Monday, February 04, 2013

MoAR: among other things, (1) keeping it simple, (2) disadvantages of campus life, as well as (3), (4), & (5).

1. simple wikipedιa is nothing compared to this ..

i've heard of talks and articles aimed for a general audience, but this sounds quite extreme!..
"Perhaps that is why the Up-Goer Five text editor, created by geneticist Theo Sanderson, has struck such a cord with many scientists, including me and my co-blogger Anne Jefferson. Inspired by a brilliant xckd comic that took the elimination of jargon to an almost absurd degree by attempting to describe the blueprints of the Saturn V moon rocket using only a list of the most thousand commonly used English words (hence, Up Goer Five - "the only flying space car that has taken anyone to another world"), the text editor compares anything that you type into it against that same list and gently chides you when you use a word that isn't on it."

~ from Science in Ten Hundred Words: The `Up-Goer Five' challenge. @sciam (via yahoo)
as for an example of science with a restricted (1000 word) vocabulary ..
"Well, you could go to each computer, and ask it for all of its words and pictures, and look in those words for Mr Turing. But that would take years (yes, really), and you would have to look at a lot of cat pictures. So what you really need is something like the set of words at the back of the book, which would tell you which computer knew something about Mr Turing. Then you could go and ask just these computers, rather than having to ask every computer in the world."

— Alasdair Mackintosh - I work on Google web search @tenhundredwordsofscience
why do i get the feeling that the ten-hundred word version of one of my research abstracts will involve terms like:

instead of "rectifiable"

.. or for that matter ..

in place of "bi-lipschitz" ..? 7-:

2. MOOCs: the human element and the lack of schlep.

the following passage gave me some small feeling of hope:
"a student in Cairo who was taking the circuits course and was having difficulty. In the class’s online forum, where students help each other with homework, he posted that he was dropping out. In response, other students in Cairo in the same class invited him to meet at a teahouse, where they offered to help him stay in the course."

~ from "revolution hits the universities" @nyt
maybe these massive online courses (or MOOCs) are on to something, for there remains a human element in the setting of such a course. one could argue that there is more, in that the online forums provide a more immediate mode of interaction with the instructor(s) and fellow classmates, with a likelier chance of response.

for you educators out there, compare this to
how many students actually attend office hours.

thinking about it though, i want to point out that not all of the strengths of MOOCs are digital in nature .. not directly, anyway.  the first time i read the following excerpt, i could imagine the why and how of the situation, but couldn't quite figure out the what ..
"One member of the Coursera team who recently took a Coursera course on sustainability told me that it was so much more interesting than a similar course he had taken as an undergrad. The online course included students from all over the world, from different climates, incomes levels and geographies, and, as a result, “the discussions that happened in that course were so much more valuable and interesting than with people of similar geography and income level” in a typical American college."
what could make so much of a difference?

thinking about it, it must be a matter of perspective.  if a lecture is a video, then that means you can choose when to watch it.  in particular, you would probably never watch it when you're exhausted or half-asleep.  that's a clear advantage which the online student has over the campus student .. but more due to a matter of habit.

for a campus student, lectures are a normal part of life .. to the extent that it becomes a "chore" to attend them.
i do believe that most students are diligent and deem their classwork important, but that doesn't eliminate the annoyances of (A) getting up early, (B) getting dressed, (C) shivering on the way from the dorm to the lecture hall, (D) waiting out the boring 5-10 minutes until the prof shows up .. so it's a bit of a schlep.

once class begins, of course, it's a whirlwind;  (E) it's all they can do to keep up with their note-taking, and at the end, (F) there's no time for questions.

to be honest, i think most students aren't paying attention in class not because they are some kind of ADHD generation, but simply because they are half-asleep or (mentally) unprepared.  this shouldn't be taken lightly, either.
if you took a reasonable sample of students from that Coursera team member's class and put them on the same campus and in the same classroom with the same schedule, then maybe you'd get the same results.  i'm not convinced, though.

there's a lot to be said for having someone's full attention.

3. in which $0.999^{365 \times 3} \approx 0.334$.

i suppose that the subtitle (above) is already quite suggestive. for instance, i rarely if ever use the number $365$ for computations unrelated to time.

maybe i'm using a more high-end calculator than other people.
"Life expectancy for a healthy American man of my age is about 90. (That’s not to be confused with American male life expectancy at birth, only about 78.) If I’m to achieve my statistical quota of 15 more years of life, that means about 15 times 365, or 5,475, more showers. But if I were so careless that my risk of slipping in the shower each time were as high as 1 in 1,000, I’d die or become crippled about five times before reaching my life expectancy. I have to reduce my risk of shower accidents to much, much less than 1 in 5,475."

~ from That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer by jared diamond @nyt_science
so i like diamond's idea, but i think his computation is non-rigorous. after all, the statistic is $0.1\%$ for each shower. granted, i'm assuming that daily showers are independent events, but the chances of not slipping in the shower in the next three years is $$ \mathbb{P}\Big[ \bigcap_{n=1}^{365 \times 3} (\text{no fall on $n$th day}) \Big] = \prod_{n=1}^{365 \times 3} \mathbb{P}[\text{no fall on $n$th day}] = 0.999^{365 \times 3} \approx 33.4\% $$ so yes: the odds are bad, but i wouldn't say that he would surely have died five times over. on the other hand, supposing that he could live forever (provided nothing happens to him otherwise) the expected number of accident-free years would be something like .. $$ \sum_{n=1}^\infty n \times 0.999^{365n} = x \frac{d}{dx}\Big[ \frac{1}{1-x} \Big] \Big|_{x=0.999^{365}}= \frac{0.999^{365}}{(1-0.999^{365})^2} \approx 7.416 \text{ years}, $$ so .. well, twice over or so. maybe it is worth being careful [1].

4. quotations of the week.

one could say the same thing about teacher's evaluations. as for what this thing is ..
"There is no feedback loop in rating colleges,” Gates explained at a small roundtable of six bloggers and journalists held on Wednesday at the Omni Berkshire Place hotel in New York City, “The control metric shouldn’t be that kids aren’t so qualified. It should be whether colleges are doing their job to teach them. I bet there are community colleges and other colleges that do a good job in that area, but US News & World Report rankings pushes you away from that."

~ from "there is something perverse in college ratings" @forbes
as for this next excerpt, i've been known to offer the following advice about writing:

write something bad as fast as you can; if it's good, then keep it.
if it's bad, then you know what would be better, if not good,
so write that down and edit the hell out of it.

such advice presupposes, however, that you will have something good enough in the end. there are other possibilities, which are discussed further and below.

maybe it's better to say that "learning from failure" is itself learned.
"But I’ve never liked this embrace of failure. We learn as much from our successes as from our failure and I suspect we learn much more. Besides, I failed a lot in school. I didn’t test all that well and didn’t get straight As. Failure made me feel awful. And I think failure makes kids in urban public schools or on the rez feel just as bad if not much worse. Many are already close to despair in their lives. Failure is deeply meaningful to them. It has serious consequences. Get labelled a “Failure” and it can ruin your life. As a pedagogical methodology, embracing failure is the last thing these kids need. "

~ from "stop fetishising failure" @creativeintelligencebook
lastly, i wonder what erdos's kevin bacon number is. (-:
"The year was 1967. Russell was by then a very frail 95-year-old man. Besides finishing work on his three-volume autobiography, Russell was devoting much of his remaining time to the struggle for peace and nuclear disarmament. To that end, he sometimes made himself available to people he thought could help the cause ... So when he was asked to appear in a movie called Aman, about a young Indian man who has just received his medical degree in London and wants to go to Japan to help victims of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Russell said yes."

~ from The Old Philosopher’s Improbable Appearance in a Hindi Film @openculture

5. lastly, the funny pages

i found these off david olenick's website.  these are the ones that i found slightly mathematical .. (-:

and as for this one, it's a shot by pedro correa:

what makes this one seem "mathematical" is the spraypaint on the ground: it resembles scratchwork for a computation, to me.

now i imagine a proof of the pythagorean theorem, done graffiti style ..! (-:

[1] on a related note, i keep on getting weird answers when trying to compute the expected value in terms of days. maybe i should stop assuming that people are immortal .. (-:

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