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TeachYourChildToTypeThisSummer 08 Jul 2005 - 19:15 CatherineJohnson

Carolyn mentioned that she wants Ben to learn to touch-type this summer.

Turns out it's easy to teach touch typing; you don't need a book or a software program.

Just use highliters to color in this chart, show your child where to put his fingers on the keyboard, and have him type the alphabet.

And that's it. He doesn't need to type anything other than the alphabet.


Here's a small version of the color chart you'll make.


A large version of this color chart is here.

I picked up this tip yesterday from Faye Gordon, business teacher for BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) here in New York state. BOCES handles vocational training, quite a lot of adult ed, and special ed.

Faye runs the Office Skills class, where she teaches her students to type using this method.

She happened onto it when she graduated from college and applied for a job that required typing. She was rusty, and typed only a slow 60 wpm on the test.

So she went home and practiced typing the alphabet for the next two weeks. She didn't practice all day long, just a few times each day. Always the alphabet. No text.

When she went back for a second test she typed 80 wpm.

All of her students learn to touch type using only the alphabet.

A couple of years ago Faye saw a headline on Consumer Reports for an article on how to improve your typing speed.

She bought the magazine, and it turned out their big advice was to type the alphabet.

"I could have written the article myself," she said.

+ + +


The whole time I was growing up, my dad kept telling my sisters and me, 'Learn to type so you can support yourself in case anything happens to your husband.'

I probably type about 110 wpm.

update 2

Barry G just left this comment & I had to pull it up front:

My mom told me the same thing. In fact, she said learn to type and I'll buy you a typewriter for graduation (from high school; this was in the days when not every kid automatically got a car). So I learned to type and she bought me an Olympia typewriter which I still have. The first job I got out of college was at the U.S. EPA, as a typist. (Jobs were scarce then). They realized I was good at other things besides typing so I made my way up the ladder. Yes, I work at USEPA now, but I had a stint in the private sector for a while. Not as a typist though. But I do think better at a keyboard than writing longhand. I recommend touch typing for all.

I love it!

update 3

I just showed Ed Barry's post, and he said his mom did the same thing.

She told him if he learned to type, she would get him a typewriter for high school graduation.

He did, and she did.

She got him a Smith Corona portable electric typewriter that lasted all the way until we got our first KayPro back in whatever year that was.

He wrote his dissertation on the Smith Corona.


SummerSupplementTimePart4 (resources for kids who have fallen behind)
SummerSupplementTimePart5 (resources for preventing summer regression)


EarthboxDay 21 Nov 2005 - 04:14 CatherineJohnson

Since it's my birthday, and since I get to do what I want on my birthday, more or less, and since I DON'T HAVE A CAT TO BLOG ABOUT, I am choosing to blog about EarthBoxes.

EarthBoxes are even better than Russian Math

To prove this to KTM readers, I am going to enlist Christopher in a measuring task.


Not a task!

An investigation!




OK, now we have resistance and rudeness.


'Not today!'

'Then I'm not doing a lesson!'

Funny how the kids in the Math TRAILBLAZERS PLAYLETS never seem to react this way when a grownup suggests that they collect data in order to solve a problem.

Alright, while the moaning and groaning continues in the background, I will locate:

  • a ruler

  • a tape measure


Question. Why do we never, ever, ever put rulers away in this house?


Rulers located.

Anyone care to lay odds on whether the tape measure is living in its designated spot in the kitchen junk drawer?


Yes. Tape measure in its designated spot, along with, apparently, every other smaller-than-8-inch item we have acquired in the past 12 months or however long it's been since the last time I went on a junk-drawer cleaning jag.

Time to start tossing.

Now Christopher is eating lunch.

At 2:31 pm.

So it's looking good for the Bad Mother of the Month Award in July, too!

Back shortly.

In the meantime, this is an EarthBox.


EarthBox Investigation

Christopher and I used a ruler to measure the basil plant planted in the ground, and a tape measure to measure the basil plant planted in our EarthBox.

The two plants came from the same nursery, on the same day, and were the same size when we planted them. The EarthBox is directly next to the patch of earth where the other basil plant is planted, and the two plants get the same amount of sun, rain, etc.

The basil plant in the earth is scrawny, not too healthy looking, and stands 10 1/2" tall.

The basil plant in the EarthBox is a bush.

It is 14 1/2" inches tall, and is so huge and fleshed out that Ed is going to cut it back because he's afraid it's blocking the sun for the green bean plants that are also growing in the same EarthBox.

Not that the green bean plants look like they need any help. They're bushes, too.

The tomato plants in the tomato EarthBox look like the stalk in Jack and the Beanstalk, and we've got corn stalks barrelling up-up-up out of yet another.

I just ordered more EarthBoxes.

Here is a web site that tells you how to make a homemade EarthBox.

What I want to know now is how to duplicate the EarthBox technology for indoor plants in small pots.


I was just cruising the EarthBox web site.

Here's a line from a satisfied customer:

"Quite a new wave of gardening. We are having so much fun with our 'MONSTER' tomato plants.”
Mary M. Forestdale, MO.

It's true.

Our EarthBox plants look like the kind of thing you see in those Fantastic Island—type movies, where the actors shipwreck on an Island Time Forgot and every living thing they find is 10 times bigger than it's supposed to be.

It's only July 1 and I'm already wondering how on earth I'm going to use all the basil I've got. (I'm pretty sure I remember where my gazpacho recipe is, so that's a plus.)

Oh wait.

Gazpacho takes fresh parsley.

Not basil.

So I have to find my pizza recipe.

It's probably in the same place we left the rulers.

Well, thank heavens we didn't grow cucumbers. There's another customer quoted on the site shown standing on a ladder next to a cucumber plant that's about 8 feet tall, maybe taller. He says that from June 20 to August 18 he picked 105 cucumbers. The biggest one was 16" long. That's just gross.

update July 24, 2005

Green bean plants kaput, basil plants victorious.

Green beans & basil don't mix?

SummerProgramUpdate (measurement skills)

EarthBox investigation with Christopher
adjustable reservoir for indoor plants
EarthBox reminder
self-watering pots and planters from Denmark

AmazonTurnsTen 08 Jul 2005 - 00:06 CatherineJohnson

Here's the 1995 web page.

TodayInEngland 12 Jul 2005 - 14:42 CatherineJohnson


NewGoogleFeature 11 Jul 2005 - 22:38 CarolynJohnston

I just came across a new and cool Google feature that's being tested: Google Print. (It's actually called Google Print Beta, which means it's passed its first series of tests and is now ready for use but not fully bug-free).

I encountered it in a search for a link to Liping Ma's book. It seems to function very much like Amazon's 'search inside this book' function.

Here's what Google has to say about it:

What is Google Print? Google's mission is to organize the world's information, but much of that information isn't yet online. Google Print aims to get it there by putting book content where you can find it most easily – right in your Google search results.

How does Google Print work? Just do a search on the Google Print homepage. When we find a book whose content contains a match for your search terms, we'll link to it in your search results. Click a book title and you'll see the page of the book that has your search terms, along with other information about the book and "Buy this Book" links to online bookstores (you can view the entirety of public domain books or, for books under copyright, just a few pages or in some cases, only the title’s bibliographic data and brief snippets). You can also search for more information within that specific book and find nearby libraries that have it.

You can view the first three pages of Liping Ma's book through Google Print, and get a feeling for it.

I personally have the feeling that Catherine's and my book budgets are doomed, doomed, doomed.

WidgetCountdown 11 Jul 2005 - 16:19 CatherineJohnson

At the moment, this household has only the F in FAPE, minus the APE (IMO).

That's not good.

Still, we have to count our blessings, because we do have the Battlestar Galactica Countdown widget.

four days, nine hours, 32 minutes, and 59 seconds until Season 2

BattlestarGalacticaRIP 18 Jul 2005 - 18:27 CatherineJohnson

So how bad was the LONG AWAITED season premiere of Battlestar Galactica?

Three words.


Ed and I were so disappointed we got in a fight about it.

Not a big fight.

More of a since I can't jump through the screen and throttle Ron Moore I guess I will have to argue with you about WHY the second season is so wretched kind of fight.

My position was: They've decided to turn it into WEST WING.

Ed's position was: That's ridiculous.

So I just now clicked on my Battlestar Galactica Countdown widget, which took me to the Galactica Panel at Comic-Con (Comic-Con?) where I read that:

Jamie Bamber (Apollo) describes BSG as “West Wing meets 24 meets Little House on the Prarie.”

Obviously my PHD IN FILM STUDIES was good for something. And may I just add that if I had to sit down and figure out exactly what kind of show I would pay money not to watch, West Wing meets 24 meets Little House on the Prairie would be it.


And from today's NYTIMES MAGAZINE: Ron Moore's Deep Space Journey

Just in case you want to read the last article that will ever be written about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA when it was still BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and not WEST WING.

There was a line towards the end that I liked:

He said he had gained some perspective on the cause that had taken up so much of his time. ''Looking back,'' he said, ''it's hard for me to believe I did what I did.'' He never intended to become so emotionally involved, he said. ''I just felt there's something powerful here. And I just found myself taking a series of small steps that turned into big steps.''

For some reason, this made me think of KITCHEN TABLE MATH.

I don't know why.

HowToStopABully 29 Jul 2005 - 16:55 CatherineJohnson

Carolyn and I were just chatting about Fred Frankel’s book Good Friends Are Hard to Find: Help Your Child Find, Make, and Keep Friends on one of the Comments threads.

I mentioned that we solved a fairly serious bullying problem Christopher had in 2nd grade in just two weeks, using Frankel’s book.

It struck me that the subject of bullying is so universal I should pull this comment up front in spite of the fact that it has nothing to do with maths.

Carolyn asked, specifically, whether Frankel’s book can be used with very high-functioning autism & Asperger kids.


Xtreme behaviorism in action

Fred Frankel says his book is not intended for kids with autism or Asperger syndrome.

But if my autistic kids were high-functioning, I'd sure give it a shot.

In his book, Frankel precisely breaks down exactly what kids do to make friends.

Exactly, down to the finest detail. It's Xtreme behaviorism.

For instance, he says that when kids approach other kids to play, they are rejected 30% of the time!

I don't know about you, but I find that observation incredibly useful.

Most adults think it's Bad When Kids Reject Each Other--and, from an adult perspective, it is. I certainly wouldn't reject 30% of the people who tried to talk to me at a party, and I would leave any party where 30% of the other guests refused to talk to me.

But Frankel says 30% is what kids do; it’s normal.

(caveat: I haven't fact-checked this figure, but I will.)

Then Frankel tells you what a kid should do when he is rejected, which is: he should accept his rejection and move on!

And that’s it!

There’s no You Can’t Say You Can’t Play!

I had just assumed you’re supposed to teach your child surefire social strategies to change the nasty rejecting child’s mind, but no.

That kid doesn’t want to play with you, and he’s not gonna want to play with you any time soon! So you're outta there!

I don't see how this observation wouldn't be helpful to the parent of a high-functioning child. If regular kids are getting rejected 30% of the time, and your kid is getting rejected 35% of the time....maybe he's not doing so bad.

[Hey! This does have to do with maths!]

Frankel also tells you almost word for word what your child should say and do in order to join a group of kids playing a game. (Hint: always join the losing side.) He scripts it out, and you can rehearse your child before he makes an attempt.

Frankel (and others whose work I’ve read) makes the point that we adults can't see children's social skills; we see their behavior through our adult filter. We don't perceive what it is socially skilled kids are doing, because children's social skills are different from grown-ups'. (I may be grafting something I read in another book onto Frankel....but if he didn't actually say this, he could have.)

Xtreme behaviorism & conceptual understanding

After I read his chapter on bullying, I had all the conceptual understanding I needed to solve the problem.

I knew that children who are bullied share two characteristics:

1. they cry easily, giving the bully bang for the buck
2. they are compliant to other children

Both of these things were true of Christopher.

We didn’t end up using Frankel’s script for anti-bullying, because our neighbor had a better idea. He taught Christopher ‘how to fight,’ which in Christopher’s case meant how to defend himself in a very loud voice accompanied by an equally loud glare & the all-important step forward.

There was also a whole dramatic Second Act Christopher was supposed to launch into if the bully dared to mouth off after he’d been Warned. It was basically Robert DeNiro for the 2nd grade. Christopher spent the afternoon running through the whole thing with the neighbor and his son, and then we rehearsed him at home.

So I didn’t use Frankel’s script, but I based everything I did do and had Christopher do on Frankel’s concepts.

They worked.

How to stop someone else's bully (aka transfer of learning)

When Christopher's friend was being bullied, I was stumped.

I knew he didn't cry easily, and I'd never seen him be compliant to other kids.

Then it hit me.

When other kids bullied him he ran.

Talk about bang for your buck. Number one, motion triggers everyone's 'prey chase drive;' and number two, chasing a running target is fun whether you're planning to kill and eat your prey when you catch him or not.

I told his mother: Tell him not to run.

I also told her that not only should he not run, he should make direct eye contact with the lead bully, and take a step forward.

His message: There are 5 of you and 1 of me, so you can stuff me in a garbage can if you want to.

But I'm not the only one coming out of this with bruises.

I don't know how much of that she told her son, but I know she gave him the basic thrust.

The bullying stopped so fast I almost had to jog her memory when I asked her how things were going two weeks later.

I haven’t read too many books in my life that let me solve a major problem in two weeks’ time, and then follow that up by solving someone else’s problem in 2 weeks’ time, too.

I’m a fan.



As the mom of an Asperger child who desperately wants to have friends, I found this book more helpful than any other. It describes -- step by step -- the powerful social dynamics needed to "infiltrate" the mysterious world of friendship. I would recommend this book to the parents of ANY child who had social issues, be they autism, LDA, or just a bit shy or a bit aggressive. A must have for every resource library as well.

update 2

Frankel is now part of UCLA's Center for Autism Research and Treatment, which was established after we left. (fyi, Ed used to be a history professor at UCLA, and I taught in the film department as an adjunct years and years ago. That's how we met.)

Dr. Frankel is the Principal Investigator on the current CART project, “Parent-Assisted Friendship Training in Autism,” which focuses on the friendships of high-functioning children with autism who are included in typical elementary school classrooms from grades. This study is based upon the Dr. Frankel’s published treatment manual Children’s Friendship Training (2002).


update 3

Interesting comments thread on bullying at

Xtreme behaviorism, teaching & scripts
comments thread on bullying at

NerdReport 24 Dec 2005 - 01:15 CatherineJohnson

Through my usual circuitous route (ktm to brightMystery to I stumbled onto a web site with a test for nerds.

My score: 50%

This is a Francis Galton moment (more on which later, or see BlookiHelpWanted & scroll down.)

I am always, in every single quiz, poll, or test I take, dead center.

And I mean…..DEAD……CENTER.

It simply never fails.

A couple of years ago I took a famous Are You A Republican Or a Democrat? test and found out I was Colin Powell.

Yes, I know Colin Powell works for the Republicans, but in this particular test he was DEAD CENTER.

I always tell Ed, and this is something he really enjoys hearing 5, 6, 10, or 20 times a month, Forget it, don’t even bother arguing with me about who's going to win the election, or whether BATTLESTAR GALACTICA just turned into WEST WING, for I Am Everywoman.

I am, too.

If I think or like or am keenly interested in X, that means everyone else is thinking or liking or keenly interested in X, too, or at least enough folks are thinking, liking or keenly interested in X that X is going to be everywhere you look until I stop thinking, liking, and/or being keenly interested in X and move on.

Still, even though I have an unbroken string of Dead Center scores on all manner of pop psych quizzes and tests, I did not expect to score Dead Center on a test for nerds.

But I did.

I am a nerd bellwether.

I am nerdier than 50% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

NerdReportPart2 20 Jul 2005 - 13:52 CatherineJohnson

Are you a nerd?

TheNerdCorner 20 Jul 2005 - 13:29 CatherineJohnson

is here

ImALittleTeapot 21 Jul 2005 - 17:59 CatherineJohnson


I'm a little slow off the dime today (I almost typed 'this morning,' which should give you some idea...) in spite of the fact that I put up the 'I feel determined' mood widget at 8:30.

In theory I am going to email the Chinese mathematician I mentioned in a comment on Carolyn's thread, AND post something from THE GEOGRAPHY OF THOUGHT, but first, how does this software work?

And what kind of mathematics is used to do what it does?

Artis image gallery

NerdWannabe 21 Jul 2005 - 20:39 CatherineJohnson

That's what has to say about Ed, who took the nerd test this morning.

I thought he was going to score way higher than me, seeing as how he's the one who does all the computer stuff around here. (I had a friend who worked in....graphic design, I think. Her husband was a computer guy at IBM. Every time she had a problem she called him, a practice her office mate called 1-800-DIAL-HONEY.)

So I thought Ed was the nerd. Boy, was I wrong.

This is making me think maybe I am a geek manque....

The funny thing is, I put down math as my favorite subject in high school.

Thinking back, I realized I didn't have a favorite subject. My classes weren't great, and as a matter of fact, the best classes, and the ones I enjoyed the most, were math.



That's wrong!

I just remembered: my favorite classes were language classes. Spanish, and then French.

That's a little geeky, too.

Actually, this gets into the whole issue of good teaching & a good curriculum. The best teaching & the best curricula I had through all 4 years of high school were in math & languages (and, come to think of it, in science). History & English were a joke, and nobody ever assigned any writing. When I got to college I didn't know what a 'paper' was.

My favorite subjects were the ones with the best teaching & textbooks.

I am nerdier than 29% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

ANerdInTheHouse 22 Jul 2005 - 23:58 CatherineJohnson

This is unbelievable.

Christian, who works with Jimmy & Andrew (and is a surrogate big brother to Christopher) just took the nerd test.

He got a 77:

23% scored higher (more nerdy), and
77% scored lower (less nerdy).

What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:

Mid-Level Nerd. Wow, it takes a lot of hard nerdy practice to reach this level.

My nerd stereotypes are now undergoing massive, rapid, cascading revision.

Christian is a 6'4" black guy from Yonkers who doesn't like math. A 6'4" good looking black guy from Yonkers, I might add, with dreadlocks. I think I speak for many when I say that, prior to 15 minutes ago, if you had asked me to close my eyes and Think of a Nerd, I would have seen a person who looked something more like this.

So now I'm stricken with guilt. Just why, exactly, was I thinking Christian would be less nerdy than I am? (nerd score: 50)

Apart from the fact that he doesn't like math, that is.

I should have seen it coming when he knew what 'cracked software' was. He explained it to Christopher & me, and we still don't know.

Of course, this provides a golden opportunity to climb back up on my Schools Aren't Doing Their Job and While We're on the Subject, What's With The Achievement Gap, Anyway? soapbox. Christian's schools sound dreadful, and I'm sure they were dreadful.

He also said his dad was great at math, and I'm sure Christian would have been great (or good), too, if he'd had half a chance. I've been threatening to sit him down and teach him math along with Christopher. What he's really interested in, though, are the Greek and Latin roots of words. So I should probably give him my copy of Vocabulary from Classical Roots by Norma Fifer & Nancy Flowers, since it's going to be a long time before I get back to the classical roots of vocabulary, if ever.

Gauss Shmauss

Tonight I showed Christian the Gauss-in-3rd-grade problem, which we both thought was pretty cool. But then we got all balled up because when we added the natural numbers 1 to 50, the answer we got (1275) was way less than the answer we got adding 1 thru 100 (5050). Apparently we both were thinking the sum should be half as big since we had half as many natural numbers to add....which is A) wrong and B) demoralizing.

I think number sense is a real thing (I say that because I get the sense some non-fuzzy types may feel number sense is yet another constructivist distraction, like collecting data & laying odds on getting a 6 when you roll a number cube). I sometimes wonder if my own number sense has budged an inch since I started all this.

I am nerdier than 77% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!


I just Googled 'nerd' again and looked at the 1st two pages.

40 nerd thumbnails:

Now I don't feel so bad.

update 2

sample pages (pdf file) from Vocabulary from Classical Roots

Gauss Story
Carl Friedrich Gauss (painting)

DrewAndMarcTakeTheNerdTest 24 Jul 2005 - 01:57 CatherineJohnson

Drew got:

94% scored higher (more nerdy), and
6% scored lower (less nerdy).

What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:

Definitely not nerdy, you are probably cool.

I am nerdier than 6% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Marc got:
97% scored higher (more nerdy), and
3% scored lower (less nerdy).

What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:

Definitely not nerdy, you are probably cool.

I am nerdier than 3% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

DiskSpaceProblemSolved 26 Jul 2005 - 17:07 CarolynJohnston

Some of you may have had trouble with posting or commenting in the last few hours -- the problem is solved.

We were out of disk space on our server!

XtremeBehaviorismTeachingAndScripts 29 Jul 2005 - 18:34 CatherineJohnson

I just found a wonderful comment after the post on bullying:

smart constructivism

I haven't looked at the book, but I find the concept interesting. I believe that it takes a special skill to remember your own child accurately, through the lens of childhood, and if you can remember it, then you can teach children anything.

You can teach them math or history or art or how to be polite or how to handle a bully.

Teaching is a puzzle. It's a puzzle where you must navigate backwards in a maze. A child is at point K, but they are supposed to be at point Z. If you just show them again how to go from A to Z, you are missing the point of how they got to K.

And usually, kids made a rational mistake: they misunderstood something, or misheard something, and this thing is embedded in their minds. It leads them (Rationally) to this bad position K.

Teaching is about figuring out how someone got into that position, so you can FIX that misunderstanding. It's not enough to tell them that K is the wrong place; you have to help them never follow that wrong path in the first place.

The best way to help kids learn is to remember the typical misconceptions YOU had as a child, and ones similar to it, to try and understand why they would think what they think. Then, you can see how they are really very smart--just misguided.

a child must feel like himself

re: the aspergers/high functioning autism stuff: this kind of description is very similar to what behavioral psychologists teach to help children with anxiety and attachment disorders. I personally believe that there is a high correlation between attachment disorders and what's called asperger's, but I caution people to refrain from just teaching these techniques to children.

The problem with just teaching this techniques is that you need your children to feel like themselves. That may sound silly, but it isn't helpful to teach your child how to act. You may want them to learn how to behave, but they need an emotional makeup capable of backing up the behavior.

For a short term case like a bully, maybe it doesn't matter so much, but in terms of making friends, you need your child to have an emotional makeup that feels these behaviors are natural. If not, the other children will recognize that the behavior is still off, and worse, the child can often feel that they are not capable of making friends by being themselves but have to act like someone else. That's a painful experience for a child, and can do a lot of damage in the long run. Be careful at behavioral solutions that make a child feel that their personality isn't acceptable.

joannejacobs comment thread on bullying

Interesting comments on bullying at

how to stop a bully
Comments thread on bullying at

AnotherFindForTheInstructivist 02 Aug 2005 - 22:28 CatherineJohnson

via the Instructivist, who, I learned from today's post, attended ed school himself, this list of the Ten Myths of Reading Instruction.

Research has revealed an extremely dangerous phenomenon that has been dubbed the "Matthew Effect." The term comes from the line in the Bible that essentially says that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That certainly describes what happens as children enter school and begin learning literacy skills. Over time, the gap between children who have well developed literacy skills and those who do not gets wider and wider. At the early grades, the "literacy gap" is relatively easy to cross, and with diagnostic, focused instruction, effective teachers can help children with poor literacy skills to become children with rich literacy skills. However, if literacy instruction needs are not met early, then the gap widens the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer until the gap gets so wide that bridging it requires extensive, intensive, expensive and frustrating remedial instruction. The gap reaches this nearly insurmountable point very early. Research has shown that if a child is not reading grade-appropriate materials by the time he or she is in the fourth grade, the odds of that child ever developing good reading skills are very slim. It is still possible, but it is much more difficult, and the child's own motivation becomes the biggest obstacle to success.
I'd put money on it that 4th grade is the make-or-break year for math, too.

And, on the importance of good teachers:

Myth #3
Reading programs are "successful." It is extremely common for schools to buy a reading program to address their reading instruction needs, and trust that the program will solve their school's literacy issues. Typically these programs require a great deal of commitment from the school, both in terms of time and money.

However, while reading programs can be "useful," no reading program has ever been shown to be truly "successful" .... And no reading program has been shown to accelerate all children to advanced levels of performance. There have been a few programs that have been shown to improve overall reading scores significantly (especially in low-performing schools), but that improvement is still a long way from what anybody should describe as "success." If 60% of the students in a school are performing unacceptably on the benchmark reading assessments, moving that number to 40% is an improvement, but it is still unsatisfactory.

Research has repeatedly indicated that the single most important variable in any reading program is the knowledge and skill of the teacher implementing the program, so why do we persist in trying to develop "teacher-proof" programs? Some would argue that it is our over-dependence on such reading programs that is preventing us from cultivating more knowledgeable and effective teachers. After all, if you want somebody to become a chef, you can't just hand that person a cookbook and tell him or her to follow a recipe.

I'm coming to the conclusion that not only do we sell our kids short, we sell our teachers short, too.


Why do I think Instructivist is a himself?

NobodyKnowsPhysicsEither 11 Aug 2005 - 21:11 CatherineJohnson

So today I'm sick.

I'm sick thanks to the 5 hours I spent sitting on United Airlines Flight 682 breathing recirculated air. Plenty of time to breathe and re-breathe ambient viral particles and really make them stick.

Speaking of 5-hour stints in the penalty box, I gather from the Chicago Tribune coverage of this event that not only does no one carrying a United States passport know Thing One about math, we're clueless on the subject of physics, too:

A wingtip-to-wingtip brush between two United Airlines planes waiting to take off from Chicago O'Hare International Airport on Monday frayed the nerves and patience of many of the 223 passengers aboard the two aircraft, but it injured no one.

OK, I don't know any physics, either....but I do know that two objects the size of an Airbus 320 cannot be said to brush.

No, indeed.

Two objects the size of an Airbus 320, when they come into contact, can only be said to collide. Especially when we are describing this event from the point of view of the tiny human passengers sitting inside.

(Of course, if we are describing the event from the point of view of official airline spokespeople, which apparently we are, that's different.)



Just as I suspected.

An object with small inertial mass changes its motion more readily, and an object with large inertial mass does so less readily.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

In the case of our wingtip-to-wingtip brush, my plane, the one sitting there in the penalty box minding its own business, was actually pushed sideways across the tarmac, causing most of us to believe, for a split-second, that we were crashing, just like the plane in Toronto! or even just like the plane that fell into Rockaway! My point being: if you're going to hit a stationary Airbus hard enough to move it sideways, we're not talking wingtip-to-wingtip brush. We're talking large inertial mass.

We're also talking scaring the bejesus out of the folks inside.

While we're on the subject of Media Inaccuracies, let me add that there were also no ensuing pleasantries from the flight crew, as this passage seems to suggest:

Passengers on Flight 682 had the benefit of soft drinks and a film that was in progress, as that flight had already been delayed for more than an hour.

OK, yes, we 'had' the 'benefit' of soft drinks and a film that was in progress, MONSTER IN LAW, starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda.

But all that was in the past. The film was ending when the other plane hit, the soft drinks were long gone, and the stewardess had refused to hand out pretzels until we were 'in the air.' I hadn't eaten since 9 AM that morning; it was now 3:00. Finally, around 5, a stewardess brought around some cups of juice. And that was it. There was so little interest displayed in our well-being or wishes—all of us wanted off the plane—that the guy next to me said they were probably going to give us a goodbye kick when we finally walked out the door.

The skies are not so friendly at United these days, I think.

MenAndWomenAndEconomists 13 Aug 2005 - 14:46 CatherineJohnson

An interesting paper on systematic differences of opinion between the public and experts by Bryan Caplan Sytematically Biased Beliefs about Economics (pdf file)

I have no Overriding Wisdom to share from my quick read, but I pulled some interesting factoids:

  • higher income increases your likelihood of thinking that real income has fallen over the past 20 years
  • high-income men think like more like economists than any other group
  • economists sytematically see corporate downsizing & foreign trade agreements as good; the public systematically disagrees
  • while men and women differ in opinion, blacks and whites do not
  • the differences between men and women are 'highly statistically significant,' but the size of the difference in opinion is small
  • men are more optimistic than women across the board, but women are more optimistic about the likelihood of a future rise in living standards
  • economists are 'slightly more left-leaning and likely to be Democrats or Independents than average'
  • I found this interesting: economists take more ideologically extreme positions than the public, regardless of whether the extreme is to the left or the right of center
  • education level is far more important than income in predicting a non-economist's beliefs (refer back to the first two points; when you factor education level into the analysis, I'm assuming that income level washes out on both of these)
  • in most cases, an optimism continuum exists, with the least educated being most pessimistic, highly educated non-economists being more optimistic, and economists being the most optimistic of all
  • in most cases, having more education makes a non-economist think more like an economist. However, when it comes to optimism about the future, the more educated you are, the more pessimistic. Economists and low-income non-economists both make rosier predictions for economic growth in the future than do highly educated non-economists.

The reason systematic bias is important is that economists have, for at least 100 years, wondered why economic policy is so.....wrong.

Specifically, democratic governments are continually putting tariffs in place to protect jobs. Economists are against this.

But the question of why the public supports various policies economists believe are against their interests ('outsourcing' is good for the economy, and thus good for citizens) is an ongoing mystery. Many economists believe that bad policies happen because special interests lobby for them, circumventing the democratic process.

Caplan says his data show that 'special interests' are not the explanation. Neither is self-interest or ideological bias on the part of economists.

The explanation is systematic bias on the part of the public. The public likes job protection policies and always has, it seems. As a people, we get the economic policy we want.

Here's his section on extreme beliefs amongst economists:

In Table 6, economists lean towards the rightist position in 13 cases, and the leftist position in 11, taking numerous extreme positions. Their beliefs are more liberal than the liberal ideologues’ 8 times out of 11, and more conservative than the conservative ideologues’ 13 times out of 13. For example, a politically independent, ideologically moderate economist is actually more prone to believe that high taxes are ‘not a problem’ than very liberal Democrats without economic training. …

At the same time, middle-of-the-road economists frequently go beyond the extremism of right-wing ideologues. Economists are less concerned about things like tax breaks for business, excessive profits, and overseas competition than very conservative Republicans. They also have more optimistic beliefs about the benefits of technological progress, downsizing, new jobs, and real income and wage growth. Thus there is a kernel of truth to ideological stereotypes about the economics profession: Views typical of extreme right-wing ideologues in the general public are often economists’ conventional wisdom. But this is primarily a reflection of economists’ general willingness to endorse immoderate conclusions, not their political leanings, which are in fact mildly left-wing.

LiveFromSeattle 22 Aug 2005 - 18:19 CarolynJohnston

We are on vacation in Seattle. It's dripping wet here; the humidity must be 150% (at least it's cool.. that's all I really asked for). If I spent long enough here, maybe I'd get rid of that premature leathery look we Coloradans tend to get, and I'd look young and dewy again. Actually, I'm looking pretty dewy right now.

I finished E. D. Hirsch's The Schools We Need, and Why We Don't Have Them. I'd like to give copies to everyone I know in education, including the people at Ben's middle school, whom I've hardly met, but I'm afraid that would probably mark me as a rather shrill person. Probably Catherine is right: The Principal's guide to Math Achievement might be a better gift.

More later; we have to Move House (actually, move hotel). Whale Watch is tomorrow.

BackInTheUS 23 Aug 2005 - 01:08 CarolynJohnston

Sorry to have been so scarce, and Catherine, thank you for all the heavy lifting while I've been gone! I've had only occasional access to the internet.

We're on vacation in the Pacific Northwest; we took a side trip up to Vancouver. I was expecting great things -- everyone says that Vancouver is wonderful. It is wonderful; the setting is lovely, with huge mountains rising out of the ocean. But the traffic is beyond awful (really unbelievable), most of the neighborhoods are pretty awful, and in the middle of the night on our first night there we had a very close encounter with Canadian socialized medicine (story to come). Now, as the boys say, they will have a really informed opinion in debates about socialized medicine.

We had our whale watch! We had about ten minutes out in the middle of the sound with some orcas (getting out there and back took up most of our tour time). They were playful and happy that day, too. But all the whale watch photos they take? They are done with very high-powered telescopic lenses. Generally whale watch boats stand away about a half mile from a pod. If you go, take a very good pair of binoculars.

In a Seattle used book store I picked up a copy of Study is Hard Work by Armstrong, recommended as generally the best book on how to study and read that is out there. Thumbs up on Seattle book stores and Seattle in general.

Back for good on Tuesday.

DanesBeatBraQuota 23 Aug 2005 - 13:44 CatherineJohnson

Danes beat bra quota but import crisis deepens

For Claus Walther Jensen, getting his hands on bras for Christmas is one of the most important aspects of running Change, a Danish lingerie chain.

That's why the director went so far as to borrow a helicopter yesterday morning to secure one of the last European Union import licenses for bras.

"We had 45,000 panties in Christmas colours but their 45,000 matching bras were trapped in a warehourse," said a relieved Mr. Walther Jensen after his helicopter dash. "Other companies are suffering. I've got my goods in but I don't want to win market share this way."

No one does droll like the Brits.

Actually, no one besides the Brits does droll at all.

I heartsimple.gif Denmark

After America, Denmark is my very favorite country in the world.

If I weren't from America, it would be my first favorite.

AvianFlu 25 Aug 2005 - 16:24 CatherineJohnson

So I was thinking bird flu was one of those Big Scary Inevitables; you know, the kind of Global World Catastrophe that is almost certain to be COMING, but is not actually HAPPENING right this minute.

I was comfortable with that. OK, sure, bird flu is COMING. Yes.

But I didn't have to, say, read a blog about it.

I need a vacation.

Of course, once I actually take a vacation--starting Saturday morning, first thing--I will need a vacation from the vacation.


Perusing the President's vacation reading list (hint: it includes John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History), I remembered that, for Christmas a couple of years back, Ed got me Gina Kolata's Flu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic.

Guess I'll take it along.

Department of Silver Lining

Not long after 9-11 & the subsequent anthrax attacks, I started reading up on smallpox. I got far enough along in this to ask a physician whether a transfusion of my own blood to my kids would also transfer my immunities (which, contrary to what we were widely told at the time, probably do still exist.)

Answer: yes.

I spent some time peppering my sister-in-law, a highly knowledgeable nurse practitioner, with questions.

'It's a hideous disease," she said, "but the good thing is, if we live, we'll all be as good-looking as Cindy Crawford. She'll be hideously scarred & so will we.'

Amazingly enough, I found the concept of emerging from a smallpox attack with Complete Equality of Looks somewhat mollifying.

update update

This has nothing to do with math.

RevvingForMiddleSchool 24 Aug 2005 - 18:28 CarolynJohnston

I went shopping for middle school supplies today after getting out of work. Here was my list:

4-function calculator (grr...)
ruler with inch and centimer markings (is there any other kind?)
lots of #2 pencils
red or blue or black pens
washable markers and colored pencils (italics mine)
highlighter pens
glue sticks
3 spiral-bound wide-ruled notebooks without perforations
1 wide-ruled 3-subject spiral-bound notebook
loose leaf wide-ruled paper
2 packs of 100 index cards
2 zipper pouches with 3 hole punches (why 2? I don't know)

I know at least one woman who drove herself half crazy earlier this summer trying to find wide-ruled spiral-bound notebooks without perforations. I walked right into Office Max today and found them in heaps on the floor, on sale for 49 cents each. That's what she gets for trying to get her shopping done ahead of time. I also got a great deal on 96 number 2 pencils in a cool box that velcros shut. I want to keep them myself, and I don't even use pencils.

I would estimate that in the end my haul came to about 20 pounds of school supplies. I know that I did not go off to 6th grade with 20 pounds of new school supplies, because I walked to school with them and I would remember that (nor did my parents spend 45 dollars on supplies, like I did). I'm wondering what Ben is supposed to do with them. Is he supposed to keep them all in his locker? Because if that's the case, we're doomed before we even leave the gate. Perhaps the second zipper pouch with 3 hole punches is for a poor kid in India.

I know I didn't get colored pencils and magic markers when I was a kid. I'm pretty sure I got one or the other.

I have so many questions. Is he really going to learn as much this year as 20 pounds of school supplies seem to imply? And what is a 6th-grader going to be highlighting, since the school gives him his textbooks?

And are they still doing the thing where kids keep all their notes on index cards, which inevitably get lost and/or out of order, when regular paper works just as well or better?

Did we ever decide what the very best guide for helping your kid get organized for middle and high school was? Because I need to know, right now.

the bottom line

Tomorrow morning is registration. Thursday morning, school starts.

MedicalCourts 25 Aug 2005 - 23:02 CatherineJohnson

In a comment, Bernie was saying that no one person can know everything, or even some small part of everything, leaving us no hope of jury duty in medical malpractice suits ever being anything other than a ludicrous farce. (OK, that isn't exactly what he said.)

Of course he's right, but the Wall Street Journal came up with The Answer in an op-ed today (probably subscription only):

The Texas jury that ruled the prescription drug Vioxx was responsible for the death of a 59-year-old jogger, Robert Ernst, may have been duped by a questionable scientific theory introduced by the plaintiff's attorney, Mark Lanier. The theoretical sequence of events concocted by him to link Vioxx to Ernst's death -- a blood clot leading to a heart attack and then to a fatal arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) -- was contrary to Ernst's autopsy. The pathologist who performed the autopsy had found no blood clot and no heart muscle damage from a heart attack when Ernst died: She had attributed the death to arrhythmia. Vioxx has been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in a clinical trial but no study has linked it to arrhythmia.

The jury's verdict shows that our system is failing to provide justice reliably in medical cases. The remedy? Specialized state medical courts, where judges stop lawyers and hired-gun witnesses (for the plaintiff or the defendant) from misleading juries with theories disguised as science, something Judge Ben Hardin failed to do in the Ernst case.

Before the trial began, according to the New York Times, Mr. Lanier knew that the autopsy was a problem, and he told his legal team that he was going to "browbeat" the pathologist into supporting his theory linking Vioxx to Ernst's death. ....

....the fundamental problem, in every state, is that juries drawn from the general population, as wonderful as they are in most cases, lack the expertise to decide medical questions accurately. They often fail. How often? Up to 80% of the time, according to the Harvard Medical Practice Study of litigation in New York state. Similar studies in Utah and Colorado show that verdicts against defendants in medical malpractice cases are seldom justified by evidence. The same lack of expertise hampers juries from reaching fair decisions in trials involving medical products. The results conflict with our commitment to justice and fail to provide fast, fair remedies to actual victims.

In state medical courts, the right to a jury trial, which is guaranteed in most state constitutions, would be preserved. The difference is that medical cases would be assigned to a few judges, who would hear similar cases again and again, recognize the same patterns of fact, and become expert at keeping "junk science" out of the courtroom. Judges would also be given training in scientific evidence and call neutral expert witnesses to help jurors assess conflicting testimony. In many states, this reform could be achieved administratively, without legislation. (New York, for example, has already established 170 specialized courts without legislation.)

I'm going to do my Early Adopter thing and sign on for this reform without reservation.

I think it's a Good Thing.

I think it would work.

I don't care what the unintended consequences are going to be.

Seriously, though, my years as a science writer tell me this is a great idea. When you write about a subject for a number of years, you develop 'writer expertise'; you become the kind of specialist this op-ed is talking about.

I've said before that I think what I developed from nonfiction writing is the metacognitive skill of knowing what I don't know.

But I also developed a pretty good b******t detector.


I just checked the author's name: Betsy McCaughey, former Lt. Governor of New York. As I recall, when we first moved to New York, Betsy McCaughey was considered a lightweight and a fruitcake.

So.....I'm just going to ignore that.

Good idea, Betsy McCaughey.

JapanPopulation 26 Aug 2005 - 13:45 CatherineJohnson

The WALL STREET JOURNAL comes up with all kinds of fun stuff in August:

China's age crisis is shared across Asia, particularly in Japan. Its population of 127.7 million is expected to fall to little more than 100 million by 2050, the study says, barring a rise in fertility rates or an influx of immigrants. Indeed, if fertility and mortality rates from 2001 continue, researchers say, Japan's population would drop to one person by the year 3300.

source: U.S. Birth Rates Remain High

StupiditySite 26 Aug 2005 - 16:12 CatherineJohnson

Yes, there is a web site.

GulfStatesDisaster 29 Aug 2005 - 17:26 CarolynJohnston

Looking at the news from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama is breaking my heart.

I went to grad school in Baton Rouge, and spent many happy times in New Orleans and the Gulf Shores region. I still have friends in New Orleans. They haven't been answering my phone calls for a couple of days, which is good, since it means they got out long before Katrina hit...

my thoughts are with the people and cities of the Gulf states, and I hope that this is as bad as it's going to get.

NewsFromNewOrleans 30 Aug 2005 - 21:41 CarolynJohnston

This is the disaster that New Orleans has always feared. From AP:

All day, rescuers were also seen using helicopters to drop lifelines to victims and pluck them from the roofs of homes cut off by floodwaters. The Coast Guard said it rescued some 1,200 people.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said hundreds, if not thousands, of people may still be stuck on roofs roofs and in attics, and so rescue boats were bypassing the dead.

"We're not even dealing with dead bodies," Nagin said. "They're just pushing them on the side."

National Guardsmen brought in people from outlying areas to New Orleans' Superdome in the backs of big 2 1/2-ton Army trucks. Louisiana's wildlife enforcement department also brought people in on the backs of their pickups. Some were wet, some were in wheelchairs, some were holding babies and nothing else.

Nevertheless, it was clear the death toll would rise sharply, with one survivor after another telling of friends and loved ones who floated off or disappeared as the floodwaters rose around them.

"I talked with paramedics that are on the scene and the devastation is so great that they won't quit counting (bodies) for a while," said Mark Williams, operations supervisor for an ambulance service along the Mississippi coast.

The whole story is here.

ParentsInfoNight 08 Sep 2005 - 20:02 CarolynJohnston

I attended a '6th grade parent's info night' at Ben's middle school tonight, in which the principal and the school counselor tried to fill us in on life in middle school, and answer our questions.

I learned a lot of interesting things in the course of the meeting. Here are a few:

  • Instant Messaging is the bane of everyone's existence but mine ("No parent has ever come up to me and said, 'IM has done wonderful things for my family'", the principal said). Also, cell-phone-based text and photo messaging are totally new and very effective technologies for cheating.

  • There is something kids do called 'Slam Books', an online phenomenon in which kids write awful things about each other and spread them via the internet (in fact, using Instant Messaging).

  • My town has the highest per capita rate of alcohol use by minors, among towns in a state with the highest per capita rate of alcohol use by minors. "By the eightth grade," the principal said, "if they're at a party, there's almost surely alcohol there somewhere. Either it's in the bushes, or out in the open."

  • 'Cutting' is a fad among teenaged girls these days (that means they are cutting themselves with sharp implements). I recall that some friends of mine did some cutting when I was in high school, before it was popular; I thought they were crazy.

And of course I had my own questions: about things like the line in the lunchroom, whether there would be a biking club, and when the gym clothes we ordered at registration would arrive.

It all reminded me of the time, maybe ten years ago, when my Dad called me and told me that some kids had been busted for running a drug ring in my old high school.

"You're kidding!" I said. "I don't think anyone was doing that when I was there! Or perhaps I was just out of it."

"Carolyn," he said, "you were out of it."

warning: drastic topic change

I really have enjoyed practically everything I've read by E.D. Hirsch (except, actually, for Cultural Literacy; I think he's right about its importance, but I didn't like the book). I came across this article, "Classroom Research and Cargo Cults", in which he teases out what is wrong with education research, and recommends using cognitive science instead as a more reliable guide to educational practice. It looks interesting.

parent info night for Carolyn
le rentree
research on middle & elemiddle schools
TIMSS & middle school scores
locker woes & locker instructions
all your children are belong to us
middle school math teacher blogs
Dan K on transition to middle school
Fordham debate on middle school in DC

BrainEvolution 09 Sep 2005 - 18:08 CatherineJohnson

I added a section on the ISAT rubric to the post on 'extended response' test items below, so if you're interested scroll down.

Also, a comment Carolyn made about wasting mental energy on a way-too-busy test item reminded me of a terrific Scientific American article from a few years back: Food for Thought: Dietary change was a driving force in human evolution

Here's the salient passage:

From a nutritional perspective, what is extraordinary about our large brain is how much energy it consumes-- roughly 16 times as much as muscle tissue per unit weight. Yet although humans have much bigger brains relative to body weight than do other primates (three times larger than expected), the total resting energy requirements of the human body are no greater than those of any other mammal of the same size. We therefore use a much greater share of our daily energy budget to feed our voracious brains. In fact, at rest brain metabolism accounts for a whopping 20 to 25 percent of an adult human's energy needs-- far more than the 8 to 10 percent observed in nonhuman primates, and more still than the 3 to 5 percent allotted to the brain by other mammals.

Since reading this I've been very aware of which kinds of activities waste children's mental energy (and my own) and which do not. Susan H has written about this, in a comment I'm going to send to Education Wonks (just reminded myself!)

Children don't have energy to squander on fruitless undertakings.

ShangriLa 11 Sep 2005 - 15:38 CatherineJohnson

Go read about the Shangri-La diet right now!

I have reason to believe it probably works as described, but there's no time to say why, because we are off to the U.S. Open!

Christopher, Jimmy, & I are going to drink some olive oil before we leave.


The Open was grand. So fun.

However, and this is a NOTE OF CAUTION, a soup spoon of olive oil, an empty stomach, and a long stop-and-go car trip to the Queens are a mistake.

Fat Politics

The Freakonomics web site & blog have all kinds of fun supporting material for the Shangri-La Diet. It's worth taking a look no matter what your weight, because the diet was created by a Berkeley psychologist who has spent a lifetime conducting experiments on himself. Not only has he lost 40 pounds & kept them off, he cured his insomnia and his depression to boot. Here's his paper:

Surprises from self-experimentation: Sleep, mood, and weight
Seth Roberts, University of California, Berkeley.

I'm especially looking forward to Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic by J. Eric Oliver, also linked to by the site:

In Fat Politics, Eric Oliver unearths the real story behind America's "obesity epidemic." Oliver shows how a handful of doctors, government bureaucrats, and health researchers, with financial backing from the drug and weight-loss industry, have campaigned to misclassify more than sixty million Americans as "overweight," to inflate the health risks of being fat, and to promote the idea that obesity is a killer disease. In reviewing the scientific evidence, Oliver shows there is little proof either that obesity causes so many diseases and deaths or that losing weight makes people any healthier. Our concern with obesity is fueled more by social prejudice, bureaucratic politics, and industry profit than by scientific fact.

Such misinformation, Oliver argues, is the true problem with obesity in America. By telling us we need to be thin, the proponents of the "obesity epidemic" are pushing millions of Americans towards dangerous surgeries, crash diets, and harmful diet drugs. Oliver goes on to examine the surprising reasons why we hate fatness and why we are gaining weight, and also the real threats to our health that are being displaced by our fat obsession.

I'm not even going to bother reserving judgment about the Shangri-La diet; I'm just going to dive in and believe Roberts' findings without reservation. Not to go out on a limb here, but I've always thought the whole Fat Police thing was a crock. Whenever you see every feature writer in America fervently agreeing on the horrors of X, the horrors of X invariably turn out to be cr**. Of course, that's my Scots-Irish talking.

If it's not Scottish, it's cr**!.

update update

Speaking of the Scots Irish, I hooted when I read Why don't the Irish like us? What have we ever done to them? at Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry.

(btw, Chase me ladies is one of my favorite blogs, but I haven't posted a link to it because I hope Kitchen Table Math will have kids reading Math Help pages soon, and Cavalry has lots of bad words and stuff about sex. So consider yourself warned.)

The Shangri-La Diet at Amazon
Seth Roberts website

Shangri La diet in freakonomics
Shangri La diet part 2
early adopter
diet, evolution of the brain, & McDonalds
Marginal Revolution on Shangri La
your own lying eyes
progress report 7-23-06
Jimmy 7-24-06
mind hacks & Shangri-La 7-26-06
7-29-06 update
my life and welcome to it - 8-6-06 - success
compare and contrast photo op 8-12-06
9-12-06 update
9-17-06 Jimmy is melting
10-4-2006 Dr. Erika's olive oil diet works, too


ElkSeason 20 Sep 2005 - 16:07 CarolynJohnston

Catherine's post on strangling baby deer reminded me; this is September, the season when the elk come into rut and take over Estes Park, Colorado.

Estes Park is a 45 minute drive from the Front Range, the mountain town gateway into the Rocky Mountain National Park. In early fall you can see elk at sunset in massive herds in the park, but you can also see them hanging out in people's backyards, and resting on the front lawn of Estes Park City Hall.

They are annoying -- they eat people's blueberries, obviously (if we could grow them in Colorado -- we can't -- but they eat people's tomatoes and zucchinis), and they poop on their lawns in massive quantities. But they are also huge and amazing and simply everywhere, and at least (unlike the deer) it's temporary.

Anybody want to come elk-watching? This next weekend is the time to go, and I'm determined to do it (it will also be the peak of the fall color in the mountains near here, and I do mean color, singular. The color is yellow). We'll have to stay out of the meadows where the elk hang out, though -- the males get very territorial.


OwlPurdueUniversityOnlineWritingLab 23 Sep 2005 - 20:27 CatherineJohnson

For future reference -

The OWL - Online Writing Lab - at Purdue University is a fantastic resource.

I'm posting the link on the Math Supplements page.

FunbrainMadLib 23 Sep 2005 - 23:12 CatherineJohnson

Carolyn suggested I try Christopher on some Mad Libs, to teach him the parts of speech.

I'd never heard of Mad Libs!

OK, that's not right.

I'd heard of Mad Libs. Didn't know what they were; especially didn't know they were fun things that could teach parts of speech. fyi, I am aware of the fact that I have just written two incomplete sentences joined by a semi-colon. It's a secret technique of mine.

Turns out Funbrain has extremely fun Mad Libs.


Here's an Eleanor Rigby Mad Lib.

The Grammar Bible

I've mentioned this book before, but I'll do it again: The Grammar Bible: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Grammar but Didn't Know Whom to Ask by Michael Strumpf is supposed to be the best book out there.

I heard about it from my editor at Holt, who said Strumpf ran a web site on grammar for years; grammar was his life. Copy editors all over New York would call him up on the phone to ask him how to edit sentences. Finally he wrote a book, and this is it.

I read the chapter on subjects & predicates and then taught it to Christopher--it was great.

He has a rhyme: the subject & the predicate are the name and the claim.

I always like rhymes.

I've got grammar stuff posted on the Math Supplements page for safekeeping.

Steps to Good Grammar

OK, I did it. I ordered Steps to Good Grammar. Has raves on Amazon & B&N.

I'm gonna get Rod & Staff, too.

Given that we've managed to miss THE FIRST TWO SUNDAYS OF SUNDAY SCHOOL, I figure we need it.

GlobalWarmingBlogs 26 Sep 2005 - 17:53 CatherineJohnson

Global warming has permanent membership in my personal 'unknown unknowns' category.

However, I've found a couple of blogs I think are probably worth reading, and reliable as to what issues serious climatologists themselves are mulling over:

  • Climate Science, written by Roger A. Pielke Sr., a 'dissenter' who resigned from the CCSP Committee “Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere-Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences," and whose letter of resignation can be read here.

  • Real Climate, "a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science."

"Gavin," at Real Climate, characterizes Peilke's position thusly:

Roger Pielke Sr. (Colorado State) has a blog (Climate Science) that gives his personal perspective on climate change issues. In it, he has made clear that he feels that apart from greenhouse gases, other climate forcings (the changes that affect the energy balance of the planet) are being neglected in the scientific discussion. Specifically, he feels that many of these other forcings have sufficient 'first-order' effects to prevent a clear attribution of recent climate change to greenhouse gases.

Another post at Real Climate, on the futures market in global warming, looks like fun (defining fun broadly, that is): Betting on Climate Change

Both of these blogs are tough sledding.

But they're almost certainly worthwhile, and I'll probably check in from time to time.

VlorbikOnBibleLiteracy 26 Sep 2005 - 18:56 CatherineJohnson

Seeing as how I'm already wildly off-topic today, here's Vlorbik's advice on acquiring Bible literacy:

who_wrote_the_bible, by richard elliot friedman
is a document i can't recommend highly enough.
asimov's guide_to_the_bible (2 vols) is also
very valuable. copies of those and a _one_year_bible_
(king james if you must, but i only tackled that
on my fourth or fifth go-round), plus a very small
amount of determination, will turn a bible-illiterate
into ... well, a bible reader i guess
(and on many very interesting issues, a better
informed one than churches generally produce
[when they produce bible readers at all]) in,
as advertised, a year.

also BR (the ex-"_bible_review") is a stunning magazine.
i've let most of my hardcopy subscriptions lapse
over the last few years but still get BR.
vlorbik sez check it out.

Thank you!

HurricaneKatrina 26 Sep 2005 - 22:32 CatherineJohnson

Science News (subscription required)

CommunityCollegeAndTheOlderFemale 30 Sep 2005 - 17:55 CatherineJohnson

A year of community-college schooling can raise an older female's income by 10%, according to a Chicago Federal Reserve Board study.

What Color Is Your Collar?
September 30, 2005; Page W11

Just in case there are any older females amongst us.

Which I'm sure there are not.

SelfStirringCoffeeMug 01 Oct 2005 - 17:03 CatherineJohnson


You have to know a lot of math to come up with a thing like that.

DvdMoviesFromCoolHunting 04 Oct 2005 - 00:46 CatherineJohnson

On the off chance you don't already have enough stuff -

Wallflowers in Quicktime
Wallflowers in Windows Media Movie

Modular Moves in Quicktime
Modular Moves in Windows Media Movie

this one's the best

Op Art in Quicktime
Op Art in Windows Media Movie

Detour DVD

how to spend it, part 2 (further instructions)


step 3:
  • After perusing FT opinion page (Philip Stephens: The Tories have to love the voters; John Kay: European monopoly laws are already fair), leaf through Glossy Weekend Supplement.

  • Ask yourself, 'What possible relevance does this have to my life?'


AlexTheParrot 09 Oct 2005 - 03:22 CatherineJohnson

We were training Alex to sound out phonemes, not because we want him to read as humans do, but we want to see if he understands that his labels are made up of sounds that can be combined in different ways to make up new words; that is, to demonstrate evidence for segmentation. He babbles at dusk, producing strings like "green, cheen, bean, keen", so we have some evidence for this behavior, but we need more solid data.

Thus we are trying to get him to sound out refrigerator letters, the same way one would train children on phonics. We were doing demos at the Media Lab for our corporate sponsors; we had a very small amount of time scheduled and the visitors wanted to see Alex work. So we put a number of differently colored letters on the tray that we use, put the tray in front of Alex, and asked, "Alex, what sound is blue?" He answers, "Ssss." It was an "s", so we say "Good birdie" and he replies, "Want a nut."

Well, I don't want him sitting there using our limited amount of time to eat a nut, so I tell him to wait, and I ask, "What sound is green?" Alex answers, "Ssshh." He's right, it's "sh," and we go through the routine again: "Good parrot." "Want a nut." "Alex, wait. What sound is orange?" "ch." "Good bird!" "Want a nut." We're going on and on and Alex is clearly getting more and more frustrated. He finally gets very slitty-eyed and he looks at me and states, "Want a nut. Nnn, uh, tuh."



ClickOnTheGapCom 12 Oct 2005 - 22:13 CatherineJohnson

I am curious to know what happens to other people when they click on The Gap

SurfersLimberTalePart2 11 Oct 2005 - 19:29 CatherineJohnson

I went for my run....and Surfer's tail popped up!


Then it fell back down.

question: Should Surfer be going for runs while his tail isn't working?

Or not?

answer: unknown

Preston Utley, Vail Daily

This is a proper tail.

Surfer's limber tail
Surfer's limber tail, part 2

AnimalDisasterReliefPetition 14 Oct 2005 - 13:37 CatherineJohnson

Probably most of you know that, in addition to having become a math person, I am also an animal person.

So, wearing my animal person hat, I'm (momentarily) breaking our this is a nonpartisan web site rule, maybe. ('Maybe' because animal politics may be even more bipartisan in nature than the math wars, if that's possible.)

Anyway, Christian, who is Jimmy's & Andrew's res hab aide, sent me this link to a petition sponsored by the Humane Society, Don't Abandon Pets in Disasters, which I've signed.

If you'd like to sign it, too, here it is.

And with that, let's return to our regularly scheduled programming.

KarateChop 12 Dec 2006 - 00:29 CarolynJohnston

Bernie and I watched "The Day of the Jackal" last night on DVD. It's a good movie; very low-tech, suspenseful, and believeable, with Edward Fox in the title role of the snake-eyed sociopathic assassin (whom I found charming, but not likeable).

The movie is almost timeless -- and I say almost because there is one thing that places it firmly as having been made in the years between 1965 and 1975, and that is the 1960s Karate Chop.

The 1960s Karate Chop was used by both good guys and bad guys; you just had to be very cool to use it. James Bond used it, and the Jackal, and James T. Kirk used it to excess, and so did a lot of other people.

The 1960s Karate Chop was one swift blow with the side of the hand, usually to the back of the neck, almost always unexpected. It could be adapted to either stun (Kirk and Bond) or kill (Jackal) the recipient; either way it was bloodless -- the person getting it would just crumple without making a sound. It was just the thing to use when you wanted someone to be out of the way with a minimum of fuss.

At some point, the 1960s Karate Chop just dried up -- by the 1980s it was gone, like the other ideals of the 1960s. Getting someone out of your way is, after all, a fussy process in reality.


ReproMan 17 Oct 2005 - 01:24 CatherineJohnson


"this reclusive young Norwegian is the man who may
be the entertainment industry's worst nightmare"

Repro Man: Meet the 21-year-old Norwegian who defied
Hollywood%to help the world copy DVDs -- and beat the
studios in court. Now, he's liberating your iPod
(subscription required)

He's been busy.

BadPlasticSurgery 21 Oct 2005 - 13:51 CatherineJohnson

For awhile now, I've been fascinated by bad plastic surgery.



oh heck

The link is dead, and I don't remember what it was in the first place.

What I really want to find is the photo of Amy Tan's really bad plastic surgery.

Also Gennifer Flowers looking like Courtney Love.

SketchyAnimatedGif911 25 Oct 2005 - 14:40 CatherineJohnson


Second Place
Sketchy Animation Contest
Title: September 11
School: Ottawa County Juvenile Services Center, Michigan
Grade: 9/10

This may be the single most moving artistic representation of 9-11 that I've seen.

the Sketchy Animation Contest

I suppose it was inevitable.

I have gotten hooked on math animation gifs.

What next?

I find I am especially taken with math animation circle-drawing gifs, such as this one, this one, and especially this one.

Today I hit the jackpot.

animated lattice multiplication reconsidered

When I posted the animated lattice multiplication, I thought I was being funny.

But in fact, the lattice gif has an Emporer's New Clothes quality. It's not really a lesson on lattice multiplication; there's no way a person could learn lattice multiplication from the lattice multiplication gif.

This is not the case with the animated history gifs, history and gold rush. Ed, watching these two, said, 'These kids are learning something!' (I learned something, too; I learned that the U.S. gold rush brought lots of European immigrants to America, something I hadn't known. Carolyn mentioned her fragmented knowledge of history. Ditto that.)

The lattice multiplication gif doesn't teach. Intentionally or not, it debunks.

If it had been created by an adult, its author would be Vlorbik.


The Sketchy folks may be members of the Enemy Camp:

GoKnow, Inc. intends to be the leader in technology pervasive, standards-based, scientifically validated curriculum and educational tools. What differentiates GoKnow from other education companies is the knowledge, research, and experience necessary to bring unified products for classrooms, schools, and districts.

Generally speaking, I'm against the intensive movement of technology into the classroom, primarily because:

  • my own child couldn't learn at all from 'screens' (mom-terminology for any technology with a screen: TV, internet, PlayStation, GameBoy, computer games, etc.) & I doubt he's unique

  • Temple (Grandin's) students who never learned to do scale drawings on computer, not by hand, can't do scale drawings

So...I'd like to root for the Sketchy folks, but I probably can't—though the idea of handhelds for school kids strikes me as perhaps better than full-sized computers. Perhaps, with handhelds, the limitations of the technology are more apparent. Few people seem to possess any idea that computers have limitations as far as I can tell. Educational reformers speak of 'technology' almost as if it were magic, the Modern Invention that will finally teach our children all the things they need to know.

And virtually no one is aware that it's harder to read on a computer screen than on paper. I didn't know this myself until I discovered Nielsen's research. Even though I've never been able to do a serious read-through of my own work on-screen—I have to print it out—I always thought of this, if I thought of it at all, as a personal quirk. Other people, I figured, sensibly revised their work on-screen, instead of wasting paper printing it out.

(Ed can't read his work on-screen, either.)

All that aside, the 'Sketchys' are incredible. Beautiful, and affecting; all of them.

the Sketchy gallery

Spring 2004 Winning Sketchys from Math category
Spring 2004 Winning Sketchys from Science category
Spring 2004 Winning Sketchys from Social Studies category
Spring 2004 Winning Sketchys from Language Arts Category
Spring 2004 Winning Sketchys from Language Arts Category

2005 winners

For anyone who hasn't spent a lot of time cruising clip art & animated gifs on the web, if you click on the image itself (probably a right-click on Windows) you can open it up in a new window.

my favorites

This kid really gets the whole Direct Instruction thing:
how to flip an object (step one: find an object you can flip)

Cheerful & sweet:
parts of speech (Here comes Mr. Noun!)

Birds of a feather:

I love little boys' war drawings:
(be sure to watch until you get to the 'Gotcha' screen)
Oops — this kid's not so little. Apparently he's in 8th grade. Does everyone draw like a grade school child on a handheld? If so, I'd say the Sketchy folks have invented a new genre.

Here's one with invented spelling:
yah wool

Dog eat dog, fish eat fish:
survival of the fittest

I am 60astonished.gif

That's all!

The end!

Thank you for watching my Sketchy!

WhichHistoricGeneral 09 Dec 2005 - 17:12 CarolynJohnston

I just took the Which Historic General Are You? test. Give it a try; though it was a bit time-consuming, it was interesting and it made me think.

But I'm ticked off about the results. I came out as General George MacClellan!

Compared to other women my age, these were my scores:

You scored higher than 27% on Unorthodox
You scored higher than 69% on Tactics
You scored higher than 12% on Guts
You scored higher than 17% on Ruthlessness

I had the tactical smarts I needed, but not the balls. I may not be the one to lead us into battle with the Forces Of Mediocrity.

PenguinsInScienceNews 01 Nov 2005 - 21:30 CatherineJohnson


Have I mentioned I like penguins? (subscription probably required)

I believe I have.

I don't think this picture is a drawing, by the way.

I think it's a photograph that's been Photoshopped to within an inch of its life.

Which raises the question of where the expression within an inch of its life came from?

Probably something to do with dogs.

MitOpenCourseware 13 Nov 2005 - 13:42 CarolynJohnston

OK, take two for this post...

A friend of mine at work turned me on to the MIT Open Courseware website.

This is a site on which MIT professors are supposed to be posting lecture notes, problem sets, and other materials from their classes.

I've been cruising around, checking out various courses, but a lot of professors aren't really posting anything to speak of, and what lecture notes are there are very variable in quality.

I was first elated to find a course in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences graduate school entitled "Abnormal Language" (any such class would be bound to have a lot to say about autism); and then disappointed, to say the least, to find that there is nothing on the site other than a jpeg of a painting called "The Tower of Babel" and a reading list.

However, I did find a couple courses with some good materials, both in statistics. The first was in the department of Brain Science again, Statistical Methods in Brain and Cognitive Science. On a first glance, this looked like it might be calculus-free, but have some meat to it anyway.

The second course was in the Math department, Statistics for Applications. This is an undergraduate calculus-based prob and stat course, and the notes look good and concise, and there are problem sets.

WeNeedInfoOnUKWritingInstruction 07 Dec 2005 - 02:36 CatherineJohnson

Now that I know we've got an Expository Writing Problem here in Irvington, I am desperately seeking information about British writing instruction.

How do they do it?

British subjects are the best writers in the English language, bar none. They're incredible.

back in the day

I taught writing for years, btw. I taught the Freshman Rhetoric course at the University of Iowa & later on a variant of that course Cal State Long Beach & UC Irvine. I also taught freshman writing to gifted 11 & 12-year olds for the Johns Hopkins GTY program. That was a blast.

In all of these courses I used the approach I was taught at the University of Iowa. Lou Kelly's book, From Diaglogue to Discourse: An open approach to competence and creativity explains it fairly well, IIRC.

Her title has probably raised some eyebrows around here. The Rhetoric Department was anchored by two diametrically opposed personalities, Lou Kelly, an avowed leftie-hippie with flowing gray hair whose emotions ran the gamut from furious to still-furious-again-today, and Donovan Ochs the Chair who, looking back, was the Sean Connery of Freshman Rhetoric.

So now your eyebrows are up and your heads are spinning—this is why you come here, right?! To read stuff straight out of left field!

Back to Don: I have no idea why I came up with 'Sean Connery,' except that Don was kind of....gruffly masculine, if you know what I mean, and you probably do. Dark brow, beard, direct gaze.

He was the bane of Lou Kelly's existence, and enough of a gentleman to hide the glaring fact that she was the bane of his. (The 'enough of a gentleman' part is what separates Don Ochs from Sean Connery.)

I once had to be Talked To by Don, because a black student had accused me of racism. She was a hostile, complaining sort of girl, and one day in class she'd sighed loudly and said, 'This is boring!'

I snapped right back at her. "Bored people are boring!" I said. That woke her up.

Next thing I knew I was in Don's office.

He fixed his direct gaze on me and somehow managed to convey the idea that I could figure out a way to be more tactful and more authoritative in my own classroom, and that was that.

So the department revolved around these two polar opposites, and yet both agreed on a specific approach to teaching freshman writing. This made their instruction of us novices incredibly powerful & compelling. It was another case of binocular vision, of seeing the same ideas from different vantage points & thus understanding them far better than I would have if I'd been taught by either Lou or Don alone.

back to the future

So while I could probably go out and teach a decent expository writing course today, teaching my own eye-rolling 11-year old is a different story.

The eye-rolling isn't the problem.

It's the afterschooling.

I need KUMON for expository writing; I need a systematic, structured program of supplemental writing instruction that can take place in 10 to 20 minutes a day.

And I don't have one.

I don't think the Brits have one, either, but I'd like to know how they do what they do.

If any of you knows anything at all about British writing instruction, please let us know.


brief report

[Judith] Koren describes how two British women she knows became effective essayists and speakers. “Each week, they’d had homework exercises like this: While preserving every essential point, reduce a 100-word essay to 50 words, then to 20, then to 10. Reduce 500 words to 50, 1,000 words to 100. Week after week, year after year. A grind? Sure it’s a grind. Who said literacy is easy? It takes practice. Few kids want to put in that amount of work. The schools have to demand it.” (By the way, anyone trained in this method should contact me immediately—I have a job waiting.)

And, from the same article:

In an article in The Executive Educator, an Israeli mother named Judith Koren who relocated her two children to one of the best public schools in Westchester County, New York, laments that “at the start of the U.S. school year, my son’s sixth-grade class was getting about an hour of homework a day. But after three months, a group of parents complained to the school that their children were overworked…. The teachers cut back on assignments.” She concludes that “no one expects very much of American kids,” and warns this is why U.S. students often test lower than foreign counterparts. Arriving from Israel, Koren reports, “my sixth-grader was a full year ahead of his classmates in mathematics, and my third-grader—who could barely read English on arrival—tested only six months below the class average.”

how Ben Franklin taught himself to write

Franklin was entirely self-taught.

He started his program of self-instruction by cutting apart other people's persuasive essays, and then trying to put the sentences & paragraphs back together in order, like a puzzle.

I think that's a fabulous technique. It's far harder to do than it sounds. Shortly after I read about Franklin's technique i accidentally jumbled up some passages from a science article I was cutting and pasting, and when I tried to put it back together I failed.

I did piece it together so that it flowed logically, but I didn't re-create the author's original order, which was superior to mine.

The summer before last I started experimenting with this technique with Christopher, but didn't get far. For one thing, it was pretty hard, and for another I was distracted by the other things we were doing, and didn't stick with it.

Science News for Kids

The couple of times I tried having Christopher assemble a cut-up essay, I used the articles from Science News for Kids, which are excellent. A terrific resource, some of the only decent nonfiction writing for grade school kids I've found on the web.

I may experiment with this approach again. (If you try it, use just one paragraph. It's far too confusing to use more than that.)

EnglishAsWorldLanguage 15 Nov 2005 - 13:42 CatherineJohnson

Carolyn & I have been talking about the KUMON reading program, and especially about vocabulary (which is supposed to be the secret to success on the SATs).

Today I came across this article in THE ECONOMIST, which gives you some idea what a person on the autism spectrum is up against trying to learn vocabulary from context:

Some 380m people speak it as their first language and perhaps two-thirds as many again as their second. A billion are learning it, about a third of the world's population are in some sense exposed to it and by 2050, it is predicted, half the world will be more or less proficient in it. It is the language of globalisation—of international business, politics and diplomacy. It is the language of computers and the Internet. You'll see it on posters in Côte d'Ivoire, you'll hear it in pop songs in Tokyo, you'll read it in official documents in Phnom Penh. Deutsche Welle broadcasts in it. Bjork, an Icelander, sings in it. French business schools teach in it. It is the medium of expression in cabinet meetings in Bolivia. Truly, the tongue spoken back in the 1300s only by the “low people” of England, as Robert of Gloucester put it at the time, has come a long way. It is now the global language.

How come? Not because English is easy. True, genders are simple, since English relies on “it” as the pronoun for all inanimate nouns, reserving masculine for bona fide males and feminine for females (and countries and ships). But the verbs tend to be irregular, the grammar bizarre and the match between spelling and pronunciation a nightmare. English is now so widely spoken in so many places that umpteen versions have evolved, some so peculiar that even “native” speakers may have trouble understanding each other. But if only one version existed, that would present difficulties enough. Even everyday English is a language of subtlety, nuance and complexity. John Simmons, a language consultant for Interbrand, likes to cite the word “set”, an apparently simple word that takes on different meanings in a sporting, cooking, social or mathematical context—and that is before any little words are combined with it. Then, as a verb, it becomes “set aside”, “set up”, “set down”, “set in”, “set on”, “set about”, “set against” and so on, terms that “leave even native speakers bewildered about [its] core meaning.”

And, from another article:

IN THE 17th century, educated people across central Europe could still communicate with each other in Latin. By the mid-19th century, the handiest language for a traveller through Mitteleuropa was the German spoken by the Habsburg monarchs who reigned over Hungarians, Czechs and many others. A little more than 100 years later, the dominant tongue was Russian.

Now the region's new language of choice for the 21st century is percolating upwards through the education system, and downwards from the business and political elite. It will be English, studied by three out of four secondary-school pupils from the Baltic to the Balkans.


HowToTestYourChildsReadingComprehension 15 Nov 2005 - 14:30 CatherineJohnson

Good advice from Dan:

If you would like to test your kid's reading comprehension for their leisure books, check out It's free. The quizzes are multiple choice: 5 questions for beginner books; 10 questions for most chapter books; 15 questions for a very few long books.

My experience is that the kids find it to be fun to prove what they know. As a parent, you can gauge whether your kid grasped what he/she read. With these tests, you don't need to read contrived passages from some comprehension test. Instead, the kids can read books they enjoy (e.g. Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse), and then be quizzed for comprehension.

Since we don't (as yet) have a page dedicated to English language arts (we obviously need one) I've put this in the index under reading.

update from Dan

Since I propped up the Book Adventure skeleton, I suppose I had better put some flesh on its bones.

  • The kids earn points for passing tests. The points are based on the kid’s score on the test and the difficulty of the book.

  • The points can be spent to buy some (fairly hokey) prizes.

  • The site is set up so that a teacher can monitor the progress of the students in his/her class. You as parents can set yourself up in this teacher role. In our district, teachers have used Book Adventure tests in third and fourth grade.

  • The site has some search tools that can help you find book titles according to grade level and genre.

  • The degree-of-difficulty multiplier doesn’t really reward more difficulty in proportion to how much more difficult, say, a Harry Potter book is compared to a Henry and Mudge book. I really don’t think the point count is that big a deal, though.

  • The actual multiple choice questions in the quizzes often involve more reading difficulty than the books themselves. For young kids, you definitely want to looking over his/her shoulder as the test is taken. Of course, you probably do that whenever the kid is surfing the internet. Most frustrating are questions formed like, “Which of these items is not something that Tommy decided not to do earn the money he needed?” I may be exaggerating, but not much.

  • It seems to me that the questions focus more on story details than on themes or the overall moral of the story. For the most part, though, they don’t ask petty details like “What day of the week did the package arrive in the mail?”

reading speeds
For the first time, well ever, I timed the kids' correct words per minute. What a shock! Fast reader in the class was 207 CWPM [correct words per minute], but the slowest was 94 CWPM. A novel must look like a monster to the poor little guy. They (researcher forgotten) that comprehension begins at 85 words per minute.

I started using the SRA Reading Lab and Multiple Skills series in my classroom. It is amazing to see how much the kids enjoy their own success.

REWARDS is coming into play very shortly for about half the class.

I have a question: is 'REWARDS' a reading program?


from Smartest Tractor

REWARDS DI of word attack strategies.

Reading Fluency Table

The magic number according to McEwan, p. 55 of Teach Them All to Read is 140 words per minute. The 85 CWPM comes from page 63.

how to test your child's reading fluency

Sally Shaywitz on testing reading fluency (pdf file)

how to test your child's math fluency

Since we're on the subject of fluency, here's the link to an earlier post on math fluency.

ThinkingAboutThinking 17 Nov 2005 - 01:06 CarolynJohnston

Catherine's post on 'sleeping on it' reminded me of the way some people I know think.

You might think that mathematicians are all symbolic thinkers, whatever that means, but the small pilot study I did indicates that hardly anyone thinks in symbols (the phrase 'pilot study' is a joke, because all I did was to ask a sample of my friends how they think, among whom were some mathematicians).

I got curious about this, because in a conversation with a friend one day I realized that I think in terms of touch a lot more than most people. For example, when I think about a coffee cup, I imagine myself holding it; I imagine the smooth feel of the cup in my hand, and the feeling of the steam rising from the cup and hitting my face. More to the point, when I think about geometric problems (such as the projection that a satellite makes on the earth as it orbits the earth), I imagine that I am touching the earth and tracing my finger along the surface as the satellite orbits. When I'm thinking about difficult, convoluted shapes in differential geometry, I can't visualize them clearly unless I imagine that I am holding them and running my fingers along their surface. I also have tactile analogies for a lot of basic math operations -- this may be why I'm so gung-ho about pencil and paper, and getting math "into your hands".

There are mathematicians who are a lot more visual than I am. I asked Jeff Fox, a mathematician at CU Boulder, how he would think of the coffee cup, and he said that he would just visualize it. It would be a picture in his head, by itself; he wouldn't need to be part of the scene. Bernie thinks the same way. Both of them could visualize orbital patterns on the earth without having to imagine that they're touching anything. Jeff does differential geometry, and Bernie algebraic geometry.

My friend Sheldon, whose thesis was on automated theorem proving, told me that he could not tell me how he thinks, because it's an almost entirely unconscious process. He 'submits' problems to his mind, he says, and the problems will rattle around for several days before the answers come out. He's not a tactile thinker, he says, and not a visual thinker; when he thinks about a coffee cup, he says, he just gets the idea of a coffee cup, devoid of any sensory 'assist'.

I didn't talk to anyone whose thinking processes were purely symbolic; most everybody had some kind of analogy, most often sensory, that they used to conceptualize things and understand problems.

Of course, the all-time most visual thinker is Temple Grandin, who not only visualizes the coffee cup standing by itself, but also can clearly visualize much more complicated objects rotating and moving in space. That lady has one heck of a video card in her head.

PulseOfTheGroupMind 18 Nov 2005 - 14:23 CarolynJohnston

(with hat tip to Bernie at Yet Another Really Great Blog -- this is too cool not to post)

This graphic shows google hits as a function of location, over the course of a day.

AmandaJonesPetDogOfTheMonthClub 20 Nov 2005 - 03:13 CatherineJohnson


I'm signing up.


Smile and say 'bone' (free online for 7 days)

NumberSpiralsAndPrimes 23 Nov 2005 - 22:41 CarolynJohnston

Here is a very strange observation about spiral arrangements of integers and prime numbers.

I have no idea why this pattern looks this way (and, truth be told, I don't feel the urge to research it), but it's pretty cool.

TurkeysInSuburbia 23 Nov 2005 - 12:55 CatherineJohnson


that's why they call it the pecking order
One for 'The Birds': Wild Turkeys Attack Humans in Suburbia Wall Street Journal 11-23-2005

EngelmannOnFrameworks 27 Nov 2005 - 21:30 CatherineJohnson

ACoolThing 30 Nov 2005 - 13:57 CarolynJohnston

Go to Google and type: how many cups in a quart

This feature is totally new to me, but my stepson Alistair says Google has done this for at least two years (i.e., the young and hip already know all about this).

This feature just came to my rescue while Ben was doing his homework, saving me from having to get out of my chair where I was blissfully websurfing (Bernie calls it my Matrix chair, for reasons I hope I don't have to explain).


FearOfFlying 16 Dec 2005 - 17:39 CarolynJohnston

I just got back from a (short) trip to Seattle. While I was on the plane, I got to thinking about fear of flying (in the abstract), with which I've been afflicted for ten years or so. I decided it would be fun (and perhaps a bit cathartic) to write about it, even though it's completely off topic.

Six myths and comments about fear-of-flying

Myth 1: you either have it or you don't.

Not so. For many people, including me, it comes on suddenly after years of comfortable flying. In my case, it started when my son was 2 and I was starting to get worried about his development, and peaked when he was diagnosed at around 3. Since then, it's been getting better gradually (like Ben's problems) but hasn't gone away (like Ben's problems). Yes, I do think the phobia has something to do with those other things going on in my life.

I have known several people who developed intense fear-of-flying for a brief period of time, maybe a few months, and then had it vanish again just as suddenly. Mine came on suddenly, like theirs, but will it ever vanish? I should be so lucky.

Myth 2: only irrational people have fear-of-flying.

I wish that were so. I've learned a lot about flying from the scientific viewpoint in my ten years of phobia, and I always knew the statistics were outrageously in my favor. It helps at times to know this stuff, but doesn't cure the problem or even control it very well, if you've got it badly enough. The problem comes from some part of your brain that responds poorly to rational arguments. [Catherine here: we call this the AMYGDALA. I think.]

If I were rational about it, I'd hate landing as much as I hate taking off; but I don't, just because I'm so relieved to be landing.

Myth 3: drinking might help ease fear-of-flying.

I don't know if this helps anyone else, but on the one occasion I tried it, it definitely made things much worse. This is because I cope with my fear-of-flying through concentration, and being buzzed made it impossible to concentrate.

Myth 4: anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax can cure fear-of-flying.

Maybe if you take enough of it to knock you out. I take a small dose of Xanax every time I fly; it doesn't stop the anxiety at all, or even relieve it much. What it does do is to enable me to calm down as soon as we hit smooth air after turbulence. This prevents me from arriving at my destination either a. stoned or b. as useless as a limp noodle from having suffered a 3-hour-long unremitting panic attack.

Myth 5: anti-anxiety drugs are the only thing that can help fear-of-flying.

Not so. Actually my main approach to dealing with fear-of-flying is through something akin to meditating. I don't mean that I say 'om', either in my head or out loud, the whole time I'm flying; but I have mental tricks I apply when I fly.

I have found that even in turbulent rides, crews have gotten much better about trying to find patches of smooth air to ride in for a while. It's critical to calm down as fast as possible after a turbulent stretch, to conserve energy.

The Xanax helps with this, but another thing I do is to remind myself that being on a turbulent ride is like being in labor. When the plane is really rocking, and I am really terrified, I'll tell myself that I'll get a short break soon, that it won't last forever, and that all I have to do is hold on for as long as this patch of turbulence lasts, and then relax completely until the next one. This is the same way you get through a long and difficult labor.

Another trick I apply is to remind myself that being in rough air is like being in a boat in rough water (an idea which doesn't frighten me). Generally the motion of the plane is similar to that of the boat, and I close my eyes and envision that I am in fact in a boat riding waves. This works better if the plane is bobbing up and down than if it's being battered in all directions.

In rough air, I keep my eyes closed. I do this because I hate to see the fuselage flex in turbulence; I find that very disturbing. I also don't want to see fear in the faces of anyone else around me (the calm voices and presence of the crew help a great deal). Mentally shutting out my surroundings and my seatmates is much preferable to what I used to do, which was to grab my neighbor's arm in turbulence and perhaps even piteously ask if I could hold his hand. While I made friends this way, it was a tad humiliating, and I'm not as cute as I used to be, either.

Possibly Myth 6: most people with fear of flying just quit flying.

This is all too often true. I know of people who drive from California to the East Coast every year in order to attend family reunions, because they can't face the flight; it means they have take two weeks of vacation time for a one-week visit. I have friends I haven't seen in years, and may never see again, because they won't fly. I know of people who have made career sacrifices and lost opportunities because they won't fly. I didn't want the phobia to have that big an impact on my life, and I was also afraid that if I quit flying, the phobia would migrate, and I'd become unable to drive or to leave the house. So whatever it is that makes me phobic, I keep it confined to being phobic about airplanes.

There were a couple of years there where I didn't fly. I almost missed a family wedding over it, but went anyway because I had my arm twisted to go, and didn't want to drive (I dread flying, but I still like the way it gets you there faster than anything else).

Then I started traveling again for work. I've flown with my workmates for years, and many were kind enough to hold my hand in turbulence in the bad old days. I had one workmate tell me he admired the way I could become a total unashamed wreck on a flight, then walk off the flight and go do business as usual.

At this time, I fly pretty frequently for work and for family vacations. I'm starting to think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I still want to see the big cities of Europe.

CarolynGooglesMsRoth 22 Dec 2005 - 16:32 CarolynJohnston

Since Catherine no longer checks her email, I figure I need to post this here so she'll see it.

I just couldn't believe that noone in Irvington is reading this blog with all its juicy Irvington tidbits. How could they miss it? Surely Ms Roth is reading this blog every night and vowing hideous revenge. So I checked the most likely avenue for approach -- Google -- to see if the name "Ms Roth" brings one to our door.

The answer is no, it doesn't. But the good news is that Ms. Roths are everywhere!

Here's a selection from Google:

The Carrier-Roth debate: Is there a Secular Case Against Abortion? Ms. Roth says yes.

Go to Ms. Roth’s next selection Go to Ms. Roth’s next selection. Go to Ms. Roth’s previous selection Go to Ms. Roth’s previous selection.

Ms. Roth has experience in the areas of antitrust and complex commercial litigation as ... Major cases litigated by Ms. Roth at Constantine Cannon include: ...

Ms. Roth will be accompanied by violinist Leonardo Suarez Paz and bassist ... "I love performing," says Ms. Roth. "It gives me the joy of sharing my musical ...

Ms. Roth is experienced in aquatic ecology, biological and habitat assessment, ... An environmental scientist specializing in aquatic ecology, Ms. Roth ...

In Part One, Ms. Roth discusses the problem of overeating and dieting. ... Through her eating principles and practices, Ms. Roth guides the viewer in ...

NextActionPostIts 03 Jan 2006 - 02:10 CatherineJohnson


We’re proud to introduce the To-Do Tamer – a brand new training product, designed by Julie herself. The To-Do Tamer mirrors Julie’s time management coaching process, so using them is like having Julie by your side, helping you tackle that overwhelming backlog of to-do’s.

I'm sure these Next Action Post-its will change my life.

Especially if I had a name or two to enter in the 'Delegate to' area.

I'm re-reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity this year.

While I'm waiting for my luggage.

structured procrastination

The Final Word

maybe I shouldn't read this

Good and Bad Procrastination by Paul Graham

KillerOctopus 24 Jan 2006 - 14:40 CatherineJohnson

Apparently, this is a video of an octopus eating a shark.

I don't think I can watch.

animal personality

The TIMES this weekend had a big article on Animal Personality that may or may not be good.

It's part of my Great Unread.

that reminds me

Susan posted a passage from the previous weekend's TIMES story on the hikikomori youth in Japan.

Unfortunately, the story is now behind a firewall, and I've lost the universal TIMES link Charles left.

Y.S. suffered from a problem known in Japan as hikikomori, which translates as ''withdrawal'' and refers to a person sequestered in his room for six months or longer with no social life beyond his home. (The word is a noun that describes both the problem and the person suffering from it and is also an adjective, like ''alcoholic.'') Some hikikomori do occasionally emerge from their rooms for meals with their parents, late-night runs to convenience stores or, in Takeshi's case, once-a-month trips to buy CD's. And though female hikikomori exist and may be undercounted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.

Mark my words: the hikikomori will be cited as more evidence in favor of fuzzy math:

Japanese culture and sex roles play a strong part in the hikikomori phenomenon. ''Men start to feel the pressure in junior high school, and their success is largely defined in a couple of years,'' said James Roberson, a cultural anthropologist at Tokyo Jogakkan College and an editor of the book ''Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan.'' ''Hikikomori is a resistance to that pressure. Some of them are saying: 'To hell with it. I don't like it and I don't do well.''' Also, this is a society where kids can drop out. In Japan, children commonly live with their parents into their 20's, and despite the economic downturn, plenty of parents can afford to support their children indefinitely -- and do. As one hikikomori expert put it, ''Japanese parents tell their children to fly while holding firmly to their ankles.''

One result is a new underclass of young men who can't or won't join the full-time working world and who are a stark counterpoint to Japan's long-running image as a country bursting with industrious salarymen. ''We used to believe everyone was equal,'' said Noki Futagami, the founder of New Start. ''But the gap is growing. I suspect there will be a bipolarization of this society. There will be the group of people who can be in the global world. And then there will be others, like the hikikomori. The ones who cannot be in that world.''


This is interesting.

The NYTIMES story is completey different from this one in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY:

A SYNDROME KNOWN AS HIKIKOMORI, IN which the outside world is shunned, is wreaking havoc on young people in Japan, a country known for its communal values. And an older generation--the very bastion of those old-fashioned values--may be to blame, according to a controversial new theory.

Hikikomori (the term refers to the behavior itself and to those who suffer from it) was first recognized in the early 1990s. One million Japanese, or almost 1 percent of the population, are estimated to suffer from hikikomori, defined as a withdrawal from friends and family for months or even years. Some 40 percent of hikikomori are below the age of 21, according to a 2001 government report.

Western psychologists compare hikikomori with social anxiety and agoraphobia, a fear of open places. The affliction has also been likened to Asperger's syndrome, a mild variant of autism. But these theories carry little weight in Japan, where the disorder is considered culturally unique and is linked to violence.

Yuichi Hattori, M.A., a psychologist currently treating 18 patients with the disorder, believes that hikikomori is caused by emotionally neglectful parenting. Hattori argues that none of his patients had been sexually or physically abused, yet they all show signs of posttraumatic stress disorder.

IIRC, the TIMES said nothing about PTSD or 'emotionally neglectful parents.'

Nothing about Asperger's, either.


-- CatherineJohnson - 23 Jan 2006

HelpDesk 27 Jan 2006 - 00:14 CatherineJohnson


I'm trying to scan in some KUMON reading sheets, and my scanning program is crashing repeatedly.

Strangely, this happens only when I try to scan an image in as black and white....

What does this mean?

-- CatherineJohnson - 26 Jan 2006

AScienceOfTheDivine 01 Feb 2006 - 19:55 CatherineJohnson

I posted an item from The World Question Center the other day.

I love this one, from Stephen M. Kosslyn, a psychologist at Harvard.

I don't love it because I want it to be true, or because I think it is true.

All things being equal, I would probably prefer it not be true.

I was brought up in the Methodist Church, I'm still in the Methodist Church today, and I like Methodist doctrine just fine.

But I love the ingenuity of this idea, and I've had similar thoughts myself over the years.

It never occurred to me to put the concept of 'emergent properties' together with my own There's Something Out There speculations. Perfect!

Here's an idea that many academics may find unsettling and dangerous: God exists. And here's another idea that many religious people may find unsettling and dangerous: God is not supernatural, but rather part of the natural order. Simply stating these ideas in the same breath invites them to scrape against each other, and sparks begin to fly. To avoid such conflict, Stephen Jay Gould famously argued that we should separate religion and science, treating them as distinct "magisteria." But science leads many of us to try to understand all that we encounter with a single, grand and glorious overarching framework. In this spirit, let me try to suggest one way in which the idea of a "supreme being" can fit into a scientific worldview.

I offer the following not to advocate the ideas, but rather simply to illustrate one (certainly not the only) way that the concept of God can be approached scientifically.

1.0. First, here's the specific conception of God I want to explore: God is a "supreme being" that transcends space and time, permeates our world but also stands outside of it, and can intervene in our daily lives (partly in response to prayer).

2.0. A way to begin to think about this conception of the divine rests on three ideas:

2.1. Emergent properties. There are many examples in science where aggregates produce an entity that has properties that cannot be predicted entirely from the elements themselves. For example, neurons in large numbers produce minds; moreover, minds in large numbers produce economic, political, and social systems.

2.2. Downward causality. Events at "higher levels" (where emergent properties become evident) can in turn feed back and affect events at lower levels. For example, chronic stress (a mental event) can cause parts of the brain to become smaller. Similarly, an economic depression or the results of an election affect the lives of the individuals who live in that society.

2.3. The Ultimate Superset. The Ultimate Superset (superordinate set) of all living things may have an equivalent status to an economy or culture. It has properties that emerge from the interactions of living things and groups of living things, and in turn can feed back to affect those things and groups.


I hope this post doesn't offend anyone; I certainly don't mean it to, and I apologize if it does.

I'm intrigued because I've finally come to think that something like synchronicity actually exists (on my Bayesian scale of certainty, 1 being no clue and 7 being death and taxes I'm around a 2 on this one).

This is one way of thinking about it.

One more thing: a hypothesis of this sort could be true without having any bearing on religion and relgious belief at all.

So....there it is.

I love this, too!

from Tracy:

I once wondered what could prove to me that something was a deity, and after much thought decided the best definition would be an entity that could violate the laws of thermodynamics. This is a very different conception to some sort of emergent property.

I'll say.

telling more than we can know (cognitive science)
synchronicity on 9/11
the 'normal' distribution isn't normal
a science of the divine

-- CatherineJohnson - 29 Jan 2006

ProductivityQuestion 02 Feb 2006 - 23:13 CatherineJohnson

I'm being so productive today that naturally I got surfing the web looking at websites about productivity

Which led me to 3 things:

  • Quicksilver this appears to be a staggeringly productivity-enhanding "app" for Mac users that will change my life

gtd-php is the thing I'm really interested in, so here's my question:

Am I likely to have and/or be using already MySQL and Apache?

And how would I know?

This is supposed to be a 'Getting Things Done Lite' website for people who feel overwhelmed by the prospect of going whole hog.

Doesn't seem all that lite to me at the moment, but maybe I'm wrong.

Gantt charts & PERT charts; also some reputedly cool software for drawing Gantt charts on Macs


some books that have changed my life
the answer to all of Doug's problems
productivity question
what is an hour? Time Timers
Steve & Susan J & Doug on spiralling curricula
my Time Timer came - how long is a nap?
Time Timer says no!

-- CatherineJohnson - 01 Feb 2006

OmegaThreeFattyAcids 11 Feb 2006 - 16:05 CatherineJohnson

I think Carolyn & I have ESP.

I'm serious.

A few days ago I read an article on fish consumption, IQ, & pregancy in THE ECONOMIST ($). I set it aside because I wanted to write a post about it.

Then yesterday Ed told me we're almost out of omegabrites, and today my cod liver oil for Jimmy & Andrew came in the mail.

AND: I just opened an email from Carolyn to find that she's wondering about fish oil for Ben! (Of course, Carolyn probably read the same article I did....)

My answer is: fish oil for everyone.

brain food

I found out about the Omega 3 fatty acids a few years ago, and was immediately convinced. Since then, the data has just kept coming, all of it good. On my Bayesian scale of certainty, 1 being No Clue and 7 being Death and Taxes, I'm at 7.

Fish oil is one of those 'Lost Knowledge' which I mean that it belongs to the store of cultural knowledge people used to have that's gone missing. (Flash poll: how many women here can name the different cuts of meat in a side of beef? I can't. People used to know this stuff!)

My mom told me that when she was a kid, people gave cod liver oil to their kids, because they considered it 'brain food.'

Well, guess what. It is brain food. But that idea got lost somewhere along the line.

Here's the connection.

Probably everyone here knows that, at some point, the NIH funded research on fish consumption and heart health, which found that high fish consumption was good for your heart.

From there it followed directly that high fish consumption would likely be good for your brain, too, since researchers had already noticed a number of connections between heart health & mental health. For instance, people who suffered heart attacks were likely to suffer depression, too (IIRC I think the connection worked the other way around, as well).

Although people knew these correlations existed, I gather it took researchers a little while to put two and two together. But finally someone did, and the NIH funded, I believe (NOT FACT-CHECKED) an epidemiological study of fish oil consumption and depression. It turned out that there are very low rates of depression in countries and communities with high rates of fish consumption.

Andrew Stoll

I no longer remember when Andrew Stoll came on the scene, but I do remember his story.

Stoll is an expert on bipolar disorder, which meant he was prescribing a lot of lithium to patients. Lithium has numerous side effects; it's a tough drug to take, and can be quite dangerous. (It's a naturally-occurring salt.) IIRC, he and a colleague wanted to find a substance that would work like lithium with fewer side effects.

Apparently there is an enormous, multi-volume dictionary or encyclopedia of all known chemicals, so Stoll and his colleague starting searching through known chemicals to find something that might mimic lithium.

They found that the one chemical closest in structure to lithium was omega 3 fatty acid. Their study of Omega 3 fatty acid used to treat bipolar patients was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the two best journals in the field.

Three-page excerpts from every chapter of Stoll's book, The Omega-3 Connection, are posted on the omegabrites website. Terrific book.

We buy all of our fish oil from OmegaBrite, because it's manufactured by Stoll's ex-wife and because it's pharmaceutical grade, meaning it can be prescribed by physicians. This may mean nothing in terms of insurance; I don't know. I've never tried to get reimbursement. 'Pharmaceutical grade' in the case of omegabrites means the product can be used in an NIH-funded study.

IIRC, Stoll had a lot of trouble rustling up enough pharmaceutical-grade fish oil to do the study in the first place. I think he had to get the stuff he used from the people who did the heart study....Then, because there was no pharmaceutical commercial-grade product available on the market, his wife, who is also a psychiatrist, decided she would manufacture it herself & start up a whole company. I'm glad she did, but I don't think it's been fun for them.

pharmaceutical grade liquid fish oil?

That reminds me.

I spent years poking holes in zillions of omegabrite capsules every morning so I could squeeze out the oil inside into grape juice & give it to Jimmy and Andrew.

Those days are over.

The last time I spoke to Andrew Stoll, who is a friend of John (Ratey)'s, he said they were going to try to make a liquid version. I'm still waiting.

A couple of months ago I finally gave up and bought some Nordic Natural Complete Omega-3.6.9 oil.

Then I remembered my mom liked Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, which is what came in the mail today.

I have no idea way of judging their quality. I could use advice.

no more asthma

Fish oil has two important properties of which I'm aware; I'm sure there are lots more:

  • it is a natural antiinflammatory

  • it is liquid at very low temperatures

The natural antiinflammatory characteristic means, basically, that fish oil is a cure-all.

For at least the past 10 years researchers & physicians have been focused on inflammation as the source of all evil.

Eventually people began looking into inflammation as a problem for the brain, as well, and I'm sure it is.

Fish oil is a phenomenal antiinflammatory. When we first moved to Westchester Ed, Christopher & I developed asthma. Actually, I'd already had fairly severe asthma for about 10 years, but it had never been diagnosed. People kept telling me I had bronchitis. When Christopher was 4, he spent July 4 having an asthma attack so bad he was throwing up, which, unbeknownst to me, is the Danger Point. He could barely breathe.

All three of us were using inhalers every day when we started taking omegabrites.

Within a few months, all 3 of us had stopped using inhalers.

I think there may be a cumulative effect as well, because for a few years there we'd still have to get on the inhalers every time any of us came down with a cold.

Now we don't need inhalers for colds, either.

Another miracle cure: my mom's bursitis is gone. Bursitis is an inflammatory disorder.

Andrew Stoll's dad, who was in his 70s or 80s when I met him, told me his arthritis was gone. This stuff works.

fluid brain membranes

I don't think anyone knows exactly what Omega 3 fatty acids do in the brain, but one thought has to do with membrane permeability.

Mostly, Americans eat Omega 6's. That's corn oil. We eat HUGE quantities of corn oil, which is fine by me, since my dad was a farmer who raised corn. I've got nothing against corn!

But we're almost certainly way out of whack; we're supposed to be getting a lot more Omega 3s, and a lot less Omega 6.

Here's the way I think about the brain & Omega 3s.

Why don't salmon freeze up stiff as a board when they're swimming around the North Pacific waters?

Because they're made of fish oil.

Now picture a salmon made of margarine.

He's froze-solid, isn't he?

Stoll and others (IIRC) think it's possible fish oil is good for the brain because it replaces Omega 6s in cell membranes, which are made of fat.

If you're eating margarine, your brain cell membranes are made of margarine.

If you're eating fish, your brain cell membranes are made of fish oil.

Apparently, it's good to be a fish.

I have no idea whether this hypothesis is still current, but it's highly motivating. Every time I pull up an image of a semi-sold margarine brain I get serious about sticking with my fish oil regimen.

fish oil, pregnancy, IQ

I think Terri mentioned that they hope to have one more baby, so I wanted to get this study posted.

from THE ECONOMIST story:

...the amount of omega-3 in a pregnant woman's diet helps to determine her child's intelligence, fine-motor skills (such as the ability to manipulate small objects, and hand-eye co-ordination) and also propensity to anti-social behaviour.


That, at least, is the conclusion of Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at America's National Institutes of Health who has been working with a set of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The Avon study was begun 15 years ago by Jean Golding, of the University of Bristol, with the aim of unravelling the genetic and environmental pathways that predispose children to disease. It contains data on 14,000 expectant mothers and their offspring.


...the children of those women who had consumed the smallest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids during their pregnancies had verbal IQs six points lower than average...the finding is particularly pertinent because existing dietary advice to pregnant women, at least in America, is that they should limit their consumption of seafood in order to avoid exposing their fetuses to trace amounts of brain-damaging methyl mercury.


Dr Hibbeln, however, says his work shows that the benefits of eating such fish vastly outweigh the risks from the mercury in them. Indeed, in the Avon study, it was those children exposed to the lowest levels of methyl mercury who were at greatest risk of having low verbal 3½ years of age, those children with the best measures of fine-motor performance were the ones whose mothers had had the highest intake of omega-3s. Their third finding was that a low intake of omega-3s during pregnancy led to higher levels of pathological social interactions such as an inability to make friends as a child grew up.

....the “frightening data” showed how 14% of those seven-year-olds whose mothers had had the lowest intake of omega-3s during pregnancy demonstrated such behaviour, compared with 8% of those born to the highest-intake group.

converging lines of evidence


Studies such as this one, which rely on correlating one variable with another, are not enough to draw firm conclusions on their own, since correlation is not necessarily causation. But these results are supported by several lines of data. One is that the graphs show “dose response” curves—in other words, different levels of omega-3s have different effects. There is also a lot of experimental work showing that omega-3s have behavioural effects on adults. One of Dr Hibbeln's other studies, for example, showed that omega-3 supplements given to violent alcoholics reduced their anger levels by a third within three months

serotonin & dopamine hypothesis


It also helps to have a plausible mechanism, and Dr Hibbeln thinks there is one. Research published in 2000 by a group in Canada showed that giving omega-3 supplements to piglets doubled the levels of molecules called serotonin and dopamine in the frontal cortexes of the animals' brains. One of serotonin's jobs is to show growing nerve cells how they should connect from the frontal cortex, where reasoning takes place, to the limbic system, the seat of many emotional responses



there is a second way that its level might be reduced—by competition with a similar group of fatty acids called omega-6s. Indeed, it may be the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the membranes of cells—particularly nerve cells—which is at the root of the problem, since this can affect the ability of messenger molecules to pass through the membrane. The average cell membrane of an American, whose diet is low in fish and high in omega-6-rich vegetable oils, contains 20% omega-3-based lipids and 80% omega-6-based ones. (Some 10% of American calories now come from linoleic acid in maize and soya oils, the principal sources of omega-6s.) In a Japanese cell membrane, by contrast, the figures are 40% and 60% respectively.

words to live by

I love this.

Here's the title of Dr. Hibbeln's talk to the McCarrison Society:

I think I'll go pour Jimmy & Andrew a slug of their yummy new Norwegian cod liver oil right this minute.

autism & bipolar disorder & fish oil

Which reminds me.

I may have mentioned that Robert DeLong believes autism is caused by the genes for bipolar disorder expressed early in life, when the brain is still developing, instead of later on.

I believe him. When I say I 'believe' him, I mean I think that's what autism IS: autism is bipolar disorder expressed at birth or sometime around there. Until someone proves DeLong wrong, autism = bipolar is my personal hypothesis.

In an article in the March 23 issue of the journal Neurology, [ed.: I think this refers to the 1998 study] DeLong presents a new hypothesis that about two-thirds of children with the most common form of infantile autism actually have a treatable, genetically linked, early-onset form of severe depression. The argument is based on recent genetic analyses, behavioral studies and brain chemistry and imaging analyses on autistic children by researchers at Duke and several other institutions.

gold strike

I've just discovered DeLong has a recent publication on this subject. I've been out of the loop; I had no idea.

wow. It's a review article. So I've got this evening's reading all picked out.

Family history studies of autism consistently reveal a large subgroup with a high incidence of major mood disorder in family members, suggesting the two entities are related clinically and genetically. This review examines this concept, comparing current clinical and biological knowledge of autism and major mood disorder, and advances the hypothesis that this subgroup of autism represents an early-life phenotype of major mood disorder. If confirmed, this hypothesis would suggest that the basic biological defects determining major mood disorders may have prominent neurodevelopmental and cognitive dimensions. Testing of the hypothesis will depend on genetic studies.

The entire text is here: Autism and Familial Major Mood Disorder: Are They Related? J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 16:199-213, May 2004

in a nutshell

  • fish oil is good for the brain

  • fish oil may be especially important for pregnant women

  • fish oil is probably good for every aspect of brain function, including mood and cognition

  • we have strong evidence that fish oil treats bipolar disorder

  • we have very strong evidence (strong as in almost certainly definitive) that autism tracks with mood disorders

  • since fish oil treats bipolar disorder, it may well treat autism as well

  • if you're taking fish oil supplements you need to take Vitamins C & E, too. I forget why

  • American brain: 20% omega-3-based lipids, 80% omega-6-based ones

  • Japanese brain: 40% and 60%

No wonder we can't do math.

nix on the flax seed oil AND Vitamins C & E

A couple more factoids.

First, if you're taking fish oil supplements, you should take Vitamins E & C, too. I've forgotten why. There's some wonky mechanism where you can end up producing more free radicals (or something) & damaging brain cell membranes, etc.....obviously, I remember essentially nothing of this except that you're supposed to take E & C along with.

Second, I would skip the flax seed oil. First of all, it's different from fish oil somehow....I forget why.

But also, a psychiatrist friend of mine told me she'd heard from other psychiatrists that flax seed oil can actually cause mania.

That was interesting to hear, because I once gave Jimmy & Andrew big honking doses of flax seed oil & they were both up for the entire night, manic as all get out.

update from ktm guest

"So if flaxseed oil isn't good (and I had heard that it wasn't), then what would vegetarians take in order to get a healthy dose of Omega 3s?"

Flax is a good source of ALA, but not EPA and DHA. Fish oil is a good source of EPA and DHA. All three of these are omega-3 fatty acids. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, but it doesn't seem like this works very well when humans eat flax oil (according to some researchers). If you're a vegetarian then you're probably just screwed as far as finding a good source of EPA and DHA goes and you'll have to just stick with flax. Maybe there's some way of convincing the ALA to convert to EPA and DHA more readily.

"Is cod liver oil a liquid source of Omega 3?"

Yes. it is about 11% DHA, 7% EPA.

Thank you!

(This is exactly what I recall reading, btw. I also remember - NOT FACT CHECKED that grazing animals like cows can convert ALA to EPA & DHA. That's why cows don't need to eat fish.)

update from Ann

If you go back to the Omegabrite website, they now have OmegaBrite Kidz Tutti-Fruitti or Orange Cream flavor liquid omega 3 for kids. They only have to take 1/4 tsp.

I can't believe I didn't see that!

I'm thrilled.

Of course, first we're going to have to use up our two big honking bottles of Carlson's Norwegian cod liver oil.

The omegabrite website is new and improved. They seem to have posted abstracts of most or all of the psychiatric and cognitive research on the Omega 3s.

Here's where the research stands on autism and Omega 3 fatty acids:

At present, although omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered to be a promising therapeutic for autistic children (Kidd, 2002; Richardson and Ross, 2000), the best evidence currently available to support this claim comes from research showing that autistic children have lower DHA levels in blood than children with mental retardation (Vancassel, et al 2001; Bell, et al 2000). Additional support comes from evidence that low plasma omega-3 levels in boys were associated with behavior problems, temper tantrums, and sleep disorders (Stevens, et al 1996).
I should add that I don't see any particular changes in Jimmy & Andrew thanks to fish oil.

I give it to them because it's obvious to me that Omega 3 fatty acids are critically important for the brain, period - and because I do see obvious changes in me thanks to fish oil.

Jimmy & Andrew have such severe forms of autism that I don't think it would be pretty hard to see subtle improvements.

update: Andrew & cod liver oil

Since we have some parents with autistic kids reading the site, I think I should post this.

Both Andrew and Jimmy are highly sensitive to medication changes.

I ran out of my Nordic Natural liquid fish oil a couple of months ago, and didn't get around to ordering new fish oil until last week.

I ordered Carlson's cod liver oil.

Yesterday I gave Andrew 1 tsp, and he had a horrendous half-day. Then he settled down sometime in the afternoon, and was pretty good.

This morning he's been great.

Twenty minutes ago I gave him 1 tsp of Carlson's cod liver oil, and now he's screaming & tantruming.


I don't know what to make of this.

Either he's 'getting readjusted' to fish oil, or he's not supposed to be taking cod liver oil.

I don't remember problems like this with the Nordic Natural product. (Which is not to say they didn't happen. We have so much tantruming & screaming that we often miss the cause.)

Jimmy's been fine both days. But he's 18, and much more stable than Andrew at this point. (fyi: Andrew is 11. He is Christopher's twin.)

I have no idea whether Andrew's tantrums are connected to the cod liver oil.

However, I'll probably go ahead and order the new Omegabrite produce & switch him to that. Jimmy can use up the cod liver oil....

update: Andrew's fine, too

There's obviously no problem with Andrew taking Carlson's product.

update: The Omega Plan

Joseph Hibbeln recommends Artemis P. Simopoulos & Jo Robinson's book, which was the first book I read about the Omega 3s. Simopoulos also did NIH-funded research on the Omega 3 fatty acids, IIRC.

I thought it was terrific.







while we're on the subject of Jo Robinson —

I also like her book When Your Body Gets the Blues very much.

Check out her research page - wonderful stuff on light, mood, & weight (though I can't find the study they used to have posted showing weight loss from sitting in the sun....). The original 'body blues' study is here.

WHEN YOUR BODY GETS THE BLUES is the other alternative-medicine self-help book I believe absolutely.

Ever since reading the book, I try to get all 3 kids outdoors in the sun for 20 minutes every day.

These study findings suggest that a program of moderate-intensity walking, increased light exposure, and selected vitamins can improve women's mood. The high level of adherence to the intervention suggests that women could comfortably incorporate this tri-modal program into their daily lives. These findings extend the work of other studies that have demonstrated the positive influence of each independent component (light, exercise, and vitamins) on mood (Kripke 1998; Wirz-Justice et al. 1996; Blumenthal et al. 1999; Moses et al. 1989; Benton, Fordy, and Haller 1995).

Women in the intervention group improved significantly compared to those in the control group on all five dependent variables that measured mood and well-being. Not only did their depression scores decrease, they also reported greater self-esteem, improved general well-being, and greater happiness.

We were particularly interested in determining whether the intervention addressed symptoms more prevalent in women than men, such as anxiety and fatigue. The subscales of the POMS showed that the women in the intervention group experienced a significant decrease in anger and tension. Meanwhile their vitality improved, as measured by the GWB subscales.

Omega 3 fatty acids
brain food

-- CatherineJohnson - 03 Feb 2006

SnowPlowDrama 13 Feb 2006 - 23:45 CatherineJohnson

Good Lord.

The guys are out trying to plow our drive, and there's so much snow the main driver almost ran over his men. They had to jump out of the way when the truck skidded downhill towards them.

Now one of them fell down.

This is harrowing.

I've got some pictures of Christopher buried in snow....

help desk

We got a new camera for Christmas.

The old camera is taking blue pictures.

Would that happen because the battery is dying? (The battery is at least 3 years old, maybe more.)






It's impossible to get a shot of Andrew in focus.


oops, I lied

-- CatherineJohnson - 12 Feb 2006

PitBulls 22 Feb 2006 - 15:04 CatherineJohnson

They are incredible dogs.

Here's Vicki Hearne:

“There are a lot of pit bulls these days who are licensed therapy dogs,” the writer Vicki Hearne points out. “Their stability and resoluteness make them excellent for work with people who might not like a more bouncy, flibbertigibbet sort of dog. When pit bulls set out to provide comfort, they are as resolute as they are when they fight, but what they are resolute about is being gentle. And, because they are fearless, they can be gentle with anybody.”

It's true.

-- CatherineJohnson - 22 Feb 2006

WhatKindOfWeatherAreYou 23 Feb 2006 - 06:24 CatherineJohnson

You Are a Rainbow
Breathtaking and rare
You are totally enchanting and intriguing
But you usually don't stick around long!

You are best known for: your beauty

Your dominant state: seducing

This has nothing whatsoever to do with me.


This one, on the other hand, sounds exactly like me:

You Are 4% Abnormal
You are at low risk for being a psychopath. It is unlikely that you have no soul.

You are at low risk for having a borderline personality. It is unlikely that you are a chaotic mess.

You are at low risk for having a narcissistic personality. It is unlikely that you are in love with your own reflection.

You are at low risk for having a social phobia. It is unlikely that you feel most comfortable in your mom's basement.

You are at low risk for obsessive compulsive disorder. It is unlikely that you are addicted to hand sanitizer.

-- CatherineJohnson - 22 Feb 2006

MyDreamCar 27 Feb 2006 - 00:27 CarolynJohnston

I have found it


More pictures here, here, here, and here.

-- CarolynJohnston - 26 Feb 2006

RedeemerPresbyterianInManhattan 26 Feb 2006 - 18:01 CatherineJohnson

This is interesting.

Today's TIMES (front page headline: 'Miller's Last Olympic Stumble Is Final Blow to U.S. Swagger') has an article in the METRO section about a large and growing Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

In the twilight of the biggest snowstorm in New York City's history, the pews of a rented Baptist church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were packed for the Rev. Timothy J. Keller's fourth sermon of the day.

The 600 or so who braved the snow for the evening service got what they had come to expect — a compelling discourse by Dr. Keller, this time on Jesus' healing of the paralytic, that quoted such varied sources as C. S. Lewis, The Village Voice and the George MacDonald fairy tale "The Princess and the Goblin." It was the kind of cogent, literary sermon that has helped turn Dr. Keller, a former seminary professor whose only previous pulpit experience was at a small blue-collar church in rural Virginia, into the pastor many call Manhattan's leading evangelist.

Over the last 16 years, Dr. Keller's church, Redeemer Presbyterian, has swelled to 4,400 attendees, mostly young professionals and artists who do not fit the prototypical evangelical mold, spread out across four different services on Sundays. Although Dr. Keller, 55, is hardly a household name among believers outside New York — in part because he has avoided the Christian speaking circuit — his renown is growing in pastoral circles and in the movement to establish or "plant" new churches, a trend among evangelicals these days.

Pastors from around the world are beginning to come in a steady stream to New York City to glean what they can from Dr. Keller and Redeemer. Their goal is to learn how to create similarly effective churches in cosmopolitan cities like New York, which exert outsize influence on the prevailing culture but have traditionally been neglected by evangelicals in favor of the suburbs.


Since 2000, when it established its own training center for "church planters," as they are called in evangelical parlance, Redeemer has helped start more than 50 churches in the city, from faith traditions and denominations as diverse as Assemblies of God, Lutheran and Southern Baptist. In addition, it has helped found 17 "daughter churches" of its own Presbyterian denomination in communities like Williamsburg and Park Slope, Brooklyn; Astoria, Queens; and Hoboken, N.J.


Unlike most suburban megachurches, much of Redeemer is remarkably traditional — there is no loud rock band or flashy video. What is not traditional is Dr. Keller's skill in speaking the language of his urbane audience. On the day of the snowstorm, Dr. Keller tackled a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which the friends of a paralyzed man carry him to Jesus. At least initially, however, Jesus does not heal the man but offers him a puzzling line about his sins being forgiven.

Part of the point, said Dr. Keller, is people do not realize that their deepest desires often do not match up with their deepest needs.


Sept. 11 proved to be a defining moment for the church. On the Sunday after the terrorist attack, more than 5,000 people showed up.

So many people packed the church's Sunday morning service that Dr. Keller called another service on the spot, and 700 people came back to attend. While attendance returned to normal in other churches after several weeks, Redeemer kept attracting about 800 more people a week than it had drawn before the attack.

"For the next five years, I would talk to people about when they joined the church, and they said right after 9/11," Dr. Keller said.


After the attack, the church also began to increase its training for those working to found churches. His church's main goal, Dr. Keller said, is to teach pastors how to truly love the city, rather than fear its worldly influences. Unlike many evangelicals, Dr. Keller advocates an indirect approach to change. "If you seek power before service, you'll neither get power, nor serve," he said. "If you seek to serve people more than to gain power, you will not only serve people, you will gain influence. That's very much the way Jesus did it."

As a result, one of Redeemer's hallmarks has always been its focus on charity, something it emphasizes in its training of urban pastors. It operates a program called Hope for New York that arranges volunteer opportunities for people from Redeemer with 35 different partner organizations. Last year, 3,300 people from the church volunteered their time.


On the night of the snowstorm, Dr. Keller closed his monologue with a moving riff on Jesus' love in spite of humanity's flaws, and a quote from C. S. Lewis, one of his favorite writers: "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation."

Preaching the Word and Quoting the Voice by Michael Luo
New York Times Sunday 2-26-2005 Metro p. 29

There's a slide show here. The congregants are incredibly young, and there are no children anywhere. (No mention of a Sunday School, either.) For me, it's strange.

I'm going to have to go hear him preach.



-- CatherineJohnson - 26 Feb 2006

ImGladCarolynWasntOnThisPlane 01 Mar 2006 - 20:38 CatherineJohnson

And I'm positively thrilled I was nowhere near this thing:

A stewardess caused panic by repeatedly screaming "We're going to crash" when a packed plane hit turbulance.

The Virgin flight hit bad weather three hours into a journey from Gatwick to Las Vegas.

Some passengers were sick and others thrown from their seats as luggage, drinks and trays were tossed around.

Those using the toilet at the time were stuck in the cubicle while others prayed and cried.

And their ordeal was intensified by the screaming stewardess.

Passenger Paul Gibson told The Daily Mirror: "She began screaming every time the plane shook.

"She shouted at the top of her voice, 'We're going to crash! We're going to crash! We're going to crash!"

The un-named woman - in her mid 20s - also lobbed sick bags across the cabin when poorly passengers screamed for more.

Crew members say it was the worst turbulance they had encountered.

A spokesman for Virgin said no complaint had been received.

"Turbulance can be a very frightening ordeal," he added.

I'll say.

source: 'We're Going To Crash!'
Updated: 16:08, Tuesday February 28, 2006
Sky News

-- CatherineJohnson - 01 Mar 2006

IPodOf2099 03 Mar 2006 - 02:48 CarolynJohnston

This photo cracks me up (I found it here-- thanks to EmmaAnne).

This is just what I need; an ipod so small I can tuck it into a pore on my nose for safekeeping.


-- CarolynJohnston - 02 Mar 2006

SayHelloToTheYetiCrab 16 Mar 2006 - 21:48 CatherineJohnson


In the Deep, Deep Sea, the 'Yeti crab'

-- CatherineJohnson - 16 Mar 2006

QuestionAboutTabletPCs 26 Mar 2006 - 22:06 CarolynJohnston

I stopped in at Compusa this evening to try out a tablet PC.


I have heard that tablet PCs are perfect for the sort of people who are always taking notes on legal pads (that would be me).

I love to write. I mean I love to write PHYSICALLY. Paper, on the other hand, is a pain. So I have hope that a tablet PC would be the perfect widget for me.

However, Compusa had only two tablet PCs. Both were locked down to the display, and I was told by the surly young fellow who waited on me that they couldn't be unlocked. And the styluses for both were broken, so I couldn't even test them sideways.

Does anyone other than Compusa sell actual computers any more? I find myself unable to think of anyone. It's the ToysRUs problem.

Does anyone have any experience with tablet PCs, who can tell me whether they found it useful and enjoyed using it?

-- CarolynJohnston - 24 Mar 2006

BabyNameWizard 31 Mar 2006 - 15:13 CarolynJohnston

Check out the Baby Name Wizard, which shows the top 100 baby names over the last 10 or so decades, and their relative standing in popularity over that time.

It's about the coolest data visualization demonstration ever. Type your name in at the top to see how its popularity has changed with time.

-- CarolynJohnston - 30 Mar 2006

EasterSunday 19 Apr 2006 - 17:55 CarolynJohnston


Happy Easter, everyone!

It's a fabulous day here. Colin is here, the dogs got a big walk, the blossoming trees are blooming, and my friends from New Orleans (yes, they lost everything) are visiting, and I finally am getting to spoil them as I have wanted to ever since Katrina.

I really couldn't ask for more.

-- CarolynJohnston - 17 Apr 2006

GamesGamesGames 22 Apr 2006 - 21:57 CatherineJohnson

from Doug

Doug: "Did I ever mention that I was the editor of Games Quarterly Catalog, Games Annual Magazine, and Hobbies Quarterly Catalog for many years?"

Ktm people: No! You didn't mention!

This is incredibly cool:

I'll preface this by saying that I have hundreds of games, so the list will be a bit less systematic than I might prefer. I'll also warn you that this has gotten a bit longer than I planned at the start. At any rate, here we go:

Acquire - Design by Sid Sackson, simple tile-laying mechanism. The meat of the game is buying stock in the right hotel chains to be richer than all the other players at the end of the game. The game was designed in 1962, and I still play it pretty regularly.

Domaine - This is a terrority control game, vaguely similar in some ways to Go, but with a variety of conflict mechanisms and a scoring system that's much more complex. This isn't to say it's as difficult to play as Go, though the rules are more difficult.

Medici - Nearly pure auction/perceived value game. This is quick, but the decisions are very hard. Easy to teach, but hard to play well.

Medieval Merchant - Network building game, nominally about trade in medieval Germany. Not conceptually difficult, but it rewards a good understanding of opportunity costs.

San Juan - A card game derived from the same company's Puerto Rico. It plays very fast (under 30 minutes when everyone is experienced and playing quickly). Each game's strategy is driven by each player's card draw, so the replay value is high. The decisions are difficult, especially the first few games.

Starship Cataan - Deceptively complex, this is one of my favorite 2-player games. The game revolves around exploring, trading, upgrading your spaceship, and occasionally fighting to gain 10 victory points.

Ticket to Ride - Railroad network game set in the US. Connecting randomly chosen pairs of cities and building long track links both give the points necessary to win. Fast and easy to understand, but very competitive. Opportunity cost and tempo are critical to success.

Ticket to Ride, Europe - Very similar game system to Ticket to Ride, but the game plays very differently. Points from long links are limited, so the game revolves around connecting cities. The board is much more crowded than the board for Ticket to Ride.

Titan - Out of print for many years and nearly impossible to find, I mention this because I love the game and because there's a Java version of the game here. The boardgame version can take nearly forever to play (I remember a game taking 17 hours when I was younger), but the Java version is much faster. The game requires remembering what is likely to be in each hidden stack of each of your opponents, and a certain tactical facility for success on the battle maps.

I'll also mention a game I don't like much, but that everyone else seems to love:

Settlers of Cataan - This is consistently one of the most popular games at gaming conventions. It requires that you build a small empire by outcompeting your opponents for space and resources. It is likely that one player in a full 4-player game will find himself out of the running fairly early, but people still love it.

And a couple of games that my wife likes (her tastes are a bit different than mine):

Blokus - An abstract territorial control game, the game wants exactly 4 players. (There's a two-player travel version as well.) Both my wife and my six-year-old son like this game, and it rewards pretty deep thought as well.

Evo - This is a quirky game that plays pretty well with 3-5 players. Each turn, you'll try to evolve your species to take advantage of the prevailing climate and competition. You can win by outbreeding, outfighting, or outmaneuvering your opponents. Part of the fun is building your bizarre species.

I'll also mention a couple of genres of games that can be fascinating, but that are decidedly not to everyones' tastes:

Collectible Card Games (CCGs) - The first of these, and still the biggest, is Magic: the Gathering. This class of games involves each player purchasing random assortments of cards and building decks from the available cards to play against the decks built by other players from their own collections. Biggest problem - the games can be expensive. That said, if you're good, you don't need to spend much to be competitive below the very highest levels. While the basic rules of the games aren't all that complex, each card can modify those basic rules in a wide variety of ways. Combinatorics, cost-benefit analyses, and a very strong understanding of opportunity costs are your very best friends here.

Role-Playing Games (RPGs) - The original, and also still the market leader, is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). They're basically just "let's pretend" with rules. The simplest have very limited rules, the most complex have thousands of pages of rules. Many players have credited RPGs with providing incentive for learning complex vocabularies and improving their math. Given the demonstrated literacy levels of some of the posters at the website above, these claims may be exaggerated.

The reported problems with these are wildly overblown. While obsession can be a problem, the same is true of video games, football, or nearly any other pastime. My wife and I have played simplified versions of D&D with our son with very good results. When you're six, the chance to be the hero of the story is really cool.

Finally, I'll note that many of the links to individual games were to pages at, which is an excellent source of information about boardgames.


from Google Master
I can't add anything to what Doug has said except to point interested parties to Board Game Geek.

Oh, and to recommend Steve Jackson Games for inexpensive games with a quirky sense of humor.


from Ken

Here's a few German-style games that I'd recommend as an introduction to non-gamers. These are more family-oriented and less for geeky gamers.

Lost Cities
Liar's Dice
High Society
For Sale
Can't Stop
Apples to Apples
Mamma Mia
Frank's Zoo
Auf Heller und Pfennig
Flinke Pinke
Hol's der Geier
David & Goliath

Settlers is showing its age a bit. Still good, but not necessarily a must-buy as it used to be for intoductory gamers. The rules are brutally convoluted and complex until you learn them.

-- CatherineJohnson - 21 Apr 2006

EarthBoxesForEarthDay 22 Apr 2006 - 14:20 CatherineJohnson

Last year (we're reaching our one-year anniversary) Carolyn wanted me to remind her when it's time to buy an EarthBox or two.

It's time!


I still want the indoor-version of one of these things.

EarthBox investigation with Christopher
adjustable reservoir for indoor plants
EarthBox reminder
self-watering pots and planters from Denmark

-- CatherineJohnson - 22 Apr 2006

AdjustableReservoirForIndoorPlants 22 Apr 2006 - 21:47 CatherineJohnson

I've been wanting something like this ever since my mom bought us an EarthBox two years ago. A few months back I found an expensive variant of this "adjustable reservoir" indoor pot, made in a Scandinavian company, in an online catalogue whose URL I seem not to have recorded. But that pot was designed mostly to be lovely to look at.

This is the real thing:


source: has lots of EarthBox-type outdoor planters as well

I managed to kill one of my few house plants this winter, through inattention, general spaciness, and way too much multi-tasking. I've been feeling bad about it ever since, and naturally, being an American, I've been thinking Technology Can Solve My Problem.

Speaking of technology solving my problems, I also missed a doctor's appointment this week, and will solve that problem by finally purchasing a PDA that links to my Mac, which my old PDA does not, or not smoothly enough at any rate for me to be willing to troubleshoot the software every time I need to synch.

I don't know whether the adjustable reservoir will work as well for indoor plants as the EarthBox does for outdoor plants.

However, I expect it will, assuming the reservoir holds enough water to tide my plants over on the days I forget they exist. I'm guessing that the reason the EarthBox works so well is the same reason producing your own insulin is vastly preferable to injecting yourself with insulin on a schedule. The plant gets the water it needs when it needs it, and it never gets too much or too little.

It's a form of biological 'efficiency,' I guess.


efficiency in learning?

It's the same kind of efficiency I want to see in education, including self-teaching.....what is the most efficient, most thorough and rapid way to learn a subject or a skill? And by 'efficient, thorough, and rapid' I don't mean the kind of brute-force Death March to Harvard schedules imposed on kids by elite private schools, which around these parts assign 9th graders 6 hours of homework a night.

I think Seigfried Engelmann may be one of the few people on the planet with real insight into this question, and nobody listens to him. Well, Seigfried and Toru Kumon.

I say 'I think,' because I haven't dug into this. It's entirely possible cognitive science has something to say about learning efficiency. Another item on my to-do list.


EarthBox investigation with Christopher
adjustable reservoir for indoor plants
EarthBox reminder
self-watering pots and planters from Denmark

-- CatherineJohnson - 22 Apr 2006

SelfWateringFlowerpot 22 Apr 2006 - 21:25 CatherineJohnson

I tracked down the beautiful self-watering pots I remembered seeing awhile back. Turns out they are designed by a Danish company, Eva Solo.

Denmark is probably my favorite country. When Jimmy was born, our neighborhood was teeming with Danish au pairs, and they were incredible girls.

Studio City was like a little laboratory in National Culture - girls from Denmark, South Africa, Holland, Germany - from everywhere. The Danish girls were astoundingly sensible, mature, intelligent, responsible - and lots of fun to have around. Before we hired our first Danish au pair, I picked up a travel book on Denmark that said the Danes were the 'Latins' of Scandinavia. Turned out to be true.

While I'm on the subject of Denmark, for awhile now I've been pondering which of the books on Denmark's rescue of its Jews in WWII to order for Christopher. I think I've settled on Conquered, Not Defeated: Growing Up in Denmark During the German Occupation of World War II.


weird synchronicity

Jimmy just came into the kitchen and started chanting, 'He wants to water the plants, he wants to water the plants.'


This is a self-watering planter:




EarthBox investigation with Christopher
adjustable reservoir for indoor plants
EarthBox reminder
self-watering pots and planters from Denmark

-- CatherineJohnson - 22 Apr 2006

YoungerNextYear 22 Aug 2006 - 13:16 CatherineJohnson

I've been meaning to drop in a post about the book Younger Next Year and its sequel, Younger Next Year for Women.

I found out about the books a few weeks ago when I met with Eric Hollander and his agent, Laura Yorke. I'm finally getting around to posting this, because I liked today's email from the Younger Next Year website:

Harry on ... Growth, Decay and Cancer

C-reactive protein, one of the most widely used blood markers for inflammation (C6), now seems to be a useful marker for people whose pre-cancerous lung lesions may advance to invasive lung cancer. In a recent study, scientists learned that the level of CRP was a good predictor of the progression of lesions over the course of six months. A host of similar studies linked inflammatory signaling molecules to disease. Since exercise reduces the inflammatory burden (and the level of these same signaling molecules), the studies offer tantalizing clues into the specifics of how exercise reduces the risk of cancer.

Read more of Harry's medical commentary

I find that pretty useful. A) it's interesting and B) it's motivating. I need all the motivation I can get to eat vegetables instead of potato chips & Hershey bars — especially now that I take a medication, Strattera, that keeps me artifically thin in spite of the fact that I do persistently eat potato chips and Hershey bars.

Bragging rights: Jimmy was one of the first autistic people in the country to take Risperdal, (see below) and I am one of the first women in the country to take an honest-to-god diet drug no one else knows about. We're the early adopter clan.

update 8-22-2006: Seth Roberts' Shangri-La diet has put a dent in the potato chip and Hershey bar consumption around here.

the emerging science of aging

The argument of the book is that if you follow the recommended exercise and diet program for one year's time you will be younger next year. Specifically, your circulatory system will be younger. (Your skin will continue to look like hell. No hope there.)

This argument draws on studies published in the past 10 years. The thinking is that bodies are like sharks, which must swim or die. We have two settings: growth and decay. If we aren't growing, we're decaying. Yuck. Children grow no matter what; growth is their default mode.

Once you hit 40, you favor decay over growth. The minute you sit down, decay sets in.

YNY's argument is that you can game the system; you can deceive your body into thinking you're still on the growth side of the ageing curve. To do this you must exercise 45 minutes a day, day-in and day-out, for the rest of your life.


Forty-five minutes of exercise causes your limbic system to conclude that it's springtime on the Serengetti. IIRC, the theory is that bodies are built to decay over winter so as to conserve energy. (Young bodies, too? Just older bodies? I forget.) It's costly to build up the circulatory system and musculature, so our bodies let everything go to pot during the winter months. Apparently, rebuilding come springtime is 'cheaper' than maintaining year round.

It's been a few weeks since I read the first half of the book, and I'm beginning to wonder whether the book has as many apparent contradictions as I seem to be remembering at the moment. I don't think so.

Suffice it to say I think the argument is right — right for now, at least. It jibes with everything I've experienced, and the program, which I had been following religiously until the last couple of weeks, is shockingly effective. I say this because the 'Homework Nazi' mom I mention from time to time, who happens also to be an exercise maniac (she's run in marathons & exercises for hours each day) stopped by last week and interrupted herself in the middle of our conversation to say, 'Have you lost weight? You look different.'

I don't think I've lost weight, but I definitely look different. It's pretty amazing.

The combination of lousy weather and lousy school politics has knocked me off stride recently, so as soon as I finish this, I'm off to hike the wilds of Irvington.

don't say I didn't warn you

If you happen to be a middle-aged woman, the book becomes a supremely irritating read by page 100 or so, although parts are beautifully written. It's narrated by two men, 'Dr. Harry' and 'Chris.' However, both sections are written by Chris and it shows.

Chris is Harry's 73-year old patient, who has been following Harry's program for 10 or 20 years (I forget which) and who does, indeed, look great. He's a retired attorney who's on his third marriage, to 'Hillary,' a 'portraitist' in her 40s. Chris has lots of advice to offer middle-aged women on qualities that do and do not arouse 73 year old men.

For instance, cranky menopausal attitude is a turn-off.

Perky, bouncy twentysomething enthusiasm is a turn-on.

There's only so much of this a person can take.

It's a good book anyway, and when I get over my pique at Chris, I plan to finish reading it.

note: you can probably read only the Dr. Harry sections and get the jist. That's what I'm planning to do for the second half.

update 8-22-2006: Still trying to finish the damn thing.

doctors thinking out loud

One of the silver linings of having two kids with autism is that we've had close relationships with a series of brilliant psychiatrists. A 'close relationship' with a brilliant psychiatrist - or with any professional who knows his stuff - means that we've been able to listen to these doctors think out loud. Jimmy was one of the first autistic children in the country to take Risperdal because our psychiatrist, Arthur Sorosky of Encino, CA, thought it through and said to us, "There's a new drug coming on the market next fall that I think Jimmy should try."

Risperdal saved Jimmy's life.

That was 1994. In a strange twist of synchronicity - I didn't sit down this morning to write a post about Risperdal - today is the first day Jimmy has been completely free of Risperdal since that year. We've moved on to Abilify, which is working so far, and which is not causing him to gain weight. The pounds he gained on Risperdal are falling away. Keep your fingers crossed.

I bring this up because I'm contemplating subscribing to the Younger Next Year website in order to read Harry's thoughts on the latest health news. Harry has an interesting mind.

I like to hear people with interesting minds think out loud.

That's why I like writing Kitchen Table Math as a matter of fact. After I write something, I get to hear people with interesting minds think out loud.

update: WAPO review YNY

To vastly oversimplify the theory: Your body and brain have evolved so that behaviors that helped our ancestors survive -- robust daily physical activity and close links to members of a tribe or clan -- send positive signals to our most fundamental biological systems that say life is good: grow, heal, thrive. Being sedentary and isolated tells those deep wiring and plumbing operations to shut down, decay, die.

I think you know where this is going. Be active and connected, and you're telling your body, in code its most primitive systems understand, to turn up the growth juice. Sit around with beer, TV and any snack ending in "-o" (to use another of the authors' ripe phrases), and you're telling your body it's time to close down, its work on earth complete.

Co-author Lodge, a Manhattan internist who is on the faculty of Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, draws on current work in evolutionary biology and human neurochemistry to make the case. I'm in no position to judge the soundness of the theory, but it dovetails awfully well with aging research that demonstrates the many benefits of regular exercise; the superior outcomes of those with close family and friends; and the advantages of eating, well, less crap.

Co-author Crowley is a 70-year-old ex-lawyer and a patient of Lodge's. Ten years ago he was a creature of lazy pleasures, 40 pounds overweight and starting to feel weaker, slower and dumber. For a decade under Lodge's eye he has been living like a model hunter-gatherer, and offers a clear-eyed, funny, liver-spots-and-all report.


too much money
Younger Next Year

-- CatherineJohnson - 25 Apr 2006

LostAtiTunes 27 Apr 2006 - 17:52 CatherineJohnson

No posts today or maybe ever again as I am Lost in iTunes.

I am Lost in iTunes because I purchased an iPod Shuffle, and today I plugged it in.

Nothing has been the same since.

Specifically, and skipping the gory details, I have iTunes 4, and I need iTunes 6.

I can't install iTunes 6, because "There is nothing to install."

so.....I'm on hold


update: done

3 hours

it would have been about 30 minutes if Apple had transferred me to 'Level 2' to begin with

-- CatherineJohnson - 27 Apr 2006

ScenesFromADayPart2 01 May 2006 - 21:12 CarolynJohnston

Catherine's anthrax story in her post Scenes From a Day reminds me of my own post 9/11 story of absurd paranoia... and I wonder whether everyone doesn't have some great story about it?

I'm afraid to fly -- and I have been ever since Ben was around 2 -- but I fly anyway. I've learned to cope with it to some degree.

A month or two after 9/11, I had to fly to San Diego on a business trip one evening. I got on the plane; it was a 737. There weren't very many people on it -- lots of empty rows -- but three of the men on it were Arab, which is unusual for Denver. They weren't sitting together. All of which made me very nervous (of course, I would also have been nervous if they were sitting together).

It was a bumpy ride, in all possible senses, so I was a nervous wreck, and one of the Arab guys kept getting up and going to the bathroom. I was watching him like a hawk -- I was watching all of them like a hawk -- I was going to STOP them if I had to.

After the third time he went to the bathroom, I was certain he was up to something. So -- I kid you not -- I went into the little bathroom and started poking around to see if he might have done something. Nothing was wrong, apparently, but I was still suspicious, so I actually took a Dixie cup and tipped down the little widget that covers the hole in the port-a-potty. I am here to report to you that floating turds in a chemical toilet, that are covered with the slightly iridescent chemicals they use, look to an extremely panicky person like plastic explosive.

At about that point I rolled my eyes at myself internally, and went back to my seat.

-- CarolynJohnston - 29 Apr 2006

GenniferFlowers 12 May 2006 - 03:38 CatherineJohnson


theme astral for Gennifer Flowers

I'm sorry, I had to do it.

Martine just came in and said Gennifer Flowers has had plastic surgery and now looks like Courtney Love, which naturally led to a Google quest to see Gennifer Flowers-qua-Courtney Love.

I didn't find Gennifer-Courtney, but I did find this.

I find it riveting. Don't know why.

-- CatherineJohnson - 08 May 2006

TaylorHicks 11 May 2006 - 13:41 CatherineJohnson

Are Taylor Hicks and Jonathan Schnur the same person?

Or am I missing a layer of irony in this post at eduwonk & this one at the National Alliance for Charter Schools?


if Jonathan Schnur = Taylor Hicks....

....does Taylor Hicks pluck his eyebrows when it's time to turn back into Jonathan Schnur?



Now I'm thinking it's the other way around.



New Leaders for New Schools

-- CatherineJohnson - 11 May 2006

ImDoomed 26 Sep 2006 - 17:00 CatherineJohnson

ABC has cancelled Invasion.

I won't survive another year at the middle school without Invasion.

Won't, won't, won't.

email ABC here

YOUR MISSION: drop everything you're doing, go to ABC RIGHT THIS MINUTE, and tell them YOUR LIFE WILL END WITHOUT INVASION.

Doesn't matter if you've never heard of it. It's reportedly the ABC president's favorite show ("As for "Invasion," skein was a personal favorite of ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson. But despite a huge promotional push behind the show, viewers simply never warmed to the concept."), and I think we can all agree that the president of ABC should not have his own special show taken off the air no matter how many viewers did or did not warm to the thing.

Thank God I took everyone's advice and ordered Firefly.


Steve McPherson.

I'm guessing INVASION is the kind of show people whose last names start with "Mc" tend to like.

-- CatherineJohnson - 26 May 2006

AnotherOneBitesTheDust 08 Jun 2006 - 18:08 CatherineJohnson

(I logged onto the TIMES, looking for an article on Cesar Millan, and this is what popped up. Thursday, June 8, 2006 Last Update: 8:53 AM ET)



-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Jun 2006

CircumHorizonArc 08 Jun 2006 - 21:21 CatherineJohnson


Daily Mail

-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Jun 2006

ActivityLeadingToFurtherActivityWithBadness 07 Aug 2006 - 21:16 CatherineJohnson

Ed and I cracked up yesterday when we learned that Sayyid Qutb, the Karl Marx of Al Qaeda, went to ed school.

Wright draws a fascinating picture of Sayyid Qutb, the font of modern Islamic fundamentalism, a frail, middle-aged writer who found himself, as a visitor to the United States and a student at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley in the 1940’s, overwhelmed by the unbridled splendor and godlessness of modern America.

The Plot Against America

Paul Berman says Qutb earned his Masters degree at Colorado.

So if Qutb hadn't "kissed the gallows" in Egypt he could have been a certified teacher here in the US.

bonus factoid

Osama Bin Laden is 6 feet tall.

activity leading to further activity without badness

-- CatherineJohnson - 07 Aug 2006

SeptemberElevenWorkbook 09 Aug 2006 - 02:18 CatherineJohnson

I love the Sun.

Today's front page carries this story:

Schoolchildren Get ‘Trivia Questions' About 9/11 Attack

BY KELLY BIT - Special to the Sun
August 8, 2006

An activity book for children about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks being distributed to schools with funding from Keyspan, North Fork Bank, and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges contains pages of "trivia questions" and math problems about the attack.

The booklet, funded in part by an event involving Olympic silver medal winner Nancy Kerrigan, is intended to make for "a happy 9/11 commemorative event," said Tara Modlin, the founder of the organization distributing it, Stars, Stripes & Skates."To teach kids about an event so morbid, we needed to make something fun for them," she said.


Stars, Stripes & Skates, an organization that hosts an annual ice-skating fund-raiser that commemorates the September 11 attacks, is currently distributing 10,000 booklets, which include math equations involving the numbers nine and 11, a connect-the-dot exercise that shows New York's old skyline, a word search for keywords such as "Osama bin Laden," "Twin Towers," and "Taliban," and various "trivia questions." The booklets are being delivered to schools and ice rinks across the Northeast.

In the clues for the "word search," Mayor Giuliani's name is misspelled.

Ms. Modlin said her main goal was to use "child-friendly articles" to inspire children to ask questions of their parents and guardians about September 11th. "It's a tough word, Osama bin Laden," she said. "We don't define it so kids can ask their parents who that is." She said if her child asked her who Osama bin Laden is, she would say, "That's a really bad man who did bad things to others."

Number one, any child old enough to do word searches for "Taliban" is old enough to absorb more information about 9-11 than really bad men doing really bad things. At a minimum, one could use a synonym or two for "bad" that an eight-year old hasn't heard before. Like "appalling," say. Or "nefarious." Or "execrable." Maybe a 9-11 workbook could have a whole synonym word search! Help these kids pick up their 15 new words for the day.

math activities, too!

The math trivia section includes equations that show "relationships" between "the mystery number 11" and the attacks, such as "9/11, 9+1+1 =," which children should find equals 11.

Number two, the edu-world had nothing to do with these workbooks, which is part of our problem here at Kitchen Table Math. The general public just doesn't know much about education. Even with a psychology degree (in cognitive psych, no less) and twenty years spent writing about psychology, I knew next to nothing about education research, the history of progressive education in this country, or public education politics & policy when Christopher started school. After spending the past two years immersed in the subject, I'm still trying to figure it all out.

By the time parents know enough about the public schools to mount a serious campaign against edu-tomfoolery in their own districts, their kids have graduated.

how much reading a day?

-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Aug 2006

BadWeather 03 Sep 2006 - 00:47 CatherineJohnson

I'm incredibly tired of lousy weather.

I enjoy looking at pictures of lousy weather, however.

Kirk Condyles for The New York Times

It was a gray day on Long Beach, Long Island, on Saturday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto moved through the region.

Chris Gardner/Associated Press

A farm worker tried to straighten a peach tree in Point Lookout, Md., on Saturday.

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The Clear Water Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, Long Island, was nearly deserted on Saturday as Tropical Storm Ernesto struck the region.

Remnants of Ernesto Drench East Coast ($)

-- CatherineJohnson - 03 Sep 2006

PetEvacuationAct 26 Oct 2006 - 19:14 CatherineJohnson

This is cool —

October 10, 2006

Dear Catherine,

This past Friday at the White House, President Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act into law.

This landmark legislation, which was strongly backed by The Humane Society of the United States, requires local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency. When I was in the Gulf during Hurricane Katrina, I saw the government's failure to have a plan for helping animals. Tens of thousands of animals suffered terribly and were lost or left behind because our communities and responders didn't have a plan in place.

With more than 358 million pets in the United States residing in 63 percent of American households, the PETS Act will help ensure that Americans never again are faced with the horrifying choice of abandoning their pet and finding their way to safety, or staying with their pet and remaining in a hazardous, and potentially life-threatening situation.

Some states and local communities have already engaged in disaster preparedness for animals, and with a federal law now in place, the future for you and your companion animal in a disaster is much brighter.

Thank you for helping us pass the PETS Act, and for all you do on behalf of animals!

Wayne Pacelle
President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States

I remember watching one impoverished 50- or 60-year old woman being forced to leave her tiny house and her dog....and I just don't ever want to see that again.

Your house is gone, lady, and now it's time to kiss your dog goodbye! (No criticism of the rescue workers intended. They were overrun; they had their marching orders; they needed to follow their orders. Most of the time people have to come first.)

Probably like most dog people, that was my most upsetting moment, watching the coverage.

An entire city devastated by a massive hurricane?

Thousands dead? [as we thought in the first days]

I could watch all of that with some sense of distance. But the instant I saw uniformed men telling some lady her dog had to go it was you are there.

I know we have our "no politics" rule around here, but pet evacuation, like the math wars, transcends the culture wars.

So I put this up.

We had a funny moment re: dog law around here awhile back.

A few months ago Surfer — it would be Surfer — mortally wounded an enormous raccoon the size of a two-year old in the brush behind my neighbor's house.

My neighbor called the police, because here she had this child-sized bleeding raccoon-guy sitting right outside her window staring at her; it seemed the thing to do.

Of course after they got here we started thinking maybe it wasn't the thing to do, because the police decided the raccoon couldn't be saved.

Which meant they needed to shoot it to death right here, in the middle of our joint lawn. By then the raccoon had somehow ended up inside the limbs of a woody bush just beneath my dining room window. He was ensnared in the officers' big raccoon-catching net, but they couldn't pull him out through the "legs" of the bush to get a clean shot because he'd braced himself against the two largest of the limbs and he was so strong, even in his wounded condition, that they couldn't pull him through.

And he looked like a furry two year old.

So they shot him where he was there in the legs of the bush, making his last stand facing the two humans.

My neighbor and I both jumped out of our skins when we heard the shot. The officer had told us exactly what they were going to do and what it was going to sound like, and we still jumped out of our skin.

But then, we both felt.....OK. It's done.

It wasn't done.

The raccoon was still alive. It seemed to take ages for the two officers to determine his condition; they went through a long, cautious procedure trying to see whether they'd actually killed the animal they were trying to kill.

Finally they shot him again.

And examined him again.

He was unbelievably big and strong, a noble creature. He'd survived Surfer and two bullets. And he was still alive.

It took 3 shots altogether.

The animal control officer was a sweet man. He'd had years of experience with middle-aged ladies who have no idea what it takes to kill a large, strong animal.

So he was being kind and sensitive, taking down all my info, and yet.....there was something he wasn't quite telling me.

Or, rather, something he was telling me that I wasn't quite getting.

I knew this because I kept telling him Abby had been involved in the raccoon incident, too, and he kept refusing to write down anything about Abby at all. He was only interested in Surfer, and he would only write down information about Surfer.

What I wasn't getting was that if the raccoon turned out to be rabid, and Surfer didn't have his shots up to date, an animal control officer would come to my house and take Surfer away and kill him.*

I had no idea that option was on the menu.

Naturally Surfer didn't have his shots in order. Just our luck. We thought he did, but he didn't.

We'd gotten Surfer at an animal shelter back when he was a puppy, and we took him home thinking the shelter had given him his first set of shots.

Now it appeared they hadn't given him the shots, which meant that although he'd had all the succeeding shots in the correct succeeding order, he was somehow off track in his rabies shots according to the tenets of dog law.

I discovered all this at my vet's office, where I'd taken Surfer that afternoon, after the death of the raccoon in the morning.

Surfer seemed fine, but my vet got a funny look on his face when he looked through Surfer's records.

"We don't have any documentation of shots from the animal shelter," he said. The animal control people had to have documentation.

So somebody called the animal shelter, or maybe we called Ed and he checked whatever records he could find and — surprise! — it appeared that Surfer hadn't had the shelter shots we all thought he'd had.

Lucky for us, that wasn't going to matter because Surfer had had a surprise rabies shot not long after we'd brought him home, when he'd run away one afternoon and landed at the New Rochelle animal shelter. [note: aboveground invisible fences cost a fraction of the price of underground invisible fences & work great] New Rochelle won't release your animal to you without giving him a shot, so he'd had the shot.

But my vet didn't have documentation of the New Rochelle shot and the animal control people weren't going to take my word for it. Furthermore, my vet was not going to be able to get documentation from New Rochelle because, as he said, "I can't call up and say he's a brown and black Rottweiler mix you picked up in winter 2002."

In between explaining the ins and outs of animal control law he kept wincing and saying, "I think it's going to be alright. I don't think it's going to be a problem." He said this so many times, and winced so many times, that it became crystal clear to me that not having the papers was a problem so vast and insurmountable that its dimensions could reasonably be described as life-altering.

So, bottom line, my vet only had documentation for the shots he'd given him himself, in a sequence assuming the shots at the animal shelter & New Rochelle had actually occurred.

Which nobody could prove. We had no way to prove Surfer had had enough rabies vaccine to come out of a fight with a rabid raccoon rabies-free himself.

And there is no way to tell if an animal is or is not rabid without sacrificing the animal and autopsying his brain.

If the raccoon came back rabid, which the animal control officer thought was a distinct possibiliy, Surfer was in trouble.

Surfer is still with us.

This episode proves that a) there is a God and b) He thinks I need a dog (a couple of dogs apparently), because the instant I got home from the vet's, after announcing to the grown-up occupants of the kitchen that Animal control can come get Surfer and kill him if we can't prove he's had his shots, I went downstairs, pulled Surfer's file out of the fireproof lockbox that holds the passports, mortgage, social security cards, Jimmy's & Andrew's Medicaid waivers, and Abby's purebred Labrador papers, and pulled out the New Rochelle receipt stating which shots Surfer had been given on what date and the fee I had been charged and had paid.

This is not a normal filing experience in my house.

This is a miraculous filing experience in my house.

So the crisis passed, and we all started joking about just exactly how cooperative I would have been with the animal control folks if they'd come to kill my dog because I couldn't find the paperwork.

They're not taking my dog, I said.

We weren't exactly sure how that would work — secret compartments in the bedroom attic?

Secret compartments and no-bark collars?

Not sure. All I knew was that Surfer would be staying with me.

In the end, the raccoon wasn't rabid. The animal control officers had thought he might be because healthy raccoons don't hang around people's houses during the day.

But he wasn't. I still think about him from time to time, about the way he looked caught in our bush, facing the officers.

I'm happy we'll have plans to evacuate pets with their people.


* Today I believe that the animal control officer simply did not want to put me in the position of possibly having to lose both dogs. I don't know this. I assume it.

-- CatherineJohnson - 11 Oct 2006

DoctorLawInNewYorkState 08 Nov 2006 - 14:27 CatherineJohnson

Today's free advice: know your doctor law.

Four years ago Ed had a cyst removed from his jaw, just below his ear.

It's back.

That means it's not a cyst. Cysts don't grow back, as a general rule. (Or so I gather.)

It's a tumor.

It's a benign tumor of the parotid gland.

Because it was a tumor, not a cyst, what the surgeon did was:

a) misdiagnose a tumor as a cyst (hard to do, we're told)*

b) cut into the tumor, opening it up and "seeding" the tumor cells into the area

c) not tell us anything about any of this, including —

d) not sending us the lab report saying that the thing he cut into was a tumor not a cyst

So here we are today, tumor has grown back, it's seeded all over the place, all of the fat beneath the surface of the skin has been eaten up by tumor cells, so in addition to surgery to remove the tumor and the seeded cells Ed will need plastic surgery, too.

Virtually none of this will be covered by our "health insurance," because the surgeons who routinely perform surgeries this complicated have fled our "plan," our plan being United Healthcare.

And: Ed's original surgeon has "lost the records."

He's "lost the records" because, in fact, the lab report, which Ed was able to track down after — oh, no more than 2 or 3 days' detective work — states that: it's a tumor.

Of course the surgeon already knew this, because a cyst is liquid and a tumor is hard. So....either he knew as soon as he got in there that he'd made a mistake, or he should have known.

Even if he somehow failed to notice, after opening up Ed's face, that he was cutting into a tumor, the lab report told him he'd cut into a tumor.

Either way, the attorney we just consulted says he "lost the records" on purpose.

This is not the first time she's seen it happen.

Which brings me to doctor law.

According to doctor law in New York state, we're scr****.

There is a 2 1/2 year "statue of limitations" on liability for opening up a tumor, seeding it through a person's face, and then not telling your patient that's what you've done. This law is actually called "statute of limitations."

Of course, the very existence of this law would have encouraged Ed's surgeon to do exactly what he did when he realized he'd made a mistake, which is nothing. He would have known it was going to take more than 2 years for Ed to notice the thing had grown back.

The attorney said she just had a case the other day of a woman whose mammogram was misread. Yes, a misread mammogram.

She has cancer, God only knows what state her "health insurance" is in or who's on the "plan," and she's more than 2 1/2 years out from the mammogram - so the cancer has been growing all this time - and that's all just tough.

if you live in New York state

Doctor law to commit to memory:

  • 2 1/2 year statute of limitations on liability for medical error (so....yearly mammograms? biannual? not sure what the correct defensive move is here)

  • surgeons have no legal obligation to supply you or your internist with lab reports

  • labs cannot legally provide lab reports to patients

pause for expression of small-l libertarian outrage: what do you mean, labs can't legally give lab reports to the patient whose body the report is reporting about?

How exactly do you figure that the person actually paying for the report, via direct payment to the lab or indirect payment to a "health insurance" company, is not the rightful owner of the report?**

There. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, the point is: in the state of New York, a doctor who's made a mistake the patient is not likely to notice in the next 54 months has a strong incentive to move on with his life and forget the whole thing ever happened — and, when you turn up 4 years later asking for your records, have his staff tell you they've lost your records.

It's up to you to request all records from all doctors, have all records from all doctors sent to your internist, and request copies of all records from your internist so you can look at them yourself.


The receptionist for one of the doctors Ed has seen since summer told him she left the office of Ed's original tumor-seeding surgeon because of things like this.

The attorney told Ed this surgeon has a good reputation.

Is there a ratemydoctor website somewhere?

More letter writing.

I told Ed we need to write a letter to this guy and tell him to pay for the surgery.

It was his mistake and he didn't tell us he'd made the mistake.

I don't give two hoots for the statute of limitations.

There's no statute of limitations on the fees we'll be charged to fix his mistake, a mistake that would have been far cheaper to fix back when he made it.

These bills need to go to him.

Embattled CEO To Step Down At UnitedHealth ($?)
WSJ October 16, 2006; Page A1
UnitedHealth CEO Stars In His Own Greek Tragedy ($?)
WSJ October 20, 2006; Page A13

* I'm inclined to believe it is hard to mistake a tumor for a cyst, seeing as how a doctor who heard Ed give a lecture at Bard College 4 years ago diagnosed the thing as a tumor while sitting in the audience. He was right.

** I must say, though, I'm impressed by the special interest power on display here. Parents need to become a special interest group. Parents and children.

-- CatherineJohnson - 26 Oct 2006

SeeingWeight 01 Nov 2006 - 20:01 CatherineJohnson

Awhile back I mentioned that after Christopher gained weight in 4th grade I realized I couldn't "see" overweight in children.

What looks normal to me is overweight by the charts (and by historical standards).

This morning I found a set of CDC posters illustrating this fact of perception:




To me, the child on top looks normal - verging on chubby, but normal; the child on the bottom looks great; the child in the middle looks almost scrawny. She doesn't look bad to me; if I were her mom I wouldn't be trying to fatten her up. But she looks very thin.


The child on top is overweight; the one on the bottom is at risk (that's where Christopher is now); the one in the middle is normal.

Christopher this morning, thanks to a bout of the stomach flu & 1/2" growth in height, is down to 127.5 lbs (5'3"). To my eyes he's crossed the border between "normal" and "thin."

He's not thin. His BMI is 91st percentile (height is 90th). If this were 1906 instead of 2006, he'd be one of the heaviest children in his class, and he'd probably look chunky.

The bad gets normal.

The children in the CDC slides are young, but the visual categories for pre-teens are the same:


Not Your Father's P.E.
(Education Next)

The boys in this image are a normal, healthy weight!

So....I personally would like to see all the desserts taken out of our fancy new School-Cafeteria-slash-Food Court. (Or, in the spirit of supporting maximum parent choice, I would like the school to rope off a dessert-free section of the Food Court for kids bringing their own lunch...)*

I managed to grow up trauma-free and middle-girl thin attending schools that did not offer brownies, etc. for sale in an airy, dome-ceilinged School Food Court.

After high school I went to Wellesley College & then Dartmouth, where I also did not eat meals in airy, dome-ceillinged School Food Courts. At both schools you pushed your tray through the hot food line, you took the hot food the cooks served up, you sat down and ate. You didn't have endless numbers of seductive food choices ($) to make — although iirc Dartmouth did have a soft ice cream machine.

A soft ice cream machine in a college cafeteria is the beginning of the end.

At any rate, I managed to live through my childhood without access to multiple desserts at lunchtime, and as a direct result I looked like the girl in the middle picture all the way up to age 30.

Shangri-La and frontal lobes

Well thank heavens for Shangri-La.

Given the yummy food environment at the middle school, I'm not at all confident we could keep Christopher thin without the appetite-suppressant effects of the Shangri-La diet.

Even if we could, Christopher would be spending frontal lobe resources on self-discipline and "personal responsibility" trying to resist the many food temptations presented to him each and every day at school.

A 12-year old child does not have frontal lobe resources to spare.

Neither do I.

John (Ratey) used to tell me, all of his patients, and anyone else who would listen that a — or even the — central implication of brain research is that we must make our environments work for us, not against us.

We must set up environments that make it easy (or easier) to work, exercise, make good food chocies, and so on.

That's what parents need to do for their kids, and schools need to do for their students and teachers.

Shangri-La update: Jimmy

Three nights ago Jimmy's nighttime cravings came back.

whoa. I'd almost forgotten how bad things used to be. Fast-train back to the bad old days.

After two nights of this, I decided to give him a dose of sugar water 1 hour after dinner. (He's been taking 2 Tbsp of ELOO - extra light olive oil - an hour after getting home from school.)

I gave him his sugar water & set the timer for an hour (for newbies: you can't eat one hour before or one hour after taking either ELOO or sugar water).

At precisely 38 minutes post-sugar water he began demanding food.

When I said no he began biting himself and doing his "Ooooo! Ooooo!" protest sound.

(He talks, too, by the way. "No more food! No more food!" etc. It's quite a display.)

I stuck to my guns. In the old days we didn't stick to our guns, because sticking to our guns would have meant possibly staying up all night sticking to our guns until it was morning & we could give him breakfast.

But since I'd given him the sugar water, and since I assumed the sugar water ought to kick in with some kind of appetite suppressant effect, I stuck to my guns.

About 10 minutes later (I wish I'd written it down) he knocked the whole thing off, sat down on the sofa, and watched The Office with the rest of us.

Then, 10 or 15 minutes after that, he got up and went to bed.

This has never happened before. Not before Shangri-La, I mean.

If he has cravings again tonight I'm going to kick up the amount of sugar from 1 Tbsp to 2.


        Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
        by Brian Wansink


complete shangri-la thread
The Shangri-La Diet at Amazon
Seth Roberts website

CDC search page (link to Powerpoint presentation on top)
list of all PowerPoint slides in CDCGrowthCharts5-2002
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

height chart boys

key word: shangrila (one word, no space)
Catherine/Jimmy/Christopher weight loss thread at

* I would also give teachers a vote. It would be very hard for me to work in a building in which a Rich Selection of Desserts is available to me just a couple of hallways away. I would at least poll the teachers to see how many would prefer desserts not be sold in the Food Court.

-- CatherineJohnson - 27 Oct 2006

ScreeningQuiz 18 Nov 2006 - 20:46 CatherineJohnson

Apparently I do not suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.

(score: 0)

So I guess that's one less thing to worry about.

Not that I was worrying.

According to Dr. Grohol, I'm not worried about much of anything.


I wonder if he's got a Quiz to identify crazed math warriors?

-- CatherineJohnson - 07 Nov 2006