• Education — do we measure by volume or weight?
    courses / homework

    Ever notice that when you get a bag of potato chips, it’s mostly empty space? You get a huge bag with a few grams of salted fat-chips. I sometimes wonder if many American schools aren’t similar. We send our kids to school from early morning to mid-afternoon, and then make them do homework for one to five hours more (the optimum homework load, by the way, seems to be 1-2 hours, based on rather scanty and mildly dubious research). In the end, we have notoriously ignorant citizens who get basic facts of our own history wrong, speak a single language, don’t understand the basics of politics or economics, have no clue how scientists work, can’t read or perform original research,…

  • Technology
    original phone

    Technology has been changing rapidly since I was born — in the days of computers that used punched cards, cars that used carburetors, and phones with rotary dials (that you could rent out for ten cents). I’ve never used punched cards in a computer, but I have used mainframes with terminals — including one operated over a 300 baud acoustic modem. I started using a Mac as a replacement for a typesetter (printing to a laser printer with the smallest possible margins, at 80%.) When PageMaker came out, the student newspaper replaced the typesetting machine with two Macs and a laser printer to save around $12,000 in consumables and leases per year, while doubling the number of seats. I was…

  • Moving on in PHP

    There’s nothing I love more than spending a morning updating software! CPanel 72 is nearly out, and the writers noted that PHP 5.6 and 7.0 would no longer be supported. You may not be surprised to learn that every one of my sites ran one of these, and for good reason — I had problems upgrading them to 7.1 some time ago. Sometimes I don’t have an illustration. I tried it again, site by site, and discovered that the main “problem” is that it took CPanel a few minutes to catch up, so there was some downtime. Once I realized that, there were just a few sites that had major issues. When I upgraded allpar.com, it was a nightmarish event,…

  • A “new” way to cut homework loads
    courses / homework

    In some schools, the biggest obstacles to reasonable homework loads — which I’ll define as “under two hours per day,” based on past research — are the teachers and the parents (or, at least, some of the more outspoken parents). Recently, a school administrator suggested a clever way around the problem of teachers who insist on assigning an hour or two of homework a night, regardless of the students’ other teachers: having fewer teachers for each student. That sounds confusing, so let me explain. I don’t mean dropping teachers or adding students; I mean changing course schedules so they’re closer to the way they were decades ago. Today’s students can have twelve classes a week from eleven different teachers; block scheduling…

  • My degree wasn’t useless, even in the “wrong” career

    Twenty-three years ago, Columbia University awarded me a doctorate in social and organizational psychology. Given that my career in the last decade has been publishing in the auto industry, with organizational change relegated to a part-time now-and-then status, I’ve sometimes made light of the usefulness of my degree. The other day, though, I started to think about it. Regardless of whether it was the right degree or career for me, learning about social and organizational psychology did change my life. Even in undergraduate work, under Mel Gary, I learned about the roots of prejudice and discrimination, how they work, and how inevitable they are, which reshaped my attitudes about people and society. In graduate school, we went through reward systems,…

  • America’s childhood-killing, learning-blocking homework insanity
    school (homework)

    Decades ago, when Japan was starting to dominate the economy while the United States was retreating, pundits and politicians tried to figure out how we could close our “education gap.”  The solution, pundits and politicians agreed, was to toughen up. In the end, the United States launched a weak, rather flawed version of every other nation’s standardized testing, and a macho combination of longer school hours, extra homework, rigorous curricula, and tougher grading. Thus, in many towns, we send our students to long hours of school, followed by longer hours of homework, teaching them reams of trivia that they will (and probably should) forget in a year or two. Yet, we still come in well behind countries like Estonia and Belgium in…

  • Amazon didn’t kill these groceries
    pathmark

    The Washington Post recently ran a story with an interesting headline, “The new era of grocery just claimed its first victims.” The article implies that Amazon/Whole Foods and other “next generation” supermarkets have essentially bankrupted two companies, one of which operates the famed Winn-Dixie (Southeastern Grocers); the other, Tops, is a relatively small chain in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. As a veteran of Supermarkets General Corporation, which ran Pathmark, Steinbach, Rickel’s, and some other brands you may not recognize, I call baloney. Southeastern and Tops were killed largely by investment banking, based on their history — just as Supermarkets General was. Back in the 1980s, Pathmark was the most profitable supermarket chain in America, with its mere 132 stores. The…

  • What I’m doing now

    As my role in Allpar is dropping down to that of moderator and sometime contributor, you may ask, what am I doing now? Since my old job at Rustler is no longer available, I’ve given some much-needed attention to my long-standing toolpack.info (organizational change and improvement) and acarplace.com (automotive) sites. I still have to devote some time to expanding macstats.org, particularly the tests of free statistical software. There are some long-term projects I’d like to attack, including the writing books, which has eluded me through my life so far, finding new homes for some of the historical materials I’ve collected, and figuring out, well, what to do next. As with most people, I need to make sure I don’t get…

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