Monday, December 31, 2012

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

I'm on a train!

So I'm on my way back from salt lake, enjoying the plush seats, free wireless, and opportunities for people watching that the Frontrunner train provides.  I figured it was as good a time as any to finally update my blog.

2012 has been busy, this last semester especially.  But life is, for the most part, good.  I find that rap up of my life are sort of boring, so here's some recent stories:

Sometimes, when you are a man, you get hit by waves.  It's for fun. 
I just got back from california for christmas with the family.  It was great, and california is beautiful, and warm.  Every day I smiled as I was on the beach in shorts and saw that Provo was in the teens and snowing.  California was everything I could hope for, and I had time to finish the original pokemon, and Ocarina of Time, and Farenheit 451.  It's been a while since I've been able to just hang out without any real responsibility.  Some of that was because I've been putting off a paper I need to co-write, but you can't do work in california, it's just too pretty.

 I have all these photos, so I feel like I should try to get enough text to fill up the post.

How could anyone not walk out to that?
It certainly wouldn't be california if I didn't find a big patch of poison oak to roll around in, and it didn't disappoint.  On the water fall hike (the one that could have been the site for the hobbit) I spent a lot of time climbing on rocks and crawling around, and to my surprise, I found that my legs were covered in poison oak.  It pretty much all on the back of my legs, so it seems like I must have sat on some, which may  have happened when I was dropping through this cool tunnel in the rock, and pushing bushes out of the way.  Anyway, it's pretty itchy.

Elephant Seals!  They had new babies, which weren't actually that adorable.
Shadows are cool.  

Hanging out with nephews was fun, but I have mixed feelings about spending lots of time with lots of little kids.  I'm a big fan of kids, in small quantities.  I did have some good QT with Tanner, and I'm fairly certain I've won the coveted spot of Tanner's favorite uncle (although I don't know what the Wade side has in the way of competition).  I don't think I can compete with Isaac though for Ethan and Carter. It's hard to beat almost constant lego play.

I guess I should mention what I got for christmas.  This christmas felt less like christmas than most, probably because I wasn't at home (not quite sure where I call home these days) and the days leading up the christmas felt pretty standard.  We did do all the christmas stuff: Davey's first christmas, the Nativity, the Night Before Christmas, etc.  It was good.  I think another contributing factor in the lack of christmas was the fact that presents just aren't as exciting for me anymore.  For quite a while I've had enough cash on hand to buy the things I really wanted, and so I don't have a big list, and then I think there just aren't as many things that I feel like I really need anymore, but I'm not at the point where I'm buying lots of presents for other people, so I'm sort of stuck between the two meanings of Christmas.

That said, I am getting a pretty sweet Craftsman tool set.  I'm excited to break it open and go to town on my scooter this week, which has been on the fritz ever since it got cold.  I also got a game, and bought myself some clothes from old navy's after xmas sale.

Best made gift so far?  The Family Historians will have to decide

On the giving end, I did make one of the cooler made gifts I've done so far.  We ended up making a bunch of canvasses for a ward activity that I organized, so I learned how to do that, and so I figured I could make some cool stencils for Cami, or some of her favorite things.  After I got to her house, I realized she has more decoration than she actually has room for, but they turned out pretty cool, I want to make a couple for me, but I don't quite have the energy at the moment.

Oh, good.  It's snowing in Provo.

Anyway, I'm almost to my station, this train thing is lovely.  It seems like this would be a good time to make some sort of new years resolution and wrap up 2012, but I don't really like year long resolutions, and I feel like no one wants to here about me reflecting on last year.  I am going to do something new this next year and try to do monthly challenges.  Last year I tried for a month to wake up every day at a reasonable hour and do something meaningful.  It went ok.  This year I'm going to do something like that every month, and post about it.  The first month isn't very exciting, I'm going to try to exercise every day, I'm not getting fat, but I would like to actually be in good condition, so I can win sports and run races.  So that's this month, later months might be more interesting, we'll see. If you have any suggestions for month long challenges that would make me a beter person, I'm open for that too.  Happy January!

We took a quick stop to middle earth

Marine life, it's alive! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wait, what's this? An update? Oh yeah, I remember those

Sometimes life is hard, and after I have a couple weeks (or a whole semester) of intense college, things slow down, but I'm just so burned out from all the college that I have a hard time motivating myself to do the little bit of homework I have.  It feels a bit like this:
(there are one or two examples of scantily censored profanity, if reading that sort of thing would offend you)

The point of all this is that I've had a busy Autumn, but I'm coming to the tail end of it, and I'll try to post in this again, since it's how I keep in touch with my family, and that's important.  Otherwise we'll have way too much to talk about when Christmas rolls around.  The other point is that I have a little bit of chemistry homework, and I'm just not in the mood, but then I am a Perkes after all.  Back to work.

~Some sort of Wizard
P.S. - this weekend it got snowy
Not sure why this was sideways before

Monday, August 6, 2012

and the living is easy

Once again it's been too long.  Nothing too momentous has happened, but there have been lots of adventures.  Here's a short list (in reverse chronological order) :

Today I made Teriyaki chicken and rice, banana muffins, and taffee, and played some games, like Jenga.  Turns out that if you play jenga to the inception music, it becomes the most dramatic thing you've ever done.  But in all fairness, that's probably true for anything.  Today was also my last week of church here at centennial.  Next week is stake conference, and then I get kicked out when my contract ends, and roughly a week later I'll be moving in to my new ward.  So hopefully more adventures will ensue.
This past week my parents and Isaac came out from mississippi and we had all sorts of adventures.  Not all of them are pictured here, but we backpacked in the Uintas and went up to this resevoir where we swam.  I was hoping for cool rocks to dive off of, but didn't find any at the reservoir.  Cami and I did swim across the resevoir and back, which was wonderful, and inspired me to start swimming again, once school starts I can swim in the pool again, so hopefully I'll keep my motivation and make that happen.  We did find a great place up in the mountains to swim, but as I was swimming, there aren't really any pictures of it, though I did get a cool shot of the rock we jumped off.  Check out my google+ for all the pictures.

 A couple weeks ago, some friends and I hiked Timpanogos peak.  We left early enough to see the sun rise as we were starting the hike, which was beautiful, and definitely worth waking up a little early (I'm not convinced that making it to the peak to see the sunrise is worth it.  That hike was tough). On the way down we hung out at that little lake that you can see, and there someone swam.  I probably would have swam, but it was cold (the air, the water obviously was too), and I was wearing jeans.  So no swimming there.

 I watched the Dark Knight Rises (after watching the Dark Knight on a projector in our apartment) it was great, I think it ended the trilogy perfectly, and while it wasn't as much fun as the other two, it was a great movie.  My summer has been pretty evenly split between movies and outdoor adventures, which is great.

 My scooter turned 4000, which is cool.  I'm still working on fixing it up since i crashed a while back, now I just need to switch out a wire so that the blinker will work again, then I can get my license (since right now I don't think it's technically street legal, and so they probably wouldn't give it to me) Also pictured here is my smart phone, which has been great.  Actually all of these pictures were taken on my phone, which made it easy to post on my blog.  The future is totally happening these days.

 More cooking, I made stuffed french toast, with cream cheese, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  It was fantastic, although not quite as good as when my roommate makes it.  We've done a lot of brunches.  I'm getting fairly decent at making pancakes and waffles that put iHop to shame.
And it's now been over a month, but I visited Mississippi and got to check out the new Perkes house, of which I approve.  It was my first summer back in mississippi since 2008, and it sure was hot.  I'm not quite sure how I survived all those years down there, but i definitely appreciate the weather here in Utah.  I managed to make it up to Jackson for the first time in a long time and spend some time in the old stomping grounds and see some people.  That was fun.

So that's about the gist of my life.  Summer is winding down, and I still have a few adventures to fit in before the end.  This next weekend I'm headed down to Zions, which will be great.  I also read on occasion, I've read quite a few books this summer, which has been nice.  Next on the list is the Catcher in the Rye and Fahrenheit 451.

Summertime really is one of my favorite times.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Grateful for the Moisture"

 I just got back from my trip to Mississippi.  It was pretty fun.  The new house is great, but Mississippi weather is still a bit unpleasant. Here's some pictures:

We went rug shopping.  It was fairly unsuccessful
Incidentally, I got a smart phone.  It's my new favorite thing, and the camera isn't too shabby

There are squirrels in Mississipi.  This one was chilling on our fence.

It's raining here in Utah today, which is good, we've had lots of fires, and some were still burning, so hopefully things have calmed down a little.  I know I've been in Utah for a while when I'm grateful and a bit relieved when is starts raining, even though it means getting all soggy while biking around.  So that's the news.  I need to get a new 30 day goal for this month, waking up early was a good call last month.

Monday, June 25, 2012

11 Future Experiments

As the result of a TED talk, I decided to take on a 30 day challenge this month, and maybe every month.  I've been waking up at 8am every day, and trying to do something meaningful.  Admittedly, sometimes the meaningful something is going back to sleep, but for the most part it's been a month of productive mornings.  Today I went on a 25ish mile bike ride.  Yesterday I got ready for Church.  Saturday I was camping, and I woke up and read in my hammock and gathered a bit of firewood.  I've also been reading Walden by Thoreau, which is a good catalyst for life changes.  Here are some possible future 30 day experiences:

  • 30 days w/o facebook 
  • 30 days of vegetarianism (Turns out Thoreau talks a bit about not eating meat)
  • A Picture a day for 30 days
  • No text messaging for 30 days
  • Writing in my journal every day for 30 days (or my blog, but my journal would be more meaningful)
  • Draw/Paint something every day for 30 days (there was a time when I wanted to be an artist, now I just doodle)
  • Learn a new magic trick each day and perform it for someone
  • Practice Piano every day
  • Spend one month learning a new skill, practicing it each day: Archery? Guitar? Basketball?  Dance?  Sewing?  Fishing?  There are a lot of options for this one
  • Learn, and use, a new word a day
  • Learn a new language (I think I could make a lot of headway in any of the romance languages in 30 days)
So those are some cool things I could try in the future.  If you have any suggestions, let me know, I might not do them, but then I also might. If nothing else, it would make for some good blog material.   

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

a list:

A short list of adventures yet to be achieved this summer (some may be combined):

Sleep under the stars
Go mountain biking at sundance
Southern Utah
Do a triathlon
Create a triathlon
Make donuts
Go tubing
Play pool spoons
Hike Timp
Play baseball in the sandlot

I'll keep adding to this list, and crossing things off as I go, feel free to make suggestions.

Monday, June 11, 2012

No rest for the wiki'd

It's June!  Summer is finally here and flying by, it's been a while, and I've had some exciting times.  There's all sorts of stuff on facebook, showing my adventures, but here's what's been going on:

That house rents out their hose for $20.  It's a racket,
but absolutely worth it.  
 I got called as the ward fhe co-chair, so I get to occasionally organize even more expensive expansive activities than before.  For our opening ward fhe we set up a slip-and-slide at Rock Canyon Park, which, as you can see, has a pretty decent hill.  It turns out our tarp wasn't as long as we had hoped. (Happily it's longer than it looks.) The grass at the end really just made it more fun.  I'm back in my ward from last summer, so I've also been going on crazy bike rides with my Bishop, having game nights with the people, and we even took a stab at another pool movie night.  It's wasn't perfect, but it went a lot better than last time.

Thanks to Dan for the action shots
 A few weeks ago I went out to california to do a mud race with Amy, it wasn't quite as muddy as I had expected, which was absolutely fine with me.  It was extremely fun, and I managed to get 18th or so overall, which is not too shabby, considering I only ran about three times in preparation for this.  But it was a blast, definitely not the last time I'm going to do that.  California was great, it was cool to see my Wade nephews, who are pretty awesome.  Katie's right, Tanners 'Aye' really grows on you, especially when he's dressed in pirate garb.  Now I just need an excuse and an inexpensive way to visit the east coast.  I sort of fell in love with california, to be honest.  It's really rather beautiful, and windy winding roads in the dark are exciting.  My friend Dan came out, which made it an adventure.   The summer of one thousand adventures is going well.

Muir Woods, basically Middle Earth. 

 In addition to vacations and adventures, I organized an intramural team, which was one of the best decisions I've ever made.  It turns out captaining a team and getting people together and stuff is actually really rewarding.  We didn't quite win, we had some bad luck and two of our best girls were unable to make it to one of our playoff games.  But I realized that having organized, official matches in soccer is entirely too much fun to avoid, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing this for the rest of college and after.

There are some other things going on; work, research, my ongoing attempts to figure out the balance between being impossible to please and settling, but there's really nothing of note in that regard, so once something exciting happens in work, research, or dating, I'll try to get around to writing it down.  In the mean time, I'll be living the dream here in Provo.  For all my doubts, this place turned out alright.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Another month, another title

Well, I used to be so good about updating things.  It's always a shame that the amount of time i spend writing in my blog is inversely proportionate to the amount of interesting things I have to write about.  Someday I'll find a balance of semi-regular, semi-interesting things.

These days have been busy.  I've been taking on a lot of projects.  I got into a lab doing research science. That's sort of great.  The thing about science is that actual research is mostly pretty dull.  A lot of pipetting and other monotonous chores, and then at the end, if you're lucky, you get some sort of result.  I'm also discovering that there are a lot of gremlins in research. But it's good to be doing practical stuff.

I'm back to teaching at the MTC, so my semester of carefree, go-in-when-I-feel-like-it days are over.  It's good to teach again though.

Over last semester I volunteered as a tutor at the local alternative high school, which was fun.  It made me realize that I'm not sure I could handle teaching high school students.  They're great, but they can be hard to motivate.  Anyway, it turns out they needed someone to head the after school soccer program, so I volunteered for that.  It's been a lot of fun, basically I go and play soccer with as many of my friends as I can convince to go and with as many kids as can be convinced to stay.  Eventually we're going to try to set up a tournament type thing, and then maybe get a soccer team going.  That would be fun.

There's actually been a lot of soccer recently, I organized an intramural team with some of my friends, and now we're working on teaching some of our friends how to play soccer.  there are some basic skills we struggle with.  Like passing.  But that's been great.  I didn't realize how much I've missed consistent, organized, competitive soccer.  It's the best.

Other than that I've been trying to get ready for this mud race in a couple weeks.  I only have nine days to find two more people and one car to carpool to california.  And at some point in the mean time I should still get in slightly better shape.

So besides soccer, teaching, and doing research, there are all sorts of little adventures and injuries that keep me going.  That and I saw the Avengers, which was great.  On the superhero movie scale from 1 to The Dark Knight, it was definitely a 9.73.  Way good, well done Joss Whedon.  Well done.

I need to do more things that are photo-worthy, then my blog would be more interesting.  I'll get on that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Week of Injuries and Intrigues

It's been a while, and it's actually been a couple eventful weeks, it's hard to know where to start.  Let's start at the very end:

No classes today, there's nothing but 5 finals standing behind me and the greatest summer yet.  Right now I'm trying to work up motivation to go running.  It's a bit cold outside today, and running is probably my least favorite form of exercise.  Unless I have a ball, or a finish line, or a new mountain to run up, it's hard for me to justify running.  So far I've put on some ankle socks and I'm loading stuff onto my iPod, which might help.  Either way, I need to start running.  I have an epic mud race in may with Amy, and I'm not sure if I can run 4 miles at the moment, especially if I'm going to have to be climbing over walls and stuff while doing it.

Yesterday I made pineapple cheesecake cupcakes, in honor of the psych season finale (which was great). They were based on this recipe, which i believe is based on one by Martha Stewart.  Remember when Martha Stewart was a thing?  I also made asparagus, which turned out ok, but it made my pee smell weird, so I must have done something right.  I cooked for my friend, his girlfriend, and her roommate with whom I went to a soccer game last week.  It was fun, although there was an overabundance of cuteness between the happy couple.  It made talking to them just a little awkward.

On Tuesday I officially got into a laboratory here at BYU.  It's sort of a big deal.  I'll be working with Dr. Kauwe, who was one of my favorite professors I've had and a big reason I decided to go into biology.  I haven't cured cancer yet, but I did do some data entry.  It seems like most science always turns out a bit more mundane in practice than you'd expect, but I have had a lot of practice with mundane work, and I imagine it does get more sciencey eventually.

Sunday was Easter.  I feel like Easter is not my biggest fan.  Last year I found myself unexpectedly single on Easter, this year I found myself skidding across the pavement in the middle of an intersection.  My roommate was gone so I decided to ride my scooter to church, which took me on this nice road with a speed limit of 50 mph.  It was great, because I finally got to see how powerful my scooter actually is.  I managed to get it up to about 65, which was a lot less terrifying than I expected.  On the way back though, I was going 60 up a slight hill, and my scooter cut out and slowed down a bit.  It kept going, but I noticed the steering was a little stiff.  I know think that's because I had a flat tire and didn't realize it, but at the time I wasn't sure if it was just because I was going fast or what.   Anyway, I slowed down as I came up to the intersection, so I was going about 20 as I went around the corner, but I completely lost control, crashed my scooter, and cut up my hands pretty nicely.  Luckily most of the damage was to my helmet, which doesn't bleed.  Hooray for helmets!

I've learned two things from my several accidents.  First, I don't do well learning things theoretically.  Practical experience seems to stick a lot better.  Now I know what it feels like to get a flat tire and what not to do, so let that be a lesson to you.  I think there must be a way to learn this sort of thing from a book, or a course, or some other way that doesn't involve bleeding, but I'm not sure how.

The other thing I've learned is people are great.  When I crashed my bike, before I had really figured out what was going on, there was already someone at my side calling an ambulance and making sure I was ok.  This time, a bunch of my friends stopped on their way back from church, as well as random people that stopped to make sure I was ok.  They (my friends) helped me get my scooter back to my house, which wasn't too far away, and helped patch me up a bit.  That was great.

Saturday we hiked the hot springs, which was awesome.  I think it's my favorite hike.  It's beautiful, and you get there and you have a stinky natural hot tub.  It's great!  But then just like real hot tubs, after we had been there for an hour or two a group of about 20 guys with a couple girls showed up, and made it lame.  No one likes a crowded hot tub.  So that's when we left, we'd been shooting to get there so that we could hike out by the full moon, but I didn't take into account that the full moon doesn't actually get above the mountains until around 11 o'clock.  But we had flashlights, so that worked.

Friday...was pretty boring as Fridays go.  I watched a couple movies.  Nothing fancy.

Thursday was soccer night.  This could be a whole post in itself.  We've been playing in the parking garage underneath Zion's bank.  It's really cool, and you get this awesome, cinematic, soccer hooligan feel when you're playing.  It was a great night, we had about 10 people show up, and they had just put new lights in so it was a bit brighter and felt even more legit.  After about an hour of playing, I was out wide and I tried to cross it into the center, but it went just a tiny bit high and caught a pipe.  We've hit pipes all the time, usually it's fine, but this time as the soccer ball hit it we hear the super loud PSSSSSSSSHHHHHH of gas escaping.  We ran, both out of fear of dying and fear of getting arrested.  After maybe 30 seconds, water started shooting out, so we were less afraid of dying, but just as afraid of being arrested.  But, as will happen, once we got outside, the better angels of our nature took over and we felt like we should call somebody to let them know.  We weren't quite sure who to call, someone called the police and they and the fire department came.  Turns out I had kicked the head of a sprinkler system for the fire extinguisher.  They took our names down but didn't give us a citation or anything.  I called zions bank the next day, and they were pretty cool about it too.  For a while I was worried I'd have to pay a bunch of money to fix it, but I had just read this talk about owning up to your mistakes and accepting the consequences of your actions, it felt sort of cold to run off after that.

Wednesday I went to a Real Salt Lake game with a couple people.  It was fun, I decided I want to be a RSL fan, because soccer games are so cool.  Where else is it normal to throw streamers at the players?  The game itself was pretty boring for a soccer game.  RSL got one goal at the beginning off a penalty in the box, and then for the rest of the game they mostly played for possession, and Montreal didn't
seem to care that much about getting the ball back.  The last five or so minutes were pretty intense, but for the most part it was a slow game.  Still fun, and free, which is always a plus.

Well now it's raining, so running seems unlikely, but I do have to go into work and swing by the genetics lab, so getting wet seems inescapable.

And that's my week.  Seven days of pretty exciting things.  The next few days are pretty promising too,  a couple dates, a couple finals, living the dream.

Congratulations for surviving this far, truly your interest in my life is inspiring.  Maybe I'll go less than a month before the next one, that seems likely, since from Wednesday on it's just work and adventure all summer long.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A short, visual update of the past few weeks

Grandpa Perkes turned 80, they have a sugar drawer, which is awesome 
A couple weeks ago was international pancake day.  I made that

I bought a scooter.  It's sort of incredible.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

And now for something completely different:

I put a lot of thought and time into this paper  Sadly I didn't put a lot of time in the actual writing, I managed to put it off, literally until the 11th hour (I started at 11, it was due at 1)  so there are likely some mistakes, but it's an interesting topic.  For the sake of conciseness and having a solid and permissibly biased argument, I didn't spend a ton of time on the studies that back up vouchers, but there's substantial (albeit contradictory) information about the success of vouchers in a few places.  It's worth reading about, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Race for the Finnish: Why Vouchers Won't Solve American Education
American education is broken. America, which once led the world in education, has fallen far behind other developed countries, now ranking around 20th worldwide. As a solution, some suggest a voucher program as a way to let the invisible hand of the free market create better schools. This idea is flawed. In practice vouchers are not an easy, catch-all solution, and could perhaps make things even worse. What is needed is a greater paradigm shift in the way we approach education.
First of all, what is the purpose of education? Some see education in a utilitarian view as a means to stimulate the economy and domestic prosperity. Others see it in terms of egalitarianism: that education is the cure for the inequality in our society, the means whereby the poor can rise up out of poverty and achieve success. In either case, there is little conclusive evidence that vouchers work. Private school students, when adjusted for income, perform essentially the same as public school students, or in some cases worse. The greatest determination in educational achievement is not schooling or race but economic conditions. In general, the rich do well wherever they are, the poor do poorly. Thus private systems, already driven by free market principles, have yet to outperform the public schools in a significant way. From an egalitarian perspective, vouchers are plainly ill equipped for equality. In a free market the richest will always be able afford the best and the poorest will be forced to settle for the worst. This is how schools are now; the rich can afford to live in areas with good public schools and choose between public and private, and the poor are stuck with their ineffective local public schools. In this sense vouchers probably could not make things much worse, but equality has never been the goal or the product of capitalism.
Logistically alone vouchers are problematic. Typically the proposed vouchers would cover around $3,000. Let us be generous and say it was $5,000. The average cost of private school is over $10,000. It is lower at religious schools, which are often non-profit models.   At non-affiliated, assumably more capitalistic institutions, the average cost is over $16,000. The cost of educating a public school student is $10,000. Even accounting for the supposed greater efficiency of private institutions, it is difficult to imagine that a voucher would provide better choices, when there is little incentive for a private entity to seek out the business of losing money while educating.
Even for conservatives there are important considerations for vouchers. It is still a government imposed redistribution of wealth. The rich are still paying more in taxes to fund the education of the poor. Those without children are paying for the education of those with children, assuming they do not get their money back. In addition, since private schools would be receiving government funds, the government would undoubtably want some control over how that money is spent. In many ways, vouchers would destroy many of the supposed advantages of private schools. A better option for conservatives who do not want to be paying for other children would be to simply reduce taxes and cut government spending on education, but this is harder to sell to the public.
The argument for vouchers invokes the mystical free market which unavoidably solves all these problems. There would be no great costs, because supply and demand would ensure competitive rates. Private schools would be so effective that the cost of educating a student would drop dramatically, allowing for even lower costs. Institutional structures could be established to ensure that problems of unfairness were taken care of (although this in itself is a step back from the free market that would supposedly fix everything). Even public schools, forced to compete with private schools, would perform better as the monopoly of socialist education was eliminated. To be fair, these are valid arguments, and there is evidence for them. Several studies of voucher programs have shown some success, even improvement for the public schools nearby. However, it is hardly conclusive. One of the longest and most complete experiments in free market schooling occurred in Chile, which for over a decade implemented the voucher system under the guidance of Chicago economists. What happened was a near collapse of their education system. Graduation rates dropped dramatically and over all performance declined. It is easy to argue that there were confounding factors, but it is clear that the free market failed to overcome the challenges of educating a nation. A similar effort in Sweden has produced a thoroughly average education system, one that falls just behind The United States in world rankings.
Whether or not vouchers would help is a complicated issue. They have produced some success and some failure in the various locations in which they have been implemented, but it is clear that they are unlikely on their own to catapult our country back to the forefront of education. I do not presume to know the solution for this, but it is my feeling that a larger change is necessary. American schools are focused so much on 'performance' that they fail to educate. In Finland, which consistently places first or second in world rankings, the education system is absolutely different from ours. It is completely centralized, with a standardized curriculum across all schools and colleges, which are free. Kindergarten starts at age seven, following an extensive pre-schooling program, teachers are highly respected and becoming a teacher is highly competitive, not withstanding the pay being comparable to teachers here. There is little standardized testing, and grades are not even given until high school, and even then no rankings are established. The focus of the system is not on competition or performance, but on equality, ensuring that every student has as great an opportunity as every other. From an american view point, the whole system seems so european. But the results are difficult to deny, especially in light of the fact that Finland actually spends less per student than the United States.
Clearly it is not a question of money, or incentive, but in the culture of education. Somehow, in our race to outperform everyone else, we are leaving our children behind, even as we are being beaten by countries whose only goals are equality. If America expects to be competitive in the global economy, and if we desire to provide an equal chance to all children, we must learn from the Finnish model. We must accept that there is no single, simple, solution to such a complicated problem and begin to determine how we can go about completely changing the culture of education.

There are various sites I read in thinking about this issue, and I've referred to several of their findings, although with little specificity. In all honesty I ran out of time to do an effective bibliography, but for fairness here are the sites that I read and some of their main points: : Adjusted for economics and such, public schools generally perform better than private/charter schools. Finland the best school system in the world? avg private school cost 3000? avg private school costs 8500, non sectarian: 17,000 Some conservative arguments against vouchers

I also read a bit of Chile's free-market miracle: a second look. This is a good book on vouchers in Chile, it's on google. 

As a bit of an after though, it didn't quite fit into the paper, but I was thinking about how intelligence is portrayed in the public.  If we are going to continue to call intelligence elitism, attack higher education as secular, vilify teachers as incompetent and lazy, and remove all responsibility from parents and children for their performance, performance which is measured by artificial tests which don't necessarily translate into real knowledge, should we really be surprised that our education isn't the best?  

Monday, March 12, 2012

So if you're lonely

The plan was to do my homework, but I am mysteriously sleepy.  I'm going to blame taco bell, I don't know how that could have been a good idea.  I'm going to try to tell a linear story, we'll see how this goes:

A few weeks ago, I realized I needed to give myself a budget.  I had gotten a raise at the MTC, and I was falling into the habit of spending money because I could.  Zappos sent me a free vip membership, so I bought some shoes.  Threadless kept telling me about these great deals, so I bought several T-shirts.  Spencer (my cousin) tipped me off to a super cheap bike on KSL, so I bought it.  My computer broke, on account of being dropped, so I had to pay two of my friends gas money to drive me up to Salt Lake twice over the course of two days in order to have it fixed at the apple store.  Not withstanding having bought lots of really great things at really good prices, I realized I needed to control myself a little.

Then, I was checking ksl for scooters as I often did, and I the scooter I've been waiting for all this time.  It was a tiny bit more than I was hoping to pay (I wanted to pay around $450) but it was perfect.  And then the weather became perfect, and on a bit of a whim, I called the guy, and bought it.  Having never driven a scooter before, and not having a helmet, driving it home at night was one of the more nerve wracking experiences in recent history, but I didn't die, so that was a huge success.

The second day of owning a scooter was a bit of a trial of my scooter faith.  I realized I had to get it registered and  insured and deal with all these absurd laws and taxes and things that just don't exist for bikes.  Then I went to start it and I couldn't get it to start.  I tried with the kick start for about 20 minutes, and finally got it, and then turned it off to run in for my stuff, and then when I came back i couldn't get it to work for an hour or so.  I finally got a friend to jump start it, so that I could drive it to the inspection place so that I could get it registered, I got there and they failed it for the tire tread, and informed me that I needed a new tire.  I had already read that these people were a little over zealous in their problem finding and a little slothful in their problem fixing, so I kindly rejected their offer to fix the tire for $80.   Once again, I couldn't get it started, so I had to ask them to jump it, which they graciously did for free.  It was a beautiful day though, and driving my scooter home was basically amazing.  That day I was talking to my friend about it and he told me of a magical place that would pass scooter inspections in all but the most serious cases.  I had hope.

The next day I set off for the Sinclair on Center st.  Miraculously, my scooter kickstarted on the third try, and I drove it all the way there without any problems, then I left it running for about half an hour while they took care of everything, so as to recharge the battery.  And it passed, with flying colors.  I drove it back home, and bought some helmets, so that I would could stop tearing up (from the wind) and stop worrying about dying (from the road).  The next day was sunday, and after our weekly brunch I went to show a couple of the girls my scooter.  This was a big step in scooter ownership.  I tried to start it, but it didn't work, but then the kick start worked relatively easily, and it was lots of fun to give them rides around the parking lot.  I resisted the powerful urge to drive the scooter to church, and around town in the afternoon, since I still lacked license, registration, and a helmet.

Anyway, to wrap up: after the initial rocky start, it's been a dream.  I managed to take care of my license, registration, and insurance today, and my helmets are in the mail.  I had no idea how absurdly fun owning a scooter would be, it's totally worth the money I've spent,

Which brings us back to the budget.  Having been wholly unsuccessful in creating a budget, my new budget is that I'm not allowed to buy anything unnecessary during the month of march.  We'll see how much money I have when march ends, and then I might continue it through april.  We found a really good deal on summer rent though ($65 a month) so I'll catch up pretty quickly.

So that's the saga of how I spent way more money than I should have in the space of about a week, I'll put some pictures up once I take them.   That was supposed to happen today, but it got dark before I got around to it.  If you find yourself considering buying a scooter, my only advice is to do it quickly.  My main regret is that I didn't buy a scooter last year at this time when I was considering it; so much time wasted.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In which Ammon doesn't talk about Valentines Day

So on sunday I found out about this cool site,  which is fascinating.  It searches through your family tree on the churches database, matches it up with some well known ones, and tells you who you're related to.  You can learn lots of interesting things. For example, we're related to everyone.  I would be surprised if anyone of british descent, having done a good bit of family history (or having it done for them), that can't find a link to lots of famous people.  Apparently Shakespeare, Mark Twain, T.S. Elliot, Joseph Smith, George W. Bush, George Washington, Walt Disney, and the Wright Brothers are all my distant cousins.

What's more interesting is the people we're directly descended from.  Aside from a long list of european royalty, which is interesting but not terribly meaningful for me (except for Affonso IV the Brave, King of Portugal), I am a descendent of Francis Cooke, who crossed on the Mayflower, Joseph Knight, and James and Eliza Hurren, who came to utah in the Willie Handcart Company, and their father David Reeder, who died at Fort Laramie on the journey.

On Francis Cooke: as with all genealogy, there's a bit of doubt as to whether or not I'm actually related to him.  On familysearch there are two sets of parents listed for one of my ancestors, one goes to Francis Cooke, the other doesn't.  Given that they are each equally as likely, it seems like the obvious choice to err on the side of fame.  But isn't that sort of depressing for that other branch of possible ancestors that I'm just disowning?  I'd hate for my kids to disown me for more interesting parents, but then i suppose it doesn't make a huge difference for them, being long dead and having thousands of descendants anyway.  It's just interesting how we have this innate desire to attach ourselves to famous people, as if being a descendent of someone who crossed the ocean in the mayflower about 400 years ago defines who I am in anyway, somehow more so than being descended from someone who crossed the ocean on a lesser known ship slightly less than about 400 years ago.

Either way, I wish I'd known this when I wrote that portuguese paper about my ancestors.   Actually, that's silly too.  I ended up writing most about my grandparents and great grandparents, people who were actually alive at the same time as me, and whose lives had a significant effect on mine.  Is it not absurd to focus less on them than on people that lived centuries ago and whose lives, while more notable, didn't do a whole lot for me? (the closest ancestor is only 1 of 64 others in the same generation of grandparents)  I don't know why it's so cool.

Phylogenetically, we're fascinated by the fact that we keep the same Y chromosome as we go along the fathers line and the same Mitochondrial DNA as we go along the mothers line.  But these two specific batches of DNA don't have that much of an effect on who we are.  Obviously the Y chromosome does a lot, but it doesn't do that much any differently than any other Y chromosome would, and all our other chromosomes also came directly from one of our ancestors (although they do change a little more due to crossing over and such). My point is we like to focus on the stuff we know about.  Our Y chromosome is cool because it's the same one everyone with our same last name had, and we can point to that and say, "I have the same Y chromosome as all the other perkes."  It's not that it's more significant, it's just more identifiable.

There's just something about us that caused us to want to be able to define ourselves in a way that is generally understood by others.  So when I say to someone, "I'm descended from Ammon Vail" that means nothing to them, regardless of what it means to me, but when I say "I'm descended from a passenger on the Mayflower" that means something.  In addition, we like to define ourselves by the actions of our ancestors, and so it means more to us when we find famous people, not just because everyone else knows what they did, but because we know what they did, unlike the hundreds of names without any distinct identity.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shrimp is the fruit of the sea

Pies are tricky.  My mom would always make pies for our birthdays, for holidays, or just for sundays when people were over.  I always liked pie, but I don't think I ever appreciated how much is required to make them, nor the staggering number of dishes that get dirty in making a single pie.  Pies are also quite small.  I would be willing to bet that a large percentage of pies made (which could be represented on some sort of chart) take longer to make than they do to eat.  That said, i think there's something deeper and more significant in making the pie itself, some sort of value in the journey that makes it worth doing.

Jambalaya is in some ways the opposite of pie, an anti-pie, if you will.  It takes less than an hour to make, feeds lots of people, is simple, relatively cheap (unless you buy jumbo shrimp, which i heartily recommend, if you go for that sort of thing), delicious and satisfying in a way that pie can never be, but does not photograph nearly as well.  

I'm sure there is some sort of higher, metaphysical significance to be had here, but I'll leave that to other people.  Here are the pictures from yesterday's dinner:

By the way, special thanks to Amy, whose recipe book provided the inspiration and recipe for jambalaya.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snips and Snails

I was going to post this on facebook, but I decided it's been too long since I updated my blog.  I bought chicken this week and took a stab at making curry, since my chicken was dangerously close to expiring.  Some may remember the mango shrimp curry that went really really well.  But that was made following very specific instructions, using lots of uppity spices like coriander and cinnamon and I actually didn't do that much of it, I was working more on the naan.  This time I sort of just freestyled it after reading what my cooks illustrated book says about curry.  So far, it doesn't look nearly as good as our mango shrimp masterpiece, but it does smell like curry.   I timed it all perfectly so that the rice would be finished right as the curry was ready, but then i pushed the wrong button, and thirty minutes later as I was finishing the curry, I realized the rice was only warming.  That was unfortunate.

Yesterday I was feeling impulsive and trendy, so I went and bought clipless pedals for my bike.  I can't wait for a sunny day, a few hours and a wrench (i still need to tighten them a bit more) so that I can go somewhere cool at new, exciting speeds.  Between that and the bigger ring they put on, it's going to be intense.  I still need to either fix or replace the seat, which got a bit bent in the great bike accident of 2011, but we're close.

By the way, the curry ended up just a little bitter, and pretty spicy, but it was still good.  Our house smells like curry and probably will for a while.  So that's fun stuff.

Otherwise, life's been good for the past couple months since I've written last.  Christmas came and went, new years came and I made some goals, but not resolutions, which is good, because I would have failed by now.  I think resolutions are silly.  But I still have some goals that I'm slowly working on.  I'm exercising more (and playing soccer!), I've got a date on friday, and I'm managing to read scriptures effectively and consistently, most of the time.  I lost my keys, which just recently turned up.  I also lost my jacket, which sort of perplexes me, so hopefully that will turn up soon.  I made one of my favorite made gifts I've made to date, a homemade Carcassonne, hopefully Dylan's gotten it by now so it won't ruin the month late surprise.  It turned out really well, one of my rare crafty moments.  School is deceptively easy so far, I'm pretty sure they're luring me into a false sense of security.  Work's been good, I get to set all my own hours and work more or less, depending on how much time I have.  So yes, life is great.