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Go Small Schools! July 26, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Education.
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Here are some results from a new Department of Education study thst compares “rural” schools with “urban” schools.  Rural schools account for about 1/3 of all US public schools and are defined as schools in areas with fewer than 500 people per square mile.

  • At all grade levels, rural students did better on national science tests than children in cities
  • In math, rural kids did better than urban students at every grade level.
  • Rural fourth- and eighth-graders read better than their urban peers.
  • Among teachers, rural educators were more likely to report being satisfied with teaching conditions in their schools, even though their salaries were lower
  • Rural schools tend to be smaller and have lower student-teacher ratios than other schools

Ruth’s first book July 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Parenting.
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Ruth finished her first book today!  We are very proud of her, and she is very proud of herself.  She got to go to the bookstore today and pick out a new book as a surprise.  Tell her how proud you are of her next time you talk to her.

facile July 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Vocabulary.
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  1. moving, acting, working, proceeding, etc., with ease, sometimes with superficiality: facile fingers; a facile mind. 
  2. easily done, performed, used, etc.: a facile victory; a facile method. 
  3. easy or unconstrained, as manners or persons. 
  4. affable, agreeable, or complaisant; easily influenced: a facile temperament; facile people.

anodyne July 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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  1. a medicine that relieves or allays pain.
  2. anything that relieves distress or pain: The music was an anodyne to his grief.


  1. relieving pain.
  2. soothing to the mind or feelings.

Kindergarten pre-game concerns July 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Education, Parenting.
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With our first kid merely weeks away from beginning kindergarten, I have begun to try to imagine what she is going to encounter in school.  Though I know she’ll do fine in school, both academically and socially, I have some concerns, mainly surrounding the things I have not seen over the last several years.  For example:

  1. I’m not close to a single other family that shares my views on education and the methods and importance thereof.
  2. Despite living and working in a highly-educated, tech-savvy, university town, I hear very little discussion among parents on topics related to academic achievement.
  3. When parents do talk about school, typically, the conversation is usually more centered on special programs, fundraisers, or athletic events that are peripheral to academics.
  4. Despite working at one of the largest technology employers in Austin for nearly ten years, I never personally saw a school representative inquire about things like field trips, guest lecturers, or career-focused curriculum development.  Note, we at the company did a tremendous amount of outreach and the schools were always happy to have it – I just never saw that initiative coming from the schools themselves.
  5. Few parents – even educated professionals – seem to place more than nominal value on knowledge.  In the past two days, I’ve had coworkers chide me (goodnaturedly, of course) for being able to divide 16 by 25 in my head and for using the word “née” in conversation. 
  6. I’ve never heard anyone outside of the school system express pride in their school being “Recognized” or “Exemplary” by the state.

It is not fair to our kids or to their teachers to go in to school thinking that it is not going to work, and I do not think this way.  I do think, though, that evidence of complacency and apathy of education shows in the priorities that people have.  When the most educated people I’m around on a day to day basis deprioritize academics, it makes me wonder what school will be like where a purer cross section of educational levels is represented.

For our soon-to-be-kindergartener, I don’t worry about the academic or social concepts she’ll learn in school – I worry about the opportunity cost of what she could be learning, but doesn’t, because the environment is one that either values education less than I do or prioritizes it lower than I do.

scurrilous July 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Vocabulary.
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  1. grossly or obscenely abusive: a scurrilous attack on the mayor.
  2. characterized by or using low buffoonery; coarsely jocular or derisive: a scurrilous jest.

recidivist July 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Vocabulary.
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  1. someone who is repeatedly arrested for criminal behavior (especially for the same criminal behavior)
  2. someone who lapses into previous undesirable patterns of behavior

Management and monarchy July 9, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Work.
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Thomas Paine wrote,

There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in the cases where the highest judgment is required.

I argue that most managers see themselves as monarchs of their own small kingdoms in the midst of the company and as a result, I think Paine’s words resonate equally well by swapping ‘monarchy’ for ‘management’.

I have worked for around 10 total managers during my career – some intelligent and effective, some blissfully incompetent.  One thing that nearly all of them have had in common, though, is that they typically spend their time doing “manager things” and thus excluding themselves from the means of information.  Yet they are all empowered to act where the highest judgment is required.

I think it would not be unfair to say that most of the managers I’ve worked for try to compensate for their self-imposed exclusion from the means of information in the final moments before their judgment is required.  Most of them have not taken the time to internalize even the important details of a problem, let alone the background, causes, effects, and consequences of that problem.  Their decision process nearly invariably results in operational and opportunity costs to the buisness.

I question whether my own employees have felt this way about me.  I don’t know.

I believe in laissez-faire management – communicate the desired outcome to an employee and the limits placed on him to achieve that outcome.  Measure the employee by his ability to achieve the desired outcome.  Be available for coaching, collaboration, or assistance as needed and as requested by the employee.  Take responsibility on your own to know intimately the details you need in order to make judgments that are required of you.

This approach results in lower operational costs (think ‘fewer status reports’), happier employees, and higher business efficacy.

The responsibility of being a ding dong July 9, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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Regarding the story of the two novice kayakers that were airlifted from the Lampasas River during recent central Texas floods, I find it befitting that the couple was rescued near the town of Ding Dong.

The kayakers decided to ride the wild rapids, only to capsize moments after entering the turbulent water.  When a land-based rescue attempt failed, emergency crews brought in a helicopter to perform the rescue from the air.

Here’s the story: http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/weather/entries/2007/06/28/austintravis_co_2.html

I can’t find a web link that includes a reference to the cost of the helicopter (which I believe was around $650/hour, according to a talk radio segment on KLBJ) or a reference to the fact that the second kayaker to be rescued actually declined rescue from the helicopter at first because he was attempting to hold on to his kayak.

It is the responsibility of the foolish to pay for his foolishness.  In no circumstance should the taxpayers bear the cost of rescuing people like this.  There should be no debate about sending 100% of the bill for this rescue to these guys. 

The tipping point of irony July 9, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Drollery.
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We were listening to some (great) live music at Janie’s Table in Gruene this weekend when I noticed something ironic in my view of the stage:


Do you see it?  I thought there was something a little ironic in the positioning of the musician’s gratuity bucket: