November 17, 2009

A very interesting article recently appeared in our local newspaper (Chattanooga Times Free Press).  “UTC revamping math classes with a MATH MALL”.  Catchy title now let us look at some history.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a campus in the University of Tennessee Educational System of schools.  It has an annual enrollment of approximately 9,000 students, both undergraduate and graduate.   Chattanooga University was founded in 18886 and for 83 years was local and private.  In 1969, the university merged with the University of Tennessee.  UTC is a very important “player” in the life of the greater Chattanooga area and provides the tri-state region with a significant number of graduates populating the employment pool.  UTC had a very direct influence on VW during their process of selecting a “state-side” site for their North American assembly plant.  The factory is now under construction and will be operational in 2011.  There have been sixty-five thousand applicants for twelve hundred jobs.

Now, back to math.  The Times states that “math classes have become a major headache and turnoff for students at UTC”.  This information comes to us from a survey taken by the school with information volunteered by the students.   Students described “bad math teachers” and having to take remedial math courses over and over and over again.  “One student stated that she liked math, but would not major in anything related to math so that she would avoid UTC’s math department and professors”.

As a mechanical engineer, I had to have a minor in mathematics—we all did.  Thirty hours minimum and we struggled through the courses but felt we had earned our “red badge of courage” when we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.   I do remember that, with only one exception, all of my teachers were “old, white guys”, excellent math technicians, all PHDs, fairly humorless and for the most part, graded their own papers.  During those days I never saw a TA (teaching assistant not tits and ass).  There was this one fascinating lecture in which our professor proclaimed that the very best mathematicians had the following enviable characteristics:

  • Fearless
  • Immune to criticism
  • Had the largest waste basket with a verity of wadded papers representing a multitude of false-starts
  • No pencil with erasers

In other words, math is a contact sport.  You definitely learn by doing, not thinking about doing.  Trial and error but mostly error.  This is apparently what UTC recognized and in hopes of addressing their problem, they have authorized $360,000 dollars to develop an interactive “math mall” in which the students work at their own pace.  Just the student and the PC.  As a matter of fact, the PC would eventually replace the in-class teacher AND the math lecture.  The only personal interaction would be a tutor; available during all math sessions.  The school cites successes at the University of Alabama, The University of Mississippi, Virginia Tech, Cleveland State and several other notable universities.   Apparently, this is desperately needed because 50% of the entering freshmen are required to take remedial math courses.  Personally, I think this is absolutely appalling but I suppose it is a sign of the times.  In a country in which there are only 70,000 engineering graduates per year, as compared to China with 600,000 engineering graduates per year, there certainly must be something terribly wrong with our ability to keep the interest of students who might have even a partial interest of making a technical profession their individual aim.

Personally, I like the “old white guys”.


November 15, 2009

With so many individuals and families having such a difficult time right now, it’s hard to believe the amount of money our Congress is willing to spend to get reelected.   I know this first hand.  Our oldest son has been out of work for fourteen (14) months now.  He was in commercial real estate in Atlanta and I can tell you first hand–it is tough.  The company he worked for had an office in Atlanta.  They pulled out of the market when things got really tight and business dropped to virtually nothing.  He has a wife and three children and they all feel the pinch. 

In reading an article written by Brian M. Riedl, let’s review some of the “must-have” items Congress is willing to spend OUR money for.

  • Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal property.
  • Washington will spend $2.6 million training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million on rearranging desks and offices in it’s Washington headquarters.
  • The refusal of many federal employees to fly coach costs the government $146 million annually in flight upgrades.
  • The federal government owns more that 50,000 vacant houses.
  • Members of Congress have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supplying their offices with DVD recorders, ionic air fresheners, camcorders, popcorn machines, plasma televisions and signature signing machines.  Also, $24,730 leasing one Lexus, $1,434 for a digital camera and ( are  you ready for this one ) $84,000 on personal calendars.
  • $200,000 for tatoo removal in Mission Hills, California.
  • $190,000 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
  • $75,000 for the Totally Teen  Zone in Albany, Georgia.
  • Taxpayers are funding the costs of painting for high-ranking government officials at an average costs of $50,000 each.

In addition:

  • Washington spends $92 billion on corporate welfare.
  •  The Fed made $72 billion in payment errors in 2008–with pending corrections.
  • Federal auditors spent the last five years to find out that 22 percent of  the ongoing programs have absolutely no benefit to those they were designed to help.
  • The debt-ridden Post Office spent ( last year ) $13,500 on ONE dinner at Ruth’s Chris Stakehouse, including over 200 appetizers and over $3,000 on alcohol.  Eighty-on guests consumed an average of $187.00 of food each.

Is is not time “WE THE PEOPLE” demand better oversight.  Is it not time we have a “come to Jesus” meeting with these slugs, throw them all out and start over?  Could anyone do any worse than the bunch of criminals we have running the show right now.  Is it really too much to ask that, with a great many people suffering,   Congress act responsibly, do the adult thing, demand a reversal in the course and turn this around for the betterment of all.  How much longer should the average voter, tax payer, etc etc have to wait for some reform to the ridiculous spending habits of our “law makers”?


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