Photo of the day

Was totally excited that we had a beautiful clear day to see the partial solar eclipse yesterday.  The downside is that it did not last long at all before sunset hit in central, NC.  Also, was excited to discover this awesome website to help me figure out a good viewing location– the problem in this area is a good view of the horizon unblocked by trees. showed me that the eastern edge of Lake Crabtree was perfect.  Here’s where I watched yesterday.

Of course, other people figured that out, too, so despite nothing but a basic pinhole setup I got some great views from friendly people with great camera set-ups– one guy had an 800mm lens the size of my thigh.  Here’s the view  from his camera.



And here’s a great shot I found in a Flickr eclipse gallery:

Solar Eclipse October 2014

Solar Eclipse October 2014

There is no Ebola “crisis” in New York City

Let’s start with a prediction– not one additional American will contract Ebola because NYC doctor Craig Spencer has.  We are talking about a single person who has taken all the proper steps (he knows exactly what to do, he was working for Doctors without Borders in Africa) to prevent spreading infection.  Furthermore, whatever systemic mistakes led to the two nurse infections in Dallas, will likely be learned from.  Also, those two Dallas nurses are both on the road to recovery and it is now quite unlikely they have infected anyone else.  A single person with a not very communicable disease (it’s just not when proper precautions are taken) is not a crisis just because it is in New York City.  Now, Liberia, there’s a crisis for you (though I understand that in Liberia you are still far more likely to die from many more prosaic diseases).  I get that this is a big story, but I just hate the freak out.  I swear, it’s human nature at it’s worst.

As always, some nice perspective from Jon Cohn:

Spencer spent time with his fiancée and two friends. And on Wednesday, despite feeling a little sluggish, he went bowling in Brooklyn, using the subway to get there and an Uber car to get back. The next day he started running a feverof 103 degrees.

Those details, as much as the diagnosis itself, were getting tons of attention on Thursday night. This morning, New Yorkers are busy retracing their steps, wondering if they were on the number one, the A, or the Lthe three subway lines Spencer apparently took. That’s understandable. Ebola is a scary, frequently lethal disease.

But you can only get it one wayby coming into contact with bodily fluids from somebody who is showing symptoms like fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. New York City officials said that Spencer did not have such symptoms when he was out and about on Wednesday. That’s why the public health experts I consulted on Thursday were convinced that his travels posed little, if any, danger to the broader public. “Minimal to no risk” is the phrase one used. [emphasis mine]

Oh, I’ll also mention that the tremendous and selfless work of Doctors without Borders (or Médecins Sans Frontières as they are properly called) is why I donate to them automatically out of every single paycheck.  

I grade like a Brit

Interesting piece on the out-of-control grade inflation in American universities:

At the beginning of this school year, Princeton University changed its contentious grading policy. The university had previously limited the number of students who could receive A grades, but rescinded for a variety of reasons, including fears that the lower GPAs disadvantaged Princeton students on the job market and discouraged the top students from applying to the university in the first place.

Grading can feel like the cruelest part of the semester for teachers and students alike. And no one seems to have quite gotten it right. Commentary on grading brings to mind the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like the porridge that is too hot or too cold or the bed that is too big or too small, grading policies are either too lenient or too harsh. Top U.S. universities have come under fire in recent years for grade inflation. A grades have been the most common grade atHarvard for 20 years, and the median grade there today is an A-. There’s even awebsite that has tracked grade inflation in American schools and universities over time.

In the face of this, Heidi Tworek advocates grading more like the Brits do:

A final suggestion draws inspiration from the country where I pursued my own undergraduate education. Why not simply have fewer grades and accept that the majority of students might receive the same mark? The United Kingdom’s system only has three classes of grades: first, second, and third (although second is split into 2:1 and 2:2). A first denotes work of outstanding quality. In 2012 to 2013, 19 percent of students graduated with a first. An overwhelming 76 percent of students received a second-class degree (51 percent earned a 2:1, 25 percent a 2:2). Only 5 percent were given a third.

That’s not actually very far off from a typical grade distribution in one of my upper-level classes (though, I usually have somewhat more than 5% in the C range).   I never intentionally set out to grade this way, but my grading basically evolved such that I am really not that hard to get a B from, but you really need to earn that A and I rarely give out more than 20%.  I’ve never been quite sure what to make of it, but now that I know I’ve basically stumbled onto the British way on my own, I’m pretty happy with it.

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