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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hamtaro and the quack

More here.

The madding crowd

I don't know about you, but 400 hundred to 1200 students in a course? I guess all those stories of monster-sized classes from friends in UCs (University of California campuses) aren't tall tales after all. At the undergrad level, the biggest class I had ever dealt with in the lower division was 28 (average 22); upper division, 12 (average 8).

Colleges cope with bigger classes

By Justin Pope,
The Associated Press
November 24, 2007

BOULDER, Colo. - On weekday mornings, the Cristol Chemistry Building at the University of Colorado is a hive of activity. Every hour, hundreds of laptop-toting students file in and out of its theater-style lecture halls, where classes are scheduled back to back.

In all, there are 33 courses at Colorado with 400 students or more. Three have more than 1,200. Most are broken into sections, but even those may have hundreds of students. One chemistry course is so big that the only place on campus where everyone can take the final exam at once is the Coors Event Center, Colorado's basketball arena.

Such arrangements are here to stay on U.S. campuses.

There already are 18 million American college students, and that number is expected to increase by 2 million over the next eight years, as the value of a college degree continues to climb.

To get everyone through their coursework, monstrous class sizes are unavoidable.

That does not have to be a bad thing. At their best, giant classes can be effective and inspiring — a way to get the best teachers in front of the most students.

But according to Carl Wieman, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize as a physicist at Colorado, such successes are rare.

Students often tune out and are turned off. Charismatic lecturers get good reviews but, the data show, are no more effective than others at making the most important concepts stick.

Most remarkably, when it comes to teaching not just "facts" but conveying to students the scientific approach to problem-solving, research shows that students end up thinking less like professionals after completing these classes than when they started.

"In a very real way, you're doing damage with these courses," Wieman, now a leading voice for reform, said in a recent interview.

Why are so many big classes broken?

One reason is faculty and departments closely guard their absolute power over teaching, and there is no central body nationally or even on campus to direct reform.

Many reforms also take money. If there were enough money, big classes wouldn't exist in the first place.

But state and federal policymakers are clamoring for more accountability and better graduation rates, and if faculty don't step up, bureaucrats might. Big classes are the obvious place to focus. The National Center for Academic Transformation, or NCAT, estimates that the 25 most common college courses — in subjects like economics, English, psychology and the sciences — account for 35 percent of four-year college enrollment nationally. That means a lot of people are taking a relative handful of courses.

Colorado, with a long tradition on innovative science teaching, is one of a number of campuses making significant changes in how at least some large introductory courses are taught and organized. Others include Maryland, MIT, Virginia Tech, Clemson and the University of Alabama.

The reforms go beyond simply reducing class sizes or encouraging lecturers to speak with more animation, though that's an element. Details vary, but one theme is a shift from a passive model of absorbing a lecturer's words to a more active one where lecturers guide and measure, but students learn the material more independently.

It's not necessarily popular with students, but the cognitive research says it is the way to make learning stick.

"In a traditional course the faculty are doing all the work and the students are watching," said Carol Twigg, president and CEO of NCAT, which is working with hundreds of universities to improve giant courses. "In a redesigned course, students are doing the work and faculty are stepping in as needed."

Wieman is at the vanguard of the reform movement, but it's really his second career. In his first he was a researcher with a rare distinction: He produced a new state of matter. Most people know the three most common states of matter — solid, liquid and gas. But cooling rubidium nearly to absolute zero, Wieman and Colorado colleague Eric Cornell formulated the first Bose-Einstein condensate, a state in which several thousand atoms align perfectly and behave as a single "super atom."

After his Nobel, Wieman could easily have focused on lab work or training a cadre of elite graduate students.

But Wieman uses his clout to secure invitations to talk to his fellow scientists — about teaching. He has become one of several physicists to take up the cause, along with Eric Mazur at Harvard, Edward Redish at Maryland and Robert Beichner at North Carolina State.

Wieman wears tennis shoes and walks everywhere like he's in a hurry. He is.

"I have ridiculous, grandiose visions," he said, speaking in his temporary office overlooking Colorado's football stadium. "I want to change how everybody learns science. I won't get into how this will save mankind, but it may."

The problem, he said, is that scientists stop acting like scientists when it comes to their own teaching.

In their own research, scientists hypothesize, measure — then use data to figure out what works. But for teaching, "they're immediately willing to make generalizations about the thousands of students who've been through their class based on the two that talked to them last week," Wieman said.

There's no magic bullet, but measurement is the key.

"We're in this new era of engaging in this as a scholarly enterprise," said Noah Finkelstein, a young Colorado physics professor who has worked with Wieman to revamp a class he teaches. "Most faculty haven't been taught education is a scholarly enterprise. Most faculty have been taught education is an art, not a science."

One of the tools of the new science is "clickers," handheld voting devices now used on at least 700 campuses nationwide, according to manufacturer eInstruction. They let teachers pose mid-lecture multiple choice questions and instantly evaluate if students are grasping the material.

During a recent morning lecture in Colorado's General Chemistry 1131, Professor Robert Parson spoke for a few minutes, then posed a multiple-choice question to the class of about 250. The question, like others he used, was designed by a team of science-learning experts with trick choices that signal if students are falling for common misconceptions. The results of the "vote" popped up on an overhead screen. Then, before revealing the answer, Parson had students break into small groups to discuss the answer and vote again. The group did well, and he moved on. If it had performed poorly, he would have reviewed the material.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in college teaching is bridging the gap between an often brilliant expert and students new to the subject. Clickers help remind teachers how a novice sees their material.

"You realize how many people don't know something you forgot you didn't know 20 years ago," said Barbara Demmig-Adams, one of four Colorado professors who teaches a general biology course with 1,300 students and who introduced clickers this year.

Other campuses are trying different ideas, but a common thread is making big classes more of a two-way street.

At Virginia Tech, for instance, most introductory math courses now take place in a giant room called the "math emporium," in a converted department store just off campus. Students rarely if ever meet together. Instead, they come in any time, 24 hours a day, to work through problems on the 500 computer work stations. When they have a question, they flip over a red plastic cup beside their desk, and helpers — upperclassmen, graduate students or professional staff — come by.

Despite the roomful of computer hardware, the emporium is a much less expensive way to teach — for one course about $24 per student, compared to about $77.

Teaching assistants in Parson's chemistry course and at the math emporium say they're growing increasingly confident in these kinds of methods. But some students are still sour on them.

"I can't do it very well with someone teaching me," said Ian Millington, a Virginia Tech sophomore who failed a calculus class but got a B when he took the same course last summer at a local community college. "So how am I going to teach it to myself?"

His mother, Jennifer Millington, says the family loves everything about Virginia Tech — except how it teaches math.

"If they're going to keep raising the rates, I shouldn't have to be going to a community college to pay for my kid to take calculus," she said. "I know it's a huge school and there are so many students, but if you get so large that you're neglecting the masses (then) kids are falling through the cracks."

Mike Williams, who oversees the emporium, concedes student reaction is mixed. "It turns out many resent they have to do more work," he said. "They want to sit in a class like they're watching the boob tube."

But he says the popular option isn't always the best way to teach. And it's good for students to take on more responsibility for their learning.

Big lectures have their place, but it's too easy for students to hide, said Lee Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Technology can help if teachers carefully study what works, as Wieman does. Otherwise, the latest gadgets will only further alienate students, as has happened with teachers who rely too much on tools like Microsoft PowerPoint.

Shulman invited Wieman to give his foundation's centennial lecture last year.

"It's not unusual for Nobel laureates to shift the direction of their work into a more socially and educationally focused kind of direction," Shulman said. "What's remarkably different about Carl is that he doesn't just say, 'I'm a Nobel Laureate, listen up,' and then ask people to take teaching more seriously. He approaches it as a scholar."

Frustrated with administrative turnover and funding, Wieman moved his base to the University of British Columbia this year while continuing some of his work at Colorado. He says he was determined to continue his work at a large public university — the kind of place where future K-12 teachers are trained.

If Harvard were to revolutionize introductory science teaching, "people would look at it and say, 'They've got more money than God, that doesn't have any application to us,'" Wieman says. But if places like Colorado and UBC can show measurable improvement, "it's going to be a whole lot harder for people to argue they shouldn't be doing it."

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Not sure if I concur with the rest of the article but these 2 excerpts had me nodding and laughing:

"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet," says Toni, 35.

"I found it insulting that she thought that, just because I was a woman, I'd reach a point where an urge to breed would overcome all rational thought.

Complete article here.

Being a woman must be so hard sometimes.

Why burglary is a poor profession in Texas, or, why you shouldn't break into your ex-frat brother's home to rearrange his furniture as a prank

Texan kills burglars next door, citing 'castle doctrine'

A so-called "castle doctrine" law recently passed in Texas allows people to use deadly force to protect their homes and property. However, a case in which a Houston-area man in his 70's killed two apparent burglars he observed breaking into his neighbor's house has raised new questions about how far that doctrine might extend.

The man called an emergency dispatcher when he first saw the alleged burglars, saying "I've got a shotgun, do you want me to stop them?"

"Nope, don't do that," replied the dispatcher. "Ain't no property worth shooting somebody over, ok? ... I've got officers coming out there. I don't want you to go outside that house."

"I understand that," the caller replied, "but I have a right to protect myself too, sir, and you understand that. And the laws have been changed in this country since September the 1st, and you know it and I know it."

After five minutes, the dispatcher was no longer able to restrain the caller, who stepped outside and shot both men, reporting, "Here it goes, buddy. You hear the shotgun clicking and I'm going. ... Boom, you're dead. ... I had no choice."

A grand jury will decide whether the man can be charged with a crime. He will probably be found to have acted legally if it is determined that the neighbor whose house was broken into had asked him to protect his property, but not otherwise.

Click here for the source and audio.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


       Do, or do not. There is no 'try.'          (Yoda)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The milk looks dangerously whole.

From tests that everyone will pass, games where everyone wins a prize, to competitions where everyone is a winner, the march of the PC-adult-diaper-wearing-Nazis (yes, yes, I'm committing a Goodwin.) continues:

Sunny days! The earliest episodes of “Sesame Street” are available on digital video! Break out some Keebler products, fire up the DVD player and prepare for the exquisite pleasure-pain of top-shelf nostalgia.

Just don’t bring the children. According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child."

Say what? At a recent all-ages home screening, a hush fell over the room. “What did they do to us?” asked one Gen-X mother of two, finally. The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.

Nothing in the children’s entertainment of today, candy-colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times. Back then — as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole.

Live-action cows also charge the 1969 screen — cows eating common grass, not grain improved with hormones. Cows are milked by plain old farmers, who use their unsanitary hands and fill one bucket at a time. Elsewhere, two brothers risk concussion while whaling on each other with allergenic feather pillows. Overweight layabouts, lacking touch-screen iPods and headphones, jockey for airtime with their deafening transistor radios. And one of those radios plays a late-’60s news report — something about a “senior American official” and “two billion in credit over the next five years” — that conjures a bleak economic climate, with war debt and stagflation in the offing.

The old “Sesame Street” is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper “Elmo’s World” started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original “Sesame Street” might hurt your feelings.

[ . . . ]

Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

(Heffernan, Virginia.  "Sweeping the Clouds Away."  The New York Times Magazine 18 Nov 2007.  Retrieved 21 Nov 2007.)

The rest here.


Why black sheep are barred and Humpty can't be cracked

TRADITIONAL nursery rhymes are being rewritten at nursery schools to avoid causing offence to children. Instead of singing “Baa baa, black sheep” as generations of children have learnt to do, toddlers in Oxfordshire are being taught to sing “Baa baa, rainbow sheep”.

(Blair, Alexandra.  "Why black sheep are barred and Humpty can't be cracked."  Times Online 7 March 2006.  Retrieved 22 Nov 2007.)

More here.


Now, before the Sturmabteilung haul me away, here's a politically incorrect joke:

Little Tony returns from school and reports that he received an "F" in arithmetic.

"Why?" asks the father.

"The teacher asked 'How much is 2 x 3.' I said '6", replies Little Tony.

"But that's right!" says his dad.

"Yeah, but then she asked me, 'How much is 3 x 2?"

"What's the fucking difference?" the father exclaims.

Little Tony, "That's what I said!"

Further reading
When mean hides behind political correctness.
Speech by Charlton Heston to the Harvard Law School Forum, February 16, 1999.
Top Politically Incorrect Words for 2006.
Santa Claus outraged by 'ho ho ho' ban.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What he said

I knew that returning to Singapore to pursue a faculty position would be an unacceptable constraint, and at that point, I stopped dating Singaporean women.
         (Melvin Leok)


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ain't that the truth!

In case you haven't been following the news, a container ship, Cosco Busan, hit a tower of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco on November 7, 2007, spilling 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel:

Funniest post regarding the incident so far:

It takes a lot of medical marijuana to accomplish that sort of feat.
Posted by Enophile

I bet they were listening to "Jammin'" and smoking spliffs when the accident occurred.

I can picture the bridge of the ship as it happened...


"I'm jamin' I'm jammin' I'm jammin I'm jammin in the name of the lord..."


"What, man?"

"Bridge, dude!"

"That was the bridge...'I'm jammin' I'm jammin' is, like, totally the bridge."

"No, dude, THE BAY BRIDGE!!!"


"Oh, man, we are so busted. Pull over to that island while I ditch the weed...."


Thanks a lot.
Posted by Jack Seaton.

Here I thought you were a level headed guy and you then use this as an opportunity to poke fun at Medical MJ users.

Any other stereotypes you want to address, or was this enough for one day?


Posted by Bruce Kendall

That is probably closer to the truth than we'll ever hear.


Ship crew's drug, alcohol tests botched, Coast Guard says

Kevin Fagan, Demian Bulwa, Zachary Coile, Chronicle Staff Writers
San Francisco Chronicle
November 15, 2007

San Francisco - -- The Coast Guard was rocked by new developments Wednesday in the wake of the huge San Francisco Bay oil spill as the agency shoved aside its Bay Area disaster commander, began a wide-ranging probe of its actions after the accident and admitted it had mishandled drug tests for crew members of the ship that struck the Bay Bridge.

[ . . . ]

Also topmost among the concerns at the Washington briefing were revelations by the Coast Guard that it and the owners of the Cosco Busan freighter failed to ensure that members of the ship's crew were tested for drugs within 32 hours after the ship hit the bridge as required by federal regulations.

"If they didn't follow the protocol, and let's say people were keeling over with drugs and they got away with it, there ought to be a penalty for that - and we'll never know," [Senator Barbara] Boxer said.

Coast Guard officials said Wednesday that the ship's operators did not test some of the relevant crew members - those with duties potentially linking them to the crash - for drugs until 53 hours after the incident.

It is the responsibility of the owner and operator of a vessel to test crew members immediately after an incident, but the Coast Guard is responsible for making sure the testing rules are strictly followed.

The rest of the article.


Anyone who ever observed potheads would know that Enophile's portrayal is spot on  :-D

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


From crufty, a video:


1. above
2. beyond
3. on top of
4. higher up
5. exceeding
6. greater than
7. transcending

8. Whoosh!


From Inferno Ed, "The Perils of Feeding in the Day."

And I just commented that we ride the night like vampires, fleeing the herald of dawn like the undead — except that it's the morning rush hour we dread.

52 km/h down Braddell Road at 7 AM and dodging trucks, eh?


A year in, and I haven't changed. Deo gratias.

Breakfast over the weekend:

BIMBO:  Ben, why are you always in T-shirts and jeans? Don't you, like, dress up?
BEN:  The British left a long time ago. There's no longer a need to impress your colonial masters on this tropical island paradise.
BIMBO [tiny fashionista brain sputters into overdrive and crashes]:  . . .

An excerpt from a post I made 385 days ago:

"As a graduate student at Stanford, many rich white students dressed poorly, but those of color tried to dress the best they could," wrote Ramon Chacon, professor of history and ethic studies here at Santa Clara. Chacon is the son of poor Chicano farm workers, and he received his doctorate from Stanford University.


Why there's no loyalty — only opportunity

Henry Minjoot.

Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi.


I know a couple of you cautioned me against expressing the following sentiment, but there is only so much room before the elephant steps on your foot (or your neck).

I Love You, I Love You Not, or, Why Treason is But a Matter of Timing

June 3, 1959

Governor Sir William Goode, who becomes the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) proclaims new Constitution making Singapore a self-governing state.

September 16, 1963

Singapore became an autonomous state within Malaysia, with its own constitution, on September 16, 1963.

August 9, 1965

After a period of friction between Singapore and the central government in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965, and became an independent republic.

October 1996

The last time Mr Lee floated the idea in 1996, it caused ripples on both sides of the Causeway, with then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad replying that he did not think "it is time yet".

September 27, 2007

When [Malaysia] kicked us out [ . . .]. If they would just educate the Chinese and Indians, use them and treat them as their citizens, they can equal us and even do better than us and we would be happy to rejoin them.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled program already in progress.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

But I thought I'm a geek...

Your Score: Pure Nerd

73 % Nerd, 47% Geek, 43% Dork

For the record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.

The times, they are a-changing. It used to be that being exceptionally smart led to being unpopular, which would ultimately lead to picking up all of the traits and tendences associated with the "dork." No-longer. Being smart isn't as socially crippling as it once was, and even more so as you get older: eventually being a Pure Nerd will likely be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful.


Take the "Nerd, Geek, or Dork?" test!

Hat tip: takchek (who also thought he's a geek.)

For those who drank the MLM / Network Marketing Kool-aid — "I told you so!"

Typical drivel spewed by MLM recruiters:

We have entered an era whereby imagination is much more important than knowledge and creativity, much more effective than productivity . . ..
         (A senior executive of a MLM firm)


The road to riches is to sell imaginary profits to ignorant, lazy people.

More here.

There is a reason why the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) compiles an Investor Alert List. Use it.

Related articles

Easy money, hard lesson
Multi-level marketing firm placed on MAS alert list
Malaysian Securities Commission Investor Alert List

SG$12,000. That's quite a princely sum to confirm that you are a doofus.

Next time, check your greed at the door, not your brain.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Man killed in wood-chipper accident

By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times staff writer
November 8, 2007

Authorities in Orange County are working to recover the remains of a 24-year-old Anaheim man who was killed Wednesday in a wood chipper accident in Tustin.

The tree service worker "was standing at the back end of the chipper, throwing branches into it with his co-workers nearby," said Sgt. Pat Welch of the Tustin Police Department.

"One of them looked over, and he was gone."

Authorities took the wood chipper and the truck attached to it to a parking structure at the coroner's office, where they plan to dismantle it.

The accident, which happened about 4 p.m. in the 2600 block of Palmetto Avenue in Tustin, is being investigated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, authorities said.

The man's name was being withheld until his family was notified.

"We'll just be trying to gather as much of the remains as we can," said Supervising Deputy Coroner Larry Esslinger.

Thirty-one people were killed in wood chipper accidents between 1992 and 2002, according to a 2005 Journal of the American Medical Assn. report.



Fargo, anyone?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Armstrong runs the NYC Marathon

Finishing in 856th place, Lance Armstrong completed his first marathon in 2 hours 59 minutes 36 seconds.

Armstrong's build presented a stark contrast to the elite men's runners who preceded him on the course. The cycling champion's heavily muscled legs and powerful chest set him apart from the slender Kenyans who traditionally dominate the race. Even Armstrong compared the leaders' legs to pencils.


Armstrong's ex-wife, Kristin Richard, ran the 2004 NYC Marathon, finishing in 3 hours 45 minutes 53 seconds.

As a gesture of support, Lance's current squeeze, Ashley Olson, wore a Livestrong™ bracelet as a belt during the race.

Well, what do you know? I'm not alone in this.

Devices Enforce Silence of Cellphones, Illegally

By Matt Richtel, The New York Times
November 4, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.

“She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? “Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.”

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States — prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.

The development is creating a battle for control of the airspace within earshot. And the damage is collateral. Insensitive talkers impose their racket on the defenseless, while jammers punish not just the offender, but also more discreet chatterers.

“If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,” said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. “The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”

The jamming technology works by sending out a radio signal so powerful that phones are overwhelmed and cannot communicate with cell towers. The range varies from several feet to several yards, and the devices cost from $50 to several hundred dollars. Larger models can be left on to create a no-call zone.

Using the jammers is illegal in the United States. The radio frequencies used by cellphone carriers are protected, just like those used by television and radio broadcasters.

The Federal Communication Commission says people who use cellphone jammers could be fined up to $11,000 for a first offense. Its enforcement bureau has prosecuted a handful of American companies for distributing the gadgets — and it also pursues their users.

Investigators from the F.C.C. and Verizon Wireless visited an upscale restaurant in Maryland over the last year, the restaurant owner said. The owner, who declined to be named, said he bought a powerful jammer for $1,000 because he was tired of his employees focusing on their phones rather than customers.

“I told them: put away your phones, put away your phones, put away your phones,” he said. They ignored him.

The owner said the F.C.C. investigator hung around for a week, using special equipment designed to detect jammers. But the owner had turned his off.

The Verizon investigator was similarly unsuccessful. “He went to everyone in town and gave them his number and said if they were having trouble, they should call him right away,” the owner said. He said he has since stopped using the jammer.

Of course, it would be harder to detect the use of smaller battery-operated jammers like those used by disgruntled commuters.

An F.C.C. spokesman, Clyde Ensslin, declined to comment on the issue or the case in Maryland.

Cellphone carriers pay tens of billions of dollars to lease frequencies from the government with an understanding that others will not interfere with their signals. And there are other costs on top of that. Verizon Wireless, for example, spends $6.5 billion a year to build and maintain its network.

“It’s counterintuitive that when the demand is clear and strong from wireless consumers for improved cell coverage, that these kinds of devices are finding a market,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesman. The carriers also raise a public safety issue: jammers could be used by criminals to stop people from communicating in an emergency.

In evidence of the intensifying debate over the devices, CTIA, the main cellular phone industry association, asked the F.C.C. on Friday to maintain the illegality of jamming and to continue to pursue violators. It said the move was a response to requests by two companies for permission to use jammers in specific situations, like in jails.

Individuals using jammers express some guilt about their sabotage, but some clearly have a prankster side, along with some mean-spirited cellphone schadenfreude. “Just watching those dumb teens at the mall get their calls dropped is worth it. Can you hear me now? NO! Good,” the purchaser of a jammer wrote last month in a review on a Web site called DealExtreme.

Gary, a therapist in Ohio who also declined to give his last name, citing the illegality of the devices, says jamming is necessary to do his job effectively. He runs group therapy sessions for sufferers of eating disorders. In one session, a woman’s confession was rudely interrupted.

“She was talking about sexual abuse,” Gary said. “Someone’s cellphone went off and they carried on a conversation.”

“There’s no etiquette,” he said. “It’s a pandemic.”

Gary said phone calls interrupted therapy all the time, despite a no-phones policy. Four months ago, he paid $200 for a jammer, which he placed surreptitiously on one side of the room. He tells patients that if they are expecting an emergency call, they should give out the front desk’s number. He has not told them about the jammer.

Gary bought his jammer from a Web site based in London called Victor McCormack, the site’s operator, says he ships roughly 400 jammers a month into the United States, up from 300 a year ago. Orders for holiday gifts, he said, have exceeded 2,000.

Kumaar Thakkar, who lives in Mumbai, India, and sells jammers online, said he exported 20 a month to the United States, twice as many as a year ago. Clients, he said, include owners of cafes and hair salons, and a New York school bus driver named Dan.

“The kids think they are sneaky by hiding low in the seats and using their phones,” Dan wrote in an e-mail message to Mr. Thakkar thanking him for selling the jammer. “Now the kids can’t figure out why their phones don’t work, but can’t ask because they will get in trouble! It’s fun to watch them try to get a signal.”

Andrew, the San Francisco-area architect, said using his jammer was initially fun, and then became a practical way to get some quiet on the train. Now he uses it more judiciously.

“At this point, just knowing I have the power to cut somebody off is satisfaction enough,” he said.


Sometimes, even God gets annoyed and shuts these clowns up — in his own way  :-P