Lectures Aren't Just Boring, They're Ineffective, Too, Study Finds
Although this study is good for grabbing headlines, the analysis seems a little bit shallow. For one thing, the focus is on STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering) disciplines, As someone who teaches at the college level in both a STEM field and a traditional humanities field, I am well aware that different areas require different methods. For instance, if one is teaching the basics of computational cognitive modeling, then some interactive segments are necessary. However, things work entriely differently if one is teaching, for instance, the history of the philosophy of mind. Another issue I have with the study is (as best I can tell -- I cannot access the original paper) that they do not control for lecturer effectiveness. To put it simply, we all know that some people are better at lecturing than others. That being said, even when teaching say, Cartesian Dualism, there are steps that can be taken to make lecture classes better. For instance, it is widely known that most humans have an attention span of between 10 to 20 minutes. So, it is simple enough to give everyone a break every twelve minutes, or so and tell a story, or some historical anecdote. Similarly, the Socratic approach, asking for input from students throughout the class and then encouraging discussion, can also make lectures much more effective and enjoyable. These are some of the things I do. That being said, I have known people who just drone on in a monotone, in lecture classes. Folks such as that can be utterly tedious. My point here is that unless the effectiveness of the teachers is taken into account, this study cannot be trusted.
NASA On Full Court Press To Deflate Doomsday Prophecies
This is all disinformation. I read on the Internet that it was going to be a zombie apocalypse. Hell, even the government has plans preparing for it!
Ask Slashdot: How To Collect Payments From a Multinational Company?
If they are a publicly listed company, then they will probably have 'Investor Relations' information posted somewhere. This is often the fast route to the top of the corporate ladder. Look at the Board members and VPs and determine who would be most likely responsible. Then try and send them an e-mail. Many e-mail addresses are not posted, but are easy to guess. Try the obvious ones systematically (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc, until one does not generate an e-mail bounce. I have had good luck with this method with major corporations, as a mere customer. It has even worked with senior political figures in the US government. If this does not work, then try sending an e-mail to the generic 'Investor Relations' e-mail, do not say too much, but ask to be passed on to the relevant person. Using this method, I was able to get to the top of the BP ladder during the Gulf Oil Spill. Needless to say, I was unable to persuade BP to stop acting like jackasses, but at least I got my concerns heard.
A final strategy is to file against them in small claims court. This is often cheap and easy to do and does not require a lawyer. There are usually limits to the amount you can claim, so just file for a portion of the bill. No matter how many lawyers they have, they hate to have to have them show up (usually at US$250+ per hour) and argue the case. Good luck!
A.I. Advances Through Deep Learning
While there have been advances since the 1980s, as best I can tell most of this report is yet more A.I. vaporware. It is easy to put out a press release. It is much harder to do the science to back it up. How did this even get posted on the/. front page?
If this stuff was true, I'd be happy, as most of my career has been working with so-called 'neural nets'. However, they are not neural, that is just a terminological ploy to get grants (anyone ever heard of the credit assignment problem with bp?) Also, there have been some compelling proofs that most neural networks are just statistical machines.
So, move on. Nothing to see here folks, etc.
Slashdot Anniversary: Lafayette, LA, US
This should be an informal gathering of local Slashdot fans. However, please do not forget to say that you will be attending. This will be needed so that we can claim our free t-shirts. Also, do not forget to spread the word! However, time is getting short. Everyone who wants to get a shirt needs to be signed up by the 29th of Sepr.
Stubborn Intel Graphics Bug Haunts Ubuntu 12.04
When I upgraded from Ubuntu 10.04 to 12.04 I ran into exactly this problem. It was a total pain. I looked around the Ubuntu forums, but found very little of anything helpful. I also looked at the Dell Mini 10v forums (as this is the affected computer), but again found nothing. While doing this though, I got increasingly annoyed with both the freezes and the Unity desk top. So, I installed KDE. What do you know, I no longer see the damn bug and I have a desktop that is much more suited to my needs. If you are having this problem, it might be worth giving it a try. Easy to follow instruction can be found at http://blog.sudobits.com/2012/04/14/how-to-install-kde-desktop-on-ubuntu-12-04/.
Patent Granted on Mandatory Digital Keys to Prevent Textbook Piracy
This seems typical of the world of publishing today. Many publishers are merely money making machines, with little regard for either students, or knowledge. Unfortunately, as publishers adopt more and more predatory practices, they end up pissing off both students and professors. There is one major academic publisher in my field Cengage (who operate under many other names), whose books I now refuse to use. They update editions every three years, doing little more than changing page numbers and changing the order of exercises. Each new edition comes with a substantial price hike and force me to rework sections of my classes. The result of this? I now have the equivalent of an on-line text I have developed myself over the years. So, they have lost the business.
It is the very same publishing houses who are mean about sending us desk copies and charge us for them, if we do not adopt their texts. Again, they end up as losers, as there is no incentive to use their texts. They also get pissy when we sell the books that they send to us, without our asking. This again is silly. In the State in which I teach, professors have not had a pay rise in four years, so a few bucks to buy lunch was a welcome perk. Stopping this perk does not make us like them any more.
That being said, not all publishers are like this. Some keep their editions for a long time and do not change much when they bring out new editions. A good example of this is Oxford University Press. So, when I need to use a text for a class, all the business goes to OUP. This is the correct way to do business in publishing. It should not be about quarterly results, but rather about building and maintaining long term relationships. The technological innovation described in the post is just yet another step in the wrong direction. Eventually though, publishers will have to work out the errors of their ways, or perish./p
Belfast Plots 1Gbps Ultra-Fast Broadband Network
This is all very nice, but here in Lafayette, Louisiana, we just got 1 Gb service up and running. See http://www.theadvertiser.com/article/20120406/NEWS01/204060326. This is part of the joy of a city owned ISP. The big commercial providers are pissed, but we customers love it!
Boycott of Elsevier Exceeds 8000 Researchers
I have signed the boycott petition. It is great to have such an opportunity. The reason I signed is because I work at a State university and as such I am a public servant of the State. Doing research is what I am paid to do by the people of my State. However, once research is completed, it needs to get published. I can post it to various sites, but that does little good -- as others have noted, publication in a 'good' place matters. That is what gets visibility. So, I send a paper to a journal. The editorial assisants then send the paper out to referees. The referees are also usually other professors, frequently work at other State institutions. The referees produce reports and make recommendations about whether the paper should be published. However, referees also work for free. If the paper gets accepted, there are usually some changes that need to be made. No problem. Thus far, the whole process is State funded and nobody has made a dime, other than their salary.
The next step is where the the trouble starts. Before the paper will be given final acceptance for publication by the journal, I am required to sign over the entire copyright to the publishers! Thus, far in the process, they have done nothing. Yet, from this point on, they get to profit from my work and that of the referees.
Publishers will provide .pdf versions of off-prints to the authors. How much does that really cost? However, the .pdf files are getting increasingly limited. The .pdf of my most recent paper include my name as the person who downloaded it. I don't know whether the .pdf files will stop printing after a certain number of copies. If the is technically feasible, I bet they do.
If someone wants to read my paper, they must have access to a library with a subscription to the journal. Subscriptions to journals are massively expensive. Should a member of the people of my State want to have access to my work, if they cannot find a library with access, then they must pay the journal publishers for the right to do so.
What is laughable is that the publishers now also do things like offering an option to have the paper available on-line for free. However, to exercise this option, they want *me* to pay them a large fee. This is a crazy set up. They have added little yet get all the cash.
In all fairness, different publishers have different policies on all this. Elsevier (along with Kluwer) just happen to have both the most restrictive policies coupled with the highest prices. However, if I want to get my work out there, or get a promotion (I already have tenure), then I have to play the game the publishers run with fewer morals than a mafia protection racket.
These then are the frustrations that made me sign the anti-Elseview petition. It is makes me mad. The petition shows that I am not alone in this. Perhaps one day Congress will do something useful and outlaw the practices of the publishers. However, as the publishers use their ill gotten gains from the work of others to pay high priced lobbying firms, I doubt this will happen any time soon.
All that being said, there is one tiny plus side. We professors are pretty smart cookies. There are many ways of getting access to materials, even if the library does not have a subscription. This means that there is a thriving set of back-channels that the greed of publishers have created. More than that, I am not prepared to say.
Publisher Pulls Supports; 'Research Works Act' Killed
So, there is yet one more reason to boycott the Dutch bandits at Elsevier? Bastards.
Join the boycott at http://thecostofknowledge.com/
Congress May Permit Robot Calls To Cell Phones
Although the idea behind the *Telephone Consumer Protection Act*, as it is currently, is reasonable, in practice, it does little good. I started to get robo-calls some time ago on my land line from 'Tax Resolution Services'. The number has been on the national do not call register for ages. J. K. Harris and Company were particularly aggressive. Although I told them to put me on their do not call list, asked for a written copy of their do not call policy and did all the right things, they did not stop. Fortunately, I documented it all. Eventually, I took them to Small Claims Court, under the right to private action provision of the *Telephone Consumer Protection Act*. I won the case, along with $1,000 damages, court costs and legal interest. That was several months ago. To date, I have not received a penny. They do not respond to e-mails, certified letters, or telephone calls. I cannot go after their assets, as they seem to rent everything and own nothing. It turns out their head of legal services is only a paralegal, not a lawyer, so I cannot even pursue her for failing to live up to the professional standards of South Carolina Bar Association. So, scumbag telemarketers already have ways of getting around the law. Making life even easier for them would thus be a very bad idea.
Senator Goes After 'Brazen' OnStar Privacy Shift
The solution here is simple: Send OnStar a contract saying that you charge a fee of $10.00 per day for the information that they collect. Make the contract come into force after 30 days, if they do not respond to negotiate. Make sure the contract is sent registered mail to their registered agent in your state. Wait 30 days and send them a bill, again via registered mail. Wait a while longer and then file a claim in small claims court. I bet that would get their attention. My misses has OnStar on her car, which we do not use, so I will be doing this. Although IANAL, I am just a bastard!
IBM Shows Off Brain-Inspired Microchips
As best I can tell from the scant information in the article, this is merely a hardware implementation of standard neural network architectures. Many of these were described, as software implementations in the mid-1980s by Rumelhart, McClelland et. al. in their two volume work*Parallel Distributed Processing*. Many of the putatively revolutionary features of this implementation, like on-board memory and modifiable connections are described. Since that time, neural network technology has advanced quite a bit, as can be seen by inspecting journals such as *Connection Science*, or *Neural Computation*. So, despite all the hyperbole here, as best I an tell, this is not really news.
Computers Could Grade Essay Tests Better Than Profs
As a professor, I can attest that the diagnosis of the problem here is too simplistic and the proposed 'solution' here is unnecessarily complicated. While it is the case that TAs and insecure professors will often inflate grades as they are scared of student appeals, the solution is to employ most experienced professors. There are also relatively simple methods that can be used to prevent grades becoming skewed. For instance, it is easy to grade anonymously. Just ensure that identifying details only go on the first page and turn the work over and grade from the back. One can also compare class mean and median scores (and SDs) with the scores from other sections of the same class. Such methods can ensure fair and consistent grading, without grade inflation. I always use such methods to great effect.
Measuring Broadband America Report Released
My broadband comes from the town utility system. We reliably get speeds 90% faster than we pay for, at any time of day, or night. So-called 'LUSFiber' (for' Lafayette Utility System Fiber') is the best there is. Their cable offerings are also excellent and beat the opposition (mostly Cox) hands down. What is really cool is that the LUSFiber system stays up, even during a power outage, which none of the opposition does. As we live in an area that gets hurricanes, this is an important advantage. I wish everyone could get their service, it would put the big players to shame.
Mozilla Labs: the URL Bar Has To Go
Once upon a time, in the days of yore, we had something fairly similar to what it sounds like they are proposing: The Command Line. A recent slashdot.org post even demonstrated the concept for younger folks who cannot remember back that far back. While there is new rhetoric about commands being issuable in putative 'natural language', this is something that has been heard before, with diminishing plausibility. So, why does Mozilla insist on going backwards? I like the URL bar. If they do away with it, I'll just have to find an add-on to bring it back. So, I think that this is silly.
T-Mobile Joins the Capped Data Bandwagon
Although I am not a lawyer, there would seem to be an issue concerning the sale of "unlimited" plans, if there is a data cap on them. I know when I signed up with T-Mobile I went for the unlimited option and was assured that unlimited meant just that, unlimited. There was no mention of a data cap. By quietly imposing a data cap on so-called 'unlimited' plans, it would appear that T-Mobile are playing rather fast and lose with Federal law. In particular, The Uniform Commercial Code, Section 2-313 (2) states that,
"(a) Any affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller which relates to the goods and becomes part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the affirmation or promise.
(b) Any description of the goods which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the description."
So, why are T-Mobile not in violation of these provisions?Are there any legal types who can explain how this can be legitimate?
AT&T To Acquire T-Mobile From Deutsche Telekom
We had been with Centennial Wireless for years, until they were bought out by a combination of AT and T and Verizon. Our region went to Verizon. Thus, as we have to be on a GSM network, we were faced with a choice between AT and T and T-mobile. We went with T-mobile, as AT and T are notoriously unreliable around these parts. T-mobile also offered a much better deal and great prices on great phones. However, if the AT and T and T-mobile deal goes through, we will have no alternatives. The reason we require being on a GSM network is because we travel quite a bit and most of the world (with the exception of the US and Japan) use GSM. Thus, when we travel, we can just change out sim cards and our phones continue to work. It is also the case that being on GSM enables us to get texts from all over the world. These are not options with CDMA and LTE networks. So, it sounds like this deal between AT and T and T-mobile will mean that AT and T will become a monopoly carrier for anyone who travels frequently outside the US. I wonder whether the FCC and the FTC will take this into consideration before they rubber stamp this deal to go through. Has anyone else had to face this conundrum and found a solution?
Secrets of a Memory Champion
The claims here are basically sound. The Medievals had a problem with both literacy and the cost of writing materials. Should anyone want to know more about 'older' memory systems, I would recommend, Curruthers, M. (1990), *The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture*, Cambridge U.P. This book is not only fascinating, it is also well written.
Sometimes, reinventing, or rediscovering something is useful, I seem to recall. *grin*
Should Professors Be Required To Teach With Tech?
Well, as someone who has done, and published, some empirical research on the use of technology in teaching, the one thing we know for sure is that any 'one size fits all' approach will not work well. There are some classes where using technology can be useful. For instance, in a class which involves analyzing passages of text, being able to project the text can be handy. However, in such a case, this is only useful if students can download the text ahead of time so that they can annotate it in class. However, there are other classes, say in mathematics, where technical aids are merely a distraction.
There is an unfortunate tendency in higher education for technology enthusiasts to make a great deal of noise, which can garner attention from the admin types, while the same individuals have a poor grasp of the underlying technology. This situation often leads to expensive train wrecks. Another problem is caused by the folks who are weak faculty members who use technology to cover their shortcomings. Interestingly, blogs are a great favorite with this type.
Really, the issue here is that technology is not an automatic panacea. Moreover, integrating technology into teaching has to be done carefully and in a controlled manner. Different technologies need to be deployed experimentally and incrementally, with a great deal of attention paid to effectiveness. Unfortunately, this happens all too seldom, as the evangelists all too often get the ears of the administrators. However, they are the ones which end up with failed projects, while I am the one with successful projects and publications!