Friday, December 30, 2011

85,000 words

First draft of the new novel is complete. 85,000 words. I know the job isn’t over and drafting this bitch is gonna be painful later on, but it feels good to reach the end of a story so quickly. A standalone sci-fi story that will have more audience appeal than Felix ever did. I hope.

No details on what the story is about. It's still too early to give anything away. I suspect it will get a few thousand words longer and then a couple thousand shorter after edits, cuts and drafts. It will average out to my target of 90,000 words. I’m glad I did this now so I can begin the new year with a success! It's just what I needed!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Five Most Useless Things Out of School

Continuing the discussion on education I began with my top five most useful things out of school...

Ten years after graduating high school, I look back on the reality of my education. Let's face it. Most of what we learn in school has no application to real life. It's good to be exposed to a wide variety of things. It helps kids find what interests them and what they're good at. But some things are so irrelevant I wonder why school wasted time teaching it.

5 - Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry

Quadratic equations, trigonometry... These are highly specialized fields of mathematics. They have application, they have purpose...if only someone had TOLD ME WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS! That's what bugs me about school most looking back on it. They were only concerned that we memorized and knew what to do and how to pass the test. They didn't even bother to help us understand why we were learning it.

I can say since I graduated, I haven't touched the sin and cos buttons on my calculator. I've forgotten how to use them, and the lost knowledge hasn't affected me one bit. It's just not that relevant in everyday life. Makes me wonder why high school makes such a big deal out of it. Why not make a big deal out of the more practical stuff? Isn't it much more valuable to teach kids how to cook for themselves, or maintain an automobile, instead of the relationship between sides of right triangles? Useful as that right triangle is, I'd much rather have spent the time learning how to live in the real world.

4 - Physics

For me, physics makes a point. i get momentum. I get conservation of momentum. I get the motion of electrons. I get friction as a concept, but when you try to define it mathematically, the numbers just don't make sense. Especially when class started using units of measurement that didn't make sense in order to define quantities that also didn't make sense.

It's cool you can define how much electrical charge is on a single electron, but when you express the number in joules, it loses all meaning. I get units like pounds of pressure, but when you express force in terms of Newtons... Nope. Didn't make sense.

And don't get me started on the basic equation for friction. It's good to know how to define how much friction is exerted, but the equation requires something called a Frictional Coefficient. All it is to me is you plug in this random number into the equation and you get a random number, and oh hey, it's the correct answer on the test. But what are these coefficients of friction? Why do they make the equation work? Who came up with them, and how? The teacher didn't explain it, so most of this stuff flew over my head.

Some of the more practical stuff like color and light made sense, but when I got into electricity and friction, the numbers just didn't correlate to anything in the real world. Maybe if I were out of high school with a professor who explained these things better, I would have made the connection between the numbers and reality, but what I got didn't make it clear.

3 - Pre Calculus

I hated pre-calc, mostly because it was the worst offender for teaching us stuff without explaining what it was for, or how it was used for anything outside the classroom. The part that stands out most in my mind is the matrix. I know what a matrix is in computer programming and it's one of the most useful data types available (it's often called an "array"). Matrices in math? All the teacher told us about them was plug these numbers into your graphing calculator, hit this button, and you get the answer.

Well, fine, but what are we doing? What is this for? Why is this answer right? I hated that class. I really did.

2 - Sentence Diagramming

This was a 7th grade flop. What the hell is the point of diagramming sentences? What's it supposed to show us? The teacher never explained why we were doing it, and to this day I still don't know what it was used for. Later, in the 9th grade, I was told diagramming was supposed to show us how the English language was structured on the sentence-level.

But learning sentence patterns was way more useful. N.V., N.V.N., N.V.Adj. Stuff like that is easy to understand, and makes sense. Through that I understood that every English sentence must fit a certain word order to make sense. That's why English doesn't have noun genders, because English is a very rigid language. Meaning is tied to the order of the words instead of matching up word endings with noun genders, etc. That makes sense.

But diagramming sentences is a lousy way to demonstrate this. It didn't help that the teacher didn't even try to explain why we were learning how to do it. Completely ridiculous and overly complicated way to teach such a simple concept.

1 - The History I learned in school

The way school teaches history, it's all glazed over and irrelevant. But after watching the History Channel (well, H2 now has the real History Channel programming. You know, actual history stuff and not just lameass reality shows) I realize just how much history I actually didn't learn.

WWII especially. Kids and teenagers are made aware that a great war happened, but they don't go into any detail about what exactly happened.

Another example is the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. I remember it was a very quick lesson in the 8th grade. It was mostly dominated by a pointless extended project to fill time in the new block schedule. Then I saw a special on the History Channel called Black Blizzard which told the story of how the dust bowl happened, how it affected people's lives, and the living hell it was for them.

School treats history like an overview, and it's very boring that way. It doesn't bring any of the events down to a human level. The shows I've seen on TV, ironically, give much more context for history, making it seem like a story instead of just a lesson. As a result, I've forgotten everything I learned in school about social studies and history, but the stuff I learned on TV has stuck with me. It made knowing history important and now I can't get enough of it.

Why bother teaching this stuff at all? Schools have to cut budget, well why not cut crap like this out? Most of it is pointless unless you actually want to pursue a very specialized career. Why couldn't I have learned auto repair in high school? Why couldn't school offer more practical math class instead of making pre calc a requirement? If someone wants to improve education in America, it should start by making school more practical. And if they're going to keep classes like physics and chemistry and pre calc mandatory, at least help us understand why we're learning it. That might inspire more kids to care.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top Five Most Useful Things Out of School

I've been out of school for ten years. I was the graduating class of 2001, and I think this is a good time to reflect on what I actually needed to know in the working world to survive. Here are my top five things from school that I have used and am so glad I went through school to learn.

5 - Earth Science

I took this course my Freshman year in high school, 1997 - 98. It was one of the hardest classes I'd ever taken up until that point. I got stuck with it for a double period, there was homework every day, the teacher was a no-nonsense, humorless man (on the surface), and I happened to be stuck with a final exam so difficult they offered retakes the following year. Lectures were long and boring and who the fuck cares about the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks?

But you know what, in spite of all that, I learned a lot in that class. The weather unit was especially interesting, learning about cold fronts, warm fronts, what causes wind and rain, etc. It's been valuable general knowledge that has come in handy many times.

4 - Basic Computer Skills (including typing and document formatting)

I didn't learn how to type in school. I bought a typing tutor program and taught myself because I knew I needed it. But before that, when computers were first starting to become prevalent in the early 90's, somebody had to teach the kids how to use one. Basic mouse skills like clicking and dragging. Basic computer terminology like scrolling, double-clicking, window and virus. All on a Macintosh SE.

I don't know if kids these days learn this stuff in school or if they're born with the knowledge as a product of evolution, but it was a big part of middle school for me, laying a foundation that would allow me to take off and soar on my own in later years.

Learning about document formatting in High School was also very useful. Up until then, Word was a bit of a mystery to me. Learning what a tabstop is and how to use it was very valuable and I'm glad I know it now.

3 - Arithmetic

Addition. Subtraction. Multiplication. Division. Decimals. Rounding. Fractions. Basic geometry. The core of mathematics. This is what normal people come into contact with every day. It's the stuff we actually need.

Why does school waste so much time teaching kids about things like matrices and quadratic equations, never explaining exactly what this stuff is for or why we're learning it? The practical stuff is what they should concentrate on. I use the "% over 100 = is over of" ratio all the time, and it's so handy! Basic math skills are what I needed most when learning how to make a budget and balance a checkbook.

But that stuff is rarely taught in school. I remember one of my teachers in high school remarking that all the useful, practical stuff (like Business Math) gets cut from the curriculum, leaving only the most useless classes. We have our priorities mixed up.

2 - Reading and Writing

Here's a no-brainer. It's probably the most valuable skill school teaches kids, and yet it is languishing. You know how I learned? Phonics. Yes, the method that seems to have been dismissed from public schools worked for me. The ability to read and write well is critical to success as a human being, not just in the working world, because it opens the mind up to every possibility imaginable.

Reading and writing teaches people how to comprehend ideas. It's what has the most potential for us to figure out how to rise above a situation and consider something brand new. So why are schools slacking in teaching it? An even better question to ask is: why are we cutting funding to public schools, police and fire departments while billion-dollar corporations get bailed out? This is what the 99% protests are all about, people. Normal people are finally angry about it and they don't want to lie down and take it.

Anyway, back on subject, the number 1 most useful thing I learned in school has got to be:

1 - Public Speaking

There was no single class I learned this from, but much of it came from my sophomore year in high school Biology Class. Getting up in front of the class and giving a presentation was a routine thing, and I had to get used to the idea of speaking in front of a group of people.

Theater class was another instance where I had to put myself on the spot and risk looking and sounding like a dork in front of everybody. This turned out to be a valuable skill, because I'm not nervous in front of crowds anymore. It's a skill everybody needs to know, because sooner or later you will be put on the spot, and you have to know how to accept this and perform while exposed and under scrutiny.

Next I'll discuss the top five most useless things out of school. You know you wanna see 'em!