On not fooling anyone

google-deepmind-artificial-intelligenceSo I got a phone call at work the other day.  I answered it and was greeted with a couple of seconds of silence before the person on the other end asked for some sort of manager– in charge of marketing, maybe?– that our specific store doesn’t have.  I explained that we’re corporately owned (this type of phone call, at least the initial part, happens more often than you’d think) and that not only did I not know the name of the person who was in charge of marketing, they likely weren’t called the “marketing manager,” and they were also almost certainly in Denver and not Indiana.

A brief moment of silence again.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that,” the person on the other end says.  “Can you repeat your answer?”


“I’m talking to a robot, aren’t I?” I said.

A brief moment of silence.

“No.  This is a living person,” the robot on the other end lies.  At which point I hung up on it and it didn’t call back.  I briefly regretted not asking it what the main ingredient was in tomato soup as a quick Turing test and then went on with my day.

Your question for today:  Even assuming that we live in a world where a voice-recognition computer program is the tool you want to use to determine who runs marketing for various local furniture stores, why would you a) program that computer to lie about being a computer when challenged, and if you choose to program the computer to lie, why would you program it to lie in such an unconvincing manner?  No actual living person would have answered like that.  Not one, anywhere.

Theories are welcome.

In which NAILED IT!

Let’s start with the picture from the recipe, shall we?

1482805_271797289641052_303151807_nAnd here’s the entire recipe.  I found this on Facebook:

Cream Cheese Mints
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
exactly 1/2 teaspoon peppermint or spearmint extract
3 cups powdered sugarBeat the cream cheese with a mixer until smooth, add the extract and some of the powdered sugar and mix until combined well. Then add the remaining sugar and mix until well combined.

Shape into 1/2″ balls and place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Press flat with a fork and then chill until ready to serve. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two weeks or freeze for up to two months.


Lies.  LIES, I tell you!  First of all, you cannot meaningfully do anything to four ounces of cream cheese with a mixer.  Four ounces of cream cheese is a very small amount of cream cheese, folks!  I knew this, but fooled myself into thinking I didn’t, and thus did not immediately double the recipe.  The cream cheese immediately sucked itself into the blades of the mixer and stayed there, mocking me.  Adding the sugar, a cup at a time, didn’t help much, and when I was done I had a lump of cream cheese and sugar maybe the size of a baseball.  Maybe.

I love the verb “shape.”  Does it say how?  Of course not.  I had pictured some sort of rolling with my hands, as I’ve done with a variety of meatballs and my reindeer shit, but it’s cream cheese with sugar in it.  It’s way too goddamn sticky for that.  I considered coating my hands with sugar, like I’d do with flour if I was working with dough, but, y’know, sugar is pretty sticky itself, and I don’t think that would have worked.  I ended up using a melon baller, which did the job OK, I guess, but didn’t produce anything even remotely round.  Press it with a fork?  Fuck you, it sticks to the fork.  

So basically I ended up with a dozen or so cream cheese lumps that I just put on a plate, because the idea that I needed an entire cookie sheet for them was ludicrous– this does not produce very many not-cookie things.  They were horrifying-looking.  I knew they’d be tasty, as I’d sampled them, and it’s not exactly surprising when peppermint, cream cheese and sugar produces something good, but hell if they didn’t look terrible.

So I melted a few dozen chocolate chips and drizzled some chocolate on them too, because to hell with it.


Nailed. It.


Oh man oh man oh man oh man dudes.

Dinner at my brother’s today, and MLW and I are bringing most of the food.  There will be SO MANY food pictures later.  One of the recipes I’ve made before– I’m good at my baked ziti and have made it a few times and it’s going to be delicious and I’m not going to screw it up.

But dessert.  I’m making dessert too.  Two different kinds!  Cookies and apple crisp!  And I’m going to screw both of them up because the universe will not let me bake correctly.  So you have an “I’m an idiot” post to look forward to later!  You guys love those!


Parenting fail of the day


True fact:  George H. W. Bush is my favorite Republican president of my lifetime.  Which, I admit, isn’t saying a whole lot, but unlike Ford, Reagan, and Bush II I at least feel like the evil old nut-cutting CIA sumbitch had a little bit of a soul.    (Well, OK, I’ve got nothing against Ford.  But he was only president for a couple of months of my life anyway so I can safely disregard him.)  “George H. W. Bush is witness at gay wedding” means precisely nothing meaningful to anybody who wasn’t at the wedding.  It doesn’t really signal any change in the zeitgeist that wasn’t already happening no matter how much I want it to– Republicans have always been for rights for their people, and some of them– like, say, Satan— are pro gay marriage because there are acknowledged gay people in their family.  This has been true for a while.

I really only posted the picture because I want someone to explain the socks.  There is no way the former President of the United States leaves the house in mismatched socks unless he wants to, and I want to know why. Someone tell me.

Long intro to a very short anecdote, but I think it’s funny anyway:  I had to put the boy in his high chair earlier, and decided before I did so that I would lift him way above my head.  He loves this, like all little kids do.  I’m never doing it again, because this time he chose to take advantage of his added height by kicking me in the chest with both feet.  For which he was nearly dropped on his head.  Which would somehow have been my fault.  I think I have bruises.

Pointless griping time– As anyone who knows me IRL is already aware, I started a stupid little project on January 1 where I decided to keep track of all the books I read for a year.  I’m using Facebook to track everything– in fact, book posts are the only thing that I let stick around on Facebook for more than a couple of days.  I’m also keeping track in a spreadsheet, which you would think would make Facebook irrelevant but it’s not.

You knew I was a data nerd, right?  So of course I have numbers.  I have, as of right now, September 26th, reading my 145th book of the year.  That’s not a typo.  145 books, at an average of 336 pages each.  Sometime in the next few weeks I’ll cross 50,000 pages on the year; I read approximately 175 pages a day.  This does not count comic books (at least four or five a week, sometimes more) or anything online, although it’s included a handful of ebooks.  That’s every day.

I’m not bragging.  I suspect this may qualify as mental illness.

At some point, it became clear that it was within the realm of possibility for me to read 200 books in 2013.  I am, right now, five books off that pace– I’d need to have read 150 by the end of September; there are four days left to read those five books– which is actually possible if I’m careful about what books I choose, but probably won’t happen.

Here’s the problem:  As soon as I realized I could conceivably read 200 books in a year, the list became about reading 200 books in a year, and despite my respectable per-book average, I’m really starting to tilt my reading toward shorter books and rereads that I can get through quickly so that I can get “caught up” to this meaningless goal that only I know about and absolutely no one cares about so that at the end of the year I can brag to no one at all about how I read 200 books a year.  This even though I could easily justify telling people I read 175 books a year without fear of contradiction and without altering my reading habits.  The median number of books read by Americans?  Six.  The average is twelve, but that’s inflated by psychotics like myself.  Either way, right now I’ve squared the number of books the average American read last year and I still have three months left in 2013.  200 is not more impressive than 175; it’s just rounder.

I have a problem.  I have four or five hefty nonfiction books and Gone with the Wind (did you know that book is a thousand goddamn pages long?) on my shelf waiting for me and I’m not reading them because I know I can’t finish them in a day or two.  That’s fucked up, and the fact that I want to do something about it but apparently can’t is weird even for me.

In which god I’m tired of this (part 3 of 3, sorta)

22913I took yesterday off because I spent all day asleep and then had to go to work; it’s 1:43 as I’m starting to type this and I’ve only been out of bed for about three hours.  This annoying goddamn just-wanna-sleep-all-the-time illness is getting old, folks, and the inexplicable sore throat it decided to throw at me yesterday out of nowhere isn’t fair.  Also, there’s a chance I might have pinkeye again for like the fourth fucking time this year.

I will be the first in line to transfer my consciousness into a machine.  There’s gotta be a mad scientist out there working on that.  Get moving, dammit.

So, that in mind– let’s get this Tony Bennett post out of the way.  Not spending time on my Facebook feed lately?  Okay.  He’s Indiana’s former superintendent of education.  “Former” because he got tossed out on his ass last year, after all of Indiana’s teachers rioted against his lying, crooked ass.  Turns out we have enough friends and relatives that the new Superintendent got three hundred thousand more votes than the new governor did.  He then went to Florida, the worst place on Earth, which is where all of the world’s shit and evil goes to die.  And less than a year later he’s had to resign that job because his evil lying corporatist ass got caught cheating, too.

You didn’t click on the link, I know; I’ll nutshell:  one of the schools that Tony just knew should have been an A school ended up with a C under his new, bullshit school grading system.  That school just happened to be run by an influential Republican donor, who just happened to have donated several hundred thousand dollars to the reelection fund that wasn’t enough to keep Tony from getting tossed out on his ass.  The entire grade system therefore got revised until Tony’s buddy’s school got the A that he’d already predetermined it deserved.  Meanwhile, several Indianapolis public schools in basically the exact same situation got taken over by the state for their poor grades.  Coincidentally, I’m sure, the new system managed to lift the grades of several other charter for-profit schools.  Amazing, innit?

Here’s the thing: honestly?  I ain’t mad.  This entire “school accountability”/charter school thing has nothing to do with educating children.  It is solely and singularly concerned with shoveling taxpayer money into the pockets of corporations and people who are already rich.  The system is already so corrupt and evil to begin with that it’s hard to imagine anything that would make me see it as worse.  I already knew these people were lying scum who were out to get me and enrich their friends.  Additional proof of same isn’t gonna make much of a difference.

Wanna hear a secret, though?

All grades are arbitrary bullshit.

Lemme say that again:  All. Grades. Are. Arbitrary. Bullshit.

We all know this, but we don’t like to talk about it much, because everybody likes to pretend that that grades actually mean something.  But every teacher on Earth has at some point or another adjusted something because somebody who should have gotten some grade got some other grade instead.  And if they haven’t done that, they’ve set their grade system up to prioritize some sort of behavior over some other sort of behavior.  It’s all gamed, one way or another; the only thing is how honest and how transparent you are about it.

Lemme give some examples.  The easiest way to grade is just to make everything worth the same number of points as the number of questions in the assignment.  So if I give you fifteen questions tonight, that’s worth fifteen points, and the 50-question test is worth fifty points.  At the end you divide the total number of points earned by the total number of points possible and then you have a score.  Problems with this:  one, it’s a lot of grading, and two, it leads to weird inequalities like Monday’s homework being worth a lot more than Thursday’s just because Monday’s worksheet had a lot more questions on it.  It also leads to difficulties in quantifying anything that isn’t a worksheet or a textbook assignment, and makes grading things like essays a huge pain in the ass.

So, okay, use rubrics, or something?  And make every paper worth X points, where some percentage of that is grammar, some is “style,” some is awarded for some nebulous idea of how well the essay adheres to whatever the essay was supposed to be about.  You’re still making arbitrary determinations here about how much you prioritize papers over other things.  You’re still gonna give the kid who turns in every single assignment but can’t write to save his life a “C” because his papers weren’t good enough, where Billy who is a decent writer but misses assignments and half-asses everything gets a “B” because papers are worth more than the assignments he skipped.

And you’re gonna make some sort of decision about how to change your grading based on your feeling that Kyle deserves a better grade than Billy because he works harder.

Let’s throw some special ed kids in the mix.  What if Jenny’s got an IQ of 60 and doesn’t have a chance in hell of being able to do the same assignments that Monica can handle?  Should she just automatically fail?  Or do you alter your grading policies somehow to account for the fact that she’s doing the best she can do and that ought to be worth something?  Maybe she on her best day on Earth can’t do better than Billy-the-halfasser can do.  Should Billy get better grades?  Is the sanctity of your precious grading system worth more than convincing Jenny that trying at school is worth something and tossing her a little bit of success once in a while?

What kind of person are you if you determine that not breaking the Rules of Your System is more important than keeping a kid from tuning out school altogether?

What happens if you give an assignment that you plan to grade a certain way and then all your kids bomb it?  What if some of the kids who bomb it are kids who habitually get everything done right?  Is that your fault?  Can you change your grading system to give some kids better grades?  Or just throw the whole thing out?

How do you tell the difference between Amber-the-A-student getting a C on something because your grading system was BS and Amber getting a C because she’s slipping?  And, again, do you care about the difference?

How do you handle missing work?  Do you accept it?  Because you’d better be prepared, in some schools (mine’s one of them) to fail 2/3 of your kids if you don’t take late work and if you record it as a zero.  Or do you have a “floor” beneath which no assignment can fall?  Where do you set that?

For the record, here’s my grading system, for whatever it’s worth:

  • I accept late work up until a formal progress report goes out; this basically divides a quarter in half, so you can turn in late work from the first half of a quarter until halfway through it and then those grades are locked.  I send informal PRs home every couple of weeks.  Late work gets docked two points from a turned-in assignment.
  • Missing work is a 0.  No turned in assignment receives less than 50% as a score unless it’s clearly halfassed or not finished.  It’s incredibly rare for ANY turned-in assignment to receive less than 30%.
  • Assignments from the textbook are worth five points, period, and are graded on completion.  I do not grade them item-by-item and do not correct them.  If they’re turned in and done roughly according to instructions (ie, work is shown, stuff like that) it’s going to get full credit unless I can tell you just wrote some shit down and hoped I didn’t notice it.
  • Assignments from the workbook are worth ten points and are graded on partial correctness:  in other words, I arbitrarily choose ten problems from the two pages and grade those.  Not every problem will count.  I grade the same ten problems for everyone, though.
  • Tests are usually worth fifteen or twenty points and are graded completely.  Occasionally I will give bonus points for spelling your name right if a test happens to have twelve questions or something like that.  Tests are the only exception to the grade-floor rule; if you turn in a test with no correct answers you are going to get a zero for it.
  • Occasionally I will collect morning bell-ringer work and grade that on completion; it’s usually worth a point or two and cannot be made up.
  • Extra credit is crazy-rare and is only given if it’s available to everyone.  I won’t make up an assignment for you specifically.

Here’s what I’m prioritizing:  I put a heavy emphasis on effort, which is why those textbook assignments are pretty much automatic As if you turn them in.  Similarly, the grade floor: if you tryyou’re going to get some points for your effort.  I accept late work because I feel like kids should be able to make up for their mistakes; I don’t accept it after a certain point because those mistakes should cost you something.

And, yeah, I’ve taken a look at my grades, gone “Damn, Chelsea should be getting an A, what happened?” and taken a look at how to fix it.  Not to the degree that Bennett did, obviously; his shit was pretty egregious no matter how you look at it.  But I can’t pretend I don’t get it.  Because grades are arbitrary.  Period.  We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.