2009/10/21

Rudeness on the Radio

Letter to my local AM radio station:

I don’t usually listen to W*** during the day, but I happened to tune in to Rush Limbaugh yesterday.

I wouldn’t let anyone talk like that in my home;
No one would ever be allowed to talk like that in a school;
I’ve never heard anyone talk so rudely in any work environment;
People get angry at city council meetings, but I’ve never seen such incivility.

The local people I hear on W*** are good folks – why do you allow this to happen in your place of business?
I know it's not really as simple as this, but it really is as simple as this.

2009/09/19

Medical Bills - How to Deal With

I've no special expertise, but this is how I have dealt with them lately.

  1. Wait at least two months for all the bills and insurance statements to come through. (Generally there's no penalty so long as you pay within 90 days, but check and make sure.)
  2. Take the time to figure out, as much as you can, exactly what the bills and statements say. This can be nearly impossible.
    All the people you will talk to are reasonable people trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Treat them well. Their job is confusing and difficult and you need their help. Document all conversations including the name of each person you contact and the time of the call. Remember that they are doing their best but their job is to maximize payment to the hospital or minimize expenses for the insurer.
  3. Call the hospital and confirm that you understand what the bills say.
  4. Call the insurance company and confirm that you understand what they are willing to pay.
  5. Study your insurance plan documents. Keep in mind that the summary which you may have is not an official document. You may have to get the original. You will probably have to contact the insurance company to get clarification. Their interpretation will favor them as much as possible, but it isn't necessarily correct.
  6. If it makes sense at this point, go ahead and pay the remainder. If it doesn't make sense, get on the phone again and ask them to explain. Be respectful and as nice as you can, but be insistent. Don't get put in the position of relaying information from the provider to the insurance company. Insist that they contact each other. Provide the names of the people you have talked to so they can talk to the same people. If the people you talk to aren't forthcoming or reasonable, ask to speak to their supervisors.
  7. If it makes sense now, pay the remainder. If it doesn't make sense, go to the person who negotiated the policy with the insurance company. That will usually be the benefits person at your employer or the person who sold you the policy. Ask for their help in understanding the situation and ask them to advocate for you with their contacts. Be nice but insistent all the way through the process. Document everything.
I've had to do this twice in the last year. It took a lot of my time and frustration and it took a lot of their time and frustration, but I got a reasonable solution each time. (Actually one is still in process, but I think it will be solved.)

(No political message here, but keep in mind that in most other modern countries none of this is necessary.)

2009/09/13

Blogger Link Colors

I had the hardest time trying to fix the color of the links here in Blogger. It used to look like this.


Actually the blue was quite a bit brighter and it virtually strobed against the pale tan background. I wanted a less jarring color. I was also unable to change the color of the title.

I tried to fix it through the Customize/Layout/Fonts and Colors - controls and that made no difference.

I Googled around and found some suggestion on how to change them in HTML. I opened up the HTML through Customize/Layout/Edit HTML and saved a copy before making any changes. The variables for the text were already set to the colors which I had specified in Fonts and Colors. Further down, in the section with "a:link", "a:visited", and "a:hover" the colors were assigned by the variables above. I tried substituting specific colors for the variables, but it made no difference. (I'm only barely HTML literate.)

Then I tried radical changes. I selected a whole different template. That changes the appearance dramatically, but the color of the title and of the links didn't change. That indicated to me that template was not causing the trouble. I thought it was the template which controlled this, but apparently not.

Then I learned something interesting. If I only display one posting at a time, the colors I specified do show! That indicated again that there must be some code outside of the template which caused the problem. The only remaining place is in a posting. I don't know why this would be, but it seems to have been the case. Here's what I did:
  1. I decreased the number of posts displayed at a time - Customize/Settings/Formatting/Show - to five. At that point, my first page looked right. It didn't have the bright colored links.
  2. I went through the pages to see when the bright colored links were displayed.
  3. On the page which had the problem, I looked at each posting one at a time. I found the one posting which had the problem.
  4. I looked at the HTML for that posting and there was a ton of code which I didn't recognize and which didn't seem to have anything to do with the text or the pictures. (I was experimenting with using an online blog editor and MS Word to write blog posts at about that time. I suspect that caused the problem.) I deleted the excess HTML and the bright blue was gone!
I had to go back and play with the settings again, but I could do it with the standard controls at Customize/Layout/Fonts and Colors and it worked just fine.

Eureka!

Before I figured this out I had no luck finding instructions which related to the problem above. Now that I figured it out and wrote the above, all the instructions which comes up relate to this problem. (frustration) I recommend the clear instructions by BlogBulk.

2009/09/10

Health Care Reform # 8

I watched Barrack Obama’s speech to the joint session of congress while eating dinner last night. I purposely haven’t read any commentary yet. I wasn’t optimistic about the speech, but I had hope. Here are my thoughts:


He is starting from a position where he has already compromised on critical issues. He’s proposing a regulated private system with public funding for the poorest. He is being accused of communism. Since he is already demonized, he may as well take the step to a government funded capitalist system like the rest of the world.

I think I heard him say that a single-payer system is a government controlled health care system. If that’s what he said, he’s wrong. It is a taxpayer funded capitalist system. He says that we must support the health insurance and the pharmaceutical industries which have served us so poorly. If we want savings and improved outcomes, we have to make a difficult transition. We may as well do it now.

As I listened, I didn’t hear anything about the public option until near the end. He seemed to describe it as no different from the health co-ops which have been discussed. His public option seems to be available only to those who could not otherwise afford insurance. This seems to guarantee that no one would choose it voluntarily. It also makes it impossible for the public option to become the dominant health plan. That should mollify the critics, but probably won’t. I think it makes it a failure over all.

He didn’t do anything to contradict the stories about his deals with the pharmaceutical industry or hospitals.

He teased Republicans about malpractice law. He got them excited. Then he showed that he wasn't serious. Think how betrayed the Republican’s felt after sitting there applauding his idea. Of course abuse of the legal system is not a major part of the problem, but it is part of the problem. Why not compromise here. At least establish standards of care and caps on pain and suffering.

I didn’t hear anything he said that would really decrease costs. He’s adding layers.

I don’t like the idea of punishing people for failing to buy insurance. We should have a system which provides for all instead of a system which punishes people for trying to manage without government involvement. I respect people like that. That is going to anger and mobilize many people – for good reason.


Most importantly, he had no specific plan to offer. The current hodgepodge of messy bills still exists. There is no one plan which can be explained and defended. I can’t believe he doesn’t see this.


Good things:

He made it clear that insurance companies had to be reasonable.

He did refer to some statements as lies, but he didn’t get specific. He addressed death panels, cuts to Medicare and illegal immigrants.

He made clear that Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid were all seen as disasters for the country and they weren’t. In fact, we are dependent on them.


I’ll work for this, but he’s fighting for a small thing. We have to fight as hard as if he were trying to accomplish a big thing.

2009/08/30

StumbleUpon Back-up

StumbleUpon

BACK-UP


I used to hang out on StumbleUpon (SU) as SchreiberBike. I decided that I wanted to archive all my reviews to keep on my own PC, but there was no obvious ways to do it.

Putting together a suggestion by Heritas from the Help Group and the use of a macro, I was able to get a backup my 964 reviews and blog postings without much work. It looks like I could similarly backup all 3753 “thumbs up” I made while I was using SU, but I don’t think I’ll bother with that.

I use the Firefox browser and installed the Scrapbook extension. That allows you to download a copy of one page with linked pictures to your PC.

One page at a time for 97 pages would be a bit boring though. I used a macro program to automate the process.

Using a macro, you can set it to:
  1. Copy the page
  2. Wait five seconds
  3. Move to the next page
  4. Wait ten seconds
  5. Repeat
It worked for me.

2009/08/28

Shaker Workbench

I really want to put together a nice post showing my workbench and explaining why it was built the way it is, but I haven't done it. So, here are a bunch of pictures.











Click on "Workbench" to see more posts about my Shaker Workbench or "plans" to see the SketchUp model

Since these pictures, I've added the anti-wrack pad to the front vise (which works great by the way) covered the chops of the front vise with leather, added the sliding board jack, and probably other things too.

More pictures and better formatting later.

2009/08/26

Health Care reform - # 7

Another letter to the President:

Mr. President,

I can't believe you are screwing up health care reform. You are too honorable for this. You are too wise for this. You're greatest strength is your ability to look at a problem from many sides and at many levels. You're a smart guy.

You've got to step back and take a fresh look at health care reform.

If you don't know how, try this: http://schreiberbike.blogspot.com/2009/07/health-care-reform.html. I sent it to you earlier, but clearly you didn't take it seriously. Nor are you taking your supporters seriously. We voted for change, not for the appearance of change.

If you can’t do better than this, hope fades.

Sincerely,

John Schreiber

cc blog
I'm getting frustrated. I want so bad to believe.

2009/08/24

Sinophobia, Factoids, and Facts

Here's a ubiquitous "factoid" I'd heard a number of times over the years. I ran into it again and thought I'd check it out.

If the population of China walked past you, 8 abreast, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction.

It presents itself as an interesting fact, but it's totally racist and hearkens back to the Sinophobia which has been a major part of American history. It is another bit of propaganda teaching us to be afraid.

I even found a reference to this being presented during the Cold War as if you lined up all of the Chinese and machine-gunned them as they walked by you you'd never kill them all because they'd reproduce too fast. Next time somebody tells you that the 50s were the good-old-days, remember this kind of racism.

Anyway, I wondered if it were true. It's repeated enough, there must be some basis in it. Right? Right? No. A Google search was unenlightening. The trivia was repeated again and again, some people didn't believe it, but no one seemed to have checked the math. I found one reference, but it was off by a factor of 60. A similar question is answered (mostly) right here.

I did the math. Based on reasonable assumptions and current population and rate of growth of China, the entire population would pass in less than 10 years. The assumptions and the math are shown in this pdf.

In 1950, when this had more currency as propaganda, it would have been less than five years. I modeled an extreme scenario" with the highest ever population and the extreme rate of population growth one year after the "great leap forward." It still takes less than 11 years for all to pass. If it's a single file line instead of eight abreast, it does take a long time, 106 years, but that's very different from never. It surprised me, but in a column 8 wide, walking slowly with reasonable space between people, 140,000,000 will walk past a point in a year. That makes quick work of the population of any country.

Conclusion: there's no basis in fact for this often repeated bit of trivia / racist propaganda.

2009/08/22

Health Care Reform # 6

From: Joe from Philly a.k.a. Joe the Nerd a.k.a. Joe Ferraro
To: The President in a call in radio show

I'm getting a little ticked off that it feels like the knees are buckling a little bit. We have overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate. And we own the whole shooting match. And I'm just not getting - it's very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren't willing to compromise with.


Joe says he was satisfied with the answer. I have been a strong supporter of Obama since the Iowa primary; I’m not satisfied.

I think Obama is throwing this away. Why is he doing that? In order, from least to most likely:

1. He’s a fraud
  • He doesn’t really believe this stuff, but it got him to be President and that’s what counts.
  • Not impossible, but I can’t stand to think it.
2. He’s overwhelmed
  • The fight and the issue and the politics are complex and he can’t adapt proactively.
  • This is what it looks like, but I don't think it can be true. Thinking at many levels at the same time is his strength. He proved this during the campaign.
3. He’s threatened
  • My most paranoid side says that he has been told by some person in a position of total trust that awful things will happen to his family or to other innocent people if he threatens corporate interests.
  • Like I said, it’s paranoid, but sometimes you can’t be paranoid enough.
4. He believes that creating a new kind of politics is more important than actually achieving any one goal.
  • The political/ideological environment in the USA is toxic. People are shouting and playing for points rather than talking to each other and solving problems. The influence of money has made democracy a cover for plutocracy.
  • Barack Obama wants to change that.
  • Perhaps he believes that compromise on principle and accommodation to those who are dedicated to his destruction is the best approach.
  • I think instead that non-violent struggle lead from the bully pulpit would be the best approach. Organization, moral persuasion, mass action and negotiation from a position of strength are tools which he knows. He can persuade us to recognize dignity in us all and demonstrate the best of progressive values. That would lead to a change in the public environment.
  • Health care (and other) reform would be a natural outgrowth.
5. He’s part of the system
  • There are two sides of American politics: 1) a savage, “beat the peasants in submission” capitalist side and 2) a realistic “keep the peasants from seeing the need for revolution” capitalist side. Another way to put it is that there is just one political party in this country, the Republican Democratic Party of Money. He’s a member of the party.
  • He was acceptable to the corporate media, ‘nuff said. This is realistic but sad.
6. He is hoodwinked by corporate interests
  • He doesn’t trust his own judgment and he has given in to pressure from inside and outside the government.
  • It seems clear that this is what happened in the finance crisis, so perhaps it’s happening here. He is to some degree part of the system, and if he is being overwhelmed by the pressures of the Presidency, then this may be what is happening. He may even be justifying his weakness and vacillation by telling himself that he is moving toward a new kind of politics.

At least # 4 puts a a kind of positive spin on this. I desperately hope he wants change and that he can get back up on his feet and lead the country.

2009/08/20

Leather work

I used leather to cover the faces of my woodworking vise. I had extra leather and I found that I can make some very useful things without too much work.

The only tool that was really necessary was the needles. I already had them from some rope work I had done in the past, so they didn't cost anything.

I bought an overstitch wheel which marks the stitches before drilling the holes. I used it only on the second larger sheath. I think the even stitches there look much better and they certainly were easier to mark.

The chunk of scrap walnut has been smoothed on one end on a belt sander. It is used to smooth the edges and rub the leather into place.

The piece of hickory with the hook on the end is for marking where the stitches go in comparison with an edge. It is effectively a marking gauge.

I might invest in a v-gouge at some point in the future. It is used after the marking gauge to cut a thin depression for the threads. This decreases wear on the threads. It is also used to cut thin strips from the inside of the leather to make it fold more easily.

I also used contact cement, a utility knife, a straight edge, a hammer, and my belt sander. That's about it for tools.

The lower sheath was stained with walnut Watco Danish Oil. I don't really think it looks better, but it was interesting to try. It worked very well even though it's not meant for leather. It has also been heavily waxed. The upper sheath has not been treated at all. I'd like to try soaking it in hot paraffin, but haven't got that far yet.

The button is one I cut from a branch and soaked for a couple of months in boiled linseed oil.

I couldn't find any description of how one might make a draw knife sheath or a push knife sheath anywhere on the web. If I made the push knife sheath again, I'd cut it so that it was narrower where the straps come over the back so that the straps would bear directly on the back of the blade. I'd also attach the button further from the back of the blade. The draw knife sheath might be improved a little. It should fit the length of the blade more closely and the flap should be larger and looser (I'm not sure how to make it looser). That would allow the knife to be inserted without having to hold the sheath right near the very-sharp blade.

This is not sophisticated leather work, but I was quite pleased with what I was able to do without a lot of practice or training.

2009/08/16

Rendering – Industrial Machine

Some people like to make photo-realistic images out of 3D models. It’s very cool to see something I’ve made in SketchUp turn into something which looks real.

A real photograph taken from the Grizzly catalog:


Two views of a SketchUp model which I made:

A rendering of my SketchUp model by Solo:

I enjoy making models in SketchUp. When I am modeling something which already exists, I am effectively reverse engineering the object. In doing that, often I can understand better how it works and why it works that way.

Rendering is something very different. Changing the characteristics of the surfaces and changing the light sources makes the picture more realistic, informative or interesting. The process is iterative in that a light source can create another light source in the form of a reflection. Then that reflection’s presence has to be accounted for by the program. There is judgment and subtlety involved in preparing a rendering. The computing power and time is huge, and while it’s not too hard to do a decent job, doing an excellent job is very challenging. Then, if you are doing it in a 3D animation, each frame of the animation must be rendered, and that takes even longer.

In this example, I was planning a future workshop layout and I wanted to see how I might fit a knife belt sander into the plan. I only needed a rough model for this purpose, but as I tend to do, I went overboard and made it as close to perfect as I could. I posted it as part of a contest in the SketchUcation forums.

Similarly, there’s a rendering of a wrist watch which I modeled here.


2009/08/07

Writing -- Blogging

"I don't know what I think until I see what I say"
– attributed to Flannery O'Connor

“Every clear sentence I write removes more undergrowth of confusion from my mind.”

– attributed to Robert W. Russell

"We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand."

– attributed to C. Day Lewis


I write to think. I write to learn.


Putting thoughts into sentences, and reading and editing them, lets me see each thought on its own and helps me to see how those thoughts go together. It helps me figure things out and helps me determine if an idea is significant or trivial.

I want each sentence to be defensible. I know how complex the world is and I don’t like broad statements which deny exceptions. But I also know that words like “usually,” “often,” and “mostly” make writing sound tentative. I walk a tightrope between simplification and accuracy, which can sound like the difference between confidence and mushiness.

As an example, each of the quotes above says “attributed to . . .” Quotes from famous people often have a life of their own apart from what the person actually said or believed. If it doesn’t come from an authoritative source, I don’t want to say that it’s a quote. “Attributed to . . .” is a fine compromise here.

Each word should say something, and I have to make sure that the entire piece says something. I am careful about word choice. I usually take out the unnecessary words and sometimes the unnecessary sentences. I know that I tend to leave in too many paragraphs. If I am writing for myself, it’s good to put the entire argument down to make it as clear as possible. If I am writing for others, I can let assumptions stand on their own.

My spelling is bad; my grammar is fair. Spell check takes care of most of that and grammar check helps. I like to leave a piece be for a while and come back to edit it. If I am writing something which I feel is important, I try to have it edited by someone else – but that’s a pain.

I tell myself that I don’t care if anyone reads what I write, and it’s mostly true. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be excited if other people did read what I wrote.

It is self indulgent, but that is mostly ok.

2009/07/26

Health care reform # 5

I just sent this off to the White House.


Office of the President:

I know it doesn’t work like this, but I just wrote a draft of a statement I’d like to see the President make. Please give this approach some consideration.

Statement begins:

I don’t like to tell you this, but the fact is; I can’t get a good health-care bill through the congress right now. The insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies are pushing millions and millions of dollars into lobbying your senators and representatives. The people’s voice is not being heard in Washington. There are also those who legitimately disagree over the place of government. They don’t want a government which solves problems and serves the people.

I could work with congress and entrenched interests and have a measure passed and signed this year. But that measure would have so many compromises that it wouldn’t really solve the problem. I want to work with the Republicans in the House and Senate, but I’m disappointed to say that I can’t find enough Republicans who share my beliefs and there are too many who for political purposes are willing to sacrifice the public good because they want to bring me down.

I know from the people I talk to, and from reading the stories that are sent to me, and from studying the polls, that Americans want a health care system which provides for all Americans. I know that they want a system which controls the skyrocketing cost of our health-care system. They want a system that doesn’t fail them when they need it most. They want a system where illness does not bring financially secure families into bankruptcy. We want a healthcare system that we can be proud of – one where American rates of infant mortality and lifespan are as good as those of the rest of the industrialized world.

Here is the plan I put forward today. In a year and a half, we have midterm elections for the House and the Senate. There will be 35 seats up for grabs in the senate and the people will vote for all 435 seats in the house. I will campaign for some of those candidates.

By the end of 2009, I will announce and publish a clear and simple proposal for universal health care. It will be a smart plan. It will not be a confusing - conflicting - costly plan put together by the competing interests of corporations. It will be based on the best of American health care and the best of other countries around the world which have had universal health care for 30 – 40 – 50 years. If the people who support my plan are elected into office, then in two years we will pass real health care reform. This will be a national referendum on health care.

No plan will make everyone happy. Entrenched interests will oppose it. I know the fact that it will not be good for every industry. But it will be good for America. It will give America what it wants, what it deserves, what it needs.

End of statement.

I truly believe that this is what the President should do at this time. A single-payer plan or its equivalent is the only way to solve this problem.


Sincerely, John Schreiber

Copy to blog


As I said above, I know it doesn't really work like this, but maybe it could. At very least, it helped me think through my feelings.

2009/07/25

The real reason some people oppose gay marriage

I am a supporter of gay marriage. Lots of people disagree. I start with an assumption that the people I disagree with are rational, but in this case, I was having a hard time understanding them. Why do people feel that marriage is under “attack” and that it needs “defending.” I thought about it a lot – still assuming rationality.

I started demolishing the stated arguments point by point, but many people had already done that and I didn’t really add anything new. I knew there had to be more than the stated arguments. Homophobia is one explanation, but it can’t be a reason by itself. Then I recognized that there is a huge overlap between groups who oppose gay marriage and those who support a male dominated hierarchical world view.

I think I figured it out. Gay marriage DOES threaten society, if you have an old definition of marriage.

If one believes that in a marriage:

  • roles are defined based gender, or
  • that men must have a leadership role and women must have a submissive role, or
  • that the family is a patriarchal, ownership institution, or
  • that the man is the master and his wife and children are chattel,
then a marriage between two people of the same gender is impossible.

A marriage between equals means that those traditional views of marriage can not true. How can two women marry? There would be no leader. How could two men marry? There would be two leaders. In the traditional view, where roles are decided based purely on each person’s sex, there is no room for two people of the same sex.

If such a marriage can succeed, the traditional view of marriage must be wrong. If sex roles are flexible, how does a man know his place? How does a woman know her place? How does a man remain the king of his castle and keep his woman in her place?

If gay marriage is allowed, the whole hierarchical structure of society is under attack. If I depended on such a structure, I would feel like I am under attack. I find that those who most depend on a hierarchical society, who have the most to lose if their positions are threatened are also those with the greatest objection to gay marriage.


I wish this lead to a strategy, but at least right now, I don't see one.

2009/06/26

Experiments with Glue and Wood

I wanted to glue up a workbench top 90” long, 30” wide, 4” thick using laminations of 1 1/4" southern yellow pine (SYP). To do it with clamps every six inches would require 14 clamps. I only had four clamps over 30" long, so I wanted to try another way. I got advice on the SawMill Creek forum and decided to try applying glue, screwing each board to the next one, then after the glue dried, removing the screws and gluing on another board.

I wasn’t sure if the screws would apply enough pressure, so I experimented.

Experiment 1:

Two pieces of SYP each 9" x 7”.
Screws centered on long axis 1.5” and 4.5” from one end.
#10 x 2-3/8" ProMax Round Washer Head Dry Lube Screws - from McFeely’s
Titebond glue spread with the objective of just getting a bit of squeeze out after clamping














As you can just see in the lower left corner, the screw force caused the two pieces to bend away from each other on one side. In the right picture, the 9 x 7 grid has been cut into 63 pieces for testing.

I laboriously started measuring the breaking force for each joint.

It's not a sophisticated system, but I was able to fill the bucket hanging at the end of that cord with junk until the joint broke, then weigh the bucket. I soon noticed that there was a lot of variation in measurements but there were just three kinds of breaks: 1) at the glue line, 2) partly at the glue line, and 3) all in the wood. I stopped weighing the bucket and started breaking the blocks and recording the kind of break.


Here are the results of experiment 1:

Clearly, the bent boards I mentioned above caused the upper board to bend away from the lower along the left edge and there was little or no clamping force there.

Conclusions from Experiment 1:

The screw force was sufficient to make a good glue joint.
The clamping force appeared to extend along the grain at least 4 1/2”
The clamping force appeared to extend across the grain 1 1/2".
Wood bends when you squeeze it.






Experiment 2:


Two pieces of SYP each 13" x 4”.
Screws centered on long axis 2.5” and 4.5” from one end.
#10 x 2-3/8" ProMax Round Washer Head Dry Lube Screws
Titebond glue spread with the objective of just getting a bit of squeeze out after clamping

Here’s a SketchUp version of the setup.














I cut one inch squares the long way and short way. Because my circular saw doesn’t cut deep enough, I finished the remaining short cuts with a handsaw. It wasn’t necessary to finish the long cuts.

You can see in the right side picture that the square on the right edge of the glue-up, furthest from the screws broke off cleanly with no adhesion.




Here are the results:

There is a definite anomaly here. It was caused by an oily knot which was on the bottom of the top board. I had hand-planed both boards, but I had not wiped them with naptha as is suggested for SYP.

Conclusions from Experiment 2:

The clamping force appeared to extend along the grain at least 8 1/2”
The clamping force appeared to extend across the grain 2 1/2".
Oily spots, usually related to knots, do not glue well.















Experiment 3:

Based on the data above, I had a theory. A screw puts a point load on the top surface of the wood where the head rests. Force spreads from that point in an oval which is substantially longer in the direction of the grain. For a 1 1/2" board, it covers about 4” side to side and about 12” along the grain. Because it’s an oval, it doesn’t cover the corners of that rectangle.

Based on that theory, I thought I could glue up my 4” wide board with screws every 5” staggered from side to side and an extra at each end. It would look like this, but it would be 90" long.



Two pieces of SYP each 26x4.”
Screws centered on long axis 2.5” and 4.5” from one end.
#10 x 2-3/8" ProMax Round Washer Head Dry Lube Screws
Titebond glue spread with the objective of just getting a bit of squeeze out after clamping

This is what it looked like after I had broken each 1" square and put all the samples back in place. All had broken in the wood, meaning that the glued joint was stronger than the wood itself.


Because the screws were removed after the glue dried and before the next board was glued on, there is no metal in the top. And, it worked. It's been about six months and my top has not shown any cracks nor has it warped at all since the first month.

Conclusion: A $7.50 box of screws can substitute for $500 worth of clamps. But it will take a whole lot more time and effort.

2009/06/23

Podcasts

I like to listen to podcasts. Music doesn't interest me - I'm tone deaf. Podcasts are like talk radio except I can choose my area of interest and choose hosts who aren't idiots. That's not generally an option on broadcast radio. I listen while I do housework, yardwork, work in the shop or drive. It's great just about anytime when I'm alone, don't need to concentrate too hard on my work and in the mood to learn.

I don't always listen though, often I give my full attention to my work or I prefer natural sounds.

This has changed the way I consume news. I still get most of my news in written form from the Internet, but I don't pick up as much from radio (and I don't watch TV at all). That gives me a less frenetic response to current events. I know enough about the world that I don't need fresh details every hour. I need more quality analysis and less distraction.

This American Life
I’ve been listening to This American Life on public radio since it started back in 1995. It is a mix of fiction and non-fiction always told as a story. “I laughed. I cried.“ I had a cliché moment. I don’t think there’s anything out there like it or better than it.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
When this comes up on my mp3 player, I know I'm going to enjoy the next hour. Dr. Steven Novella and his "Rogues" discuss the latest science and the state of rational thinking. More than a little irreverent, but they take reality seriously. One of my favorite podcasts.

Bill Moyers Journal
A very smart, very experienced journalist who interviews experts in detail. I often learn that what I thought I knew about an issue was wrong and/or oversimplified. I understand the world better because I listen to this. Some topics don’t interest me as much, but the intelligence makes it worthwhile to listen to anyway.

The History of Rome
A straightforward telling of what happened and when in the the Roman Empire. Made interesting by describing competing interpretations of personalities and motivations and by placing events within the sweep of history. I often listen to each podcast twice because I am unfamiliar with the names and the time line. I visualize the podcaster, Mike Duncan, with a bit of a smirk on his face as he tells his stories.

The Classic Tales Podcast
Classic short stories read by B.J. Harrison. Many stories and authors I’ve wanted to read, but never got around to.

To the Best of our Knowledge
A calm-and-rational detailed look at a topic twice per week. I've been listening to it on public radio for years.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena
I enjoy hearing from Brian Dunning as he blows another bit of pseudoscience out of the water. Unfortunately, in trying to make his points, he sometimes uses logical fallacies himself. Especially creating a straw-man arguments implying that a few points represent an entire concept. Many skeptics don't want to be called debunkers. Skeptoid attacks bunk every week.

Media Matters with Bob McChesney
This comes out of my hometown public radio station - WILL AM. Bob McChesney has high-powered, knowledgeable guests on every week to talk the world with special emphasis on the media. Recent guests include Naomi Klien, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. Similar to Bill Moyers Journal in that I learn that what passes for news and discussion is really just a mask covering the real issues.

Slate’s Political Gabfest
Three smart, knowledgeable and opinionated people talk about the week’s national politics. Very “inside the beltway.”

Blast the Right
A look at the talking points of the political right, addressed from the political left. Presented as arguments to use when you meet your favorite “right-winger” at the water cooler. Host Jack Clark has a confrontational style, but the facts are good and the style is exciting.

Radio Lab
A highly produced science program asking irreverent but relevant questions about science and our relationship to science.

Point of Inquiry
Calm and incisive interview show put on by the Center for Inquiry “focusing on CFI’s issues: religion, human values and the borderlands of science“.

Science Talk by Scientific American
Calm and incisive interview show put on by Scientific American. Science and technology are always interesting.

Selected Shorts
Short stories presented live at “Symphony Space” in NYC. Mostly modern fiction. Some stories can be challenging and sometimes I’m not in the mood for the story presented, but there are plenty of good ones to make it worth listening to.

Grammar Girl: quick and dirty tips for better writing
Grammar should be fun. Short interesting discussions about grammar and usage.

Stuff You Missed in History Class Podcast
I finally came up with the word to describe the hosts: glib. This show brings out the curmudgeon in me. None the less, I enjoy it and learn from it.

Live Blogging - Iran

I've been following Nico Pitney's "live blogging" of events in Iran for over a week. It has been an exciting and frightening experience. My admiration for Nico Pitney's work goes out to him. My admiration even more goes out to the Iranian people fighting for democracy. Their best and most effective efforts seem to be in non-violent struggle.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html

It's worth pointing out that "live blogging" does not rise to the level of journalism by itself, but it is a valuable way of communicating what "seems" to be happening with a wonderful sense of being in the moment.

2009/06/20

Health Care Reform # 4

The President has a lot on his plate right now. I’d rather he take health care reform off the table and deal with it right in two years.

I’ve been reading about health care systems around the world and I’ve been reading about proposals being made to change health care in the USA. In my opinion, NONE of the proposals being advanced by those in power are worth fighting for. Here’s what I believe we need:

  • Single payer or even a public option is not necessarily required. But for health care to work without it, insurance companies must become public utilities, simple administrators of a plan set by law. That appears to be the format in other countries which do not have single-payer plans.
  • Primary care must be the emphasis. Most health care is simple and people can take care of it themselves. Most of what remains can be handled by a family practitioner. Expensive specialist treatment should be the exception not the rule. Reimbursement rates should match usefulness. That means more time communicating with patients and fewer expensive tests and high-tech images.
  • Evidence based standards for health care should be established and practice guidelines recommended. There is no reason why 10% of pregnant women get cesarean sections in one town, but 45% get them in another. This would also set standards for testing. That eliminates unnecessary testing and testing performed merely to prevent lawsuits. Similarly if a doctor follows established guidelines, they should be protected from lawsuits.
  • I’m willing to make medical school free so that doctors don’t have to start out with huge debits. Of course, I think that should be true for all higher education, but I’ll start with those who serve our health.
  • Mental health, dental health, optical care, substance abuse treatment, and prescriptions should all be included in the plan.
  • Fraud should be investigated aggressively and punished harshly. Stealing from the public damages the public trust out of proportion to the dollars stolen.

I don’t want to sound like a revolutionary who wants things to get worse instead of a little bit better. But all the “serious” proposals being advanced support entrenched “traditional” interests which sap the current system and do not allow for real progress. I guess I am a revolutionary. I want CHANGE. Can we have it? YES WE CAN!

2009/06/08

Health Care Reform # 3

I got an email from My.BarackObama.com asking me to "join up with local supporters, get the facts, make a plan for building support in your neighborhood, and start putting that plan into action." I attended that meeting this evening.

Of the 20 people there, almost all specifically advocated for a single payer health care plan. There was recognition that the perfect can be the enemy of the good, but there was also fear that the plans currently being discussed would effectively be a sell out. They would be so far less than perfect that they won't really solve the problem.

There was much to discuss, but it was hard to move forward without answering the first question. Is it worth working for anything less than a single payer plan?

Although we didn't resolve that, the next step seems to be some sort of a Health Care Day of Service on June 27th.

2009/06/04

Change

I found this quote from President Obama in Thomas Friedman's 6/3/09 opinion piece in the NYT.

"We have a joke around the White House," the president said. "We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working."
Though I often disagree with the President, this is the kind of things that gives me hope.

2009/06/01

Health Care Reform - # 2 Letters to my representatives

While each letter below says basically the same thing, I think of what I know about the person while I write and edit. They each come out a little different. Probably says more about my assumptions than anything else.

Senator Durbin,

A single-payer health care system is the solution. The math for real solutions only works for a single-payer plan. The people have made it clear in poll results that they want a single-payer. Any other solution just pushes the problem down the road.

Right now, opposition to the insurance industry may seem to be a politically expensive choice, but I believe that opposing a single-payer plan will cost more. We are capable of rising above deceptive advertising and scare tactics. In the modern media environment - deception will be uncovered and the facts will speak (not always, but enough to make a difference).

If you and the Democratic party take the lead, there will be a tidal wave of support as people stop having to worry about health care costs. In fact, if we get this done, I can’t imagine the Republican party coming back for 20 years.

There are millions of us out here ready to fight the good fight for a single payer plan. I hope I can be part of your legacy of solving the health care crisis.
Senator Burris,
I hope you are able to rise above the controversy surrounding your position and are able to work for the people of Illinois.

I want you to know that a single-payer health care system is the solution to the health care crisis. The math for real solutions only works for a single-payer plan. The people have made it clear in poll results that they want a single-payer. Any other solution just pushes the problem down the road.

The insurance companies do not own you or congress. We are capable of rising above deceptive advertising and scare tactics.

If you and the Democratic party take the lead, there will be a tidal wave of support as people stop having to worry about health care costs. In fact, if we get this done, I can’t imagine the Republican party coming back for 20 years.

There are millions of us out here ready to fight the good fight for a single payer plan. I hope I can be part of your legacy of solving the health care crisis.
Representative Johnson
I believe that a single-payer health care system is the solution our country needs now. The math for actually solving the problems only work for a single-payer plan. The people have made it clear in poll results that they want a single-payer. Other proposals just push the problem down the road.

A single-payer health care system is good for business, good for entrepreneurs, good for America. There will be strong opposition from insurance company lobbyists, but we are capable of rising above deceptive advertising and scare tactics. In the modern media environment - deception will be uncovered and the facts will speak (not always, but enough to make a difference).

If Americans put the troubles of this crisis behind them and the perception is that the Democrats made this happen and Republicans stood in the way, I don’t think it will be fun to be a Republican for a long time.

There are millions of us out here ready to fight the good fight for a single payer plan. I hope I can be part of your legacy of solving the health care crisis.
Each letter above submitted to the representative's website. I do put "cc blog" at the bottom of each to indicate that I consider them to be open letters.

2009/05/30

Health Care Reform - Letter to the President

Mr. President,

I missed the health care reform conference call last week due to a meeting.

I want you to know that there are millions of us out here ready to fight the good fight for you like we did in the campaign. If you really want me on your side giving it my best, you need to push for a single payer plan.

The people have made it clear in poll results that they want a single payer plan. The math for real solutions only works for a single payer plan. Any other solution will just push the problem down the road.

I think you can call on the people to go over the the heads of the insurance lobbyists and make this happen. I'd love to be a part of your legacy of solving the health care crisis in the USA.

Thank you.

2009/05/29

IceBike Shoes

I used to bicycle a lot; hence my web handle "SchreiberBike". Riding year-round in Illinois means learning how to ride in cold weather. I put this information up in a web site back in 2001. It was hosted on Tripod.com and they took it down without notice because of an error I made. Although I had some good feedback, I didn't put it back up.

Here's the information from 2001, with a few edits, pulled from the Internet Archive's WaybackMachine. I recovered most of the pictures from my PC.



Shoes for Cold Weather Cycling

How I Keep my Big Feet Warm

For me, keeping my feet warm has always been the hardest part of winter cycling. I've just made up a pair of shoes that have finally solved the problem for me. I've tried many suggestions from other ice bikers, but I haven't been able to do the most effective one: wearing extra layers of socks inside extra large loose fitting shoes.

When you normally wear size 13 shoes (48 Euro) it's hard to find cycling shoes that are large enough to allow for wearing extra layers of socks without constricting your feet. There are a couple brands available in up to size 50, but at prices over $150.00 US I couldn't justify them. (Doing things inexpensively is critical.) I settled on finding shoes and modifying them to use SPD cleats.

Shoes
A logical spot for big shoes is the nearby University of Illinois football program. Almost all of the football players are big guys so I thought they might have some old shoes they could spare. I found that they were going to donate last year's shoes to Goodwill soon. I haunted Goodwill and was rewarded with a pair of size-15 high-top turf shoes for $8.00. The turf shoes have a rubber sole with dozens of quarter-inch nubs rather than metal cleats.

Cleats
At this point I had two options for the shoes: clipless pedals or PowerGrips. I had done my winter riding with PowerGrips for years, but my rat trap pedals were shot and I'd have to get the extra-large size which were about $30.00 US; so I decided to go with off-brand SPD compatible pedals from Nashbar. The good news was that they were on sale for about $20.00. If price was no object I would have liked the SpeedPlay Frogs, but the cost was too high.

Cleat location
I eyeballed the shoes next to my present shoes and used a marker to show where I thought the cleat should go on the new shoes. The standard mounting for SPDs have about 3/4 inch of front to back adjustment and 1/4 inch of side to side. I was glad I had that much adjustment available, because I found it difficult to estimate where the ball of my foot would fall in the over-size shoe and how much clearance I would need for the crank arm.

I didn't want to attach the SPD cleat directly to the shoe because the localized stress would likely destroy the sole of the shoe, and because I wanted to distribute the pressure of the cleat over more of my foot (diagram below). I visualized a metal plate that would be as large as possible, but no heavier than necessary, and not so large as to disturb the natural shape of the sole. The bottom of the shoe is not flat. I drew a shape on the sole of the shoe about three and three quarter inches by two inches and cut the nubs off of that area with a utility knife.

Hardware
The next step was to make up a metal plate. An engineer could tell me more about the appropriate material to transfer the forces, but what I did was go to the hardware store and hold samples of metal in my hand until I found one that felt right. It was also terribly cheap. I used a steel cover plate for an electrical box. I bought two, but was able to make do with one. Cost 44 cents. Tracing the space on the shoe onto cardboard, I copied the shape onto the metal, cut it with a jigsaw, and shaped it with a file. The fore and aft position of the cleat is adjustable along 1/4 by 3/4-inch slots. I cut the slots in the metal by drilling holes then filing along the lines where the cleat would go.

To attach the metal plate to the shoes I drilled holes in the shoes that matched the holes on the mounting plates. I then used 1/4-inch machine screws screwed into "T" nuts, which are inside the shoe beneath the insole. "T" nuts come with a variety of shank lengths. So long as the length of the shank is less than the thickness of sole of the shoe when the screw compresses it, the shank should be as long as possible. This gives more flexibility in the length of the screws. The 1/4 inch size I used is probably overkill. If I did it again I'd use the next size down and I'd also use a screw with a less prominent head.

The length of the screws is difficult to estimate. I bought mine longer than necessary then ground them down to the correct length. To find the correct length I attached the plate to the shoe with the over long screws then measured the excess by placing Allen wrenches of various sizes next to the portion of the screw sticking out inside the shoe. This told me how many mm needed to be ground off.

The metal plate is flat and the sole of the shoe is slightly curved. Something is needed to compensate for the difference in their shapes. First I tried using household caulk, but that broke down almost immediately. I was ultimately successful with double stick foam tape. The tape compensated for the slight rocker in the sole of the shoe and after some riding, I used some more tape on the outboard side of the plate to level the shoe on the pedal.



Insole
The bottom of the inside of the shoe is not too smoothly shaped after all this. I upgraded the insole by adding two layers of polypro and some reflective Mylar. This is less than perfect, but it has been adequate for rides up to four hours. I'm still trying to come up with an improvement for this. I've also been putting a small scrap of wadded up nylon sock in the toe of the shoe to fill in the extra space there.

Finishing touches
After riding a bit with an Allen wrench and a screwdriver, I was able to get the cleats adjusted just right. I applied copious amounts of reflective tape. The tape I used is DOT C2, the kind used on tractor-trailer bodies in the US. I followed the pattern of the leather on the shoe and it has been quite durable. Almost as important it covers some of the corporate logos.

Results
The shoes are very comfortable with two pairs of thick wool socks. There is room for chemical toe warmers, but I haven't had the need as we've hardly gotten below zero F here this year.

We haven't had much extreme cold here this winter, so I haven't put them to a real test, but they are a great improvement. Rides over a couple hours at 40 F used to leave me with numb toes. With these shoes I've had a couple of rides longer than that in the single digits Fahrenheit without any problem.

I ride primarily on road, but have also done some riding in the woods with these shoes. The shoes have had good traction in the snow. Despite the experience of many IceBikers, I haven't had any trouble with the SPD pedals icing up. In the worst conditions off-road a spinning kick to the pedal cleared up any clogging.

Amazingly, despite much riding on salted roads, the plate and the screw have shown no corrosion. I think the electrical cover plate that I used may be galvanized, but the edges aren't showing any corrosion either. There has been a bit of rust on the SPD cleat, but nothing serious.

The cleat does stick out on the bottom of the shoe, but the shoe is very walkable. It would only be a problem if I were somewhere where I was concerned about scratching the floor.

2009/05/27

10:10 almost exactly

Watches in advertisements are usually shown with the minute and hour hands in roughly the 10:10 position. For the watch model below, I wanted to know exactly what time it was when the hands are in opposing positions.

I can't get an exact time because the answer appears to be an irrational number. Based on the results of the spreadsheet summarized below, the time is approximately 10:09:13.8461472.


time decimal 0.423076923 days

--------------------Hour--------Minute-----Second
--------------------hand---------hand-------hand


Units Indicated--10.15384615---9.23076912 13.8461472
Angle-----------304.6153846°--55.38461472°
Angle from vert.-55.38461544°-55.38461472°
Difference--------0.00000072°

Modeling and Rendering


Perhaps the best, certainly the most detailed SketchUp (SU) model I ever made is of my wrist-watch. In the past I’ve bought decent low priced ($30-$40) wrist watches and they last two or three years before completely failing. Three years ago I bought a titanium Seiko SNA139. Though the watch retailed at the time for about $350, I got a used one on ebay for about 1/4th of that. It still looks almost new. If it lasts another six years the purchase is justified financially. Either way I like it and I (mostly) don’t feel like spending that much on a luxury was wrong.

To the point, one day when I was home sick from work, I started a SketchUp (SU) model of the watch. I used a magnifying glass, calipers which measure to about two-thousands of an inch, and to read the smallest letters (just over 1/100th of an inch) on the inner edge of the dial, the eyes of a five-year-old. All together I put (wasted) about 12 hours creating the model. To the best of my knowledge, I captured every detail of the real watch. The SU model if this Seiko SNA139 is available in the 3d warehouse.



2009/05/26

Blogger

Lots of people use Blogger and it's part of Google, so I figure that it must be a pretty good tool.

I'm having tons of trouble with it and I'm not finding tricks to make it work the way I want it to. Perhaps I have unrealistic expectations or perhaps these things are harder to do.

  • I'd like to be able to control where pictures appear in text.
  • I'd like to be able to post pictures with captions.
  • I'd prefer if the HTML didn't have a ton of unrelated garbage in it so that I can keep things straight when I try to edit the HTML.
  • I wish the HTML and Compose windows were large enough to see what I'm working on in context.
  • I'd love it if the "preview" actually looked something like the final.
  • I'd love it if the "edit posts" page showed the same posts as the blog itself.
  • I'd love it if posts never mysteriously combined with each other.
  • I'd like it if I could make some additional edits to the blogs appearance.
  • It would be great if I could find more resources on-line about how to work more effectively with Blogger (seems amazing that I haven't found them so far).

Some of these things are bugs, some are unrealistic expectations, some are probably possible, but I don't know the way to do them. I don't want to have to learn detailed HTML in order to write a visually coherent post.

I felt like I did better in StumbleUpon when I blogged there.

2009/05/25

The Box

Originally posted 5/19/09
Jean Piaget described stages of development based on the idea that humans understand in different ways at different ages. Although Piaget over-simplified, I think the idea is sound. It is impossible for a child to think like an adult. The solutions available to an adult are not available to a child.

What is impossible for an adult to think of? What levels of reasoning or abstraction are humans unable to accomplish.

Can we create computers which can go beyond us? Computers can already duplicate known theories based on data. I suspect that computers will soon be able to create theories which are beyond our ability to think of.

That would truly be thinking outside of the box.

Life in Earth Orbit

Originally posted 5/19/09
I predict that in the next ten years, much of the space around Earth will be inaccessible to us. With more and more debris in space, the risk of impacts due to space debris increases geometrically. There will be a cascade of collisions which will make low Earth orbit too dangerous to put expensive satellites (or people) into. It will remain inaccessible for hundreds of years or until it is cleaned up.

Today, depending on your definition, there are as few as ten-thousand or as many as one-million things in orbit around the Earth.

In low Earth orbit (LEO) everything must traveling at least 14,000 miles per hour. Impacts can happen at relative speeds of up to 35,000 mph. Visualize two cars hitting each other at a closing speed of 35,000 mph; pieces will fly off in all directions. Most of the new objects created from the collision will not be in sustainable orbits but enough of it will hang around to be a hazard to other objects in space.

If there are 10,000 objects in space, and two of them collide at high speed, there might immediately be 10,500 objects in space. That increases the chance of additional collisions and the number of objects will continue to increase.

This won't be a problem in all orbits. Because of atmospheric drag, nothing lasts for long in very low Earth orbit; so there won't be too much debris there. Of course because of the atmospheric drag it's difficult to keep a useful satellite there for long. Distant orbits and specifically geosynchronous orbits may be available too. There is a whole lot of extra room out that way and objects are generally traveling in similar directions making them less likely to collide.

Space is a tough place to get anything done. We need to do what we can to keep it from getting more difficult. Solutions are hugely expensive, but we need to study them. If cost benefit analysis is being done to examine this issue, I haven't heard it discussed.

Google Androids Dreaming of Electric Sheep

Originally posted 4/14/09
I don’t usually think much about pop culture, especially things like viral videos sponsored by big corporations. BUT, I couldn’t help but admire the popular video of “Extreme Shepherding” by the "Baaa-Studs." Available here on YouTube.

My first question was how much of it was done with real sheep and how much with computers. The best non-answer I found comes from the 2009/03/24 NYT Technology Blog. They quoted from the agency which produced the video; "the team used some digital trickery to heighten the visual effects." That leaves a lot of wiggle room. I don't doubt that some impressive shepherding was involved, but I'm sure it's mostly CGI.

The agency which produced the video was The Viral Factory at the request of Samsung as a way of bringing attention to their LED based televisions (must have worked). So, it didn't really have anything to do with some Welshmen with too much time on their hands and a strange love of sheep and LEDs. It was a big time corporate advertising campaign which got all of the attention. In searching around, I see that very few people realize this. That's significant, but it's not the reason I wanted to write a blog posting.

What interested me was that when I first saw the video, I thought of the science fiction title "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Then I saw that Samsung was involved and I remembered that Samsung was releasing a new phone to go with Google's Android software.

So, it IS:

Sheep > LEDs > Samsung TVs.

Is it ALSO:

Electric Sheep > Androids > Google Android > Samsung Cell Phones?


I often think I'm clever. It's good to be able to put together wide ranging ideas, but sometimes what I'm thinking has no relationship with reality, and that's not so clever.

2009/05/15

Torture


We shouldn’t torture because:

  • It’s immoral and illegal.
  • It doesn’t matter if it is effective, but if it is to be justified because of effectiveness, it must be compared with traditional interrogation techniques, not against no interrogation at all.
  • It sets a moral standard for the rest of the world to follow - at very least, this means our citizens are more likely to be tortured.

I wrote to the President: (Sometimes I just gotta do it.)

Mr. President,

We should prosecute and acknowledge the crime of torture because:
  • Lack of acknowledgment that it was a crime increases the likelihood that torture will be justified in the future.
  • Next time we are attacked, those who stopped torture will be blamed for not preventing the attack.

While it is not a convenient time politically to bring up this issue, that is not the standard we have for following the Constitution.

Thank you,

2009/05/08

By our Pupils We'll Be Taught

This restates and expands on the entry A New Idea for Education posted 3/5/09.

---
Does it really make sense to learn things, when you aren’t going to use them again after the test? Students know it’s going to happen, but I’m realizing that teachers do it too. When teachers teach, they learn about their students. They learn how their students learn best. They become more effective teachers. But after the final exam, what they learn is mostly thrown away.

In any student / teacher relationship, communication goes both ways.. Good teachers monitor non-verbal communication, class participation, test performance, one-on-one interactions and a myriad of other sources of information. They gradually develop a profile of each student which helps them to reach into the student’s mind to make a connection. I haven’t taught semester long classes, but even in shorter term training, as I learn about my students, I become a more effective communicator and have more success.

Most students, especially in academic disciplines, are pretty well adapted to educational culture. The teacher’s default approach will probably work pretty well with them. It’s the other students who need a different approach: the students who learn kinesthetically rather than through books and lectures; those who need a detailed explanation and are not willing to accept new information “just because”; the student who can develop a relationship with the material, but can’t maintain a relationship with classmates. There are as many combinations of learning characteristics as there are students.

What if placement tests, learning style surveys, high school information, and the students own suggestions could be used to develop a profile of learning characteristics for each student? What if instructors could verify and add to that information? With that profile, the students can learn about their own educational strengths and weaknesses. Teachers, tutors and counselors will have insight into how to be most effective with that student. Each semester will start out on a roll instead of having to get going again from a dead stop. While information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses can be helpful, it cannot be a strict prescription. Material cannot always be adapted to a student’s strengths and weaknesses. In a lecture hall, there is not as much room for customization as in smaller classes and tutoring.

Practically, I envision that when a teacher receives a class roster, the roster would include some summary information about the class and how that class compares with others in the college and department. That could help the teacher decide which instructional methods to use. There would also be a few key words on the learning characteristics of each student. After the first day of class, an instructor might check to see which students stuck out in class and what special needs there may be. For students who need more than a line to describe their learning style, there would be a reference to where to find those notes.

This information could also be mined to increase effectiveness college wide. For example, we could measure changes in students’ learning strengths over time and students could how see those changes impact them. There may be relationships between learning characteristics and career choice. Even student or teacher demographics may have a significant impact.

There are potential problems with this approach. No one wants additional testing. No one wants additional work for instructors. There could be a privacy concern in developing a “profile.” And of course, this idea may not work at all.

This idea occurred to me when reading about how businesses study their customers individually and as groups. I thought about the difference between business and education in how we “maximize” our relationships. That thought process grew into the ideas above. I am new to higher education, working on institutional research in a community college. I have described this in that context, but I can see applications in other environments too. I think this is an idea worth exploring.

2009/04/07

SketchUp to Reality - bedside table

I use Google SketchUp (SU) to do a lot of doodling and planning. Sometimes I actually produce something which I have modeled. This is a nightstand I made for my daughter.


Besides basic assumptions for a bed side table, the design criteria were:

1. It had to fit stylistically with her present furniture and be neutral enough to fit with future furniture.

2. It needed to incorporate some bins.

3. It had to minimally block the vent which it will be on top of.

4. It had to be quick & easy to build.


After Googling around looking at bedside tables, I drew first on paper just to think about the design, then started in SU. I modeled the height of her bed and the window behind it to help get the size and proportions right. We purchased bins and I modeled those.

I used pocket screw joinery to assemble it. I bought a "Kreg Jig" system earlier this year and I have found it to be extremely useful. It is a quick and strong way of assembling things. It's not "fine woodworking," but not everything needs to be.

In addition to the model of the nightstand in place, I copied the components onto imaginary boards to optimize lumber usage. One of the "scenes" in the model shows the diagram below. I had planned on gluing up lumber to get 12" wide panels, but when I went to purchase the wood, lumber which would dress to 11 1/4" was available. I quickly updated the model and was good to go. The pine lumber was nominal 3/4" thick.

I used hand planes to prepare the wood, a guide and a circular saw for the crosscuts, and handsaws for the rips and curves. My router broke just before I started this project, so I was not able to use a router bit to round the edges. I did that with a block plane and sandpaper which resulted in a nice handmade look.

I sanded and scraped the pine and on first assembly, found that the wood was substantially less than 3/4" Using 1 1/4" Kreg screws for that size resulted in some of the screw points coming through the sides of the boards. I disassembled it, moved the boards slightly and replaced the screws with smaller ones.

I do not find finishing intuitive, but I am pleased with how this turned out. After I assembled the piece the first time, I disassembled it and finished it flat. Finishing individual pieces is much easier than working with completed furniture. The downside is that all the glue surfaces are covered with finish. If I were doing it again, I would mask the glue surfaces. Between the lack of glue and the smaller screws, I have some concern about structural integrity, but it feels solid enough.

I wanted to learn about shellac because I had never used it before. Shellac’s great fault is that it is soluble in alcohol, so you wouldn't want to use it anyplace where an alcoholic drink might be placed on it.

I used Zinsser Bulls Eye shellac. The shellac as it comes out of the can is very thick. Finishers refer to that thickness as a three-pound cut. A three-pound cut means - if the shellac had been made from flakes, as it used to be, it would have used three pounds of flakes mixed in one gallon of denatured alcohol. For the first coat, I added two units of hardware store denatured alcohol, making it a one-pound cut. Subsequent coats were a two-pound cut. I sanded with 400 grit to smooth the surface between coats. I also applied a gel stain between the 2nd and third layers.

After the four layers of shellac, I applied Trewax, Mahogany wax with 000 steel wool, then buffed it. Unfortunately, where I had put the wax on in a swirling pattern, there was a slight stain on the shellac. Repeating the waxing as below, eliminated almost all of the stains.

Next time, I will not leave as much wax on the surface while it is drying. It should be just enough to create a haze with no ridges. I would also apply the wax with the grain. The final finish has substantial depth.

The customer is happy and I'm pleased to be able to show it to friends. The model is available in the 3d warehouse here.