Jason’s Ranting & Raving

Those who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.

Posts Tagged ‘learning’

An Avatar Postmortem: The Continuing Life of Jake Sulley

Posted by jaystile on January 17, 2010

I went and watched Avatar in 3D with my buddy. It was a visually splendid movie and I enjoyed it. I have to recommend not drinking the ‘small’ movie theater Coke because you’re not going to last until the end. At the end of the movie Jake Sulley has all kinds of life fulfillment. My question is, will he still feel that way in 10-20 years?

I’ve been having the ‘life fulfillment question’ conversation with many of my male friends. Many people don’t realize this but as men (as with women, but this is from me and my friends point of view) get older our choices become more limited. We graduate high school and our options are limitless. We then have to make a choice: college or work? Well, if you want to make a reasonable amount money working for someone else you need a degree. Starting college all your options are still wide open. You could be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, professor. You choose your degree and your field of expertise becomes much more limited and so do your job options. During college and early work years you’ll see/date/romance many women. You find your special someone (i.e. someone who puts up with your bullshit) a marriage is scheduled for the future. Your options have just become more limited. Now as a family you decide to put down roots and purchase a home. It’s a very exciting time, until you realize you now have golden handcuffs. Once again, you are limited. Limited by the places you can go. There will be no new apartments or switching states for a different job. Now you are hoping that your employer keeps you employed so that you can afford to keep your house. Chances are you’ll decide to have a family, because there is no one going back in your family tree that decided to ‘opt out’. Those who do ‘opt out’ don’t spread the compelling need to not-procreate.

In my point of view, once you have children you are now locked in. You are on autopilot until until the offspring are independent. Don’t lose your job because you don’t want to have to find a new job, sell the house, switch schools. There is a lot of pressure to keep the status quo. Now, back to Jake Sulley, he managed to make every choice and limit his options in about 3 months! It was a very exciting time. He chose a job (hunter), a mate (Neytiri), and a place to live. Yes, he had a great purpose and rescues the world. After they establish a new home and have kids, what does he do? Well, he goes out and hunts and then comes back home and what? What new choices does Jake Sulley get to make? He too is on autopilot until James Cameron comes up with a new adventure for him.

There should be a clear distinction between my questions and the choices I’ve made. Like most men, I made choices and I would make them again. My choices have been the correct ones. I enjoy the work that I do. I love my wife. My home is very nice. My children are awesome. The question is how does one avoid the monotony of maintaining the status quo for the good of the family? I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m working on it. I’ll let you know if I figure it out. I know it has something to do with goals and adventures in our free time (and nothing to do with the computer or television). The things I remember the most are the scenery during the ‘Elephant Rock Ride’ and trails I’ve hiked and the lobsters we steamed. I heard that they are already planning a sequel to Avatar, we’ll see what kind of life is in store for Jake Sulley.


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Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning French by Gail Stein

Posted by jaystile on December 13, 2009

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning French

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning French by Gail Stein is a French reference book. It groups commonly used words for a situation into lessons.

My opinion
I’m trying to learn French and in my efforts I’ve determined I’m not a big fan of this book. I only have negative views about this book. Let me preface these views with the fact that writing a book is difficult and especially a book to teach another language. I feel bad that I’m about to rip into Gail Stein’s hard work. However, it has some serious deficiencies. As a learning book, it stinks. Each chapter has tables of vocabulary words. It doesn’t give you a good feeling for the ebb and flow of the language. Just ‘hear are the words, memorize them’. It doesn’t build gradually with resuse and repetition of things you’ve learned. It’s more like: “do you remember that one word that was in that table in chapter 7? I hope so, because here it is again in chapter 20 in the exercise”. If you have ever read any of the ‘Head First’ series of technical books they do an excellent job of teaching and transferring the information. But as a reference book, they acknowledge they stink. I would’ve much preferred the ‘Head First’ type of teaching for a ‘Learning French’ book.

On to my next point, as a reference book, it also stinks. ‘Learning French’ is not my only reference for learning. I’m also using ‘Conversationl French’ by Pimsleur. Now, I’m a big fan of ‘Conversational French’. I’m on lesson 12 of 16 and plan on finishing and maybe purchasing the next set of CDs. In practicing my conversational French, I’ve run into words and phrases that I want to know more about. Mostly, the spelling of the words to help with the pronunciations that sometimes go to fast. But I can’t easily find the things I’m looking for in ‘Learning French’ so it fails there also.

In summary you can skip ‘Learning French’. Has anyone tried the Rosetta Stone for French? I’m hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars on software that isn’t going to work for me.

French, Conversational: Learn to Speak and Understand French with Pimsleur Language Programs

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Parenting: Budgeting for the Young and Old

Posted by jaystile on September 2, 2009

This is a follow-up post to my parenting post about children and money.

Everyone needs to budget based on their income! (I’m looking at you House of Representatives, Senate, and White House) I would guess that most people don’t budget because they simply do not know how. And if they try and learn most of the online tools require you fill out approximately fifty thousand items to come up with your budget. This can be a little overwhelming for someone who doesn’t want to make a budget in the first place. I like the 60% Solution!

If you’re too lazy to read the link here is the short version.
The 60% Solution for Adults

  1. 60 percent: Monthly expenses — such as housing, food, utilities, insurance, Internet, transportation. This is the part most commonly thought of as a budget.
  2. 10 percent: Retirement — and if you’re doing it right, this is being automatically deducted from your paycheck for a 401(k) investment.
  3. 10 percent: Long-term savings or debt reduction. It’s best to invest this in something such as stocks or an index fund, and this can serve as your emergency fund. But if you are in debt (not including a home mortgage), I would advise that you use this portion of the budget to pay off your debts, and even draw some from the other categories such as retirement to increase this to about 20 percent for now. Once your debts are paid off, you can switch this to long-term savings. You still need to have an emergency fund, but while you’re in debt-reduction mode you can either create a small, temporary emergency fund out of the money from this category or the next.
  4. 10 percent: Short-term savings — this is for periodic expenses, such as auto maintenance or repairs, medical expenses (not including insurance premiums), appliances, home maintenance, birthday and Christmas gifts. For this savings account, be sure to spend the money when you need it — that’s what it’s for. When these expenses come up, you will have the money for them, instead of trying to pull them from other budget categories.
  5. 10 percent: Fun money — you can spend this on eating out, movies, comic books — whatever you want. Guilt free.

The 60% Solution for Children

  1. 60% – Long term savings. Car, College, or Wedding. There is a high probability that your child will want to have one of these in the future. The most important lesson for a child to learn is to save for the things that they want.
  2. 10% – Charity and gifts. Children will need to buy gifts for parents, siblings, and others. This will be a large part of their income and they will feel good when they can spend their own money on the people they love. If they are so inclined I like the charity of Heifer International for my charitable giving.
  3. 10% – Short term savings. Teach your children about planning ahead. So they can have a little extra money when back to school shopping to buy those clothes that you will not buy for them because they are dumb looking.
  4. 20% – Fun! Go ahead and spend on whatever you want after all they are kids still! (And you are making them save 60 cents of every dollar for college.

Do it! For my budget I’ve set up multiple savings accounts with online banks (like etrade.com; emigrantdirect.com; ingdirect.com). The money gets automatically transferred to individual accounts based on my budget categories when my paycheck arrives. For children you could use the envelopes method or setup online accounts for them. I’m more inclined to recommend the online accounts because they pay interest and it’s harder to get the money for an impulse shopping spree.

Envelopes This is an old-fashioned system that works. Have an envelope for groceries, gas and fun money. When going grocery shopping, bring the groceries envelope. You know how much is left in the envelope before you go grocery shopping. Spend the cash for groceries, and then you can easily see how much is left now. Simple, and no tracking necessary. When the money is gone, you’ve spent your budgeted amount. If necessary, you could transfer cash from one envelope to another, and there’s no need to adjust your budget.

Conclusion I personally subscribe to a more complex budget, but I’ve been using a budget tracked in a spreadsheet for at least the past seven years. What’s that you say? You cannot afford Microsoft Excel? Try the Free Open Source alternative OpenOffice. As you start keeping a budget it becomes more specific as you start planning for vacations, college funds, ‘soft retirement’. Budgeting is important to make sure you don’t get caught with you pants down when it’s time to buy new tires or rebuild the transmission, pay the max deductible for your health insurance because some a-hole ran you off the road on your bicycle and you had to go to the emergency room. Also, to make sure you know if you can afford a reoccurring monthly expense of hundreds of dollars for satellite tv, cable internet, and cellular phone service. If you’re not able to save you have not lived within your means. Time to get a roommate or move to the not so nice side of town.

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Parenting: Children and Money

Posted by jaystile on July 17, 2009

This post is in response to Lenore (America’s Worst Mom) Skenazy’s request: Giving Kids Control of Money (So They Don’t Always Need Yours)

Money seems like it is a very difficult concept for parents to discuss with their children. I’m guessing it is because it is usually a difficult topic in general for the household (i.e. WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH OF IT!). I’m providing my two cents on what I’m planning on teaching my girls about money.

Learn to Earn
I think the most important lesson for a child to learn is to earn the things they want. Delayed gratification will set them up to be better investors in the future. My family is well off and I can buy my kids any toys that they want. My daughters are currently 3 and 4. They see the neighborhood kids with their scooters flying up and down the sidewalk. They tried them out (with their helmets on of course!) and really enjoyed them. I bought two scooters at the store for them. All they have to do to earn them is get ready in the morning: Make their bed; get dressed, brush their teeth and brush their hair. If they do all that without me or my wife telling them to they get a stamp. Seven stamps = 1 Scooter. They haven’t earned those scooters yet with only two stamps each, but they want them, and they beg and plead. Dad says to them, “Of course you can have your scooter as soon as you get seven stamps. How do we earn stamps?” The kids groan “Make our bed, get dressed, brush our teeth and hair.” Dad says, “Great! Then do that and you can get a scooter!” This technique worked for earning a bicycle bell by finishing reading lessons.

Buy for Value
I really don’t have a problem with my kids wasting money on items that will soon lose their interest. It is my job as a parent to point out that the toy will become boring once they get it home and offer them alternate suggestions. Give your kids a choice. Dad says, “Are you sure you don’t want to save your money for that new bike you wanted?” Its a good lesson to teach to children to buy things that have lasting value. It’s hard from them to see a toy go for sale for $.25 at the yard sale when they used their hard earned money to buy it. The same goes for adults who put a $25 sticker on a $800 treadmill they only used once.

As kids get older the toys will become more expensive. I’m sure I will hear the whine at the store, “~DAD~, I REALLY WANT THIS GAME! They are sold out everywhere!” Fine, I say. I’ll break out the wallet and buy the game (because honestly, it is a pain in the ass to find high demand products. Nintendo Wii near it’s release date, anyone?). However, it will go on lay-a-way. For those who didn’t grow up with parents that were out of work frequently and couldn’t get credit (as easy as it is to right now) a store would hold an item for you. You would make weekly payments until the purchase price was fulfilled. Then you got to take home your item. The same works for the game. Your child can earn the game (back to the earning concept) by doing extra work around the house or paying you back when they get cash from grandma and grandpa. As long as they keep making weekly payments, you’ll keep holding the item. If not, there is always E-bay or craigslist.

Get a job!
As your kids get a little older (10yrs and up) it is time to learn the value of money. I don’t really like the concept of an allowance. I especially don’t like tying an allowance to jobs that have to be done around the house. Everyone lives in the house, everyone has to help out with the weekly chores according to their ability (dishes, sweeping, vacuuming, toilets, laundry, etc). If my child needs something (food, clothes, shoes, etc) I buy it for them. If they want something above and beyond their daily needs they can again earn it. They say “~DAD~, I REALLY NEED THESE JEANS! Everyone is wearing pre-ripped, pre-strained, overlarge ones and I don’t have any!” Dad says, “I’m not buying those, they’re stupid looking. But if you want to do extra work around the house…” Give them the choice, do they not want the jeans or do they want to work for them? I’m all about getting extra work done around the house. It would make my life easier if they took out the garbage. But let us be honest about how much money is deserved for each task. If they want to take out the garbage for me, great! That is unskilled labor worth minimum wage. I take the minimum wage rate and calculate their earnings for the 10 minute task. According to the current federal minimum wage of $6.55 they earned $1.09 (and that is tax free!). That is learning the value of a dollar. Now, if they decide to do more unpleasant work like scrubbing out the trash cans, I’m willing to negotiate (because I don’t want to do it myself!). Just keep the rates honest with the work they are doing. If they make an honest effort at trying to earn the money, I see no problem helping them out by paying $20 of their $60 stupid looking jeans.

One issue confronting our youngsters is that they can’t get a job even if they want a job. Child labor laws have really hurt companies ability to hire anyone under 18 years of age. That’s fine, because it is time to sell your child out. Sell your offspring’s skills to friends, neighbors, and relatives. I know a lot of people who could use help shoveling snow, mowing grass, walking dogs (and picking up said dog’s dookie), ironing, being a second pair of hands, washing windows, washing floors, painting, pulling weeds, raking leaves, watching children, lifting heavy objects, emptying gutters, washing cars, cooking, cleaning and all those other skills you have taught them. Also, make your kids work cheap. The neighbor kid offered to cut my grass for $50. It only takes me 45 minutes, get off my grass you little cretin. However, cheap labor will get you more jobs in the future. If he had said $10 he’d probably be cutting my grass twice a week.

I had some more to say on teaching your child budgeting. But we’ll save that for another article.

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Hard Work = Success

Posted by jaystile on April 29, 2009

There is one lesson that everyone needs to know: Hard work leads to success. This should be the mantra for school aged children (and for adults too). It is a theme that has repeatedly demonstrated itself in the real world.

My sister-in-law who is attending college recently revealed that she was surprised at how well she did in school when she studied hard. Not studying just enough to get by, but really studying and learning the material and being interested.

My daughter can read at 4.5 years old. This was the result of 6 months of reading lessons (see my book review Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons) that was hard on both her and Dad. But she now has a huge head start against her peers which may lead to more success.

There have been numerous studies concerning experts which I tend to categorize as expert theory. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book on the subject. The summation is that it takes 10000 hours of practice and learning in a field to become an expert, whether that field is chess, chemistry, music, martial arts, etc.

Then I read an article on wired about a woman who has super memory! It turns out she is just a really hard worker. But this work is attributed to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) because she keeps rigorous notes of her life and reviews them often. Which also happens to be the driving force behind Super Memo (Want to remember forever?)!

I’ve been looking for a source for a quote (and google hasn’t helped) can you help me find it? Paraphrased as “There is no such thing as genius, only interest. Now, if I was only interested in something.

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Book Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Posted by jaystile on April 13, 2009

My daughter and I have finished working through ‘Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’ by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Brune. The book delivers on it’s promise.

We started lessons with my daughter when she turned 4 years old. The book gives step by step instructions to the adult for teaching. It introduces the concepts and skills at a descent rate while reinforcing skills that were learned in earlier modules. The child starts by learning sounds and rhyming and then practicing writing the letters. The characters are ‘sounds’, so you don’t bother to teach them the letter names. This book uses a custom orthography to represent long versus short vowel sounds, also, they are used for the different diphthongs like ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘th’, so the child only has to learn one character for one sound. These custom characters are removed from the reading gradually in the lessons. The book also works on reading comprehension by having the adult ask questions about what the child has just read.

The book has some detractions. I noticed a few mistakes in the orthography where they would not use their customer characters. The subtext on the cover says ‘In only 20 minutes a day, this remarkable step-by-step program teaches your child to read…’. Yeah, that’s bullshit. Like every parent I think I have the smartest child in the world and it usually took between 40 minutes to an hour. Maybe if your child is in 1st grade and has already experienced reading and learning to read it might be that short. The first couple of lessons took 20 minutes. Also, this book comes with demands once you start you need to have a lesson at least every other day otherwise the child starts reverting and has trouble with the skills. Also there is stress added to the parent and child because the work is hard and it takes a long time. Sometimes the child just doesn’t want to go through it. But the hard work is worth it. The preschool teachers are amazed when she reads a book she hasn’t seen before. She also writes letters to her teachers, grandma, and friends. There are traces of the custom orthography in her writing and it’s cute. I think we haven given her a great head start. I LOVE TO HEAR HER READ!

So in the end it took us about 6 months to finish the program. Now, I’m taking time to recharge my batteries before I start the lessons with her little sister. She’ll be 3 soon and I don’t want to rush it, but she acts like she is ready.

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Book Review: Outliers – The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Posted by jaystile on January 6, 2009

Outliers - The Story of Success

Outliers - The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell has done it to me again. The beginning of this book comes out giving you both barrels. A double shot blast to the psyche. It is so profound and simple it has driven me to the point of agitation and a rapid pulse. Are you ready for it? Talent is overrated. You might have heard me rant about this before on my other post on Expert Theory (what does it take to succeed). Malcolm presents you with evidence about junior hockey players. The cutoff date for Hockey Players is January 1st. That means if you were born January 2nd 1990 you would play against other competitors born up until December 31st 1990. An almost 12 month age advantage. This might not seem like a big deal to adults, but in the realm of childhood it has huge ramifications. Those who are the biggest and more coordinated are also the ones born closest to the cutoff date. Those are the same children that get chosen for the elite teams. Then they play more games. Then they get more experience. Then they show up as the ‘best’ next year. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy! Those born in December might as well not even try out. This disparity carries over into college and then into the professional levels. What is the chance that a professional hockey player (or college or elite junior) was born in January, February, or December? 60%! Hockey is not the only field where this applies. It also works for soccer and little things like your education!

Malcolm Gladwell’s evidence backed assertion is that your talents do not matter as much as you think they do. It matters what family you were born to, where you were born, and when you were born. This has become very personal for me. Allow me to explain. My daughter is scheduled to start Kindergarten next fall. She will be 4 when she starts and turn 5 in September. She is two weeks from the cutoff date of October 1. That means most of her classmates will probably have 6 – 12 months of maturity and growth on her. That didn’t bother me so much but Gladwell presented evidence that a student with an eight month age advantage will score about 81% on the standardized tests compared to the 68% by their younger peers. Holy Cow! I have an August birthday and my mom waited to enroll me in Kindergarten until I was 6. I was always just a little bit older than everyone else. This put me in the advanced reading program from an early age. That means, I got more experience reading than my underage peers. This set me up for the gifted and talented programs which gave me even more experience. This has definitely given me something to think about for my daughter. Do I want her to struggle to keep up with her older peers? Or do I want her to smack down her peers education-wise like a 14 year old Cuban pitching in the 12 year old World Series?

The book slows down after the start and continues to show that circumstances lead more to success than any one factor. He demonstrates that a high IQ does not immediately equals success. He discusses the differences between convergent IQ (can you get the right answer) and divergent IQ (how many uses can you come up for with a brick?) He continues to demonstrate that 1830 was the best year to be born to be an entrepreneur (Cargnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockfeller), The best year to become a lawyer specializing in corporate takeovers 1930, and 1955 was the best year to become a software tycoon (Bill Gate, Steve Jobs). The point that is driven home is that you need a good IQ, not the best IQ, you need a good education not necessarily the best education, and the experience (10000hrs) in your field. What you need more than anything is the proper set of circumstances and the opportunity.

I have been exposed to these ideas before, but this book goes more in depth. I enjoyed reading it. The prose is easy to understand and he presents many interesting anecdotes to demonstrate the concepts. I should probably read The Tipping Point next since I enjoyed his other book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Published by Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group. 285 pages.

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Want to remember forever?

Posted by jaystile on December 2, 2008

Have you heard of this guy, Piotr Wozniak? I first read about him in an article at wired.com. He has been researching memory since 1985 and has developed an algorithm to help you learn things until your mental faculties completely leave you.

Excerpts from the Wired article
Say you have learned something…
Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you’ve forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you’re about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every person and each bit of information.

When do we forget something we have learned?
….human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off.


SuperMemo is a tool that has been created to implement Wozniak’s algorithm to test people at a specified periods to ‘refresh’ their memory of a subject. From looking at screenshots and website the software leaves much to be desired, but the idea is awesome! It has been geared toward learning languages, but there a lot more possibilities! Imagine a tracking system for school aged children that repeatedly tests their math skills or grammar skills. You would have customized tests based on what the child can recall and have a very precise idea of what skills the child has mastered. A SuperMemo package could be used for medical students with the huge amounts of data that need to be recalled. This would also apply for physics, chemistry, and math. I’m thinking about trying it myself to learn all the odds for my Poker Hands.

Has anyone used this product? I found one account of usage that seemed promising where they were studying for an Oracle DBA exam.

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