Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In Hospital

My mom (Crab-Granny #1) is in the hospital for a kidney stone. It is a gigantic thing (at one point, it was rumored to be 21 cm in size, but I pointed out that 2.1 cm would make a little more sense.... still pretty freaking big to be in your kidney!) Something went horribly wrong with it yesterday, and she ended up in the hospital. Today the are extracting the little beast.

Luckily, there is a winter storm over the entire northeast US, so my flight to DC was canceled last night. So, I thought I would have a nice day of work (bonus day!) As soon as I got home, Crab-Granny #1 calls, sounding like warmed over sh*t, and let me in on the news.

Today we crammed into the car and drove across the state to the hospital. There was some snow flying, but mostly it was settled. Except the cars weren't settled - there were tons of cars off the road, and on one section, they completely closed the expressway. We drove for a few miles down something the may have been a dirt road, but we couldn't tell because of the 6 inches of snow on the road. After about 4 hours we go there.

She just got out of surgery and is doing great (thanks for asking!) We haven't been able to see her yet, since she is in recovery, but we hear that she is up and dancing, or something like that. Hopefully she will feel better now that a chunk of rock was removed from her. We all feel better that she is safe and sound now.

I won't even mention the thoughts of .... that we could talk about right now. I will leave it on a happy note!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Personality Test

It seems like a few people have taken this personality test. So, I thought I would also. I am trying to relax at work a little bit, so, instead of working while sitting at my desk eating soup, I took this test. Here are the results:

Neuroticism (sometimes also called Emotional Instability) is the tendency to experience negative emotions such as sadness or anxiety. People who score high on neuroticism are vulnerable to stress and tend to experience negative feelings more often. People who score low in neuroticism tend to be less susceptible to stress, and experience negative feelings relatively infrequently.

You scored 38 out of 50. This score is higher than 90.1% of people who have taken this test.

So, that is why I am stressed out all of the time.... It's not me, it's my personality....

Extraversion (or Extroversion) is the tendency to experience positive emotions and seek out stimulating situations. People who score high on extraversion tend to be active, energetic, and enjoy being around other people. In contrast, people who score low on extraversion, known as introverts, tend to be quiet, low-key, and are typically less involved in the social world.

You scored 43 out of 50. This score is higher than 89.7% of people who have taken this test.

Is 89.7% an A- or a B+? I want at least an A- on this one. Anyone know where I can suck down 0.3% extracredit on extraversion?

Openness to experience
Openness to experience is a general tendency to appreciate emotion, adventure, and unusual ideas or experiences. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. People with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interests.

You scored 46 out of 50. This score is higher than 82.7% of people who have taken this test.

Hey, I am open to new experiences! Who knew? They obviously haven't read my blogs on travel and such! Or, gone out to eat with me. I will have the Sesame Chicken, please.

Conscientiousness is the tendency to show self-discipline and persistence. People who score high on conscientiousness tend to be persistent, responsible, and duty-driven, but are sometimes perceived as being overly perfectionistic and concerned with order. Individuals low on conscientiousness tend to show less persistence and may have trouble seeing things through.

You scored 36 out of 50. This score is higher than 58.6% of people who have taken this test.

I can tell you that my lack of care for order brought me down here. Oh, and my lack of persistence. And my lack of duty. Hmmm.... how did I score so high on this one? Oh, it must all be the guilt-driven responsibility that I feel all of the time!

Agreeableness is the tendency to be sympathetic and cooperative towards others. People who score high on agreeableness strive for social harmony and value getting along with others. Disagreeable people tend to be more suspicious and hostile towards others.

You scored 33 out of 50. This score is higher than 25.5% of people who have taken this test.

Wow! I am a total sh*t! You don't agree? Well, f*ck-*ff! I guess what gave it away was the question "Which do you prefer, Rage Against the Machine or Peace Loving Choir Boys?" What, me hostile?

Well, I hoped you enjoyed this little peak into my Crabby Soul. Now, get back to work!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Chile

The reason that I am in Chile is to participate in a meeting that I thought was going to be designed around some fundamental questions that I am really looking at. What I have found out, now that I am here, is that the meeting contains very little of what I want to study. There are many, many talks on things that I just don't care about. Typically, these types of meetings have lots of discussion also, but here it has been very truncated discussions in which nothing is really resolved.

So, I would have to say that this meeting is a very large disappointment. Another disappointment is the fact that we are meeting from 9 AM until 7 PM. We then go out for dinner and don't get back until about 11:30 - 12:00. There is absolutely no free time or time to breathe here. Yesterday was nice since we had an excursion to a valley a bit from here to go wine tasting. I know that most of you would be ecstatic to go wine tasting in Chile. It was a lot of fun (sans the wine), but it would have been much more fun if we had gone into the mountains and gone hiking or something like that. Oh well.

What is he point? I flew for 14 hours to get here and will fly over 14 hours to get home. Everyone thought I should go to experience Chile. And here I am in Chile, but trapped in meetings all the time. I can't really experience Chile.

Here is a question - should the meetings get better and better the further you have to travel, or should they get worse and worse, since you are traveling to someplace exotic? I feel like they should get better and better, since you have to devote so much of your time in getting there and back. I don't think that many people feel this way, though.

So, tonight I have to go to the banquet (which starts at 9 PM - when will it end? Who knows.) I chair a session at 9 AM tomorrow. The conference ends at 6:30 tomorrow night, and we head back to the airport to jump on a plane at about 10:20 PM. Fly for about 10 hours, sit in an Atlanta for 4 hours, then 2.5 hours back home. I really, really hope that the sessions are good tomorrow....

Perhaps I am becoming Eeyore.

Wow, is that depressing. Ok, here are some good things about this trip - I got to talk to a number of people who I haven't talked to in a long time. I think that I am much better friends with these people now. This evening I went out and read my book for 45 minutes on the beach, while tons and tons of people played in the water and worked on their tans. I think that I understand Spanish a tiny bit more than I did one week ago. I ate a mushroom pastry thing without knowing what it was going to be. I finished it and didn't die. I moved / removed over 2000 e-mail messages from my in-boxes. I learned that Vina del Mar has a climate very very similar to LA. It is a desert here, which is pretty. I learned that in Chile, dogs just roam around freely. There are tons of stray dogs.

Ok, I have to go.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Homeschooling - Part II (On Airplane)

Here I am on an airplane. It is 1:22 AM, and I should be sleeping. But I can't. Where am I going? To Chile! Am I excited to go? No. I, once again, am on a trip that I don't want to be on. While I imagine that Chile is going to be a great place, I would rather be at home with my wife and kids.

Did I ever mention that I am a man of routine? I really do fear change. I hate the fact that I am not going to know where to get breakfast, or even what I can eat for breakfast. I, just like my daughter, am a very picky eater. I have a very hard time adjusting to new food and such. So, travel for me is not very pleasant. Especially to exotic places in which the culture is very different than ours. Like Chile. Or Alaska.

Ok, so I can't be at home.

Back to homeschooling.

Actually, before we get back to homeschooling, let's discuss happiness. This is an issue that I struggle with all of the time. What makes you happy? What makes you content? We have already established that it is not travel for me. I would have to say, as all of you know, that I am not the most happy and content person in the world. Why is that? What made me not content? What made my insatiable drive that won't allow me to be satisfied with mediocrity? I feel like this drive is what keeps me from being happy.

I think that my wife has the same type of drive also, but it is slightly different. She wants the best of everything. She can not be happy unless everything is just right, or, more precisely, some, very specific, things are just right. And those very specific things can alter from day to day. Now, that was just poking fun, but there are some constants in this. School is one of those constants that she has to have just right. Or at least, firmly under her control. This makes her happy. Having the kids in public school, or an uncontrolled environment, where bad things can happen, makes her miserable. Which, in turn, makes me miserable. And the kids miserable.

Ok, I think I dialed the telescope up a little too much there. Lets go back to the forest. The happiness forest, if it pleases you.

What makes a person happy? Can we, as parents, predict what will make our children happy? Or, more importantly, what will make them happy adults? I find that I have a hard time just wrapping my brain around this issues, since I don't know what would even make me happy.

Does having a good job make you happy? Obviously, finding a good partner helps. How can we prepare our kids to find what they truly desire? And, if they find it, will it really be what they want?

Crab-Mama has read many books about this that say that we, as a society, tend to put our children into situations in which they are not adequately prepared to handle. Kids, obviously, handle it in some way. Crab-Mama believes that the way that kids handle it is to lash out at other kids and tear each other down. Which creates a self-perpetuating chain of badness. This, in her eyes, is school. She believes that children should be sheltered for as long as they can. They should be allowed to be children until they are ready to be more. Instead of other children deciding that our children should be one way or another, then attempting to inflict this view on them, she believes that we should be the ones guiding them.

And how can you really argue with this? "No, you should put your kids in school where we know that there is a lot of negative peer pressure, and that they will obviously have some very bad experiences." That argument doesn't fly very far.

The other, extremely obvious argument against this is thought is that school is what everyone does. That is what our society does. That is who we are. And not doing it is, in many respects, spitting on a lot of people. School was good enough for me. It is good enough for everyone else's kids. Why is it not good enough for our kids? Why can't we just fit in like everyone else?

Those are really the fundamental questions that I grapple with all of the time. Those are the arguments that I have used, and they appear to have no weight what-so-ever. Why? Because some people (and they, once again, know who they are) don't care what everyone else thinks (at least about this - but about dirty toilets, then is all "clean the toilets - do you want people to think that we are heathens?").

I must say that I don't buy this argument at all. I firmly believe that we are a community of people. That one of the intrinsic things that we have to learn as children and adults, is how to get along with others. That, while bad things happen to people all of the time, good things happen too. While school has a large number of drawbacks, it has a lot of very good points also. School is a lot like life in that regards.

So, now I am rambling on a bit. Fighting both sides of the argument. Sorry. I am a little groggy.

Let me summarize.

I never considered homeschooling until Crab-Mama talked about it. It never even entered my brain. Sort of like living in Texas. But that is another story. Once we talked and talked and talked and talked about it, I could clearly see that there were many advantages and a few disadvantages to homeschooling. When we homeschooled Crab-Girl for the first 9 years of her life, we did a very good job. She is an incredibly intelligent little girl, who, when she started school, was above average in all of her Michigan Assessment test scores except for writing (she likes to type). This tells me that we were doing a lot of things right. She is still above average. Crab-Boy's first year of school was a miserable failure. This year has been great. We worked with him almost every night on spelling and reading (i.e., augmenting school with homeschool...)

Do I want to homeschool? No. Why? I really don't know. The best argument that I can come up with is that I want them to be 'normal'. What ever the hell that means. I want that for my kids. The second argument is that homeschooling is a lot of work. There is a lot of effort involved. Especially when both parents have jobs (one who is working full time, one who is working part time).

Do I think that homeschool will hurt my kids at all? I don't think so. But, I don't know. I don't know whether controlling their environment will make it better or worse for them in the future. Who can know? Could you have looked at any kid in the 6th grade and tell whether they were going to be a happy adult? I have to say, our kids are pretty happy. They enjoy life. Which is more than I can say about me right this second (2:12 - still in the airplane...)

Alright, I have to try to sleep.....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homeschooling - Part I

As I sit here before I lecture for the day, I feel like I should use this time to write some thoughts on different subjects. Let's choose one at random..... hmmmm..... how about homeschooling?

I would imagine that putting all of my thoughts on this subject down is going to take a lot longer than the 25 minutes that I have left before class starts, so this will most likely be a multi-part event. A play in N acts, if you will.

First I should clarify what 'Homeschooling' means to people who reside in the Crab-Mansion. One of the main concepts in the idea is to immerse the kids in a learning environment in which they can freely explore the likes and dislikes. Before you jump and down and scream (you know who you are), let me continue....

I am on a committee in the College of Engineering about the curriculum. We are discussing such interesting topics as whether courses should be 3 or 4 credits and should we have a learn-by-doing type of curriculum - where a masters degree means that you have done a lot of practical hands-on type of work. During the last meeting we got into a discussion on why students learn. Do we just want to shove facts down their throat and have them vomit those facts out on a test, or do we want to teach them the fundamentals of how to learn, so they can find those facts out on their own. Should we teach them how to think or facts? How do you test students if you switch to this new idea? That is one of the fundamental problems with school in general is the assessment - how do assess how well a student is doing? We typically test them on facts, which means that we have to teach them those facts. Coming up with a test to see how they think is extremely difficult. Coming up with one in an environment in which everyone else is testing for facts just confuses them. That was an interesting conversation.

Another thing that came up in this meeting, during this conversation is that homeschool kids tend to do much better in classes than other student, and they exhibit a strong desire to learn, while other students are much more ambivalent towards the whole thing (i.e., school, homework, classes, etc.) Why is this? Simply because many homeschooling children learn to learn and end up loving the experience of understanding. Children who go to typical schools are taught to regurgitate facts and not to appreciate the facts that they are learning. The question of "why?" is almost pointless. It is the fact that this happened on October 4, 1957 (anyone???) and not why did it happen or how did it happen.

I should say that I am incredibly guilty of doing this right now. How do you teach in this way to 204 students (that's how many are signed up for my class right now - only 2 seats left in the auditorium!) It is extremely difficult. I am going to try a little more this semester. How? I have no idea. I really don't.

Now, face to face, or with a small class, it is relatively easy to do. You can lead students towards answers. You can teach them to look at things in certain ways. Do not just look for the answer, but look for why that occurs. This you can do with graduate students or with small classes. Or with homeschooling (the point!!)

Ok, to address some of the points from the 32 year old woman in the back row who has been jumping up and down.

Homeschool kids are freaks. I would say that this is probably true. I would also say that I was, and still am, a freak. I don't drink really. People are sort of weirded out by me. I don't hang out with many people. Even at meetings in which there are lots of social functions, I don't participate very much. I am well known in the field, but I am not well liked socially. I could say that this is because people don't take the time to get to know me, but truthfully, I don't enjoy the same things that many other people tend to like. Sports, drinking, etc. These are the basic backbone of our society. If you don't participate in those, then you are sort of a freak. I am firmly in that catagory. Does it trouble me that my kids don't fit either. Yes. It really does. It really, really does bother me. Do I think that I can change this? Will school change this? If you look at who Crab-Girl hung out with in school, it was other kids who people would consider freaks also. Just like I did in school.

Ok, on that note, I have to motor. Gotta go shove some facts down a bunch of students throats.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Matrix

I am watching the Matrix Reloaded.

I would have to say that the fight scenes and the chase scene with the ghost vampires are the best actions scenes ever made. Trinity on a motorcycle. That is some hot sh*t. Ok, chase scene is over, I can turn it off.

I was thinking that I really hate Tuesday Thursday classes, but not having to prep for class on Sunday night is glorious.

Today was a pretty sh*tty day. I don't really know why. It started out just fine. I actually was starting to do some filling in nail holes in the window trim (after 2 years), but was interrupted when Crab-Mama reported that the bunny had fallen over and couldn't get up. So, we had to take the bunny in to the Animal ER. About $200 later, we got some medicine that might or might not work. If bunny feels better in a week or so, then great! It worked! If not, then we have the "what happens when bunnies die" talk to Crab-Girl. That will pretty much suck.

Then to Target. Then to the bagel place. Then home.

The roads around our house pretty much suck *ss. We got about 10 inches of snow yesterday, and they still haven't plowed our roads. Which means that if you go off the tracks even a little, it is sort of hard to get back on track. If someone comes at you in the other direction, it is pretty much game over.

I haven't called my sister even though her birthday was 12 days ago. I am sorry!!!

Ok, here is the breaking news:

Crab-Mama pulled the kids out of school is going to start homeschooling again. Starting tomorrow.

I think that is enough for tonight...

Monday, January 5, 2009


Last week we lost power for about 36 hours. That is not too much time, right? Except we don't have any way to produce heat or water without electricity. During the night it dropped down to about 20 degrees, but during the day it got up to be pretty warm. The house cooled down only about 7 or 8 degrees over the 36 hours, which is pretty good. We started at about 62 degrees, so it was getting a little nippy....

Every time we lose power, Crab-Mama and I talk about how to have power when we have none. Our neighbors have generators and propane, while we have candles and blankets. We probably pay significantly less for heating our house than they do, but, when the lights go out, they laugh last (b*stards!) So, should we get a freaking generator? We could do it in a cheap-*ss way by buying a portable generator and running extension cords all over the place.

Option 2 - we really want to go solar, but that is an astronomical amount of cash. Which we really don't have. But, the government is giving a 30% tax rebate for installing a solar system this year. So, that is like a 30% off coupon (well, rebate...) When you are taking about spending 10-20 kilo-bucks on the system, 30% is a lot (enough?)

One of the problems with any of them is trying to figure out how much power we really need to run our geothermal unit. When the radiant floor heating is working and it isn't too cold outside, it doesn't use too much power. When the blower comes on and it demands more heat, the "booster" comes on, which is a 220 V 40 Amp draw. Now, that is an *ss-load of power. So, it is clear that we can't heat with the "booster" when we have solar power. But maybe we can do the radiant.

Can we cook? Get hot water? Watch a movie? Have a reading light? And heat the house? Hmmm, all it takes is more money. Mo Money. Mo Money.

Another option is to go with a solar hot water heater. This could heat up both our hot water and our radiant, and would take all of the heating load off the electricity. We would then turn off the blower and heat with radiant only, using solar photovoltaic to run pumps and reading lights and other stuff. That would save us a huge amount of cash, but would be more complicated, since we would have to run both electricity and plumbing out to the roof and yard.

Anyone have a windmill?