Explain This

By Shamus
on Jun 23, 2011
Filed under:
Personal

My family is home all day. All of us. My wife teaches our kids, so they don’t go to public school. I work from home. She works from home. This is a busy house.

The main hall is lined with paintings and drawings by my wife. This hallway connects the front door, the back door, and the bathroom. All day long we have kids roughhousing, and people slamming the heavy doors as they enter and leave the house. (Not to mention the persistent level of traffic you get around a bathroom in a house of five people. ) Despite this constant vibration, the art manages to stay on the walls.

Last year, my wife took the kids on a trip to visit a friend in another state. They were gone for a few days. The day after they left, one of the paintings randomly fell off the wall. No reason. No provocation. I was sitting in my office like I always do, when I heard a crash from the hall and found the floor glittering with broken glass. I wasn’t even listening to loud music. “Hm. That was random,” I thought.

Yesterday, my wife left with the kids to visit that same friend. It’s now the next morning, and another painting just fell off the wall. (No broken glass this time, thank goodness.)

I am annoyed at how utterly mystifying, inexplicable, and random this is, while at the same time being completely mundane. It’s just a stupid little mystery that I’ll probably never figure out.

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From the Archives:

  1. Sean says:

    Suuuure. It “just fell off the wall.” Uh huh. I’ll bet it has nothing to do with your secret Mr. Hyde persona that comes out during DRM discussions that makes you randomly smash things.

  2. qwksndmonster says:

    A great mystery of this world that will never ever be solved. Maybe you’re being haunted by the ghosts of the Fallout 3 writers?

  3. Andrew says:

    Ghosts – Definitely :)

  4. Mike says:

    Were the nails still strong in the wall, or were they now at a sorry downward angle? Or were they pulled out completely?

    Of course, if you used that magic goop from 3M that holds xx lbs and is easy to remove, you deserve what you got. Drive a nail. :)

  5. aldowyn says:

    Maybe in some crazy way the vibrations actually kept them on the wall?

    Or perhaps they’d come to the point where they could fall at any moment and just waited until it made no sense at all?

    Yeah, I dunno.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I’m assuming the paintings are just hung off nails here. Maybe the regular vibrations keep wobbling the nails back into the holes somehow, so when there aren’t any the weight of the paintings can slowly drag the nails out over a day or so. Maybe.

    Or maybe it’s just coincidence. (booooooorrrrring)

    • Ravens Cry says:

      That was my thought as well. Either that or all the stamping and trampling had forced the nails loose and it was only coincidence they fell out when the family was away.

  7. burningdragoon says:

    The paintings must be the supreme overseers of your house’s spiritual balance. Your family leaving upsets this balance and the only way for the overseers to protest is to leap from their wall-based sanctuary.

    Or something.

    Edit: Alternative explanation: your family plans these trips based on how loose the paintings are on the wall and/or sabotages the paitings pre-trip just to mess with you.

  8. MrPyro says:

    I am reminded of the story of the car that wouldn’t run with vanilla ice-cream in it:

    http://www.netscrap.com/netscrap_detail.cfm?scrap_id=501

  9. JPH says:

    Was your house built atop Native American burial grounds, by any chance?

  10. Grag says:

    The supporting wall is shared by one of the kids’ rooms, and they leave something on like a fishtank bubbler. normally it’s held down by some book or other personal item, but they take it with. the vibration of the fishtank bubbler shakes the wall and makes the paintings fall down.

    alternative explanation, with most of your team gone it’s easier for a spy to get in and start breaking things. They don’t enter your office because you’re a pyro and would kill them too quickly.

  11. Hugo Sanchez says:

    Obviously someone has a very strong vendetta against you. They wait for everyone else to leave the house, except for you, because they KNOW you’ll be in your office. Then sneak it, sabotage painting, sneak back out.

    THE ONLY EXPLANATION.

  12. MrPyro says:

    Additional theories;

    Your wife spends 5 minutes a day rehanging all the paintings that are slipping off their pegs/nails, but you’ve never noticed.

    Pixies that are frightened of children.

    Your wife’s friend is a voodoo practitioner who hates you and tries to kill you whenever your wife is away, but has terrible aim.

    Coincidence.

    Paintings do fall off the wall at other times, but your wife clears it up before you’ve even noticed.

    I offer no guidance as to which of these I consider the most likely.

    • Retsam says:

      I think the idea that his wife may adjust the paintings to straighten them is the most likely theory. It wouldn’t take 5 minutes, just a few seconds to keep them on straight.

    • Felblood says:

      I will lend my support to the “someone else picks them up” theory.

      A crowded, lively house would prevent you from hearing the fall from an office, but someone who is closer, or moving throughout the house would surely notice it.

      How many of your paintings still have the glass in them?

  13. James Schend says:

    Not a proper A/B test unless you have an exact clone of your house with kids running around and slamming doors, and observed it for picture-fall-age.

    • Another_Scott says:

      Quick, is anyone a writter, computer-wizard, and successful blogger who is also a family man?

      Send your family to the movies and then stare at this page until you hear a crash!

  14. MichaelG says:

    You should always at least consider the theory that you are going insane.

  15. acronix says:

    Maybe those paintings are falling all the time, but because of the high traffic on that area, every time a painting falls off there´s someone to acrobaticly catch it.

    Alternative: gnomes live on your walls. Maybe they throw a party when your family is gone and the vibrations of their loud (but innaudible to human beings) smurf music give the frames a death wish. Gnome music is that ugly, you know.

  16. Deadpool says:

    With no one at home, you have a tendency to be a little louder, slam doors a little harder, step a little more forceful…

    Or it could be the Pixies idea. I liked that one… Reminds me of Kaze no Stigma…

    • Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

      With no one at home, you have a tendency to be a little louder, slam doors a little harder, step a little more forceful.
      That’s my theory.

  17. Alexander The 1st says:

    Does your mind drift to Portals while your family is gone?

  18. Littlefinger says:

    If there’s something strange
    in your neighborhood
    Who ya gonna call?

    If there’s something weird
    and it don’t look good
    Who ya gonna call?

    I ain’t afraid of no ghosts
    I ain’t afraid of no ghosts

    If you’re seeing things
    running through your head
    Who can ya call?

    An invisible man
    sleeping in your bed
    Who ya gonna call?

    God, I love the 80s. At least the version of it that I constructed in my head.

  19. Telas says:

    God rolled a triple crit, and got to decide how the paintings fell.

    Hey, he’s God; he can do stuff like that occasionally.

  20. Potado says:

    A real life logic error. I hate that.

  21. lazlo says:

    I feel fairly certain that it’s possible for a nail and hangar to be oriented such that a small vibration at the right frequency (like an air conditioner, or refrigerator motor, the fans in a stack of gaming consoles, or just the 60 Hz hum of AC power) will actually make the hangar creep up the incline of the nail, while large singular spikes (like a door slamming or someone bumping into a wall) would bounce it down the incline.

    alternatively, it can be pretty impressive how the presence or absence of people can change an environment. I don’t know how aggressively you climate control your house, but the presence of a handful of people agitating the air, putting off about 500 watts of heat, and perspiring a liter a day or so of water vapor can make a significant change to humidity, air flow, and temperature distribution.

    • Fists says:

      Temp/humidity was my guess, if Shamus keeps the house at a different temperature when alone or just the absence of bodies or something it will affect the expansion/contraction of the walls and may interfere with the picture mountings

      • Mistwraithe says:

        Doh, yeah right, as if it would be something like that!

        I’m pretty sure Acronix had it with the gnome smurf music theory, failing that it just has to be the spy getting in while the base is mostly empty as Grag pointed out.

      • Dys says:

        I was thinking vibration before reading this, but now it seems likely (assuming we discount coincidence) that Fists here has it exactly right.

        Then again, something mildly coincidental happens twice, that’s not a huge stack of odds you’ve got going there, could easily just be random.

  22. CruelCow says:

    Clearly all the game designers who you’ve criticized are trying to get revenge. But if the house is full, they can’t go to work undetected.

    • acronix says:

      For a second, I thought you meant he lived inside a videogame and that the designers where taking revenge by messing with the code of his house.

  23. ccesarano says:

    God’s angry that you’re not talking about video games.

    In all seriousness, I go with the theory that whatever they are hanging on, nails or hooks or whatever, wears out over time and this just happens to be a coincidence.

  24. Zombie Pete says:

    Which paintings were they? The cursed ones that allow you to retain your youthful glow? Or just ordinary ones?

  25. StranaMente says:

    Let me try and translate an excerpt from an italian book that’s just right about this (it may take a while):

    “It always struck me this thing about paintings. They hang on for years, then without anything happening, really nothing, I say, crash, down, they fall. They are there, hanging by the nail, nobody does them anything, but they, at a certain moment, crash, fall, like stones. In the absolute silence, everything’s still, you can hear a pin drop, and they, crash. There isn’t a reason. Why that moment of all? You don’t know. Crash. What does it happen to a nail, to make it resolve that it can’t stand it no more? Does it have a soul, the poor fellow? does it take decisions? Did it debate about it with the painting, were they uncertain about what to do, they talked about it every night, since years, then they decided a date, an hour, a minute, an istant, it’s that, crash. Or did they know that from the beginning, the two, it was all planned, look in seven years I quit, it’s alright for me, okay so we’re agreed for the 13th of may, okay, about six o’clock, let’s make a quarter to six, alright, so goodnight, ‘night.
    Seven years later, may 13th, a quarter to six, crash.
    You don’t get it.
    It’s one of those things that’s better if you don’t think about, otherwise you get mad.”
    Alessandro Baricco – Novecento

    Hope it still makes sense…

  26. chabuhi says:

    The Matrix has reset itself. Sometimes it misses little details, like a nail in the wall put there by a Coppertop that it didn’t catch the last time it saved the world state.

    Maybe your wife and kids “visiting” her friend is really them trying to escape the Matrix, and the falling painting is their way of trying to reach you to help you escape too. Noticed any rotary-dial phones showing up in your house at random?

    Take the red pill.

  27. webrunner says:

    The regular vibrations of the house are exactly cancelled out by the children’s movements. Without the children it shakes the pictures off the wall.

  28. Destrustor says:

    Your family is gone so your creepy poltergeist psychic ghost hands start feeling lonely and then they break stuff to get your attention.
    Also they are jealous of your wife’s artistic talent so they break her stuff when they throw their little tantrums.
    You do have creepy ethereal hands, right? I can’t be the only one who does, can I?

  29. ScrubNinja says:

    With fewer people in the house, the air is cooler and less humid, and the weight on the floor joists is distributed differently. This slightly changes the way your house settles due to the morning temperature changes outside. This is enough to jostle those pictures, which were not hung very securely in the first place.

    Alternate explanation: pictures also fall when the family is home, but all the other activity distracts you from noticing.

  30. RTBones says:

    Perhaps this is simply art trying to tell you it misses its creator. Or perhaps your house misses your children roughhousing. You know, that cosmic vibration balance where the house naturally sets up a standing wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with your children’s bouncing, and the house just forgot to turn the wave off when they left. Or perhaps it rolled a fumble on the dex check to continue holding up the art (not a critical fumble, mind, as there was no broken glass). Or it could be a combination of house and art telling you that you are too quiet.

  31. Drexer says:

    The vibrational frequency for your paintings is zero and once your wife and kids leave the house they start to get into a forced regime balancing ever much more precariously from the tip of their support until finally…. CRASH!

  32. Museli says:

    I’d suggest that the paintings do sometimes fall off when everyone is home, but your pattern-seeking brain has connected the two occasions when they’ve fallen whilst you’re alone and marked them as odd, but that would be dull. It’s more likely a shy poltergeist.

    • Corran says:

      Dull but the correct answer.

      Next to the pattern-seeking is the fact that we remember the memorable instances (no one at home) and forget the not so memorable ones (painting fell, someone else fixed it, you only heard it).

  33. Jeffry Degrande says:

    Closing the windows keeps the squirrels out

  34. froogger says:

    Same thing has happened to me, once with a massive painting and once a lamp decided to swandive while I was home alone. It’s odd, and suggests that some objects need a certain amount of chaos and vibration to maintain equilibrium. Or it’s just what my parents taught me: “The inherent devilishness of things”.

    I liked StranaMente (#26) comment and agree with the author. Better not to think too much of these things.

  35. Zozma says:

    How about this– (and I hope no one’s said it yet) Paintings fall when your family is around, too, but the house is noisier, there’s more for you to focus on, and that makes it less memorable. Therefore, when a painting falls and you’re alone in the house, you hear the thud and pause to think about it. When the rest of your family is around, you either miss it altogether or quickly get distracted by something else.

    Well, that’s the best I’ve got anyway.

    Edit: Darn. Two comments up, someone said the same thing.

  36. ps238principal says:

    C’thulhu.

  37. Herrsunk says:

    The cosmic force, man. The zen is interrupted, man. Like, you sit down and the feng gets distorted, man. The answers is in your soul and the tea leaves, man.

    Man, just look at the*BLAM*BLAM*BLAM*

    Ehrum. Nevermind that. The Hippie creeps out when mysterious happen stances… happen. Professionally speaking, the only solution possible is to equip yourself in state-of-the-art lazerphazers armour from Illogictec and a 77-caliber Decibel & Wesson Musket (only 99.95 if you call within 24 hours!) and stand by the corner and wait for the paintingflunker culprit to make its move.

    Then the trap will spring and paintings shall fall upon the floor no more! HA HA! HA HA HA!

  38. Jeremiah says:

    It’s Josh trolling you.

  39. Stefano Marone says:

    home schooling… that’s something strange to my italian ears. why?

    • MichaelG says:

      Good for Shamus. Nothing can kill your interest in education faster than an average public school in the U.S.

      I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but all I read about are demanding tests in Asia and other countries. No one seems to want to make education *interesting* and *useful* so that kids will continue with it.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        I’ve never seen a US school from the inside, so I cannot debate that side of the matter.
        About the other side: The only people I know who homeschooled their kids are religiously … let’s say they have a unhealthily firm conviction … others with more moderate (though similar) concerns founded private schools (which are pretty cheap actually, because if you can show you’re meeting legal standards you get the same funding as a public school, and the additional fees are income-dependent).
        The other famous example for homeschooling in Germany is the Kelly Family. Who had to face the fact that it’s not allowed around here, except if you have proven qualification as a teacher.
        Reason? If you’re teaching your kids, you cannot teach them anything you don’t already know yourself. So one or two persons are supposed to do what a dozen teachers cannot? Problem. Also, school is good for a lot more things than just learning stuff in order to get a job later. It’s building a personality, learning to deal with other people (other kids as well as teachers), some of which you like, some you hate, and so on. Going to school is like going “out there” and facing the rest of the world, which can significantly widen your horizon, beyond what you know from home. It does something to you that your parents (or any teacher, for that matter) can never teach, but wich is nonetheless important. Also, Parents can sometimes be horribly horribly wrong.

        From a social perspective, having all children go to a common school, is also building society, because that way everyone has got an experience in common.
        It’s much harder to come to an agreement with people who do not share any experience with you, I see that a lot since I’m trying to discuss stuff with people via internet. If there’s no common ground, people grow up virtually in parallel worlds, and that cannot be good for a society.

        That said, I actually have no idea about how bad your public schools are, it’s just … well I guess I just have completely diferent asspciations with the word “home-schooling” … because I grew up in completely different surroundings. And I liked my school, even though I hated half the teachers and half the kids. Turns out most of those I hated are now really nice people, and even the teacher I hated most was actually right about most stuff, just bad at explaining it. I don’t think I could have gotten that perspective any other way. And I mean it’s not as if my parents had no influence on me, after all I was home for two days and five afternoons a week. And it was not a bad influence either.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          Gosh, that turned out a lot longer and much more passionate than intended.
          If you think this violates the “no politics” clause, feel free.
          I wasn’t trying to tell you you’re doing it all wrong, if that’s what it sounds like. As I said, I’ve no idea what your public schools are like, so go ahead. But it’s actually hard for me to wrap my head around the idea.

          • MichaelG says:

            I got picked on a lot and could have done without 90% of my classmates. I was bookish and just wanted people to leave me alone. I guess overall you would say I “tolerated” it. So I minimize the socialization argument. What you really need are friends and family. People weren’t social cripples in the 19th century, before schooling got taken over by the state.

            Since I grew up in the suburbs of an IBM company town in New York state, I can’t say that I saw much diversity. I don’t think you see much growing up in an inner city either. The U.S. has several distinct cultures already, and school doesn’t change that. For example, despite teaching evolution in schools for generations, huge percentages of Americans don’t believe in it.

            A parent can definitely teach subjects they don’t know. Give the kid books, make sure they work through homework problems, and they will learn. Most of the teachers I got were baby sitters who marched through a textbook by rote. They could have taught anything the same way, and didn’t do any better job of it than a dedicated parent would have.

            Schools are famously unproductive. In the U.S., they cost twice per student in real dollars as they did in 1970, yet test scores are stagnant and graduation rates have dropped since then.

            Now that there are online courses, it’s getting much easier to teach at home. Let’s hope that trend continues. After my years of schooling (through Masters degree), I have come to the firm conclusion that our schools are disaster areas.

            Probably 75% of adults in this country can’t remember anything beyond the basics they learned in third grade. Reading, as long as it’s nothing difficult. Writing, as long as you mean paragraphs and nothing as complex as a well-reasoned paper. Some basic arithmetic, despite the fact that most of them (at least in my grade) took some algebra, trig or geometry.

            The history they learned is mostly gone, the math is nearly all gone, the science is gone, and if they remember classics they were forced to read, its a bad memory.

            Public schools aren’t just failing the 30% who drop out before graduation. They are failing the vast majority of kids, who avoid classrooms and reading like the plague for the rest of their lives.

            Even if Shamus’s kids don’t learn enough history or science (doubtful, given his interests) they will grow up liking the process of learning. That’s far more valuable than the course material.

            • Zak McKracken says:

              “I got picked on a lot and could have done without 90% of my classmates. I was bookish and just wanted people to leave me alone.”
              Those could be my own words :)
              Especially elementary school was extremely hard. And before I go off on a “I had a hard time so everyone else should have one too” tangent: If I had been encapsulated in “my people’s” sub-world, That’d have been very very sad. I might have ended up disbelieving evolution and thinking that science was just a different type of religion. I’d have been isolated from the main culture here, I know this because I know a few people with exactly this problem right now. Instead I was able to see how things are, form an opinion. Accept a few things, reject others, blend in here, stand out there.

              “For example, despite teaching evolution in schools for generations, huge percentages of Americans don’t believe in it.”
              I’d like to know (and I don’t pretend to know it already) how many of those have been homeschooled, how many of them don’t believe anything taught in a public school because “the state is always lying”, and how many just did not get the difference between science and religion.

              And the other question to ask is, of course: Is it improving the schools if the smart parents as well as the parents with weird convictions stop sending their children there, and all that remain are those who cannot afford better? And is it acting towards or against social fragmentation?
              What would happen if parents put the effort they’re using on homeschooling to improve public schools for everyone (and how would “the system” react to it)?
              I guess there’s a threshold of horribility* of public schools below which I ccompletely understand anyone not sending their kids there, but it is still very sad to behold, because that worsens the overall situation.

              *I just made that word up, ain’t I great?

        • Shamus says:

          I have no problem with people who prefer public school over home school. This is complicated stuff. If you care about this issue, it means you love your kids and want a good education for them, which is far more important to their success than the teaching method used on them.

          The only people I can’t stand are the ones who decide, “I’ve concluded, based on thinking about it sometimes and this one blog I read this one time, that public school is better and there fore we should FORCE everyone to do it that way.”

          Is the Kelly family the one where the government came in, took the daughter, and wouldn’t tell the parents where she was? I don’t care if that kid ends up with a P.h.D., that’s monstrous. There are worse things to happen to a kid than a possibly substandard education. Being taken from your home by men with guns and not being allowed to see your family is one of those things.

          People who say, “What about socialization?” I say, “Find a homeschooled kid. Talk to them for five minutes.” You know that thing how teenagers sneer at their parents, hate their younger siblings, mumble when talking to adults, and idolize kids slightly older? All of that is an artifact of segregating kids into same-age peer groups. Every homeschooler I’ve known (which is a few, beyond my own kids) has seemed far more socially mature than their counterparts in public school. They relate better with adults, while at the same time aren’t quite as fixated on following the “older kids” and such. They’ve had a much better sense of self and are observably less interested in following peers.

          That’s just my experience, of course. The only thing I argue is that people make whatever choice seems best to them, without forcing that choice on everyone else.

          • Stefano Marone says:

            Seems that non US peole here are suspicious about home schooling, while US people aren’t. It is clearly something about social common values. In my culture if you don’t send your kids to school (be it public, or private with a certification from the state) you are a criminal. My personal views are completely comparable to those of ZakMcKracken above.
            I was puzzled since I had a stereotype in my mind… something like “in rural US bigots and rednecks home school their children so that they can safely grow bigots without risking to knok something more or something different from their parents”.
            Ugly ugly stereotype, sure.
            And then Shamus comes, and scatters my stereotype all across the table! It was fun. I wouldn’t home school my kids even if it ewas allowed, but it’s interesting to see that the world is always going against what you expect.

            PS: how do you manage to have all the funny icons, and I get the stolid looking square?

          • Raygereio says:

            The only thing I argue is that people make whatever choice seems best to them, without forcing that choice on everyone else.

            I think there’s the main problem.
            Sure Shamus, your wife may be qualified to teach children, but not all parents that want to homeschool are.
            Nor do you seem like the type to teach your kids funky religous stuff, or other nasty/weird stuff, but some parents that want to homeschool do want to do that.

            The choice that seems best to them, may or may not be the best choice for the child. So you come to the question of should you allow parents to do what they want, even though it may result in children that can’t handle themselves in society. A bit of a case of the bad ruining it for the good.

            • Shamus says:

              “Sure Shamus, your wife may be qualified to teach children, but not all parents that want to homeschool are.”

              This is true of all rights. There are people who are too crazy or stupid to be trusted with a car, alcohol, gambling, credit cards, junk food, etc. The solution is to police the dangerous people. Prohibition of ideas is even more dangerous than prohibition of alcohol.

              Who decides what is “funky religious stuff”? How would you prevent parents from teaching their children such things? I imagine a lot of people would find my religious beliefs “funky”. I certainly wouldn’t want to give veto power over what I can teach my kids to Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Catholics, or Muslims, or Atheists, or Wiccans, or followers of The Great Prophet Zarquon.

              “The choice that seems best to them, may or may not be the best choice for the child.”

              Spanking. Fatty food. Too much television. Too strict. Too lax. Second-hand smoke. Verbal abuse. Not talking to your kids about drugs. Not talking to your kids about sex. Allowing your kids access to drugs.

              Parents make sub-optimal choices all the time, due to them being human beings. If parents aren’t allowed to make mistakes, then nobody is qualified to raise their own kids.

              • Raygereio says:

                “The solution is to police the dangerous people. Prohibition of ideas is even more dangerous than prohibition of alcohol.”
                I’m not sure how prohibition of ideas fits in here. But I do have a counterpoint to the policing of the dangerous. That takes up recources; time, money, manpower for something that isn’t necessary and for which alternatives that don’t have that huge cost are available.
                Mind you, I have no idea about the general quality of the US education system, other then vague notions, so I have no clear idea about how necessary homeschooling can be.

                “Who decides what is “funky religious stuff”?”
                I should have clarified that one. With that I refer to religious hate, stuff like that. An example would a case I remember from years ago here in the Netherlands where parents did not want their child to attend school because then he might be exposed to existance of religions other then their own, for the obvious reasons that I wont get into here.

                “Parents make sub-optimal choices all the time, due to them being human beings.”
                True. But shouldn’t someone step in if we’re not just talking about a sub-optimal choice anymore, but a choice that can harm a child in the long run?
                Shouldn’t someone step if the child isn’t being taught how to read or write, or basic math, for example?
                And yes, you can check to see if the child is receiving the proper education. But again, checking that takes up time and resources; is that worth it when there are other options then homeschooling? (I know there are cases when homeschooling is the only option to the parents)

                • Zukhramm says:

                  “But shouldn’t someone step in if we’re not just talking about a sub-optimal choice anymore, but a choice that can harm a child in the long run?”

                  Yes, but that should be done when that choice is taken, not because it might be in the future, just like we cannot arrest someone because they might steal later in their life.

                  • Raygereio says:

                    True.
                    But then again, there is wee bit of a difference between putting everyone who might commit a crime (in other words, everyone) in prison) and forcing a child to go to school.

              • Zak McKracken says:

                One big advantage I see in mandatory public schools:
                In 2000, the results if the PISA test* shook Germany pretty hard. Everyone had believed we had the best and greatest school system in the world, but we were far from it.
                But the consequence was not an attack on compulsory schooling, but trying to improve the public school system. Now, on a bad day, there are a million things I can criticize about the route that was taken, and how horribly slow the progress is, but the results clearly show us improving (and so do the US! only slower).
                Now, if everyone had been free to just take their kids out of school, that could have ended disatrous, as there was some kind of panic among parents. It’s far from ideal right now, and there’s still a lot of pressure to improve things, but at least something’s happening.

                Also, while kids have to go to school around here, it’s not like parents are not allowed to talk to them about whatever they like during the rest of the day/week. Like, my grandfather taught me physics and maths during elementary school, and that surely helped shaping the (part-time) nerd I am.
                My grandfather also founded what is now a chain of private schools after having been a teacher all his life and not being content with how things were going. So it’s not like we’re at the state’s mercy in these things. It’s just directing discontent of parents (and pupils) towards making things better.
                Mind that, on a bad day, I can also rant a lot about how that’s not working very well! But I think it’s a lot better than not at all. I think I’m kind of like you with storytelling in games. There’s always a lot to criticize but that’s no reason to just throw it all away.

                *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment#2000.E2.80.932006

              • Zak McKracken says:

                ‘Who decides what is “funky religious stuff”?’
                Right, it’s impossible to see if one of the millions of families doing home-schooling is just indoctrinating their children with bad bad things, much less than decide what should be considered for that catergory.
                With (publicly co-funded) private schools, that is different, because there aren’t so many of them, and funding is based on whether they are be recognized by the state, and that depends on what they are teaching. So while a private person could decide that “topic xy never helped anyone” or even “I don’t believe in science, and it’s useless crap” based on personal experience, a private school could not. That sorts out most of the potential bullshit while still allowing like-minded parents who dissapprove of public schools to do it in a different way. That said, there are some boarding schools teaching questionable values, but my impression is that in doubt they’re rather permissive, which is ok with me.

                “If parents aren’t allowed to make mistakes, then nobody is qualified to raise their own kids.”

                Weell, I think not putting all eggs in one basket somehow reduces the error rate. So if parents are completely wrong about something but their kids can see the alternatives at school, they at least have a certain chance of finding out. If children get all they learn from the same source, those errors will never be corrected.
                I doubted some of what I was taught at school and the resulting discourse was probably worth more than the lesson itself.
                The thing is that you remain linked to some sort of standard. Regression to average works both ways, so some won’t profit, but I think it still is worth it to reduce the negative extremes.

                Anyways. The ultimate test of whether you did a good job is probably when your kids go to university or whatever comes after homeschooling for them. Regardless of my general uneasyness with home-schooling I have little doubt your kids will do just fine, as you seem to have a pretty wide horizon.

                • Tuck says:

                  “If children get all they learn from the same source, those errors will never be corrected.”

                  But this isn’t the case with homeschoolers. In the case of my family (and every other homeschooling family I’ve met), we kids actually had a much wider range of sources than the Australian public schools (and from what I’ve seen here, the UK public schools too). Homeschooling doesn’t just mean the parents tell the kids things and that’s what they learn.

                  There are two big issues with organised schools:
                  1. Teaching to the lowest common denominator — kids can’t learn at their own pace, they’re stuck with the state-prescribed pace.

                  2. Peer pressure. Conform conform conform. This isn’t actually good for society.

              • Nathan Sanzone says:

                “Sure Shamus, your wife may be qualified to teach children, but not all parents that want to homeschool are.”

                I never went to grade or high school. My mother was my “teacher”. You want to know what my poorest subjects were? Those that my mother was actually “qualified” to “teach”.

                I’m not trying to argue that public schools and qualified teachers are a bad thing (my sister—who was also exclusively homeschooled prior to college—teaches English at a public high school), but the idea that parents must be “qualified” to teach specific subjects to their children is a fallacy that was disproved decades ago by actual results.

                • Raygereio says:

                  I have to raise an eyebrow at this.
                  For two reasons. One: when person A teaches subject X to person B, it tends to help if person A has a good deal of knowledge about subject X.
                  This and knowing about a subject is one thing, being able to explain it to someone and answer questions about it is an entirely different skillset.

                  Now, I’m not disputing your anecdote here. You worked out, that’s great. But if I were to take myself as an example, then I know I’m not qualified to teach even subjects I know well, such as chemistry, math, statistics or basic physics, because I’d suck at it and would probably do a very poor job.

                  • You can learn even without a person teaching you face to face. There are many historical examples of brilliant people who taught themselves. These days, homeschoolers have access to all the same books and materials that any brick-and-mortar school does, and even more.

                    There are books, computer programs, websites, videos, all sorts of things that aid in homeschooling. I was homeschooled myself; my Mother was horrible at English, and yet I got into one of the toughest colleges based solely on my English SAT scores, in the 97% percentile.

                    I should also add that I went to both public and private schools in high school, and my sister and I both were -far- above the majority of the other students there. They were learning things we’d handled long before, because everyone is held back to match the slowest student. It’s a very inelegant solution.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            The Kelly Family:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kelly_Family
            nono, they had no child abducted … they just thought learning singing and dancing on their houseboat would be enough to get their children through life, which made for hilarious news, since they were already the target of many a joke in Germany. I think many of the family members were properly messed up as a result. Kind of like the Jackson family. I think most of them are doing alright these days, but it sure took a few years.

          • Nathan Sanzone says:

            People who say, “What about socialization?” I say, “Find a homeschooled kid. Talk to them for five minutes.”

            The biggest “socialization” problem with homeschooling is that all your public-school peers won’t be (well socialized). I was homeschooled in the 80’s and 90’s, and largely ignored my age-peers throughout my twenties. Now that I’m in my thirties, they’ve finally caught up and have started to behave like adults (mostly).

        • Syal says:

          An example of US school from the inside; I took a Spanish class in high school. We spent two days watching La Bomba with Spanish subtitles. The dialogue was in English; only the subtitles were in Spanish. There were no questions, no comments, nothing related to learning Spanish. Just a movie with the subtitles turned on.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            So what?
            I got much of my English from watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus. After we’d watched some at school, during cover lessons. Most of us thought the teacher was just making it easy on himself, but actually that was exactly what was necessary to make me (and others) want to see more of it, and that made me learn English so much better. It also gave me a posh Englisch accent that many people find remarkable.
            Later we watched “full metal Jacket” in history class, and “Blues Brothers” in Music. At the time we all thought it was a waste of time (but entertaining none the less), but it also did something that just dry lessons could not have done.

            • Syal says:

              At least Monty Python’s Flying Circus was made in the language you were learning. La Bomba is an American movie made in English. The only Spanish in it is the songs, which have been around longer than the movie and would have probably worked better on their own.

        • Rod Spade says:

          “others with more moderate (though similar) concerns founded private schools (which are pretty cheap actually, because if you can show you’re meeting legal standards you get the same funding as a public school, and the additional fees are income-dependent).”

          If private schools in the U.S. received the same funding as public schools, I bet there would be a lot more private schools, and fewer homeschoolers – and better schools overall.

    • Roll-a-Die says:

      Public schools in America are relatively low in quality, and private ones are way too expensive.

    • Kaeltik says:

      This is a can of worms best left unopened. Let’s just say that it’s a personal choice.

      Sometimes it’s the absolute wrong way to go. I could cite anecdotal examples.

      Sometimes it’s the absolute best way to go. Again, case-by-case examples abound.

      Shamus and his wife appear to be intelligent, knowledgeable, and engaged enough that I’m sure it’s more the latter in this case.

      This can be a sensitive issue. Could I get an invocation of the no-politics clause here?

  40. Nasikabatrachus says:

    Maybe, without realizing it, everyone in your family but you conspires to keep that painting on the wall by pushing it back in place whenever it looks loose. Thus, when they leave town the accumulated effect of doors moving air and the slow pull of gravity goes unopposed.

    Or it was a ghost. Clearly that is the much simpler explanation. Occam’s Razor FTW!

  41. Octal says:

    So… does this happen if you all leave for a few days?

  42. rrgg says:

    Witches durr hurr hurr I’m original.

    In seriousness though you might want to check your other pictures to see if any other nails are bent or coming out.

  43. RichVR says:

    Shamus, have you read House of Leaves? Just curious.

  44. James says:

    Less people in the house,so it’ll probably he colder. The nails contract, and the pictures fall off. This sound reasonable?

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Actually, that makes a lot of sense. It’s not as fun as the “vibrations keep the nails in” theory, but it’s got an air of plausibility. Especially considering that it took about the same time for the paintings to fall. Houses can heat & cool slowly, over hours, & the nails could have taken even more time to contract sufficiently for them to loosen their hold on the wall. Hmmm. Science is kinda neat sometimes. Not infrasound == ghosts neat, but still pretty neat.

  45. UbarElite says:

    I would suggest coincidence, but that is kinda scary weird. Gravity must be messing with you…how else would it remain entertained?

  46. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Bah,you think thats weird?My father has this interesting…err,lets call it habit,of finding bones in everything.A soup that somehow has one single bone go through the sieve,my father will be the one who finds it,no matter how many people eat the soup with him.Its freaky.But the worst thing is that a few years back,I…errr,inherited this talent.Do you know how odd it is to eat a salad with a bunch of people,and find a chicken bone in it?If I didnt know better,Id say that he picked up some weird luck perk and has handed it over to me.

    • Reet says:

      It’s like the mysterious stranger! Except not practically useful…
      And pretty freakin wierd.

    • El Quia says:

      Heh, I have the same “luck”, but with pieces of egg shells. For example, I eat an omelette cooked by someone else, and chances are I will find a piece of an egg shell in it. Or maybe it’s milanesa (a similar dish to the wiener schnitzel). Or whatever. If there are eggs in it, then I will end up getting egg shell in it, always. No one else will have, just me.

      Although this doesn’t happens when it’s me the one cooking, but I guess it’s because of this, I am quite OCD about keeping even the slightest piece of egg shell from ending up in the food.

  47. Blake says:

    The paintings were always getting a little out of place and all the bumping just put them back where they should be.
    Solution, invite around as many people as possible when your family is not there to keep the paintings in place.

  48. SteveDJ says:

    I don’t know if you’ve ever said before — do you have any pets? (Yea, I know, too obvious, so the answer is probably “No”).

    But maybe mice or other vermin, perhaps even just a couple spiders? When the house is noisy, they stay away… but in the calm when everyone is away, they come out, crawl over things…

  49. Shamus, without having studied the scene of the incident I can only speculate the following:

    The fixtures are already weakened/failing, but the constant “traffic” causes the fixtures to set (or reset).

    The sudden and extended “quiet” when you are home alone allows the fixtures to fully “slip”.

    This is all just speculation and the cause may be something else.

    It’s the same thing as with bridges that are built to handle giant storm,
    but one day suddenly a gentle breeze hits the exact frequencies of movement that causes the bridge to collapse.

    Then again, it could also be aliens that messes with your paintings. (Fallout 3/Vegas aliens?)

  50. Zak McKracken says:

    Two more serious theories:

    1. Mice. While the house is busy, they hide somewhere. If it goes all quiet, they start roaming through the walls (I just assume that’s possible with the walls in your house…), and sometimes one will somehow push a gainst a nail or something.

    2. It’s a little hot these days, but if the family’s in, you can’t just open all the windows because someone doesn’t like the draft, or stuff is lying around or whatever. But if there’s noone in, you just opened a lot more windows (or other windows) than usually, and that somehow stirred the air in the hallway. or cooled the nails down quickly, so they shrink and fall out of the wall. Or something.

    • Stefano Marone says:

      Mice! neat. That’s the best explanation! a country house without cats for allargic reasons. Shamus, you must be full of mice! and since your house is always full of people scaring rodents away, you don’t get mice over your paintings until you are alone.

  51. Zak McKracken says:

    And one loosely related anecdote:
    One guy found that his computer would sometimes just turn off. He tried to demonstrate it to someone, but could not replicate the problem. He gave up, and when he stood up from the chair, the computer just turned off. A bit later, they have firmly established that the computer will almost always turn off exactly the moment the person in front of it gets up from the chair, even if noone is touching anything, regardless of which software is running.

    Solution? (I’ve no idea how long it took to figure that out):

    Turns out the (soft) power switch cable and the power LED cable had been confused, and somehow the LED was working like a light-sensitive switch. As long as someone was sitting in front of the computer case, they cast a shadow and all’s fine, but if you got up, the shadow was gone, the LED/power switch was activated, and that triggered the computer to turn off.
    I’ve no idea how an LED needs to be connected to the mainboard to do this, but apparently there’s a way

  52. Yar Kramer says:

    It must be an extremely confused Ghost of Christmas Past.

  53. Irridium says:

    A wizard did it.

  54. Syal says:

    Obviously the ground is sucking in its gut to impress your wife. When she leaves, it lets it out, pushing the wall with the pictures up rapidly enough to dislodge them.

  55. Rodyle says:

    I’d say this is Bethesda’s way to say “Stop speaking ill of our video games, or else….”

    • Raygereio says:

      ..or else we’ll inflict our physics engine upon your house. Recoil in horror as inanimate objects move about for no reason whatsoever!

      • Rodyle says:

        Next time when he enters his office, he’ll hear the sound of his computer crashing onto his desk, look at it swinging around for a few seconds before it launches itself through the window.

  56. plouf says:

    what does the painting depict ?

  57. GenericJoe says:

    Interesting – what actually happened? Did the nail just come out the wall? Did the nail snap? Did the cord itself hanging the picture snap? Did the cord slip off the nail?

    My 2 cents on the subject of home schooling: I have one child who is too young to attend school right now so I don’t have direct experience of that dilemma from a parent perspective. However, I personally believe that (along with other obvious factors already mentioned here) as long as the kids retain constant exposure to other kids their age, they will not have problems integrating socially as they mature.

    Short story: I attended college to do my A-Levels, and in two of my classes was a young lad who had been home schooled by his parents, both of whom happened to be career teachers. Now this guy was intelligent and was already way ahead of us all when it came to the curriculum. The problem was that he was extremely shy, and his sense of fashion was over a decade too late. The result was, people being like they are, he got picked on.
    He made it through college, but to say he struggled socially would be an understatement.
    Would he have been this way regardless of home schooling, or maybe having parents like he did would have put him at a social disadvantage anyway? Maybe, but I struggle to believe that not going to school and therefore not fully growing up with kids his age didn’t help exasperate the issue.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I think this sounds pretty reasonable.
      Maybe the weird feeling of “don’t!” I get when people speak of home-schooling is because all examples I encountered in RL were parents claiming dissatisfaction with public schools but really just wanting to isolate their kids from what they thought were “bad influences” and then handpicking friends for them, all of which incidentally were from the same church/funky religious society. In one case, some of the former classmates tried a hard to keep contact with one boy, but his parents would have none of that. Sad sad story.
      But I guess you’re right, public school or not, if parents give their kids opportunity to make friends all over the place regardless of world view, things should be fine.

  58. Steve C says:

    Well obviously the painting fell off during that party with all the hookers while the wife and kids were out of town. And this entire blog post was a Machiavellian attempt to further the lies to cover up your debauchery.

    Kudos sir. Kudos.

    (I’m sure nobody reads these 2nd pages to posts a few days old so your secret is safe.)

  59. Mathygard says:

    The paintings obviously get lonely and act up for attention. Pay a little extra attention to them when the rest of the family is gone, and they should be just fine.

  60. RCN says:

    My theory is that the vibration keeps the nails in place.

    I have no real base for my theory, but that doesn’t disprove it.

    Experimentation would prove or disprove it.

    Hmmmm…

    To the lab!

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