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Books

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

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?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Surface to Air Missles on London Apartment Buildings?

The Olympics is all about World Peace, we are told, but Charles Stross isn't quite convinced.

The science fiction writer and blogger is a little concerned about the extent to which Britain will go to keep corporate sponsors happy.

The Olympics: It's a movement. And everybody needs a movement, every day.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Wyoming prepares for the End Times with proposed purchase of aircraft carrier 4

I had to double-check to make sure this wasn't an Onion article. It appears that a Wyoming state legislature has advance (yes, there was a vote) to prepare for the worst. They want to create a task force to prepare Wyoming for the total social and economic collapse of the United States (aka, the Zombie Apocalypse).

The best part of the story, and the part you just can't make up, is that the preparations include the formation of a Wyoming Navy . As reported in the Wyoming news source m.trib.com,

The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

Of course, an aircraft carrier costs about $6billion, but first there's the little issue of Wyoming being landlocked. The purchase of a submarine was not mentioned.

Read more in-depth analysis here.

Is anyone surprised that the amendment creating this task force was written and sponsored by Republicans? It's worth noting that Wyoming, the least populous state in the US gets back $1.11 for every $1.00 it sends to Washington in federal taxes.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Woz: Android is better 1

All you Apple fanboys prepare to gnash your teeth, rip out your hair and throw tantrums, the Woz has spoken.

Essentially, Android is more versatile and does things better than the iPhone, including Siri which apparently has problems connecting Woz to one of his favorite steak houses. Woz also doesn't like the fact the you need a connection, at all times, to get voice commands to work.

In short, the iPhone seems to be a violation of Rule #1 of the Three Rules of IT That Should Never Be Broken: never let programmers design your applications.

Woz also isn't thrilled about the short battery life, though Android has its own problems with battery life.

User Journal

Journal Journal: in which i am a noob all over again 17

I haven't posted a journal here in almost three years, because I couldn't find the button to start a new entry. ...yeah, it turns out that it's at the bottom of the page.

So... hi, Slashdot. I used to be really active here, but now I mostly lurk and read. I've missed you.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Happening faster than I thought it would... 5

After the bankruptcy "reform" of the last decade (which only applied to the lower income levels), we knew it was only a matter of time before the return of debtors' prison and forced work camps. There was never any question that this was where Reaganomics would take us.

I guess I just didn't expect that we'd see it so soon. When the new privatized prison system meets debtors prisons, something very very ugly is going to emerge. And it appears it's going to happen within the next couple of years.

If you are very very wealthy, and you find yourself unable to pay your debt, the government will force citizens to make you whole. If you are part of the working or lower classes and find yourself unable to pay your debt, you have become an enemy of the New Corporate State and will be treated accordingly.

User Journal

Journal Journal: JC, I hardly knew ye 3

Unless there's a system failure (which is a distinct possibility), Jeremiah Cornelius, an iconoclastic and highly prolific Slashdot journal writer has packed it in and closed his account. Links to his journals are dead and his account only shows the UID number, not his user name.

While sometimes his opinions were the kind that made me uncomfortable (which is something, being iconoclastic and a pain in the ass bordering on the trollish myself), I will miss his energy and his strongly held sincere beliefs.

If he's gone elsewhere, I'd like to know which online community a guy like him would join. We;ve lost some long-time Slashdot users recently. I hate to see a good one go.

Education

Journal Journal: HOWTO: Run an educational system 1

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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