Friday, August 29, 2008

Measuring Progress

The world of quantum physics is really bizarre. Some of the things that our world does on this microscopic level just don’t make sense to our brains that have evolved to survive in our world of medium sized objects like trees, dogs and automobiles. On the quantum level there is one particular thing really intrigues me. It appears that the very act of measuring some things changes them. It’s quite the paradox that when you try to measure the quantum state of some particles the quantum state changes as soon as you’ve measured it. So you can technically only know what the state of that particle was at the time you measured it but It’s likely something different now that you’ve measures it. The analogy isn’t perfect by any means but a macroscopic example of this would be something like a speedometer on a car. Even a perfect speedometer has a little bit of friction. That friction would tend to slow down the car just a little. How ironic that the very act of trying to measure a car’s top speed would be impeded by the very process of measuring that speed.

So why did I bring this up today? Well you see last night I went to a curriculum night for my son’s middle school. In our world of strict state and federal over-involvement when it comes to the school system the concept of measuring a student’s progress has taken on a life of its own. And the “No Child Left Behind” program has made that even worse. At our curriculum night every single one of my son’s teachers expressed thinly veiled contempt at the sheer volume of government mandated testing that is required this year. They all hinted at the fact that there were so many tests scheduled that they didn’t even have time to teach the kids that material. Just like measuring the quantum state of a photon or the top speed of a car, it appears that we can’t accurately determine the performance of a public school student without adversely affecting the very education being tested.

Earlier this week I listened to a podcast that stressed the necessity of unstructured play in the lives of children. The doctor doing these studies found that during these unstructured play times is when kids learn compassion, empathy, irony, flexibility and forgiveness. I’m concerned that in our effort to measure and quantify our children’s ability in algebra, history, science and literature that we are crippling their learning of other, ultimately much more important concepts.


Thursday, August 28, 2008


This Sunday they released me as Scoutmaster for troop 519 and called Bill Tayler to take my spot. They didn’t kick me out of the program all together though. I’ve been asked to serve as Committee Chairman for the troop. I’ve got some mixed emotions about the changes. First of all I think I’ll enjoy being committee chairman. It’ll give me a chance to work on my Woodbadge ticket from a slightly different perspective than I’d originally planned. I also know that a fully functioning committee can really take the boys’ plans and turn them into reality. I’m looking forward to doing just that.

On the other side I will miss dealing directly with the boys. I’ve been working with this same group of young men since they were all about eight and I was their primary teacher, then their Cubmaster and then later on when I was their Assistant Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster. It’ll feel kinda different just working with the leaders than the boys. Don’t get me wrong I’m still going to invite myself on plenty of campouts. It’ll actually be nice to go out and just enjoy the campout and let somebody else stress the details.

As I was growing up and my folks were pretty active in scouting I noticed a large group of leaders who seemed to be just in the program for the adult camaraderie. They went to roundtables and training sessions to hang out with the other adults. It was their own little cliché. I kinda felt like they were missing the point. All the training and support mean little if they don’t actually apply it to the programs and ultimately the boys. I made a promise to myself that I’d never forget what Scouting was all about and I’d strive to stay as close to the boys as I could. My job as committee chair now takes me a step further up the ladder than I’d have chosen, but I’m still close enough to really make a measurable difference in the lives of these guys.

We had our first committee meeting last night with me as chairman. I was pleasantly surprised by the participation. We had about ten parents and leaders there and I feel like we got off to a good start. As I was writing my Woodbadge ticket I noticed that it would be really easy to become one of those who became too separated from the boys. I made a conscious effort to word my ticket in such a way that I was only doing things that I felt would directly improve the quality of the program for the boys.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


My Grandmother used to say “sugar” all the time when she wasn’t referring to anything sweet. I remember years ago my dad having a conversation with me about how he’d rather I just say what I was really feeling instead of substituting another word for it. He went on to stress that ideally he’d rather I didn’t even think like that.

I have this same battle with some of my boy scouts. Just like Denae’s use of “piffle” they have created quite a few cuss word substitutes that I find as offensive as the words they are replacing, especially when they preserve the same starting sound and inflection that Granny had with her “sugar”.

Just finding substitute words doesn’t fix the problem. It just mildly camouflages it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Busy busy busy cont..

It's been another very busy week. Friday after work I grabbed the scouts and headed off for a weekend canoe trip. We just camped locally at troop 129's scout hut in Tucker. It was nice to just go somewhere really close and not have to drive for two hours and then set up camp in the dark. I practiced my guitar while the guys all played capture the flag.
Saturday morning We broke camp and headed for the 'Hooch, AKA the Chattahoochee River that runs through Atlanta. After a little bit of car shuffling to make sure we had a way back home we put in at Johnson Ferry Landing. For the first mile or so the river was pretty much flat-water. I think it bored some of the guys but I think they needed the flat-water time to practice for what was coming up.
After we crossed under I-285 the river got a little bumpier. I was probably not even class 2 rapids but with the complete novices I had it turned out to be more than a little adventuresome. Just about everybody capsized, including me. Another boat broadsided us during a rapid and pushed our gunwale underwater. Everybody made it back just fine and had some great stories to tell of the trip.
I was very disappointed in how dirty the river has gotten since the last time I canoed it. It wasn't so much the garbage and junk, that's actually improved lately, but the goose droppings just everywhere. It was disgusting. I'll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say there was goose crap everywhere. I wonder if this is what the DNR envisioned when they thought it would be a good idea to introduce a non-native species to Georgia.

Sunday I got a little surprise from our High Council representative that was quickly followed by a talk with the Bishopric. I can't reveal any specifics just yet but there are gonna be a few changes in the next week or so.
After church I had to run down to the Varsity for our last patrol meeting before the weekends Woodbadge course. I was already a little behind in what I had to do to prepare and not with the news of what the Bishopric told me I had to spend the rest of the day on Sunday re-writing my ticket. We spent the rest of the day Sunday just hanging out at Jim and Sue's watching the Olympics.

Monday wasn't too bad at work. I got quite a bit accomplished and the phone didn't seem to ring too much. After work Victoria and I had to run to a PTA/curriculum night at the elementary school.

It's my lunch hour now on Tuesday and I'm just going over the list of stuff that I have to finish before I leave on Friday morning and I'm a little bit overwhelmed. In addition to still having a scout activity tonight and Wednesday night I have to prepare a display on the Heimlich Maneuver, pack my pack, purchase all the food for my patrol and finish preparing my sermon for the interfaith service next Sunday. I know I'll make it somehow but I'm really looking forward to a nice long nap. I think I'll pencil it in for Sunday the 31st. That's probably the next time I can slot it in.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prove it!

Two good ol' boys from right here in Georgia have a Bigfoot in their freezer. I have a very simple rule when it comes to this type of claim. "Extraordinary proof requires extraordinary evidence." Let's see it. Let's MRI the whole thing. Let's work to preserve it for future study. etc. etc. That's what real scientists do with real evidence. Ten to one none of that happens here. In fact I'd be willing to bet that we never see any evidence at all and in a few weeks they will claim that their evidence was "stolen".
Hey I'd love to be proven wrong and I'll gladly eat crow when this is declared a new species. Until then I think that these two bozos have just taken a picture of a Bigfoot costume that they bought online. Doesn't that seem much more believable?


My 8 year old is from another planet. He's a full developed hyper-intelligent visitor from an M-class planet orbiting the star Deneb. Noah is pretending to be a human and for the most part he fools us. Occasionally his unearthly habits betray his alien ancestry. Sometimes it's his diet. He only eats chicken nuggets and ketchup. And he's deathly afraid of coming into contact with any earthling microbes.
The best part about living with Noah is that when he gets tired, angry or just lazy he forget to dumb down his conversations with us. Last week he told his sister, "I'm not talking to you again on this space-time continuum." Last night's Noahism took the cake. I'm not sure what prompted it but Victoria and I heard from the hall, "Back off! I've got a protractor and I'm not afraid to use it!"
I have no doubt that some day this little man will crack string theory and figure out how to control matter and energy at the quantum level. I'm just afraid he'll use his powers to create a secret underwater lair and plot for world domination.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Password Paradox

In our new fangled, hi-tech world it seems like we have to have passwords and usernames to do anything. Most websites will allow just about any username as long as nobody else has it. My favorite sites are the ones that just let you use your primary email as your username. Most sites are pretty open on passwords too. I don't think I've ever had a website tell me I couldn't use a certain password. Add on top of that the fact that most browsers will store your passwords for you and it really makes surfing rather seamless in spite of having a couple hundred different logins and passwords.
No let's go to work. I start my day of by signing in with a username and password. My username is a randomly generate series of letters that was hard for me to remember at first. My password has to be in a very specific format. It must have a certain order of letters, numbers and special characters. Then on an average day I may access 15 different systems that each take a login and password. IT has disabled the password keeper function on the browsers so that allowing the browser to auto populate it is not an option. So, I have to remember all 15 different logins and passwords. Now the format requirements are different for each system. Some require a certain length; others don't. Some require a letters numbers and specials, others don't. Some even have a certain orders, like so many alphas followed by so many numbers, etc.
As if having to remember all of these usernames and passwords wasn't enough the passwords expire. Some expire every month, some every 8 weeks and some expire whenever IT decides to make them expire even if you've just reset it two days ago. When the expire the good systems will let you logon one last time as send to to a reset password screen. Others will just expire an you have to call tech support to reset them. Tech support got tired of handling all of these calls so they created a password reset website. Guess what? You got it, it requires a password. And then once you log on it still doesn't allow you to change the passwords for some of the systems.
Last year my company was purchased by another big ol' company. We had to start learning about all of the new systems that they were using. We were bracing for the fact that we'd have to learn all new systems at the same time we were still waiting for them to phase out the others. We were prepared for our password and logins to double. But that's not what happened. You see the new company had previously acquired another large company out west. And in the process it had already adopted all of its systems and hadn't yet completed phasing out the redundant ones. So when they acquired our company rather than doubling the number of logins it has almost tripled.
The complexity has also gotten really bizarre. One password requires a a very specific combination of capital letters, lowercase, specials, and numbers. It has to be a certain length and the first and last digits must be capitals. This is also the one that requires you to change it the most frequently. So as soon as I get this weird sequence memorized I have to pick something else.
At last count I have 32 different codes that I use pretty much every day in order to do my job. Here is the paradox. The only way I can remember them all is to write them down. I find this incredibly ironic that all of these steps to make the passwords safe may actually make the systems more vulnerable. It doesn't matter how bulletproof the systems are anymore. All you have to do is figure out where they're written down any "viola" you can log onto the school computer and change Alli Sheedy's chemistry grade. We've made all these systems impervious to hi-tech snooping around, but made them much more vulnerable to low-tech snooping. It seems to me that it'd make a lot more sense to make the systems just a little simpler so that we didn't have to write them down.
Incidentally, if anybody were to ever find where I wrote down all of my passwords you wouldn't be able to read it. You see, it's protected by a password.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fallen Arches

I was saddened by the news today that Wall Arch had fallen. We're National Park groupies and Arches National Park is one of my favorites. Although these elegant structures take millions of years to form their death can happen in a few seconds. Perhaps it is this fragile piece of frozen time in the form of stone that make these structures so beautiful.
The photo above is not of Wall Arch, although we did see it that day. If you ever get any excuse to visit this beautiful park please do. I've been there several times and it's never been very crowded. Even on a crowded summer day You can still find a quite spot for meditation amongst geology's wonders.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


I am sooo tired.
Friday morning after spending Thursday night at the Braves game I got up bright and early to crive down to Bert Adams Scout Reservation in Covington. I got down here right on time. As soon as I got out of the truck they had me moving and I this is the first chance I've had to slow down at all. Even though I've already been through Adult Leader Training, this has been like trying to drink from a fire hose.
We've been devided up into patrols and have been working together just like the scouts in our troops. It's a great teching methode to mirror the behavior that we're expecting of the boys.
Between the training, patrol meetings, meals, skills demonstrations etc, etc, there really hasn't been anytime at all. I volunteered to serve as a chaplan's aid on the first day. This took the only unscheduled hour of my weekend and created a meeting that I had to attend. The only reason I have this time to type this is because I've caught up with my course work, completed the first draft of my "ticket", and finished lunch a little early.
I'm a bear. I've always loved bears. In fact I have a carved bear on my desk at work. I'm not going to read anything too much into the patrol that I was assigned. Considering that peregrine falcon was not one of my choices I'm glad to be assigned as one of my favorite animals.
I considered bring my guitar but I'm glad I didn't. A patrol member of mine did and it's been a little bit of a distraction for him in getting his "ticket" work and other assignments completed.
The instruction has been really good, but the best training has been the one on one interactions with the troop guide for my patrol. Brent Allen has been able to give me some great coaching on how I can improve my troop and ultimately make my job as a Scoutmaster so much easier. Typically, a ticket is a list of goals that you'd like to accomplish; things that you'd like to do. I've noticed that my ticket has been shaping up to be finding ways for me to do less, by delegating, training and encouraging other to do the tasks that they're responsible for.
We should be wrappng up today around 6:00pm. I miss my family. I'm looking forward to seeing them again and giving them a big hug, hopping in the shower and taking a nap. They would probably prefer that I shower before the hug though.
Tomorrow is Six Flags. If I don't get any sleep tonight I'll just have the kids prop me up while I'm waiting in line for the rides.

Note: I have a few pictures of my weekend. We're been too busy for me to take a bunch. I'll update this post with the pictures once I get back home.