Saturday, December 03, 2005


Pranksters are stealing peoples cars, keys, wallets, and even their socks! I'm thinking it's emancipated house elves. Or fifth dimensional creatures who live in the place where Immortals keep their swords. Though the ninja theory seems just as plausible. Stay alert!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Quote of the Day - December 2, 2005

Have fun storming the castle!

- Mircale Max, The Princess Bride

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hurricane Season 2005: The End

Epsilon is still spinning out in the Atlantic, but the official hurricane season is now over. Jeff Masters has a good summary on his blog. This season was extraordinary, any way you slice it. May it never happen again. As much as I admire the power and beauty of hurricanes, the cost in property and lives simply isn't worth it.

Part of what made this season so traumatic wasn't just the number of storms (26). It was the fact that so many were so powerful and so many hit land. Compare 1995, which had 19 named storms, to this year. Though 1995 had the most tropical systems since 1933 prior to this season, few of those systems hit land. This year, however, most of the systems that formed affected land. Six of the seven major hurricanes that formed hit land. Three, possibly four, of those storms peaked at category 5 strength. If the number is not revised and stays at 3, that still means that half of the category 5 hurricanes to form in the past decade formed this year. If it is revised to four storms, half of the category 5 hurricanes of the last 15 years will have formed this year.

In case I haven't shown enough that I'm a weather geek, I compiled data from 1950 to this year. For each year, I took the number of systems in each category and multiplied them by the category number (tropical storms counted at 0.5). Then I added them together to get a rough estimate of the intensity of that season. See the graph below. With this system, it is possible for a season with a small number of very intense storms to be "more intense" than a season with many named storms but few very strong systems. Notice that 1950, with only 13 systems but 8 of them major hurricanes, beats out every year but 2005. You can see clearly from this that we were in a lull in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Now we're back in a high intensity cycle, which could last another decade or so.

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So, here's hoping for a cold winter that will cool the ocean so that next year's hurricane season isnt' quite this bad.

Quote of the Day - November 30, 2005

Padme: Is Anakin alright?
Obi-wan: If by "alright" you mean thrice-amputated, insanely evil and on fire...then yeah, he's peachy.

- Star Wars Episode III Puppet Movie Theatre

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Serenity - Hand Puppet Edition

Hand Puppet Movie Theatre presents... Serenity! *Spoiler Warning*

Grading Schools

One of the (many) problems with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is that it doesn't actually create a national standardized test - it urges states to create their own tests, which makes it difficult to compare schools across states. Before I get into a rant about standardize testing, let me get right to the point: Park City, Utah has come up with a report-card system for schools with 10 "subjects", or points of measurement which should allow schools to compare themselves to schools around the country. Instead of depending solely on achievement tests, it uses several criteria (some of which are better than others). Here they are:

Grade 3 Literacy I remember hearing on Oprah once that prisons estimate how much space they will need 10 years down the line based on 4th grade literacy rates. I don’t know why I was watching Oprah and I can’t find a link to back this up. However, literacy is an important skill when it comes to participating in mainstream society. If a kid can’t read by the end of third grade, it’s time for some intervention or they will quickly fall behind. And if they’re already falling behind in elementary school, you can bet the rest of their education will suffer, reducing opportunities for them out in the world. So this is a simple yet important measurement. However, we should probably come up with a standard definition for third grade reading level.

Middle School Algebra I agree with Jay Mathews here. They should really measure the percentage of middle school students who complete algebra rather than just pre-algebra. If you want to get to high school calculus (which is a good idea if you’re college bound), you need algebra in middle school. Besides, challenging students is a good thing.

Graduation Rate Again, I agree with Mathews. They need to judge the percentage of 9th graders who complete high school. But graduation rates are definitely a good thing to measure.

Challenge Index Probably part of the reason Mathews wrote this article, since the Challenge Index is his creation. But, like Algebra in middle school, it’s good way of showing that schools are giving students the opportunity to challenge and better themselves, rather than simply meet some lowest common denominator.

Achievement Test Standardized tests do serve a purpose. The Iowa tests have been around for a long time and, importantly, are taken all over the country. Taken as one metric rather than the metric, achievement tests can contribute to an overall picture of school success.

Instructional Staff with Advanced Training This one I have more difficulty with. There are plenty of uber-educated people who make horrible teachers. And there are people with natural talent who don’t have advanced degrees. I don’t really see why, say, elementary school teachers really need a masters. I can understand wanting teachers to have certification, but that should be different from getting a degree.

Spending on Instructional Services I’m sure this is to discourage runaway administrative costs and other expenditures that don’t directly effect student learning. Seems like a good idea to me.

Foreign Language Again, I’m going to say they need to be more strict. Though here, they can probably still measure the percentage of students who complete three years of a foreign language by graduating from high school, but also measure the percentage of students who take at least one year of a foreign language by the end of middle school. I really think we should be teaching foreign languages at earlier ages in this country. Even if you never use it again, it gives you a better understanding of language constructs in general (and therefore the language you already know) to study different ones.

College Placement In this category, they are basically looking to see what percentage of students pursue any post-high school education (including any college, professional training, and the military). This (along with many things on this list) has long been used informally as a measure of success by schools.

Student Involvement in Extracurriculars I was going to say they need to split this into “sports” and “non-sports”, but if a school really wants to up the percentage of students involved in extracurricular activities, they need to have a wide variety of activities available instead of a large number of activities that appeal to a small segment of the school population. Another good one.

I think they got all the big ones, at least when it comes to the way the education system is currently structured. Any other ideas?

More Media Scare Tactics

TSA Would Allow Sharp Objects on Airlines.

Not "TSA Stops Wasting Time on Fingernail Scissors" or "TSA Creates More Realistic Restrictions". No. That would be boring. And to the spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants who said that "the aisles will be running with blood" - yes, the blood of the fools who try to hijack the plane.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ragdoll Physics

W is for Weeeeeeeee!


One more day to go in the Atlantic hurricane season. Delta killed 7 in the Canary Islands last night. And this morning, Epsilon formed. That's storm 26 of the season. Why do I get the horrible feeling that the hurricane season won't really end tomorrow?