Keeping teachers on their toes…

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From a friend’s Facebook status…

Our [8-year-old] drama queen caused an e-mail to be sent to all the parents regarding bringing nut-derived foods to school.

  • Mama, so I noticed that this girl was eating a sandwich with Nutella today…
  • Really, the school doesn’t allow nuts!
  • See, Mama, good, you are paying attention. Then, I came up to her, licked her sandwich and started choking, popping my eyes, and making weird noises with a red face… I do not have an allergy, but everybody freaked out!

[This Huffington Post article says that roughly 11 Americans die annually from food allergies.]

Citizen access to teacher union negotiations

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Harvey Silverglate wrote an article for WGBH where he describes his attempt, as a parent and taxpayer, to see what was going on with the City of Cambridge’s negotiation with its teacher’s union. Background: The city spends about $27,000 per year per student but that doesn’t include capital costs, so the total cost is probably closer to $40,000 per year per student.

Here are some excerpts:

I obtained the necessary permissions and showed up to the first negotiating session. When the head of the union saw me, she announced that the union would not bargain while I was in the room. The teachers’ negotiating team walked out. My letters from two School Committee members were soon revoked, and the contract negotiations proceeded comfortably in private.

It was at that moment that I became an opponent of public sector unions. Why? Because, it suddenly occurred to me, the public interest was not represented at the contract negotiations. The teachers were arguing for their own self-interest in terms of work conditions and compensation, as was to be expected, but the School Committee and school administrators were dealing with the taxpayers’ money, not their own. And it was in the pols’ political interests for there to be labor peace. The children and their parents figured very little in the whole enterprise. And so an outrageous number of provisions found their way into the contract year after year, seemingly all of them more protective of the teachers’ wallets and comfortable work-schedules – and the School Committee members’ elective prospects – than of the educational interests of public school students.

Who knows how to fix Google Chrome on Windows 7? (fonts stuck on italics)

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Folks:

Google Chrome on my Windows 7 machine has suddenly gone whacky with fonts. Almost everything in Gmail shows up in italics. A lot of stuff on various Web sites shows up as bold and italics. Microsoft Internet Explorer still works fine, so I don’t think that it is the machine.

My first thought was to play around with font substitution but I can’t find anything in the settings that is strange. Then I figured I would uninstall Google Chrome and reinstall it, but even on a freshly booted machine Windows says that it can’t uninstall the program until I “close all Chrome windows” (none had been opened subsequent to the reboot).

Any brilliant ideas from the community would be welcome!

Thanks,

Philip

California sex-on-campus bill shows that universities should get out of the housing business

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Newspapers are alive with stories (e.g., the Guardian) about California’s unanimously passed bill requiring each public college in the state to “adopt a policy concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking”. Nobody seems to be asking the question “Should colleges run dorms?” If colleges got rid of the dorms, they could concentrate on teaching and not on complying with state and federal mandates regarding sex, a subject on which there is no evidence that university administrators are more expert than laypeople.

What to do with surplus on-campus dorms? Either sell off the real estate so that the former dormitories are no longer “on campus” or turn what had been dorms into collaborative study/lab spaces. Maybe students would work harder if they lived in a mixed-age commercial apartment building and saw the dreary jobs for which average college graduates depart every morning at 8:30 a.m. And certainly a student in a commercial apartment building who is the victim of a crime won’t waste his or her time calling a university administrator who will refer to a new state-mandated policy. He or she will dial 911 and people who actually know something about crime and criminals will show up.

End of summer reading

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I”m just back from Burning Man (photos to come) and did some reading on the way out and back.

In this 100th anniversary year of World War I, I read The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, which got excellent reviews but is deadly boring for the non-specialist. Do you want to know the name of every European diplomat and high government official circa 1900-1914? The take-away seems to be that the wise folks whom we entrust with half of our money and our safety as a society are not very good at predicting the future or the consequences of their actions.

Hoping that World War II would be more exciting, I read a book recommended by a Dutch friend, The Forgotten Soldier: The Classic WWII Autobiography. This is a reminder that the coherent view offered by war histories is not available to the soldier on the ground, for whom war is bewildering. Why read about the experience of a soldier in the German army? Sajer, an Alsatian, notes “By that time I belonged to the Victorious Allies, who were all heroes, like every French soldier I met after the war. Only victors have stories to tell. We, the vanquished, were all cowards and weaklings by then, whose memories, fears, and enthusiasms should not be remembered.”

Sajer writes about withholding the real stories from a girl whom he met on leave: “I did my best to embroider what I said. I described heroic deeds the like of which I’d never seen. I couldn’t believe that the filth of the steppe was what this girl wanted to hear about, and I was afraid of speaking too frankly. I didn’t want her to understand what our experiences had really been like. I didn’t want her to catch the stench of mud and blood through anything I said, or to see the huge gray horizon still stamped across my vision. I was afraid of infecting her with my terror and disgust, and afraid that if I did she’d resent it. My descriptions of heroism came straight from Hollywood, but at least we were able to laugh, and I could go on talking to her.”

Oddly, Sajer also tells us that we shouldn’t read his book or any book like it: “Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual. One should really read such accounts under compulsion, in discomfort, considering oneself fortunate not to be describing the events in a letter home, writing from a hole in the mud. One should read about war in the worst circumstances, when everything is going badly, remembering that the torments of peace are trivial, and not worth any white hairs. Nothing is really serious in the tranquillity of peace; only an idiot could be really disturbed by a question of salary.”

I’m halfway through The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway, which seems relevant because our cities are once again nearing a point of collapse from traffic congestion. It is interesting that just as the subways were being built there was genuine confusion about whether it made more sense to move cars via steam engine, vacuum, a cable, or electric motors. The author dug up a lot of detail but some of the simple stuff seems to have eluded him, e.g.,

A young man from Michigan was putting the finishing touches on an idea for a horseless carriage powered by gasoline. He called his five-hundred-pound invention the quadricycle, because it was no more than a bicycle with four wheels and a place to sit and steer. With its two-cylinder engine powered by ethanol, it motored along all by itself, and Henry Ford was so eager to show it off that in the summer of 1896 he traveled to New York to attend a convention of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies. When the thirty-three-year-old Ford met the world-famous Edison and described his gas-powered car, Edison was instantly intrigued and fired questions at the young inventor. Hearing the answers, Edison supposedly banged his fist on the table. “Young man, that’s the thing. You have it! The self-contained unit carrying its own fuel with it! Keep at it!” Ford would keep at it.

A casual glance at Wikipedia reveals that “Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885 in Mannheim” (i.e., 11 years before the events described above in which Henry Ford was an “inventor” of the automobile).

If you’re looking for something compelling to read I recommend starting with The Forgotten Soldier.

Germany wins World War I… 100 years later

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I’m listening to The Modern Scholar: World War l: The Great War and the World It Made, lectures by the late John Ramsden that demonstrate we should not entirely give up on the lecture method of instruction. On the 100th anniversary of the war it is still somewhat hard to believe that Germany invested so much in a war with such modest aims, i.e., obtaining economic hegemony over central Europe. During World War I, according to Ramsden, Germany didn’t have a grand plan to conquer most of Europe and rule the territory directly. They wanted to dominate trade and politics. In listening to the lectures about the millions of lives wasted, it occurred to me that Germany has finally achieved its war goals of 1914. It just took 100 years and the Germans’ main weapon was working harder and being more organized than their neighbors.

[Separately, I wonder if historians will look back 90 years from now and ask "Why did the Americans waste so many lives and so much money in Iraq and Afghanistan if they did not have a goal of direct imperial rule?"]

Old book for our new war

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It seems that we have started a new war (against ISIS in Iraq). If you’re looking for some related summer reading, let me recommend either the print or the audio version of The Suicide Run: Five Tales of the Marine Corps by novelist William Styron who was also a Marine during World War II and the Korean War (and who summered on Martha’s Vineyard, the island from which President Obama will be commanding the initial phases of this latest war).

Obama and New England aviation businesses start their vacation

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President Obama arrives on Martha’s Vineyard for a two-week vacation starting today. This effectively shuts down Cape Cod, the Vineyard, and Nantucket as aviation destinations (see tfr.faa.gov for maps showing the 70-mile (60 nautical) diameter circles of restricted/forbidden airspace) and therefore shuts down a lot of New England-based aviation businesses (flight schools that normally rent planes to people visiting these islands, sightseeing operators, aircraft maintenance, aircraft fuelers, etc.). There will ultimately be at least three different flight restrictions. Obama will fly in a Boeing 747 from Washington, D.C. up to Otis on the Cape. Due to the fact that the runway on the Vineyard is only 6000 feet long he will be transferred to a smaller aircraft (in previous years a Boeing 757 and also an Osprey?) and fly 5 minutes from Otis to the Vineyard. It is unclear why he wouldn’t prefer to take a Boeing 757 non-stop from D.C.

I spent the previous week on the Vineyard. The Secret Service was already encamped in rented houses with SUVs flown in from D.C. Ospreys thundered overhead in flights of three. “I thought it was odd that the newspaper carried an official government notice that it was ‘forbidden to welcome’ President Obama at the airport,” said one summer resident while crabbing with her daughter. “That’s not a phrase that I’ve seen before.”

We departed this morning about 1.5 hours before Obama was due to arrive. As we drove to the airport we found the highways clogged with black SUVs bearing D.C. plates and at least a dozen Massachusetts State Police cruisers. There were two Coast Guard Eurocopters parked on the ramp. In case those helicopters, plus the Marine helicopters that had been previously flown up in C-17 cargo planes, were not sufficient, the Massachusetts State Police was there with its own gold-plated Eurocopter (see this 2012 posting and this February 2014 posting for more on the state’s EC135). During the preflight we watched a $100 million Osprey land and depart. As we taxied out in our little four-seat airplane we heard an FAA ground vehicle communicating with the ground controller about a from-the-ground airport equipment inspection (weather was perfect for visual flying so in fact no equipment was necessary for taking off or landing). As we took off we heard the State Police call the Tower to request orbits around the field (at $2000 per hour) so that they could “conduct a runway inspection”).

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A Dutch friend asked if this pomp and circumstance was related to our English heritage. I replied that David Cameron regularly flew London/D.C. on British Airways (example). She replied “The Dutch Prime Minister rides to work on a bicycle.”

Jigsaw puzzles and American corporate taxes

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Some of my shorter and younger friends and I have been playing with jigsaw puzzles lately. We started with a few from Ravensburger. These are made in Germany. Every piece from every puzzle has been perfect. Then we moved on to a 550-piece puzzle from White Mountain Puzzles. The box is proudly stamped “Made in USA”. The price is about the same but the quality is ridiculously poor by comparison with “hanging chads” marring a lot of pieces as well as some delamination of the photo and cardboard. I thought “If I cared about making puzzles I would emigrate to Germany.”

This dovetailed with news reports of American politicians fulminating against multinational companies officially relocating from the U.S. to Ireland, Switzerland, England, and other countries with lower corporate tax rates. The language used is more or less the same as what I’ve heard from Third World leaders over the past four decades as various forms of currency controls are imposed in an attempt to stop capital flight. The main objection seems to be that the relocation is a sham and that the top executives stay put in the U.S. and run the company from here. I’m wondering if we wouldn’t ultimately be sorry if we got what our politicians say that we want.

Consider a multinational such as Procter and Gamble. Their executives sit in Cincinnati. The growth that they are supposed to be managing is mostly in Asia, Africa, South America, etc. The company might do better if the executives relocated to Dubai, for example, closer to growing markets, or to Switzerland, with its inherently international character. If we put a stop to corporate relocations where the top managers stay put in the U.S., pay U.S. income tax rates, pay U.S. property tax rates on their mansions, etc., wouldn’t the next logical step be a wave of corporate relocations in which the executives move as well? To save billions of dollars in corporate taxes would it be such a hardship to move from Cincinnati to Geneva? Just catch the company Gulfstream for a ride back to the high school reunion…

 

 

Aviation News from Oshkosh

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This is the time of year when everyone in the general aviation world strives to get stuff finished so that it can be shown at Airventure (“Oshkosh”). Things got off to a bad start with a USA Today expose on the dangers of flying around in 60-year-old machines flown by 75-year-old guys all regulated by FAA and NTSB bureaucrats who set deadlines for technological progress by reference to the timeline for the Sun entering its Red Giant phase.

The most exciting little airplane of 2010 was the Icon A5 amphibious seaplane. Deliveries were promised for 2011. I didn’t attend this year’s Oshkosh but apparently the company proudly showed off a prototype made from production tooling. This will be used for FAA-required tests in hopes of customer deliveries in 2015 (press release).

Honda is at roughly the same stage with the HondaJet, promising deliveries in 2015 as well. (release) The original delivery date was 2010.

Cirrus is claiming that its long-delayed single-engine jet will finally ship by “end of 2015″ (i.e., for New Year’s Eve). The plane was first flown in 2008.

Terrafugia, whose flying car I wrote about in 2009 (posting), did not bring a flyable aircraft to Oshkosh, indicating that 2015 might be an optimistic date for delivery to customers.

BendixKing (Honeywell) introduced a retrofit glass panel for turboprops such as the Beechcraft King Air. This could be exciting for about 700 owners of legacy Pilatus PC-12 who have not spent the $200,000+ to put in a Garmin G600 panel.

How is the aviation world doing? If you reflect on the fact that the proven way to add safety is a two-pilot crew, airline-style, the pace of progress in general aviation is indeed slow enough to lend credence to the USA Today series. (See my 2008 article http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/ground-monitoring, for example, for what might help.) As noted in this posting and associated comments about a recent Gulfstream crash, the level of systems integration and useful automation in piloted aircraft seems destined to remain low. If we take that as a given then the only way to achieve safety is via a two-pilot crew running checklists. Certainly the USA Today idea of bringing the entire general aviation fleet up to 2014 certification standards is not practical and probably wouldn’t even be very helpful. An original 1956 Cessna 172 can probably be flown more safely by a two-pilot crew than the latest four-seat propeller-driven airplane can be by a single pilot, who might be tired, distracted, or overwhelmed by circumstances.

Perhaps there is a product idea here. If the full two-pilot crew via telemetry idea (link above) is not practical, why not a self-contained robot second pilot in the aircraft? The robot would look at all of the gauges with a little camera, listen to the radio and intercom, and be able to say things like “Do you want to run the climb checklist?” and “You’re two miles from the final approach fix; shouldn’t you be putting in flaps and and slowing down?” and “You’re at 500′ above the runway and still working on the power, gear, and flaps. Should you go around and trying again to achieve a stabilized approach?” The robot could get additional inputs from the latest generation of portable AHRS and ADS-B boxes with WiFi/Bluetooth (see the Stratus and Garmin GDL 39).

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