We Have Computer Education but No Automotive Education? What Is Up With That?

I had an entry last month about how I think that computers should have a very limited role in schools. I want to go off on sort of a tangent of that and ask the question, “Why don’t we have mandatory automotive shop class in schools? Why doesn’t each and every student have a basic understanding of how a car works by the time they get out of high school?”

I mean, we all use cars just as much as we use computers. They’re just as big a part of our lives as computers are. Most every American adult has one. They’re even the second-biggest purchase (after a house) that we make in our lives. So why don’t we know how they work?

I was twenty, TWENTY, years old before I knew the difference between a carburetor, an alternator, and a distributor. I also didn’t know the difference between gas and diesel, that brakes and power steering systems used fluid, and that car axles weren’t just straight metal rods that connected two wheels like in the cartoons. And those were things I could’ve learned in ten minutes! I had a drivers license since I was 16, but I bought my first car without even test-driving it, much less looking under the hood!

We spend thousands of dollars on laptops for kids, while an automotive course requires a battered car that a school could get for $500. $300? Free?

Car stuff is knowledge that all our students could use, male and female, yet it is being withheld from them in the name of “electives.” Why is a course in basic automotive mechanics an elective while computers are brought in for every high school English class? Why do we insist that kindergardeners know how to type but leave the exploration of cars to those only those who are self-motivated? Again, cars are just a big a part of our lives as computers are!

The result of this is a generation who buys cars for looks rather then fuel mileage or parts availability, and chooses to pay the 70-100% (!) markup on parts that their garage charges them (which they do) for things like brakes. Brakes! You know when you need brakes, so why not just go down to an auto parts store and buy your own brakes? They have parts catalogs there to help you find what you need and everything!

And we blow fuel efficiency way out of proportion. This article from the LA Times critiques the new Honda Insight, priced at around $18,000. A comparable car, the Nissan Versa for example, costs $9,999, but is not a hybrid. At today’s gas prices, the Insight is estimated to save you about $315/year in gas over the Versa. When will this make up the $9000 price gap? In about 31 years. The I can almost guarantee that it will be cheaper to fix the Versa as well! Good fuel economy is something to consider, but not something on which to hang a horrible financial decision.

I think that good education about cars and how they work, even if it's a single course in high school, can help a lot of these problems and help the coming generation make increasingly smarter decisions about buying and maintaining a car. As cars become increasingly more sophisticated and engine diagnostic equipment becomes cheaper and cheaper, it will be easier and easier to solve your own car problems. Hopefully we can take full advantage of that when the time comes.


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My Experience with Non-Religiousness, aka Atheism

I read this article today about new research that claims that 15% of the American population is non-religious, and how the current public perception of the non-religious/atheist does not reflect that number. I guess a lot of people think that atheists are blood drinking baby killers of something along those lines, when that is not always the case. Oops, I guess I just proved their point.

But really, it’s appalling to think of all the people who think that atheists are somehow subhuman or something like that. The atheists that I’ve met (which, granted, are not many) have all been very nice and pleasant people. We just have radically different views on religion. They may think that my views are irrational and I may think that their beliefs are extremely, if not painfully, susceptible to subjectivity, but that’s where you talk through differences and debate points. Sometimes, however, I have the upper hand.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on atheist beliefs (if there can even be such a person), but I haven’t always been a Christian either. I was ambivalent about religion until I was about 16 or so, and after that I had a two year or so stint of living with no consideration for religion whatsoever. I lived however I felt best. This was really liberating at first, but as time went on I became more and more depressed with each bad decision I made. Soon I was about to turn 18, and I had a whole host of options available to me about what to do with my future. Should I go to college? Where? Should I work? Where? Should I stay In Japan? What did I want to do with my life? Should I go overseas? All of these questions came crashing down on me, and I broke down. I couldn’t handle the reality of potentially making a bad choice and being unhappy for the rest of my life. I had enough trouble choosing my high school classes. How could I be expected to run my own life? I needed answers. I needed a purpose.

And this I feel is where atheism doesn’t, or indeed, can’t, help. It has no compass. It is humanistic. ‘Do whatever you feel is best,’ it says. ‘Try not to be a jackass, but as long as you do what is best for you, that should be good for others as well,” is what I feel is the overarching message. It has no roots, no baseline standards. And that makes it scary for people who don’t understand it. Atheists that I know turned to atheism out of a disdain for religion - not because they thought it was a good idea. They didn’t sit down in their local library, pull out the Big Book of Atheism and say, “Hey, this sounds like a good way to live!”

When you have a non-religion that teaches that you should live your life the best way you know how, you get a different flavor of atheism for each follower. And this, I think, is what scares people most.

Coming back to my own story for a minute, I turned to Christianity when I felt like I truly had no more options left. I was unwilling to make choices about my future out of fear of failure, and nothing inside me could point me in a better direction. If I hadn’t accepted Christ, I have no doubt that I would’ve been dead in six months. I would have found the easiest way out of my situation, regardless who who it hurt, because that is what I felt would’ve been best for me.

Instead I chose the seemingly paradoxical option of turning my life over to God so that I could live more freely. I submitted to God’s will for my life so that I could pursue it wholeheartedly, with faith that God would show me what it is. After all, He did make me, so I think he knows how best to use me in the world.

I wonder how many atheists know what their purpose in the world is?


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Your Music Library Should Say Something About You!

If you have a computer at work or school that runs iTunes, chances are you’ve loaded some music onto it. And if that computer is connected to a local area network (LAN), then you most likely have also shared music across computers. Music sharing is a handy feature that iTunes has had since version 4, and it allows everyone who wishes to share their music across a network to do so as well as access other peoples’ music libraries that are shared. You can listen to shared music but can’t copy it, lest Apple be sued for facilitating copyright infringement or something like that. And in a world where our music libraries typically span several gigabytes, what you choose to include in your music selection can say a lot about you.

It’s a fun game you can play in your dorm; trying to tell what people are like based on their music tastes. As you browse through a shared library you note certain bands or musical genres and make personality judgements based on them.

“Hmm, this girl likes a lot of indie pop. She probably dresses a certain indie pop way and claims to be independent.” Or, “Look at all of the speed metal that this guy has. I bet he owns that motorcycle out front and goes paintballing on the weekends!”

If you can be judged by the music you listen to, it only makes sense that having more music - adding more bands to your library - can only add more facets to who you are as a person. Or so one would think.

But is this true? I don’t think it is, and I’ll tell you why. Having an extensive record collection used to say something about you back when it cost you something. When you had to buy each and every CD you owned, buying a CD to enhance your perceived image meant giving up some money - and you assumed that you gained some value from that purchase. If I was going to buy a CD like Back in Black, chances are that I either enjoyed AC/DC immensely or wanted to be known as a raucous party guy who loved to have fun. Probably both, actually. But, now, when music can be downloaded for free, does having an extensive library mean as much, or even anything at all? If I downloaded Back in Black, does that mean I have the same values as someone who bought the disc? I don’t think it does. Granted, there are many reasons for owning a particular piece of music, but just owning it does say something about you. Take a look at the picture below, a screenshot of the results, ordered by number of people who want them, of the word “discography” typed into The Pirate Bay, a popular destination for illegal music swapping.

(click to enlarge)

The total amount of music on this first page alone totals to roughly 92.448GB (yes, I checked), or about 3.08GB per artist. I have a mere 19.5GB of music on my laptop, and yet that already totals to 9.6 days of music. Imagine how long 92GB would take to listen to! And that’s just 30 artists! My music library includes 257!

The point is that when anybody can get that much music for free, having an extensive music library that takes someone a full minute or so to scroll through doesn’t really say much about you other than you like to pirate music. There’s no set pattern of tastes; no established ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ of artists. Based on that screenshot, what type of music would you recommend to that user? Certainly no techno, classical, or easy listening. And this guy has classic acts like The Doors, The Beatles, ZZ Top, and Bob Marley, yet still listens to Metallica, P.O.D, RATM, Slipknot, Tool and Papa Roach? Really? And Kelly Clarkson?? What is that!? A guilty pleasure? Should I recommend Christina Aguilera (whose last name my spellcheck recommends I change to “Uglier”) based on that taste? And I like both Depeche Mode and Rush. Do I try to find common ground based on these bands, or did the guy download them just for looks as well? Because when music becomes free, it becomes really hard to tell what someone likes and dislikes. They might just have a few bands so they can say, “Yeah, I listen to them too.” I have totally been guilty of this.

In the past, having a huge record collection meant, more often than not, that you really cared about music and spent a lot of time listening to what you bought. Now it just means you know where to find The Pirate Bay and how to run a torrent client.

So now it seems the opposite is true. Being able to pick and choose what you listen to, to weed out the stuff that you downloaded “just for looks”, helps you present a cohesive music library that actually says something about what you like and don’t like. Having a lot of music actually says less about you.

So what do yo think? Should people take the time to go through their iTunes and eliminate music that they don’t listen to? Or is it just more fun to have a huge library at your disposal?


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