Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rose Renekamp: Give math a chance

What was your least favorite subject in school? Almost four in 10 adults responding to a recent AP-AOL News poll identified math as their least favorite subject. That's unfortunate. But what's worse is that we may be passing our aversion to math on down to our children. Fewer than half of 2005 high school graduates who took the ACT college admissions test are ready for first year college algebra classes.

That decline is evident with ACT test-takers. Over the past 10 years, among students who responded to a question about their plans for a college major, fewer students each year expressed interest in engineering and related technical fields.

And this students results are typical because of it.

Clutching the shredded tatters of my pride and dignity, I trudged to the office hours of my math instructor every week, seeking an explanation for the increasingly mysterious problems in the textbook. My instructor welcomed my presence as she would welcome the Angel of Death. Irritated? She was terrified. Explain…the problems? Articulate…the steps? Relate…the concepts? I would ask questions, and she would respond by completing yet another sample problem as fast as she possibly could, blushing nervously. I felt like I was on a Star Trek episode. "Captain, I think I understand…the creature communicates through multivariable calculus problems!"

We are growing fewer and fewer engineers and scientists and doctors here at home and it will be taking a big toll on us in the near future.

I know that there are weeder courses and such but with more and more students needing to take remedial classes in college more and more will just take an easier route.

Sure engineering is hard work, but we should not make it almost impossible to get started.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Our Colleges and Universities seem to have a problem...

University presidents have lost their dignity.
Where the Boys Aren't
Where Have All the Young Men Gone?
Correcting the gender imbalance problem.

The problem is that for every 135 female students who graduate, only 100 male student graduate.

Is this a problem? Maybe, there are still an awful lot of guys in the science and engineering fields, but everywhere else; forget it. Some of the commentary on fixing the "problem" is rather enlightening.

Do I think this is a problem? I don't think so. I think too often that a degree is used as a test to see if you have the patience and organization to deal with a lot of stuff not all of which is good or useful. Instead of being able to give applicants tests to see if they can do the work, which is illegal in most states, Companies just have to require a degree of some kind that does the same thing but costs the applicant far more.

I see plenty of people getting good jobs without the need or cost of a degree, they just find the people that need their talents and talk to them. Otherwise called networking.

Can I afford to be a stay-at-home mom?

At base, it’s a matter of being disciplined. Here are the basic areas of your life you can look at in order to free up some cash:

She provides a fairly basic list of things you can do. Most people have heard of these already, so I won't bother repeating them hear.

The thing of it is is that it all comes down to math. Can you make a budget and stick to it? All it takes is basic math skills and everyone should have them.

A basic budget only really needs addition and subtraction:
Add together all your sources of income.
Add together all your bills.
Subtract the two and if the answer is negative then you have a problem and need to go through you bills to see where you can spend less.

The biggest problem with creating a budget is that most people I have talked to would rather not know their current financial state. they prefer that its somewhat nebulous. Maybe a its just a case of ignorance is bliss. But you can't be saved in ignorance, you have got to know for yourself.

Public Education's Coming Collapse

It has been said that one can build a crooked house on a strong foundation, and the house will stand. Conversely, one can build a well-crafted house on a substandard foundation, and the house will fall. Consider public schooling in America, for it is doubly flawed – a crooked structure atop a crumbling foundation – and its collapse is inevitable. The flaws are too many; reform is a pipedream; gravity is a force too powerful to be resisted.

This is a Special Ed teacher talking about the public schools.

Rather scary.

A marvelous explanation of math illiteracy

So you can grasp the grinding illiteracy found among New York Times ed writers, let’s make sure you understand how these numbers work. For example, how well did Wake County black fifth-graders do on last spring’s reading test? According to the state’s official results, 88 percent of Wake’s black students tested “proficient” on the state test. But then, 83 of black fifth graders tested “proficient” on this same test statewide! In short, the large majority of fifth-graders—black, white and brown—tested “proficient” all over the state! But you never learn that in Finder’s piece. Instead, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling about Wake’s score gains—score gains which Finder attributes to a particular aspect of Wake’s educational program.

Math education in our school is so bad that this is not at all unusual. Remember yesterday's post where they were crowing over the fact that 88% of the school was failing.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Why Johnny can't calculate

Only 11% of L.A. Unified's eighth-graders scored "proficient" or "advanced" in algebra I on the 2005 state standards exam, compared to 34% statewide. The corresponding percentages within the LAUSD for 10th-grade geometry and 11th-grade algebra II are 5% and 4%, respectively, about one-third the pass rates statewide.

Only a third of the students in the whole state can do math.
That's so bad it isn't even failing. That's definitely Troll grade.

Why on earth is this so bad?

LAUSD teachers and math coaches are wrongly instructed not to use time-tested, standard methods of arithmetic. High school teachers are steered away from conventional and powerful techniques in algebra and directed to use unreliable "guess and check" methods and physical objects instead. Even elementary school teachers are discouraged from following their high-quality state-approved math books and from teaching the best methods of calculation, the standard algorithms of arithmetic.

Confirming our own observations, the head of one of the stronger LAUSD high school math departments lamented: "The mandatory 40-hour algebra training was worthless. We had to teach the trainers how to do algebra … the people in charge of making final decisions on math [in the LAUSD] don't know math!"

This is just sad but it isn't any great surprise, is it? Students haven't been good at math for a very long time, and now they at getting jobs. Why would they be good at math now?

And it isn't as though algebra is hard, all it is is the general form or arithmetic. It is just all those rules like communitive property and distributive property that allows you to move things around so you can find the answers to the things you don't know.

So many people complain that they never use algebra in real life. We use it all the time, we just don't realize that we are doing several steps in our head to make it easier. For example if we are doing a budget we all start out knowing the answer: how much money we can spend? Then we divvy it up by known costs, e.g. mortgage payments, and some semi-knowns like the telephone bill, and unknowns like new tires for the car.

We have to use algebra to figure those things out. But we don't even think about it as algebra because we do it all the time without thought.

Dad Arrested trying to find out what the school will teach in kindergarten

While the trial of a Massachusetts parent arrested while attempting to secure a promise from school officials to notify parents before teaching about homosexuality in his son's kindergarten class has been postponed until next month, the school district is taking a hard line against such notification.

Not only are schools NOT going to tell you what they are teaching your children and will arrest you if you try to find out.

So much for fostering parental participation.

So many of the teachers that I have met complain about a lack of parental participation, but for so long it has been once a year optional Parent Teacher meetings, that is is obvious that teachers don't really care about the parents.

Schools are scared of parents homeschooling, but if you have ever helped you children with homework, you have homeschooled. So what are they really afraid of? The lose of government funds. But will we ever see that money come back from our taxes, of course not.

Friday, September 23, 2005

NOAA Ocean Explorer

If your children have an interest in the ocean you can go exploring from home with videos and slide shows from all kinds of interesting and exciting places around the world.

They even have curriculum and 165 lesson plans that have done the work for you.

This is a great resource.

Education should be more focused on employment

"I'm not saying that business wants to write the curriculum but, at a time when globalisation provides both a challenge and an opportunity, it does want to spell out what it needs.

"It needs the right attitudes and basic skills, meaningful qualifications, specialized science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills and creative thinking that will help it meet the ever changing demands of the global economy.

"Education and business should form a compact with schools and employers coming together to produce highly employable young people. This could be the real magic bullet to make our education system work.

It isn't as if this hasn't been done before. The old vocational school or School-To-Work programs are much the same as this. The real problem is that the nature of work has changed. We are no longer working in factories where you can become specialized in a particular and mostly mindless task and get paid enough to live a middle class lifestyle. Jobs like that are getting automated away.

Employers want people who they can just plug into their business and let them run from the start, there is no time for a learning curve as they need to see results today so they can show stockholder value, and not be laid off themselves.

The education for a typical job is usually not very demanding, but what you need to know often has little to do with the job description. Just look at the advice from Danger Quicksand - Have A Nice Day.

Calspace Distance Learning Courses

The University of California, San Diego has a few very interesting courses online: Climate Change, Astronomy and Life in the Universe.

It is rather refreshing to have a rational discussion on Climate Change that doesn't blame the humans for everything. Especially in light of the Mars observations that show that the polar caps there are also getting smaller and there are no people on Mars. Looks like the Sun is the big effect there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

How to use metaphors to explain complex ideas.

Interestingly, we see this phenomenon extremely often in the works of the popularizers of difficult complex scientific theories. A number of works by well-known authors such as Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins or Isaac Asimov are simply replete with metaphors in which complex topics from areas as diverse as quantum mechanics, genetics and chemical interactions are explained by comparisons to more mundane topics much more likely to have been experienced by the audience than the erudite musings or laboratory rituals of the acolytes of those arcane arts.

You need only to associate the complex thing with something that is familiar to your audience.

If your children are familiar with cats then describing a tiger is easy by calling it a big cat.

One of the big things you need to do is to expose you children to lots of different peoples, ideas, places, things, and activities. That way they can form more associations and connections in their brains and so develop further.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Young children understand math

In one experiment, the children saw 13 blue dots on a computer screen; those were covered, and then they saw 17 blue dots and were forced to keep the running tally in their heads. Then they were shown 50 red dots and asked whether there were more blue dots or red dots.

Presented this way, the children answered correctly about two-thirds of the time that there were more red dots than blue dots.

This is significant, since if they were just guessing they would get it right only half of the time.

This is a part of my How To Teach Your Child to Count and Use Numbers book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Evaluating Learning Styles

There's no such thing as a "good" learning style or a "bad" learning style. Success comes with many different learning styles. There is no "right" approach to learning. We all have our own particular way of learning new information. The important thing is to be aware of the nature of your learning style. If you are aware of how your brain best learns, you have a better chance of studying in a way that will pay off when it's time to take that dreaded exam.

As a parent you need to understand the basics of the various learning styles that everyone had. You and your children don't actually learn using just one of these styles, they exist in combinations within you and may change from topic to topic and over time. Such one of them might be predominate but obviously you are not going to learn how to build an arch just be listening to a lecture, you will have to go out and build one at some point.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Winnie the Pooh, Scientist

We are reading Winnie the Pooh, and when he is rhyming about fir cones, he trips and falls and the fir cone falls into the river.

"Bother," said Pooh, as it floated slowly under the bridge, and he went back to get another fir-cone which had a rhyme to it. But then he thought that he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day, s he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped slowly away beneath him... and suddenly, there was his fir-cone slipping away too.

"That's funny," said Pooh. "I dropped it on the other side," said Pooh, "and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?" And he went back for some more fir-cones.

It did. It kept doing it."

More scientific breakthroughs have occurred because someone said, "That's funny," then anything else.

This is an excellent summary of the scientific method. You notice something happened, you wonder why it happened, you wonder if you can make it happen again, and you try making it happen again.

All children start out as little scientists they watch what Mommy and Daddy do and they figure out how to do it themselves. We seem to lose that amazing skill far too early, but you can keep it going.

One of the big skills your children need to learn is the power of observation. They need to be able to really see what is happening around them. Games like Concentration and I Spy... are really good at that. Video games can do this but often it is not brought into the real world and that is a pity.

It is that ability that marks the difference between man and beast. We can see something happening and react to it before it happens the next time.

Fruit has been falling off of trees for a very long time, and the Moon has light up the sky for even longer, but it took until the 18th Century went Isaac Newton finally noticed that while apples fall off trees, the Moon hangs in the sky. He basically said to himself, "That's funny, this apple that just hit me falls down, but yet the Moon hasn't fallen down. I wonder why?" Answering that question consumed a number of years of his life but our modern world has depended on his answering just that question.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Starting on Backyard filmmaking

Producing a film or a record once took rooms of expensive equipment and armies of technicians. Getting the finished product to the public required billions of dollars in infrastructure--theaters, stores, radio and TV stations. Now you can make a movie or an album at home, cheaply. I know--I've done both. As for distribution? Just hit Enter.

Video is a great medium of art to learn.

I've done it, too. My wife and I made a little "How to Bake Bread at High Altitude" video. We did it in about 8 hours. That said it wasn't all that easy and it needed more time and skill then we really had.

But you children have quite a bit more time. Movie making can be a really good skill to have. A simple How-To video can make a big difference for lots of people.

There are several skills to learn actually and you would want to focus on them separately. How to videos are really great to start with, they only have to last half an hour and can be very easy to make.

The first thing to do is get familiar with the equipment. What you are filming is of secondary importance, s stick with something easy and short, like how to tie a shoelace. This is harder then it looks, but this is for practice. It isn't tying the shoe that is important it is things like framing the shot so you get the detail you want, getting the lighting right and capturing the right sounds. You are trying to figure out how to use the lights, camera and editing equipment to tell a story.

Telling the story is the important part. A story has three basic parts:
The Beginning: Introducing who and where the story is about.
The Middle: The problem to overcome.
The End: Solving the problem.
Okay that is extremely simple but that is all you need for now.

The first one will be terrible, that's okay, like everything: practice makes perfect. You will need to do this until you are reasonably happy with the result. Then you can do something more challenging.

The next level to to have a few actors, for example a short scene from Hamlet. The focus here is on the sound, capturing their voices (or learning to do voice-overs) and directing people to do something particular.

With time and persistent effort your children can gain the skills to do any video job. Start small, focus on just one aspect and learn how to do it right and then learn another skill.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Outsourcing Tutoring

Needless to say, critics have been vocal in their opposition to the offshoring, noting that the industry has few standards and employees are not closely monitored. Sensitive to such charges, online tutoring firms in the US have adopted several approaches; uses only instructors based in North America, while rival SmarThinking has employees in South Africa, the Philippines, India, and Chile, but ensures that only tutors in the United States provide English lessons.

However, online tutoring, according to its advocates, has the advantage of eliminating factors such as skin color and appearance. SmarThinking's chief executive and co-founder, Burck Smith, claims that the Internet makes online tutoring "more egalitarian than most classrooms." With distance learning, students in rural areas who may not have ready access to qualified teachers can now receive instruction online. Parents and students who use such services are also aware of the savings; the Marinaros say that Growing Stars costs a third of what they were paying an in-home tutor.

Nothing is safe from outsourcing. The Web is a powerful tool. It can be used for education. And this is another way to help your children.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Back to School, Thinking Globally

The United States can still prosper in a world where its labor costs are higher than the competition's, but it cannot do that if the cheaper workers abroad are also better educated. Business leaders who have firsthand experience with this problem warn that this country could become a third-rate economic power unless it radically remakes its schools. But the education community is in deep denial. American educators typically respond with yawns - and a series of myths. The most common is that Europeans educate only the elite, while this nation educates everybody. That hasn't been true since the early 20th century. Comparisons show that the rest of the developed world does a better job educating students of all economic backgrounds.

A second myth - that America's white elite children compare favorably with those abroad - is also false. In the most recent international data, comparing students in the top 5 percent in terms of achievement, the United States ranks 23rd out of 29. The third and most common myth - that the nations who do better than us are "homogenous" societies - is also not true. Immigration has transformed much of Europe, as it has the United States.

Objectively speaking, our schools are not doing very well at all.

They also say that you get out what you put in, well when you are doing all the work at home just to make sure you children learn what they are supposed to be learning in school, why not do it yourself. Well, if school is really just babysitting and education is not an issue then schools seem to be doing a good job of that.

Monday, September 05, 2005

How seriously do you take education?

Up to 80 per cent of schoolgirls in Liberia's capital are selling sex to pay for an education they see as their only escape from poverty, an international charity says.

This is a terrible thing that they feel that they have to do, my spirit cries for them.

These girls do understand one thing very well, if they have a good education, they can get out of there, if they survive.

It is quite literally the difference between scratching out an existence in utter poverty or getting out of there. While the contrast is not so strong yet, here in the US, you don't want to get locked in a dead-end job at the low-end flipping burgers or stocking at the supermarket. Once you have an apartment to live in, and utilities to make living in the apartment worthwhile and a car to get around in, your looking at about $1500/month not even counting startup costs of security deposits and the like which would cost at least another $1500.

There is a lot to be said for having an education. A good job, a good home, a good car, the ability to leave a town threatened by natural disaster, having extra supplies for emergencies. A choice, freedom.

The future of work will be constant, fast-moving change, already the average person changes careers 4 times in their lives, or about every 7 years. It will only get faster.

How serious are you about your children's education?

Collages for pre-calculus class

My niece started her junior year at a highly rated California high school. For her honors pre-calculus class, she was assigned to do a collage about herself. My sister thinks 11th grade is time enough to stop doing time-wasting -- and mathless -- art projects. "It's a math class!" she said. "Why aren't they doing math?"

The teachers of today sure are working hard at getting these students ready for the modern world of tomorrow.

This is just nuts. While art is a fundamental language to learn, it is inappropriate to math class and is stealing the future of these students. I know there are good math teachers out there. One of my friends was teaching at the local high school, a former engineer was just "not renewed" for this year so he is looking for work again. Now I know what they replaced him with. 20 years ago most of the math teachers in my school also coached one of the sports teams I think that was a good idea, but now sports are almost all gone.

Wherever your precious children are schooled make sure they learn to English and Math. If you don't, it doesn't look like anyone else will.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned

There are lessons to be learned from Katrina as well as from any disaster. More will come to light.

There were plenty of good and bad calls made in this disaster. If I was a mayor or governor I would add a couple of things to the list. If there is warning enough for a Mandatory Evacuation I would use all school buses, and other government passenger carrying vehicles to get as many out as possible, generally following established school bus routes for easy of planning. Also I would want to try to move as much heavy equipment (bulldozers particularly) and not just city owned, into safe areas that would be staging grounds to clearing the roads.

If a Mandatory Evacuation order is issued: Go.
Personal and Family Defenses are no longer optional.
Keep the tank 1/2 full or more always, I've been lax on that lately, in any case it should make the pump shock less.

Review local potential disasters yearly or so. Here in Northern Colorado we have a few major things:
Blizzards, we lived through the October Blizzard of 1997 everything was shutdown for a week. Evaluation: Very Likely Stay and play type disaster, usually have some warning (sometimes inadequate, like then) keep at least a 2 week supply of food on hand. Utilities usually okay except for electricity (usually).

Wild Fires, they were bad a couple of years ago when the drought was in full swing, we could see 4 in our county, In Utah a few years before we could see fires in every direction. Evaluation: Likely Scoop and run. Keep computers backed up, keep important and precious documents grab box updated.

Tornados: We are on the edge of tornado country. Evaluation: Likely, Stay and Play, pick up the pieces afterwards, put computer backups, important and precious documents and items in basement, keep updated.

Flash Floods, took out several homes a few years ago on the far side of town. Evaluation: Unlikely Scoop and Run. very small threat in our neighborhood.

CDC laboratory. Studies mad cow, chronic wasting disease and bubonic plague. Evaluation: Unlikely Scoop and Run but maybe ordered to stay and play. Should get more duct tape.

Budweiser Plant: Largest Ammonia Based Refrigeration system in country. Evaluation Unlikely Scoop and Run but maybe ordered to stay and play. Should get more duct tape.

Nuclear Waste Transporters on Interstate: Midlevel waste being moved from Idaho and others to New Mexico. Evaluation Unlikely Scoop and Run but maybe ordered to stay and play. Should get more duct tape.

I also think I need to create a Walk Away Bag. A simple light-weight 72 hour kit for the family that we use to walk out of the disaster area with. If we are surprised by a devastating disaster like a tornado or flood, we may have to walk out of the devastated area as all the roads are blocked covered with debris and walking is the only option. It only needs to last 3 days to allow you to walk out of the devastated area. This might not work too well if there is a supervolcano or giant meteorite but it will help and those are not too likely. My wife and I are not in the best of shape due to our injuries so lightness is more important to us you can add more if you want.

What should a Walk Away Bag have?
It should be a backpack with everything in plastic bags, the emphasis is on lightness. I am assuming a walk of up to 50 miles across a terrain of roads covered with debris.
Water is the highest priority, while I would want a gallon for each of us for 3 days that would be 72 pounds and not something we can do. So a couple of 2 liter bottles of water plus a water filter to purify water along the way. Plus a bandana to pre-filter the water.
Food is good to have but we'll survive without a lot of it, a box of energy bars will due just fine to keep us going.
Map and compass. A tornado can totally clean out a neighborhood, with nothing but the streets and foundations left, finding your way is more difficult so a good map will help and will show rivers, lakes and reservoirs where water can be obtained.
A small transistor radio with a speaker so everyone can hear the news and find out what happened and where to go.
A flashlight, preferably an LED one that lets the batteries last forever, but a MiniMaglite is fine too.
A pair of sturdy shoes and socks.
Tent, Poncho or tarp to make a shelter with.
First aid kit: Insect repellant, Vicks Vapor Rub (rub under nose to reduce rotting smells), small variety box bandaids, 1 box medium feminine hygiene pads (use as big bandages), 2 ace bandages to hold pads in place.
Toddler Add-on: 1 package diapers and wipes. Teddy bear or blanket.
Winter Add-on: Coat, heavy pants, sweater or sweatshirt.
Copies of Important Documents and computer backups (store in plastic as should everything in here should be)

If you have anything else to add in the way of lessons learned please add them to the comments.

Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts

One of the biggest problems that I have seen from the news reports about relief efforts on the Gulf Coast has been that all the reporters were at the center of the devastation at New Orleans, which just happened to be the furthest point from help. It of course will take the longest to get there since it looks like they had to clear the trees off of the road first.

I remember the effects of Hurricane Gloria back in New York, many trees were dropped in some areas and that slowed relief operations to a crawl, as two guys with chainsaws and a towtruck cut through the trees and dragged them out of the way. That can take half an hour per tree. How many trees are along the side of the road between you and the nearest Interstate or supermarket or church?

Our local church is organizing an effort to make Hygiene Kits to replenish the supply depleted by Katrina. Just a few per family, but with over hundreds and thousands of families that makes a big difference.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Fantasy Football and Mathematics

This is a great idea. If you have children in High School, and you are not quite sure about their math skills, and they are interested in Fantasy Football, this could be just the thing.

Remember, if someone is interested in a subject they will retain 10 times or more of the material then if they are bored with it.

Scientific Savvy? In U.S., Not Much

One of the objections I hear to homeschooling is that a parent cannot possibly provide as good a science education as that of a good high school. Sadly, most high school graduates end up not knowing much about math and science. They take Algebra because its required but never go on to calculus. They'd rather take the easy-A courses rather then more challenging classes like physics, chemistry and biology.

Dr. Miller's data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.
"Our best university graduates are world-class by any definition," he said. "But the second half of our high school population - it's an embarrassment. We have left behind a lot of people."

Another objection is that school teachers are trained to teach science.

"This country cannot finance good school systems on property taxes," he said. "We don't get the best people for teaching because we pay so little. For people in the sciences particularly, if you have some skill, the job market is so good that teaching is not competitive."

My wife majored in Elementary Education and I helped her a lot on her science lessons most of what she had been given was watered-down so much it came out wrong. Most teachers don't have scientifically literate spouses, so the average student is not going to get all that great an education.

If you are homeschooling, you care about you children. You care so much that you are going to learn science so that you can pass it along to your children. You care more deeply about your child then anything and that will make you a better teacher then anyone.

More on Emergency Perparation

You can only prepare before something happens, once it is happening it is too late.

If you are considering a generator Slate has a great starter article.

New York City has more information on creating a Go Bag.

And finally the Red Cross has information on creating a Disaster Supplies Kit.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Getting ready for the next disaster

I feel the need to post this after Hurricane Katrina. There has been a lot of loss of life and chaos after the destruction of New Orleans and surrounding areas. It may have been minimized if people had thought ahead, but sadly most people don't. It always happens to somebody else. The Ice Storm of 1998 in the Northeast were so bad it was two weeks before they could get most of the roads open enough for food deliveries. The Blizzard of 1997 in Colorado was so bad that cows died on their feet and many placed never got plowed until it thawed on its own. The Mississippi flooded huge areas in 2001 and that was as bad as Katrina is today. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake did massive damage to roads and bridges trapping many people at home. It happens everywhere.

The first thing is to set up a communications plan.

If you are like most people the family spends half the day apart, spread between work, school, shopping and home. How will you get in contact in case of disaster?

First thing make a list of all the phone numbers everyone has. Cell phone and land line of your family and friends. and where they usually are: home, work, school, church, hangouts.

Add phone numbers of insurance agents, utility companies, local police and fire and hospital other than 911, credit card companies, mortgage company, banks, real estate agent, personal ecclesiastical leader/priest/bishop/rabbi/imam, Red cross, fema, and local, state and federal government, poison control, dial a nurse.

A list of medicines taken by, and medical conditions of, everyone in the family. Fold the paper so that this is on top, medical personal tend to go through wallets for ID, medical data and emergency contact info.

Make several copies. Make sure at least one is in everyone's wallet/purse, if you have a cell phone make sure it has all those numbers programmed into it too.

It is important to set up an out of state contact person, in most cases local lines will be overwhelmed/reserved for police/fire/rescue personal but long distance is often fine. So while no one can call into the disaster area, people can often call out of it. Everyone calls into that long distance number to check in. At the very least set up a free blogspot webpage and use that to communicate.

An accurate diagnosis is half the cure
-any doctor.

You need to get a good idea of what disasters are likely in your area. Your local fire dept or FEMA office can help you out there if you are not sure.

The major disasters that are out there are:
Wild Fire

Disasters come in two basis types:
Stay and play
Scoop and run

Stay and Play Disasters

Stay and play are ones that can often happen without warning, like earthquakes and tornados. They are "come as you are" disasters and you need to have a few things on hand.

While the government recommends having 3 days of food and water at hand plus a flashlight, radio and first aid kit. And more often then not it takes the government 3 days to get started dealing with the problem. I have seen plenty of cases where it took a lot longer to get things working again. Most often it seems to take about 2 weeks to get help everywhere it is needed.

* A two week supply of food, canned is best since if it gets wet it is no problem, just make sure to have several can openers on hand.
* Water is vital to life, you need at least 1 gallon per person per day. A typical family of four needs 56 gallons of water for 2 weeks. I fear the New Orleans will begin having outbreaks of various water borne diseases like cholera in the next few days. So a good safe sealed water supply is important.
* Fuel is good, if you have a gas grill an extra bottle of propane lasts a long time, so you can heat food if you want and boil water if you must.
* Flashlights. Electricity always seems to go out so at least one flashlight per family member and extra batteries are important. I would recommend LED flashlights since they let the batteries last a lot longer (100+ hours) then regular flashlights (10+ hours).
* Radio. You do need to get some information about what is happening and often telephone service is jammed due to everyone using it and officials generally make announcements fairly often and the news stations will cover it. A small transistor radio with a speaker so everyone can hear is good for information and entertainment.
* First Aid Kit, of course.

At work and school you would also want to cache a three day supply of food and water and a pair of sturdy shoes and socks, since most dress shoes are pretty bad for walking home in.

Scoop and Go Disasters

These often have warnings, like hurricanes and wild fires. These mean you can get ready to load up the car and have time to think about what you need to take with you.

If you have to evacuate you don't want to end up in a shelter. Find family or friends that live more them 100 miles away, few disasters affect an area bigger then 100 miles across. Things often will be normal there. Florida is a special case you need to get more then 100 miles once you're above the pan handle. The average car can usually travel about 400 miles on a full tank of gas. Gas up before it hits, and always try to keep a half tank of gas in the car at all times.

Having a predesignated place to evacuate too means that you could store a box of things like: spare eyeglasses, perscriptions from your doctor that you can fill later and copies of important documents stored in plastic bags to keep water out.

Scout out a 2-3 routes that do not use the interstate, most people don't make plans and so they use the first thing that comes to mind, the Interstate, which cannot handle a few million people on it all at the same time.

Make a checklist of things you need to take:
food (3 days of ready to eat food)
water (3 gallons per person)
important documents (mortgage, deeds, loans, insurance, etc)
precious family items (photos)
cash (there will be price gouging)
home inventory video (great for insurance reimbursement, just go through the house and open all the drawers/closets/cabinets describing what's inside, get serial numbers on electronics/computers too)
can opener/swiss army knife/multitool
flashlight and first aid kit
Feminine hygiene supplies
Baby care supplies (diapers, wipes, food)

This is a basic list of things you need. You are free to make modifications to fit your circumstances.

Be prepared, just do it now.

Do the math, or we'll keep falling for lies

More than 25 years ago, just as Proposition 13 was taking effect, I remember hearing then-Supervisor Rod Diridon Sr. boast how Santa Clara County had regularly decreased its tax rate, the amount it charged per $100 of property value. Sir Rod, selfless tax-cutter. What he didn't explain was that soaring property values -- many more $100 chunks -- had resulted in larger tax bills, not smaller. Multiplication as mystery.
``I think one-half of the adults in the U.S. cannot either read a graph or draw a graph,'' says Willow Glen High School math teacher Chuck Acampora. ``They're turned off because they don't understand the fundamental operations of math.''

I think he is being a little conservative, I think it is much worse then that. I was in a Honors class my first year in college and during the biology section the teacher put up a table that compared the amount of material in various cells of the body. Something like:
Skin: 6.1325
Liver: 6.431
Stomach: 6.362
Egg: 3.890
And most of the class was baffled by the Egg, some had a hard time with the fact that it had half the material of the other cells and other by the fact that it wasn't exactly half, they were stressing over the fact that in nanograms the difference was so large. The most significant digit was a concept that he had to teach most of the class.

Without a good understanding of what numbers can and cannot tell you, you are easy fodder to people who are willing to use numbers to confuse you. You cannot make good decisions in a confused state.

A good way to stay poor is to not have a good idea of what happens to your money over time.