Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Socratic Method

This is fantastic: Rick Garlikov describes a teaching experiment with a third grade class where he uses the Socratic Method (which consists of asking questions and allowing the students to discover answers themselves) to teach them binary arithmetic.

I have friends of above-average intelligence who didn't really understand binary representation when it was taught (badly) in a college Computer Science course for non-majors; it's incredible that he got a regular third grade class to understand it in 25 minutes! And practically the whole class was participating and having fun... I wish I could do that with my CS 225 section! I've got to try something along these lines next week.

There's no real point to excerpting it, so head over to the transcript now. He has some more information on the Socratic Method here.

Hat tip: Moebius Stripper.

Assorted Opinions

Today's Washington Post has some good editorials. My favourites: Kofi Annan on how to move forward in Iraq, a Palestinian journalist who describes why he's hopeful about the peace process, and 'Marriage in the March of Time'. Read the last one to find out what it's about. And while you're at it, read the other two.

Friday, February 11, 2005

I'm famous (after a fashion)

Well, ok, I haven't proved P != NP (yet!), but there are different kinds of fame. I'm a chocaholic (my friends will say that's an understatement second only to CNN's observation that black holes are typically more massive than the earth) and have the incredible good fortune to live a block away from the local Dairy Queen.

One of my roommates and I walked up to DQ this evening; as soon as we entered, the cashier began ringing up our orders. Apparently we're known to all the local Dairy Queen employees as 'The Chocolate Ice-cream guys.' The name leaves a certain something to be desired, but I'd put up with much worse for the quick service and generous helpings they give us as their best customers. :-)

In other news, Indu's started a blog. The latest post is sparking a discussion of free will. Also, Ditch has returned to AI-Complete with a post on using Google to extract meaning from the Internet.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Miscellaneous Meta-blogging

I modified my blogroll today; the update was long overdue. I don't particularly enjoy reading American Leftist anymore, but that's less a comment on the quality of Joe's writing than a reflection of how my taste for blogging has changed. I still enjoy many of the conspiracy theories that show up in the comments, though!

Tall, Dark, and Mysterious, one of my new favourite blogs, is among those added. I love Moebius Stripper's writing and 'dark sense of humour'; every new post on her blog is a delight. I wish I had papers like this to grade. Where was she when I was learning algebra, statistics, and calculus?

Timothy Burke, who blogs at Easily Distracted mentioned in a comments thread elsewhere that grad students should remember that even if they abandon their blogs, their names will be forever associated with the arguments they make and sentiments they express. This is something I never even considered, and I'm not going to begin worrying about it now. The RIAA may never offer me a job, but I think I can live with that. Seriously, though, while I would like to think prospective employers won't hold an applicant's past criticism of their organization against him/her, I should know better. Waterstones, the British book chain, is one of an increasing number of companies that have fired employees based on the contents of their blogs. This case particularly irked me because Joe Gordon, the employee in question, was the sort of bookseller I love - knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He is very well known in the Science Fiction world as one of the most influential fans and critics in the United Kingdom and numbers several editors and best-selling authors (many of whom condemned Waterstones for their actions) among his friends. Apparently, doing your job supremely well is no protection.

Though it's got me in trouble more than once, I usually take for granted the freedom to speak my mind. I really should be grateful for the small measure of financial independence I enjoy, and more importantly, the fact that I'm living in a country which celebrates free speech to the extent that I - as a non-citizen! - can criticize the government without really worrying about adverse consequences.

Friday, February 04, 2005

On your deathbed...

... remember to set up that P2P app and share all the files you've accumulated over a lifetime. Slashdot is carrying a story about an 83-year old woman being sued for file swapping a month after she died.

Yes, this is ridiculous, and the RIAA was made to look foolish, particularly when they admitted that they probably got it wrong; the woman, Gertrude Walton, apparently hated computers. What's most amusing, though, is that a few Slashdotters - inspired by Walton - believe they've found the perfect way to die happy, having screwed over the RIAA/MPAA without fear of reprisal: Just before you die, make your music and videos publically available on the Internet!

Fixing Social Security?

In a briefing before President Bush's State of the Union Address, a senior administration official said, "In a long-term sense, the personal accounts would have a net neutral effect on the fiscal situation of Social Security."

So how will privatization help fix Social Security? Paul Krugman's response made me laugh out loud:
Private accounts will at best have a "net neutral effect" - that is, they will do nothing to improve Social Security's finances. Mr. Bush says the system faces a crisis; what does he propose to do about it?

The answer, presumably, is that his plan will also involve major benefit cuts over and above those associated with private accounts. And it's true that you can improve Social Security's finances with privatization, as long as you also slash benefits - just as you can kill a flock of sheep with witchcraft, provided you also feed them arsenic.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Abusing the FOIA

I've been reading all year about the Justice Department obstructing requests made under the Freedom of Information Act, but this takes the cake:
People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) President Ralph G. Neas said today that a Justice Department demand for nearly $400,000 in fees for a FOIA request regarding the decision to seal the records of immigrants detained in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks is outrageous, and another in a series of strategies to deny access to public information.
The Times is carrying an editorial on what it calls ' an insult to the law's intent':
Justice officials insist that there is no easy way to provide the requested information from scores of regional offices. The law provides for two free hours of searching, but officials presented an estimated bill steeped in Newtonian gibberish, if not outright stonewalling. Let's see, that's 13,314.25 hours at $28 an hour for $372,799, plus more expenses not yet tabulated in other jurisdictions.

There are doubtlessly cheaper, simpler ways to find the extent to which the government buried court proceedings after the immigrant dragnet. We doubt that it would take that much time and labor if the White House were making the request.
This is just a step up from the all time champion of lame excuses: the FBI's mysterious write-only database which would crash if an attempt were made to read information from it.

More Good news from the Middle East

It just keeps getting better: Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas will meet in Egypt next Tuesday, in response to an invitation by Hosni Mubarak. King Abdullah of Jordan will also attend the meeting, which will be the highest-level summit between Israeli and Palestinian officials in 4 years. Apparently Condoleezza Rice may also attend; she was scheduled to reach Israel on Sunday and leave for Europe on Monday, but is likely to change her plans.

Up for discussion, besides the usual Palestinian request for release of prisoners and Israeli demand for a crackdown on militants, are plans for Israel to turn over security in several West Bank towns to Palestinian forces, and a phased withdrawal from the Gaza strip.

Unusually for me, I've been optimistic about the peace process for the last month or so; I wonder if I'm coming down with something. In other news, the State of the Union Address will be delivered tonight, and the twin foci will be Social Security and global democracy, with mention of Ukraine, Palestine, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq. I'm looking forward to it.