Grant Deadline Time

Three dreadful phrases.

Feb 5., NIH, R01.

Now you know.

Written by Rob in: science |

Thank you “Kim20″

Just received one of the more amusing spam emails to this site.
“Thare’s not another good way to have excellent mark than to complete the term paper related to this good topic …”
from a paper mill I won’t dignify with the honor of a link. Note to students – don’t use 100,000 free essays for your term papers.

Written by Rob in: pedagogy |

More on Merit Badges.

A followup to an earlier post, but with a lot less ranting. Basically I want to explain and formalize how a troop, and in particular my son’s troop should handle merit badge issues, but I don’t want to circulate this to the troop committee and give the blowhards even more time on stage. (basically other than this introductory paragraph, this is a dry-ish bullet-ed position paper). Basically, it is very hard to argue with people who are “authorities” because they say they are and who make stuff up on the wing. (I actually am sort of an authority – at least I’ve been trained, know who to ask if I don’t know the answer and actually help with the training).

  • What is the aim of the merit badge program?
  • The aim is to allow the scouts to grow spiritually, physically and intellectually by exploring things they are interested in together with an adult counselor who has a professional or strong avocational background in the area.

  • What is the procedure for getting a merit badge?
  • A scout who wants to earn a merit badge contacts the scoutmaster for a signed blue card as well as contacting a registered merit badge counselor. If the merit badge counselor can’t meet in a public/private place (for example the school cafeteria), then the scout should use a buddy to comply with BSA youth protection. The scout and the counselor meet and the scout satisfies the counselor that he has met the merit badge requirements. The signed blue card is then returned to the troop advancement person and in due time the badge is given. (technically it is not “awarded”, but given in recognition of completion).

  • Are Merit Badge “Universities” OK?
  • Yes. The goal of the program is to expose the scouts to things that are novel to them. The universities are expected to meet the same requirements as working with an individual counselor, but may not go as deeply into the field as an individual might. If a scout is really interested in a field – say wants to be a chemist, then working with a individual chemistry merit badge counselor is (probably) better than the “university”. There are exceptions to this like the astronomy merit badge program at Georgia Tech, where working with a professor in a class gives the scout access to specialized professional equipment that the exceed the minimum needed to meet the badge (but are a lot more fun to use!).

  • Can a scoutmaster refuse to let a scout work on a merit badge?
  • Absolutely not. He can ask who the counselor is, and ensure that the counselor is registered with the BSA.

  • What are the criteria for meeting the requirements for a merit badge?
  • The merit badge counselor follows the current requirements for the badge. It is his/her judgment when they are met. It is correct for the judgment to consider the age and ability of the scout. Merit badges are not theses or dissertations in the field.

    The eagle required merit badge, personal fitness, is an excellent example. The counselor and the scout agree on a goal for improvement and the scout meets it. A weedy little nerd might go from having to walk on the “mile walk/run” to actually finishing it running, while an athletic “real scout” might just shave a few seconds off his time. THEY BOTH MEET THE REQUIREMENT!.    Similarly there are sections on required nutrients. It would be inappropriate to expect a 6th or 7th grade scout who has not taken chemistry or biology to understand what a required amino acid is or that many vitamins are enzyme cofactors, but it would be appropriate to discuss this with the 11th grade honors chemistry student.

  • Are merit badge requirements reviewed at troop level by a scoutmaster?
  • Absolutely not. This is directly against BSA procedures. The merit badge counselor sets standards. Once he/she has signed it as done it is done.

  • Really? What about …?
  • Really, truly. This is a fairly common question on the web commissioner site, and the answer is uniformly the same.

    There is a quality control step. The merit badge counselor has to be a registered merit badge counselor which means he has been reviewed by the council (at least summarily) and therefore actually knows something about the field.  Even if it “is impossible” for the scout to meet the requirement the signature still holds.  The scoutmaster wasn’t there and isn’t the merit badge counselor.  Otherwise we end up with “Tom’s requirements” or “Page’s requirements” or “Rob’s requirements” which is an abomination – not to mention directly in violation of BSA requirements to neither add nor subtract from the requirements.

    A board of review can ask about merit badge activities, to see at what depth they were performed but this is quality control on the counselor not the scout.

  • Can I use my neighbor as a counselor?
  • Only if he is registered.  The council and not the troop approves the counselor so he does not have to be associated with the scouts troop. If he is interested in helping with scouts (and being a counselor is easy and fun) then he can register. There is no fee for registering as a merit badge counselor, but  there is a background check.   This can help other scouts as well. (It is my opinion that if he is registering then you can work with him during the process).

  • Can I use my Mom or Dad as a counselor?
  • If they are registered as counselors, yes. Otherwise no. There is no restriction on being a counselor for your own child, ward or dependent.

  • Who are merit badge counselors and how do I become one?
  • A merit badge counselor is typically an adult (or a youth working under the supervision of an adult at a summer camp) who has registered with the BSA and given evidence of expertise in the field. At the Atlanta Area Council, two sheets are filled out – one being the standard adult form (NO FEE FOR MERIT BADGE COUNSELORS) and the other being a documentation of expertise. There is not a lot of evidence required, and it is something of an honor system, but it is reviewed. The merit badge counselor has the option of only working with one unit, but it is best (in my opinion) if they will work with any scout.

    The merit badge counselors at a “merit badge university” are registered counselors.

  • Is the scoutmaster or assistant a merit badge counselor?
  • Not unless he is registered as one.

  • Does a merit badge counselor have to be from my troop?
  • No, as long as he/she is registered with the council (actually registered with any council is ok). It is my opinion that it is actually good to use a counselor associated with another unit because the scout gets to see more variety that way.

  • What are we doing in our troop?
  • Historically, we have been lax about requiring the use of registered counselors. We are compiling a list of those we know about and will enforce this requirement when it is sufficiently deep that the requirement of using a registered counselor does not interfere with advancement.  (Expected completion spring 2010)  It is fine for a scout to use a counselor who isn’t on the current list, as long as the counselor is actually registered. We will add the counselor to the list so other scouts can use him. If the counselor isn’t actually registered then the scout hasn’t earned the merit badge.

    This is actually significantly tougher and more uniform than are current system is where the quality control is whether the counselor is agreed to by the scoutmaster. It is also compliant with BSA standards.

    It is not yet clear about what we do with “trivial” completion problems for merit badges (for example keeping a reptile as a pet for some time is required for reptile study and we can’t find a counselor for that).

  • Where did this information come from?
  • This is summarized from web sites like ask andy, and scouting.org. It also comes from the scoutmaster’s handbook, the boy scout handbook, and the BSA advancement procedures guide (available on line). It is slightly expanded from what we teach at scoutmaster training.

  • Web resource
  • The meritbadge.org wiki has detailed references into the voluminous BSA procedures book. This is a great place to understand what is the official way to do it.

Written by Rob in: pedagogy,scouting |

Mt Vernon trail map

Mt Vernon Trail is a bike/run/rollerblade trail that runs on the west bank of the Potomac. We walked a small part of it to get from our hotel to downtown DC on our visit. I suspect it gets crowded on nice summer days, but on a winter morning it was practically empty (remember there is no such thing as inclement weather – just inadequate clothing)

trail map for part of the Mt Vernon trail

trail map for part of the Mt Vernon trail

The next day we put on almost as many miles walking around the mall. (The jump to the southeast shows one point on the Yellow line). I’d highly recommend the new museum of the American Indian. It is an innovative and interesting combination of artifacts and culture and is curated by members of the relevant tribes. So in addition to seeing, for example, a ceremonial shirt, the native people of that group present some of the cultural context. We arrived late for it, and couldn’t spend half the time it deserved so it is on the short list for the next trip.

strolling on the Mall

strolling on the mall

KMZ file if you want to see it yourself in Google maps

Written by Rob in: trail map |

Back to the Future

From this months scouting magazine, I was struck at how a pack from the past was not dissimilar to modern ultralight gear. 

Quoting from the text:


If you strapped on this official BSA haversack ca. 1941, you’d notice the “heavy duck of sufficient weight to turn water, … ring attachments on the side for lashing blankets in the ‘horse collar style,’ … and [e]xtra large bellows pocket.” Dimensions: 17 inches high, 13 inches wide, and 4½ inches thick. It weighed 1½ pounds and cost just $2.25

It’s a little smaller than my gossamer gear mariposa plus, nowhere near as comfortable and being canvas (duck cloth) not exactly quick drying.  But it would work! (and might be better for the really young scouts than a 4lbs “lightweight” pack).

Written by Rob in: backpacking,scouting |

On Rapid Prototyping

Computer science has an interesting schizoid feel to it.  There are plenty of CS people who will say that it is a branch of mathematics and that is that.  But then there is an engineering side to it and that isn’t really mathematics (though it requires the use of rigorous mathematics).

The Mathematical Approach – Mathematicians, by definition, prove things.  They tend to want the problem completely defined and tend to be upset with uncertainty.  The ideal result for them is a proof that an approach is correct (except maybe for a “set of measure zero” set of “corner cases” or “boundary cases” that can “safely” be skipped), and actually writing a program is sort of an afterthought.  Something you do, like a cross word puzzle, just to fill the time.

The Engineering Approach – Engineers get upset when things don’t work.  While they would try to prove as much as possible, eventually they actually write code and measure its performance.   For example in AMMP, the code uses a number of polynomial expansions of expensive functions and the only way to show that the order of the expansion is “good enough” is to try it out.  (you can derive and prove an error bound for the expansion, but you don’t know what the desired error bound is without trying it out).  They are much more comfortable with uncertainty, but like mathematicians want a well posed problem.

There is actually a third approach – The Scientific Approach – where you assume you don’t yet know everything you need to know.  There are “unknown unknowns”.  This is where rapid prototyping comes to the fore.  It is not good practice to design the final application or algorithm when you don’t know what you don’t know.  So how do you find out what you don’t know?  You quickly write a “just good enough” program or algorithm and you try it out.  If it works then you knew what you were doing and move on to building a sufficiently good approach with all of the critically important aspects of good software design.  If it doesn’t then you now know what you didn’t know and can design a better solution.  This iterative process of problem refinement eventually should  converge on a well posed problem.  You can’t prove that it does – certainly with random trial and error it is highly inefficient – so therefore you have to use the engineering and mathematical tools of analysis to point it in the right direction.  Done well, it is surprisingly effective and results in truly innovative computer science.

Written by Rob in: engineering,laboratory practice,science |

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