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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.

User Journal

Journal Journal: It's official: Google sucks like Microsoft 1

No, not in the search field. Bing has that sown up quite nicely. I'm talking about getting the version of the software you want.

I had a request to install Google Earth on some machines here at work. Why, don't know considering who will be using it but that's my orders and I carry them out.

So I go to earth.google.com and get the message that I can download Google Earth 6. I select the option and find that 6 is a beta but, and this is key, they do offer the stable 5.2 version.

Obviously I select the stable version because this is a production environment. I also uncheck installing of Chrome and making Chrome my default browser.

I check the "Yes, I Agree" option and right before I click the button to download I notice something. My option for 5.2 is not available. In fact, I am now forced to download the version I didn't want.

Thinking I'm missing something, I go through the entire process again but this time, I watch how the screen changes before my eyes.

Yup, it doesn't matter if I want the 5.2 version, Google is going to force the 6 version on me. In addition, I am forced, yes, forced, to accept that Earth will check for updates automatically. I cannot unselect this option. There was another option I could not unselect but I'm so pissed I can't remember what it was.

So I forgo getting the beta and ask around at work until I find someone who has kept one of the old installers to use.

So there you have it. Google is officially as sucky as Microsoft when it comes down to getting the file you want.

This is precisely why I don't have gmail or signed up for anything Google-related. I don't want them to tell me what I want, I know what I want. Don't tell me otherwise.

User Journal

Journal Journal: /. is once again screwed up 4

Ok, so the title isn't telling you anything you didn't already know. However, this is a somewhat critical issue for those of us who get mod points.

Apparently, even though I have set my threshold to -1, I don't see anything below 1.

Having searched through all the nooks and crannies of the craptacular 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?) version, there are no other settings to set to see low posters.

Normally this wouldn't be an issue as most people at 0 or -1 are just trolling, but on occasion there is that one comment which is unfairly knocked and I like to upgrade them.

Yeah, I COULD send an email and ask that this be looked into, but what are the chances that this would be given a high priority when one considers how much they listened to people about the new design.

So for now, those of you who get a 0 or -1 mod, sorry, I can't help you.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Deep in the Heart of TeX-Ass 3

Years ago, when my wife was finishing her PhD in Math, I helped her with putting her dissertation into the required format, which was a TeX document. The main thing I remember about it was how much trouble it was just to lay out a document. It was hard enough for her to do all the very difficult Math work and get ready for her PhD defense, but to then require her to learn TeX just seemed like piling on.

The other day, my daughter, who's now a Math grad student, came to me and asked if I knew anything about TeX. It caused a sickening deja vu as I realized that after all this time, TeX is still the required format for technical documents.

Now, I understand the elegance of TeX, and I can appreciate the need for a standard way of typesetting such documents. I've seen the Chinese students taking class notes in TeX and I'm aware of the place TeX holds in the Math, physics and engineering communities.

But jesus christ on roller skates, can no one come up with something a little easier to learn and use? I'm a musician and composer and arranger. I score films. Creating formatting and typesetting a music manuscript is at least as exacting and formalized as setting up a document to show some equations, some graphs and a figure or two. I've got a handful of excellent professional software that makes writing (and printing) music as easy as writing a business letter. I don't have to write code just to put in a D.S. al coda for heaven's sake.

When I was working on my own dissertation decades ago in critical theory, I remember using the DOS version of Nota Bene, because that was what my adviser used and by gawd, that was what I was going to use. It was like an even more baroque version of Wordperfect with all sorts of code and macros and packages for diacritical marks. But the world has moved on since then and now there's open office to fill all my document needs.

I guess I'm just venting a bit, thinking about my daughter having to learn tex on top of everything else she's got going on, and I know I'm going to get hit with questions, which means I'm going to have to go back and brush up. I'm about to install LateX on my machine for the second time in over 20 years and if nothing else, can I get some encouragement? Maybe an explanation of why time has stood still in this one area?

Now let me go get some aspirin.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Just a quick Fox News faux pas

We all realize that Fox's distortion of reality is well known. We also know that terms such as "homicide bomber" or "homicide shooter" are an attempt to "update" ones vocabulary.

However, it seems that in their effort to widen their distortion field, they have unilaterally removed an entire country from the world map.

I give you (via Minyanville), the new map of the Middle East

User Journal

Journal Journal: Who are these people ony my fans list? 3

I was reading a journal by Shadow Wrought re: hitting the max number of friends, and having to delete old friends to make room for new ones.

In some respects, I do this in real life too. But that's beside the point and is best left for a different journal entry.

So anyway, I decided to take a look at my friends, fans, foes, and freaks lists and see if I could identify any of the people listed, if I could recall _anything_ about them. I think I hit around 80% on my friends and foes and freaks lists, and maybe 20% on my fans list. I'm not sure if that says something about me, or even if it says anything at all.

But every once in a while when I look at my fans list, I'm haunted by a single fan -- ^Z. There in my fans list -- the very last fan -- I see that his or her last journal was in the very early morning on Sept 11, 2001.

I worked in downtown Manhattan at the time, and lived across the river in Hoboken. I lost several acquaintances on that day, and one close friend. Was ^Z one of them*? Was ^Z some other person who lost their life that day? Or perhaps someone who gained some perspective, and realized slashdot is insignificant to them in the grand scheme of things?

Every time I look at my fans list, I'm reminded of that day and the people whose lives were lost. And I wonder how that day changed America, made us a nation of line-toers and protofascists, instead of making us celebrate and honor our freedoms even more. Was it a failure of our leadership? A failure of our modern culture?

And then, today, for the first time, I actually clicked on ^Z's profile, and I see that he or she kept on posting until sometime in 2009, and I realize I'm a sentimental, navel-gazing, analytical fool who lets himself get swept up in revery based on a false premise.

*Probably not, since he journaled in a different alphabet than the one I use.

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