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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

awilden fast-tracking isn't about race or gender (307 comments)

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.

about two weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: Remote Support For Disconnected, Computer-Illiterate Relatives

awilden Vidalia+TorBrowser (334 comments)

I know it seems off topic but if you had them run Vidalia (autostart on)+TorBrowser, that'd stop a lot of the crap toolbar/plugin stuff that a "normal" browser would allow and I think it also blocks some classes of dangerous downloads.

about 3 months ago

Server Farms Flourish In Iowa: Microsoft Plows $700M More Into Des Moines

awilden very good backbone (103 comments)

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.

about a year and a half ago

The Amish Are Getting Fracked

awilden not just in Ohio (367 comments)

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.

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: Science Books For Middle School Enrichment?

awilden Rendezvous with Rama (203 comments)

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...

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: Really Short Time Wasters?

awilden juggling is a noble profession (279 comments)

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.

about 2 years ago

Sony DVR Useless After Rovi Stops TV Guide OnScreen

awilden man in the middle for the win?! (321 comments)

So has anyone looked into the potential of reverse engineering the service/protocol and then using any of the standard man-in-the-middle attacks to direct the box to a replacement feed?

more than 2 years ago

Pakastani Politician Detained By US Customs Over Opposition To Drone Strikes

awilden Pakistani Politics 101 (560 comments)

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.

more than 2 years ago

Why Can't Industry Design an Affordable Hearing Aid?

awilden Re:clones? (549 comments)

Wat?! I couldn't hear what you're saying!

more than 2 years ago

Poll-Based System Predicts U.S. Election Results For President, Senate

awilden Re:problematic Rasmussen (519 comments)

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.

more than 2 years ago

The Case Against DNA

awilden Open up the quality control steps (166 comments)

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.

more than 2 years ago

New Flat Lens Focuses Without Distortion

awilden Sometimes distortions are good (202 comments)

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.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Are Smart Meters Safe?

awilden Re:Radiation hazard? (684 comments)

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...

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Best Book For 11-Year-Old Who Wants To Teach Himself To Program?

awilden Scratch, Storytelling Alice, Looking Glass (525 comments)

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...

more than 2 years ago

NYC Bans Mention of Dinosaurs, Dancing, Birthdays On Student Tests

awilden don't overreact to this one (470 comments)

While I acknowledge the apparent insanity of the political correctness that seems to be the cause of this case, these sorts of exclusions are there for a reason. Tests should evaluate the topics they're designed to evaluate, not grade people on how "normal" their family background is. As an example, my mom was a nurse for a head start preschool and when she was going through records she noticed one kid had been labeled as having a low IQ. She could see he clearly wasn't dumb, so she looked into where the label came from. One of the main causes was that during an IQ test the kid was shown a picture of a birthday cake and he didn't recognize it and said it was a candle pie. A little research showed that he was a member of a religious group that didn't believe in celebrating birthdays, so he literally had never seen a birthday cake before.
PCness can certainly get out of control, and it sounds like it has in this case, but this is a serious topic. There are consequences for low scores on tests. This kid had been labeled dumb because he had never seen a birthday cake. When low scores are based on some sort of cultural gap, that's punishing kids who come from social groups that are out of the mainstream. Kids from _all_ social groups should be required to learn the same material, and as an example, I strongly object to parents keeping their kids from being taught evolution because of their religious beliefs. At the same time I think it's wrong to test kids on topics related to evolution (including dinosaurs) before the school has taught you about them.

more than 2 years ago

Online Learning Becomes Court-Ordered Community Service

awilden Teaching the curve not the median (160 comments)

Of course there are many reasons that people don't finish school. Sometimes it's because they're not smart enough. Other times it's because they're bored out of their skulls, or family issues are pulling them away, or a million other reasons. Maybe this should be interpreted as yet another reason that we need to revamp schools so that they do more than just deliver a "one-size-fits-all" education to the middle of the bell curve. Education is expensive, but prison is far more expensive.

more than 2 years ago

America's Future Is In Software, Not Hardware

awilden Lessons from Apple about s/w only (630 comments)

When I worked at Apple there was a lot of discussion about whether the company should divest itself of hardware, or at least open up the clone business. The best argument against it was to look at the market cap of Microsoft at the time, which was obviously very high, but not as much larger than Apple than it would have seemed at the time. The prevailing wisdom was that if that cap was the best Microsoft could do, and it was hard to imagine anyone with a higher success than Microsoft, then Apple would be foolish to throw all its eggs into the s/w basket. Since then Apple has succeeded making great s/w that runs on great h/w and now in fact is larger than Microsoft.
I guess for some of the same reasons I'm concerned with the suggestion that the US should emphasize s/w only and give up on the h/w market.

more than 2 years ago

Dreamhost FTP/Shell Password Database Breached

awilden Re:FTP? (123 comments)

I'm pretty sure it's the same password for both. Inside the control panel there's a popup to assign each user "ftp", "sftp+ftp", or "shell+sftp+ftp" access. But if you choose either of the latter two, you have "disallow ftp" checkbox. Fairly bassackwards in my opinion, but does let you block ftp into your account - one user at a time.

more than 2 years ago

Best Software For Putting Lectures Online?

awilden Re:The best option (126 comments)

I know what you're saying, but after a long time of both being a student and a teacher, I think there's a lot of value in actually taking notes, even if you never look at the ever again. In particular, I've consistently seen that students who record lectures perform more poorly than those taking notes. It's the whole Montessori thing -- the more senses that you can engage, the more likely you are to retain what you're being presented.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Classroom Eco-Projects Suited To Alaska?

awilden energy efficiency science (157 comments)

Energy efficiency experiments would be especially relevant. If you're dealing with visiting students in the winter months, then an IR camera would be hugely relevant and rather cool to use: shine it at the walls and windows, see that the windows leak far more than the walls, and see that the walls don't equally protect against heat. While a good quality IR camera isn't particularly cheap, more and more utilities are purchasing them for their own energy efficiency programs (many times mandated by law), so you may be able to borrow it or co-write a grant.

more than 3 years ago


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