Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Socratic or Platonic?

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day and he was telling me about his boss asking him to do a certain task at work. My friend has been doing this sort of thing, programming a database, for well over ten years and knows this particular project inside and out. But his boss likes to act like he knows more about it. Perhaps this is because he is the boss and figures that his must validate his being in charge by acting like he knows more than anyone else (question for another time - does a manager really need to know more about the job than the people they are managing?). The manager "helped out" in this case by writing up a little dialog and asking a bunch of questions which he answered himself. As it was a dialog with himself, I'm not sure this qualifies as using the Socratic method.

As we talked about this, I joked that the manager seemed to be trying to use the teaching method used by the famous Greek philosopher ... but I couldn't remember his name. Then I mistakenly said, "Plato." But he wasn't using the "Platonic method" (if there is a such a thing) but seemed to be trying to use the "Socratic method" (except Socrates didn't answer his own questions). This led to some more funny observations:
  • Could you successfully use the Socratic method in this situation?
  • What about telling a story using the Socratic method?
  • How about writing a report using the Socratic method?
  • Could you imagine a builder coming to your house to do some work and you would use the Socratic method to get him to do the work you wanted? I don't think so.
There is an interesting web page about using the Socratic method in a class room. The writer goes through a complete scenario.

Then I went back to my "Platonic method" of teaching. Maybe that is where the teacher just remains friends with the student. That sounds like a good idea, too.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Nova in Scorpius

I found out (through Jeff Duntemann's blog) that there was a nova in the constellation Scorpius recently. It may still be there but it is fading now. I'm not good at finding constellations - especially in the southern sky for some reason. So, I didn't actually get to see it but I mentioned it to our 10-year old son. He is fascinated with the stars and planets and I really need to help him learn more about these things. His grandmother gave him a telescope but we haven't really made use of it. This all fits in with what we talked about later, though.

We had talked about the fact that, when we look at the stars, we may be looking at something that no longer exists. Since they are so far away from us, it takes years (more likely hundreds of years) for the light to reach us. This nova just proves that point. Soon, we won't be able to see that star anymore as the nova is the bright flash that happens when the star explodes. But just a month or so ago, we could have looked at that star and it would have appeared normal. The idea of this, of course, led to a, "Dad, could that happen to our sun?" discussion. I don't want him to worry about too much stuff but there are things he needs to learn to worry about. The Sun going nova or the earth being hit by an asteroid are in the realm of, "don't worry about it." Then there is the worry about getting hit by a car if you're not careful. Then there are the things like everyone dies eventually - but don't dwell on them. We need to worry about the things over which we have control (brushing our teeth, looking both ways at the street, budgeting our money) and just accepting those things that we can't control (eventually dying, hurricanes, dropping a book when you reach for a cookie). There are folks who worry about everything and folks who worry about nothing. We're trying to teach our kids to be somewhere in the middle.

But then there are those things that we can't change our self (global warming, hunger around the world) but that we can help with if we join in with other people. If enough of us cooperate, we can do something about these things. I've always believed that this was the whole reason that governments (good and bad) were developed. They are an organized (sort of) way of cooperating to do things we can't accomplish our self (or with just our friends).

But, back to the point of the nova and the star not being there anymore: I told him we need to act like everything and everyone could be temporary. Not that we need to obsess about it but we need to make sure we do the things we should when we can (like learn to use the telescope, learn to play the piano, give Mom a kiss) because you never know if you'll always have it. We need to make sure we tell the people we love that we do love them. We need to be kind to everyone because we may end up needing them to be kind to us. The stars seem immovable and permanent and, indeed, they last for millions or billions of years but they can be gone in an instant (relatively speaking).

[Update - There may be a second nova in Scorpius near the first one. Maybe those science fiction stories about mad scientists setting off a nova to get back at another star system were right. They're in Scorpius and headed this way! :-) Maybe their leader told them that the people of that star system had weapons of mass destruction and the mad scientists were just "doing the right thing" to prevent the people in the Scorpius system from using their weapons first.]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'm such a neurotic

So, I'm going to join in with a bunch of other musicians to play for a dance. We do this for no money because the people there can't afford to pay us and they are nice people and heaven knows they haven't gotten the breaks in life. So, once a year we play for a Valentine's Day dance for them. The other musicians are all much better than I am (most are members of active bands) and can actually earn money playing music. So, for me, it's a thrill to play with these folks. Also, since there is usually no printed music and no printed play list, everything is done on the fly. I'm not very good at that. Well, to be honest, I'm TERRIBLE at that. But you don't learn if you don't push yourself. I'm the only keyboard player (there's a drummer and a number of guitarists and singers), so I sort of feel an obligation, too. I fill in between the drum beats and guitar strums. The other musicians usually compliment me by saying I really help to fill out the sound. At least I take it as a compliment.

So, I packed up my keyboard, amplifier, microphones, mic stands and all the other stuff that goes into this. I'm setting up my equipment (which was in storage for about four months while we moved) and I'm not sure if everything is in working order. I'm happy to find a chair that I can put my amp on so it's right behind me and higher up so I can hear myself. The guitars are usually blasting and I have trouble hearing myself and, anyway, I can't pick up the keys and chords as fast as I should. So, having the amplifier right behind me and higher up (closer to my ears) helps out a lot. There is a fellow hanging around that I know a little but not well. He's kind of hovering around me. I'm not sure why I was singled out but he is certainly paying more attention to me than the other guys. I get everything plugged in and turn it on and it's very quiet. Not completely silent but not as loud as it should be. I play with the volume control - no luck. I try the other three channels of my amplifier - no luck. Then the hovering guy starts offering suggestions. He offers each suggestion and I counter with, "I've tried that." He's not giving me a chance to think and I'm getting the sick feeling in my stomach that something happened to my equipment while it was in storage and that it's ruined. Then the hovering guy says, "Is that foot pedal your volume control?" Why, yes it is. But I try that and it still doesn't work. But at least he thought of something I hadn't thought of. My next step is to try to plug it into the main amp the microphones are going to plug into but the guitarists are gathered around it tuning and talking about which songs to do and I don't want to bother them. So, I step out of the room to do something else for a while until I can get to the main amplifier.

When I get back, the hovering guy has plugged my keyboard into the big amp and is tapping the keys to check the level. He says, "It was your amp. Do you know how I can change the sound on this keyboard." Well, I guess I do! It was at this point that I should have stepped in, told him, "Thanks for your help but I can take it from here" but I didn't. Instead, Mr. Neurotic (that's me) uses the pretext of carrying his failed amplifier out of the room and to his desk (I forgot to mention that this is all going on at the company I work for - the dance is taking place in the cafeteria). Then I sit down at my desk and mess around on the Internet for a while. I figure that Hovering Guy will decide to go home sometime and then I can go in and start fretting around about what songs we're doing and what key they are in. It's a very stressful thing for me and I kind of have to ease into it. Another complicating factor is that other people around me are working late and wondering why I'm not in the cafeteria so I decide to go outside and sit in the car for a while. That doesn't last long, though, because it's so cold outside. So, I go back in and hope Hovering Guy has left. No luck, though. He's playing along with the band. So, that's it. Now I've got to wait until the dance is over. I thought about just leaving but I wasn't sure they all knew which of the stuff was mine. I wasn't in the mood to lose some equipment. I waited around at my desk until it looked like people were leaving. Then, I went it to pick up my equipment but, of course, had to answer the chorus of , "Hey, where did you go?" and "I thought you were here." But my favorite came from Hovering guy, "Well, when you didn't come back, I filled in for you."

[Update: The fellow I've been derisively calling Hovering Guy came up to me to apologize. Now I really feel bad. If I wasn't so unsure of my abilities and wasn't so bad at performing under those circumstances (quickly switching from song to song, having to discover the key by ear, etc.), I would have stayed there and we could have shared the keyboard. I may have even learned something. But due to my neurosis, I just retreated and didn't join in. And I made him feel uncomfortable, too. When I think I've matured and that I'm a full member of the Human race, reality comes crashing in.]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Our new house

Before I let this go too long, I wanted to include a picture of our new house. Actually, I'll include a pictures of the old house we left, a picture of my mother-in-law's house before we added on to it and finally a picture of our new house added onto my mother-in-law's house.

Here's the old house we left. This is a picture from a couple of years ago when we had an hard snow. We rarely get this much. This house was originally built in 1928. The dormers weren't on it when I bought it and there was only a front porch. There was practically no insulation and there had been a limited fire (that I didn't know about until I started ripping out all the walls to insulate the house). As with any old house, there was always a lot of work to do. No matter how much I fixed, there was always more to do. It had two acres of land with it that was nice. I planted a lot of different kinds of trees around. But cutting the grass on about one acre of that land was starting to be a burden. Also, when I got married, my wife wanted air conditioning and we were unable to get whole house air conditioning in this old house. So, we started to think about selling this house and buying a new one. Unfortunately, we couldn't sell this house for enough to buy a new one with comparable room. So, we were stuck.

Then, we got the bright idea of building a new house on my mother-in-law's property. She had an acre of land so we would only have to buy the house. Also, my wife found a modular home company that could build a nice, new house for what we expected to get for our old house. Everything seemed perfect until the town told us we couldn't have two separate houses on one lot. I could spend an entire post of the back and forth of that. But we finally decided to just add onto my mother-in-law's house. Here is what her house looked like before we added on. This isn't the best picture of her house but it makes more sense when you see our new house attached to it. It took years of planning, working with a lawyer to talk with the town, getting the plans right, selling our old house (in a very slow market) and preparing to move. Finally, on August 28, 2006, the builders started to dig the foundation. By November 4, we were moving into the new house! That is the wonder of getting a modular house. I'll show some pictures of them putting our house together in another post. It was delivered in four pieces and by the end of the first day, it was water proof. Here is our new house the day we moved in. Notice that we had my mother-in-law's house resided using the same siding and shutters as we were using on our part of the house. Also notice that we loved the Farmer's Porch on the old house so much that we got one on our new house. Also notice that we have no grass yet. The builders will be coming back in the spring to plant grass and do a little landscaping. I hope that will be the final touch that makes our new house perfect. We have a little less area in our new house but it is laid out so much better than our old house that we hardly notice the loss of room. Everything is in the right place. We got to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in our new house. We couldn't be happier.