Pacific Ocean

The last 3 days, we had our last bit of summer here in SoCal, and have been to the beach 3 times to boogie board, my 2 sons and I. We had a blast getting in the cold waters with our wet suits. The past 2 days, we went in the evening when the sun was still out but this morning, we went, for the first time, before 8AM and what a crowd! There were dozens of surfers out in the water and we even saw about a dozen of them coming to their cars in the parking spaces [presumably to go to work before 8]. We did our best to find free parking [and got them this week] but on the other hand, I broke one watch and lost another [they were US$7 Wal-Mart watches so I don't feel too bad].

I only wish I could carry my cell phone in the waters and use it there.

Another tidbit: only in SoCal, can you catch Grunion and we just missed the season [ends in September].

Copyright 2006, DannyHSDad, All Rights Reserved


Testing Down

I've noticed 2 articles this past week on testing problem:

N.Y. English Scores Drop Sharply in 6th Grade: The share of students in New York State who are reading and writing at grade level drops sharply between the fifth and sixth grades and keeps declining through middle school, according to the first results of a new state testing system adopted to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law's requirements for tracking year-to-year progress.
CSUs get influx of unprepared freshmen: Results of the Early Assessment Program tests, which are administered by the state university system, show that only one-quarter of California 11th graders who took the exam in spring 2006 had the skills needed to take university-level English classes.
Even smaller percentages of 11th graders were ready for college math.
Also, as I was searching for the first article, I found:
Japanese Fret That Quality Is in Decline: In Japan'’s schools, once lauded for their hard-working students and sharp-penciled test takers, test scores have fallen recently below those of countries like Singapore, South Korea and Finland. Dozens of educators at elementary and high schools across Japan are sounding alarms about declining standards.
So, is the problem in testing or in the students? Or just teaching? Or something else, like the students are becoming less of a conformist and become more creative and rebellious [i.e., less likely to become slaves followers]

Personally, I think testing is meaningless, but that's neither here nor there.

Copyright 2006, DannyHSDad, All Rights Reserved.


Economic Meltdown Begins

Here are some signs that economy isn't well:
  1. Chrysler facing huge loss, slashes production. [Sep 19]
  2. Yahoo warns lower advertising income [Sep 19]
  3. Index of Leading Economic Indicators Falls for 2nd Straight Month, Sliding 0.2 Percent in Aug. [Sep 21]
  4. Philadelphia Federal Reserve: Area Factories See Shock Contraction in September [Sep 21]
And here's one item that won't get much coverage but should shake the boots of the government retires (and other retires) dependent on pensions:
Implosion of Fund Is Felt in San Diego: San Diego County's government is accustomed to accolades for earning outsized returns on its employees' retirement money, while the city of San Diego has been ridiculed for bungling management of its pension fund. Now, after betting on a hedge fund that subsequently suffered a big loss, the county is under fire for what some say was a surprisingly risky investment strategy.
The county invested $175 million last year with Amaranth Advisors, a Greenwich, Conn., fund that told investors this week that it had lost 35% of its assets and was liquidating energy holdings after the recent drop in natural gas prices.
35% of $175 is $61 million. That could have paid for a lot of golf fees [if not golf balls]. And how many other pensions took similar hits? And how many other funds are suffering? And then what happens when MBS starts to default?

Update 1PM: Loss worse than first reported: 55% of assets is the latest figure. So, 55% of 175 is actually $96 million loss just for San Diego County retirees. How many others will this affect?


Helmets are Dangerous

From BBC: "Wearing helmets 'more dangerous': 2,500 overtaking motorists in Salisbury and Bristol were recorded. Cyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be knocked down by passing vehicles, new research from Bath University suggests."

More safety = more aggressiveness and less caution.


Energy Meltdown: Crude & Gas

The Oil Bubble is unwinding:
  1. "A Hedge Fund'’s Loss Rattles Nerves": Fund loses ton of money on natural gas. The volatility seems to have increased recently due to hedge fund's influence.
  2. "Oil's Rout Outpaces Its Advance": In six weeks, crude has dropped 18%. There seems to be too many speculations priced into the crude for now (hedge funds, etc). And like any bubbles, things are going to fall more than "fundamental value."
[For those who believe in Peak Oil, now is the chance to buy low and sell high later....]

When will we hit bottom? Hard to say but since much hype was priced in, those "wishing premiums" have to be taken out first....

Police State Around the Corner: Teaching parenting skills

What in the world? My eyes almost popped out when I saw: "Police teach parenting skills: Parents get tips on hard-to-handle kids"! It used to be that extended families pitched in to help raise the next generation. Alternatively, one could count on the local church to help, for those who were away from relatives.

Now the police is teaching parenting skills instead? What's next? Will they teach toilet training skills? Sex education? (never mind: public school is already doing that)


Alternative Diesel Gaining Traction

I found "Biodiesel to drive up the price of cooking oil" (note, this article is from a computer news web site) very hopeful for diesel cars and diesel fuel alternatives.

paired with this is a research from UC Riverside: "From sludge to cheap and clean diesel" where trash is converted into very clean diesel for about $1 per gallon. Cost of distribution would add some amount to that cost but still should be cheaper than what we pay for regular gas!


The next Hurricane: financial tsunami

The housing bubble which has started to burst will have wide ranging implication, not just for individual home owners with "toxic" loans but all of us taxpayers especially at the local level since many municipal jobs will be on the line. There has been many hiring based on high tax income based on ever rising property taxes but once the appraisals start coming down, there will be drop in income and that means that many cities will face serious financial crisis. San Diego is forced to face unfunded pensions and they're just getting started with the housing bubble deflation.

Once the cities start going bankrupt [lowered tax income while getting hit with higher subsidy requirements for pension funds and constant need to pay for bloated government employees], the city employees will be too busy protecting themselves and their neighbors, not their assigned job locations. Which will mean much similar to the post-Katrina scenario where no help was to be found in the poorer neighborhoods.

The best thing to do now is to be prepared and learn to protect yourself [and your family] from:
  1. Vandals: get arms and learn to use it and/or take self-defense training [Aikido seems like a good start, to me]
  2. Fire: get appropriate gear to fight real fire [garden hose isn't enough] and learn to use it properly [I don't know what it is but I'll start looking into it soon].
  3. Medical emergency: take EMS courses, esp. the wilderness EMS kind. [I have looked into buying ultra sound equipment but seemed pricey even for a used portable kind.]
But really, you should be prepared regardless since you can't count on any of the above services to come soon enough, even in normal peace time. Remember, police does not have to protect, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Copyright 2006, DannyHSDad, All Rights Reserved.


Peak Oil Prices

"At OPEC, Some Worry as Oil Prices Start Falling" -- so maybe the peak of crude oil prices has passed and we may see a crashing of the crude, just as the housing prices have peaked. Unlike homes, commodity prices and their futures can change overnight....


Politics and bribes

I scanned "Limits on Firms' Donations to California Pension Panel Eyed: The California teacher fund's board may restrict gifts to the governor, treasurer and controller." And it reminded me of an article I read yesterday:
Governments Were Made To Be Bribed
Why be shocked when it happens, asks Joseph Sobran.
As one wise man put it, "there is nothing new under the sun."


Too much is bad: early education's pains and problems and what we're up to

Key Words pointed out the Newsweek article: "The New First Grade: Too Much Too Soon? Kids as young as 6 are tested, and tested again, to ensure they're making sufficient progress. Then there's homework, more workbooks and tutoring."

As Dr. Moore has pointed out years ago in his "Better Late than Early" and newer authors' writings like "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards," too much formal education at children's early does more harm than good in the long run. And as the Newsweek article points out:
What early-childhood experts know is that for children between the ages of 5 and 7, social and emotional development are every bit as important as learning the ABCs. Testing kids before third grade gives you a snapshot of what they know at that moment but is a poor predictor of how they will perform later on. Not all children learn the same way. Teachers need to vary instruction and give kids opportunities to work in small groups and one on one. Children need hands-on experiences so that they can discover things on their own. "If you push kids too hard, they get frustrated," says Dominic Gullo, a professor of early education at Queens College in New York. "Those are the kids who are likely to act out, and who teachers can perceive as having attention-span or behavior problems."
My wife have been practicing low stress delayed academics with my oldest son. He was unschooled until 8 but even today most of his school time is "self-directed studies" (recess or unstructured study time to most people). His reading skills today (at 13) is pretty good to me and he is working on Saxon math almost at his grade level (few weeks behind the 8th grade level and rapidly catching up).

As I have blogged before, I was stressed out taking 2 schools at once (American and Japanese) such that when Japanese school was dropped, I felt so much relief [and my grades improved, too]. Seeing my sons grow rather freely yet still have basic reading and writing skills gives me reassurance that they are doing just fine. I don't need them tested to see where they are "placed" since such placement pegs them in a linear way [much like IQ tests] rather than as an individual with unique skills and learning abilities.

And I'm not afraid to learn new things with them, as we do it together: In fact, this week, we started boogie boarding: bought wet suits [Pacific water is cold all year around in SoCal] and boards for us guys [my sons and I] and went twice but I had a blast! Here I'm 42 and out of shape, so I didn't last in the ocean as my sons [they kept going for 1+ hours while I had to take several brakes]. In fact, the first day, I had to learn how to breath and not swallow salt water (grin). I did ride a wave all the way to the sandy beach so that was fun [my sons did so several times].

Over the next few months, I look forward to snow activity [at least skiing, if not snowboarding] and backpacking opportunities with my sons. Meanwhile, for today, I have to wait for the movers to arrive with our containers [we were suppose to unload yesterday but the containers aren't here yet].

Copyright 2006, DannyHSDad, All Rights Reserved.


Peak Oil unbelievers

I'm amazed to see people who spout "peak oil" and claim that oil will hit, say, $150/barrel 5 years from now. Well, if you look at the oil futures, you can buy oil futures of December 2011 for $67.61. That's 122% return in 5 years. So, why aren't these believers buying all those futures up? [Or did they already buy and, like penny stock promoters, trying sell for a higher price?]


Money problems ahead

"‘Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke’: New book looks at how the ferocious bidding war for housing and education has quietly engulfed America’s suburbs"
"Going For Broke: Elizabeth Warren discusses how ordinary families wind up bankrupt and why new legislation could be hurting those at risk."
and the "neutron bomb" of the 21st century:
"Nightmare Mortgages: They promise the American Dream: A home of your own -- with ultra-low rates and payments anyone can afford. Now, the trap has sprung"

In summary, the American greed made 2 income necessary such that if one person loses a job, the house of cards comes apart and the couple ends up bankruptcy. And Warren argues that the current legislation makes everything worse but if you ask me, "you break it, you fix it" -- these people are not children and they need to take responsibility for what they got themselves into. And if they bought into the Real Estate Bubble with option ARM loan, they are in for a big surprise!

Copyright 2006, DannyHSDad, All Rights Reserved.