August 18, 2008

Web Sites That Will Entertain

North Dakota Policy Council

If the definition of a "gadfly" is "a person who stimulates or annoys, especially by persistent criticism," then this Web site is a 21st century digital gadfly operating in the interests of North Dakotans.

Want to see how your local school district is spending your tax dollars? It's here. What are specific teachers and administrators being paid? it's here. What's going on with taxpayer funded projects and economic development loan funds? It's here.

It's all public record material that you can get on your own - if you had the time and knew where to look. This site acts as a clearinghouse of such information, presenting it in an easy-to- access and easy-to-understand format.

A popular feature at the site is the "Sunshine On Schools" section, launched in April and reported on in the Bismarck Tribune in June. Other hot sections include the NDPC blog and the "Research Areas."

In a matter of minutes, I learned: Teacher salaries in the Mandan School District are below the state average, while administrator salaries are higher than the state average; North Dakota has the second highest out-migration rate in the country, just behind Michigan; and there are serious questions about how many actual, well-paying jobs have been generated from the taxpayer investment in the six-year-old "Centers For Excellence" program.

This site is a good starting point, as is the newspaper, for North Dakotans wanting to learn a little more about how their tax dollars are being used or abused.

Would Edison hire you?

Edison Mental Fitness Test

Famed inventor Thomas Edison may be admired for the technological advances he brought the world, but he didn't win many friends with his "Mental Fitness Test." In many ways a precursor to IQ, SAT and ACT style tests, Edison wrote and used his tests in hiring people - or firing them. Those who passed his tests were "ABC" people. Those who failed were "XYZ" people and, if they were employed by Edison, were given one week's salary and the way out the door.

Would Edison hire you? Could you pass his test? You can find out by going to the test link above to see how well you would fare. A simpler and easier sample test also is available at edis/forteachers/the-edison-test.htm.

I tried the test and, it turns out, Tom and I wouldn't have been working together. Too bad - I could have built some great Web stuff for him.

The sound of dots

Listen to the Picture

If you seem to hear noises or sounds while watching some screensavers, you're not going crazy - you just might have "synaesthesia," a rare condition where human senses intermingle, producing situations where, say, a person "hears" a pattern of dots moving quickly on a computer screen.

The condition was discovered when a group of students were being shown around a lab and one of them asked if anyone else could hear a pattern of moving dots on a computer screen.

You can test yourself to see if you have this condition. Go to the Web site listed above and play the brief video to see if you "hear" the moving images.

You also can learn more about the research at the New Scientist Web site: some-synaesthetes-hear-moving-dots.html.

Rubik's Cube is hot

Rubik's Cube

More than two decades after its debut, the popular Rubik's Cube shows no signs of becoming a rarely used or barely remembered "nostalgia toy." People still try to solve it and diehard competitors still try to solve it faster than anyone in the world.

The goal: Rearrange colors on a specially designed cube so that all six sides feature six solid colors.

It's easy to say, hard to do.

Do a search on "rubik's cube" to learn more about this popular toy, how it's made, and how it draws the interest of mathematicians.

Do a search on YouTube on "rubik's cube" to find dozens of videos to help you learn ways to quickly solve the puzzle. One of my co- workers got hooked on the cube and spent several days learning how to solve it. He's good - and getting better. And he learned it all on the Web (his initial training spot was RobH0629?ob=1).

You can do it, too.

You can go to the official Rubik's Cube site as a starting point, or do the searches on the Web and at YouTube.

(Keith Darnay is the webmaster and designer for His Web site, featuring this column going back to 1995, is at

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