Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Microsoft 30 Gb ZUNE Freeze today... world wide.

Nanotechnology Story... virus is a great nano machine.

Virus "motor" might be basis for nano-motor design.

Because of the motor's strength--to scale, twice that of an automobile--the new findings could inspire engineers designing sophisticated nanomachines. In addition, because a number of virus types may possess a similar motor, including the virus that causes herpes, the results may also assist pharmaceutical companies developing methods to sabotage virus machinery.
Researchers from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., collaborated on the study that appears in the Dec. 26, 2008, issue of the journal Cell.

I have been using Digg for Story Leads...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Clean Coal" might not be a reality. But 32% of our Electricity is generated by Coal is REAL...

KINGSTON, Tenn. - The spill of more than a billion gallons of coal ash from a power plant in East Tennessee may change the way the nation's largest government-owned utility stores coal waste.

Roane County officials are pushing the Tennessee Valley Authority to quit using large retention ponds filled with water and fly ash, a by product of coal-fired power plants.

The World is Flat. Global Climate change is not happening either if your head is in the sand...

Global warming:
Reasons why it might not actually exist
2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved, according to the Telegraph's Christopher Booker. Sceptics have long argued that there are other explanations for climate change other than man-made CO2 and here we look at some of the arguments put forward by those who believe that global warming is all a hoax.

Six Reasons (which might not be true) to believe that the earth is not warming up.

TRS-80, Apple II and PET appeared in a Recession ... maybe it is time for an Electric Car and a Green Electric Grid.

In retrospect, the timing could have been better.
Elon Musk's electric sports car company, Tesla Motors, said in September that it would build a factory in San Jose to produce its new sedan. It was a milestone for both the business and the green-tech industry on which Silicon Valley has pinned so many of its hopes.
Unfortunately, the announcement landed in the midst of a firestorm burning through the financial world.
Just days earlier, Bank of America had bought Merrill Lynch, and Lehman Bros. had declared bankruptcy. Banks pretty much stopped lending, financiers pleaded for government bailouts and the stock market tanked.
Not the best time to build a factory or launch a car.
Musk, who had been the company's chairman and one of its main investors, took over as chief executive officer and started slashing costs. The company cut staff and scaled back plans for its Model S sedan, delaying the car's introduction by at least six months.
The factory project wasn't abandoned, but Musk says it's no longer a done deal. The 5-year-old company also had hoped to go public with an initial share offering, but that too has been postponed. Rather than ramping up, the company is hunkering down.
"I hate it," said Musk. "I really didn't want to do it. But I also didn't want to be a casualty of the recession and see all that time and effort go to waste."
Few companies have been caught in so many of the currents roiling the economy this year.
The downturn hit not long after Tesla, based in San Carlos, had begun full-scale production of its first car, a luxury roadster that sells for $109,000. The privately held company nearly closed a $100 million round of financing in September to help build the factory but had to abandon the idea after the credit crisis froze access to capital. Tesla applied for $400 million in federal loans under a year-old program to fund construction of more fuel-efficient cars, only to see the Big Three automakers try to tap that fund as part of their bailout package.
And then the high gasoline prices fueling interest in electric cars vanished. At $1.80 per gallon in California, gas now costs 61 percent less than it did this summer.
The recession won't kill Tesla, Musk says. A serial entrepreneur, he's already survived one harsh economic downturn - the 2000-01 dot-com crash, which struck when he was still with PayPal, the online payment company he helped found. He learned from the experience.
"It's basically: Watch your expenses like there's no tomorrow, because there might not be," said Musk, 37. "At PayPal, we were spending money like crazy. And then we were saving money like crazy. And we almost didn't make it."
Hence Tesla's quick move to cut staff - about 80 people in all - and delay major capital expenses related to the Model S, which the company plans to sell for $60,000. With production continuing on the roadster, the company should have positive cash flow starting midway through 2009. And because the roadster costs $109,000, the company only has to sell about 1,000 per year to break even, Musk said. Tesla has a backlog of 1,100 orders.
"All we have to do is tread water and we'll be OK," he said. "And I'm pretty sure we'll do better than that."
As an entrepreneur, Musk has a busy history. In 1995, he started the online publishing company Zip2, which was purchased by a division of Compaq Computer Corp. in 1999. He also helped found PayPal, which eBay bought in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
That same year, he also created Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, which is developing reusable spacecraft. Although he's still the SpaceX CEO, he now spends most of his time managing Tesla.
Recession-proof roadster
A recession might seem like the wrong time to be selling luxury cars of any kind, much less ones that use an all-electric technology unfamiliar to most Americans. But sales of unique, high-end vehicles usually don't plunge during downturns, according to auto industry analyst Jesse Toprak.
"Based on the limited scale of production for Tesla and the hype they've been able to build up, they're probably going to be just fine, at least for the first few years of their existence," said Toprak, who works for the auto information Web site "After that, it will depend on how these vehicles hold up."
Waiting out the storm
A startup company's jump from development to full-scale production often tests the nerves of entrepreneurs. Finding venture capital to start a three-man business is one thing; putting together $100 million or more to build a factory is quite another.
The financial crisis has made that leap more nerve-racking than ever. Many green startups are trying to wait out the storm. If their new biofuel or high-efficiency solar cell is still a few years away from production, they can sit tight, conserve as much cash as possible and hope the banks will start lending again by the time they need to build something. They can also look for more venture capital, but even that well seems to be drying up.
"It's really hit all across the board," said Brian Fan, senior director of research for the Cleantech Group, which tracks funding in the industry. "The days of easy, cheap capital in the tens of millions of dollars I think are over."
The downturn caught Tesla in mid-leap.
After years of developing its roadster, the company finally started delivering the car early this year to a long list of clients who had ordered one in advance, clients including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The $60,000 Model S sedan was to be the next logical step - a luxury electric car that, while not exactly cheap, would be affordable to far more people than the roadster. But the economic downturn was accelerating. Musk says he first realized its severity when Tesla's effort to put together a $100 million financing round to help fund the factory stalled in September.
"What it really did was it stopped people from making a decision, because everyone wanted to see where the market was going to bottom out," Musk said. "And here we are in December, and it still hasn't bottomed out."
Cutting expenses
Tesla gave up on that round and went back to existing investors for another $40 million. Musk, stepping in as CEO, decided to slow down the Model S program and concentrate instead on Tesla's core businesses - the roadster and power train sales to other companies. Tesla also closed one office in Michigan and replaced it with a smaller one nearby. And it started looking for ways to cut the roadster's production costs by renegotiating contracts with suppliers.
The company's application for federal loans drew fire from some critics who questioned whether the government should be bailing out a company that only makes luxury cars. Musk responded that the money wouldn't be a bailout.
The U.S. Department of Energy fund that Tesla wants to tap was created in 2007 to help carmakers build factories for fuel-efficient cars or upgrade existing factories for the same purpose.
Musk says the company is now in good shape to reach profitability, despite the recession. Still, he's hoping the recession will be brief, perhaps ending in a year.
"It's funny: in the good times, no one thinks there can be bad times," he said. "And in the bad times, no one thinks there can be good times."
The series: During the last two weeks of the year, The Chronicle Business staff is running a series of profiles on prominent business leaders in the Bay Area who are managing their way through the severe economic downturn.

Elon Musk
Age: 37
Title: Chairman, product architect and CEO, Tesla Motors
Most recent book read: "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell
Favorite business maxim: Great businesses are built on great products
E-mail David R. Baker at
This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

The Trash-80 was my ticket to the Big Game! Thanks, Steve Leininger!
Talking Trash
Michael Swaine
Strolling down memory lane with the TRS-80.
Like David and Theresa Welsh, I have fond memories of my first computer—not the first I used, but the first I owned. Mine, like theirs, was an original TRS-80 Model I, referred to dismissively by some and affectionately by many of us as the "Trash-80."
Radio Shack released the TRS-80 in August of 1977, and in honor of our first computer's 30th birthday, David and Theresa decided to stop collecting material and get their book out. Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution ( is a very personal computer history book.
Theresa and David are concerned to assign credit where it's due, and they clearly don't think that Tandy/Radio Shack management ever gave Steve Leininger and Don French the credit they deserved for creating the computer. In their book, Theresa and David do.
And the story they tell of Randy Cook's contributions is not well known, I think. If I knew it, I'd forgotten it.
It was Cook who, working with CTC (later known as "Datapoint"), pushed for getting a single-chip solution for their programmable terminal, a decision that led Intel to develop the 8008 microprocessor that Ed Roberts used in the original Altair. Cook later contracted to do the TRS-DOS operating system for Tandy, although in some circles, he may be better known for the software he developed for the Apollo astronauts or his work on Ethernet at Xerox.
The Welshes tell Cook's story, along with curious details like the false Randy Cook and the Apparat bug-fix copyright suit.
The book is full of memorable details and names familiar to those who lived through the PC revolution, like the reprint of part of a 1981 Popular Computing story on TRS-80 creators by someone named Jonathan Erickson.
One incident that Theresa relates captures in a single detail the fact that it was a community of hobbyists back then, not an industry or a market.
When Tandy was looking for a microprocessor for its planned microcomputer, they flew a team to Silicon Valley to talk to a marketing person at National Semiconductor. He was out, though, and they found themselves getting briefed by a knowledgeable young engineer named Steve Leininger. Later, when they went to Paul Terrell's Byte Shop on El Camino Real to check out how microcomputers were sold, whom did they find behind the counter but Steve Leininger!
I read this book in the same week that I was reading reports about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates reminiscing on stage about the old days. Steve and Bill have their memories, too, of course, but the nostalgia of a billionaire is probably a little less bittersweet than that of a couple from the Midwest who rode the wave of the revolution for a few years, then had to settle back into the drudgery of nine-to-five work for hire.
But I don't want to give the impression that this book is just misty watercolor maunderings. For those of us who got hooked on the software thing at an impressionable age, this is exciting stuff. And Theresa is a fine writer. The story moves along briskly when she's at the keyboard. Dense with facts, its themes expounded smoothly.
Structurally, the book is eccentric, an indulgence that only self-publishing would have allowed. More or less, Theresa tells the story of the microcomputer revolution with a Radio Shack slant, then David covers much of the same ground from his personal perspective, then Theresa does the same from her perspective. It shouldn't work, but there's an innocence and earnestness and honesty in the book that makes you willing to let them tell their story in their way.
And their personal stories are, in fact, interesting if you lived through something comparable. I was working in a microcomputer store in Bloomington, Indiana, repairing hardware and writing software for various models of microcomputers at the same time that David and Theresa were living in Detroit and David was learning the joys of PEEK and POKE and writing accounting software in Level II Basic for his photography business. Not long after that, they were making a nice living selling David's LazyWriter word processor for the TRS-80 and I had moved to Silicon Valley. I have to say, it got to me when, on the next-to-last page of the book, I saw the Apple I of my old computer store boss Ray Borrill. The Welshes correctly report that Ray never made much money selling computers, so it was nice that he made a good profit on that particular machine.
Michael Swaine

I am of the TRS-80 and Apple II Generation...P.E.T too

According to a previously reliable source, Apple misrepresented the reasons behind Macworld and Jobs' keynote cancellation. Allegedly, the real cause is his rapidly declining health. In fact, it may be even worse than we imagined:
Steves health is rapidly declining. Apple is choosing to remove the hype factor strategically vs letting the hype destroy apple when the inevitable news comes later this spring.
This strategic loss will be less of a bang with investors. This is why Macworld is a no-go anymore. No more Steve means no more hype.

Saying they are no longer needing [Macworld] is the cover designed by the worldwide "loyalty"

Boy are they wrong!


Monday, December 29, 2008

Oil Price Climbs closer to $40 per Barrel

Crude oil traded in the $38 per barrel range Monday, up from recent five-year lows but down a bit from last week’s $40 mark and well below the $147 high set earlier this year.

Oil sank to $33 per barrel recently, but prices rose up somewhat in recent days with Israeli air strikes in Gaza, projected OPEC production cuts and possible bulk purchases of crude by the Chinese. Still, crude is down 74 percent from the record high sets earlier this year.

U.S. gasoline prices remain low with a national average $1.62 per gallon and a Phoenix-metro average of a $1.50 per gallon, according to AAA.

This is not exactly good news.

Domestic oil production needs a price of $70 per barrel.

Below that price, we simply import more oil.


Cell Phone Novels? Interesting article in the New Worker ...

Mone was depressed. It was the winter of 2006, and she was twenty-one, a onetime beauty-school student and a college dropout. She had recently married, and her husband, whom she had known since childhood, was still in school in Tokyo. Thinking that a change might help, she went to stay with her mother, in the country town where she had grown up. Back in her old bedroom, she nursed her malaise, and for weeks she barely left the house. “I’d light a match and see how long it would burn, if you know what I mean,” she says. One day, at the end of March, she pulled out all her old photo albums and diaries, and decided to write a novel about her life. She curled up on her side in bed and began typing on her mobile phone. ...

The Gaza War will look one sided to many.

Hamas is using random rockets fired even more randomly into the cities around the Gaza Strip that sticks out of Egypt into south Israel. The death toll is one sided. The destruction is one sided.
1. Ashdod: First attack so far north, Sunday 2. Ashkelon: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Monday3. Sderot: rocket attacks4. Nevitot: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Saturday5. Civilian family reported killed in attack on Yabna refugee camp, Sunday 6. Israeli warplanes strike tunnels under Gaza/Egypt border, Sunday7. Three young brothers reported killed in attack on Rafah, Sunday8. Khan Younis: Four members of Islamic Jihad and a child reported killed, Sunday 9. Deir al-Balah: Palestinians injured, houses and buildings destroyed, Sunday 10. Interior ministry and Islamic University badly damaged, Monday11. Gaza City port: naval vessels targeted, Sunday12. Shati refugee camp: Home of Hamas leader Ismail Hanniyeh targeted, Monday13. Intelligence building attacked, Sunday14. Jebaliya refugee camp: several people killed in attack on mosque, Sunday
Link: <,34.444885&spn=0.626194,1.018982&z=10>

One medium-range rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon killed an Arab construction worker there Monday, he was the second Israeli killed since the beginning of the offensive, and the first person ever to be killed by a rocket in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000.

While on the other side of the Gaza wall, the three-day death toll rose to at least 315 by Monday morning, with some 1,400 wounded. The U.N. said at least 51 of the dead were civilians, and medics said eight children under the age of 17 were killed in two separate strikes overnight. Israel launched its campaign, the deadliest against Palestinians in decades, on Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns.

There is no question that Hamas started this round when a truce ended, but every action that Israel takes with superior force against military related targets will raise the toll of dead and wounded civilians in this heavy populated city of Gaza.

Israel targeted military launch sites on the first day, Military supply sites including tunnels and university chemistry labs on the second day, and today it is Hamas offices and government buildings (and Hamas leader's homes)... soon it will be power and water plants and an invasion.

So, it is going to look very one sided when it ends.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This type of false personal histories undermine true histories and lead others to disbelieve other historical facts...

NEW YORK (AP) - It's the latest story that touched, and betrayed, the world.
"Herman Rosenblat and his wife are the most gentle, loving, beautiful people," literary agent Andrea Hurst said Sunday, anguishing over why she, and so many others, were taken by Rosenblat's story of love born on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence at a concentration camp.
"I question why I never questioned it. I believed it; it was an incredible, hope-filled story."
On Saturday, Berkley Books canceled Rosenblat's memoir, "Angel at the Fence." Rosenblat acknowledged that he and his wife did not meet, as they had said for years, at a sub-camp of Buchenwald, where she allegedly sneaked him apples and bread. The book was supposed to come out in February...

Found a new website....

A Canadian college student majoring in chemistry built himself a home lab - and discovered that trying to do science in your own home quickly leads to accusations of drug-making and terrorism.
Lewis Casey, an 18-year-old in Saskatchewan, had built a small chemistry lab in his family's garage near the university where he studies. Then two weeks ago, police arrived at his home with a search warrant and based on a quick survey of his lab determined that it was a meth lab. They pulled Casey out of the shower to interrogate him, and then arrested him.
A few days later, police admitted that Casey's chemistry lab wasn't a meth lab - but they kept him in jail, claiming that he had some of the materials necessary to produce explosives. Friends and neighbors wrote dozens of letters to the court, testifying that Casey was innocent and merely a student who is really enthusiastic about chemistry.
On December 24, Casey was finally released into his parents' custody, pending a trial to determine whether he was building what police called "improvised explosive devices." Yesterday Casey's lawyer told local journalists:
My client is a very intelligent young man . . . he's very keen in chemistry, a very curious young person and very capable, very knowledgeable in the area and he was always curious with regard to chemistry, chemical compounds, chemical reactions, that kind of thing. So from my client's point of view, it's completely innocent insofar as he had no intention of creating any explosives or explosive devices. As people probably know, anything in your house can constitute or be used in chemical or explosive devices, including sugar and cleaning compounds, Mr. Clean, bleach, detergents, all those sorts of things.
It's unclear what made police raid Casey's house. They claim that they got a tip from a woman who sold Casey fertilizer and was concerned about it. Certain kinds of fertilizer are used in the production of crystal meth.
The case is reminiscent of the Steve Kurtz case in 2004. Kurtz is a New York artist who uses biotech equipment in his work, and police arrested him on suspicion of terrorism after discovering his home chemistry lab.
Casey is now living at home, but he is no longer allowed to engage in chemistry experiments except under supervision in school labs. He is also required to inform the chemistry department of the charges against him. His trial continues on January 26.

This is a stark example of how scientific curiosity is still regarded with suspicion - even in an era where home labs are becoming more and more common. Good luck to Casey - let's hope his next home lab is even bigger and cooler than the one he recently lost. To read more crimes of the future:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nanotechnology and Synthetic Biology are the new "Plastic" of this Decade

Nanotechnology's biggest stories of 2008
10:29 27 December 2008 by Tom Simonite
For similar stories, visit the Nanotechnology Topic Guide
When you get down to scales of a billionth of a metre, even the simplest, best-known materials can take on surprising new properties. Strength, adhesion and absorption can all be multiplied manyfold if you just find the right nanoscale structure. And, in 2008, many engineers did.
Tangled manganese-oxide nanowires were shaped into a kind of paper tissue that guzzles up oil spills without absorbing a drop of water. While a different nano-textured pattern that can be applied to any fabric proved able to make cloth unwettable, even emerging dry after two months underwater (see image, right).
A material that mimics nanostructures found on that marvel of stickiness – a gecko's foot – is so successful it is up to 10 times as adhesive as the real thing. See an image of the material side by side with a real gecko's foot.
Energy answers
Novel nanotech ideas were also harnessed in the search for alternatives to existing energy sources in 2008.
A novel mixture of gold-filled carbon nanotubes and lithium hydride proved capable of converting radiation directly into electricity and may provide a new way to power spacecraft with long missions.
Carbon nanotubes were also part of a plan to create a new kind of artificial photosynthesis. The tubes act as a temporary store for electrons harvested from light by dye molecules, before the electrons are used to drive chemical reactions that remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
It could even be possible to transform the greenhouse gas into fuel.
Turning to more established green technologies, the hunt for a better battery to unlock the potential of electric cars also depends on nanoscale advances, that pack more powerful chemistry into a smaller volume.
Electric appeal
Silicon chip designers have been venturing into the nanoscale for years – the latest chips have features as small as 45 nanometres. But as silicon comes close to being unable to shrink further, nanocomponents could offer improved performance at similar scales.
A material called graphene – a sheet of carbon just a single atom thick – is one contender. This year it was discovered to be capable of smashing the conductivity record for a material at room temperature, something that sets a speed limit on computation.
Borrowing one of nature's nanostructures – DNA fibres which measure just 2 nm across – to create a kind of tiny fibre-optic cable could provide a way to connect up the components of future computers that send data with light not electricity.
Safety controls
But nanotechnology is not just about neat new discoveries. Just as when any exotic new class of materials comes along, the safety of nanomaterials must be assessed.
The extent to which we have already started releasing nanoparticles into the environment is essentially unknown, but the process is certainly under way. The silver nanoparticles commonly added to clothing such as socks to kill off bacteria were found to easily leak into waste water during washing. There are likely more findings like this to come. Some everyday products like cleaners and sun cream already contain nanoparticles, and nanoscale structures are increasingly used in industry.
Lab-based investigations of the health effects of nanoparticles also produced worrying results. One study found that mice that inhaled nanotubes suffered effects similar to those caused by asbestos. Another showed that earthworms that eat nanotubes suffer a reduced reproductive rate.
Yet very few such studies have taken place, leading the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to declare that "urgent" work is needed to asses the effects of nanoscale objects on health and the environment.
However, defaulting to a position of declaring all artificial nanostructures bad is not the answer. Nature works on the nanoscale too, and as our editorial pointed out there's no reason to assume that man-made nanoparticles are automatically better or worse than the many natural ones.

My local paper cared a story about a Kwanzaa Parade...

Parade celebrates Kwanzaa this afternoon in Dallas
11:33 AM CST on Friday, December 26, 2008
From Staff Reports
A parade celebrating Kwanzaa takes place at Lincoln High School, 2826 Hatcher St. in Dallas, at 1 p.m. today. The free event is sponsored by the Act of Change Inc., the Pan-African Connection Bookstore and Resource Center and other community groups. Groups participating will begin assembling at noon.

What got my attention was the comment chain following the article...
here is an example: reading the paper on line is not the same experience as reading it across the breakfast table.


Kwanzaa0661 9 minutes ago

Grayson's Mom: You are to be pitied! How are you going to tell me to get up off my lazy butt and do anything when I spend a majority of my time educating children OF ALL ETHNICITIES and preparing them for a country that is inhabited with fools like you? Baby, you need a lot of prayer. No one hates your child or you for that matter because of the color of your skin. People don't have that kind of time to waste on such frivolous matters. Get over it, sweetie! We all will live together in this country, like it or not. If you don't want to be a part of the "melting pot", then get up off your lazy, do-nothing, diarrhea-mouthed behind and leave the country in search of a land that will welcome your negative, insane, and obviously red-necked, uneducated views of the real meaning of unity! Peace!

Bigotry lives on.Black people are a people just like other races,and the celebrations are not meant to remind white folks that blacks are people too.Other races celebrate the holidays with their inherited traditions,why shouldn't we.If you do not like it,too bad.And we will never blend it because we don't want to,we just want to be proud of who we are,and be able to live here in peace.

a tuna in the rye is worth two in the wheat i always say..well..not always.another absurd holiday for blacks.i'm surprised that time raner cable doesn't have a dmx (music)channel devoted to kwanza ..or bonzai..or whatever it is.will we always need black holidays to remind us just how important they are a race of people? or will they someday begin to blend in with(as opposed to trying to stand out from) society and give it a rest!!

in the year 2005 alone, black men raped over 37,460 white women, while that same year white men raped less than ten black women" Is that something to be proud of?!?!--we only raped 10 of your women that year--you don't think it has anything to do with a woman's instinct to fight back or not put themselves in stupid positions..really how idiotic can one be-how many of your own women did you rape then, how about how many kids did you sexually abuse, how many of your priests touched little boys that year, and I don't know what rock you live under but murder is not just a black crime--read more stories in the newspaper instead of just looking and the pretty colored pictures. I find that the funny part is how people on here are screaming that all blacks are wanting handouts-but get upset if someone says all whites are racist--ingnorant generalizations about a race is racist plain and simple and if you make them then you are just that..or just a stupid person who opens their mouth before their brain has a chance to tell you to shut up. It is not your place to tell people that they can't celebrate their heritage--it's their heritage, and if they want to go to a parade to do so then so be it, no on rants and raves about St. Patrick's Day parades, no one complains about Christmas parades. If they want to celebrate their heritage then they should be able to do so without idiotic comments from people who don't get that they don't have to celebrate your holiday in your way if they don't want to-no one needs your permission. To the uninformed idiot who said that if white people celebrated a white supremicist day--if that's your heritage then go ahead--celebrate it because your words already tell how you feel anyway--nothing about Kwanzaa is aimed to put down other races or segregate anyone, the man who took credit for creating the holiday was a criminal--just like some politicians of today including our beloved boozing president--that doesn't change the fact that some people want to celebrate their heritage. If you don't like it the answer is simple-don't go--it's a celebration so I'm sure your sour attitude won't be missed. For people like grayson's mom and Homey-no one wants a d*mn thing from you-more than likely you are struggling yourself, and from reading your comments its easy to tell who else is irrepairably screwed up(Homey I spelled it correctly for you so you'd know next time)

In 1971 Karenga, Louis Smith, and Luz Maria Tamayo were convicted of felony assault and false imprisonment for assaulting and torturing over a two day period two women from the US organization, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis. [2] A May 14, 1971 article in the Los Angeles Times described the testimony of one of the women: "Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Ms. Davis's mouth and placed against Ms. Davis's face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said.""=========And this scum is held up as a "genius" and a "role model" for "African-American Youth." Then lots blacks defend this scumbag and his concocted, absurd, racist "holiday".No wonder "African-Americans" are so irreparably screwed up.Whine whine whine about "white racism", but totally ignore the disgusting character and horrible crimes of the "founder" of your concocted holiday. Whine whine whine about "white racism" but totally ignore that at least 93% of all blacks murdered in the USA every year are murdered by other blacks. Whine whine whine about "white racism" but totally ignore the fact that black males make up less than 6% of the USA but commit over 52% of all murders and over 34% of all rapes in our country. Whine whine whine about "white racism" but totally ignore the fact that according to the USDOJ, in the year 2005 alone, black men raped over 37,460 white women, while that same year white men raped less than ten black women.

What do we need whaling in the 21 Century?

An anti-whaling group says its members have thrown "stink" bombs at a Japanese whaling ship in the Antarctic.

The Sea Shepherd group said crew on one of its boats lobbed 10 bottles of rotten butter and 15 bottles of a methyl cellulose at the Japanese ship.

No-one was injured during Friday's incident north of the Mawson Peninsula, Japanese officials said. They said their ship was on a research expedition. Opponents say this could be a cover for banned commercial whaling.

The Sea Shepherd said the incident took place at 0730 GMT on Friday off the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory. The group said its members on board its ship - the Steve Irvin - threw the bottles at Japan's Kaiko Maru vessel after pursuing the Japanese whaling fleet for a week.

"That is one stinky slippery ship," Sea Shepherd's official Peter Hammarstedt said.
The group said its objective was to intimidate the Japanese whalers and keep them moving eastward out of Australian Territorial waters.

It said that the fleet had not been able to kill any whales during the chase.

Japan says its research expeditions do not violate a moratorium on commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.

Sea Shepherd's Mission Statement
Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately-balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations.

Another reason VHS is DEAD this year....

Digital TV switch may call for new recorder

Q: I hope you don't mind another digital converter question, but with the February deadline approaching I've got some questions.

Namely, I have a digital converter box on my TV, as I only receive over-the-air channels. I also have a VCR and a DVD recorder. How can I watch one show while I record another?
C.C., Dallas

A: The short answer is that you need more than one tuner. Your digital converter box is a tuner. It's designed to receive the digital signal from your antenna. That's all you need if you just want to watch one TV and even if you just want to record what's on while you watch.

If you want to take it up a notch and watch one show while recording another, you'll need two digital converter boxes – one for the TV and one for the recording device. You'll also need a simple coax splitter to split your antenna signal so you can route an antenna input wire to each converter box.

One other thing to consider is buying a new recorder.
Most older VCRs and DVD recorders had analog tuners, which we all know are useless after Feb. 27.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Which Came First.. The Chicken or the Egg? Egg then Sperm... but we can change that.

An Australian research team has solved one of biology's most fundamental questions – why males produce sperm and females produce eggs. The finding is a breakthrough that could lead to improved infertility treatment, cancer therapy and pest management.
The team, led by Dr Josephine Bowles and Professor Peter Koopman from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland, has discovered that derivatives of Vitamin A trigger the beginning of egg and sperm production, a process known as meiosis.
The cells that eventually turn into either eggs or sperm – known as germ cells – are identical in male and female embryos.
"Whether a germ cell develops into an egg or a sperm depends on the time at which meiosis begins," Professor Koopman said.
"In females, meiosis begins before birth and eggs are produced, whereas in males, meiosis begins after birth and the result is sperm."
Professor Koopman and his team found that retinoic acid, a derivative of Vitamin A, causes germ cells in female embryos to begin meiosis, leading to the production of eggs.
They also discovered an enzyme present in male embryos that wipes out retinoic acid and so suppresses meiosis until after birth, resulting in sperm production.
"This is an extremely important process that nobody has been able to figure out until now," Professor Koopman said.
"It is textbook science and it should provide the basis for a number of practical applications."
Knowledge of what triggers and suppresses meiosis may allow researchers to improve fertility, for example in the case of an infertile couple wanting a baby, or suppress it, in the case of pest management.
Professor Koopman also suggested that an inappropriate retinoid signal might give the wrong instructions to germ cells, which could lead to the formation of germ cell tumours.
"Our research has suggested a possible cause for these common testicular cancers, opening up avenues of investigation which will hopefully one day lead to a cure," Professor Koopman said.
The findings of the team will be published in one of the world's top scientific journals Science and will be available in its online version, SciencExpress, from today (Friday 31 March).

An Egyptian court has sentenced a schoolteacher to six years in jail for beating a pupil to death because he had not done his homework.

Maths teacher Haitham Nabeel Abdelhamid, 23, took Islam Amr Badr outside the classroom and hit him violently in the stomach.

The 11-year-old boy fainted and later died in hospital of heart failure in the city of Alexandria.

The court was told the boy had four broken ribs.
Abdelhamid was convicted of manslaughter.

He said he only meant to discipline the pupil and did not mean to hurt anyone.
The teacher's lawyer was quoted as saying in court: "Hitting [a child] is not banned in schools and my client did not break the law."

Observers say the case has been seen as a shocking reminder of the failings of Egypt's state education system. The incident, at Saad Othman Primary School on the outskirts of Alexandria in October, caused national outrage. Islam's father, Amr Badr Ibrahim, said others should have stood trial with the teacher.

"The problem is the teaching and the teachers because they cannot find good teachers," he said.
"The minister of education should be the first person to be accused - how can he agree to let such a young man teach children?"

In the state education system, young, inexperienced and under-resourced teachers often struggle to control classes of 60 to 100 children. The Egyptian government says it is bringing in education reforms - including new teacher testing.
It is also trying to tackle violence in schools and has issued new statements on the prohibition of corporal punishment.

Wanta Bees. Life on the Street. Yea...

Do it yourself DNA ... what is the harm in that?;_ylt=AizdzZ8IboSWpqhDNHN6GasDW7oF

Amateurs are trying genetic engineering at home
Associated Press Writer Marcus Wohlsen

SAN FRANCISCO – The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.
Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.
In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.
"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said.
So far, no major gene-splicing discoveries have come out anybody's kitchen or garage.
But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage.
Many of these amateurs may have studied biology in college but have no advanced degrees and are not earning a living in the biotechnology field. Some proudly call themselves "biohackers" — innovators who push technological boundaries and put the spread of knowledge before profits.
In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.
Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.
Cowell said such unfettered creativity could produce important discoveries.
"We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game," he said.
Patterson, the computer programmer, wants to insert the gene for fluorescence into yogurt bacteria, applying techniques developed in the 1970s.
She learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums. She ordered jellyfish DNA for a green fluorescent protein from a biological supply company for less than $100. And she built her own lab equipment, including a gel electrophoresis chamber, or DNA analyzer, which she constructed for less than $25, versus more than $200 for a low-end off-the-shelf model.
Jim Thomas of ETC Group, a biotechnology watchdog organization, warned that synthetic organisms in the hands of amateurs could escape and cause outbreaks of incurable diseases or unpredictable environmental damage.
"Once you move to people working in their garage or other informal location, there's no safety process in place," he said.
Some also fear that terrorists might attempt do-it-yourself genetic engineering. But Patterson said: "A terrorist doesn't need to go to the DIYbio community. They can just enroll in their local community college."

The sales numbers are in and they are not good enough...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Scat seems to be an accurate method of telling foxes from coyates and even cats and dogs...

Plastic models are available!


Grey wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans), and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) all belong to the mammalian order Carnivora, which also contains the ursids, viverridae, procyonidae, and others.
They belong to the family Canidae, which extends to jackals, grey foxes and the Cape hunting dog. Wolves and coyotes are among the eight species of the genus Canis, and foxes belong to the genus Vulpes, which contains 10 species, including kit and fennec foxes.

The grey wolf is the largest of the three canids, with an average mass of 45-60 kg (up to 80 kg in the male) and an average nose-tail length of 150-170 cm. Their bodies are dense and heavily laced with muscle; their muzzles are (relatively) short, broad and blunt, their ears relatively small and rounded. Wolves range in boreal and coniferous forests, mountains, and open brushy areas in widely scattered areas of the Northern hemisphere. They are the most social of the canids, living in relatively stable hierarchically organised packs of between two and twenty animals (averaging five or six), and utilising a wide range of communicative behaviours. The most common colour is grey (or agouti), as in the photograph above, but "grey" wolves also appear in all shades from white to black, with pups of different colours being born in the same litter. Wolves hunt in packs of from two to twenty animals (the average being 4 or 5), preying on deer, antelope, caribou and bison as well as smaller animals such as rabbits, mice and birds.

The coyote is a much lighter version of the wolf, averaging between 11 and 21 kg and 90-120 cm. The body structure is much lighter than that of the wolf, the facial bones finer and the ears more pointed. Latrans has the largest range of any species of wild animal, living in forests, clearcuts, farms or woodlots from Central America, all of the U.S. and Alaska and all but the northernmost portions of Canada -- as humans killed off the native North American wolves, coyotes moved in to take their place and have done quite well. Coyotes are more solitary than wolves, but may form packs of two to three individuals to hunt or raise young, especially in areas where game is plentiful. Coyotes generally hunt smaller animals such as mice, rabbits and insects but when hunting in packs may take down young deer or small livestock such as sheep. Colour is generally ticked grey to yellow but may range, though not as often nor as extensively as in the fox and wolf.

The red fox is found in a wide range of habitats (from tundra to prairie) throughout Canada, Alaska, the U.S., Europe, Britain and almost all of Asia including Japan. They were introduced into Australia by man in the nineteenth century to help curb the exploding introduced rabbit population. They average 4 to 6 kg and 50-70 cm, with extremely elongated muzzles (the tooth row may be more than half the length of the skull), and relatively shorter legs than the wolf or coyote. Foxes come primarily in red, but also in shades from white to black (the "silver" fox), and intermediates such as the "cross" fox, which is pale orange with a black dorsal stripe and a stripe over the shoulders (forming the bar of the "cross"). Foxes may form small "harems" of one male and several (often related) females which may cooperate in rearing the young, but generally hunt alone, catching mice, small birds, rabbits, and insects, amongst other things. They are the most omnivorous canids and will also eat fruit or carrion.

Although all three canids (especially Vulpes and Latrans) are opportunistic hunters, they are all adapted for running (cursorial) hunting, this being most marked in C. lupus, which is primarily a carnivore and often relies on tiring larger prey with a relentless chase.
The chest and hips of canids are narrow, the legs long and slender (shorter in V. Vulpes), the tail thick and bushy (in V. vulpes, it reaches past the hocks; in Canis, it reaches to the hocks). The feet have individually moveable toes with heavy pawpads and blunt, keratinic, nonretractile claws; hindfeet have four toes and forefeet have five, with the first toe greatly diminished and no longer touching the ground ("dewclaw"). The dewclaw may be absent in some individuals.
All three species exhibit countershading (lighter underbelly). The coat is thick and multi-layered, with a sparse, wiry overcoat of long, coloured and banded hairs and a dense, monochromatic fluffy undercoat of "wooly" grey, black or white hairs which is shed annually in a spring moult. Hair is erectile over the back of the neck and shoulders (hackles); this is raised primarily as a conspecific aggression gesture.
Eyes are usually yellow, although some wolves have startling maroon irises; in Canis the pupil is round but in V. vulpes the pupil is vertically elliptical. The skin around lips and eyes is black and often strikingly marked (especially in the wolf), to aid in communication by facial expression and also to reduce glare. A scent gland (the "violet" gland) is present in both sexes approximately 5-10 cm down the dorsal side of the tail and is often marked by a spot in the fur.

The primary hunting senses are those of hearing and smell, which is markedly acute in the Canidae; all three species use scent for tracking prey and for conspecific communication. Scent glands are found in paired anal sacs, the corners of the mouth and between the toes of both sexes as well as on the tail.
Vision is usually the least acute of the senses, although canids use a great deal of visual communication signals and can probably see at least two colours (red and green) besides black and white.
All three species are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular but are known to hunt occasionally during daylight hours.

Urban Foxes in UK

Your cat is far more likely to be run over, stray or die from a variety of other causes.This is very rare; a survey in north-west Bristol, where grey foxes were particularly common, showed that they had killed 1% of the cats each year, and these were predominantly young kittens.

Foxes are only a little bigger than a cat (males average about 5.5 kilograms), and are equipped with a set of sharp teeth. Cats have an equally sharp set of teeth, plus some pretty unpleasant sharp claws. If a fox tackles a cat it risks severe injuries, and that is the last thing it wants. Every night a single fox will meet many, perhaps dozens of cats and most encounters are either indifferent or amicable.
Cats and foxes will usually ignore each other. However, some cats are aggressive animals, and will go for a fox, sometimes to drive it away from their garden or food bowl. Usually a fox will flee, but if this is not practical, and particularly if it is cornered, it may defend itself against the cat. Then both animals may be injured.
Finally, although foxes live in family groups, and meet up periodically to play or socialise, they hunt alone. So stories of "packs of foxes" roaming the streets killing pet cats are totally fictitious.
For advice on any of our services please contact usTel: 01382 436288Fax: 01382 436299Email:

I am leaning more about foxes this Christmas.

...whilst almost surrounded by the one species whose apparent size is always so misleading. I've put posts on here before speculating why foxes produce such strange optical illusions, but I forget whether I posted this little graphic.
Note: Shoulder heights:
Red fox: 41cm /
Border Collie: 53cm /
German Shepherd: 66cm /
Greyhound: 76cm /
Human (average male American): 176cm
At a distance, both foxes and coyotes routinely seem much larger than they actually are.
We humans aren't great at estimating the sizes of cats, either, which is why so many tabbies and black cats temporarily get promoted to lions and leopards in the over-excitable press.
Curiously, I rarely hear of anyone who's over-estimated the size of elk or deer. Maybe it is just a carnivore thing So, when I'm trying to establish who is the largest fox who has ever come to the garden, I am mentally trying to compensate for both the fact that I cannot measure them directly and that I'm possibly occasionally falling victim to the size illusion too

Foxes driven out of their habitat by the removal of apartment complexes and creek trees and under brush are beginning to hunt our neighborhood cats

Feral Cats were brought to Tasmania as domestic animals by early European explorers and settlers.
Some of these cats escaped or were abandoned and a feral population became established. Feral cats are now widespread throughout the state with sightings occurring in such remote areas as south-west Tasmania and the central highlands.

Cats are formidable hunters...
The cat is a carnivorous mammal and is very well adapted to hunting small mammals and birds. They are largely nocturnal hunters and may travel for several kilometres at night in search of prey. Cats have excellent eyesight, hearing and sense of smell. They can detect the smallest movement and can hear the scratching of a mouse many metres away.
Cats can also find their prey just by following the scent trail left by small animals as they move along the ground. They are also very able climbers. All of these features together with four sets of retractable claws, and teeth adapted for gripping, tearing and shearing, make the cat a formidable hunter....and ruthless predators.
Feral cats prefer live prey but do occasionally scavenge carrion or human food scraps. They are opportunistic predators meaning that their diet generally reflects the fauna present in the area where they live and hunt.
Rabbits are usually the staple prey in Tasmania while other food items include small mammals, birds, reptiles (particularly skinks), frogs, fish and invertebrates. Where rabbits are absent or in low numbers - for example in western Tasmania - the diet mainly consists of small native mammals and native birds. Unfortunately native birds well outnumber introduced birds in the diet of feral cats in most areas of the state.
Domestic cats often continue to hunt, even when fed on a regular basis. This is because cats instinctively react to movement, particularly rapid jerky movements. The prey is often left uneaten or brought home. Surveys of domestic cats reveal that the list of prey matches that for feral cats. Hence, domestic cats also impact negatively on native wildlife.
Toxoplasmosis: A hidden threat
Predation of native wildlife by cats is not the only reason for concern. Cats are the definitive host of the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii which causes toxoplasmosis and is known to induce abortion in sheep and to infect humans and wildlife species. Toxoplasmosis can cause central nervous system and systemic disease leading to death in bandicoots and other wildlife species.
Prolific breeders...
Female cats can breed before they are one year old. A healthy female produces two litters of kittens per year, usually during spring and summer, with an average of four kittens per litter. However, juvenile mortality amongst feral cats is high with the major cause of death being starvation due to food shortages during autumn and winter. Native and introduced predators, diseases and road accidents are also take a heavy toll.
Where do feral cats come from?
Although there is a standing population of feral cats, recruitment is constantly occurring from the domestic population. Even the best kept cat can go wild, whether through wandering too far from its home area or via interactions with feral cats. Unfortunately unwanted domestic cats or kittens are often dumped by irresponsible owners. Those that survive in the wild join the feral population, breeding with other feral cats if they have not been desexed. Feral cats are not just a problem in the bush. Indeed, a greater density of feral cats occur in and around cities, towns and rural settlements. This is probably due to more stable and abundant food sources being available in these areas. The presence of domestic cats may also attract feral cats to population centres.
How can you help?
The negative impact on native wildlife by feral and domestic cats can be minimised. If you own a cat the following suggestions can help reduce any impact your pet has (or could have) on native wildlife.
* If your cat is desexed it cannot breed with feral cats (whether it goes wild or not), and the inconvenience of unwanted kittens is also prevented. Desexing is a simple procedure that can be conducted at your local veterinary surgery.
* A cat's home range (the area in which it lives and hunts) may be reduced by up to 75% by detaining it at night. This often results in a substantial decrease in the number of native animals killed by individual cats overall. Cats that are kept in at night also live longer than those that are not. This is because they are not out fighting or mating with other cats or contracting diseases from them. Road accidents are also a major cause of death for domestic cats, so keeping them in at night greatly reduces this risk.
* Fit your cat with a collar and two bells, one on either side of the name tag so that potential prey are warned of the cats approach. Many cats continue to hunt successfully with a single bell. A second bell can reduce its chances of success.
* If you decide to purchase a cat, visit the Hobart Cat CentreYou are now leaving our site. DPIWE is not responsible for the content of the web site to which you are going. The link does not constitute any form of endorsement. This facility admits about 4 000 cats per year, 90% of which are humanely destroyed. You can save one of these cats by providing it with a good home. All of the centre's cats are desexed and given a clean bill of health by a qualified veterinary surgeon.
* Cats are remarkable animals and they make good pets. It has been shown that people who own a pet often live longer than those that do not. Hence a cat can be a very beneficial companion. With responsible ownership people can continue to enjoy their cat while at the same time protecting and enjoying our native wildlife.
* Outdoor enclosures, either free standing or as attachments to verandas etc., can be purchased or made allowing your cat to spend time out of the house without threatening the native wildlife. These attachments can be connected to your house by a cat door and include climbing frames, catwalk, scratch-posts and living plants to provide an enriching environment.
Further Reading
Bradshaw, Dr J. W. S. (1993). The True Nature of the Cat. Boxtree Publishing, London.
C. Dickman (ed). (1996). Overview of the Impacts of Feral Cats on Australian Native Fauna. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.
Strahan, R. (ed). (1983). Complete Book of Australian Mammals. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. p 488-9.
For Further Information
Contact: Wildlife Management Branch
Wildlife Management Branch
Department of Primary Industries and Water
134 Macquarie Street, GPO Box 44
Hobart TAS 7001
Phone: 03 6233 6556
Fax: 03 6233 3477

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Find that homework assignment to be graded...

Found on Christmas Eve Wandering Around the Internet at Night....

I didn't make up the title of this post -- it's from an article on the Medscape site called

If you happen to be a physician, you can actually earn 0.75 CME credits after reading this article.

Interestingly enough, the legal disclaimer for physicians includes the following morsel of text:
These materials may discuss therapeutic products that have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and off-label uses of approved products.Hmmm.... medical care in space? Off label? You think?Anyway.Despite this generic, mealy-mouthed caveat, the article itself is well-written and informative.

It gives a very nice discussion of the issues you may face on your next trip to the moon.For one thing, I hadn't been aware of the "great solar storm" of August 4, 1972. Fortunately, this storm occurred between the last 2 Apollo lunar landing missions. If it had hit while we had folks on the moon, they would have received a rather large, and possibly lethal dose of radiation. Yikes!Of course, radiation from space affects folks who fly much lower than astronauts. At the altitudes used by commercial flights, one receives radiation from space that would normally be absorbed by the atmosphere. For example, 3 round-trip flights from LA to NY roughly equal the dose from one medical chest X-ray.

I've know for years about this increased dose from high altitude flight, but had not given much thought to the further increase in exposure at the earth's poles.

Solar particle events (SPEs) are primarily responsible for generating high-energy proton emissions from the sun during solar storms.

The earth's magnetosphere tends to protect most objects in low earth orbits, but this effect has its minimum at the poles. I had no idea that airlines routinely work around the impact of SPEs (solar particle events) on polar flight trajectories. A polar flight trajectory would describe any number of my flights to Europe. Who knew that the airlines are already factoring in space weather along with the much more prosaic terrestrial weather we expect!

Another interesting quote from this article:
Is there a risk to the central nervous system and brain from exposure to heavy ions at the level that would occur during long missions into deep space? In other words, to quote Derek I. Lowenstein of Brookhaven National Laboratory, "If every neuron in your brain gets hit, do you come back being a blithering idiot, or not?NASA appears to be hard at work studying the effects of long-term radiation in space.

For example:
"Fred" the Phantom Torso -- "part-dummy, part dosimeter-imbedded torso [that] is a mock-up of a human's upper body, minus a set of arms" -- was flown to the ISS and set up in Node 2 (the attachment point for the US Laboratory). Its purpose: to yield a more accurate portrait of human radiation exposure in the station.Thanks for taking one for the team, "Fred" -- if that is your real name.

Commercial space travel is still a bit pricey for my pocketbook. Thus, the bottom line for me is pretty simple: don't log an excessive number of polar flights. Chances are that my travel budget (and increasing gas prices) will help to keep that under control as well.

Not too late to give someone you love NexCare Duct Tape Bandages for their toy tool kit under the Christmas Tree!

I am taking Food from China off my shopping list this New Year... and so should you!

Reporting from Los Angeles and Shanghai --

Melamine in Chinese-produced milk powder has sickened hundreds of thousands of children and added to a growing list of made-in-China foods banned across the globe. Now, some scientists and consumer advocates are raising concerns that fish from China may also be contaminated with the industrial chemical.

China is the world's largest producer of farm-raised seafood, exporting billions of dollars worth of shrimp, catfish, tilapia, salmon and other fish. The U.S. imported about $2 billion of seafood products from China in 2007, almost double the volume of four years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But industry experts and businesspeople in China say that melamine has been routinely added to fish and animal feed to artificially boost protein readings. And new research suggests that, unlike in cows and pigs, the edible flesh in fish that have been fed melamine contains residues of the nitrogen-rich substance.Melamine, commonly used in plastics and dishware, can lead to urinary problems such as kidney stones and even renal failure.Last year, pet foods made with melamine-laced ingredients from China sickened or killed thousands of dogs and cats in the U.S. This year, infant formula tainted with the chemical has been linked to illness in 294,000 small children and six deaths in China, according to China's Ministry of Health.

In the U.S., fish from China can be found in the frozen food aisle in supermarkets and is served in posh restaurants."China's a big place, and it does a lot of processing, and cheaply too," said Brian Dedmon, purchasing manager for the Fish King distribution plant in Burbank.Fish King, which supplies hundreds of Southern California restaurants and has a store in Glendale, says it buys processed snow crab meat, squid and other seafood from China to meet market demand and because the price is competitive. Dedmon says the company relies on government inspections, its importers and its own experience to ensure the fish it buys is safe."We're definitely concerned about melamine, but by the time the fish gets to us, health issues should've been taken care of by the government agencies and brokers that we go through," he said.Not on the checklistBut even though some U.S. fish importers are voluntarily testing for melamine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of imported fish, currently doesn't require seafood products to be screened for melamine.

Yet research from its own scientists has raised a warning flag.Laboratory studies of melamine-fed catfish, trout, tilapia and salmon by the FDA's Animal Drugs Research Center found that fish tissues had melamine concentrations of up to 200 parts per million. That's 80 times the maximum "tolerable" amount set by the FDA for safe consumption.Iddya Karunasagar, a United Nations fish-product safety expert in Rome, said the FDA's research suggested fish would have to ingest large amounts of melamine to pose a health threat to humans, something that he considered unlikely. But he said there were no data on melamine levels in Chinese-produced fish and animal feed.Other scientists said testing of melamine in farm-raised fish from China should be made mandatory because of the dearth of information about melamine levels in Chinese feed and fish."That's the problem; no one has a clue how much concentration and for how long" fish from China have ingested melamine, said Jim Riviere, director of chemical toxicology research at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "There's an issue of relative human safety," he said. "It would be prudent to screen for melamine."

An FDA representative in Washington wouldn't comment on why Chinese-produced seafood didn't have to be analyzed for melamine when imported to the U.S. Nor were FDA researchers made available to comment on their agency's findings, reported recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.Research undertaken by Riviere and others show that melamine in feed consumed by pigs and cows is excreted in the urine or otherwise flushed out, leaving virtually no trace of it in the muscle or meat of the animals. But fish appear to be different,toxicologists say.Fang Shijun, who has monitored the melamine problem for several years, says he believes that the adulterated products are being supplied only by small operators, which abound in China.

Like those who added melamine to milk and diluted it with water to increase profit, feed businesses can sell more by substituting melamine for real protein sources, especially with the cost of corn and other raw materials having soared in the last couple of years."It is impossible to calculate how many of them have done that," said Fang, manager of feed research at Shanghai EFeedLink Information Technology, an agriculture consulting and research firm.

In the U.S., aqua-cultured seafood from China can be found in restaurants and in markets that sell frozen shrimp, catfish fillets and roasted eel, among other fish. U.S. importers such as Boston-based Stavis Seafoods, which sells products under the brand Foods From the Sea, are taking precautions and doing their own testing."It's our reputation behind it," company Chairman Richard Stavis said. Thus far, he said, the testing has not turned up melamine in the catfish and tilapia that Stavis buys from China.

U.S. importers have for some years been testing for a variety of antibiotics and substances, including the suspected carcinogen malachite green, which some Chinese fish farms use to control disease.Since last year, the FDA has been restricting entry of shrimp, catfish, dace, eel and basa from China unless those shipments come with an independent lab report certifying the seafood is free of such additives. Melamine isn't included on that list of additives.The Chinese government, facing increasing pressure from the public, has begun to crack down on melamine suppliers and has widened inspections to include feed. And many Chinese exporters of farmed fish say government inspectors are coming around more often and examining samples.

But shipments of filthy and contaminated fish from China continue to be detained at U.S. ports, exposing holes in a food-safety system that analysts say is undermined by a lack of resources, corruption and unscrupulous businesses that will sometimes mislabel or reroute goods through other countries.Last month, 26 containers of shrimp, crawfish, tilapia and other fish from China were refused entry in Long Beach and other U.S. seaports. Inspectors cited a variety of reasons: salmonella, unsafe additives, unapproved drugs and labeling problems, according to FDA records on its website.U.S. consumer advocates say the FDA has its own resource issues."They're so understaffed at the borders that despite whatever orders they have, we can't be sure that products aren't just coming through anyway," said Jean Halloran, food policy initiatives director for Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

"We need much better testing," she said, including of melamine in fish.FDA officials last month opened three offices in China, part of a strategy to deploy agency staff in countries where many U.S. foods now originate and where they can work with local inspectors and the industry."We cannot inspect our way to import safety; we have to roll our borders back and work with producers and have [their products] certified by people we trust," said Michael Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, under which the FDA operates, during a visit to China last month.A food-source issueKarunasagar, the U.N.'s fishery expert, said governments in China and elsewhere needed to tackle the problem at the source. "More than the fish, we should monitor melamine in the feed."But that's easier said than done.

In the U.S., commercial fish farms have to use feed from a handful of approved suppliers, but in China, there may be hundreds of thousands of sources for feed, said Steve Dickinson, an American attorney in China's coastal city of Qingdao who ran a salmon-farming business in Washington state.Melamine has "infected the whole system in China," he said.More than 15 feed suppliers in various parts of China were contacted for this story. Most of them declined to comment or said they didn't add melamine. But some of them said the practice of spiking feed with it had been going on for at least the last six years, with inspectors checking some types of feed products more tightly than others."It is not so regulated, for example, in the fish powder industry," said Zhuge Fulai, manager of Lianfeng Protein Feed Plant in Shandong province.Fang, the feed research manager in Shanghai, said adulterating feed was particularly rampant in 2003 and 2004.

He doubts that many feed suppliers today are adding melamine, given the awareness and the government's publicized crackdown, but neither he nor anyone else thinks the problem has been eradicated."We still need more government supervision," Fang said. "We need to have more random checks and to fully execute regulations and standards."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Very Interesting Article on Picking Good Teachers and Its Impact on Education of Students

FD: After teaching eight years, I have my doubts that I am a good teacher.
The first two years of a new teacher's career are critical, being an AC Intern; I got the 90 day wonder summer school and was dropped into the classroom. I am one of the few that are still teaching. Most went back into the private market and abandoned teaching. I decided to step out of the public school system and into the private school environment.

Here is the text of the article...

On the day of the big football game between the University of Missouri Tigers and the Cowboys of Oklahoma State, a football scout named Dan Shonka sat in his hotel, in Columbia, Missouri, with a portable DVD player. Shonka has worked for three National Football League teams. Before that, he was a football coach, and before that he played linebacker—although, he says, “that was three knee operations and a hundred pounds ago.” Every year, he evaluates somewhere between eight hundred and twelve hundred players around the country, helping professional teams decide whom to choose in the college draft, which means that over the last thirty years he has probably seen as many football games as anyone else in America. In his DVD player was his homework for the evening’s big game—an edited video of the Tigers’ previous contest, against the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Shonka methodically made his way through the video, stopping and re-winding whenever he saw something that caught his eye. He liked Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, two of the Mizzou receivers. He loved William Moore, the team’s bruising strong safety. But, most of all, he was interested in the Tigers’ quarterback and star, a stocky, strong-armed senior named Chase Daniel.
“I like to see that the quarterback can hit a receiver in stride, so he doesn’t have to slow for the ball,” Shonka began. He had a stack of evaluation forms next to him and, as he watched the game, he was charting and grading every throw that Daniel made. “Then judgment. Hey, if it’s not there, throw it away and play another day. Will he stand in there and take a hit, with a guy breathing down his face? Will he be able to step right in there, throw, and still take that hit? Does the guy throw better when he’s in the pocket, or does he throw equally well when he’s on the move? You want a great competitor. Durability. Can they hold up, their strength, toughness? Can they make big plays? Can they lead a team down the field and score late in the game? Can they see the field? When your team’s way ahead, that’s fine. But when you’re getting your ass kicked I want to see what you’re going to do.”
He pointed to his screen. Daniel had thrown a dart, and, just as he did, a defensive player had hit him squarely. “See how he popped up?” Shonka said. “He stood right there and threw the ball in the face of that rush. This kid has got a lot of courage.” Daniel was six feet tall and weighed two hundred and twenty-five pounds: thick through the chest and trunk. He carried himself with a self-assurance that bordered on cockiness. He threw quickly and in rhythm. He nimbly evaded defenders. He made short throws with touch and longer throws with accuracy. By the game’s end, he had completed an astonishing seventy-eight per cent of his passes, and handed Nebraska its worst home defeat in fifty-three years. “He can zip it,” Shonka said. “He can really gun, when he has to.” Shonka had seen all the promising college quarterbacks, charted and graded their throws, and to his mind Daniel was special: “He might be one of the best college quarterbacks in the country.”
But then Shonka began to talk about when he was on the staff of the Philadelphia Eagles, in 1999. Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the college draft that year, and each looked as promising as Chase Daniel did now. But only one of them, Donovan McNabb, ended up fulfilling that promise. Of the rest, one descended into mediocrity after a decent start. Two were complete busts, and the last was so awful that after failing out of the N.F.L. he ended up failing out of the Canadian Football League as well.
The year before, the same thing happened with Ryan Leaf, who was the Chase Daniel of 1998. The San Diego Chargers made him the second player taken over all in the draft, and gave him an eleven-million-dollar signing bonus. Leaf turned out to be terrible. In 2002, it was Joey Harrington’s turn. Harrington was a golden boy out of the University of Oregon, and the third player taken in the draft. Shonka still can’t get over what happened to him.
“I tell you, I saw Joey live,” he said. “This guy threw lasers, he could throw under tight spots, he had the arm strength, he had the size, he had the intelligence.” Shonka got as misty as a two-hundred-and-eighty-pound ex-linebacker in a black tracksuit can get. “He’s a concert pianist, you know? I really—I mean, I really—liked Joey.” And yet Harrington’s career consisted of a failed stint with the Detroit Lions and a slide into obscurity. Shonka looked back at the screen, where the young man he felt might be the best quarterback in the country was marching his team up and down the field. “How will that ability translate to the National Football League?” He shook his head slowly. “Shoot.”
This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.
One of the most important tools in contemporary educational research is “value added” analysis. It uses standardized test scores to look at how much the academic performance of students in a given teacher’s classroom changes between the beginning and the end of the school year. Suppose that Mrs. Brown and Mr. Smith both teach a classroom of third graders who score at the fiftieth percentile on math and reading tests on the first day of school, in September. When the students are retested, in June, Mrs. Brown’s class scores at the seventieth percentile, while Mr. Smith’s students have fallen to the fortieth percentile. That change in the students’ rankings, value-added theory says, is a meaningful indicator of how much more effective Mrs. Brown is as a teacher than Mr. Smith.
It’s only a crude measure, of course. A teacher is not solely responsible for how much is learned in a classroom, and not everything of value that a teacher imparts to his or her students can be captured on a standardized test. Nonetheless, if you follow Brown and Smith for three or four years, their effect on their students’ test scores starts to become predictable: with enough data, it is possible to identify who the very good teachers are and who the very poor teachers are. What’s more—and this is the finding that has galvanized the educational world—the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast.
Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.
Hanushek recently did a back-of-the-envelope calculation about what even a rudimentary focus on teacher quality could mean for the United States. If you rank the countries of the world in terms of the academic performance of their schoolchildren, the U.S. is just below average, half a standard deviation below a clump of relatively high-performing countries like Canada and Belgium. According to Hanushek, the U.S. could close that gap simply by replacing the bottom six per cent to ten per cent of public-school teachers with teachers of average quality. After years of worrying about issues like school funding levels, class size, and curriculum design, many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there’s a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like. The school system has a quarterback problem.
Kickoff time for Missouri’s game against Oklahoma State was seven o’clock. It was a perfect evening for football: cloudless skies and a light fall breeze. For hours, fans had been tailgating in the parking lots around the stadium. Cars lined the roads leading to the university, many with fuzzy yellow-and-black Tiger tails hanging from their trunks. It was one of Mizzou’s biggest games in years. The Tigers were undefeated, and had a chance to become the No. 1 college football team in the country. Shonka made his way through the milling crowds and took a seat in the press box. Below him, the players on the field looked like pieces on a chessboard.
The Tigers held the ball first. Chase Daniel stood a good seven yards behind his offensive line. He had five receivers, two to his left and three to his right, spaced from one side of the field to the other. His linemen were widely spaced as well. In play after play, Daniel caught the snap from his center, planted his feet, and threw the ball in quick seven- and eight-yard diagonal passes to one of his five receivers.
The style of offense that the Tigers run is called the “spread,” and most of the top quarterbacks in college football—the players who will be drafted into the pros—are spread quarterbacks. By spacing out the offensive linemen and wide receivers, the system makes it easy for the quarterback to figure out the intentions of the opposing defense before the ball is snapped: he can look up and down the line, “read” the defense, and decide where to throw the ball before anyone has moved a muscle. Daniel had been playing in the spread since high school; he was its master. “Look how quickly he gets the ball out,” Shonka said. “You can hardly go a thousand and one, a thousand and two, and it’s out of his hand. He knows right where he’s going. When everyone is spread out like that, the defense can’t disguise its coverage. Chase knows right away what they are going to do. The system simplifies the quarterback’s decisions.”
But for Shonka this didn’t help matters. It had always been hard to predict how a college quarterback would fare in the pros. The professional game was, simply, faster and more complicated. With the advent of the spread, though, the correspondence between the two levels of play had broken down almost entirely. N.F.L. teams don’t run the spread. They can’t. The defenders in the pros are so much faster than their college counterparts that they would shoot through those big gaps in the offensive line and flatten the quarterback. In the N.F.L., the offensive line is bunched closely together. Daniel wouldn’t have five receivers. Most of the time, he’d have just three or four. He wouldn’t have the luxury of standing seven yards behind the center, planting his feet, and knowing instantly where to throw. He’d have to crouch right behind the center, take the snap directly, and run backward before planting his feet to throw. The onrushing defenders wouldn’t be seven yards away. They would be all around him, from the start. The defense would no longer have to show its hand, because the field would not be so spread out. It could now disguise its intentions. Daniel wouldn’t be able to read the defense before the snap was taken. He’d have to read it in the seconds after the play began.
“In the spread, you see a lot of guys wide open,” Shonka said. “But when a guy like Chase goes to the N.F.L. he’s never going to see his receivers that open—only in some rare case, like someone slips or there’s a bust in the coverage. When that ball’s leaving your hands in the pros, if you don’t use your eyes to move the defender a little bit, they’ll break on the ball and intercept it. The athletic ability that they’re playing against in the league is unbelievable.”
As Shonka talked, Daniel was moving his team down the field. But he was almost always throwing those quick, diagonal passes. In the N.F.L., he would have to do much more than that—he would have to throw long, vertical passes over the top of the defense. Could he make that kind of throw? Shonka didn’t know. There was also the matter of his height. Six feet was fine in a spread system, where the big gaps in the offensive line gave Daniel plenty of opportunity to throw the ball and see downfield. But in the N.F.L. there wouldn’t be gaps, and the linemen rushing at him would be six-five, not six-one.
“I wonder,” Shonka went on. “Can he see? Can he be productive in a new kind of offense? How will he handle that? I’d like to see him set up quickly from center. I’d like to see his ability to read coverages that are not in the spread. I’d like to see him in the pocket. I’d like to see him move his feet. I’d like to see him do a deep dig, or deep comeback. You know, like a throw twenty to twenty-five yards down the field.”
It was clear that Shonka didn’t feel the same hesitancy in evaluating the other Mizzou stars—the safety Moore, the receivers Maclin and Coffman. The game that they would play in the pros would also be different from the game they were playing in college, but the difference was merely one of degree. They had succeeded at Missouri because they were strong and fast and skilled, and these traits translate in kind to professional football.
A college quarterback joining the N.F.L., by contrast, has to learn to play an entirely new game. Shonka began to talk about Tim Couch, the quarterback taken first in that legendary draft of 1999. Couch set every record imaginable in his years at the University of Kentucky. “They used to put five garbage cans on the field,” Shonka recalled, shaking his head, “and Couch would stand there and throw and just drop the ball into every one.” But Couch was a flop in the pros. It wasn’t that professional quarterbacks didn’t need to be accurate. It was that the kind of accuracy required to do the job well could be measured only in a real N.F.L. game.
Similarly, all quarterbacks drafted into the pros are required to take an I.Q. test—the Wonderlic Personnel Test. The theory behind the test is that the pro game is so much more cognitively demanding than the college game that high intelligence should be a good predictor of success. But when the economists David Berri and Rob Simmons analyzed the scores—which are routinely leaked to the press—they found that Wonderlic scores are all but useless as predictors. Of the five quarterbacks taken in round one of the 1999 draft, Donovan McNabb, the only one of the five with a shot at the Hall of Fame, had the lowest Wonderlic score. And who else had I.Q. scores in the same range as McNabb? Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw, two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game.
We’re used to dealing with prediction problems by going back and looking for better predictors. We now realize that being a good doctor requires the ability to communicate, listen, and empathize—and so there is increasing pressure on medical schools to pay attention to interpersonal skills as well as to test scores. We can have better physicians if we’re just smarter about how we choose medical-school students. But no one is saying that Dan Shonka is somehow missing some key ingredient in his analysis; that if he were only more perceptive he could predict Chase Daniel’s career trajectory. The problem with picking quarterbacks is that Chase Daniel’s performance can’t be predicted. The job he’s being groomed for is so particular and specialized that there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won’t. In fact, Berri and Simmons found no connection between where a quarterback was taken in the draft—that is, how highly he was rated on the basis of his college performance—and how well he played in the pros.
The entire time that Chase Daniel was on the field against Oklahoma State, his backup, Chase Patton, stood on the sidelines, watching. Patton didn’t play a single down. In his four years at Missouri, up to that point, he had thrown a total of twenty-six passes. And yet there were people in Shonka’s world who thought that Patton would end up as a better professional quarterback than Daniel. The week of the Oklahoma State game, the national sports magazine ESPN even put the two players on its cover, with the title “CHASE DANIEL MIGHT WIN THE HEISMAN”—referring to the trophy given to college football’s best player. “HIS BACKUP COULD WIN THE SUPER BOWL.” Why did everyone like Patton so much? It wasn’t clear. Maybe he looked good in practice. Maybe it was because this season in the N.F.L. a quarterback who had also never started in a single college game is playing superbly for the New England Patriots. It sounds absurd to put an athlete on the cover of a magazine for no particular reason. But perhaps that’s just the quarterback problem taken to an extreme. If college performance doesn’t tell us anything, why shouldn’t we value someone who hasn’t had the chance to play as highly as someone who plays as well as anyone in the land?
Picture a young preschool teacher, sitting on a classroom floor surrounded by seven children. She is holding an alphabet book, and working through the letters with the children, one by one: “ ‘A’ is for apple. . . . ‘C’ is for cow.” The session was taped, and the videotape is being watched by a group of experts, who are charting and grading each of the teacher’s moves.
After thirty seconds, the leader of the group—Bob Pianta, the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education—stops the tape. He points to two little girls on the right side of the circle. They are unusually active, leaning into the circle and reaching out to touch the book.
“What I’m struck by is how lively the affect is in this room,” Pianta said. “One of the things the teacher is doing is creating a holding space for that. And what distinguishes her from other teachers is that she flexibly allows the kids to move and point to the book. She’s not rigidly forcing the kids to sit back.”
Pianta’s team has developed a system for evaluating various competencies relating to student-teacher interaction. Among them is “regard for student perspective”; that is, a teacher’s knack for allowing students some flexibility in how they become engaged in the classroom. Pianta stopped and rewound the tape twice, until what the teacher had managed to achieve became plain: the children were active, but somehow the class hadn’t become a free-for-all.
“A lesser teacher would have responded to the kids’ leaning over as misbehavior,” Pianta went on. “ ‘We can’t do this right now. You need to be sitting still.’ She would have turned this off.”
Bridget Hamre, one of Pianta’s colleagues, chimed in: “These are three- and four-year-olds. At this age, when kids show their engagement it’s not like the way we show our engagement, where we look alert. They’re leaning forward and wriggling. That’s their way of doing it. And a good teacher doesn’t interpret that as bad behavior. You can see how hard it is to teach new teachers this idea, because the minute you teach them to have regard for the student’s perspective, they think you have to give up control of the classroom.”
The lesson continued. Pianta pointed out how the teacher managed to personalize the material. “ ‘C’ is for cow” turned into a short discussion of which of the kids had ever visited a farm. “Almost every time a child says something, she responds to it, which is what we describe as teacher sensitivity,” Hamre said.
The teacher then asked the children if anyone’s name began with that letter. “Calvin,” a boy named Calvin says. The teacher nods, and says, “Calvin starts with ‘C.’ ” A little girl in the middle says, “Me!” The teacher turns to her. “Your name’s Venisha. Letter ‘V.’ Venisha.”
It was a key moment. Of all the teacher elements analyzed by the Virginia group, feedback—a direct, personal response by a teacher to a specific statement by a student—seems to be most closely linked to academic success. Not only did the teacher catch the “Me!” amid the wiggling and tumult; she addressed it directly.
“Mind you, that’s not great feedback,” Hamre said. “High-quality feedback is where there is a back-and-forth exchange to get a deeper understanding.” The perfect way to handle that moment would have been for the teacher to pause and pull out Venisha’s name card, point to the letter “V,” show her how different it is from “C,” and make the class sound out both letters. But the teacher didn’t do that—either because it didn’t occur to her or because she was distracted by the wiggling of the girls to her right.
“On the other hand, she could have completely ignored the girl, which happens a lot,” Hamre went on. “The other thing that happens a lot is the teacher will just say, ‘You’re wrong.’ Yes-no feedback is probably the predominant kind of feedback, which provides almost no information for the kid in terms of learning.”
Pianta showed another tape, of a nearly identical situation: a circle of pre-schoolers around a teacher. The lesson was about how we can tell when someone is happy or sad. The teacher began by acting out a short conversation between two hand puppets, Henrietta and Twiggle: Twiggle is sad until Henrietta shares some watermelon with him.
“The idea that the teacher is trying to get across is that you can tell by looking at somebody’s face how they’re feeling, whether they’re feeling sad or happy,” Hamre said. “What kids of this age tend to say is you can tell how they’re feeling because of something that happened to them. They lost their puppy and that’s why they’re sad. They don’t really get this idea. So she’s been challenged, and she’s struggling.”
The teacher begins, “Remember when we did something and we drew our face?” She touches her face, pointing out her eyes and mouth. “When somebody is happy, their face tells us that they’re happy. And their eyes tell us.” The children look on blankly. The teacher plunges on: “Watch, watch.” She smiles broadly. “This is happy! How can you tell that I’m happy? Look at my face. Tell me what changes about my face when I’m happy. No, no, look at my face. . . . No. . . .”
A little girl next to her says, “Eyes,” providing the teacher with an opportunity to use one of her students to draw the lesson out. But the teacher doesn’t hear her. Again, she asks, “What’s changed about my face?” She smiles and she frowns, as if she can reach the children by sheer force of repetition. Pianta stopped the tape. One problem, he pointed out, was that Henrietta made Twiggle happy by sharing watermelon with him, which doesn’t illustrate what the lesson is about.
“You know, a better way to handle this would be to anchor something around the kids,” Pianta said. “She should ask, ‘What makes you feel happy?’ The kids could answer. Then she could say, ‘Show me your face when you have that feeling? O.K., what does So-and-So’s face look like? Now tell me what makes you sad. Show me your face when you’re sad. Oh, look, her face changed!’ You’ve basically made the point. And then you could have the kids practice, or something. But this is going to go nowhere.”
“What’s changed about my face?” the teacher repeated, for what seemed like the hundredth time. One boy leaned forward into the circle, trying to engage himself in the lesson, in the way that little children do. His eyes were on the teacher. “Sit up!” she snapped at him.
As Pianta played one tape after another, the patterns started to become clear. Here was a teacher who read out sentences, in a spelling test, and every sentence came from her own life—“I went to a wedding last week”—which meant she was missing an opportunity to say something that engaged her students. Another teacher walked over to a computer to do a PowerPoint presentation, only to realize that she hadn’t turned it on. As she waited for it to boot up, the classroom slid into chaos.
Then there was the superstar—a young high-school math teacher, in jeans and a green polo shirt. “So let’s see,” he began, standing up at the blackboard. “Special right triangles. We’re going to do practice with this, just throwing out ideas.” He drew two triangles. “Label the length of the side, if you can. If you can’t, we’ll all do it.” He was talking and moving quickly, which Pianta said might be interpreted as a bad thing, because this was trigonometry. It wasn’t easy material. But his energy seemed to infect the class. And all the time he offered the promise of help. If you can’t, we’ll all do it. In a corner of the room was a student named Ben, who’d evidently missed a few classes. “See what you can remember, Ben,” the teacher said. Ben was lost. The teacher quickly went to his side: “I’m going to give you a way to get to it.” He made a quick suggestion: “How about that?” Ben went back to work. The teacher slipped over to the student next to Ben, and glanced at her work. “That’s all right!” He went to a third student, then a fourth. Two and a half minutes into the lesson—the length of time it took that subpar teacher to turn on the computer—he had already laid out the problem, checked in with nearly every student in the class, and was back at the blackboard, to take the lesson a step further.
“In a group like this, the standard m.o. would be: he’s at the board, broadcasting to the kids, and has no idea who knows what he’s doing and who doesn’t know,” Pianta said. “But he’s giving individualized feedback. He’s off the charts on feedback.” Pianta and his team watched in awe.
Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers—that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible. But after you’ve watched Pianta’s tapes, and seen how complex the elements of effective teaching are, this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar. The preschool teacher with the alphabet book was sensitive to her students’ needs and knew how to let the two girls on the right wiggle and squirm without disrupting the rest of the students; the trigonometry teacher knew how to complete a circuit of his classroom in two and a half minutes and make everyone feel as if he or she were getting his personal attention. But these aren’t cognitive skills.
A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.
Another educational researcher, Jacob Kounin, once did an analysis of “desist” events, in which a teacher has to stop some kind of misbehavior. In one instance, “Mary leans toward the table to her right and whispers to Jane. Both she and Jane giggle. The teacher says, ‘Mary and Jane, stop that!’ ” That’s a desist event. But how a teacher desists—her tone of voice, her attitudes, her choice of words—appears to make no difference at all in maintaining an orderly classroom. How can that be? Kounin went back over the videotape and noticed that forty-five seconds before Mary whispered to Jane, Lucy and John had started whispering. Then Robert had noticed and joined in, making Jane giggle, whereupon Jane said something to John. Then Mary whispered to Jane. It was a contagious chain of misbehavior, and what really was significant was not how a teacher stopped the deviancy at the end of the chain but whether she was able to stop the chain before it started. Kounin called that ability “withitness,” which he defined as “a teacher’s communicating to the children by her actual behavior (rather than by verbally announcing: ‘I know what’s going on’) that she knows what the children are doing, or has the proverbial ‘eyes in the back of her head.’ ” It stands to reason that to be a great teacher you have to have withitness. But how do you know whether someone has withitness until she stands up in front of a classroom of twenty-five wiggly Janes, Lucys, Johns, and Roberts and tries to impose order?
Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.
“A question I ask is, ‘Give me a typical day,’ ” Ed Deutschlander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group, in Minneapolis, says. “If that person says, ‘I get up at five-thirty, hit the gym, go to the library, go to class, go to my job, do homework until eleven,’ that person has a chance.” Deutschlander, in other words, begins by looking for the same general traits that every corporate recruiter looks for.
Deutschlander says that last year his firm interviewed about a thousand people, and found forty-nine it liked, a ratio of twenty interviewees to one candidate. Those candidates were put through a four-month “training camp,” in which they tried to act like real financial advisers. “They should be able to obtain in that four-month period a minimum of ten official clients,” Deutschlander said. “If someone can obtain ten clients, and is able to maintain a minimum of ten meetings a week, that means that person has gathered over a hundred introductions in that four-month period. Then we know that person is at least fast enough to play this game.”
Of the forty-nine people invited to the training camp, twenty-three made the cut and were hired as apprentice advisers. Then the real sorting began. “Even with the top performers, it really takes three to four years to see whether someone can make it,” Deutschlander says. “You’re just scratching the surface at the beginning. Four years from now, I expect to hang on to at least thirty to forty per cent of that twenty-three.”
People like Deutschlander are referred to as gatekeepers, a title that suggests that those at the door of a profession are expected to discriminate—to select who gets through the gate and who doesn’t. But Deutschlander sees his role as keeping the gate as wide open as possible: to find ten new financial advisers, he’s willing to interview a thousand people. The equivalent of that approach, in the N.F.L., would be for a team to give up trying to figure out who the “best” college quarterback is, and, instead, try out three or four “good” candidates.
In teaching, the implications are even more profound. They suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before. That means that the profession needs to start the equivalent of Ed Deutschlander’s training camp. It needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated. Kane and Staiger have calculated that, given the enormous differences between the top and the bottom of the profession, you’d probably have to try out four candidates to find one good teacher. That means tenure can’t be routinely awarded, the way it is now. Currently, the salary structure of the teaching profession is highly rigid, and that would also have to change in a world where we want to rate teachers on their actual performance. An apprentice should get apprentice wages. But if we find eighty-fifth-percentile teachers who can teach a year and a half’s material in one year, we’re going to have to pay them a lot—both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly be a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward.
Is this solution to teaching’s quarterback problem politically possible? Taxpayers might well balk at the costs of trying out four teachers to find one good one. Teachers’ unions have been resistant to even the slightest move away from the current tenure arrangement. But all the reformers want is for the teaching profession to copy what firms like North Star have been doing for years. Deutschlander interviews a thousand people to find ten advisers. He spends large amounts of money to figure out who has the particular mixture of abilities to do the job. “Between hard and soft costs,” he says, “most firms sink between a hundred thousand dollars and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars on someone in their first three or four years,” and in most cases, of course, that investment comes to naught. But, if you were willing to make that kind of investment and show that kind of patience, you wound up with a truly high-performing financial adviser. “We have a hundred and twenty-five full-time advisers,” Deutschlander says. “Last year, we had seventy-one of them qualify for the Million Dollar Round Table”—the industry’s association of its most successful practitioners. “We’re seventy-one out of a hundred and twenty-five in that √©lite group.” What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?
Midway through the fourth quarter of the Oklahoma State–Missouri game, the Tigers were in trouble. For the first time all year, they were behind late in the game. They needed to score, or they’d lose any chance of a national championship. Daniel took the snap from his center, and planted his feet to pass. His receivers were covered. He began to run. The Oklahoma State defenders closed in on him. He was under pressure, something that rarely happened to him in the spread. Desperate, he heaved the ball downfield, right into the arms of a Cowboy defender.
Shonka jumped up. “That’s not like him!” he cried out. “He doesn’t throw stuff up like that.”
Next to Shonka, a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs looked crestfallen. “Chase never throws something up for grabs!”
It was tempting to see Daniel’s mistake as definitive. The spread had broken down. He was finally under pressure. This was what it would be like to be an N.F.L. quarterback, wasn’t it? But there is nothing like being an N.F.L. quarterback except being an N.F.L. quarterback. A prediction, in a field where prediction is not possible, is no more than a prejudice. Maybe that interception means that Daniel won’t be a good professional quarterback, or maybe he made a mistake that he’ll learn from. “In a great big piece of pie,” Shonka said, “that was just a little slice.” ♦