Saturn up close

Years ago, when I was just dabbling around trying to find my blog voice, I wrote a small entry about my excitement for the Cassini mission to Saturn.  I’ve come across this short film a couple of times over the last month, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you (and posting my first video to the blog at the same time).

I hope you enjoy it!

CASSINI MISSION from Chris Abbas on Vimeo.


Internet cultural dropout

Hello friends.  Yes, this is a new post.  It’s been nearly a year, and some of you may be wondering why it’s been so long.  It’s simple.

I dropped out.

I’m generally a pretty well-adjusted and happy guy.  I’ve always worked hard, enjoyed spending time with my wife, and tried to stay connected to and participate in society and culture.  I enjoyed getting into the blogging scene and experimenting with the medium.  I had no audience, really, except for those who are close to me, but I know my playful attempts to add something to the Internet will be out there in the ether, along with countless other individuals’ similar musings.

But the Internet is a communication medium, and my dropping out probably has more to do with a change I’ve seen since my early days on the web.  I put my first page up in 1995.  Things were very different then.  There was no real formula for contrubuting.  Bright flashing animated graphics, music in the background and links to cool things that popped up on the web were the norm, I guess.  People took care in what they posted, there was a community responsibility to add value to the internet in the process of crafting a presence for yourself.  But somewhere along the way, anonymity took over and the results of that have snowballed ever since.

I first noticed the shift on Usenet news groups.  There, new identities were much easier to create than a webpage presence, and people started assuming multiple identities.  These people were invariably the folks who would be argumentative, stirring up trouble on the news groups, and delighting in lowering the level of discourse.  They are known as “trolls.”  The multiple identities often times were used to back up the original troll identity, pretending to lend support and keep the regular members angry.

Anonymity breeds cruel and hateful behavior.  The more savvy internet contributors get, the further away from the original ethic of contributing positively we get and the more trolls with their “nym” armies start “flame wars” and then enjoy the fireworks.  With no reputation at stake, people who used to post technology articles to social media sites like are now vastly outnumbered by people spouting hostility.  Anonymity on the web = no consequences for hateful behavior.
Even an article submitted telling about today’s solar eclipse is met by trolls.  One comment:

“What’s new in this? Is it the first Solar Eclipse ever? wtf?”

Anonymity breeds cruel and hateful behavior.

That’s just a technology site.  Don’t go looking for intellegent and civil discourse on a site like the Daily KOS.  But news sites aren’t the only thing affected by this.  In fact, anonymity allows for much, much nastier behavior.  For instance, last year a mother created a fake MySpace profile in order to start an online relationship with one of her daughter’s rivals for a spot on the school cheerleading squad.  The resulting harassment inflicted on the teen eventually caused her to commit suicide.

This is not the Internet I knew when I made my first page.  That is why I haven’t spent much time inhabiting it.  But you know, it doesn’t have to be this way.  The web may be anonymity and hostility run amuck, but this little space I’ve carved out can be more.  It, along with the spaces of my friends, family, and kindred spirits around the world can make something better here.  Something that can provide some good-natured fun and elucidation.  Where disagreements don’t end up in name-calling.  To contribute to this web, not to degenerate it.

I’m going to start blogging again.  On my terms.

What a country!

In the United States, you can always find a party.   In Soviet Russia, the Party finds you!

heartThat’s the kind of thing I expected when Angie and I went to Yakov Smirnoff’s show in Branson.  What I got was a whole lot more.

You see, Yakov is more than just a comedian.  He is an art teacher.  He is a professor of psychology.  He is a writer.  He is an actor.  He is a traditional Russian dancer.  We got a glimpse of each of these facets at his show.

The comedy in his show was family friendly, but sharp.  His clever play with the language was like George Carlin without the vulgarity.  “I bet you never looked at it that way … but you will now!” was his refrain.

What struck me most about Yakov was his genuine affection and appreciation for America.  He spoke in a way that isn’t fashionable now.   Continue reading What a country!

Galaxy Zoo

galaxyI want to let you know about a website that just launched.  It’s called Galaxy Zoo.

After you sign up, you go through a little training before you are presented with questions regarding the classification of galaxies.  No, computers are not yet at the point where they can reliably distinguish elliptical and spiral galaxies, viewed from any possible angle and with any number of irregularities.

It’s all good fun, and it helps advance galactic research.  “So, what did you do yesterday when it was raining outside?”  “I became a member of a research team taking images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to classify galaxy shapes so research can be done using the data.”  Wouldn’t you like that on your resumé?

High stakes test anxiety

Validity and reliability are the two necessary pieces that make a test that actually provides useful information about learning.  Validity goes to whether or not a test actually assesses what it’s supposed to.  Reliability goes to whether or not the results of a test are reproducible.

I heard an interesting podcast from Scientific American the other day.  Here is the link, and following is part of the transcript.

… her studies showed that the best students were the ones most likely to choke under a high-pressure test situation. That’s because normally they use their higher memory capacity to methodically work through a problem. But when the pressure’s on, the good students resort to the same ineffective shortcuts the poor students use all the time. Another researchers shed some light on this with his study showing that anxiety actually occupies working memory, wasting it instead of devoting it to the task at hand….

Leading to this conclusion:

They say their findings suggest that high-pressure tests might not be measuring what they’re meant to, and schools might want to try de-emphasizing their importance.

Statewide tests can be a real pressure-cooker for children because so much weight is put on them by No Child Left Behind.  How much do tests assess “test-taking” skills and level-headedness?  If a test’s results are colored by a child’s test anxiety, that erodes the validity of the instrument.  Could regular smaller quizzes or something less stressful than the big statewide test “book” that student are handed out every year be better at measuring student progress?  Something to consider.

A tale of two teachers organizations

goofus…in the style of Goofus and Gallant.

Goofus is locked in an “us vs them” mindset.

Gallant practices collegial negotiations based on trust.

Goofus sends a chunk of your dues to a national chapter.

Gallant keeps all of your money in Missouri.

Goofus has exclusively supported Democrats for president since its founding.

Gallant supports candidates based solely on education issues.

Goofus sends 90% of its political contributions to Democrats.

Gallant does not use membership dues for political contributions.

Goofus spends its money to support liberal causes like Rainbow Coalition, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington.

Gallant spends its money on professional development opportunities for teachers and teacher grants.

Goofus petitions to become sole bargaining authority even if he is clearly in the minority.

Gallant sticks to his principles allowing everyone a seat at the table, even when he is clearly in the majority.

Goofus tells teachers to remove all references to Muslim terrorists in lesson plans for September 11th attacks.  Goofus suggests teachers  discuss “historical instances of American intolerance” instead.

Gallant believes in local authority to set lessons and curriculum.

Key:  Goofus is the Missouri National Education Association; Gallant is the Missouri State Teacher’s Association.

Sources:,, School and Community Magazine, Summer 2008, Wikipedia

Goofus and Gallant is a feature in Hightlights Magazine.

Teachers’ summers

classroomI never thought I’d choose as a mate someone who was in the same field as I was in, but, as is often the case in my life, God had other plans. As time goes on, the wisdom of that move becomes more apparent. Only another teacher can understand 13-hour days to get the latest round of mandated paperwork. It’s nice to have someone to go in to work with you on Saturdays or Sundays to get individualized lesson plans done. And of course it makes for good “quality time” to have someone to grade papers with of an evening over a mug of hot chocolate.

Many people outside of education don’t really understand a teacher’s calling. In fact, there are those out there who try to minimize the job of school teacher. Never mind that a very high number of teachers get out of the profession within the first few years, and for those who stay, burnout is a disproportionately high occupational hazard. Teaching requires more time, effort, and energy than most people realize. Plus, no one gets rich off a schoolteacher’s salary, and for those who think that the real benefits of being a teacher come in “cushy” hours and summers off, think again!

Our contract time is for 40 hours per week, barring any extra duties such as coaching, clubs, or other sponsorships. There is, of course, time spent at home grading, planning, researching and contacting parents. Actual in-school time for us averages 56 hours per week, which, by simple mathematics, is much more than enough when spread out to cover 40 hour workweeks for summers and other vacations.   Continue reading Teachers’ summers

Dawn mission

I guess I can’t take full credit for jinxing this mission.  After all, the mission had already been canceled once, uncancelled, and then put on “stand down” status before I even got involved in the project.  The mission of Dawn is to study Vesta and Ceres, two bodies in the asteroid belt, and Dawn will be the first to visit multiple bodies under its own power, in particular using its new ion thrusters.  And my involvement  … well, I am one of the space enthusiasts whose name (and Angie’s, I take full responsibility for that) is carried on the craft embedded in a microchip mounted between the forward thruster and the high gain antenna.

Of course, after we became involved the mission was canceled.

Then, the manufacturer of the Dawn spacecraft, Orbital Sciences Corporation, appealed, offering to finish Dawn at cost in order to gain experience in this new field.  Just a couple of days ago, the mission is back on again.  Angie and I are going into space.

That is, if we don’t jinx it again….

See you at the new clubhouse!

This will be my last post at Please meet up with me again at my own domain:

Though there hasn’t been much apparent activity on the weblog in a couple of months, a lot has been going on under the hood. I’ve been planning to jazz up the site a little bit. A few things have been broken on the weblog side, so I’m moving the whole shebang to my own server to better control how the different pieces fit with one another. The appearance of the site will hopefully be a little less bland as I introduce a new concept into the design: color. I hope to fix those things that have broken in the past year or two as well.

Any techies out there might also be interested that I’m rewriting the code of my weblog from the ground up to have a table-less three column main page achieved through cascading style sheets. The entire process could take me up to around Christmastime as I chip away at it.   Continue reading See you at the new clubhouse!

A charming little range light

haigptlight1This is a picture of the Haig Point Lighthouse on Daufuskie Island in South Carolina. The lighthouse was built in 1872 as one of two range lights that ships could use to safely enter Caliboque Sound. It is still operational today as a private aid to navigation and a bed and breakfast; and it’s on the National Register of Historic Sites. One more thing: it’s also the site of my wedding last month.

I know some of you want details! Here you go:

Existing Historic Tower: YES

  • Year Light First Lit: 1872
  • Is the Light Operational? YES (PRIVATE AID TO NAVIGATION)
  • Date Deactivated: 1934-1987
  • Automated: YES
  • Foundation Materials: TABBY
  • Construction Materials: WOOD
  • Markings/Patterns: WHITE W/RED ROOF
  • Relationship to Other Structures: INTEGRAL
  • Original Optic: FIFTH ORDER, FRESNEL
  • Year Original Lens Installed: 1872
  • Height of Focal Plane: 70
  • Has tower been moved? NO   Continue reading A charming little range light