Top 10 hidden gems of central Ohio

Today my family discovered yet another hidden gem, a spot we had never been to before, in central Ohio where we live. This inspired me to catalog our favorite "hidden gems."

Central Ohio has some excellent landmarks that a visitor would enjoy. The Columbus Zoo is world class; the Whetstone Park of Roses is stunning when in bloom; the riverfront, COSI, LeVeque Tower, and State House downtown are all well worth a visit; nearby German Village is a great spot to stroll; Ohio State is nice to visit, especially around the Oval, Library, and Mirror Lake; the Columbus Metropolitan Library downtown is one of the best public libraries in the country; Franklin Park Conservatory is a beautiful spot; the various metro parks make an excellent park system; you've probably heard of Ohio Caverns, which we love; and everybody has heard about the Hocking Hills. But if you live in the area, you probably know about those spots.

Here are some spots you might or might not have encountered yet, which we have visited several times (or plan to visit again) and which we love—from least hidden to most hidden.

10. Hoover Dam. This is the least "hidden" and perhaps it doesn't belong on the list, but I didn't know about it for a long time. This isn't an earthen dam like so many others in Ohio, it is a tall and wide concrete dam with a massive gushing spillway. You can walk all the way across the dam, as well as from the top of the dam to the marshy, blue heron-filled area at the bottom. At the observation area on the eastern side, last time we were there, there were a bunch of swallow nests. On both sides of the dam and on either side of Hoover Reservoir are places to walk, play, and picnic. Hoover Dam is just one of the nicest places in central Ohio.

9. Slate Run Living Historical Farm. Again, perhaps it's not so well hidden now. If you have little kids, and maybe even if you don't, this is a must-see. A well-maintained, apparently well-run farm following 19th century farming ways, Slate Run features an open farmhouse, a separate kitchen, gardens, root cellar, horse-plowed fields, a massive barn, and a big variety of farm animals, from chicken and other poultry to cows, sheep, horses, and pigs. Just a great way to learn about the old ways of farm life. We also enjoy the pond.

8. The Wilds. Again, many people know about this so perhaps it isn't very "hidden." But if you haven't visited, you might find it to be a surprise. The bus and other tours allow you leisure to take in the unusual, vast, hilly landscape as well as the big animals scattered over a 14 square miles in giant paddocks. The animals we saw when we have visited in the past included rhinos, giraffes, unusual deer and oxen, zebras, bison, a cheetah, and many others. Like a safari, but fairly close to home. Also worth a mention is that the drive to the Wilds is quite nice, especially if you go through the very scenic Blue Rock Forest.

7. Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve. Some of the Hocking Hills attractions, like Old Man's Cave and Cedar Falls, are unquestionably excellent and are far from "hidden." But one of our favorite spots is the less-visited but surprisingly awesome Conkles Hollow. The trail is very green and scenic, but flat and paved for most of the way, and thus excellent for small children. What awaits you at the end is stunning, resembling some landscapes I remember from the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park out west. The gorge is reputedly one of the deepest in Ohio and the end of it is a magical place.

6. Rising Park and Shallenberger State Nature Preserve. I put these together because they're both in the Lancaster area and they both feature similarly short, but steep hikes to the top of a hill, from which you get a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape. Rising Park is well-known (hardly a hidden gem) to the people of Lancaster, but worth a visit to those from outside the area. The main attraction is the gorgeous view overlooking the town of Lancaster, but there is also a scenic reservoir, an old house on the property, and plenty of places to wander. We visited Shallenberger in winter when the leaves didn't block the view. We had passed it many times on the way to the Hocking Hills, but spotted it on a map and decided to visit one day. Very nice little preserve, short and scenic but steep hike to the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding country in all directions, although leaves might get in the way in the summer.

5. Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve. Now we come to some of the slightly more hidden spots. On the east side of Newark is this lovely area, a paved bike and hiking trail—a converted rail bed—next to the Licking River going through a very scenic gorge. Apparently, it was called "Blackhand" after Indian hand paintings on the cliff walls. There are some nice little waterfalls in the tributary dales along the trail, as well as some sandstone cliffs of the sort you'll find in the Hocking Hills. Old canal towpaths and locks are nearby. Also interesting is a notch or gap cut through a hillside, which is a little like a roofless tunnel.

4. Rockbridge State Nature Preserve. This is on the other side of 33 from the Hocking Hills, between Lancaster and Logan. The parking lot might take some finding, and the trails leading to the main attraction—a large natural bridge, or arch—take a bit of puzzling out. But Rockbridge itself is a stunning location, and the rugged hike to it is one of the nicer hikes central Ohio has to offer.

3. Tar Hollow State Park and Forest. One of the nicest areas just to take a drive would be Tar Hollow State Park and Forest, which we visited in the fall—highly recommended. Sweeping vistas. There's a pretty reservoir, Pine Lake, with swimming and paddleboats. In the middle of the forest is a giant fire tower that it is possible to climb, although it seemed somewhat rickety and lacking in railings for our two young boys, so we didn't attempt it. While there we were absolutely swarmed by ladybugs.

2. Rock Mill Park. This out-of-the way area is worth a bit of extra driving. The mill itself has been lovingly restored, with a giant mill wheel. To get to it, you walk across a particularly excellent example of an Ohio covered bridge—over a beautiful gorge—and if you proceed down a path from the mill, you'll come to one of the nicest waterfalls in the central Ohio area, which will strike you as a bit of the Hocking Hills, only a lot closer than you might have expected.

1. Wahkeena Nature Preserve. We first visited this preserve yesterday. We simply saw it on a map, read some intriguing descriptions, and decided to go. We're glad we did, because it's a very unusual, surprising place. Several things make it very special: beavers, a pine forest, wildflowers, an excellent free guide map, and an especially interesting nature center. There are two big beaver lodges at one edge of the pond. There are all sorts of little surprises. There is a floating boardwalk across one end of the pond, which takes you by one of three beaver dams. There are some stunningly tall pine trees you'll walk by on the very nice 1.5 mile circuit—a fragrant bit of landscape, reminds me of California and other western forests. Wildflowers are abundant, identified handily on the excellent guide map. A family of geese with brand new goslings, hatched earlier the same day (April 24), was swimming about. Frogs galore of course. Near the top of the hill are sandstone cliffs of the typical Hocking Hills variety. The guide map has numbers and letters which match numbers and letters posted along the well-maintained trail, with naturalist notes we enjoyed reading—I wish more parks would do this. A barred owl and a red-shouldered hawk are in a quiet area not far from the nature center, both injured, non-releasable, and cared for by preserve personnel. Unlike many nature centers, this one is hands-on and reading-light, but full of small stuffed Ohio mammals and birds of every description, many dozens of them, live turtles and snakes in aquariums, a fascinating indoor beehive and knowledgeable talkative staff members on hand. Absolutely perfect learning place for children.

Honorable mentions... The Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis is one of our favorite libraries, gorgeous old building, wonderful place to read. Pigeon Roost Farm is a great spot for fun, hay wagon rides, corn maze, etc., in the fall as a place to take little kids, although it's getting a little too popular so maybe doesn't qualify as a "hidden" gem. Yoctangee Park in Chillicothe has swans and beautiful trees—like Rising Park in Lancaster, not at all hidden to the residents of Chillicothe. Charles Alley Park on the south side of Lancaster has some very nice, scenic hikes in the hills above a reservoir. Close to home is one of our favorite places, maybe a "hidden gem" for some people not in the area: Chestnut Ridge Metro Park. Excellent hiking and views.

What have I missed? Please turn us on to other spots around that we have missed! Share in the comments!


The notorious co-founder of Wikipedia interviews the notorious co-founder of Genius


I am spending a few days with the energetic and charming young crew of Everipedia at their offices in sunny L.A. I got to know Everipedia through Mahbod Moghadam, the 30-something but youthful and “thug” (this, apparently, is a good thing) co-founder of Genius.com, whom I got to know last year when I was still working on Infobitt (which, alas, is still in mothballs). Mahbod is not the CEO but is certainly one of the leading lights of this approximately one-year-old company; he and the other guys are very friendly, easygoing, smart, and hard-working, as far as I can tell. Anyway, Mahbod likes to be interviewed, and he is a “character,” so I thought it would be fun to do that. After all, people have interviewed me a lot but I can’t remember ever interviewing anybody else. So the tables are turned! For this blog’s very first interview, here is Mr. Moghadam. This will be a fairly wide-ranging email interview, so here goes.


Everipedia is the project you’re now working on. What exactly is the vision, at present, behind Everipedia? What are you trying to achieve?
Everipedia is the baby of Sam Kazemian and Tedde Forselius — they are my sons. It is, in short, a better version of Wikipedia. There are lots of differences, but the biggest one is that you can make a page about ANYTHING. I’ve had a Wikipedia page written about me before — several times — and Wikipedia kept taking it down! It was heartbreaking, especially because it has always been my dream to have a Wikipedia page about me. I’m sure there are millions of people who feel this way. Sam showed me my Everipedia page when I was giving a talk at UCLA — I was over the moon! I went home and immediately started making pages for all of my friends, my friends’ companies…everything I think is cool! Adding pages on Everipedia is really easy — it’s like posting on Facebook. No complexities or weirdo markup language like Wikipedia.

You say you want Everipedia to be the encyclopedia of everything, covering not just the topics in Wikipedia, not just the topics snootily deemed not important enough to include, but topics far, far outside the mainstream of what is considered “encyclopedic.” Things like: Every person in the world (including me and you!). Every street in the U.S. All the products currently for sale. All the species in the world. Every chemical compound (!). Every gene (!!). Every episode of every lame TV show. Every website (!!!). Etc. First of all, are you frigging insane?
I think it’s insane to have a strict notability requirement! The cool thing about the Internet is there is so much bandwidth — everyone can have their piece. Even if you are a shitty photographer, you can have an Instagram. Even the WORST rappers annotate their lyrics on Rap Genius. (TRUST ME) So why shouldn’t everyone have a Wiki?

OK, setting aside issues about feasibility, maintainability, etc., there’s a more basic question: Why is it important to have an encyclopedia of everything? Aren’t you basically just trying to replicate the Internet, or what eventually will be on the Internet?
Yeeee! One of our nicknames for Everipedia is “Crowdsourced Google” — the same way that Google gives you information about any subject, we want Everipedia to give you the info, except humans are doing the sorting, summarizing and rating of the sources instead of a machine.

Right now the site actually reminds me no small amount of the early days of Wikipedia — same youthful enthusiasm, same friendly welcoming atmosphere, same lack of f’s given if someone starts work on a topic with a very lame article. But Wikipedia sort of grew up (not entirely) and became huge, with long, meaty articles. How are you going to “get from here to there” and avoid burnout or seeming irrelevant?
Hopefully we can steal a lot of users from Wikipedia! On Everipedia you get IQ for your contributions. Contributors get credit and recognition for their accomplishments, they are not simply working in a void. College students can be appointed “Everipedia Campus Representative” if they earn it, and celebrities can contribute via Verified Accounts. Wikipedia won’t even let Snoop Dogg contribute to his own page! That ain’t right…on Everipedia, Snoop can even cite himself as a source! Not to mention anyone can cite his Instagram posts, hit tweets…anything that has cool information.

Why should somebody work on Everipedia when they can work on Wikipedia and have a better chance of having their words read by people on the #7 website in the world?
Because on Everipedia you get rewarded for your work. On Wikipedia, you get no recognition, contributions are pretty much anonymous. Maybe that appeals to some people — but I know, personally, I would never want to spend time working on something without getting credit for it. I think I’m a very good writer, and I want to be recognized for my work. I’m sure there are a lot of talented writers who feel the same way I do!

You have sometimes called Everipedia the “Thug Wikipedia.” Come on, dude, isn’t “Thug Wikipedia” likely to be off-putting to people who are, you know, working on an encyclopedia? And what does this mean, anyway?
Haha, yeah, we should probably stop saying that. What I mean by “thug,” in this case, is that there aren’t a bunch of unnecessary rules. You might think rules are great, but look at the result. Wikipedia’s notability requirement results in systematic discrimination against women and minorities, which is truly shameful. The top-performing pages on Everipedia are often black actresses, like Mariah Lynn from “Love and Hip-hop,” who are massively popular but face “Wikipedia Discrimination.” Everipedia made a page for Sabrina Pasterski — known as the “Female Einstein.” Wikipedia scraped our article and didn’t cite us! So I think that symbolizes the different focus of Everipedia and Wikipedia. Maybe we should change “Thug Wikipedia” to “Feminist Wikipedia.”

You and your buddies started Genius, originally RapGenius, which is one of the coolest collaborative websites online. I put it up there with Wikipedia, Quora, and a very few others that feature open collaboration among equals in order to develop a resource that is of use to everyone. This is what I love, and you and I both agree people ought to make more of these sorts of sites. So what is your top advice for entrepreneurs or community organizers (so to speak) who want to organize other people to create awesome resources that are useful to everyone?
It is bizarre. Every wiki site blows up. Even WIKIFEET gets a ton of traffic. But nobody wants to make encyclopedias. Everybody wants to make “The Next Snapchat.” I think this is because making a social media app is sexier than making an encyclopedia. Also, if you succeed, it’s a lot less work. You don’t have to sit there and use your own product, add a bunch of cool pages, etc. But I don’t think it’s an accident that I am 2 for 2 on successful startups and both are encyclopedias. There is such a thirst for robust software to disseminate information. It is the future of media! And nobody is doing it…personally, I think Quora sucks, and even Quora is blowing up…

OK, I gotta ask. You’ve been asked this ad nauseam, I’m sure, and I’m sure you’re annoyed by it, but I gotta ask. (Remember, this question is coming from a guy who thinks we are falling in a moral abyss. I may be a libertarian but I am also a moralist.) In November 2014 you wrote an article ill-advisedly titled “How To Steal From Whole Foods.” First of all, WTF? What were you thinking of? You know that stealing is wrong, right?
The article was meant as a joke, the sole purpose was to make people laugh. The title is paying homage to Tao Lin’s classic tome “Shoplifting from American Apparel.” Lames like Mark Suster took my words literally, because they have the minds of sheep. A lot of people also told me they loved the article — those were the smart folks. I don’t steal, but personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with stealing. You certainly can’t compare it to murder or rape, not even close. Stealing food, especially, strikes me as a morally neutral activity.

Being around you and the other Everipedia guys have introduced several items of slang that are completely new to me, because I don’t watch TV, don’t spend any time around teenagers or college students, and work from home in an exurb of Columbus, Ohio. I’m a bit cloistered, to tell the truth, but that’s how I like it. You meanwhile are the man about town, living in L.A. and hip to the scene (which shows how unhip-to-the-scene I am, since kids these days do not use the phrase “hip to the scene”). So I require brief, Urban Dictionary-type but Mahbod-crafted definitions of the follow terms d’art of the thug life. I give you…

The Mahbod Moghadam Lexicon
thug (not in the brutal ruffian sense):
Did you know this comes from the Hindi word “Thugee”? I use it in homage to 2PAC — my favorite human who ever existed. (He had “Thug Life” tattooed on his chest). It is a synonym for “disrupt.”
pimp (not in the employer-of-whores sense): If you’re a pimp, that means you’re charismatic! You can get others to serve you..
janky: Means “sucks.”
yeeeee: One of my Persian friends got me saying “yeee”! It is a refreshing alternative to “yasssss!” which is very popular with Hillary Clinton supporters…
hooooo: Short for “HOOOOOLY SHIT!” — we say this a lot at Everipedia HQ because we are constantly amazed and bewildered by our own product! It is changing the world. It is our catchphrase.
blowin up: This is what Everipedia is presently doing! YEEEEE
ewoking: Ah, my favorite word! This means “contributing to the site” — it is derived from the username of the TOP-IQ EDITOR OF RAP GENIUS, Monsieur William Goodwin aka EwokABDevito. He is one of only 2 users who have a higher IQ than I do.
shhhhht: This is the companion of “HOOOOO!” (See above.)
bae: I use “bae” sarcastically — “bae” is a word the kids say these days, it means “baby”/”babe” — I think it sounds ridiculous, which means I’m getting old! So I imitate them.
jag: “Jagh” means “masturbate” in Persian, my native language. This is pretty much the only non-work activity we are allowed to do at Everipedia HQ. (We’re also allowed to go to the gym once a day.)
swag: This is my favorite word of all time. The eccentric rapper Lil B “The Based God” popularized it. It is a nonsense word, similar to Kurt Vonngut’s “Ho Hum”…it can mean whatever you want it to mean! It is the best word.
dope: Dope means good, like drugs.
chill: Currrrr! (Sorry I got cold for a second there!) Chill means you’re icy, which indicates a state of jewel-encrusted repose.

Now for a microaggression. Where are you from? No, where are you really from?
I’m from the Barrio vato! Barrios weyyyy! Pinche cavron! (I’m from the San Fernando Valley — Encino to be exact — via Iran.)

At this juncture I would like to inform our readers that you have a B.A. in History from Yale, a J.D. from Stanford Law, and were a Fulbright scholar. You also helped Genius to go viral. So, in short, you are clearly pretty goddamned brilliant. And yet if a reader reads your answers so far, these revelations might seem surprising. I hate to, you know, lift the curtain on the mystique (although I suspect that’s not really possible in your case), but can you comment on why, particularly at age 33 (you know — when your friends have become boring adults), you affect a “thug” attitude?
I loathe snobbery and propriety — I am against society. I was making wikis for Merrick Garland and his family today — he is a Jew trying to be a WASP, very “Ivy League” — he makes me want to throw up. I consider myself to be a UCLA alum, not a Yale alum. UCLA is where I will be donating my money, it is a school where they teach you actual knowledge, instead of propagating bullshit yuppie culture.

What are your favorite topics in history? The law?
My specialty in college was French colonial history! I am obsessed with all things French — I don’t know why — it is embarrassing! My favorite legal subject is tax, by far. I had an amazing professor for several tax courses, Joe Bankman — he is my Rabbi, basically. He taught me the most about ethics and the way the world works. I love him.

I noticed you play piano pretty well — I think I heard some Bach. Did you have lessons or what?
I am OBSESSED with Bach! That is what I am first and foremost — a Bach performer. His music is so intellectual, and yet so emotional! He is the greatest artist of all time. Hopefully Everipedia will get really big within a year or so and I can leave the company and return to my REAL full-time job — learning the complete keyboard works of Bach. I took lessons from age 15–17 with a lovable Persian guy named Arjang Rad, who is now a famous composer.

Last question, back to Everipedia: Given the choice of Everipedia and Wikipedia, or spending time in some other similar online knowledge-sharing pursuits (e.g., Quora, Medium, etc.), why should people check out and start writing for Everipedia today, in March 2016? Is it ready for people to get involved?
Everipedia will give you recognition. You get IQ, badges, and top users get equity in the company. This company will be worth billions of dollars someday — and it will not only belong to the founders and investors — it will belong to everyone who helps build it. We have already awarded equity to top users.


Fund me to make 50 educational videos for kids!

I have a Kickstarter project that will close in two days! Unless I get a bunch of pledges in that time, I won't raise the money. I haven't tried very hard (actually, almost not at all)—been busy with other things.

Some salient points:

• I’ve made 26 educational videos for kids in my spare time (put on YouTube).

• As a homeschooling dad, Ph.D. philosopher, and reader of vast quantities of children’s literature, I am the perfect person to write these videos. I like making them, too.

• My videos are popular with and praised by students, parents, and teachers.

• My videos each average 52 views per day, or 18,834 per year.

• My videos on high-demand topics average 92 views per day, or 33,580 per year, about 4 years after being uploaded.

• Working full time, I can make 2-3 of these educational videos per day.

• So I can make 500 educational videos in a year.

• I can limit myself to high-demand topics.

• This would work out to over 30 million views per year (on high-demand topics), 4 years after being uploaded. That’s a lot!

• The videos don’t get stale. The amount of traffic my videos get has been growing year over year.

• I am seeking funding just for myself to make these videos.

It would become a K-4 version of Khan Academy (which is mostly focused on high school and college level material).
The videos would supply background knowledge about everything needed to be a proficient reader.
The selling points:

• Massive traffic, based on years of clear, consistent data.

• Inexpensive: I make them quickly, by myself.

• High quality educational content.

This is a proven, massively beneficial project. What I really want is somebody to fund me to full-time until I get tired of making these things. In the meantime, funding 50 of these things would be grand, and I'll show yez what I can do.

I kept my "no social media during work" pledge just fine

As I wrote in my last blog post,

I’m pledging to abandon social media networks when I am at work, except for narrowly defined work purposes. And I’m asking you to hold me to it and slag me mercilessly if you catch me at it! And I’m inviting you to take the pledge, too!

Yep, so for one day at least—and for many more, I still intend—I didn't do any social media at work. I could have done some related to work, but I didn't have any I wanted to do, so I didn't.

I've had a tremendously productive day so far! (Among other things I promoted a plan to get people to write a bunch of one-fact bitts quickly; and I also started a list of our "beat writers," six listed so far, under the first question of our FAQ. Sorry, you may have to log in in order to see this.)

But, sadly, nobody, not even a single person, took this "No Social Media at Work" pledge. Oh, well! I'll continue myself, anyway!


No Social Media During Work! Take the pledge NOW!

Social media is a time suck. I'm not as bad as some, but I need to focus better. I think a lot of us do, frankly. Don't you agree? Then let's start a No Social Media During Work campaign!

I'm pledging to abandon social media networks when I am at work, except for narrowly defined work purposes. And I'm asking you to hold me to it and slag me mercilessly if you catch me at it! And I'm inviting you to take the pledge, too!

Here is my pledge. This feels like a big step. Here goes!

I pledge, as of NOW, to abandon social media networks when I'm at work! Pledge with me!

I am at work weekdays at least from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Eastern, taking noon until 1 p.m. for lunch; and also from 9:00 p.m. until 11 p.m.; on Infobitt.

I want to do as well as I can on it! So I hereby pledge to abandon social media networks when I am at work. Hold me to it and slag me mercilessly (after your work) if you catch me at it!

I am @lsanger on Twitter, larry.sanger on Facebook, Larry Sanger on Quora, and Larry Sanger on YouTube. Hold me to my pledge!

Exceptions are very, very narrowly limited to: posts and discussion about Infobitt; also, holidays and declared sick days.

Checking for responses on any network is permitted only if I recently posted something work-related, and I might actually get a response.

I also promise to track my friends' pledges. If I notice a broken pledge, I will call them on it!

If you, too, want to take the pledge, then post a copy of your pledge to all social media networks you spend time on. Feel free to double down by adding your pledge to the bottom of this pagehttp://larrysanger.org/2015/06/take-the-pledge/ . Make sure to include your pledge somewhere on your user page, not just as a separate post, so you and others will not forget your pledge. Do make a video of yourself (here's mine) reading a written version of your pledge on any video networks of yours, like YouTube.

Work hard, and then play hard!

Wow. I hope this is the right decision. I think it is. It feels like a big one. I'm actually very excited!

OK, are you ready to take the "No Social Media During Work" pledge with me? Come on, DO IT! Not only will you get more work done and feel better about yourself, if you post it publicly on all your networks, then you can help improve the productivity of the world! And you can publicize your own social media presence. It's a massive win for everybody!

Come on, somebody write an app to catch me and others in violations, and I'll use it (the iPhone version) and link to it!

Here's a pledge form you can fill out:

I pledge, as of NOW, to abandon social media networks when I'm at work! Pledge with me!

I am at work weekdays at least [ list your work hours; list breaks if you want, though I didn't list any, except for lunch] on [your company, project, school, etc.—optional].

I want to do as well as I can on it! So I hereby pledge to abandon social media networks when I am at work. Hold me to it and slag me mercilessly (after your work) if you catch me at it!

I am ___ on Twitter, ___ on Facebook, [ list other social networks similarly]. Hold me to my pledge!

Exceptions are very, very narrowly limited to: [ list exceptions as carefully as necessary]; also, holidays and declared sick days.

Checking for responses on any network is permitted only if I recently posted something work-related, and I might actually get a response.

I also promise to track my friends' pledges. If I notice a broken pledge, I will call them on it!

If you, too, want to take the pledge, then post a copy of your pledge to all social media networks you spend time on. Make sure to include your pledge somewhere on your user pages, not just as a separate post, so you and others will not forget your pledge. Do make a video of yourself reading a written version of your pledge on any video networks of yours, like YouTube.

Work hard, and then play hard!

Well, are you in?


Reasons We Do Not Have for Homeschooling, and a Reason We Do

Here are several reasons we do not have for homeschooling:

•  We are religious "nuts" who want to shield our children from the theory of evolution, etc.? Nope. I'm a nonbelieving rationalist.

•  We are social climbers? Nope. I don't especially care if my boys go to the best colleges. I am not preparing them for Harvard (or even Reed, where I went). I want them to succeed, of course, but by their own lights, not according to society's common notions of success,  or even mine.

•  We are just generally competitive and want to be ahead of other kids? Nope. Already, there are plenty of kids who are ahead of H. But I'm not going to push him. He'll find his level and I'm sure I'll be proud of him regardless. I just want him to learn all he can, while still having a happy, reasonably relaxed childhood.

•  We want to shelter our boys from the bad influences at public schools? Nope. H. actually attends "specials" twice a week (art, music, P.E., and computers).

•  We can't afford private school? Nope. We probably could, if we sacrificed. But no, there isn't any private school in the area that would help our boys achieve the goals we have for them.

Here is the main reason, far and away the single most important reason, we do have for homeschooling:

•  We want our children to get a solid liberal arts education, which means:

In literature, I want them to know, appreciate, and understand the classics, and to be morally improved for having wrestled with them. I want them to be able to write persuasively, creatively, and thoughtfully, with flawless grammar and spelling, so that they could enter any writing-oriented profession. They should also be able to speak well. In math, I want them not only to study math through calculus and statistics, but to understand it; they will also study logic and, probably, mathematical logic. I want them thoroughly familiar with history, both U.S. and the rest of the world; I want them to know about the world itself, so geography and foreign languages are a must; so in general, I want their understanding of human society to be filled with facts and nuance. I want them to be able not only to do scientific calculations with facility, but actually to understand scientific concepts—well enough to succeed as science majors, or at engineering, if they so desire. I want them to be able to become excellent scholars, and to be able to understand their own language and the roots and nature of western civilization, so we'll probably study Latin and Greek for several years at least. They'll learn philosophy with me, reading and digesting a half-dozen of the main classics, such as the Plato's Republic, Descartes' Meditations, Locke's second treatise, and a few others. I want them familiar with music and other fine arts.

Of course, they'll have plenty of opportunity to pursue interests of their own choosing. H. is really into programming and I'll continue to support that.

Public schools can't provide this sort of education, because:

I've looked for private and charter schools in the area that I thought might be able to support these goals; I couldn't find any, except maybe St. Charles Prep for high school, and that's Catholic...


How I set up my standing desk

And now for something completely different.

After my wife told me I sat too much, and reading various scary things about the evils of sitting too much and the benefits of standing desks, I decided to try out a standing desk. At first I was going to order one or buy one locally, and then I looked at the prices and decided that I'd better try it out before I invest. To try it out, I built one to put on top of this old desk. The desktop was already pretty much the size I wanted, about 2/3", at Home Depot. The other boards (same width) were cut at the store for me to my design. Then I just got some wood screws and put it together. (Note to self: get a better drill.) It turns out to be quite sturdy. Of course, I had to carefully measure for the exact right height, and I did a very good job there on getting the height exactly right for me.

Now, when you get a standing desk, there is a breaking-in period (so I read, and so I am confirming right now) in which your feet and legs won't be able to handle standing all the time, or not without some distracting pain. So to begin with, at least, it's a good idea to have chair. But it has to be a tall chair. At first, I used a counter stool from downstairs, but that didn't work because it wasn't tall enough (I need a 30" to reach my desktop height comfortably; a taller person might need a slightly taller stool). So I got an adjustable barstool, as you can see here, and it works fine.

Another thing that makes the standing desk more tolerable is a soft, but not too soft, floor. At first I thought I could just stand in my shoes. I discovered that my shoes are not very comfortable for standing in for long periods of time. Just standing on the carpet, although it is a somewhat plush carpet, was also a no-go. So I decided that all the standing desk blogs were right and that I needed a special mat, an "anti-fatigue" mat, that would be easier on my feet. So for $40 I got a kitchen "chef mat" and put a couple of memory foam bath mats on top of those. They help, but I'm still trying to decide what is best. Generally I put the two bath mats on top of each other then on top of the chef mat, and then shift positions as different parts of the foam get compressed. I suspect that I should probably spend the $75+ and get a gel mat.

Finally, for the piece de la resistance, I have a little stool to rest my foot on. This is another commonly-recommended accessory of standing desks. At first I didn't think it would be that necessary, but as it's necessary to shift one's position pretty frequently, it's just nice to have another position to put my legs in. It also helps, by the way, to shift my feet back a few inches as necessary, to keep the weight more on the balls of my feet than on my heels. But if they all just start getting too sore, I just switch to the stool for a little bit. It's not that bad.

I've been at it for almost a week now, and I'm starting to get used to it. I can confirm the things commonly said about standing desks: it makes me more focused and productive, and I might have lost a little weight even. Next thing to try, after I get used to being on my feet, is a treadmill desk...

Total cost, including $25 wood and screws, $80 stool, and $40 mats: $145. Wife no longer nagging me about sitting too much: priceless.


On the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting

I think the most relevant cause of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting has relatively little do with guns or mental health.

I think it's because our society is seriously ill--not mentally, but morally--and many of us are in denial about it. We rarely talk unironically about honor, morality, or shame, or otherwise give signs that we take seriously an objective morality and a commitment to freedom and personal responsibility. Our society's elites simply don't think that way anymore, preferring to think of incidents like this as sociological phenomena with collective solutions, rather than individual/ethical issues with individual solutions.

The very tendency we have to ignore issues of personal responsibility and morality, to regard events like this as merely pathological and not under anyone's control, allows people to feel free to act without conscience. It's as if they say, "What I do is not under my control. I've had it, I've snapped, I can't stop myself..." and then they proceed to act out as if they really couldn't stop themselves and there's no need to.

Guns are not going to be banned. More mental health care will not stop people from acting out. The only solution to this sort of thing, in this country, is to reinvigorate our sense of personal responsibility, and to shut down the idiots who say we have no free will, who think that there are no problems for individual morality but only for psychology and sociology.


Who might you find in the lowest circles of hell?

I liked my answer to this Quora question so much that I had to put it here on my blog as well. I also used it to answer the question, "Why is murder a crime?" N.B. I do not believe in hell.

Murderers, particularly mass murderers, must occupy the very lowest circle. This sounds like a boring answer. Let me try to make it a little less so. I think many people do not understand what a horrific crime murder is. This is a shame. So let me explain it.

Frankly, the crime of murder makes all others pale in comparison. The trouble in understanding this is that murder is more "metaphysical" and so its evil, more difficult to comprehend. When a person is dead, nothing else happens to him qua person. Thus the crime of murder seems to have a short shelf life. It takes ten minutes to sharpen the knife, a minute to confront the victim and do the deed, a few hours for the body to be discovered, a year or two for the survivors to grieve, and then life goes on. For the murder victims themselves, many of them, the terror and pain last for only moments; is it really so bad?

But, no. That's not how it is. If you think this way, you probably also don't understand the economic concept of opportunity cost. The evil of murder lies not in the pain of dying and grieving, but in the enormousness of what it deliberately prevents: an entire life.

If you (wrongheadedly) think of life materialistically, as collecting stuff, then consider that murder involves not only robbing a person of all of his current possessions, it also involves robbing him of all possessions he would ever earn and enjoy in the future. The murderer as it were leaves you utterly naked for eternity. He's stolen your car, your house, your computer, your devices, your toys, your clothes--and everything you would have had in the future, too. That's a lot of stuff!

If you think of a life as a series of experiences, many of which are worthwhile in themselves--"peak experiences" and all--then consider that murder involves robbing a person of all the experiences he would have in the future. The murderer as it were locks you in a plain, windowless room forever. All chance at experiencing books, movies, relationships, food, etc., all gone.

If you think of a life as "love," as a collection of meaningful relationships, then consider that murder involves abruptly breaking every single one of those relationships, between parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend, husband and wife. All of them, all at once, never to return. The murderer as it were restrains you from all future dates, outings, time with children and parents, all of it. He has stolen your power to enjoy your parents, your husband or wife, your children, your friends--everyone you know, everyone you will know, everyone you might otherwise have brought into the world. That is truly an incredible loss.

If you think of life as service, as helping others, then consider that murder involves preventing you from helping anyone else, ever again, in any way whatsoever. The poor, sick, ignorant, and powerless, whoever you might have helped, will not be helped, at least not by you. The murderer as it were ties your hands and makes you watch helplessly as others try to shift for themselves even when they simply don't know how.

If you think of life as the pursuit of meaningful goals, then consider that murder permanently and irrevocably removes a person's ability to achieve anything whatsoever. The murderer as it were chains you to a wall with everything you might want to do far out of reach. The murderer makes every one of your dreams permanently, irrevocably impossible. Imagine how outrageous it would be for someone to come to your dream job and then physically restrain you for five minutes from doing that job. Then imagine someone doing that for the rest of your life. That's what murder does.

There are, of course, some other truly horrific crimes, such as abuse and torture. But murder is worse than abuse. Many abused people go on to live good lives and give life to others. In the end, they would rather have been abused than murdered. Murder is also worse than torture. Think of the war heroes who were tortured even for years, who later went on to have happy families and achieve great things. In the end, they would rather have been tortured than murdered.

Stalin, being responsible for more deaths than any single individual in history, would have to be at the bottom. Hitler would be very close to the bottom as well. Just try to think of everything that these monsters robbed from the world. It's inconceivable.


Let's try out "Golden Filter Premium" on Wikipedia, shall we?

I encountered a journalist-activist on Twitter, a writer for (among others) Al Jazeera in English, who is nevertheless a free speech activist. We discussed the recent FoxNews.com article that reported, among other things, that the Wikimedia Foundation entirely failed to respond to a "more or less free" offer of filtering software. They need such software, of course, because they are heavily used by school children, and widely available in schools, and yet they host enormous amounts of porn. Anyway, the journalist-activist and I had a charming exchange, the end of which went like this:

Journalist-activist: "Why don't you simply push for people to purchase NetSpark or similar for home use?"

Me: "...a lot of people don't have money or expertise to install such a solution."

JA: "I don't buy that - free, good filters are widely available."

Me: "If you find me a 'free, good filter' that is 'widely available,' I will install and test, and blog about the results."

JA: "http://t.co/4CHL54yc"

Me: "All righty then! This should be fun!"

First, the Egyptian-made Golden Filter Premium is quite easy to install. However, though I am a certified "power user" of computers (Jimmy Wales called me that back in 2000), I couldn't immediately find where the software resides. As soon as it installed, the installation window closed, zoop!, and when I searched "porn" in Chrome (my currently favored browser), the window magically closed. So it was working, I just couldn't figure out where to fiddle with the options. Finally I opened the Task Manager, found the original file location of the exe, read the ReadMe, and discovered that the app is shown via F9 and F10. I would have known the F9/F10 trick if I had read the installation notes, apparently, but who does that?

So once it's installed, what is the first thing I do? I follow the script I followed when I made this fun video. Results?

It doesn't filter Wikipedia.org, which is fine. You can use it to block the whole site, if you want. But of course the WMF should offer a more fine-grained filter than that.

The software instantly closes a window as soon as it sees one of the verboten words on it. You may edit the list of verboten words.

I don't think they know about "fisting" in Egypt. It isn't in the list of verboten words, so when I type it into Wikipedia, of course I get the article, complete with illustrations. (I won't supply links here. You can go ahead and search if you dare, but bear in mind that this and the following examples are highly NSFW.)

Next, I go to multimedia search on Simple English Wikipedia, as I did in the above video. Let me try my test searches: "Poseidon." Yep, there's the old "Kiss of Poseidon.jpg" which does not actually feature the Greek God.

"Cucumber"? Page 2 of the results (used to be page 1) features some female exhibitionists who are altogether too fond of this vegetable.

"Toothbrush"? Again, page 2 has someone using a toothbrush in a way not approved by the ADA (used to be the top of page 1; Wikipedians obviously were uncomfortable with the bad publicity).

So...this free version doesn't work. By the way, for what it's worth, a non-free filter, NetSpark's, not only caught these examples, it deleted them inline instead of simply blocking the whole page. I'm not saying NetSpark is the only or the best solution, just that it's the one I'm familiar with and that it seemed to work rather well.

Wikipedia could pay a modest amount of money (I'm not sure what the bottom line bill would be, if over $0, from Netspark) and obtain a solution on behalf of the school children who use their smut-ridden resource. But they refuse. Few parents will want to use "Golden Filter Premium," in any case. It's just too clunky, and it doesn't work the way it should on Wikipedia anyway.