Friday, 19 August 2011

08:52 – Barbara and I drove out to the body shop this morning to pick up her car, only to find out that it wasn’t ready. Originally, it was supposed to be ready Wednesday afternoon. When I called Wednesday around lunchtime to check, the guy who was doing the work said they were having problems with their spray booth and he wasn’t sure it’d be ready that afternoon. He said it would be ready by Thursday at lunchtime. I told him that Barbara worked, and first thing Friday morning would be better for us. He said that’d be perfect, so we just headed out this morning to pick the car up. Apparently, the spray booth problem took longer to resolve than they expected. They promised the car would be ready in a couple hours, but Barbara had to go to work. So the body shop is going to send someone over to pick me up when the car is ready.

I’m still working on the prepared slide sets. The first set, Slide Set A, has 25 slots available, of which I currently have 19 allocated. The problem is, it’s an iterative process. I have to make sure I have at least one source for every particular slide, and ideally a second source as well. Then I have to correlate the slides I’m choosing with the text. If it turns out that I can’t reliably source a particular slide, I have to re-write the text to use a different slide that I can get. And that may in turn affect other slide choices.

It’s all a balancing act. I’d like Slide Set A to represent as broad as possible a selection across kingdoms and phyla, but at the same time be deep enough to be useful. The depth requirement mandates, for example, that I allocate three of the 25 slots to monocots and dicots: cross-sections of a representative monocot and dicot leaf, stem, and root. I’d like to include a representative monocot and dicot flower bud as well, but that’ll have to be in Slide Set B. Similarly, I’d like to include both a cross-section of a Grantia and Grantia spicules, but there isn’t room for both in Slide Set A, so the spicules slide will have be in Slide Set B or even C. Oh, and I’m trying very hard to keep the price of the 25 slide sets A and B to $50 each or less.

11:14 – I just got back home with Barbara’s car, which looks fine. That was the first time I’d driven it, and probably the first time I’ve driven a car-car in 15 years or more. I’ve been driving SUVs since I bought my Jeep CJ in 1979. Driving a car reminds me of riding a motorcycle. Both are low, nimble, and zippy compared to driving a heavy truck.

Speaking of which, the other day I was talking to my neighbor about motorcycles. He still rides. I haven’t ridden in 30 years, although my driver’s license still has a motorcycle endorsement on it. Yesterday while I was walking Colin, Steve was out working on his bike. He asked if I wanted to give it a try. I told him that was tempting, but I hadn’t been on a bike in 30 years and Barbara would kill me when she found out. Assuming I survived the ride. So I regretfully declined.

I do miss it, though. I had a superbike, a Honda 750F that I paid a guy a lot of money to performance tune. We did a timed run once. Zero to 60 MPH in 2.8 seconds with my weight on it, and I was still in first gear when I hit 60, cranking over 10,000 RPM. As someone commented at the time, that bike accelerated faster than a fighter jet on take-off. Of course, the fighter has a better top end. My bike topped out around 140 or 145, or maybe 150 downhill with a tailwind. But I was always reasonable on the Interstate, seldom exceeding 135.

Barbara and I were watching a Numb3rs episode the other night, and it showed one of the characters printing a letter rather than using cursive writing. That got me to wondering. Do schools still teach cursive handwriting nowadays? If so, why? I haven’t written anything other than my signature in cursive in at least 30 years. I print everything. I don’t even use upper and lower case. All the characters are uppercase, with those that would normally be lower case just smaller versions of the upper case letters. I can print at least as fast as I can write cursively, and the result is much more easily readable. I wonder if cursive is becoming a lost art. Do homeschoolers teach it? I understand that one of the arguments for teaching cursive is that it helps kids learn to control their hand and finger movements very precisely, so perhaps there’s still a place for it.

22 thoughts on “Friday, 19 August 2011”

  1. Off Topic…

    HP is exiting the PC business. I guess the writing is on the wall when it comes to the end of the desktop PC. They’ve had a nice 30+ year run, but now it seems that smartphones and tablets are replacing them. The telephone, desktop PC, digital cameras, mp3 players, GPS receivers, game consoles, and cable/DVR boxes are all slowly merging into a single handheld device.

    Soon a workstations will be nothing more than a monitor, keyboard, and mouse hooked up to a docking station that you dock your smartphone or tablet to. When you need a bigger screen to enjoy media or a keyboard for content creation then you’ll dock it to those devices, but primarily it’ll just be something you carry with you.

    I suppose even keyboards and mice will be eventually replaced when the device is docked to a full size monitor if that monitor is touchscreen. The mechanical keyboard will go away to be replaced with a full size touchscreen keyboard. When you have a touchscreen, who needs a mouse? Though, there will probably always be certain peripherals and input devices used by certain specialty career fields.

    I can’t think of the last time one of my friends or relatives purchased a desktop PC. It’s probably been at least 3 or 4 years. Most switched to buying laptops years ago and now they, especially the younger ones, are primarily using their smartphones and tablets while their laptops gather dust. Outside of work, I very rarely sit down in front of a desktop PC.

    Before I exited the web design world a few months ago the focus had started shifting to “How can I design this website so it would be easy to navigate with your finger on a touchscreen?”

    We’re not there yet, but give it another 10 years.

  2. Robert,

    There’s a reason calligraphy is an art. While I can still scribble in ‘cursive’ faster than block printing, that’s because I was a sports reporter and columnist for a good chunk of my post-school years. At the same time, I learned to type at a moderately good speed due to the same occupation. So I’m hardly the templar. But I’d wager cursive is still taught, more as a way of reading that style of writing rather than on creating new. After all, they still teach Shakespeare. (My pet hate, I’d be okay with a history unit on Shakespeare in high school, but year after year of cramming archaic Olde English down your throat? Just why, given the need of a translation, do they annoint Good Will, rather than a Russian author or somebody from Brazil?)

  3. I don’t think so. Handheld devices will always be constrained in power. I remember talk about how the laptop/notebook would replace the desktop. Hasn’t happened. Nor will the handheld devices ever replace notebooks or desktops. They’re all tools with some similarities in purposes and features, but they have very different strengths and weaknesses.

    I’m just trying to visualize editing video or crunching a scientific data set on a cell phone. Not going to happen. I can see desktops becoming a smaller percentage of sales, but I think they’ll always be quite large in absolute terms, large enough to make it economically feasible for Intel and AMD to continue designing and producing desktop-class processors. Even if desktop share falls to 10% or less, that’s still a huge number of units.

  4. Do schools still teach cursive handwriting nowadays?

    Some school districts are considering dropping cursive writing from the curriculum. Which I think is perfectly OK. I have been printing since my senior year in high school when I took drafting. I don’t think I could cursive write anymore without considerable thought about what I was doing. I also print my signature most of the time with the occassionable unrecognizable scrawl when I am in a hurry.

  5. I suppose even keyboards and mice will be eventually replaced when the device is docked to a full size monitor if that monitor is touchscreen.

    I don’t like virtual keyboards. I enjoy full size keys and the tactil feedback that I receive when pressing the keys. I also would very hard pressed to edit any photo using just my finger as it is not even close to being precise. I can move the mouse with much more precision than I can using a finger on a screen.

    A tablet would be OK if the docking station provided a full size moniter, full size keyboard, and full size rodent. What I would really like is dual moniter capability as that makes working with photos much easier.

  6. visualize editing video or crunching a scientific data

    I would classify those as specialty markets with specialty hardware to go with them. They certainly exceed what “Aunt Edna” is going to do on her desktop.

    My smartphone has a dual core 1GHz processor and can output audio/video to an HDTV via a mini HDMI cable, so smartphones and tablets being powerful enough to accomplish what the average joe does on his desktop is quite feasible. What kind of processing power will smartphones and tablets have in another 10 years?

  7. RE: cursive handwriting
    I lost the ability to write cursive when I started programming back in the 70’s, filling in code sheets for the key-punch girls (and cute they were too) to turn into an IBM card deck. Since that time I have been unable to hand write anything except uppercase block characters. Recently our granddaughter, who was educated in New Zealand, came to visit and I discovered they never taught cursive READING or writing in her NZ schools. She had trouble reading any cursive script. So, yes, cursive is becoming a lost art. One we should rescue, as it is an ART.

  8. I bought a replacement desktop, just last year. I also have a netbook, smartphone, and laptop. The thing I like about the desktop, is that it stays on the desk. I can walk away from it. The netbook and laptop require lugging about, which for trips and certain appointments, make sense, but for day to day applications, I feel constrained by the size of the monitor.

    The smartphone (which is on it’s last legs) has some very nice features, but the size of the screen preclude me really wanting to do any work in a spreadsheet, for example. I can open it just fine, I just can’t READ the screen! It takes surprisingly good pics, and decent candid videos, but web-browsing on a screen smaller than the palm of my hand? Useless to me!

  9. I lost the ability to write cursive when I started programming back in the 70′s

    Yep, that’s what did it for me, too. Our keypunchers were mostly ugly guys, though.

  10. But what will happen when voice recognition becomes really good? Will we even need keyboards?

  11. Oh, and at least this homeschooling family taught the kids cursive writing. I write things in cursive all the time, but if I want to read it again, I print. Or better yet, type.

  12. But what will happen when voice recognition becomes really good?

    Do you really want a bunch of people in cubicles chatting to their computers continously? Mouse Up, Menu, File, Open, etc. It would be rather unnerving. Especially for those on Facebook that chat with friends during work. “Oh, my, the sex last night was just terrible. I married such a loser” heard around the office would not be good.

  13. I was involved in videotaping an expert the other day, and she is very closely associated with the educational system in Indiana. The whole state dropped teaching cursive a few years ago. No one seems to think that is a good idea, but then government has very few good ideas these days..

  14. I do video editing for money these days, and there is no way anything but the fastest equipment can do the job–smartphones or tablets, forget it. One of the biggest problems these days is that FireWire ports are disappearing. Transferring large video files from camera/tape to computer and back to other video hardware is just not economically viable without it. Some of the work we do can take a whole workday to transfer with FireWire; anything slower would make that work uneconomic. Manufacturers do not seem to understand (or care, maybe) that eliminating the FireWire port will ensure that machine will never be used for video.

    Unless there is some revolution in the video world, serious editing is going to require big, fast PC’s–and even those are really not fast enough.

  15. Why teach cursive writing when almost nobody uses it? I stopped shortly after leaving high school; frankly I could print more quickly and clearly than I could write any cursive script.

    Not teaching cursive reading bothers me a little, but one of my holiday jobs during college was cataloging correspondence for the centenary of a regional art gallery. I (and the other student I was working with) got pretty good at reading just about anything, no matter how badly written and no matter the script — copperplate was the least of it. So teaching reading cursive is probably a waste of time. (Side note: we really appreciated it when we got to the era of typewriters!)

    I suppose that the cursive script that was taught at the time I was in high school here in Victoria, Australia was as ugly as sin (well, it was the 70’s and early 80’s) might have something to do with it.

    Having worked in IT for many years and going for weeks at a time without using a pen, I struggle to write anything with a pen and have it be readable. So yes, even my notes to myself tend to be typed (but not printed: I’m not a total maniac!).

  16. Back to cursive for a moment (does not seem we can edit posts anymore), I mostly write in cursive, and if the schools did not teach it to my kids, I would. Printing slows me down to a crawl, and there is no way I could feel productive. My mind works a quantum faster than my printing, and I would judge writing cursive to be at least 5 times faster than printing–at least for me.

    I have always preferred using a typewriter after I took a course in night school in the sixth grade. When desktop computers came along, I got much, much more productive.

    Printing can be an art every bit as much as cursive, but I do not see that teaching either just because it can be an art form is useful. Exposure to art is good, but advanced learning should be something done outside basic education, IMO; however, things that advance productivity ought to be a part of basic education. I am a long way from education these days, but are there no longer class tests that require writing essay answers these days?

  17. I teach cursive to my homeschooled kids, but we don’t spend a lot of time on it. I make sure that the kids are comfortable writing their own names and reading cursive in case Grandma writes a letter, and then move on. My 14 year old almost exclusively types all of his school work with the exception of his math, of course. My 7 year old has trouble with printing. He can write all of his capital letters, but he is still struggling with lowercase letters.

    and Gary,

    Shakespeare is NOT Old English. If Shakespeare were written in Old English you would not even begin to be able to read it. Even Chaucer which is pre-Shakespeare wrote in Middle English. Shakespeare would be considered early Modern English. My 14 year old has read and re-read most of Shakespeare’s plays on his own.

  18. I print everything. I don’t even use upper and lower case. All the characters are uppercase, with those that would normally be lower case just smaller versions of the upper case letters.

    Interesting, that’s the way I write too – as far back as high school I believe – I can do it pretty quickly too – and if going really fast (like taking notes during a meeting) there is some connecting of letters without lifting the pen.

  19. I suppose even keyboards and mice will be eventually replaced when the device is docked to a full size monitor if that monitor is touchscreen.

    Reaching up to touch a touchscreen desktop monitor will get tiring pretty quickly if done repeatedly.

    When you have a touchscreen, who needs a mouse?

    Other than using the TrackPad on IBM laptops I’m forced to plug in a regular mouse to be productive on a laptop.

    …and now they…are primarily using their smartphones and tablets while their laptops gather dust.

    I think faster connectivity needs to be more widespread first. Keeping WiFi always turned on drains the battery too quickly and connecting to various wireless networks still can be an impediment. 4G cellular connections will definitely be an improvement – can’t wait to upgrade next month – trying to surf the web at 3G speeds can be maddening at times.

  20. I have a good friend who works behind the scenes in the cell phone industry. He says not to expect too much from 4G in the near future. The Great Recession has caused almost all players to scale back their plans for 4G dramatically, and demand will outpace delivery for quite some time into the future. He also says there are way too many competitors in the field. Our state has 9 companies building their own competing cell networks and there will be 11 before the end of 2012. As a consequence, none of them have decent blanket coverage. Their only objective–he says–is to cover major cities and along Interstate highway routes. Everywhere else is sketchy and of little concern to them. If you look (it is obvious out here in the sticks) there are towers of several competing networks almost side-by-side. And because the majors sold off their towers to companies that then rent them back to the cell phone providers, overhead to maintain those facilities has increased dramatically from doing that.

    This all came from a conversation I had with him, asking why cell service was so good in Germany, and absolutely stinks in the US by comparison. His answer was because there was only one provider in Germany during the beginning days (the government-owned phone company), who was committed to blanketing the country with good service, and the couple of other providers who stepped in later, had no choice but to duplicate that kind of service coverage to have any hope of being competitive.

    Since no one service in the US (at least in the Midwest) has the kind of blanket coverage Germany has achieved, there is no competitive push for anyone to achieve it. At one point in my English teaching in Berlin, I gave my students a link to one of those commercials “Can you hear me? Can you hear me, now?” They absolutely could not relate to it, because cell service is so good; they have never experienced anything like what that commercial is talking about. I never, ever lost a call in Germany, no matter whether I was in the subway, on a train, or even in an elevator. And the quality was as good as landline–here, only one person can speak at a time, but there, you can butt in on someone and they can hear you, the same as landline phones in the US.

    There are several corollaries to this. In some of his areas, certain cities have grown in a direction that has taken them away from the towers and antennas they first built 15 or more years ago to accommodate them. But now, there is far more monthly residual expense to relocate those towers, or add to them, than there was when they were first built. Thus, there is a lot of inertia not to do anything.

    Second is the price per customer to serve smaller cities. Tiny Town is a perfect example. The closest towers for service to it, are along the Interstate highway that is about 10 miles away. Service here is horrible. Generally, the tower placements mean some people cannot get service with one provider at their house, but can get it with another. Which one that is, varies by where you live. My cousin can only get service with Verizon, whereas in my neighborhood, AT&T is best. I’m with T-Mobile, which has dead spots all over town, but serves me well in the big city, where 90% of my work is–and since they are much cheaper than either AT&T or Verizon, I stick with them (I also had my T-Mobile account for the US way back when I was still living in Germany, so there is a lot of inertia on my part not to change, as I do not expect to be in Tiny Town long-term). But the bottom line, my friend says, is that cell company execs look very hard at city populations and projected revenue, and in many cases, they just have no interest in expanding coverage to areas that they project will not bring a significant return. That includes Tiny Town, population 7,500. Thus, many of the other farm communities around me, also have terrible service, or no service at all. Bottom line if you want good service is to live in an established major city center, and not on the edges of new suburban growth.

    Finally, my friend said Motorola is not long for the world. They have already sold their handset business to Google, and apparently, they are not providing reliable transmitting equipment to cell phone providers. My friend says his company tracks how much service their various equipment requires, and Motorola is at the top of the problem list–by far. Many companies, he said, are removing their Motorola equipment and replacing it with much more reliable Asian gear.

    Not done yet. Another friend is a lawyer, representing cell phone providers. One thing he recently mentioned to me, is that subsidies have affected the economics of cell phone service. Because companies essentially provided a subsidy by ‘giving away’ cell phones in the early days to spur sales,–and that practice has unfortunately continued,–it thus distorts the market by pushing up the per-minute call rate for everyone. I have always bought my own phones outright, because there are no subsidies in Germany; they tried it, but without success, because they were prohibited from raising the price of per-minute calls to people who did not participate in the subsidy plan. When I lived in Berlin, there were stores that did nothing but sell the phones–they did not provide any sort of phone service. They were everywhere–in shops along the street, in tiny rooms along subway walkway corridors, at major outside flea market venues (there are many of those at holiday times–nothing like it in the US, really). Many of them came and went in only a few months, but almost always, new ones soon appeared close-by to ones that closed. However, I am beginning to think I should stop buying phones and get on board with everyone else, as I am paying higher rates to subsidize phones, anyway. It is not only the government that is into subsidies. We would all have cheaper per-minute rates if the phone companies quit offering phones ‘free’ phones. All anybody talks about around here is how many months they have until they get a new phone.

  21. What Marie said about the English; I would just add that although we could readily understand the English of Shakespeare’s time if we went back in a time machine or they came forward, but it would be a little tricky at first and then better with the hearing. They used a lot of slang that isn’t around anymore, too. Middle English would be more problematic and Old English sounds to our ears now more like German, from whence it came.

    Here is what it sounds like, and you will probably pick up some of the words in this very familiar recitation, appropriate for Sunday:

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