Maths * Chem = Ranting^2

Why are so many math books poorly written? Even many of the physical sciences books seem to have this terrible dichotomy between the text explaining the concepts, and the text explaining the calculations. I suspect it’s partly because one person is writing the conceptual text, and another person is writing the calculations text. I also suspect it is because both are written by people who are naturally good at the subject, just like most maths, chem, and physics teachers are naturally good at the subject.
Well, you do want people teaching who are good at the subject. But as many of us have noticed, being naturally good at something frequently results in people who cannot understand why others aren’t equally good at it. Once in a while those adepts become snobbish, because obviously the rest of the world just isn’t smart enough to get the stuff like they are. Many of the others simply have little patience with students who “must be stupid because they can’t figure out easy things” and can’t understand the material from having the previous explanation repeated again.
Duh! If it didn’t make sense the first time around, why would repeating the same explanation make any more sense the second or third time around? What we really need is Continue reading Maths * Chem = Ranting^2

You Don't Say

“How can you not tell me when you are flunking English?!”
“Can’t you ever do anything right?”
“Do you really want to fail 8th-grade math and take it over again?!”

There is no answer that is going to be acceptable to anyone. I mean, would you go up to your parents and say, “I really want to fail beginning algebra so I can sit through units on order of operations and inequalities all over again”?
Of course not! What makes these so hard to answer is that they really aren’t questions at all. They’re accusations: You are flunking a class and didn’t care to tell me about it. (Given that my mom was angry and yelling and all but shaking me in an arm-bruising grip, it’s not surprising that I did not care to divulge the news.)
Because these are not questions, they are not really spoken to elicit answers. Woe to the literal-minded aspie child who tries to make up for the transgressions by actually attempting to answer, “I’m trying—”
“You certainly are! You’re a very trying child.”
What is being demanded is a promise that somehow everything will be made better. You wish that were so, too, and feel even more powerless to change the situation. Beyond feeling inadequate to the task at hand, you also know that attempts to communicate problems will also be met with anger, hostility, contradictory messages, and impossible demands. No matter what you do, you won’t be able to succeed.
How do you answer questions like that?
The answer is that you can’t. These are Continue reading You Don't Say

Home on the Range

It’s spring, and with spring we were once again entertaining the invasion of the Little Black Ants*. (Yes indeedy, sometimes the common names of insects are actually straightforward, and we have things like Little Black Ants or Soft Brown Scale.) Every year I put out the bait traps and spend several days sponging most of the 3 mm. arthropods off the counters and drowning them in the sudsy dishwater, until the rest of the wee bastards have taken enough poison back to crash the colony.
Don’t get me wrong — I like ants. I think they’re fascinating, and spent many happy hours of my childhood watching them. I just don’t want them in my house any more than they want me in theirs.
It’s tiresome for me, and it’s tiresome for the family who are subjected to mum’s infobites about the Formicidae, although this past week the kid finally understood why the alien race from the Ender’s Game books was called the Formics. (However, ants have nothing to do with Formica plastic, which just goes to show that etymology is as convoluted as entomology.)
Ants will of course, leave trail-pheromones for other ants to follow, and these were all energetically tracking around in their proscribed invisible-Tube map pathways around my sink, the faucet, the countertops, the splashback tiles, the Kitchen-Aid mixer, the breadbox, the cutting board, the knife block, the dish (draining) rack, the electrical sockets and switches, the toaster oven, the stovetop (range), the sugarbowl and butterdish (both of which have lids — hey, we’re not immaculate, but we’re not stupid), the coffee and filter cannisters, and anything else that the human residents had left sitting out.
(Insert clichéd maternal nagging to family about not cleaning up after snack-making.)
The other afternoon when I was doing the washing-up, I stood there and observed their peregrinations until I was able to finally pinpoint the ingress spot. Underneath the window ledge was a slightly chipped spot in the grout, and I waited to observe two ants disappear into the hole and not re-appear (which would have indicated a dead-end). Ah-HA! So yesterday I tracked down the remainder of the tube of tub caulk and clotted up the hole. I swabbed up the remaining immigrants (after photographing them). The good news is that no more ants have appeared today, which likely means that there’s not another hole. Maybe I’ve licked the problem once and for all.
Or, at least until another weak point develops in the grout.

* These could be Monomorium minimum or some species of Crematogaster, but they were running around too fast to get a really good macro shot to tell which. I want a microscope of my own!


Updates on several stories:
In a post from almost a year ago (“That Kind“), I discussed three cases of discrimination against autistics. Cindy Earnshaw was an animal control officer and has Asperger’s, and is now filing a suit against her former employer, the city of Overland Park.
Another old post (the wheels of law grind v e r y slowly, indeed) was about “Waiting For GINA”, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.  The bill passed the House of Representatives last year, and has just been passed (unanimously!) by the Senate, and awaits signing by Dubya.  Keep your digits crossed or whatever …
More good news:  just in case you were flying ’round the dark side of the moon and somehow missed the news, Kathleen Seidel has won her Motion to Quash the absurd SLAPP-type subpoena against her, which also required information related to dozens of bloggers from her of the Weblob blogroll, including myself. w00t!
An update to a recent post, “A shot in the arm, A slight kick in the butt” about vaccine hysteria and rising rates of highly-infectious and dangerous diseases.  A couple years ago we had mumps breaking out in several states, and now there is largest outbreak of measles since 2001, with at least 72 people in 10 different states around the country reported as having been infected (mind you, that’s just the rate of officially diagnosed and reported, which may be less than the actual prevalence), and of those people, 14 are so ill they had to be hospitalized.  The article states,

Before a vaccine was introduced in 1963, more than half a million people got measles in the United States and 500 died annually. Thanks to the vaccination program, measles is no longer endemic in the United States, and ongoing transmission of the virus was declared eliminated in 2000.

Of all the infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccine, measles was and still is the most deadly, and is the cause of half of the one million deaths that could be prevented. The World Health Organization says that,

Children usually do not die directly of measles, but from its complications. Complications are more common in children under the age of five or adults over the age of 20.

The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (a dangerous infection of the brain causing inflammation), severe diarrhoea (possibly leading to dehydration), ear infections and severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death associated with measles. Encephalitis is estimated to occur in one out of 1000 cases, while otitis media (middle ear infection) is reported in 5-15% of cases and pneumonia in 5-10% of cases. The case fatality rate in developing countries is generally in the range of 1 to 5%, but may be as high as 25% in populations with high levels of malnutrition and poor access to health care.

I’ve also previously described the various fallacies around the conspiracy theories related to vaccines in my post, “Epidemics of bad science, vs Epidemics and bad science”. There have been studies done in four countries showing no causality between vaccines and increased rates of diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders.
Well, off to deal with the crisis du jour … more later.

BADD But Not Rude

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2008

I did it!

Today I actually put into action my previous plan. It wasn’t long* or eloquent, but it was polite. A student made a remark about doing something “retarded”, and I asked in a sympathetic tone,

“Please don’t use that word. You can say you’re doing something foolish, or that you’re tired, or even just being human. We all have moments like this.”

This post is a part of the annual BADD, Blogging Against Discrimination Day, which is being hosted at Diary of a Goldfish. I spend a lot of blogging time discussing various disability issues, but for BADD I wanted to do something outside of the usual analyses. Like in my example above, I thought it would be useful to offer some alternatives to disability- or difference-related words that are frequently used not just as insults but also as disaparaging terms e.g. retard, retarded, tard, moron, cretin, lame-brain, spaz, mong, lame, having two left feet, cack-handed, blonde, gay, queer, psycho, schizo, short-bus, gyp, et cetera ad nauseam.
Note that I said as disparaging terms; saying someone is gay to mean homosexual, or that your cat is lame because it has a leg in a cast is one thing, but dismissing something as “That’s so gay,” or “That’s a really lame excuse,” is quite another. (I will confess that I have used “lame” in this way because I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I’m not going to any more.)
In any regard, the acid-test is simple: when you are using a word that describes a group of people, or a characteristic of [a group of] people, and are using it as an insult, that is rude. The reverse is also true: if you are using an insulting term and ascribing to everyone in a group, that is stereotyping and rude. These negative words perpetuate social stigmas and stereotypes against people with disabilities. Using them continues to dehumanise people. If the characteristic or attribute is something that a person cannot [easily] change, then insulting it or using it as an insult is wrong. (Meaning, it’s always open-season on ugly neckties, barring describing it with these sorts of words.)
It is not enough to sit around and kvetch about what’s wrong in the world; we must also offer things to do instead. So, here’s a starter-list of other words to use. Not only do they not reference the negative stereotypes, but they are also less hurtful words — they take the event and keep it within the realm of ordinary human fallibility: things we all do. In this way, we don’t distance ourselves from other people as being other people — we just comment upon their actions.

  • inattentive
  • foolish
  • unwise
  • ill-considered
  • rash
  • silly
  • impetuous
  • foolhardy
  • reckless
  • clumsy
  • awkward
  • inept
  • sorry
  • flimsy
  • implausible

I would also like to direct your attention to The “R” Word Campaign.
* Not long? Shocking, I know. I’m not always as loquacious in real life as I am in print.

Clonal antibodies

“Clonal antibodies” was the phrase that came to mind. Which really had nothing to do with the news image I was seeing, it was just my brain doing the AD/HD-randomizer trick again.
Or, maybe the words did have something to do with the photograph. I was looking at an AP Photo by Tony Gutierrez, one of many recent photographs of the mothers from the The Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they stood in front of the courthouse:

Clonal was in a sense true. All nine of these white women are garbed in nearly identical frocks, a rather loose-fitting style that the press is referring to as “prairie dresses”, made of plain pastel blue, lavender, teal or green fabric, with long sleeves pleated at the shoulders, bodices buttoned all the way up to the collars, and reverse-pleated ankle-length skirts. Not only that, but Continue reading Clonal antibodies