Posts Tagged ‘education’

We should pay people to fix things. Heaters in elementary schools would be a nice place to start. 

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After discussing my previous post about “low sodium salt” with some folks (one of whom was my former high school chem teacher), it seems as if I was a bit too hasty in jumping to my conclusion that the product contained 33% sand. When I saw silicon dioxide (sand) listed in the ingredients list, much more prominently that it was listed in the “regular” varieties, I figured I was on to their game.

But as it turns out, I was wrong after all. The product does not contain a significant amount of filler. So back to the original question. How do you get low sodium salt? I was partially right, I suppose, in that they reduce the overall quantity of salt (not just sodium) you consume, but not by replacing it with filler as I thought. The key is in the words “per teaspoon”. The product is described on Diamond Crystal’s website:

Salt Sense® brand is 100% pure salt with 33% less sodium by volume. The result of our patented manufacturing process is a natural flake-shaped crystal that is less dense than that of common salt. These crystals dissolve faster to give you real salt taste, without leaving any metallic aftertaste. It’s simply the sensible way to enjoy real salt.

Emphasis mine. That seems to be the answer. Because their crystals are irregularly shaped, they do not pack together as well as would uniformly shaped crystals when you scoop them. Thus, in a given volume of crystals, there will be more void (empty) space than would be present if the crystals were uniformly shaped. So less mass, ie less salt. 33% less, if they’re to be believed.

So there ya go. This should be taken as a lesson to not jump to conclusions in science. Nine years and two engineering degrees later, my high school chem teacher is still busting my ass. Restores a bit of faith in the future of humanity.

And no, I will not go run three miles.

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America Is Doomed

Because this exists:


Folks, this is a picture of low sodium salt. Let me say that again. This is a picture of low sodium salt.

It’s time for a quick chemistry lesson. Salt is also known by its chemical name, sodium chloride. It has the formula NaCl. That’s one sodium ion bonded to one chlorine ion. If you remove the sodium, you have chlorine. Or to put it another way, if you remove the sodium, you no longer have salt.

So how do you get low sodium salt? You don’t. The phrase “33% less sodium per teaspoon” is correctly read as “33% less salt per teaspoon”. My theory was that this could be easily accomplished by adding a filler. And I was right! The second ingredient listed (after salt) on the back of the package was “silicon dioxide”. Time for your second chemistry lesson. Silicon dioxide, SiO2, is the chemical name for sand. Yes, sand.

And so the phrase “33% less sodium per teaspoon” can also be correctly read as “33% more sand per teaspoon”. The good folks at Diamond Crystal have successfully discovered a way to sell you sand.

If you initially saw the above picture and thought “hey, great idea!”, I have a really fantastic bridge to sell you.

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No Child Left Behind!

Who could possibly have predicted this?

After authorities imposed unprecedented security measures on the 2012 statewide exams, test scores tumbled across Pennsylvania, The Inquirer has learned.

At some schools, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis said, the drops are “noticeable” – 25 percent or more.

In Philadelphia and elsewhere, some educators have already confessed to cheating, and investigators have found violations ranging from “overcoaching” to pausing a test to reteach material covered in the exam, according to people familiar with the investigations.

Oh right, basically everyone predicted this. But is our children learning?

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Go read this, by Matt Langdon on Ari Kohen’s blog, on the subject of heroism and, more broadly, unwillingness to change opinions and what that means for school kids. It’s short but good.

…four years ago at this time, a kindergarten teacher told me her students were chanting, “We want Bush, we want Bush.” Kindergarten kids should not have opinions on the presidential race, yet they did. They had unwavering opinions. It’s why New York City public schools decided to eliminate controversial words from their tests —words like dinosaur, pepperoni, and birthday. Kids shouldn’t find those words controversial. Adults shouldn’t find those words controversial, but again, there’s not much we can do about adults. It’s why a character education speaker was kicked out of a school because she said that war was a sad thing to a classroom of kids.

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This post, suggesting that college is analagous to the housing bubble, caught my attention today:

We freak out about the Trillions of dollars in debt our country faces. What about the TRILLION DOLLARs plus in debt college kids are facing ?

The point of the numbers is that getting a student loan is easy. Too easy.

You know who knows that the money is easy better than anyone ? The schools that are taking that student loan money in tuition. Which is exactly why they have no problems raising costs for tuition each and every year.

Why wouldn’t they act in the same manner as real estate agents acted during the housing bubble? Raise prices and easy money will be there to pay your price. Good business, right ? Until its not.

Well, perhaps. A house is a speculative investment, and its value is mostly driven by the desirability of the chunk of land its built on. Similarly, an education can be taken as a speculative investment whose value is mostly driven by the desirability of the skill set learned. If you choose to major in science, you are making a speculative bet that, when you graduate, scientists will be in demand. I get that, and I’m also somewhat sympathetic to the idea that college is unaffordable in part because student loans are easy to get.

A lot of the commentary in this area, particularly last year right after the Occupy movement cropped up, was that people were making really silly speculative bets on education. Take for example someone who takes on nearly 6 figures of debt to obtain a Master’s in puppetry. That doesn’t sound like a fantastic idea, because most people probably recognize that puppetry is not a very demanded field. But that line of reasoning, while I do understand the concept, makes me uncomfortable because it inevitably leads to the conclusion that betting on an education in the arts is dumb while betting on an education in a STEM field is less dumb because everyone loves an engineer (whats not to love!). I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that, when taking on debt, one needs to weigh the potential for payback and in that sense, that line of thinking is correct. But that relies on a solely financial view of education. That is, implicit in this reasoning is that getting an education is nothing more than a speculative bet on the future of the job market.

But I disagree. An education is obviously critical for future employment prospects, yes, but I think there’s more to it than that. Higher education is a chance to learn in depth about whatever it is that you find interesting, whether that’s puppetry or biotechnology. It is a chance to enrich yourself, both for future financial gain and because you just want to. The bubble view of higher education entirely ignores that last part, but I think it’s incredibly important.

Aside from all that, I also want to quibble with this point (emphasis mine):

IMHO, the biggest problem the economy has is the enormous student debt new college grads and those leaving college find themselves with. In the past leaving college meant getting a job and getting a used car and/or an apartment with some friends. Yes there was student debt, but it wasn’t any where near your car payment. You could still afford the car and the apartment. Now its the exact opposite. Today, the minute you graduate college you face the challenge of debt against a college education whose value is immediately “underwater”

No, it isn’t. The biggest problem we have is sustained high unemployment. That college grads are having such problems paying their student loan debt is the symptom, not the cause. If these folks had jobs, they could pay their bills. They could buy their car, which would give a boost to everyone involved in making that car. They could move out of their parent’s basement which would drive new residential construction. Student loan debt is a big issue to be sure, but our real problem is unemployment.

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