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### Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

Re:And that is why the Spock/Logic way is incomple (905 comments)

I like that quote, even though it was a bit difficult to digest. The English language has evolved in the past century in a way that demands much less of the reader and conveys much less complexity and accuracy.

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### Does Relying On an IDE Make You a Bad Programmer?

I agree with most of this, but I still use emacs a lot.

Sometimes an IDE can become an impediment if it keeps you from looking at hard-to-find code, makes you in any way lazy about debugging, or helps you read through code too quickly (making happy assumptions). I'm currently working on an Android system and regularly have to jump between application code, Android internal services and components, various JNI or hardware abstraction layers, and kernel code. Sometimes I need to read through standard C library implementations too. So while I like doing some things in eclipse, most of the time eclipse is not configured to let me dig deeply enough or follow calls all the way through the framework. Similarly the interactive debugging utilities are often limited and I resort to reading code and adding print/logging statements. It feels old-fashioned sometimes but on the other hand I have no excuses or reluctance to work hard enough to get a deep understanding of the whole system.

So I'd judge an IDE by its ability to help you quickly navigate around a large and maybe unfamiliar code base. A good programmer's #1 job is probably reading code carefully and accurately. Features like auto-completion and live error checking are much less important. Also keep a tab on the amount of time it takes to keep your IDE configured correctly and able to compile independently from a more automated build system. Don't let it become a timesink, crutch or an excuse!

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### Can Electric Current Make People Better At Math?

Math concepts unrelated to computation skill (112 comments)

I read "...and improve their understanding of math concepts" with a lot of skepticism. I think that schools love to teach computation skills because they are easy to teach and because success there is very easy to measure. But this skill is relatively unimportant compared with what I would consider "math concepts": How you apply mathematical abstractions to real-world situations (beyond making correct change at a cash register). How you break down a hard problem into less-hard pieces. How to visualize quantitative relationships, develop and use algebraic systems, and so on. These are rarely taught in schools because they are relatively difficult to teach and difficult to measure gains. So computation skills are taught instead, regardless of the fact that cheap computers are billions or trillions of times faster than any human.

Can electric current apply to this kind of conceptual learning? If so, it would have application to nearly all kinds of education, not just math.

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### How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System?

I think one of the major problems with standardized testing is that the scores are over-used. Scores are used for evaluating students, teachers, and schools. Each group has incentives attached: scholarships and admissions for students, salaries and job opportunities for teachers, and higher funding levels for high-performing schools. If these incentive systems were decoupled instead somehow, then meaningful analyses of scores could be made.

I agree that assessment is important, but it's a very difficult problem that we have not solved. Is it better to use a broken approach than have no assessment at all? I personally think that testimonials and self-evaluations are currently more meaningful than test scores in general. Standardized tests usually measure only those outcomes that are easy to teach and test but are unimportant in real life.

Mathematics is an easy example of this. My 6th-grade daughter gets homework sheets that are mostly repetitive exercises to boost speed. A recent example was computing the circumferences and surface areas of circles. Calculators were allowed in this case, so it was an exercise in key punching. Then we went to a pizzeria a few days later and she was happy to compute the circumference of a pizza (without prompting -- her idea). So I asked her "about how many bites would it take to eat a whole pizza?" She didn't know how to work that out, thinking that she was not taught how to solve that kind of question. I wasn't giving her one of the needed inputs, the size of a bite. And also her understanding of surface area was not strong. The problem here is fairly universal: Math students are taught the abstract computation skills but not synthesis of this knowledge. It is very easy to test how quickly students can compute things and even how fast they can look up formulas that match the given knowns with the required unknown, but these are meaningless skills without also learning how to bridge from the abstract to the real, and how to form connections between the principles they learn. Students should be given harder problems that they have to puzzle over, even starting in grade school. It's okay if they don't get the right answer or if they get stumped, as long as they were able to begin to think productively about them. This builds genuinely-useful math skills and hopefully a certain discipline of thought that is not usually innate. This ability to apply math to real-world situations, and by algebra to think of math as a language, is much harder to assess than timed multiplication tests and so it is generally avoided. If a teacher were to spend time on this kind of development in place of the repetitive speed drills, their students would perform worse on standardized tests. The teacher's students would suffer, as would the teacher and their whole school to some degree.

So, is standardized testing better than nothing? I think that yes, it is, but on the other hand almost any other form of assessment would be better still even if it were not standardized.

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### Simulations Back Up Theory That Universe Is a Hologram

Re:A projection of what? (433 comments)

Mathematics, especially in this context, is just a language for expressing ideas. So I think that in some sense it is possible that some particular string theory really does describe what's going on. I don't know if it's very likely, but the idea of a "final theory" is that it is, in some sense, a complete and accurate description of our universe's mechanics. (The holographic principle is nice because it states that two seemingly very different theories can actually be equivalent.)

I think there are two main caveats here. One is that you never really know when you're "done", and have a theory that is indeed final. We know now that we are not done today because of inconsistencies, but science also does not have even the capability of perfect validation. The other is that a microscopic, reductionist description of physics is not useful or even the correct language for describing more macroscopic effects since basically "more is different." Chemists don't use quantum field theory because it's just not helpful.

And while it's great (even important) to consider philosophical ramifications of theoretical work like this, we have to remember that it's all still conjecture and it will probably always be conjecture. The philosophical spin-offs, so to speak, should never be taken as a way of either supporting or condemning the theory.

I think I'm basically summarizing some of what Wienberg describes in his book Dreams of a Final Theory (1993). That seems old but I highly recommend it!

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### Physicists Plan to Build a Bigger LHC

Re:WHY NOT IN THE FIRST PLACE !! (263 comments)

That depends on what you mean by "tangible benefits." One argument I've heard for practical, what's-in-it-for-me-today benefits is that the technology produces spin-offs such as techniques to mass-produce rare-earth magnets, the world-wide web, etc. But that's honestly a weak argument because there's a lot of research going on that has similar chances to produce spin-off tech.

For particle physics, the feeling is that we are on the verge of some kind of revolution! Admittedly it's been that way for a few decades now, but the current working theory (the standard model) has a number of deep problems (thanks wikipedia!). Most new theories, and there are a whole lot of them, predict new phenomena just at the edge of our experimental reach. Part of that is because well-meaning theorists prefer to propose theories that are either presently or soon-to-be testable. But part of it is because the experimental frontier has advanced to energies at roughly the electroweak unification point and lots of theories have interesting behavior to predict at this point, broadly speaking.

So it's not just a more-is-better kind of effort that won't stop until we build solar-system-sized accelerators. There really is a sense that a major shift, possibly even a philosophically-challenging development, is nearly within our grasp, within our lifetimes. This is not a "practical" argument for basic science, but only history can tell us what has had short and long-term practical benefits. History does tell us that this sort of pursuit has in the past been enormously beneficial. Maybe we are in a whole new era where new physics will be completely impractical, but that would honestly be surprising if true.

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### Physicists Plan to Build a Bigger LHC

You hit numerical problems if you calculate it that way. Wikipedia gives a series expansion that works well for large values of gamma:

v (in units of c) = 1 - 1/2 \gamma^(-2)

v = c (1 - 1.8e-10), or 0.99999999982 c

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