Thursday, May 28, 2015

Arms Merchants

That sums up what the Iraqi "Army" is doing. They take some of the best military equipment and arms the U.S. has to offer and then they had it over the the terrorists of ISIL all the while claiming to fight the good fight. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Math Sucks

Long gone are the days when slide rules, used aboard the Apollo missions putting boot prints on the moon were usable here on earth. Not because they fall short when solving some seriously sophisticated problems but because slide rules don't do the simplest arithmetic operations: addition and subtraction. In the age of slide rules it was a reasonable assumption that a slide rule user could add two or more three or more digit numbers.

We are now confronted with a reality (and a future) where very few if any of the people born in the United States can add or subtract. We're talking the simplest of arithmetic, not math[1]. This has come to the fore in local mass media with a debate on how we teach addition to children, specifically the various journeys between $$ 19 + 27 = ? $$ and $$ 46 $$ Old farts write down 19 then write 27 below aligning along implied decimal points and draw a bar below 27. Then they add 7 to 9 and come up with 16 writing the 6 below the bar and the 7 and then they write the 1 above the 1 in 16. This is called "carry the one"[2] and this is then added to the 1 from 16 and the 2 from 27 with the resulting 4 written to the left of the 6 below the bar. Voila! 46! This approach is well understood by folks who can count points and keep score in bridge. Explains the dearth of Bridge Clubs in Georgia Public Schools, eh?

There are some serious takeaways from the Great Addition Debate. First, we've lowered the bar to the point that we'll celebrate if the average student graduates FROM high school with the ability to add two numbers. Not three nor any more than three. We'll throw a party if more than five out of ten graduates arrive at "46" for the above problem even if they have to copy the answer or have it given them by a teacher. The second issue is the addition algorithm schools are using: $$ 19 + 27 =  $$ $$ (10 + 9) + (20 + 7) = $$ $$ (10 + 20) + (7 + 9) =  $$ $$ 30 + 16 = $$ $$ 30 + (10 + 6)  = $$ $$ (30 + 10) + 6 = $$
and finally $$ 40 + 6 = 46 $$
Execution of this algorithm in a classroom environment pretty much precludes adding numbers with more than two digits due to limitations on time and "Smart Board" space. Should Georgia Public Schools be successful we will pump out graduates who can successfully add any two two digit numbers. Given enough time and paper.

While this situation may have devolved from a more proficient past it is not entirely unintentional and is currently embraced. Asking today's teachers to do a Mad Minute[3] would produce appallingly disappointing results so don't ask them to teach and demand this of tomorrow's leaders (and teachers). Other rationalizations include the bruised and broken self esteems brought on by the Drill and Kill approaches that are pretty much required by the Old School techniques and the fact that the New Math supports "conceptual learning." Or at least the learning of concepts. This is said to include powers of 10[4], as they decompose "16" to "one in the ten's column and six in the one's column" with the illuminating explanation that the "ones column" is "ten to the zeroth power" and the "ten's column" is "ten to the oneth power" at which point we've completely abandoned addition in favour of a hallucinagenic trip down a rabbit hole.

Suppose we demand the basketball couch embrace a concept-centric pedagogy[5]. He would be forced to draw out (with 'x's and 'o's? that almost looks like algebra. or does he need manipulatives? animated power point?) a simple pick and roll play, making sure the team groks the concept. These students also grok dribbling, layups, free throws and general ball handling, even the bounce pass, it's origins, benefits over other forms of passing and the cultural implications of its behind the back use. Now these kids have little or no actual practice and an outstanding performance would be dribbling five times before bouncing the ball off your own foot sending it out of bounds or directly into the hands of an opposing player. Of course the coach is not expected to field a winning team. No, he is going to field a championship team, as good as any in the state, probably the country. All the parents, the principal and even the superintendent of the school system will declare this team "straight A ball players." But honestly, if they ever took the court against a pick-up team of 3rd graders who actually play for 3-4 hours a day who do YOU think would win?

But focusing on concepts over capabilities  moves us from the objective world of "the answer is 46 and all other answers are wrong" to the more comfortable subjective world of "critical thinking" and "let's understand the concepts" where flexibility in grading supports the demand for A's. And we also hide behind the calculator excuse (everybody has one, who needs to do their own arithmetic?) to explain our exclusive presentation of the abstract and subjective rather than the concrete and tangible. To be fair the critical thinking part, were it really there, might actually trespass on mathematics, asking and hopefully answering the question: "are these the two right numbers to add and how do we know?"

Similar but perhaps more disturbing is the "nobody really uses math" excuse for cultivated math ignorance. It's almost like Godwin's law, but you cannot have a tweet fest on this topic without someone dragging out "I took calculus at Tech twenty years ago and haven't used it since--it was just a clean out course." That cannot be allowed to slide by without comment. If calculus were your biggest hurdle, you should not have gotten in to Tech. Even twenty years ago. And even if you had Dr. "Death" Wray, calculus doesn't rise to the level of "electromagic", "heat transport" or "p-chem". Those are clean out courses.

But suppose we entertain the notion of  this "don't teach it if they ain't be usin' it" model of "education" for just a bit. How many times do you find yourself in a sales presentation only to realize this is the perfect time for that Shakespeare sonnet you had to memorize in your Junior year? Not so much, eh? Then why teach Shakespeare? Or Chaucer. Or Mark Twain. Or Steinbeck. Really want to touch a PC nerve? Toss out Maya Angelou. What about history? Just because one person way back when said "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" does not mean we need to study history. First we keep hearing about the good old days and second what makes everyone think only the bad things will be repeated? Isn't it equally likely that only the good things will repeat? Ditch history. Then there is "Art" and whatever that is it isn't something you do unless forced. Ditch it too. Then there is English or Language Arts or whatever PC fluff name used these days. Here is where the calculator excuse applies. No one needs to know grammar or how to spell--your word processor does that for you. Don't know what a word means? Look it up online. Ditch Language Arts too. If we only teach what kids will need to know in the real world we can start handing out high school diplomas after kindergarten.

Want to really piss folks off and get a clear understanding of what is really going on at the same time? Ask how many high school football players make it into the NFL. That low? Then ditch all football programs in public school. Now you've hit a hard stop. Folks, mostly parents, will come out of the woodwork touting the benefits, mostly indirect (like building character) offered by sports competition. Perhaps so. It certainly fills a man-made void created when classroom academic competition was declared verboten. So if we're going to justify sports and all the fuzzies based on their secondary carry-over benefits then just what makes math so special that it can be excluded as "unused in the real world?"

The excuses presented sound a lot like mass societal self-inflicted stupidity. Until we recognize how we really do use math on a daily basis[6] and stop accepting "I'm just not good at math" as an excuse to not only fail a math course but to avoid taking them altogether we as a society will continue to Suck At Math.

[1] We'll not here go down the rat hole of "arithmetic IS math" but instead will deal with the corrosive impact of "Term and Topic Inflation" in education in a separate diatribe.

[2] We leave it as an exercise to the reader to PROVE that when adding only two numbers with an arbitrary number of digits the most that will be carried from one column to another is 1. Extra credit if you can prove that the maximum carry-over when adding "n" numbers is "n-1".

[3] A test with approximately 20 arithmetic problems (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) to be completed in one or two minutes. Often used as a mental warmup/stretching exercise at the beginning of a math class.

[4] Set aside for the moment that exponentiation is special form of multiplication and if multiplication is reduced to iterative addition that is still higher order arithmetic than the problem being solved. Just. Don't. Go. There.

[5] Can you apply the term "pedagogy" to coaching? What the hell, if educrats can call "arithmetic" "math" let's abuse one of their words.

[6] If you want an excellent introduction to how mathematics is involved in every thing we do every day Jordan Ellenberg's "How Not To Be Wrong: The Power Of Mathematical Thinking," is highly recommended.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Weighing In

The Other Dunwoody has been prodded from time to time to wax poetic about Dunwoody's Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB). We've generally avoided bashing this operation as its problems are structural, implying malice and forethought, and obvious to even the most casual observer. The most recent request came on the heels of a public dustup between two vocal single-issue factions in DaVille. In one corner is Thespians For A Subsidized Theater (T-FAST) and in the other corner we find Ballparks, Ballparks Uber Alles (BBUA). The CVB stepped on a land mine with the mere suggestion they might partially fund a study to determine if a theater at Brook Run might put some heads in beds thereby taking sides in the T-FAST vs BBUA conflict and making the BBUA crowd mad as hornets.

The CVB did make a mistake, not in which side they chose but in that the stepped outside their primary purpose in life. And what might that purpose be? It is in answering that question that the bashing begins.

The public facing purpose (IE: propaganda and prevarication) is to put heads in beds--the CVB is a marketing operation for local hotels, paid for by a Hotel/Motel Tax levied by the City of Dunwoody. You may be sitting there wondering "how would anyone know about hotels in Dunwoody were it not for the CVB?" You would be an idiot. But just the kind of idiot the founding fathers of this city adore. The remaining three devoted readers are wondering "what does the CVB really do given that all these hotels have significant and effective marketing departments that really do put heads in beds?"


The CVB, being quasi-government, doesn't actually do anything along the lines of what it purports to do. In actuality the CVB is a front for a much more sinister and inherently corrupt operation. And therein lies the problem.

On the surface it seems silly to take money from hotels and then turn around and use that money exclusively for the benefit of the very same hotels. It would appear to be an unnecessary creation of an inefficient government bureaucracy. And that it is. Well, unless your are an elected official in which case any growth in government is good growth and there is no such thing as an unnecessary government bureaucracy.

But it is worse than that. Being quasi-governmental the positions within the CVB are appointed positions. Appointees are selected by Mayor and Council with little or no public input or review and since these are paid positions a kind observer might remark this is a platform for patronage. Given that the publicly stated purpose of the CVB is not only redundant but also cannot be measured independent of hotelier's own marketing efforts there is sufficient opacity to allow for a great distance between any given appointee and competency. This makes the CVB a dumping ground for Friends and Family with a guarantee they are overpaid no matter how small the paycheck.

All of this adds up to an operation that is essentially a petri dish for growing a cancerous culture of corruption with the carcinogens provided by city elected officials and "staff." It serves as OJT on how to use OPM to wield power and direct public funds to favored parties. This is all well and good so long as it is confined to CVB as that is basically what CVB is there for. Over time metastatic disease will spread to other operations and our politicos will blur the lines between what is allowed in CVB but is verboten in other city operations. It will not be long before we cultivate bad actors committing sufficiently bad acts to make any corrupt DeKalb County politician green with envy.

Given how bad having a CVB is and how little it actually does for anybody (except politicos and their Friends and Family) you might think that it would be a very good idea to dispense with the CVB altogether. Merely suggesting this reveals a fundamental moral rot undermining the foundations of this city. This was best expressed by one of the unnecessary combatants in the T-FAST vs BBUA kerfuffle:
"I'm not in favor of ridding ourselves of the CVB because then DeKalb CVB would take over."
While this is a single case of DeKalb Hating overriding reason it is a common thread running thru this city from its conception on into any foreseeable future. This is a very real problem that is much more serious than anything directly related to who puts heads in beds.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cord Cutting 301 : I Want My DVR

As with cable TV, over the air TV has a lot of junk programming but also has quite a bit of What You Want To Watch.  Sometimes it is aired when you're not home or when you'd really rather watch something else. Hence the need for an Over The Air Digital Video Recorder.

There are multiple options from well known vendors such as Tivo and Channelmaster. These devices are highly integrated and include the tuner(s), disk storage and output to the TV (IE: decoders). A new class of devices have entered the market that might be better characterized as "gateways" since they do not decode the data sending video out an HDMI port but instead transcode the received video for recording and delivery across the network to phones, tablets, Roku boxes and other devices. One such device also supports remote viewing of live and recorded content.

We will look at that device -- the Tablo.

As purchased a Western Digital 2TB hard drive is providing video storage. It is worthwhile to note that Tablo reformats the drive and if you choose to re-purpose an existing drive you will lose all previously stored data. The drive shown is on the manufacturer's list of supported USB hard drives and it can be had for approximately $90. This is significantly more storage than provided by a Cable MSO in their DVR set tops.

The Tablo comes with the device itself, a power supply and an ethernet cable though it supports WiFi.    It also includes a quick start guide more than adequate to ensure successful setup. One other thing that is "missing" is a remote control. This is because Tablo relies on applications loaded on tablets, phones or Roku devices to not only play back video but to provide an advanced, device-appropriate User Interface to browse for programs, schedule recordings, manage recorded programs and change Tablo device settings.

Notice that the back panel includes the RF/Coax F-connector, 2 USB ports, ethernet RJ-45 and power in but no HDMI ports. Since antenna video is delivered over your network this device does not need to be co-located with your TV and will support all the devices, TV or handheld, capable of playing back Tablo network video. This includes Android devices, Apple iPhone and iPad, Roku, web browsers and leverages the ability of Android devices to "cast" to Chromecast and airPlay when using iOS devices.

Setup is straightforward and should not be beyond the capabilities of someone who can tackle a Chromecast device. Like your TV, but unlike many other devices, the Tablo does a channel scan to find channels expected in your region. Location can be set automagically but entering a five digit ZIP code is significantly faster. Installing an app on a phone/tablet or using a computer web browser is recommended and for firmware updates is mandatory as the Roku app does not support firmware upgrade. Apps for these devices can be found in the usual place and are free of charge. Downloading the guide data and the cover art images will take a noticeable amount of time as will "sync-ing" your playback device application. Often simply connecting to the device is not as snappy as you might like  but once initial startup is over the system is responsive.

We are operating at the keyboard bandwidth barrier yet time does not permit an exhaustive screen by screen review of Tablo's awesomeness. But a few can be slipped in. First is the "Grid Guide" as archaic as it is inevitable.

The three small bar icon at the top left provides navigation to other Tablo screens/features. The magnifying glass implies a search capability that is indeed there. The grid guide shows current programming and progress within current broadcasts and offers twenty four hours of programming accessible by scrolling to the right. Viewing a channel is as simple as clicking on the channel identifier to the far left. While you are watching a program Tablo will temporarily record that channel in order to support pause, rewind and fast forward. It will continue to record into that buffer (tuner availability permitting) when you change channels allowing you to switch between 2 (or 4, depending on model) channels quickly and without missing any of the programs.

When you select the icon at the top left you are presented with the navigation panel.

From here you can move from the grid guide (Live TV) to a panel showing only Prime Time content in a cover art display, get to genre selections (TV Shows, Movies, Sports), see currently scheduled recording events and previously recorded content. You can (on the shown device's screen) manage the device settings and disconnect your device from Tablo.  A sample Prime Time is shown below

Selecting one of these program's "cover art" initiates a record workflow and since recording programs for later viewing kicked all this off let's at least dive into that.

You are presented with more program or series information and the option (for series) to record new episodes or all (includes any re-runs). Since a lot of what gets aired on secondary OTA channels is syndicated programming, Rec All is a pretty good option. But wait. There's more. If you'll scroll down you will see...

First thing to note is that Tablo is smart enough not to re-record the same episode more than once. You are also being offered the option to change the time a particular episode is recorded (to manage recording conflicts) or to delete scheduled recordings of episodes you do not want.

Recording is all well and good, but it isn't really worth much unless you can watch the recording.

It is difficult (impossible?) to assess video quality from a screen capture (and we're not uploading any videos) but on all devices tried to date video quality rivals what you get from most cable providers for most channels (on the cable network). What you should notice is not just the progress ball/bar and the playback control (this was taken during a live playback) but the fast forward 30 secs, rewind 20 secs options that are commonly used to skip commercials. Also note the icon on the lower right, used to "cast" the playback to a Chromecast device. Apple iPhones and iPads have a similar icon to use AirPlay with an AppleTV device.

Then there is remote access/playback. This feature relies on port forwarding and while Tablo will attempt to set this up when the router is configured for and capable of UPnP manual settings are often required. With the latest firmware, Tablo will indicate status of port forwarding and provide the details necessary to manually configure your router.  Tablo has changed the external port assignments forcing a reconfiguration that is a PITA. Currently Tablo requires that remote devices be paired before use requiring at least one Tablo connection/sync on the local LAN. Remote access also requires a subscription to Tablo Guide Data Subscription (30 day free trial). More on this later.

Remote access has been evaluated by TOD Friends and Family on a variety of devices: iPad, iPad with AppleTV, various Android devices, and Android with Chromecast. Phones were tested on remote LANs and over 4G LTE. In all cases the only device with any objectionable operation was Chromecast and this is attributed to the relatively high data rates supported by Tablo for on-LAN video combined with Chromecast's 1x1 802.11n technology. Even then the video quality, even with sports (remote viewing of the Preakness), was deemed to be indistinguishable from live. To the trained eye it really wasn't but for most folks, especially those accustomed to cable and YouTube video quality, it was far beyond "watchable" and well in to the range of "very good."

Subscription Guide Data is optional but supports an enriched User Interface and more advanced record scheduling as well as remote access. Without these data any recordings must be done old school - manually by date and time. Guide Data can be purchased by the month ($4.99), year ($49.99) or as a lifetime subscription ($149.99) in which case you are betting that you and Tablo will both be around in three years. Good bet for the latter. Not sure about the former.

The device itself comes in three flavours: a dual tuner, a quad tuner and a "Metro" edition incorporating fractal antennas eliminating the need for an external OTA antenna. The Metro is for urbanites living fairly close to broadcast antenna farms (less than 30 miles) who do not want to or are not allowed to install any kind of external antenna. The MaxLinear tuners are some of the best available, better than those in most TVs. ViXS provides the brains of the box and incorporates some of the best transcoding technology on the market today.

Tablo is not without faults, but most of these are the results of product immaturity and with each firmware upgrade problems are being eliminated and features enhanced. That said, firmware upgrade has been one of the issues with the latest update requiring a manual power-down reboot for the upgrade to take hold.  Tablo has benefitted from user familiarity by leveraging existing customer devices of choice (IE: Android vs iPad) avoiding foisting yet another UI design language on their customers.  This model has not been adopted by pay-TV service providers despite the dramatic improvements over a cheesy UI powered by the cheapest remote that China, Inc. can scrape out of the parts bin. It may be a bit quirky now but as Tablo irons out the kinks it promises to push the OTA TV experience beyond any cable offer available today.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jester To Fill Jacobs' Seat

As you probably already know Governor Deal appointed Mike Jacobs to a judgeship opening up a nice political opportunity a bit closer to home than Perry. While a couple of potential candidates have announced they will seek the post Rumour Central (hashtag NothingButLies) reports that backroom negotiations are underway to clear the decks for Jester to slide into the position. One former confidant of the power couple remarked "they do much better without opposition" and while the announced Democrat may not pull out any Democrat will have a snowball's chance in hell given this is a blood red district. The confidant could or would not confirm which Jester would take the slot but did suggest that if no drug or background checks are required the school board might be looking to fill an open slot.

Monday, May 11, 2015


A draft report of an "Organizational Effectiveness Study" on DeKalb County has been released and it includes some interesting nuggets on law enforcement. Turns out the PD is like any other government  bureaucracy--it is bloated, and the County's top cop agrees.

This is not just the consequence of attrition not keeping up with loss of service area due to city incorporations because this PD isn't just bloated, it is top heavy. So top heavy that the report suggests eliminating some of the high ranking positions, letting the officers who are doing the work anyway continue to do so, but without carrying the burden of redundant captains and majors.

Most folks in daVille are tsk-tsk-ing, wagging finger and tongue whilst mumbling something derogatory about DeKalb having been a jobs-works program for some time now. But it isn't just DeKalb County. Fueled by our recent tax increase the City of Dunwoody is expanding its very own police force. And you guessed it: not to  put feets on streets, but to put more highly paid arses behind desks. To "serve and protect?" Only protecting jobs, ma'am.

So one day, probably not too far in the future, our Council will be compelled to do their own "Organizational Effectiveness Study." And guess what they'll find: that the Dunwoody PD is bloated and top heavy. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Road Apples

Smart folks would have installed the conduit BEFORE pouring the sidewalks but the plans laid down under our former city manager's reign seems to have inexplicably reversed the order. Hopefully these intellectual road apples and the brain farts that accompany them will be fewer and further apart going forward.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Breaking The Ice

The litany of malfeasance in DeKalb County government seems to never end. Federal prosectors issuing subpoenas and indictments, even reaching a plea agreement with a former Commissioner about to cool her jets at Club Fed. Smaller fry are left for the local DA to prosecute and he seems willing to do so. Cops on the take. Intrigue around checks cashed at a liquor store (where else would you cash a check?) and allegations of forgery. Urkel is about to be re-tried. Courts are even handing down significant fines for just plain bad behaviour.

And now J. Tom Morgan is on the case describing what little has been made public (and that is a lot) as "the tip of the iceberg." Probably so. Most folks expect him to uncover a lot of dirt with very little digging. Some folks are hoping this becomes the tipping point, where the state legislature is forced to confront the failings of a unique form of government and reform it. This comes up a  lot and while the CEO form of government may have issues it is not the root cause of all our problems.

The strong CEO form of government may well have played into problems involving Vernon Jones and Erkel but it was not a factor in the malfeasance admitted by Boyer or the broken commitment (to clean house on day one) of her successor. There is something else at play.

The job of CEO and County Commissioner are elected positions so we should not be too surprised when we end up with politicians in those roles. But do they have to be of the kind whose ambitions out run their integrity by such an enormous margin? Cannot any single one of them, just once, say what they will do and then go out and do it? Apparently not. It seems that getting elected in DeKalb requires saying what sounds good and then doing whatever the hell you want. It IS what politicians do, but does it have to be every time, with every single one of them?

It's not just the raw materials we have at hand. The real problem with "ditch the CEO form of government" is that it doesn't go far enough. DeKalb County needs to be dissolved. The western portions of the county should be absorbed into Fulton County, the north east into Gwinnett and the remaining portions into Rockdale. Fulton will get almost full coverage ITP and a better balance of conservative vs liberal representation and if that is problematic there would be a critical mass to re-create Milton. Both Gwinnett and Rockdale will have communities more aligned with their ex-urban nature as well as expanding their non-residential tax bases. This is not something that our County Commission or CEO would endorse but the Legislature should be called upon to do just this to pull us out of this misery.