Archive for October, 2008


I’ve seen a few interesting thoughts on education online recently. From Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, comes a fascinating idea:

You could take any tiny portion of the house project and make it an exercise in critical thinking. I can imagine a school curriculum organized around building an imaginary house, advancing from first grade through high school. Kids could learn all sorts of useful skills, from budgeting (math), to calculating loads (science), to learning how couples can decide on the fixtures and furniture. Your geography course could be based on deciding what country to build your house in. Geology would be oriented toward deciding what type of land to build on. Art class would involve interior design and architecture, with a semester on how to identify good art for the walls. Biology would involve understanding your own future garden and plants. Evolution would involve learning why your family dog walks on four legs and you walk on two.

I love this idea. I think that education suffers from a few pitfalls:

1. Many people think of it as an end in itself – it isn’t, education teaches skills which people must then use somehow.

2. Many people do not understand why they need to learn certain things.

3. Many people do not understand quite how difficult and rewarding a good construction project can be.

A curriculum designed around building a house would solve all these problems; you could even expand it to include the economics of choosing a site, geology of the ground (the possibilities are endless!).


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Dogs, Babies

Recently a very good friend of mine said that he had realized that small babies and dogs seemed to take a liking to him.

That’s interesting. Are they responding to the same thing. And if so, what?

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After Dark Film Festival

We went to the After Dark Film Festival tonight for a screening of a short film that Mary co-stars in, called Ending the Eternal. It was pretty exciting to see her on the big screen and she held up really well!

I indulged a bit of cultural voyerism – it was too easy to point out all the pale, scruffy dark-clothed young nerds queing up for a horror film festival at a grunge cinema. I think I finally understand the horror ‘thing’ to be an extension (origin) of the sci-fi fantasy genre. Same people, anyway; I remember them well.

The theatre was packed and, from what I saw, the films looked really good (though I’m sure that I’ll never have the opportunity to see a single one). It’s amazing that there are probably hundreds of movies made every year that are more than worth our time but get zero circulation while maybe 50% of the movies in the theatre are complete crap. It’s also amazing to think that for every one of those flops someone’s career must get destroyed (for losing millions) yet they are replaced with yet another moron churning out crap.

Anyway, after meeting up with the director and main star of the Mary’s short, we took a seat, watched it get a great response from the crowd and snuck out before the feature.

It was fun and I’m proud of her!

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So we (I) recently watched a docu-drama called Recount about the debacle in the 2000 US Federal election.

The film is predictably pro-Gore. For example, Gore staffers are played by the more famous actors and Bush staff are always dressed up in forbidding dark suits. In fact, there would be no story without the premise that a crime was comitted (it’s hardly exciting to tell the story of an election fairly won), so I’m happy the bais is so easily detected – if it weren’t, it could only mean I am manipulated far too easily.

The acting is good and Denins Leary gives a few memorably hilarious rants, but I think that there are also real lesssons to learn from the film:

1) partisanship is such a powerful psychological force it’s scary;

2) competition seems to be the only way to inspire people to try really hard at something;

3) governments are fabulously incompetant, even when given the most simple of tasks to accomplish (like: administer one-question, four-option multiple choice test and publish the result).


There’s a scene in the film where an angry mob comes incredibly close to rioting because ‘their’ side looks like it won the election and they will do anything they can do keep it that way. I can’t believe that so many people actually believed one or the other of the two candidates will have such a profound impact on their lives that traveling from all over the country to harrass intimidated bureaucrats is a worthwhile use of their time.

Instead, I think that partisanship is what whips them into a frenzy. By partisanship I mean people who commit to something and find that defending the decision becomes more important than whether that decision was right or wrong. These people will hang around people who have made the same decision, bond over how good a decision it was and ridicule those who made a different one. Suddenly, this decision becomes one of the cornerstones of a person’s identity. Scary.

Competition as a Motivator and Instructor

There are some bureaucrats in this film which don’t appear to be aligned with either side. Unfortunately for them, they find themselves in unwanted positions of responsibility and desperately look for someone to tell them what to do. They are not confident or motivated. I would argue that this is because the competition they had to win to get their job had nothing to do with the job itself, running elections, which is as safe a monopoly as they come.

Confidence comes from accomplishment, which comes from ambition, which is a mechanism of motivation. All of the political operatives know that their lives will change if they win and use politics, the tool of their competition, to do so.

Incompetence of Governments

Government jobs are “good jobs”. I assume that by this people mean two things: 1. the jobs are difficult to lose; and, 2. the jobs pay well. Now, since governments aren’t competing against anything (domestically), the only incentive they have for excellence is altruism. Hopefully that reads as silly as it sounds in my head.

The problem in the movie is that the voting cards are very poorly designed. Early on a government worker explains why the design of the voting machine cards is so bad (because she chose to use a larger font, she had to arrange the candidates on the card in a confusing manner). A stupid decision was made because the government doesn’t have a culture of competence, which requires reviewing important decisions and punishing INcompetence. The government doesn’t have a culture of competence because creating one is painful – why would you do something painful if you don’t have to?

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