the garden keeps growing

Spent the weekend in Denver. Pictures to come.


the garden is growing


if you want smart kids...

keep a lot of books around:

Click here to see the original article.

Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.

For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education). Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.

Being a sociologist, Evans was particularly interested to find that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. She has been looking for ways to help Nevada’s rural communities, in terms of economic development and education.

“What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead?” she asked. “The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed.”

Evans said, “Even a little bit goes a long way,” in terms of the number of books in a home. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

“You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’,” she said. “It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”

In some countries, such as China, having 500 or more books in the home propels children 6.6 years further in their education. In the United States, the effect is less, 2.4 years, than the 3.2-year average advantage experienced across all 27 countries in the study. But, Evans points out that 2.4 years is still a significant advantage in terms of educational attainment.

For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Americans who have some college or an associate’s degree, but not a bachelor’s degree, earn an average of $7,213 more annually than those with just a high school education. Those who attain a bachelor’s degree earn $21,185 more each year, on average, than those with just high school diplomas.

The study by Evans and her colleagues at Nevada, UCLA and Australian National University is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted on what influences the level of education a child will attain.

The researchers were struck by the strong effect having books in the home had on children’s educational attainment even above and beyond such factors as education level of the parents, the country’s GDP, the father’s occupation or the political system of the country.

Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level, and more important than whether a child was reared in China or the United States. Surprisingly, the difference in educational attainment for children born in the United States and children born in China was just 2 years, less than two-thirds the effect that having 500 or more books in the home had on children (3.2 years).

The study, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations,” was published in the journal, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility (online at www.sciencedirect.com).



Driving back from my work picnic today, I heard this story on NPR about Homeboys Industries. It is a group out in LA working to help get gang members working, because if you have a job, you have hope. And hope makes people leave gangs.

They just ran out of money.

Check out their website by clicking here.
Consider donating a few bucks to them too.

Click here to listen to the story.


book review: The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the Era of Personalized Medicine

By Thomas Goetz

Boingboing.net featured this book the day it came out and it seemed so interesting that I went right out an ordered it. I know, the year of making do, what was I thinking?

Summary of the Book

The book looks at technology, and reasons that with doctors too busy to take care of you, you need to start taking control of your health. You have become the informed consumer. But what’s a girl to do? Go to medical school? The idea is to make medical decisions more systematic, make information more accessible and understandable, allow technology to help us rather than confuse us, and give people the tools to make changes to people’s lifestyles easier.

For example, if you wanted to quit smoking, then you would have two options, systematically speaking: cold turkey or nicotine replacement. If you chose cold turkey, then you would need to examine the effectiveness of this method. Once you learned that it is not effective then you might change your choice. Then you would need to choose the type of nicotine replacement therapy.

Mr. Goetz provides the reader an updated drug label which shows: who is to take the drug, why you are taking it, who should not take it, the type of testing needed by someone taking the drug, and other considerations. Below that he gives the patient the findings of the study that lead to the FDA approving the drug, and historical information about the drug. The label he has it clearly too big for a drug bottle, but is still a great idea.

A technological help he profiled was the Nike+. This little fob tracks your speed, in concert with our ipod, while you run. Then you synch it with your computer and it tells you how far you ran, and compares it to your other runs. Fun. I got one from Erica, but have had technical difficulties using it with my Vibram Fivefingers, and need to figure out what to do about that. Needless to say, seeing the data motivates me to run more.

One of the problems with reading the book is similar to the problem many medical students encounter: they start thinking that they have the diseases they are studying. I kept thinking my blood pressure was going up or that I was getting diabetes. Great motivator that book.

Finally, he explains genetic testing, why you might consider getting it, and how it works. I will not be doing any genetic testing in the near term.

Tidbits of Info from the Book

One super interesting point made in the book is that acetaminophen is the most common case of liver failure in the US. 50 percent of cases of liver failure are due to acetaminophen, which is also used in Vicoden and Percocet. The medical establishment now believes that this toxicity is not caused by taking too much of the drug but from a genetic problem which causes as many as 1/3 of all people taking acetaminophen to have raised blood levels of alanine transferease.

Criticisms of the Book
There are a few problems with his book, or rather with his examples. First, because he is using the examples to explain high-level ideas, he may not have done the research necessary to check out his high level understanding of the medical facts (a problem all of us face...). One example he uses is of the recent study that came out showing that Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) might be causing heart attacks in women. I have subsequently read that it might have been the type of HRT studied (the kind that uses horses urine to create the therapy) which caused the problems, not the therapy itself. A second example, is Weight Watchers. He holds it up as a successful example of a weight loss program. That it is not. Of all weight loss programs, it has the highest success rate, but most people who do Weight Watchers are going to remain heavy.

Finally, the book is really far ranging, from decision trees to Alzheimer’s to genetics. I suppose the point is we all need to know more about these conditions, but I will wait to learn more on a ‘need to know basis.’

And I remain a little annoyed that Mr. Goetz did not have a spare minute to respond to my email. If you want to read the book, I'll send it to you for free.


this morning's coffee

brent's hobby is coffee. I lucked out there.



Here it is, the end of a lovely weekend. We spent time with friends, checked out the doener kabob spot in Leesburg, VA, went for a run, had brunch on our deck, and planted our little container garden. Oh and cleaned the house.

Pictures of Ryan, Pam, and Mark can be found by clicking this sentence.


betty white and muffins


of note: be in love with your life

We read part of Writing Down to the Bones in writing class this week. It is a very well known book about writing. Towards the end the author, Natalie Goldberg gives her favorite advice from Jack Kerouac. The last one kept me thinking all week:

Be in love with you life.

I have been in love with my life before; I know how that love feels. I am not in love with my life now. And of course we are working towards this goal, law school debt standing in the way primarily. But I really like the sentiment.

Later in the week around 2 am when I was finishing this new novel crying(!) I found another similar nugget:

"Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at...something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance."

I just loved One Day, by David Nicholls. It is due to be published June 15, 2010. (Katerina it is already out in London.)

The story follows a boy and a girl from the first day they meet forward. But only on one day a year: June 15th. We are left to piece together what happened in between the days.

This quote really sums up what I am trying to do in this life.

I have a very close friend who has mentioned before that being content with your life is something to aspire to. I appreciate her advice, but I do not believe it. I do not want to me content with an unfulfilled life. I want to live large, experience all life has to offer, and love well.


our newest plan

Airstream from DocuCinema on Vimeo.


book review: I.O.U., Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay

By John Lanchester

Don’t understand the financial meltdown? Can't tell a derivative from a nominative? Want to understand securitization but don’t know where to begin? Looking for an easy to understand explanation of the meaning of life? Ok, well this book can do the first three. Look to another book to figure out the meaning of life.

Mr. Lanchester typically writes novels, but found, while researching the financial meltdown for his next novel that what the world really needed was a primer on what had happened in the financial melt down. So he wrote it.

The book contains all kinds of interesting tidbits: How long do you think a million seconds is? How about a billion? Ready for the answer: a million seconds is less than 12 days; a billion seconds is almost 32 YEARS. That’s right. Remember that every time you try to understand the differences in magnitude between a billion and a million.

Another factoid: in 2008 the Royal Bank of Scotland was THE LARGEST COMPANY IN THE WORLD (by asset size). Really? A bank. I find this interesting because a bank does not make anything, instead it moves money around efficiently. (I am reminded of Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything...)

Another factoid: The Credit Default Swap was invented by J.P. Morgan to fund the clean-up from the Exxon Valdez. This was the only credit default swap J.P. Morgan completed.

A final factoid: As we most know the US credit scoring system is run by FICO. 60 percent of American’s credit score is between 650 and 799. The median score is 723 (half of households fall below and half above this number.)

Mr. Lanchester also makes the somewhat lacking argument that the fall of the Berlin Wall lead to the economic decline in the West because we were no longer competing against anyone. Therefore there was no incentive for the continued increase in living standards for workers. Something did change after the fall of the wall, I am just not sure that his theory holds up because it does not take into consideration other countries with whom we are competing such as China or the whole of the African continent.

The author also explores the varying attitudes toward household debt throughout the world. For example, the French have much lower household debt than do Anglo-Saxon economies. During the credit crunch, British households owed 160 percent of their average income. French households by comparison owed only 60 percent of their average household income.

As a follow-up book I want to read Confessions of a Subprime Lender: An Insider’s Tale of Greed, Fraud, and Ignorance, by Richard Bitner.


art: return to sender

Brent sent me a review of a book that looked super interesting, but it reminded me of a piece of artwork from Artomatic in 2008, when I participated.

Refused: Return to Sender by Tracy Lee tells the story of receiving all of her family pictures in the mail from her alcoholic parents. They disowned her over the mail.

The photo above explains the piece. Below it is an overview of the piece.

You had to take time to look at the art, and read the description in order to understand the magnitude of what you were seeing. It had such an effect on me.

That's what I love about art: it can make you think about things for along time to come.

movie review: the horse boy

I just finished this movie that I had heard quite a bit about: The Horse Boy. It was featured on that new podcast I am in love with: To The Best of Our Knowledge. The story chronicles one family’s struggle to come to terms with their four year old son’s autism. After realizing that their son has a unique connection with all animals and horses they decided to seek out healers who are horse people. We follow the family as they take the boy to see shamans in Mongolia and southern Siberia.

The touching movie really showed the difficulties this family is dealing with. They clearly make the movie on a shoestring budget, but the vistas are beautiful, as is the family.

Of note in the film were a few things. 1. The dad LOVES AC/DC. In fact I don’t think I saw him in the movie without an AC/DC t-shirt on the whole time. 2. I was a bit shocked at the family’s home. They live in Texas on a farm with horses. The mom is a professor. They are clearly pretty poor, or at least have a disregard for their home. Perhaps I am too obsessed with having a comfortable and clean home, but I don't think I would have been comfortable showing the world my home if it looked like theirs.

The music in the movie was great too...no AC/DC was played...just FYI.

This movie only reinforced my interest in going to Mongolia...it just looked so much like eastern Montana, that I might try to get Brent to go there first.

I would highly recommend this movie.


betty white and SNL

can't wait.