© Norman Sperling, April 13, 2013
In lots of places, traffic has a view of a ridge. That’s a fabulous place to stick something with an interesting silhouette. Antique farm equipment looks neat. Try a scarecrow. A sculpture. A cairn. A saguaro. A dramatic tree. Anything that a passing driver can take in with a quick glance – not distracting them for dangerously long.
© Norman Sperling, March 22, 2013
Why must seats face orthogonal to the rail instead of the center of attention? Seated down the right field line once, I faced the center field wall. I turned very sharply left to see the diamond. I had an aisle seat so I could stretch my legs in that direction but nobody else around could.
In theaters, I've faced corners of the stage instead of the center.
For concerts, it's not so bad. The angle at which the sound reaches my ears is not a problem.
But facing action is. To watch a performance, seats should face center stage. To watch a baseball game, seats should face the diamond. Football, basketball, soccer, and hockey are different because they range all up and down their field, though they'd probably best face the center. This is another reason that multipurpose stadia aren't a good idea.
Other than swivel seats, has this problem ever been fixed? The tilt of the stands might be very different to face the diamond but I doubt that it would pose construction problems. Spectators would have to turn to watch a homer or a deep fly ball, but the seating structure should allow it to be seen.
© Norman Sperling, October 13, 2012
Kitchen appliances come with absurdly short power cords. They say it's to prevent you from tripping over a longer cord when carrying it.
Short cords would be safe only if people use those appliances within that easy distance of appropriate plugs. But that just plain flat-out does not happen! Hasn't anybody looked at real-life kitchens? Homes and workplaces of all sorts?
People have to use extension cords to reach an outlet. This introduces more unsafe factors. The total length is unlikely to be "just right" and can't be too short, so it is usually too long. The extension cord is easily long enough to trip over. Extension cords are often rated for lower wattage than the appliance uses, risking fire.
So too-short cords breed resentment and frustration, cause further expense for extension cords, and probably induce more danger than they avert.
Instead, use a reel inside the appliance to dispense however much cord is needed. Give it the same kind of spring loading and lock/release used on tape measures. Every cord will be just the right length. For carrying, retract the whole cord back onto its reel. Then unreel the right length for its new position. Cord is cheap, springs are cheap, reels are cheap. The expense of sufficient volume to hold the stuff might be the biggest cost. That should be a good tradeoff for satisfying consumers and increasing true safety.
© Norman Sperling, September 5, 2012
The 4th-best apartment-for-rent ad that I answered was also a scam, just as the 3 better ones had been, and (judging from the responding eMail) it was from the same scammer as #2.
Craigslist claims it can't tell. More likely they don't care to bother.
Gmail's spam-spotters sure recognized them. But they just relegated their responses to the spam file, apparently based on the similarity of the wording to a lot of other mail they'd carried that had been flagged before.
I hear that law enforcement won't do much because they can't prove that the location of the offense is within their bounds. Mine all cited "West Africa" ... but why should that be truer than their offerings?
The scammers know that Craigslist hardly hinders them, Gmail merely redirects their mail to a different folder, and law enforcement leaves them alone. They get away with their scams because no one with evidence communicates with anyone else.
As long as Gmail and Craigslist operate in blissful independence, scammers will continue to exploit their hands-off attitude to scam money from the customers of both.
So here's a superb opening for Anonymous and White Hats. They want to right wrongs, don't they? They want to keep the internet open and effective, don't they? The using public should contribute thousands of exemplars, from which patterns could be recognized, from which the number and behavior of scammers can be determined. I suspect there are fewer than 1,000 originators of this misery, and I suspect that >90% can be identified this way.
Cooperate with selected targets (banks, merchants, Craigslist, eBay, ...) and media (eMail, ISPs, portals, ...), track down the crooks, document their takings, build overwhelming legal and moral evidence, and come down so hard on them that they'll not only cave in (and go to jail and pay restitution) but also deter anyone else from even trying. This may also expose government agencies and banks that cast blind eyes.
I sure would enjoy reading the stories of such rip-off artists, and their downfalls.
© Norman Sperling August 15, 2012
After 15+ years of parent-teacher meetings, I've attended my last. I've heard what happens, in and around those groups, since before my older boy entered Kindergarten. I've taught K-12, undergrad college students, and a few grad students. I've listened to a whole lot of students at all levels.
The Big Things that are wrong with Education are going to stay wrong. Almost all the "reforms" proposed by politicians, teachers, administrators, scholars, and the public, would accomplish very little. They nibble around the edges of the problems, because current Political Correctness won't let anybody address true and big problems.
That's because by far the biggest influence on how children succeed, and especially on how children fail, is their parents. In my first stint as a teacher, I figured out that almost every student problem I saw was traceable to their parents.
I never found a culturally-acceptable way to influence those parents. Parents are politically untouchable and unmentionable. The school and the government can't tell parents how to raise their children. Most governments, and many schools, are less competent than many parents, and would pick the wrong factors to squeeze parents on.
Since you can't blame children for acting like children, and politically you can't blame parents, the only target left is the schools. Bad choice. Kids can be spectacularly unresponsive or contrary. A whole lot of students don't do their homework. Schools can grade them accordingly, but without parent support, that accomplishes nothing. So schools conduct class as if that was the place to do what ought to be homework. Without parents scrupulously, patiently, and methodically helping students do every assignment, the kids drift, and the school cannot accomplish much.
Most teachers enter the profession because they want to teach. Most leave because of burnout. Teaching is extremely frustrating, and results from students just not doing what they're taught. That results from parents just not helping the students learn. To improve teaching, reduce teachers' frustrations.
At this point, insert your favorite litany of why parents are overburdened and overmatched and just can't: working too long hours, poorly educated themselves, not knowing enough English ... . Get real: add alcohol, and drugs, and temper, and selfishness, and neglect.
Student failure isn't rooted in poverty: I often encounter successful people who rose from poverty. They almost always tell of a strong adult who helped them learn (most often, their mother). That's what it takes, and the other factors are minor.
Wealth doesn't assure success: I've encountered many people who accomplish little despite prosperous starts.
Working too-long hours is a bad choice. Drop the worst part-time job. Use the liberated hours to help the children. They'll gain much more from the attention than they'll lose from the dollars. I've never heard an adult criticize their own parents for not having more money, but I often hear regrets that their parents didn't pay enough attention to them.
The PTAs and PTSOs I've been in are full of parents who pay a lot of attention. Their students do relatively well. They have relatively few problems. But the organization fritters a lot of effort.
From students and sometimes parents, I hear of certain students who show occasional sparks. They have ability, and decent minds. But they're mired in unsupportive families, do-nothing mentalities, and sometimes gangs. I think that a few percent of the student population can be identified as slackers who might catch on. Scuttlebutt can identify such people, so the administration doesn't have to. Individual parents in the PTSO could reach out to those students, and where possible, their families. Incorporate them as much as practical in some patterns of success: bring 1 or 2 along on cultural trips. Include 1 or 2 in study sessions. Include 1 or 2 in activities ("hey, could you please pitch in on stage crew? It's fun, and we sure need your help.") If the involved parents at my kids' high school privately targeted 20 such kids a year to draw in, maybe half would "take". Changing 10 F-and-D students into B-and-A students, per year, would raise the school's academic numbers at least as much as most traditional proposals.
I've also noticed repeatedly that kids hear what they're told even if they don't react immediately. It may take years, but some lessons do eventually click. So some students who don't respond right away will benefit eventually.
While I can spot what needs to be done, I'm not very good at doing most of it myself. We did invite a wide variety of kids to join us at baseball games and museums and other jaunts. We did provide some support for neglected kids (especially rides, food, and a few sleepovers).
I could have done more. Maybe I could have learned how to drop some hints with other parents. Maybe I could have included kids more. But I was always so preoccupied just minding my own kids.
© Norman Sperling, March 17, 2012
When passing a test makes a big difference, instead of teaching a whole subject and its importance, teachers often focus on "teaching to the test": teaching students to pass the test. If the test accurately represents what it's supposed to, that's close to OK. But tests often don't test what they're supposed to. Sometimes it's a portion of the intended material, in which case the students learn part but not enough to make it all stick together as the intended whole.
And sometimes the test just tests a proxy. The test for protein content of dog food is such a test. It doesn't actually test for protein. Instead, it tests for the amine radical, which is abundant in protein. But that's also found in cheaper substances. Twice now, without looking for it, I've come across instances where the protein test was faked by major, large-scale, planned substitution of harmful, cheap amine-bearing materials.
In the mid-1980s I was told of a dog-food manufacturer which drenched its food in ammonia to pass this test. Ammonia is a smelly poison. The dog food passed the test, though it lacked much protein. Maybe the ammonia dissipated by the time the product got to the dogs, so maybe they weren't poisoned, but they weren't fed the intended, test-certified protein, either.
And in 2007-2008, the big melamine bulk-up turned out to have been deliberate. The "amine" in "melamine" would be measured as if it were an indicator of protein, instead of an indicator of polymer. Melamine is largely inert, which is why it's so popular for dishes. But in doses large enough to substitute for protein, it poisons dogs' kidneys.
Who would do such a thing? One whose ethics see only as far as passing the immediate test, and not as far as the long-range, overall purpose. One who only teaches to the test.
It's way past time to update the protein test.
© Norman Sperling, March 7, 2012
I would like to read a comprehensive book about Y2K, especially a competent description and analysis of the aftermath. I haven't been able to find such a book. Does one exist?
Broadening to the big issue of legacy software would generalize it from a single event to an ongoing situation. Legacy code is a real issue for many companies because a lot of original code was not optimal:
* it was written as a first try,
* under great pressure,
* in an under-funded company,
* thinking months ahead, not decades.
Inelegance is the least of its problems.
A lot has been learned about superior ways to do things since then, but later editions all have to work with the original. This weighs down products from many big companies.
A software engineer who had worked at Oracle told me that Oracle did indeed find and fix what would have failed.
© Norman Sperling, February 23, 2012
Car headlights are changing yet again. Tight, intense beams now glare at me on the road at night. They put out at least as much light as older headlights, but from a smaller area.
Stylists probably think this looks good. I disagree. By concentrating the source, they intensify distraction, afterimage, and annoyance from the glare.
Instead, they should try for less-intense light from broader sources. Spread the light out a lot, and the source won't be painful, yet the total illumination on the road can be greater.
The headlights of the cute Beetle 2.0 are absolutely wrong for such a cartoonish critter: stylistically, they shouldn't be hard, beady eyes, they ought to be big, googly, Tweety-Bird-style eyes. This softer source should enhance the car's appearance as well as its driver's ability to see. Somebody should offer those as after-market plug-ins.
Soft lights could serve additional functions. They could outline a bulky vehicle's shape, as yellow running lights do now. Changing their shape and placement would allow stylists to refresh each year's models with much more variety. But this has to be policed to prevent distracting oncoming drivers from concentrating on the road ahead of them.
review © Norman Sperling, February 7, 2012
This new book tells nothing new, and offers many examples of no value. Ostensibly celebrating the pirate economy, the author neither self-publishes nor finds street sellers. Instead, he contracts with a name-brand publisher, copyrights his tales of piracy, and repeatedly invalidates his own premises.
The underground and pirate economy is not rising, it's always been around. This "informal economy" is older and far more entrenched than the formal one. In several places the book admits that, but immediately reverts to the fantasy that working "off the books", on the street, on the margins, or not fully licensed, is new, or increasing.
What's newer, and growing far more vigorously, is the formal economy that earns confidence, enforces inspections, builds brands, and does things right. Several times, the narrative brushes up against the roughly-direct relationship between an enterprise's degree of formality (for which the author selects the odd proxies of being licensed, registered, and taxpaying) and its degree of trustworthiness. Trust and confidence are critical in transactions.
That's why customers graduate to more formal levels of the economy as soon as they can. They get better quality and therefore better value: the things they buy are closer to "real" and "working" and "sturdy" and "supported", and therefore worth the higher price. This generates valuable repeat-business, compared to street-hawkers who always need to drum up yet more new customers. Of this, the book gives only the slightest mention.
The author offers several sighs over capitalist misbehavior, while citing far more examples (without sighs) of pirate misbehavior. Almost all the misbehavior is just plain short-sighted: taking an immediate advantage and ignoring its (bigger) long-term consequences. Undermining value, as several chapters on piracy celebrate, undermines confidence. Folks who can't afford the most-trustworthy goods, and therefore take less-trustworthy, discounted street-goods, often live to regret it. Frequently-cheated customers are less eager to buy, which slows the 'speed of money', whose rate tracks the health of economies.
Save your time and money: skip this book. To improve the economy, earn as much confidence as you can (in reality, not just "licenses and registrations"), and do business with others who also earn confidence.
© Norman Sperling, November 10, 2011
Decades ago, safety experts decreed that pavement writing that needs more than one word had to put the first word first, then a gap, then the second word, then another gap and the third word, etc. This way, people would read the words in the proper order.
That only works if the words are widely spread. By 20 years ago, that important factor became neglected. So now they put successive words right on top of one another, where the eye naturally reads the top one first. Hence:
for the bike lane I pedal in, and
when there is a stop-sign ahead.
The requirement that the first word be encountered first is remembered, but the requirement of sufficient spacing is forgotten. This looks stupid, confuses drivers needlessly, and tells everyone that the people responsible for it are mindless followers of rules that they don’t understand ... and misapply.
Find the original spacing standard (or update it), and trumpet it so loudly that the Public Works workers in the street understand and follow it.