads in one hundred new devices.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.
A representation of a capacitor

Suppose the engineer determines that the cause of failure is due to arcing/bridging across the arms of a capacitor etched into at chip.  Furthermore, suppose that the physical evidence (scorching) is at the tip of the capacitor arm.

Because of the nature of integrated circuits, the engineer can have a chip made with hundreds of thousands (or millions) of an alternative capacitor geometry etched into a single, custom chip.  He can plug one hundred of those custom chips into his test fixture and let it rip.  And then one hundred more...

And all he is interested in is the performance of the very weakest capacitor in the entire field, because that single capacitor...or whatever...will define the performance of the electronic device in the field.

Gaussian Integration Points

Here is another line of reasoning that ends up in close to the same place.

Imagine you have been given the job of quantifying the "state" of an oddly shaped region.  It might be the fuel level in a fuel tank on a fly-by-wire aircraft where the center-of-mass must be precisely known to avoid instability.  It might be attempting to quantify the temperature or oxygen status of a lake or sampling leafs in a field or the canopy of a tree to quantify fertilizer requirements.

This is what our "region" looks like.

The problem is trivial if you only have budget for one sensor.  You know, intuitively, to put it in the center.
But what if you have budget for five sensors?

Which is better?  This?
Or this?
This pattern suggests the first sensor arrangement is better...assuming we want "typical" vs "extreme".  And even if we were looking for "extreme", what if blue is the extreme that drives the failures.  We totally miss it.
Fortunately for us, mathematicians took an interest in this problem.  For one dimensional domains there is a "best" sensor arrangement and weighting (or discounting) arrangement.  To a mathematician, "best" means most information gleaned per sensor.  These positions and weightings can be found by researching "Gaussian Integration Points" or "Zeros Legendre Polynominals"  A typical articles are HERE and HERE.

Where does Messrs. Legendre say we should collect our data

With only one point there is no issue regarding how much to weight or discount different points.

It is comforting to know that the math agrees with intuition for the case of a single collection point.

It gets a little surprising as the number of points goes to two and three.

This is where it starts to get a little goofy.  The two points that are closest to the ends get weighted approximately 28% each and the reading of the middle point gets weighted about 44%.  I tried to capture graphically that by scaling the size of the green balls.
Since I am proposing that we only look at the failing half of the performance curve, then the sample points and locations would look like this:

Since real data is messy, there is probably little loss in fidelity to measure the 10th percentile student (give or take a little bit) and the 50th percentile student and weight them 50:50.  While more elegant math might recommend something other than the 50th percentile, the use of the mid-point student is easy to explain to the people being evaluated. 

Summary of ideas presented to date:

  • Performance of lower performing students characterizes a teacher's ability better than the performance of the high-end students
  • The math of sampling suggests that meaningful information can be obtained by looking at the 11th percentile student and the 50th percentile  student and combining them equally.  For an elementary classroom of 25 kids that would be the performance of the 3rd student from the bottom and the 12th student from the bottom.
  • Assessment should be made on the basis of knowledge growth to wash out the effect of prior mis-teaching.

The case against this approach

The number of arguments against this approach is limited only by the scope of the human imagination.  I will deal with one of the most likely.

First argument:  The lower end of my students are dominated by special-ed students.  They are a separate species and should be removed from the assessment.

Reply:  There is an urban legend regarding a teacher who failed to mark her "special-ed qualified" students absent when they did not show up.  When the administrator finally investigated the teacher responded, "I don't even know why they are on my attendance list because they are really not my responsibility."

If you have more than 10% special-ed kids in your classroom than your peers also probably also have more than 10% special-ed kids in theirs.

At a nuts-and-bolts level, they are not really a different species.  The same teaching habits that are effective with special-ed students help regular ed students.
  • Own the students.  All of them are yours. 
  • Maintain classroom order.  Chaos helps nobody and it massively penalizes the struggling.
  • Know the material and present it smoothly with no confusing turns down blind alleys
  • In soccer-speak, carry the ball close to your feet and get in lots of touches.  That is, present a small amount of material and check with the class to ensure that you were effective in your presentation.  If you were not, clear up any misunderstandings before moving on.
  • Do all of your fiddly administrative tasks during your planning time so you can maximize time-on-task when interacting with the students.


A few notes about "Handicapping"

Several years ago, one of the Detroit papers wrote an essay discussing how various suburbs (and Detroit itself) performed on Standardized Tests relative to their "Handicap"

The paper hired a statistician to create a regression model with approximately 30 variables that all educators agreed impacted education.  Some communities vastly outscored their handicap, suggesting that they were outperforming expectations relative to the demographics of the community they served.  Others underperformed.

One of the quirks of "driving" a model with too many parameters is that many of the parameters are highly correlated to each other.  That results in the random "noise" in the data creating highly illogical coefficients.  For example, the model might list 8 different parameters to quantify economic resources  (percent single parent household, mean income, percent free lunch, tax base per student.....)  The unbending nature of math can make some of the coefficients very, very large or very negative as it forces the line to a best-fit.

In my mind, it is far more elegant to choose a few core parameters and perform any handicapping.

Examples might include percent single parent households which is a reasonable proxy for economic factors, at home chaos and maximum educational attainment of the parent(s).

Another Swiss-Army knife parameter is the ratio of adults (teacher + paraprofessionals)  in the classroom to the students.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thanks, Murphy!

Obama frequently gets compared to President Jimmy Carter.  I can see why.  This is what I was paying for gas when Carter was president.

Teacher evaluations

I had a conversation over lunch and the other party asked me to throw a few notes onto the ERJ blog/archive.

As a blogger, I am always on the look-out for a meaty topic.

What do teachers do?

It is impossible to evaluate a teacher until you have a usable definition of what they do.

One educator who I consulted said that "Journeymen" teachers make the biggest difference for the middle +/- one standard deviation (70%-ish of the population).  The students who are more than +1.0 standard deviations in capability are capable of teaching themselves.

My expert also claimed that the difference between a "Journeyman" and a "Master" teacher is that the Master teachers make a huge difference for those students who fall between -1.0 standard deviations and -2.0 standard deviations.  That would be the population between the 2.5th percentile student and the 15th percentile student.

Presented in cumulative fashion:
Looking solely at the "at risk" end of the curve.  Note that the horizontal axis is Log scale.

A 50%-ile student should be capable of making 1.0 years of growth in 9.5 months of schooling.  If the distribution of student abilities is "normal" or bell shaped, it is plausible to assume that a 10% student is capable of 0.65 years of learning in 9.5 months of instruction.

The light green area is where "Journeymen" teachers do their heavy lifting.  Master teachers also do their heavy lifting in the green region but extend it to include the yellow area.

Implicit in this approach is that avoiding failures is more important than producing a few superstars.  That is, a teacher who sends three students a year to Princeton but has 70% of their students taking a year of remedial classes at Local Community College is not as good of a teacher who has all of their students going to Local State University and only 10% of them taking remedial classes.

Where this model falls short

Evaluating a teacher is more like evaluating a system of lenses (in a camera or rifle scope, for example) than it is a "typical" industrial process.

A system of lenses is evaluated for chromatic aberration, depth of field, distortions, phantom images and so on.  Basically, every ray of light entering the system of lenses has the possibility of being processed with fidelity or it can be warped.

"Instruction", the system of lenses, is an amalgamation of many, many processes.

Let me put some meat on the bones. 
  • A teacher might be great at teaching students who are girls but fail when teaching cis-boys.  
  • A teacher might be successful at teaching straight students but be a dismal failure attempting to teach kids who identify as gay.  
  • A teacher might be very successful teaching one race but alienate others. 
  • Similarly, a teacher might deliver better learning, or grades, to students of one faith at the expense of those who practice a different faith.  
  • A teacher might be effective teaching "regular" ed but fail abysmally when teaching kids with disabilities.

These sub-groupings were chosen because there is Federal Law that mandates equal opportunity regardless of gender, orientation, race, religious affiliation, or disability.

I propose that teaching each one of these sub-groups is a separate process BECAUSE most kids are very sensitive to "acceptance" and will refuse to perform for instructors who do not accept them.  Furthermore, I propose that failing to deliver learning to any of these groups is a failure, both professionally and a failure to comply with Federal Law.

---To be continued---

Friday, January 29, 2016

The cull list

There are two parts to breeding livestock or any other "farm" enterprise.  One is the choice of parents.  That is the fun part.  The other part involves "culling" and is often neglected because it is not as much fun.

Some types of purebred livestock enterprises involve saving a large percentage of the females as replacement dams.   Dairy cows are an example of this type of enterprise.  Heavy milk production limits breed-back, they have only one calf at a time and they do not have a very long production lifespan.  Beef producers will typically keep about 1/3 of their heifer calves because a typical beef cow will only produce six or seven calves in her life time.  That still limits the amount of selection pressure a producer can exert on his herd.

Plants, on the other hand, produce hundreds-to-millions more progeny than "replacement".  That allows the grower to exert much higher selection pressure.  A serious tree grower does not need much of a reason to cull a tree, and the sooner it is done the sooner the neighboring trees are released from the competition.

Three Quercus robur, European Oak, the oak of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and all of that.  The one on the left will be culled because the other two trees have better geometry.
Trees that have branches that are perpendicular to the trunk are less subject to ice damage and produce better trunks for lumber.  Narrow crotch angles tend to develop regions of ingrown bark.  That bark interrupts the grain and weakens the branch.  It also becomes an area where cankers as disease  organisms like Nectria thrive.  Finally, branches that are perpendicular to the truck develop less size than upwardly oriented branches.  Smaller branches means smaller knots in the lumber.

This tree is not a dogwood, it is a Red Maple.  It never developed interesting fall color.  I will replace it with Q. lyrata hybrids because I like Oak trees.
These Norway Spruce will be thinned out.  I noticed that many of the spruce trees in Eaton Rapids are in decline, most likely due to Phomopsis.  Engelmann and Blue Spruce are most vulnerable but it is hammering the Norway Spruce as well.  There is little the owner can do except to try and keep the tree(s) in a robust state of good health and to maximize airflow.  Reducing crowding accomplishes both.
You can see that I get a lot of help from the dogs.  Marking trees is their specialty!!!  This is a chestnut tree that winterkills during severe winters.
There are two kinds of trees:  Trees that pay their rent and put money in your pocket and trees that don't. 

Life is better when you have more of the first kind of tree (or cows or sheep or hogs....) and none of the second kind.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A foundation laid true-and-square is a house half built

In Southern Michigan, Orioles prefer American Elm trees 7:1 over any other species of tree.
My guess is that the American Elm's unique twig pattern and spacing offers the best possible foundation for the Oriole's woven nest.
Orioles are among the very last birds to complete their migration from tropical areas.  And then they weave this fantastically complicated pouch that hangs from a branch.  They probably need every possible advantage they can get to overcome their late start.

I wonder if anybody has ever made the connection between American Elms and Oriole nesting success rates.

A foundation laid true-and-square is a house half built.  See, nothing political about that!

Dogs that pull at the leash

Walking big dogs can be hazardous if they are "tuggers".  The problem is particularly bad in the winter.  Ice and dogs that yank are a recipe for disaster.

Hercules, the oldest German Shepherd, is a yanker.

Image from HERE

I went on line to see what kinds of training aids were suggested.  This one seemed to be pretty popular.  I just choked when I saw that they wanted $35 for a bent up piece of wire.

I am sure I over-paid.  $6 worth of hardware from the local farm supply store and $11 worth of rope.  I chose poly rope because it is hard and slippery.
Both Herc and Zeus are 33" through the chest.  The bailing twine is to tether the carabiner to prevent it from getting away.

The plan is to clip the carabiner attached to the O-ring Herc's collar.

Run the yellow rope beneath his chest and clip the second carabiner, the tethered one, to the O-ring.  And then snap the regular leash to the loop at the end of the harness.

One thing about the yellow poly rope is that it does not want to hold knots.  The rope is slippery and stiff, it wants to relax out of the knot.

This is an anchor hitch.  One way to "fix" a knot in poly rope is to warm up the end enough to fuse it to an earlier loop.  You just don't want to fuse it to the strand coming into the knot or you will weaken the rope and make early failure more likely.
  If all goes well, there will be a follow-up report and some pictures.


Here is where we ended up:

A simple rope with a loop tied in each end.  One end is slid beneath the collar, the rope is passed around his chest immediately behind his legs.  Then, the free end of the rope is passed back through the loop  that was passed beneath his collar.  The leash is then clipped to the loop on the free end.  Total cost...about 48" of cheap, poly rope.

No carabiners or metal O-rings.  Just rope.

Reloading problem, follow-up

I picked 25 suspect rounds from the top of the container that I had quarantined.  I took them out to the burn pit and shot them.  I was standing in the beaten down area in front of the chair.  The target is to the left and down.  I used the cup holder of the chair to hold my cleaning rod.  My plan was to use the cleaning rod to check for barrel obstructions if necessary.  It was not necessary.

Most of the rounds gently lobbed the brass up into the air, bounced it off my right shoulder with most bouncing behind me and a few bouncing in front of me.

All 25 cycled the S&W SDVE.  I was surprised.  The model has its flaws (primarily trigger grittiness) but, by golly, that gun will eat ammo.  You can see four cases on the left side of the photo that must have just dribbled out of the action.

Election Years depress me

Early during my relationship with Mrs ERJ, she told me that I should be glad when she had PMS.

That was a novel proposition and required a little bit of explaining before I understood.

Mrs ERJ said, "Because of PMS I can guarantee that there will be two days a month when you know EXACTLY what is on my mind."   Generally, Mrs ERJ is as mild as milk and very, very easy to get along with.  There were things I did that annoyed her.  If I was still doing it on day 27, I heard about it.  Problem solved.

Election years depress me

Sites that used to be full of outdoorsy goodness are now riddled with childish sniping, and will be that way right up until Inauguration Day.  I find myself marinated in competing politico's peccadilloes, prophylactics and idiosyncrasies.   I go to sites to read about hunting and fishing and I am treated to stories of marital infidelities, smoky backroom deals, business and personal failures.

Perhaps the most depressing thing is that most of the time I can delude myself regarding our slide toward a totalitarian state.  Election years are like Mrs ERJ's two days a month, the veil of denial is torn.

A simple test: Could you move to a neighboring state and simply disappear?  Could you start over and remake yourself?  How about moving a thousand miles and remaking yourself?

The ironic thing is that illegal aliens do it all the time.  Do you want to become invisible?  Change your name to Mario Diaz and learn to speak Spanish like you were from a Mexican barrio.

I suppose I could move to a city like Huron, South Dakota and apply to be the town drunk, assuming there is a vacancy.  Short of wearing clothes that smell like barf, I can think of no way to disappear.


I will try to fill the gap.  I will try to write more "outdoorsy" stuff and fewer editorials.  I will not apply for any jobs that require fingerprints or DNA samples.

I. Will. Remain. Civil.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Can dogs say "WTF???"

Can dogs say "WTF?"
I have been an absolute slug the last couple of days.  Much napping.  No walking.

In general my dogs approve of the new exercise plan.  We usually alternate them on our walks.

Due to my sloth, I decided to use the treadmill to catch up on my mileage.  I fired up WKAR (classical music) and started walking on the treadmill.

The expression on the dogs faces was priceless.  I apologize for the poor production quality of the photo.  Walking and laughing make for poor camera technique.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A work of fiction. Really.

You work for a large city as a supervisor in the water department.

You have suspicions about Lou, one of your employees.  He has an exemplary work history except for one thing:  He had been bitten by a dog while collecting water samples five years ago and his recovery had been complicated by the fact that he was diabetic.  He was off work for two months.

Your employees are all represented by the Teamsters union.  In fact, you---even though you are "management"---are represented by a union, the UAW.  Your workplace environment is hard-core union country.  It is a brotherhood.  Everybody has everybody else's back.

The jobs that are "peaches" are held by the folks with the very highest seniority.  "Peach" jobs typically came with the use of a vehicle and a huge amount of autonomy.  Lou's job is a "peach".

Your boss

You are reluctant to lay out our concerns with your boss.  He bit your head off the last time you suggested that some aspect of the business could be improved.  You don't know if he feels threatened by you personally or perhaps he is afraid that he would be implicated if he ever started peeling the crust off of the sewage lagoon.

Your concern

The suspicion popped into your head the morning you followed Lou into the plant from the parking lot.  Actually, you did not follow him very long.  You simply could not walk that slowly.  You remember thinking, "If Lou was walking any more slowly he would be going backwards."

You suspected it was Lou because the man ahead of you was a wide load.  You double checked as you passed him.  Yup, it was old Lou, sweating and panting to beat the band.

After that, you started watching him a little more closely.  He took off in his truck early in the morning and came back with his samples much more quickly than you would have suspected.  He spent the rest of the day in the treatment room break room, playing cards, eating chips and drinking Mountain Dew. This happened day-after-day-after-day.

You did not see how it was possible for him to do four hours of work (average walk speed 1.5 mph to account for knocking on doors) in 90 minutes.  You asked him about it and he told you that he had a knack for getting along with people and he knew exactly where the taps were so he did not waste time trying to find them.

The people in the lab loved Lou.  The bottles are always filled exactly to the line and the outsides are clean, clean, clean.  Furthermore, the labels are all very legible.  Lou's samples always passed.

You know in your heart, but do not have the kind of evidence demanded by the contractual language,  that Lou is falsifying his samples.  What do you do?  The customers are starting to complain about their water quality.  Management all the way up to the mayor are blowing off the complaints on the basis of the testing.  "Opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one.  We are scientific managers.  We deal in data.  The data says this is great water."

You have a burning feeling in your gut that this might not end well.  You hope it is just an ulcer.

Monday, January 25, 2016

So, Marxists, how is all that working for you?

One of the first things Russia did when the Marxists took power was to round up all of the Intellectuals and execute them.  This act was based on two aspects of Marxist theory:
  1. Intellectuals are tools of the "bourgeoisie" 
  2. "Expertise" is an illusion used to create an artificial monopoly.

Marxist theory claims you can randomly select any boy out slopping the hogs, train him in Marxist theory and then he can run a nuclear power plant.  Marxists believe that atoms slavishly follow Marxist doctrine because Marx was all knowing.  That is, the laws of Physics and Chemistry and Biology conform to Marxist thinking.

Flint drinking water

I have no inside knowledge, but I do have a year of college level Chemistry. That is not very much Chemistry but it is clearly far more Chemistry training than anybody running the Flint water treatment plant had.

It will take decades for this train wreck to unwind in courts-of-law.  At this point we can barely make informed guesses because the public is still being fed misinformation.

For example, the latest "root-cause" cited by the Flint officials is that the lead was dissolved out of the pipes by the acidic water coming out of the Flint river.

The only problem with that narrative is that the water in the Flint river (the whole Saginaw river watershed, in fact) is alkaline.  The Saginaw watershed is agricultural.  We lime our fields.  What is not agricultural is paved with concrete.  Concrete is also alkaline.  According to the US Geological Survey web site the surface waters in the Saginaw river watershed have a pH of about 8.0.  It is not "acid".

How can we trust these bozos when they do not even know the pH of their feedstock water?  Or maybe they do and they are just plain lying.  Maybe I am offended because they threw out bullshit information that anybody who can log onto a computer can dispute.  If you are going to lie to me, at least make the effort to have the lie hang together.

A more plausible narrative is that the newly formed Flint Water Treatment plant  was staffed with political stooges.  You know, the ones who had been trained in Marxist theory.

Through a series of colossal blunders, they poisoned the citizens of Flint.

The trail of evidence is not very clear, but early complaints included issues with "taste" and that the water "looked muddy".  One scenario has the plant implementing chemical treatments to improve clarity with no follow-up to determine how it impacted downstream chemical processes.  One of the most common chemicals used to treat turbidity is alum.  Solutions of alum and water have a pH of that is acid.

It is inconceivable that the vendors selling the plant chem supplies failed to tell the managers this was a very bad idea.  Most likely, those managers, the ones who likely had degrees in Political Science blew off the suppliers as opportunistic capitalists trying to rip off the noble public servant for more money.  After all, those managers had "science" degrees.  The extent of their analysis was likely "You cannot bullshit a bullshitter."

As a side riff, another factor that may have played into this mess is the magical creation of "technical" people.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Act requires that enterprises hire "disadvantaged" classes at levels that are proportional to their representation in the Bureau of Labor Statistics job market.

Many of those "disadvantaged" classes prefer to work for governmental units which leaves industry in a bind.  Industry has been known to "solve" the problem by finding a clerk and re-titling them as "Engineer" or "Chemist" or whatever technical expert was in short supply.  Sometimes they received training and a change of work content.  Often it did not.  They kept clerking but at least the EEO cops get off the firm's back.

I worked with one woman who became an engineer by this route.  She was showing me pictures of her daughter.  I commented that her daughter was pretty.

The woman told me, with an absolutely matter-of-fact voice, "Yes, she is studying to be a model.  But if that does not work out she will just become an engineer."

This drastically dilutes the "signaling" value of advanced degrees in those "disadvantaged" classes.  The company where I worked was imploding.  We had a Caucasian engineer with a Master's degree in Engineering supervising production workers while this woman, who did not even have a Bachelor's degree, played on the computer and received Engineer pay grade.

One interpretation of that circumstance would be that only really stupid people get advanced degrees in STEM subjects.  It is an absolute waste of time if any random pig-boy clerk can do the job.

With that kind of background it would be perfectly rational to put clerks and political hacks in charge of the water treatment plant.


The typical male human is 40% muscle by weight.  That pencils out to 80 pounds of muscle on a 200 pound man.  A 10 pound gain in muscle is a 12% gain in total muscle mass and it takes a typical man five months, at two pounds a month, to add that 10 pounds of muscle.

At rest, a pound of muscle burns 6 Calories a day.  An additional ten pounds of muscle burns an additional 60 Calories a day.  This belies the conventional wisdom that muscle mass added by exercising greatly increases one's basal metabolic rate. 

Some authors quote numbers as high as 50 Calories per day, almost ten times greater than the amount that was actually measured.  Other fail to look at units and quote numbers like 15 Calories/pound, failing to account for the fact that nearly all scientific literature is published in metric...15 Calories/kg is NOT the same thing as 15 Calories/pound.

A full sized Snickers candy bar has 240 Calories.  Ergo, working out for five months will allow the dieter to eat an extra 1/4 Snickers bar a day.  This number does not comprehend any exercise the dieter might continue to do.  It merely accounts for the at-rest effect of the additional muscle mass.

If Oreo cookies are your huckleberry, they have 160 Calories per cookie.  That noodles out to about a 1/3 of an Oreo cookie per day.  You can eat the middle one day, one wafer the next and the other wafer on the third day.

Red wine your poison?  It has about 25 Calories per ounce, so you can toss down an extra two ounces a day.

So what parts of the body demonstrate the highest energy consumption-per-pound?
  • 200 Calories/pound......Heart and kidneys
  • 110 Calories/pound......Brain
  • 90 Calories/pound.......Liver

The conclusions are inescapable:  Love more, drink more, think more.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Kubota is struggling with relationships.

It is hard when you are 16, unemployed and don't have a car.

I keep telling him to listen to me.  I did GREAT at relationships (Exhibit A:  Mrs ERJ).

They start too young.

Part of my success is that I did not go looking until I was ready.  Perhaps it was all of those Biblical stories of men starting buildings and not having enough resources to put a roof on them.

I had other impediments.  My family was, um, resource starved.  We did have a telephone.  It was wired to the wall.  Next to the kitchen.  A desire for privacy was considered a de facto admission of nefarious intentions.

They start too young (yes, I know I repeated myself)

Kids pair off too early.  They should be focusing on group dynamics.  You can learn a lot about people by just watching.

Dating is about finding a mate.  When the time came, I was not seriously dating for very long before I stubbed my toe on Mrs ERJ.  But what I remember is that 29 year old women are the shining beacon of womanhood.

Something must happen on their 29th birthday.

All of a sudden their list shrank: 
  • Great Car 
  • Six Pack Abs 
  • Skis.  
  • Makes over $100K/year
  • Can order dinner in French 
  • Great hair
  • Has a wine cellar 
  • Fantastic wardrobe (NO polyester).  
  • Condo in a great zip code 
  • Vacations in Europe
  • Loves me
  • Has integrity
  • Works
  • Bathes
  • No substance abuse issues
Somehow I don't think Kubota is ready to hear that girls aren't ready yet, that he will have to wait about 13 years.

A big "Shout out" to all of the folks snowed in on the east coast.

Hello to everybody from the east who visited during the big snow.

My daily traffic doubled.  I hope you enjoyed your stay.  You are welcome here any time.

Take it easy out there tomorrow.  Old guys...make sure you take your baby aspirin.

Wear practical foot wear.

Take your time.

God is Great
Coffee is good
People are crazy.

Eye rolling: What is being communicated?

BIG eye-roll here.  She wants everybody to know what she is thinking.
Here is a stealth eye-roll, she rolls her eye as she starts to blink and turn away.  It is not as "in your face" as the example above but the emotions it conveys are just as intense.
Malcolm Gladwell  dedicates one chapter to "micro-expressions" in his book Blink.

In one vignette, he has observers watch a short interaction between a couple.  They are discussing the purchase of a pet.  The observers watch about 15 seconds of interaction and are then asked to predict whether the couple would be together a year from now.

After collecting the predictions, the researchers ran through the short segment at low speed and pointed out where the woman performed three "micro eye-rolls" in that fifteen seconds.

Short answer:  They would not be together.  The woman has nothing but contempt for the man.  That does not bode well for the relationship.

The concept that eye-rolls = contempt is now deeply embedded in the popular culture.  A typical article here.


Contempt is a blunt instrument of a word.

I want to tease out some of the nuance.  For the purpose of this essay, I will define
Contempt: A state (or opinion) where the holder of contempt considers continued conversation with the subject a burden.

It can mean:
  1. You are an idiot and I want to world to know it
  2. I do not have the communication skills to tell you the thoughts and feelings in my head
  3. You do not have the background to understand
  4. I am writing you off; I do not care enough about you to make the effort
  5. It does not matter what you say, I am going to do it anyway
Clearly, the person in the picture at the top of the page is Contempt #1

Contempt #2 is probably the most honest and precise assessment in most Parent-kid interactions.  The kid is communicating "I give up.  I cannot communicate with you because I don't have the skills."  This is probably often the case with kids, but of course they would rather go to the dentist than explicitly admit any deficiency.

This is probably a great time to display a little bit of empathy.  Getting your kid to share one or two more sentences is a victory.  Repetitions of old sentences don't count....they have to develop or extend their thoughts or feelings or tell you something new about "where they are coming from".

Contempt #3 is probably what is in your kid's head.  They are thinking "How could you possibly understand the DeChaunac, the coolest kid in sixth grade, has a Sirius Galaxy 23.456 and anything else is no better than a couple of soup cans and kite string?  When you try to point out that DeChaunac is 17 and has his own just don't have the background to understand.

Contempt #4 is the kiss of death for relationships.  Some kids go that way but it is usually after they are out of the house.  They cannot afford to write you off before then.

Contempt #5 is what you, as a parent, must really have your ear dialed in for.  Suppose you tell him that he cannot go over the DeChaunac's house (secretly thinking they will smoke doobies, watch porn and pull the wings off of flies) then your kid is rolls his eyes thinking (DeChauanc can drive!  How do you think your opinion will stop me?)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Having the last word


The compulsion to "have the last word" peaks for most people in 7th grade.

It is a developmental phase.  The child associates "having the last word" with dominance.  Since it is their job to grow up and have dominion over their environment, most kids try it out for size.  They are just doing their job.

Most kids eventually realize that "last word" is a symptom of power rather than a source of power.  And they grow out of it.

A few do not.  They never seem to figure out that relying on "last word" is an admission of a power disparity.  It is verbal guerrilla warfare.  Never holding ground, conversationally, and turning it to a productive use.  "Last word" is a war of nagging attrition.  The more powerful party rarely chooses nagging wars of attrition, of burning down the house.

Avoid negative people

Ahhh!  Words to live by.  Except when it is not possible.  Maybe they share your work cubicle, your fire station, your car pool or your family dinner table.  What to do?

That is when it is handy to have a good vocabulary.  Just do what I do.  Firmly announce:

Pronunciation: zi-zê-vê Hear it!

According to "zyzzyvva" is the last word in the American Heritage Colligiate dictionary.  It is also a species of life sucking weevils which somehow seems appropriate when discussing people who insist on trying to have the last word.

And now they cannot have it because you just claimed it.

Trees of Eaton Rapids, Part 2

Unless otherwise noted, all trees that I will discuss are "Tall" trees.

Northern White Cedar, also known as Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

This is the cedar of northern cedar swamps, the ones where Whitetailed deer bed for the winter.  This is a medium sized tree.  It likes moist soil and unlike most conifers, is very tolerant of lime.

A nice progression of different aged White Cedar from left-to-right.  Most of these are sold in containers and have been selected for narrow, upright form.  These trees are at the west end of State St, across from the Subway Sandwich shop.
Cemeteries were among the first areas that were "landscaped".  They are a fine place to scout out big trees.  This White Cedar is in Rose Hill Cemetery and it may have been dug out of the floodplains of what is now know as Hobart Drain, about 200 feet west of its current location.  Surveyor notes tell us that most of these "drains" were mixed conifer-deciduous forest.

Another "Cemetery" tree.  This one is in the graveyard of the United Methodist church on the corner of Parma Road and Pope Church Road in Jackson county.
Close-up of the trunk.  No trick photography or photoshopping, that is a full sized grave stone next to the trunk.  The literal translation of "Arborvitae" is "Tree of life".  Perhaps it is no accident that so many Christians planted "Arborvitae" in their cemeteries...what with the cross and all.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

This is the "other" cedar.  It is also tolerant of lime.  It is the cedar that gives pencils and cedar chests their distinctive smell.  It is also a medium sized tree.  It is the bookend of the White Cedar.  The White Cedar likes moist soil, Eastern Red Cedar hates moist soil.  It wants DRY.

One issue with Eastern Red Cedar is that it is the alternate host for Cedar-apple gall, to the detriment of both species.  CAR also affects hawthorns and quince.

These three trees are at the northeast corner of the Shelly-Odell funeral home on Main Street.  These are "common" Red Cedar.
Many forms of Eastern Red Cedar have been selected by horticulturists.  This form is called 'Canaertii' and tends to the windswept, picturesque.  I am pretty much tone-deaf when it comes to aesthetics, but all Eastern Red Cedar seem to look very "at home" when floating in beds of warm-season grasses like Switch Grass and Big Bluestem.

Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)

As long as we are doing conifers and cemeteries, lets talk about Red Pine.  Red Pine is a big tree.  For reasons that are not clear to me, the horticulture industry started planting Austrian Pine in the 1950s.  The non-native Austrian Pine are dying in droves the but Red Pine keep chugging along.

There are four Red Pine in this picture from the Springport cemetery.  Springport is the town just south of Eaton Rapids.  The next picture is a close-up of the one on the left.
The blue barrel is a standard sized, 55 gallon barrel.  Just look at the massive blocks and fissures in the bark.  This is one of the "medium sized" trees in the cemetery.
This is a picture of the big Red Pine. It dwarfs the tree to the right of it.  They were undoubtedly planted at the same time.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

We are at the extreme southern end of the range for Balsam Fir.  I wonder if these trees were also grubbed out of a local drain. 

No tree has better smelling needles than Balsam Fir.  Balsam Fir needles have the bonus of being soft on the skin.  These four trees are on McArthur River Drive, just south of the apartment complex.

American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

This is not a tree I expected to run into but one of our local tree gurus pointed it out to me (Thanks, Bill!)

American Chestnut is not appropriate for a yard or street tree.  The tree is vulnerable to Chestnut blight which usually kills it dead, Dead, DEAD in short order.  The husks are covered with extraordinarily sharp needles.

The tree in the center of the frame is the American Chestnut.  The Tabernacle at the Holiness Church Camp is in the background.
God bless 10X optical zoom.  You can see a husk or a burr hanging on in the upper-right corner of the bunch of leaves.

A shot up the trunk.

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

Got Squirrels?  Corner of Chester and Hale streets.  This neighborhood is carpet bombed with very nice Shagbark trees.

It comes by its name honestly.

You will almost never see a nurseryman selling Hickory trees.  They tend to grow slowly and they sport a tap-root that goes down a mile.  Consequently, they tend to sulk for a few years after being transplanted.  Somebody obviously loved Shagbark Hickories enough to plant these trees as nuts and then care for them until they could fend for themselves.

I think Shagbark Hickory are GREAT yard and street trees.  According to sources, hickory trees are the most common non-oak genus in Oak Savannas.

Maybe Lucky can post his recipe for Hickory bark syrup.

Mulberry and Sweet Cherries (Morus spp. and Prunus avium)

This is a double bonus.

Of the three trees in the foreground, the tree on the left is a mulberry.  They rarely get this big because they get cut down.  This tree is a male tree, which probably saved it life.  No fruit but it does produce massive amounts of pollen.  The tree on the right, the one with the black trunk, is a Sweet Cherry.  These trees can be found at 913 Grove Street.
Sweet Cherry trees seem to do well around here.  They might not produce fruit reliably, but they can be counted on to survive the climate, especially if you plant them on the north side of a building or where their trunks can be shaded during the winter.  Example:  with bushes clustered around them.  The limiting factor for Sweet Cherries seems to be sun scald, where the sun reflects off of the snow and thaws out the south side of the trunk.  The rapid re-freeze plays havoc with the tree.