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Comment: fast-tracking isn't about race or gender (Score 4, Informative) 307

As a CS professor, I can't tell you how many times we've lost students with great potential in CS because they had no prior experience but were comparing themselves to inferior students with a year or two of programming experience in high school. If you get the students who have prior experience into a "fast track" class (e.g. that compresses the first year into a single term) then both the "experienced" and "naive" students can actually learn at their own pace. Fortunately, I teach at a small college, and so most times we can identify those students and get them into a better class. And I'm actually in favor of having students with a lot of experience start by skipping a class or two. The sooner students are surrounded by their "peers" in ability/experience, the faster and more reliably they're going to engage.

But to be clear: the issue isn't that people should be actively sorting the students so that only female and non-white students are in the CS1 class. That's a horrible idea, racist, sexist, and all the other "ists" you can come up with. It is likely that the "normal" track will have more non-white and female students in it because that's what the high school demographics say: non-white/non-Asian/female students are less likely to have prior experience. But it's also true that there will be more students from rural schools in the "normal" track, because rural schools are less likely to have computer programming courses.

Comment: very good backbone (Score 1) 103

There's also the issue of the backbone that's installed. There was a very serious push by McLeod a while ago to get heaps of fiber in the ground, but much of it lay dark once it was installed. McLeod went bankrupt, but having all that fiber in the ground also has to be a consideration.

Comment: not just in Ohio (Score 2) 367

by awilden (#43937001) Attached to: The Amish Are Getting Fracked

This is a larger problem than in Ohio. In Montana there are a small number of Amish and various other Anabaptists (all of which consider judicial action "taboo"), and they're also finding themselves square in the crosshairs. The fact is that Anabaptists tend to choose to live in isolated areas (so they will be left alone), yet those isolated areas are the ones that are increasingly being exploited for natural resources.

It's also important to understand some of the other restrictions that aren't obvious. If an "English" farmer has a railroad that is forced on him/her through his/her property, s/he can request a crossing be built so that the normal operations of the farm (like moving cattle) aren't impeded. But to do that requires the farmer carry insurance to indemnify the railroad for damage. Amish also don't believe in insurance. So that means that there are no crossings on their farms. Driving 5 miles out of your way to get to an existing crossing is a far larger problem if you're on horse than it is if you are driving an internal combustion engine.

Comment: Rendezvous with Rama (Score 1) 203

by awilden (#43527073) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Science Books For Middle School Enrichment?
Rendezvous with Rama is a mostly good book, and is certainly very strong with its science (though are debates he didn't get the Coriolis effects quite right). Unfortunately, there is a very brief page or so in the book that talks about having sex in zero-G that may make some people decide it's inappropriate for that age.
Having said that, it's got a lot less sex in it than the PG-13 films that the 13 year olds are seeing...

Comment: juggling is a noble profession (Score 1) 279

by awilden (#42895715) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Really Short Time Wasters?
The reason there were so many programmers who knew how to juggle is that the compile/build/run cycle in older compilers was slow enough that they needed something short to kill that time. Juggling also had the side benefit of actually getting you off your butt and doing something different, which freed your mind, raised your heart rate and circulation, and often gave you enough distance to figure out what the heck you were doing wrong.

Comment: Pakistani Politics 101 (Score 5, Informative) 560

Imran Khan is a superstar politician that has no cultural equivalent in the United States. He's also somebody who has strong ties to the West, including going to Oxford University, having married a Brit and having been Chancellor of a British university. So this is not a dodgy politician who is rising to power in the hopes of enforcing Sharia law on the world. This guy is exactly the kind of person who could be and should be a strong ally for the West in Pakistan. On the other hand, if you wanted to find a way to alienate Pakistani moderates and those with ties to the West, this would be somebody to try and humiliate.

Comment: Re:problematic Rasmussen (Score 2) 519

by awilden (#41270027) Attached to: Poll-Based System Predicts U.S. Election Results For President, Senate
These algorithms aren't just going and computing an equally weighted average. In a data fusion task you can correct for some pretty extreme error terms if you can estimate them. If you understand what Rasmussen is doing and how it differs from everyone else then you can use that to your advantage.

Comment: Open up the quality control steps (Score 1) 166

by awilden (#41192923) Attached to: The Case Against DNA

One thing that's horribly misleading is when prosecutors say "the likelihood of this match occurring at random is one in a quadrillion" or similar. If there aren't a quadrillion people on the planet, that statement means nothing. Also it's based on a lot of independence assumptions that may or not pan out. The irony is that the answer is out there - with all of the DNA database information that's been compiled by different law enforcement agencies, there is the ability to actually go and test to see whether there are duplicates out there, what the sharing rate is between siblings, twins and parent/children, and so on, so that you can get real measurements instead of probabilistic arguments. If current tests turn out to uniquely identify subjects, the jury should hear "this DNA uniquely identifies this person as its source".

But then as the article points out you also need to turn to the quality control aspect. Identify the potential sources of contamination, quantify those sources through experimental means. Currently agencies do not do blind tests to see what the error rate is in labs. Crime labs should be tested in blind situations to see what their quality rate is. Then you can bring out during the trial "this lab has successfully passed 100 QC tests in the last 2 years and has never failed one" or "this lab failed 2 QC tests out of 100, but the person who failed both has been discharged" or any other information that allows jurors to assess what the error rate is in the other steps in the process. Similarly, success rates are dependent on the size of the sample; if you start from 8 strands of DNA how much does your result degrade when compared with a cheek swab? We just don't have those numbers now, and there's no reason we don't.

DNA is an amazing tool in the crime database. It solves crimes that have not been solved and helps put bad guys behind bars who would have gotten away. But it is not magic or infallible. Quantifying the sources of error and presenting them during trial is the right thing to do.

Comment: Sometimes distortions are good (Score 1) 202

by awilden (#41137945) Attached to: New Flat Lens Focuses Without Distortion
Of course there's a lot of detail missing from the article, but something that has to be said is that some of those "annoying" distortions that they talk about are in fact valuable. The ideal camera is assumed to have a projective transformation and no chromatic aberration. But a true projective transform has some undesirable characteristics. For example, assuming that the photograph will eventually be shown on a flat surface, there will be a 1/r^2 drop off in intensity because the angle of light is being spread out across a larger area on the edge of the detector (providing for fewer photos/area) when compared with the center of the detector. Of course, if your detector is a spherical shell, that eliminates some of the issues. But even so, once you flatten it back out (onto film or onto your computer screen) the projective distortions at large angles from the image center will in some cases look worse than the typical thick-lens issues like fish-eye behavior.

Comment: Re:Radiation hazard? (Score 2) 684

by awilden (#40531579) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Are Smart Meters Safe?

These radiophobes have about as much scientific respectability as the anti-vaxers, homeopaths and creationists.

Oh come on, I can't think of anyone who has been pro-VAX since the late 80s. To be criticizing luddites at the same time that you're supporting a classic mini-computer architecture is more than a bit hypocritical...

Comment: Scratch, Storytelling Alice, Looking Glass (Score 2) 525

I second the comment on Scratch. My son started on it around 7yrs old and still uses it at 11. One thing he liked a lot is that in Scratch you can spend time editing your icons in a paint-like subprogram; this activity uses different parts of the brain than traditional programming, so it let him work longer on the system w/o getting burned out. He also liked the online aspects a lot. You should also look at Storytelling Alice or it's newer incarnation "Looking Glass". These were specifically designed to pull in middle school girls, but there's nothing "girly" about the environments. The basic idea is that you control a stage, add actors and props to it and then animate a "play" by telling the different actors to do things like "tell Jane to walk up to Bob", "tell Jane's left hand to hit Bob's left face", "tell Bob to say 'what was that for' " and so on. Has a lot of the "share" features of scratch too. My son started SA at the same time he started Scratch and he still uses both. They definitely teach different things, though both are drag/drop programming instead of typing free text, but they're also both efficient drag/drop programming as opposed to the VeX system which I always found incredibly painful...

Gee, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.