Most Popular DailyKos Post I Ever Wrote

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A Simple Answer to the Math Achievement Problems of Montgomery County, Md.

Today’s Washington Post has an alarmist article about math exam problems in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The article opens by saying

For another semester, Montgomery County high school students flunked their final exams in math courses in startlingly high numbers, according to new figures that show failure rates of 71 percent for Geometry and 68 percent for Algebra 1.

Later, the article admits the real cause of the alleged problem:

For many students, the final exam comes when semester grades are firmly set after two quarters of day-to-day classroom work. The exam is worth 25 percent of the course grade — a significant percentage but in many cases not enough to sway it drastically.

So here is the simple and obvious answer: put that final exam grade in a separate column in the transcript. Students may not try terribly hard, but they will try hard enough to avoid failing.

What gets measured gets done.

Sotomayor at the Federal Communications Bar Association

I had known that Sotomayor was to speak at the luncheon of the Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA), but I thought that it would be platitudes and of no interest. I knew that she could not answer the difficult questions, such as how the fairness rules in Specht v. Netscape might be updated (the case that occurred because AOL bought Netscape and made Netscape suck by adding adware), or what she really thinks of Scalia. She could not discuss any matter that might come before the Supreme Court in the future, and would not even talk about role models or personal influences.

She had a lot to say and a room full of several hundred schmoozing lawyers fell silent as soon as she reached the podium. She talked about how people react now when she walks in the room — even her extended family. “I’m still Sonya,” she tells her family. She said that she used to sit in the back of the room and watch people react, but now she’s often in the front row or even the speaker.

Most of what she said was directed at the college students who have scholarships from the FCBA, and a few of her comments were directed to law students like me who have summer internship stipends thanks to the FCBA. The students were asked to write questions and all were good questions. One student asked how she stays connected to regular people. She said that she likes talking to young people. So at the FCBA, she sat with the high school students. When invited to a high school, she likes to do at least one activity with the middle school students.

Another asked if she had any regrets about law school. She said that she regrets not having pursued a judicial clerkship after graduating (but she was personally recruited by Morgenthau to join the Manhattan DA’s office).

The students each received a copy of her book (I had given my DC host a copy but did not have a copy myself). I would not usually write about what a woman was wearing, but in the book, Sotomayor talks about acquiring dress sense late in life. She wore a red jacket with zippers that was impressive but that also helped make her seem approachable. It was a brilliant choice.

Perhaps there’s one legal question she could have answered: has the Supreme Court ever considered naming sections with words? At the moment, it uses roman numerals and capital letters. Some justice’s opinions might be clearer with section titles, but Sotomayor’s do not need them.

When critics reviewed her book, they said that although her opinions are dry and dispassionate, her book is full of warmth. It’s true. If you have a chance to her you speak, you must go!

Energy Bar Association: East Coast Solar Infrastructure Development: Incentives and Barriers – What is Working and What is Not

Today, I attended the Energy Bar Association‘s “East Coast Solar Infrastructure Development: Incentives and Barriers – What is Working and What is Not: An examination of Incentives, Finance, Technologies and Interregional compatibility of RECs Driving Solar development in the Northeast” hosted by Day Pitney in three cities: New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. The event was led by Roni Epstein, Counsel, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, New York Power Authority.

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Smart Phone Skeptic

America’s National Broadband plan seems predicated on the idea that smartphones can serve poor people. The cellcos are telling Wall Street’s financial analysts and the policy makers in Washington that there are more cell phone-based internet connections in the world than fixed wireless or wireline connections. But skeptics are starting to show that those cellphones may be underused, overpriced, and come with caps. Meanwhile, cellcos’ core businesses are threatened. Prices will rise and service caps will fall. Washington — and policymakers around the world — should allocate more resources and spectrum to services that deliver true internet, not the restricted walled garden of the cellcos.

This debate was central to the fascinating discussion at the State of Telecom event at Columbia’s Instititue of Tele-Information, held in mid-October. I attended the afternoon sessions.

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Money Does Not Equal Fairness or Justice

The national debt is about $14.5 trillion, and each person’s share is about $45,000. If someone proposed taxing each individual $45,000 to pay off the debt, nobody would think this a fair proposal. We expect those who have more to also pay more taxes. But in many other areas, everyone has to pay the same amount. The equal dollar in the legal system creates numerous injustices.

Finland fines people for speeding based on their income, so very rich people can pay over $100,000 for a single speeding incident. Some are worried that other EU nations will refuse to enforce Finnish fines, breaking the European Union. The idea is controversial and is unlikely to be applied here in the U.S., but it deserves consideration. If we cannot make fines fair based on income, perhaps we can base them on the price or class of car.

Even the tax system is not as fair as many believe.

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Financial Markets on CNBC Look Like Storm Stories

French banks are feeling the pain today. Some CNBC commentators say that France should have been downgraded before the USA. Marketwatch says that France might be the next downgrade.

Another commentator noted that France is a lynchpin of Euro rescue efforts. If France were downgraded, it might not be able to contribute to the European Financial Stability Fund, or EFSF. That might explain why S&P does not want to downgrade France: doing so might break the Euro. For the English commentator, the current markets are reminiscent of the breaking of the pound out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992.

The treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1992 called for governments to maintain an annual deficit of 3 percent or less and to have debt no higher than 60 percent. Although Japan leads the league in government debt as a percentage of GDP at 225 percent, EU members Italy and Belgium are at close to 100 percent. France is at 83 percent. These countries have violated the rules of the treaty for years, and as a a result, they cannot call on today’s problem nations to be forced to adhere to the terms of the treaty.

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Fiber News from the Telecom Exchange

Major fiber industry players gathered on Wall Street at the Telecom Exchange to do business at the very elegant Cipriani. Wall Street is demanding faster speeds and lower latencies than any other industry in the world as companies build their notorious high frequency trading platforms. If the internet is a railroad, Wall Street is becoming a test bed for the newest and fastest trains.

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Rockbox at NYLUG: Will Software Replace Hardware? Will Apps Replace Software?

NYLUG member Robert Menes presented the Rockbox open source jukebox software at the most recent meeting. The software project started in late 2001 when Bjorn Stenberg became fed up with his ARCHON MP3 player and the software was first released in 2002. The software is designed to be installed directly onto MP3 players and to add to rather than replace the existing firmware, but there are many many different MP3 players, and the project supports them to varying degrees (details on the Rockbox website).

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Counter)Induction DISPLACER Concert

Counter)Induction had its most recent concert at the Tenri Institute on Friday, May 20, 2011. The room is small and intimate, and it contained eight speakers and a massive amount of cabling, as well as a couple of computers, a piano, a drum set, xylophone, chimes, and wooden blocks.

The speakers (and some sophisticated software to go with them) were from Viewsonic of Arlington, Va. Douglas Boyce, composer of the first piece to be performed, told me that the software has a fantastic GUI that allows musicians to move music around in a circle from speaker to speaker and add speakers as necessary.

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