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Journal: Continuation on education 13

Journal by jd

Ok, I need to expand a bit on my excessively long post on education some time back.

The first thing I am going to clarify is streaming. This is not merely distinction by speed, which is the normal (and therefore wrong) approach. You have to distinguish by the nature of the flows. In practice, this means distinguishing by creativity (since creative people learn differently than uncreative people).

It is also not sufficient to divide by fast/medium/slow. The idea is that differences in mind create turbulence (a very useful thing to have in contexts other than the classroom). For speed, this is easy - normal +/- 0.25 standard deviations for the central band (ie: everyone essentially average), plus two additional bands on either side, making five in total.

Classes should hold around 10 students, so you have lots of different classes for average, fewer for the band's either side, and perhaps only one for the outer bands. This solves a lot of timetabling issues, as classes in the same band are going to be interchangeable as far as subject matter is concerned. (This means you can weave in and out of the creative streams as needed.)

Creativity can be ranked, but not quantified. I'd simply create three pools of students, with the most creative in one pool and the least in a second. It's about the best you can do. The size of the pools? Well, you can't obtain zero gradient, and variations in thinking style can be very useful in the classroom. 50% in the middle group, 25% in each of the outliers.

So you've 15 different streams in total. Assume creativity and speed are normally distributed and that the outermost speed streams contain one class of 10 each. Start with speed for simplicity I'll forgo the calculations and guess that the upper/lower middle bands would then have nine classes of 10 each and that the central band will hold 180 classes of 10.

That means you've 2000 students, of whom the assumption is 1000 are averagely creative, 500 are exceptional and 500 are, well, not really. Ok, because creativity and speed are independent variables, we have to have more classes in the outermost band - in fact, we'd need four of them, which means we have to go to 8000 students.

These students get placed in one of 808 possible classes per subject per year. Yes, 808 distinct classes. Assuming 6 teaching hours per day x 5 days, making 30 available hours, which means you can have no fewer than 27 simultaneous classes per year. That's 513 classrooms in total, fully occupied in every timeslot, and we're looking at just one subject. Assuming 8 subjects per year on average, that goes up to 4104. Rooms need maintenance and you also need spares in case of problems. So, triple it, giving 12312 rooms required. We're now looking at serious real estate, but there are larger schools than that today. This isn't impossible.

The 8000 students is per year, as noted earlier. And since years won't align, you're going to need to go from first year of pre/playschool to final year of an undergraduate degree. That's a whole lotta years. 19 of them, including industrial placement. 152,000 students in total. About a quarter of the total student population in the Greater Manchester area.

The design would be a nightmare with a layout from hell to minimize conflict due to intellectual peers not always being age peers, and neither necessarily being perceptual peers, and yet the layout also has to minimize the distance walked. Due to the lack of wormholes and non-simply-connected topologies, this isn't trivial. A person at one extreme corner of the two dimensional spectrum in one subject might be at the other extreme corner in another. From each class, there will be 15 vectors to the next one.

But you can't minimize per journey. Because there will be multiple interchangeable classes, each of which will produce 15 further vectors, you have to minimize per day, per student. Certain changes impact other vectors, certain vector values will be impossible, and so on. Multivariable systems with permutation constraints. That is hellish optimization, but it is possible.

It might actually be necessary to make the university a full research/teaching university of the sort found a lot in England. There is no possible way such a school could finance itself off fees, but research/development, publishing and other long-term income might help. Ideally, the productivity would pay for the school. The bigger multinationals post profits in excess of 2 billion a year, which is how much this school would cost.

Pumping all the profits into a school in the hope that the 10 uber creative geniuses you produce each year, every year, can produce enough new products and enough new patents to guarantee the system can be sustained... It would be a huge gamble, it would probably fail, but what a wild ride it would be!


Journal: History books can be fun (but usually aren't and this is a Bad Thing) 2

Journal by jd

Most people have read "1066 and all that: a memorable history of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 good things, 5 bad kings and 2 genuine dates" (one of the longest book titles I have ever encountered) and some may have encountered "The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody", but these are the exceptions and not the rule. What interesting - but accurateish - takes on history have other Slashdotters encountered?


Journal: HOWTO: Run an educational system 1

Journal by jd

The topic on Woz inspired me to post something about the ideas I've been percolating for some time. These are based on personal teaching experience, teaching experience by siblings and father at University level and by my grandfather at secondary school, 6th form college and military acadamy. (There's been a lot of academics in the family.)

Anyways, I'll break this down into sections. Section 1 deals with the issues of class size and difference in ability. It is simply not possible to teach to any kind of meaningful standard a group of kids of wildly differing ability. Each subject should be streamed, such that people of similar ability are grouped together -- with one and only one exception: you cannot neglect the social aspect of education. Some people function well together, some people dysfunction well together. You really want to maintain the former of those two groups as much as possible, even if that means having a person moved up or down one stream.

Further, not everyone who learns at the same pace learns in the same way. Streams should be segmented according to student perspective, at least to some degree, to maximize the student's ability to fully process what they are learning. A different perspective will almost certainly result in a different stream. Obviously, you want students to be in the perspective that leads them to be in the fastest stream they can be in.

There should be sufficient divisions such that any given stream progresses with the least turbulence possible. Laminar flow is good. There should also be no fewer than one instructor per ten students at a secondary school level. You probably want more instructors in primary education, less at college/university, with 1:10 being the average across all three.

Section 2: What to teach. I argue that the absolute fundamental skills deal in how to learn, how to research, how to find data, how to question, how to evaluate, how to apply reasoning tools such as deduction, inference, lateral thinking, etc, in constructive and useful ways. Without these skills, education is just a bunch of disconnected facts and figures. These skills do not have to be taught directly from day 1, but they do have to be a part of how things are taught and must become second-nature before secondary education starts.

Since neurologists now believe that what is learned alters the wiring of the brain, the flexibility of the brain and the adult size of the brain, it makes sense that the material taught should seek to optimize things a bit. Languages seem to boost mental capacity and the brain's capacity to be fault-tolerant. It would seem to follow that teaching multiple languages of different language families would be a Good Thing in terms of architecturing a good brain. Memorization/rote-learning seems to boost other parts of the brain. It's not clear what balance should be struck, or what other brain-enhancing skills there might be, but some start is better than no start at all.

Section 3: How to test. If it's essential to have exams (which I doubt), the exam should be longer than could be completed by anyone - however good - within the allowed time, with a gradual increase in the difficulty of the questions. Multiple guess choice should be banned. The mean and median score should be 50% and follow a normal distribution. Giving the same test to an expert system given the same level of instruction as the students should result in a failing grade, which I'd put at anything under 20% on this scale. (You are not testing their ability to be a computer. Not in this system.)

Each test should produce two scores - the raw score (showing current ability) and the score after adjusting for the anticipated score based on previous test results (which show the ability to learn and therefore what should have been learned this time - you want the third-order differential and therefore the first three tests cannot be examined this way). The adjusted score should be on the range of -1 (learned nothing new, consider moving across to a different perspective in the same stream) to 0 (learned at expected rate) to +1 (learning too fast for the stream, consider moving up). Students should not be moved downstream on a test result, only ever on a neutral evaluation of some kind.

Section 4: Fundamentals within any given craft, study or profession should be taught as deeply and thoroughly as possible. Those change the least and will apply even as the details they are intertwined with move in and out of fashion. "Concrete" skills should be taught broadly enough that there is never a serious risk of unemployability, but also deeply enough that the skills have serious market value.

Section 5: Absolutely NO homework. It's either going to be rushed, plagarized or paid-for. It's never going to be done well and it serves no useful purpose. Year-long projects are far more sensible as they achieve the repetitious use of a skill that homework tries to do but in a way that is immediately practical and immediately necessary.

Lab work should likewise not demonstrate trivial stuff, but through repetition and variation lead to the memorization of the theory and its association with practical problems of the appropriate class.

Section 6: James Oliver's advice on diet should be followed within reason - and the "within reason" bit has more to do with what food scientists and cookery scientists discover than with any complaints.

Section 7: Go bankrupt. This is where this whole scheme falls over -- to do what I'm proposing seriously would require multiplying the costs of maintaining and running a school by 25-30 with no additional income. If it had a few billion in starting capital and bought stocks in businesses likely to be boosted by a high-intensity K-PhD educational program, it is just possible you could reduce the bleeding to manageable proportions. What you can never do in this system is turn a profit, although all who are taught will make very substantial profits from such a system.

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Journal: I don't know which is scarier

Journal by jd

That I am old enough to remember where my current .sig came from, or that nobody else is.....! For those who are suffering from a memory lapse, here is the sig: "The world is in darkness. To erase data is to suppress truth; to halt computing is to shackle the mind."

Ok, ok, you're too lazy to google it, so here's the link: Son of Hexadecimal Kid

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Journal: Automotive Security

Journal by jd

According to the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security, there are serious security flaws in the existing technology. Not necessarily a big deal, for now, as they observe that the risks are low at the current time. Emphasis on "current". They also state that no crackers have been observed to use the required level of sophistication. Again, emphasis needs to be on "observed". Yes, it may well be a while before automotive networks reach the point where this is exploited in the wild (at least to any scale), but I would remind you that it took Microsoft from Windows 3.0 through to Windows XP Service Pack 2 to take security even remotely seriously. That's a long, long time. And Microsoft had nothing like the install-base of the car industry. Further, the qualifications required by most companies to be a system administrator were a good deal steeper than the requirements for a car mechanic, so systems administrators were likely far more familiar with the issues involved. Also, said systems administrators are far more accountable for security issues, since there are plenty of third-party tools that novice users can use to spot malicious software.

The first question is why this even matters. It doesn't affect anyone today. No, but it's guaranteed to affect at least some current Slashdot readers in their lifetime and, depending on how rapidly car networks develop, may affect a significant fraction surprisingly fast. Technology doesn't move at Stone Age speeds any more. Technology advances rapidly and you can't use obsolete notions of progress to determine what will happen next year or over the next decade.

The second question is what anyone could seriously do, even if it was an issue. Not too many Slashdotters own automotive companies. In fact, I doubt if ANY Slashdotters own automotive companies. Well, the validation tools are Open Source. MISRA has a fair few links to members and software packages. In fact, even if developers just developed an understanding of MISRA's C and C++ specifications it might be quite valuable as it would allow people to understand what is being done (if anything) to improve reliability and to understand how (if at all) this impacts security. You don't get reliability for free, there will be some compromises made elsewhere.

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Journal: Has anyone had problems with DB companies? What therapies work with bosses? 4

Journal by jd

I've been having problems with Enterprise DB. This company maintains the Windows port of Postgres, but I have been finding their customer service.... less than satisfactory. This is the second time in, oh, 21 years that I've actually been infuriated by a company. However, to be entirely fair to the business and indeed the sales person, it is entirely possible this was a completely freak incident with no relationship to normal experience. There were all kinds of factors involved, so it's a messy situation all round, but the hard-sell aggressiveness and verbal abuse went way beyond what I have ever experienced from a professional organization in two DECADES. What I want to know from other Slashdotters is whether this is about on-par with the tales of meteorites landing on someone's sofa (which is my personal suspicion) or whether it's a more insidious issue. Please, please, please, do not take one incident as a general rule. I've not seen any article on Slashdot or LWN reporting wider issues with them, which you know perfectly well would have happened had there been a serious, widespread problem. Especially with all of the reporting on database issues over recent times and the search for alternatives to MySQL once leading developers defected and major forks arose.

This is, however, a major question. Like it or not, we need databases we can rely on and trust, which means that when they are backed by companies, we need the companies that back them to be honorable. (PostgreSQL itself isn't owned, so I trust the engine itself just fine. The development team is very impressive - and, yes, I do monitor the mailing lists.) Value-added only has any added value if it's valuable.

What is worse, from my perspective, is that my current boss is now treating it like this is how companies work when reselling Open Source products. His practical experience was being on the receiving end of all this. If we're to take advantage of the freedom (and bloody high quality) provided in the Open Source world, I need to deprogram him of the notion that they give hassle and sell grief. Does anyone have any experience doing this?

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Journal: Save TV for Geeks! 2

Journal by jd

A petition calling for the return of perhaps the most important television show since The Great Egg Race is currently running but isn't exactly getting anywhere fast. It is vitally important that intellectually-stimulating shows be encouraged -- the consequence of failure (24 hours of Jersey Shore on all channels) is too horrible to contemplate. Unfortunately, as things stand, that's exactly what we are heading towards. Save your television and your mind before it's too late!

This is the theory that Jack built. This is the flaw that lay in the theory that Jack built. This is the palpable verbal haze that hid the flaw that lay in...