Standardized Tests

I was looking at the example questions from our standardized state tests this year for 3rd graders.

For English competency testing I found the following passage followed by questions to test understanding.

In 1889, Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Italy took a vacation in the seaside town of Naples, Italy. The queen saw people strolling outside eating pizza. She wanted to try some pizza for herself.Raffaele Esposito was a popular pizza maker in town. He was chosen to make a pizza for the queen.Esposito wanted his pizza to be extra special. So he made a pizza using the colors of the Italian flag: red, green, and white. Red tomatoes, green basil (an herb), and white mozzarella cheese went on his patriotic pizza.Esposito baked his creation, and it was delivered to the queen. She loved it. She sent a note of praise and thanks. Raffaele named it Pizza Margherita in honor of the queen. Soon everyone wanted to try it.

The questions are then as follows:

How did Raffaele Esposito feel about Queen Margherita?Identify two clues the author includes in the passage to show that Raffaele Esposito feels this way.

I found these questions annoying because the text says nothing about Esposito’s feelings about the queen, and what he did, which is a well known story from the history of pizza, is simply being a rational person, not an emotional one.

In the scoring guide it gives example correct answers as essay text saying things such as “He loved the queen.” The text does not support that though.

Here is my answer, which would receive a 0 according to the established scoring criteria.

How did Raffaele Esposito feel about Queen Margherita?

Raffaele Esposito was a talented businessman who owned a restaurant in Napoli in the 19th century. When the queen came to eat pizza there having heard of this regional specialty of Napoli, he felt the traditional topping of garlic and oregano (known now as Pizza Marinara) would not sit well with the delicate tastes of the Queen, and so he made a new pizza style with cheese, basil leaves, and tomatoes, mimicking the colors of the Italian flag. The queen enjoyed this and sent him a note thanking him. The original note is in the restaurant which still stands to this day, and is now called Pizzeria Brandi. A wise businessman, Esposito prominently displayed the letter and started marketing the garlic-less pizza as Pizza Margherita, after the queen's name. This called potential customer's attention to the fact that the queen, a celebrity, had eaten there and given it a good review. That is being a smart businessman.

The above text leaves out much of the full story. Also, it does not say how Esposito felt about the queen. His actions were consistent with what an intelligent business owner would do in similar circumstance and do not reflect any particular "feelings" about the queen. I suspect that he appreciated her having stopped to eat on that day and was thankful she sent a note since it enabled him to establish his restaurant as the sort of place where famous royalty eats. Marketing the event by naming the new pizza style Margherita was an excellent move to accomplish this.

Identify two clues the author includes in the passage to show that Raffaele Esposito feels this way.

The text does not give clues to Esposito's feelings. It only discusses historical events, somewhat inaccurately, and outlines rational business decisions.

Whistle while you work

Dolphins have signature whistles that only one dolphin regularly makes, but other dolphins will use that whistle when around the dolphin it belongs to. This means that dolphins have names for each other and respond to them.

I wonder where they get the names, if dolphins make them up themselves at a certain age, or if their parents or group bestow them. Also, do they change names at certain points in their lives?

The world is standardizing on the modern western authoritarian FILL IN THIS FORM WITH FIRST MIDDLE LAST IN ORDER TO RECEIVE 'RIGHTS'.

Too bad.

Many tribes don't assign names at all for some time or assign a fake name to fool bad spirits.

It's extremely common to change your name at each life change.

The whole western surname thing is so ethnocentric as well.

In South India they do this naming scheme:

Grandpa: Q R S
Father:  R S V
You:     S V M

You have your father's name and your grandfather's given name, and then yours. There is no persistent surname.

Self Sabotage

I was reading an article in Slate about how movie studios are making mistakes in handling sales of their product.

This reminded me of some experiences I have had with certain big studio DVDs:

  1. Forced coming attractions you can't bypass.
  2. Forced ads you can't bypass.
  3. DVD cases with no inserts or information of any kind.
  4. Poor quality transfers.
  5. DRM that installs rootkit malware.
  6. DRM that prevents play on the computer's DVD software, forcing the user to rip it before watching it.

Absolutely none of these things are necessary. None of them are intrinsic to DVD technology. All of these things are choices Studio MBAs make to intentionally make the product worse, to destroy the usability and user friendliness of this product, and to alienate the customers, driving them away from the product.

To be sure this does not apply to all DVDs. But it does for quite a few of them, and in an unpredictable way, which then creates a Market for Lemons and undermines the entire industry.

The solution, which I don’t think will be adopted by the big players, is to make a good product, and don’t intentionally sabotage the product so as not to alienate customers and destroy the market. Forty years ago, the American auto industry in Detroit started in with the idea of intentionally making bad products that would break down in order to increase sales. This is related to the doctrine of planned obsolescence. How did that work out? Detroit has depopulated since then and now is a post apocalyptic wasteland nearly devoid of human life.

In the Slate article, the author spends considerable money each month on cable, DVDs, premium cable, Netflix and Hulu Plus and ends up unhappy. It really sounds like he is watching too much TV, but that is his issue. Here on the farm, we have a giant antenna that picks up HD digital broadcast TV stations from the big city 85 miles away, for those pretty rare cases every few months when we might want to watch broadcast TV. That is supplemented with used and remnant DVD purchases, Hulu, and YouTube. Really the quality of broadcast TV is not so good compared to the thousands of amateur productions on YouTube. As far as movies, cable would not be as high quality as DVDs. When the DVDs we purchase try to block being played, we simply rip them and watch the ripped version. Kind of inconvenient, but it’s certainly fair use given we have paid for them and they won’t play otherwise.

Is the US spending enough on health care?

See the following graph for more information about why we need to spend much more money to protect the precious health of all Americans.

(From: National Geographic, The Cost of Care)

Similar graphs make the identical case for spending more on state schooling.

Health Care vs Sick Care

There is no such thing as a health care industry. The term itself is offensive propaganda.

Health care means eating real food without a bunch of toxic chemicals and pesticides in it, being cautious or moderate in your exposure to dangerous substances and activities, getting exercise, and staying sane by which I mean trying to avoid being born in an oppressive and mentally stressful police state that makes lies of the truth and the truth into lies. Health care is not something you buy or that is provided or controlled by some external party. Health care is things that you yourself do for your own benefit.

Health care does not mean eating low quality giant corporate food sold by giant corporate stores which leaves you hungry because it has almost no nutritional value, so you eat too much and become obese then you buy corporate diet pills, then buying low quality corporate controlled for profit surgery for a hack to excise the fat, then when the pesticide residue gives you cancer you buy corporate controlled for profit radiation and chemical poisons to kill the cancer, then more corporate controlled for profit surgery to remove the cancer caused by the corporate produced toxic GMO pesticide drenched frankenfood.

When I was young there was no such term as “health care industry”. There were doctors, and there was the drug industry, there were hospitals and clinics, there were insurance corporations. None of these deal with health care though. They deal with sick care. People don’t use this system to take care of their health. They live in dysfunctional ways in an unhealthy environment and when that environment poisons them and makes them unwell, they go to the sick care industry, which often then denies them treatment, misdiagnoses them, gives them drugs that make things worse, and/or submits them to endless stress inducing bullshit until they get cancer and die.

No one in the past, other than perhaps the most cynical and manipulative corporate sociopaths, were calling for everyone to be forced to buy (what Matt Taibbi called) “dogshit insurance” plans from a corrupt but massively profitable insurance industry that conspired to cut off their care if they ever actually became sick after years of useless payments. But now all the morons in the world (99% of the population) is screaming for this system as a “human right” and attacking those of us with sense as if we are conspiring to block people from this “health care” because we are elitists who want everyone to die. That is all bullshit and the advocates who aren’t brainwashed know it. If you support the current solutions that are being forced down our throats by this corrupt industry’s lobbyists, you are a rube.

Frogs Falling from the Sky

Frogs and fish fall from the sky from time to time. Rare but it happens.

Latest event was a few days ago in Japan:

Shut Off Maneuver

I was standing next to a car pumping gas today. Suddenly, the gas started spilling out all over the place. In decades of using gas pumps, this was the first time I ran into a pump whose auto-cut off didn't work. A very dangerous and messy situation.

I went into the station to pay and told the proprietor that the auto-shut off was broken on the pump.

He said, "I turned that thing off."

"You disabled the auto-shut off? Why?"

"People need to be more responsible. Pay attention to what they are doing. I give them complete control. I turn on the pump, it is up to them to turn it off. People comment on this, they need to pay more attention, not be thinking some machine is going to coddle them. Every day, people come here and start the pump and go to the bathroom. They come out and there is 100, 200 gallons or more spilled on the ground. I tell them they need to be more careful, pay attention. Of course they have to pay for all the gas, so it's an expensive lesson, but next time they'll pay more attention to what they are doing. See, I am helping them out."

"But the auto-shut off is there for a reason, to prevent accidents. It's only a matter of time before an explosion."

"And whose fault is that then? The fool who could not be bothered to mind his gas, that's who! Not mine!"

Anyway I stunk like gas for the rest of the day and decided we should avoid that station in the future. For context, you should know that almost every patron of this station pumps while smoking, and then comes into the station smoking. The shop is always filled with cigarette smoke and when people are done they just toss their butts wherever they like.

Wall Street Propaganda

This animation of the economic collapse just came out:

This is a well produced and slick piece. Also, all they say is true and can't be contested.

However, the piece is propaganda that misrepresents the situation.

How can this be if all they say is true?

Because they carefully selected what not to say.

Not pointed out in the video:

The failed subprime loans are a minute fraction of the bailout and of the loss of investments. The reason is that the mortgage assets were leveraged outrageously and used to invest in nonsensical investment instruments that were based on nothing. There is a quadrillion in loss right now, which is more than the value of all the assets of everything in the entire world. There are $200 billion in subprime defaults, and these represent actual property value of about $100 billion, so it's really only a $100 billion actual loss. None of the bailout has gone to this, but if it had, it could all be paid for with $100-$200 billion and the houses given away for free. It's the fraudulent pyramid scheme wall street had going that collapsed, the mortgage defaults aren't a big deal in the overall scheme of things.

In addition, they do not cover the reason for the defaults. Brokers passed investments on to funds and did not care that the mortgages would go bad. So they got dishonest appraisers and set up a system where you have average home values of $750,000 in a working class neighborhood with average salaries of $35,000. There were lots of adjustable rate mortgages where the first year is $1000 monthly payments on a million dollar shack, then the rate resets, and payments go to $4000. Obviously a family with $35,000 yearly pretax income can not make these payments and will default, that is a foregone conclusion that was known decisively by the mortgage broker. Why give the loan then? Because the brokers are not loaning their own money. The brokers knew for a fact that the people couldn't pay that and the mortgages were intentionally structured to make them fail because they WANTED them to fail, thinking they would then make even more money when they got to resell it in a year and wake a new commission. They also knew that the system can been set up to tweak all these investments that were guaranteed to fail to seem like AAA investments, so they could sell them to investment funds owned by school districts, small towns, and pension funds with no problem.

None of this is covered, instead the slick and expensively produced animation makes Wall Street out to be the victims and the mortgage holders to be the bad guys.

I find that to be pretty interesting in itself.

Ultra Geek Out: Homemade CPUs

We have a family friend, Glen, who was an important NASA scientist on the Apollo project. As a mathematician, he invented the idea of using a Fourier Transform to filter data on a digital computer. This was used to filter out signals coming back from in-flight rocket sensors and reduced the data processing time and increased the volume of usable data substantially. Reducing data processing time meant more flights could be scheduled and more adjustments could be done per flight and more things learned from each flight. Processing turnaround was the main bottleneck in the moon program at the time and solving it was the key element in not only winning the race to the moon, but doing it far more safely than would otherwise have been possible.

Glen built his own computer from TTL logic chips back in the early 70s. You programmed it initially by flipping nice thick metal toggle switches. He toggled in an assembler to bootstrap it, and eventually worked his way up to a keyboard and CRT for it. While visiting him one summer, I played an adventure game on it.

Today I read about a teacher in Portland who built a computer not out of TTL logic chips, but out of physical relay switches. He teaches computer architecture and if you want to understand that topic, watch his 1 hr video.

Then visit the web ring of homemade CPUs, linked from the bottom of that page. What fun!

Among the links is this web page:

Yes, that web page is being served to you by a webserver running in Minix, a small Unix, on a computer designed and built by hand using discrete logic units wirewrapped together.

Details of that computer and a photo:

In the Dog House

I have a dear friend whose mother is a animal horder. She has to take care of her mother's health problems as well as bring food for the dogs, both an exhausting process. Finally, after 15 years of this set up, the mother called the city and turned herself in! It seems she couldn't even get out of her bedroom at times because of the roving packs of wild animals that occupied the house.

So the city came out, and she tried to explain to them that she wanted to keep some of the dogs, but she would like for them to take the others away. The officials told her no, that would never do, and explained she had two options.

First, she could allow them to “do what was necessary”, in which case she would not be charged with more than 400 criminal counts of animal cruelty, public nuisance and health hazard. In addition, she can thoroughly clean her house and they will then consider not condemning it.

The alternate choice she had was that she could choose to resist their terms, in which case they would take her ass down. In other words, the “tough love” approach.

She agreed to the take the first choice.

My friend then went to take her mother out to town on the day of the city's big clean up operation. But before she did, she had to show the officials the “secret rooms” in the old pre-civil war farmhouse where the mother was “holding back” extra dogs that she wanted to keep.

So anyway, tomorrow is the third day of the dog kill. There are 400-some wild dogs living on the property. The animal control officers, including extras they brought in from up to 150 miles away, are shooting them left and right and stacking the carcasses like piles of corn husks.

What a relief this is for all parties involved.


I just read that in the early 1980s, Israel invested more per capita in education than any other nation. Guess who came in second? Puerto Rico! I wonder what that list would look like today. As a wild guess I'd think Singapore would be number one today with all their computers and ID cards.