Sunday, December 17, 2006

Education metaphors

Just thinking about how to describe abstraction and the infinitesimal (as in calculus) to young students.

1. Abstraction is familiar to programmers. We use it for indirection. It allow one thing to dynamically refer to multiple other things. You get to the target thing through dereferences. OK, so that sounds complicated. But Robert's Rule of Order is an example that can be easily understood. The Rules descrribe how to run a meeting. But they also describe a system for conducting debate and settling differences which are in fact used to create rule. Robert's Rules is therefore a set of rules to create rules. Seems to me with a little more time (than I have right now,) one could develop this example into a concrete examply of abstraction. Cool!

2. The notion of the infinitesmal is at the core of calculus. But how to make that idea come alive for a student is problematic. I think I found a way: Everyone is familiar with AM and PM. It's often seemed odd to me to call 12 Midnight 12:00AM. I don't disagree with it at just brushes up against my curious bone.

The number 12 is the last number on the clock and follows 11 PM. If 11 you can say 11PM it seems that you ought to be able to say 12PM follows. But it doesn't. The next number is 12AM. As a programmer, I've done time math lots of times and have had to include qwerky logic to account for that. You might be able to have a student focus on that infinitesimal fraction of time that exists around 11:59:59.999999 and 12:00:00.000001. What happens there? There is no time that begins with 12 after midnight that ISN'T PM. (I use that argument when someone tries to tell me that 12:00AM should be 12:00PM but 12:01AM is obviously AM.) No matter how small you slice time up just before the 12, it's PM and no how small the increment is past it, you end up at AM. Thus, there is something very profound that happens at the imaginary gap between the two times. It's real, yet it's ethereal. It could be that it's infinitesimally small. And that's the idea. A real 'thing' that happens twice a day that exposes something strange yet familiar.

From this understanding, calculus seem a little more approachable.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The E-Mail Train Wreck

It has been 25 years since the invention of e-mail. Everybody I know uses it. They use it alot. Their use is self described as critical to their business and important to their personal lives.

Too many people get too much e-mail they can't ignore, organize, protect or trust. It has become as much of a distraction as it has an aid to communication. There must be billions of dollars wasted on it. And it's free!

E-mail can easily get sent by an imposter:

It can be sent anonymously via hundreds of free e-mail services.  If you don't understand how it works it can be a vector for much mischief.  Attachments grow like weeds unseen and clog file systems, exhausting backup capacity.

So much more can be said, I ought to write a book!  The E-Mail Trainwreck.  (Tom Lapp contributed to these ideas.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Speaking to Pike

Very depressing experience: speaking to high school students at Pike High School in Indianapolis.

The best education money can buy. 5K students on a sprawling campus. Everything a culture could provide its youth. Except ambition, curiosity. I believe by eliminating fear (of hunger, disease, control, exclusion, etc) we've created a generation of young people who aren't motivated to do anything. Why should they?

Sad to see such potential wasted on such sloth.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Passing through airport security, 2/13/2006

Passing through security, 2/13/2006

Dropped off a deposit, found out i was $19 can that happen? the OD fee is $35? the stupid Fry's payment didn't get made and is due 2/15...need to mail it somehow from the road or tomorrow overnight.

Can't park in the drop-off area and deliver a box to the ticket counter - terrorists have made that small convenience obsolete. the guard at the door is firm: You can't park here, can't go inside - "better move on" echos in my head from some movie.

All service workers are Mexican immigrants. All service workers wear rubber gloves. It occurs to me that gloves signify an additional separation from each other. irrational - but that's the way it makes me feel.

TSA workers have a nearly impossible job; (maybe Americans are just adjusting?) you take off your shoes, your belt, remove your laptop from it's case, all metal objects larger than a silver dollar and they scan you, blow air on you, x-ray you, carefully check your ID... i'm pretty sure the only ones that don't mind becoming criminal suspects (if only for 10 minutes) are the terrorists.

With my proclivity to lose things, i'm constantly worried that all these excess procedures will cause me to forget something. I observed a courteous TSA agent deliver a forgotten laptop case to a traveller. i saw myself. after patting my pockets for wallet, keys, cell phone, USB thumb drive, tickets and visually checking (and counting) the stuff i'm carrying multiple times, i feel some solidarity with persons suffering from OCD. at least they have drugs.

is it the inconvenience that pisses me off so bad? i know i used to get to the airport minutes before takeoff...this morning i arrived 1:20 early. (paybacks are a bitch.)

i've thought about moving before. not just to another town, but to another least another country. if i make a lot of money i'll start looking. they probably won't speak english there. money will buy convenience. maybe if i find a like minded group it will buy the pleasures of living i seem to have lost.