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The Fountainhead September 25, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books.
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I read this book on the recommendation of six or seven different people, each of whom said, “That was the best book I ever read.”  (OK – everyone except Jonathan W., who said it was the second best book he’s ever read, behind Atlas Shrugged, another of Ayn Rand’s novels.)

This book is the exposition of the “perfect man” of objectivism, Rand’s philosophy that holds that man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress.  Much of the book is centered on Howard Roark, an architect who selfishly works at his craft to please himself and who refuses to compromise.  It is difficult not to like him.  Many of the other characters in the book lead “second-hand lives,” since they have no identity of their own – just that imposed on them by the ideals of society around them.  By contrast, Roark (and other characters like him) lives his life to the fullest because – according to Rand – he lives for himself.

I did not understand the relationship between Dominique (the “perfect woman”) and Gail Wynand (a man who could’ve been).  I did not understand the self-flaggelation motif, especially with regard to Dominique – if she was truly selfish, why the self-destruction?

Aside from that, this is a great book.  It is definitely a book of ideas and it’s fairly long (~700 pages).  It is worth reading, if for no other reason than you will love Roark and readily identify people in your own life who parallel Peter Keating, Gail Wynand, and Ellsworth Toohey.

Civics quiz September 20, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Economics, Education, Politics.
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Here is a great quiz on civics, history, and economics:  http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx

 I made an 80% (48 / 60), and I was surprised at how much I didn’t know – the questions are not that complex or obscure.

This is the press release that describes what this organization is testing – effectiveness of universities in teaching civics.  http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/content/failing_america_9-18-07.pdf

 Not a single college surveyed (including Ivy League schools, and other public and private universities) had seniors that scored at least 70% on this test.  In other words, no university can claim that its students can pass a general civics test, even after 16 years of education.

sarcasm September 13, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Vocabulary.
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  1. harsh or bitter derision or irony.
  2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.

From unionized sign-holder to software developer September 13, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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I’ve had a soft place in my heart for labor unions ever since my freshman American History professor hijacked our entire semester at Rice to talk about the influence of unions on our history.  This was, of course, infinitely more important for all of us to learn than subjects such as, say, the Revolutionary War, the Monroe Doctrine, or the presidency of Lincoln.

Yesterday,  a friend – and very talented software developer – told an interesting story.  His first job was a “sign holder” for a steel company in Indiana.  It was a union job, and his job was to stand in a certain place, hold a sign on a pole, and rotate the sign to instruct the passing steel trucks whether they should “Slow” or “Stop”.

(I asked him how performance reviews went.  Example:  “You know, we’re really looking for something more in a perpendicular.” or “More angular momentum!”)

In this job, he made $16.50/hour.  He said he had to pay union dues but they were small enough that he didn’t remember it making a material impact on his paycheck.  Thus, he was making about $33,000 / year (now close to $48,000 / year adjusted for inflation) doing nothing but holding this sign.

He left his job as a sign holder and started writing software…for $10 / hour.  That’s close to a 40% pay cut, for migrating from unionized sign holder to software developer.

I am thankful that he shared this story, because it has completely changed everything I previously thought about unionized labor.

What we’re reading September 12, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books.
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  • The Great Snake Escape – this will be her 6th of 7 books she needs for her next party, and it’s by far her most advanced to date.  She’s doing a great job.


  • Anything you’re willing to read to him, particularly as he sits on his potty!

New Baby

  • Nothing.  Too Dark.

Odyssey September 12, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books.
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I read Allen Mandelbaum’s verse translation of this epic from Homer.  (D’oh!)

This was the first time I have read this since high school, and it was really great.  I don’t remember if we did a verse translation in high school or not, but this was really impressive – every line had 10 syllables, frequently rhyming, and very beautiful to read.

I started reading this to see how appropriate an adapted version might be for a kindergartener or first grader, as suggested in The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.  This is one we will probably hold off on for now – there is so much of the story that involves the work of the Greek gods, and I think stuff like that is confusing for a little kid who is just learning a lot of the Bible stories, and I don’t want to mix the messages.

Robinson Crusoe September 12, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books.
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This was a really great book.  I listened to a recording from librivox.org.  Check it out, if you want.  They have tons of free, public domain recordings of the classics.

It was clean, though a bit disgusting on the discussion of the cannibalistic savages.  I never could understand two things, though:

  1. Why Crusoe was unable to make a bigger boat.  He was on the island for 28 years or so, but he never figured out how to saw more than one plank from a felled tree.  He also never figured out how to craft a sealant for applying to the connections between planks in a would-be boat.  The best he could do was to make a dugout canoe.
  2. Why the island wasn’t overrun by the goats, since there were no obvious natural predators for them and there was more than abundant food for them to eat.

This is a great example of the classics being better than similar modern stories – I thought Robinson Crusoe was a much better story than the movie Castaway.

Restaurants frequently misclassified as ‘fancy’ September 12, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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  1. Red Lobster
  2. Olive Garden
  3. Ruby Tuesday
  4. Hard Rock Cafe
  5. Planet Hollywood
  6. Bennigan’s

Vegas, [and] baby! September 12, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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Weston and I are going to visit Mom and Dad in Las Vegas next week, coinciding with a business trip I have for part of the time.

With Weston, me, and Dad in the same place, the question is, Will the “City that Never Sleeps” ever be the same again?

Slow Child Left Behind September 7, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Education.
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With regard to my posts this week castigating public education, I have a few (slightly) less abrasive remarks.

If you are in the business of testing children with a minimum skills test, what is wrong with holding those children to a standard of higher than 60% mastery?  Isn’t the definition of “minimum” skills those which are required?  If all skills on the test are required, doesn’t it make sense that 100% mastery is expected?  Allowing for nerves, misunderstood questions, and other test day events that could bring scores down, I can see reducing the expectation to 90%, but scores much lower than that start to say that the material has not actually been mastered.

At work, if I achieve 60% of the minimum expectations of my employer, I get fired. 

If a child has not mastered even the minimum skills required for his or her grade, should he or she be promoted to the next grade?  I propose a new policy – “Slow Child Left Behind”.  If you don’t make 90% on the basic skills test after a couple of tries, you get to remain in your current grade until you can pass the test.