The Payoff

Apr. 20th, 2016 11:14 am
thedarkages: (sun)
After a year of my working with my Basic Literacy student, the program did an official evaluation of her progress. The main gain was in reading, on which I had focused pretty relentlessly. She'd gone from third grade level to eighth grade level. Other gains were less obvious, and there were a few goals we'd never gotten to, but on two hours a week for a year, I think she did well.

I mention this not to apply for a medal, but because it validates something I have believed since I started tutoring back in 2010: one-on-one tutoring is by far the most effective means of moving students ahead. It is one of those things where the apparent high cost of extending individual services is mitigated by the high cost of traditional remediation and the increasing penalties imposed by governing and certifying agencies for student failure and non-completion of degree. Tutoring puts a human face on a college or organization, and gives the student the idea that someone cares about him or her. There is no better way of giving a student confidence.

I am not a great motivator; I cannot make someone who doesn't want to be there suddenly care. But give me someone who knows that they're in trouble, and that reading and writing are barriers to what they hope to achieve, and I am good to go.

I am under no illusions about administrators' search for a zero-ongoing-costs solution. There will eventually be robots in the tutor role, and that's all students are going to get, because it's easier for a bureaucrat to have a one-time-expense of $150,000 for a robot than to keep paying a few people what's now $15 an hour year after year. But I'll keep doing this as long as I can.
thedarkages: (sun)
The repairman has yet to pronounce a post-mortem, but my wife's Husqvarna 120 sewing machine seems to have bitten the dust after 33 years. It was a real workhorse, and we're sorry to see it go. We are unimpressed by the potential replacements at the local shop, and was wondering if anyone had any ideas. Our criteria: (1) Must stand up to another 30 years of hard use; (2) Must not be complicated in any way. We need possibly six to eight stitches. (3) Must be completely mechanical. Electronics in sewing machines have a mean time between failure of 6-8 years, violating (1). Strangely enough, price is not a determinant of any of these; we saw a $1500 Bernina that was a complete plastic piece of junk. We'd prefer new, but if they truly don't make 'em like they used to, we'll keep the used route open. Any ideas appreciated; [ profile] ilaine_dcmrn and [ profile] msfledermaus, what are your thoughts?
thedarkages: (flag)
Every day, I get ten or twenty messages from various political causes, asking me to sign their petitions online. (Email filters take care of these, but I occasionally check the folder out of morbid curiosity.) My suspicion is that these "petitions" are nothing of the kind; they influence nobody and are easily forged (why not simply grab the voter rolls of the appropriate political party and plug them into the petition template?). My surmise is that they are designed to confirm your name and address in their databases, to tell them that their emails are reaching you without going the transparent-GIF route, and to use a psychological principle which, I vaguely remember from back in undergraduate psychology, was called "affirmation." That is, if you are induced to do a little, trivial thing in support of an idea, person, or cause, you are then much more likely to do something larger, like contribute money, out of an unconscious sense that you want to remain consistent with your earlier action. It no longer works, I'm afraid, and the messages have gotten shriller and shriller with their "the sky is falling" messages, such that now, when the sky actually is falling, they've cried wolf, and, I fear, it is much too late.
thedarkages: (flag)
Obama is a failed President, the Jimmy Carter of the 21st century. I will gladly support any credible primary challenger in 2012.


Oct. 14th, 2010 08:33 pm
thedarkages: (flag)
Today is Beth's birthday, and, for the first time in 20 years, I couldn't give her a decent present.
Last night, though, there was a sort of blessing in disguise. I got some pretty bad news yesterday, and as a result, I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed until midnight, when I had an idea. Beth was sleeping pretty soundly. I got out of bed, put on my clothes, and went to the 24-hour supermarket. Beth thinks I can't cook, but I was going to show her that she was wrong. I was going to make her pancakes for breakfast. I got a big box of Bisquick on sale; we already had some milk and eggs and butter in the refrigerator. I got home, trying not to wake Beth up, and I was getting out the eggs when I realized that we didn't have a metal spatula. Back the eggs went, and back I went to the supermarket to get a spatula. Hooray for our trade imbalance, because it was quite inexpensive. Finally, back home at 1:15 AM. I made a lot more batter than I was supposed to, because I was going to make pancakes until I figured out how not to burn them. About eight pancakes later, I had succeeded. Now, to wait. My friend Eugene had given me a huge book of opera plots, full of minor European operas which have probably not been performed since the days of Caruso. I read pretty quickly, but I was only about 3/4 of the way through when 5:45 came around. Now, to make the pancakes. Success! Eight perfectly formed pancakes, golden-brown in color. I put them in the oven to keep warm, woke up Beth, brought her out to the kitchen, and presented her with the dish. She was amazed. I might not have been able to get her a reasonable present, but she and I enjoyed a spiffy birthday breakfast.
thedarkages: (disc)
If anyone knows someone who is a full-time faculty member in one of the University of Phoenix's graduate programs -- hopefully, someone nice -- please let me know.
thedarkages: (fiend)
A satirical piece of mine has just been posted on Printculture at


Jul. 25th, 2010 09:05 pm
thedarkages: (bang)
I have had four USB hubs burn out on me in the past seven months. This is not satisfactory.

The hubs, as you would expect, plug into two places: the power strip and my laptop's USB port.

The D-Link has been the only hub of even tolerable quality. The others were cheap pieces of garbage from the get-go: Belkin, some fancy Mac brand, and one no-namer. You know you've got fine workmanship at hand when you have to exert 20 pounds of force to get the connector into the socket.

It is entirely likely that their power supplies have been, individually and collectively, useless. I have three other peripherals plugged into that strip, and they have coexisted uncomplainingly for years.


Is there some kind of industrial strength, made-in-America, cast-iron hub available out there? There's an unconscionably expensive ThinkGeek model, but the price may be due to its absurd number of ports.

Do I have to get an expensive line conditioner just so that a $35 hub can live in peace and tranquility?

What do I have to do to obtain a hub that will live for the next couple of years?

Answers gratefully accepted.
thedarkages: (book)

I write like
Lewis Carroll

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I input the text you would expect, and the result is flattering enough for me to post it.

Of course, one would really have to say, "Lewis Carroll without the logic puzzles," and that means nothing more than "whimsy."

Still, I'll take what I can get.
thedarkages: (flag)
The best Fourths of July are in my past. There were picnics, parades, and fireworks. Then these things began to disappear. Last to go were the fireworks. For a few years, you could stand on a hill in back of the graduate student dorms at UC Irvine and see the fireworks go off all over Irvine and Tustin, and, if you looked behind you and squinted, even Newport Beach and Laguna. There were only a few people who knew about that hill, and their voices became whispers when you were only a few feet away from them. Then the University built new, gimcrack dorms all over that hill, and the only places to go were the local high schools, where you could have the privilege of paying $25 a head to squeeze into a concrete stadium and be deafened in the company of a thousand raucous others while listening to the dulcet sounds of Lee Greenwood and to speakers who crossed the border from Patriotism into Jingoism without so much as stopping at Immigration.

So, this year, we picked up some coffee, went home and worked for most of the day, took a walk near the park, had some homemade hot dogs and potato salad, and watched an episode of Julia Child. We didn't even hear much by way of fireworks, which is unusual -- usually we can hear Disneyland light up at 9:30 PM on the dot. And we took a bit of time to thank God for our country's past and for its ideals, and to hope that it would not go the way of ancient Rome in the next few years.

Who knows what next year will bring?
thedarkages: (flag)
The upcoming election next Tuesday, July 8, has some truly evil ballot propositions on it. They're stealthy, by design, so you might just vote for them unless someone told you otherwise. They're funded by big corporations to allow them to screw us over -- with our own consent.

Proposition 16 makes it practically impossible for cities and other entities to get their power anywhere but from the big electricity monopoly in most of the state, PG&E. If a city has an idea as to how to get power more cheaply or in a more ecologically sound way, they will not be able to do it if Proposition 16 passes. Please vote against it.

Proposition 17 allows insurance companies to jack up your rates by any amount if you miss a payment or have ever missed a payment. These days, everyone is in danger of falling into that hole at some point, and the insurance companies will make a fortune off struggling people who don't deserve to be victimized. Please vote against Proposition 17.

In addition to voting against Propositions 16 and 17, you might consider supporting Proposition 15, which creates a system for public financing of state elections. Considering how easy it is for corporations to buy elections -- as in the propositions above -- anything that would mitigate this is highly desirable.

Please, go to the polls next Tuesday, June 8th, and do your part.


Jun. 2nd, 2010 09:18 am
thedarkages: (flag)
If this country and its government were not so thoroughly in the pocket of the corporations, this is what I would like to see vis á vis BP.

1. A determination that the ecological and economic damage caused by the oil spill is incalculably large.
2. An assignment of an effectively infinite amount of liquidated damages. (Yes, this seems to be a contradiction in terms, since liquidated damages are there to quantify the incalculable, but let's just set it at a penny for each atom in the affected area.)
3. A determination that BP is unable and will never be able to pay these damages.
4. The filing of an involuntary bankruptcy petition under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
5. The assignment of a U.S. Trustee to run the company, replacing current management.
6. The continuing operation of BP, with 95% of its current workforce.
7. The use of all BP profits, without accounting tricks of any kind, to be used to remediate the direct and indirect destruction the company has caused and will cause, in perpetuity.

What about the shareholders, I hear you cry? What about government expropriation? Well, BP screwed up big time -- just like any company that goes bankrupt. Shareholders accept the risk of that happening. Expropriation? We're talking about a government that, even now, effectively owns a couple of car companies, and all the companies did was to build a whole bunch of worthless cars and trucks.

But, obviously, none of this will ever happen. It's a MoveOn fantasy. If the financiers who stripped the security from the lives of my friends and relations are still enjoying life and collecting their bonuses, there is every reason to expect that the proprietors of BP will be doing the same in a couple of years. They may just have a choice of fewer beach spots for their vacations.
thedarkages: (disc)
When I think of mono, I think of trying to extract the sound of Giovanni Martinelli's voice from an ocean of crackles and static while a tinny, tuneless orchestra plays almost silently from a couple of miles away.

Ugly Ben

Apr. 21st, 2010 07:12 pm
thedarkages: (raisin)
The trending topic for today is the new $100 bill -- a curious thing to get excited about, given the other activities of the Treasury Department -- and the disfavor with which it is generally viewed.

Three possibilities for the relief of the afflicted:

  1. The counterfeiters catch up - it didn't take them very long the last time -- and the entire money supply has to be redesigned for the better.
  2. Hyperinflation hits - the currency designers will improve on their work with the new $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills. The $100 will be lining birdcages.
  3. Money goes paperless - debit cards for everything, and the only paper money will be in the hands of numismatists.

All in all, there are worse things than ugly money. Personally, I would be willing to defer any and all aesthetic considerations if I simply had more of it.
thedarkages: (catbus)
We are made whole, and essentially in the position we should have been in at this time last week.

We have decided to call the car "the Newfie," because it has such big paws and because it eats so much. The EPA mileage estimates were wildly optimistic. Still, when gas reaches $6.50 a gallon, we can always use the car as a place to lock up our bicycles and keep them out of the sun.

There are other infelicities. The heating/cooling system does not have a thermostat, so you're blasted by either heat or cold until you've had enough. And the stereo system is tinny on the top, boomy on the bottom, and generally indistinct. (It can't be replaced without voiding the warranty, either.)

Would that the Volvo had not been such a money pit, for it had none of these problems! Still, despite all the deficits, we think the Honda will be a great car, and, provided we can keep it in the hands of our local mechanic and out of the clutches of the dealer's service department, will still pay for itself.
thedarkages: (disc)
In the middle of all the tsores, we went out three times this past week. We feel like rich socialites. But there was a free lecture, a free concert, and one concert for which one of us got in free. The first lecture and concert were by Charles Rosen, a great pianist and musicologist. It was the Yoda effect -- this shambling, short old man with his shirt hanging out of his pants who suddenly sounded like God the moments his hands touched the keyboard. He made me like Chopin, a feat no one has hitherto accomplished. His lecture rambled like crazy, but nobody cared because it was so interesting. It was about the annus mirabilis of 1811, around which a new generation of great composers (Liszt, Chopin, etc.) was born. I don't think I'll ever see anyone of Rosen's knowledge or capacity speak or play again. This was made especially evident at the last concert we went to, which was Christopher O'Riley, the host of NPR's "From the Top," doing a live version of the radio show with local musicians. FTT is a show in which he introduces, interviews, and accompanies young classical musicians. We love the show, and he was just as good in person. He played some of the Beethoven Diabelli variations and kicked ass. The meat of the show, though, was the local kids he introduced, and they were on the whole abysmal. The talent pool in our schools is about as deep as the 2010 KC Royals bullpen. And it's just going to get worse from here. Build up your record libraries now, folks, because classical music is going to go away in twenty years. (Mr. O'Riley himself has hedged his bets by building his own career on his piano arrangements of bands like Radiohead.) In the meantime, though, the trick will be to get out and enjoy ourselves as much as we can.
thedarkages: (turtle)
The Total Turtle Tea Trolley has been going strong for about two weeks. I think people either really, really like it or are really, really turned off by it. Readership is flat, at about 10-15 readers a day, and I know four of the readers. Everyone I know who is from my "literary community" -- the people I went to writers' workshop with, the people in whose magazines I was published -- has been conspicuously silent about it, and I can understand why -- no plot, no characters, no story arc. Not exactly Henry James, or even Norton Juster. Ephemera.

I'll keep going, though. I like writing the things. And it beats hustling pool.


Apr. 4th, 2010 07:07 pm
thedarkages: (mogen_david)
Two days and forty minutes until the end of Passover! Around this time every year, the Feast of Matzoh becomes the feast of Too Much Matzoh. As impious as it is, I start looking foward to the end. At college, we celebrated that event with pizza and beer, two of the most leavened foods one can get. Nowadays, I'll be happy for just pizza.
thedarkages: (turtle)
The Total Turtle Tea Trolley, my blog of silly stories, is now live at It recounts the adventures of the intrepid Tea Turtles as they deliver tea and snacks to other imaginary creatures.
If this sounds like fun, feel free to visit!
thedarkages: (Default)
I remember the old days, late '80s to mid '90s, when posting to Usenet was a reasonable way of getting a question answered. Boy, is it bleak out there now. Spam and kooks as far as the eye can see.

And now, what do you have to do? Google for an infinite number of petty little PHP web forums, each one of which requires its own tedious registration?

It's enough to send me back to the (shudder) library.
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