Sunday, November 18, 2012
Sunday, October 21, 2012
It seems that a consensus framework is building for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I gather from these videos that an emphasis is made on community building and networking. I can certainly see how that would ease the transition into online learning for the new student. And, as emphasized in those videos, give them a dual take-away, in both knowledge and a network of like minded friends.
So ... I better take a MOOC to figure it all out. Ideally I'd find a MOOC starting up that is about MOOCs themselves. (I'm not sure why MOOCs have start and end times, and don't just have "class of X" starting every week. That's something to learn.)
Top MOOCs are: Udacity, Coursera and edX. Check 'em out.
It is the kind of thing us old timers did, as we climbed from tiny 70's computers to next (for us) millennium monsters. Looks good.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
In the future, we’ll only work 15 hours a week. So said John Maynard Keynes in 1930. Keynes’s utopianism is nothing new – it’s been a common refrain since the Enlightenment, when French philosopher Condorcet pushed it to absurdity by suggesting that an infinite expansion in human height was just around the corner.
John Quiggin has a great, nuanced re-evaluation of Keynes’ prediction. He writes that “for the first time in history, our productive capacity is such that no one need be poor” and that it is possible to achieve Keynes’s vision by 2060. The biggest obstacle won’t be productivity, but social norms
Counterparties via Felix Salmon. I enjoy the Jetsons reference.
Why did brains get so big? There are a number of obvious reasons. One of them, of course, is for culture and for cooperation and language and various other means by which we can interact with each other, and certainly those are enormous advantages. If you think about other early humans like Neanderthals, their brains are as large or even larger than the typical brain size of human beings today. Surely those brains are so costly that there would have had to be a strong benefit to outweigh the costs. So cognition and intelligence and language and all of those important tasks that we do must have been very important.
Until extremely recently, you couldn't live, you couldn't survive as a human being without being an endurance athlete. Not just hunting and gathering requires athleticism but also being a farmer. Subsistence farmers have to work extremely hard. Until the invention of industrialized machinery, farmers had to work even harder than hunter-gatherers, often spending many thousands of calories a day. They have to dig ditches and throw vast quantities of hay into bales and they have to schlepp stuff all over the place. Farmers had to work brutally difficult, hard, exhausting lives. It wasn't until, again, the invention of new technologies such as domesticating animals or even more recently machinery such as the internal combustion engine, that farmers were able to live non-grueling lives.
To be true to your nature, don't let that desk job take over completely. Sit on a yoga ball, and go for a hike (or run) now and then.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
I'm struck by a few things though, reading Mike Dwyer's Conservatives and Science at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.
Dwyer quotes a bit about "the growth of regulatory science," and then says "we have a scenario where science is allowing itself to be politicized." He's talking from his perspective as a archaeologist and anthropologist. My question to him would be, what if you had been a fisheries scientist?
I think a parallel world Mke Dwyer, one who became a fisheries biologist, would view all this very differently. I don’t think he’d view the loss of North Atlantic cod as a “political” issue. I mean, politics are a reality of the mind. They are philosophy. A fishery that is gone for good is gone for good.
(For those who don’t track fish news, the North Atlantic has sadly entered a stable state without the return of cod. For a good read, see Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World)
Also for what it’s worth, I think “young earth evangelicals” were the wedge that split conservatism from science. I got a chem degree in the 70′s myself, and at the time that was compatible with Republicanism. Now, not so much.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
A123 Systems Inc. (AONE), the maker of lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, said it may run out of cash to fund operations and may need to seek bankruptcy protection.
A123 expects to be in default under material debt agreements today, the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company said yesterday in a regulatory filing. A123 didn’t expect to be on time with an interest payment due yesterday on $143.8 million of notes expiring in 2016, or to make a payment due yesterday on $2.76 million in outstanding 6 percent notes, according to the filing.
Electric power is hard. (A semi-related topic for this blog, for those interested in embedded programming and especially transportation.)
I am a big fan of Small Science. In spite of the riches unearthed by Big Science in the fields of biology and physics during the last fifty years, historically speaking much of scientific progress has come from small groups or individuals working with relatively cheap equipment and resources. For instance consider discoveries like the structure of DNA, the structure of proteins, nuclear fission, the cosmic microwave background radiation and the transistor. All of these have been the beneficiaries of Small Science. Even in those cases where large organizations have supported these developments, the key findings themselves have come from small groups left alone to pursue their own interests. The work done by these groups benefited from a maximum of flexibility and a minimum of bureaucratic interference.
More at SciAm: In praise of Small (and Cheap) Science
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Monday, July 9, 2012
At one time that would have been heresy, but it seems to be trending toward conventional wisdom. As this I Programmer page shows, C++ has been overtaken by Objective-C.
Monday, July 2, 2012
I'm browsing Craigslist right now, and I'm kind of amazed. There are some good notebooks for less than $100. As an example:
IBM Thinkpad T43, Wi-Fi, 1.86Ghz, 1GB, Fantastic Condition - $80
I think we might be about to ubiquitous computing. From this point on computing power is approximately free. Of course, you can still drop a thousand on a new Mac notebook ... for however long that lasts.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
I see PHP as a simple tool for creating the simple websites that make up 80 or 90 percent of our web universe. You certainly can create a restaurant's website, complete with menu, map, and daily specials, without taxing the language. You can do an auto dealer's site, list current inventory, and take service reservations.
At some point though, PHP will top out. It will be when the things you are trying to do become a bit too data intensive and computationally demanding. If you want your auto site to have a "build your car" page, first showing a wirefrime, and then showing it in your color, etc., that could be a bit much. You probably could do it in PHP, but then you'd run into the kind of frustrations Coding Horror shares with us.
That's my perspective as a former Java programmer, coming from a world where we were carrying around a lot MORE language and complexity than we needed for simple jobs.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
"The recent launch of the Raspberry Pi, running on Linux, has attracted a lot of attention. Are you hopeful it will inspire another generation of programmers who can contribute to the Linux kernel?"
"So I personally come from a “tinkering with computers” background, and yes, as a result I find things like Raspberry Pi to be an important thing: trying to make it possible for a wider group of people to tinker with computers and just playing around.
And making the computers cheap enough that you really can not only afford the hardware at a big scale, but perhaps more important, also “afford failure”.
By that I mean that I suspect a lot of them will go to kids who play with them a bit, but then decide that they just can’t care.
But that’s OK. If it’s cheap enough, you can afford to have a lot of “don’t cares” if then every once in a while you end up triggering even a fairly rare “do care” case.
So I actually think that if you make these kinds of platforms cheap enough – really “throw-away cheap” in a sense – the fact that you can be wasteful can be a good thing, if it means that you will reach a few kids you wouldn’t otherwise have reached."
I thought I'd repeat this here, because it is what this blog's method is about. I recommend "throw-away cheap" computers that are already in your closet or garage, but as I've mentioned, the Raspberry Pi works too.
That said ... a stick-to-it-ness helps. Don't give up too soon.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Software Carpentry is not a site I'd seen before. I've been saying, my theme, has been that there are more low-level resources out there then people know. My claim is that the problem is higher up, linking students to what they in particular need at a particular time.
That said, I think Software Carpentry has a pretty good high-level structure. In fact, their game plan is very much like my own, in my sidebar. It might be a little less a roadmap, but it covers the same bases, and does have tutorials for each step along the way. My approach, you remember, was to teach the meta-skill to "google bash scripting" or whatever, rather than to try to write it or own it ...
Anyway, Software Carpentry looks to be a good solid resource.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Here's a neat report, via Adafruit Blog:
Every week at a kitchen table in Brooklyn, coders Amit Pitaru and David Nolen host a salon/workshop called Kitchen Table Coders, bringing together a small group of people to discuss and study one subject at a time.
The photo looks very Community ;-)
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Their blurb is:
Earn Your IT Certificate in 2012
Only with online courses from the O'Reilly School of Technology can you master in-demand IT development skills by using programming to learn programming.
It looks pretty good with a wide range of courses.
The front page is here: O'Reilly School of Technology. Check it out. I think I might, actually, for a little refresh on technologies I haven't used in a while.
Monday, January 30, 2012
The full article is worth a read:
The basic idea is that students who put knowledge to immediate use remember it better. I guess that's not a surprise to those of us who prefer internet tutorials to dry lectures. It might even be a defense of my "go do it" method in the sidebar.
If you have a game plan, google for answers, and build a LAMP server, you'll learn a lot.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Felix Salmon has a really great report on the Stanford AI experiment:
Thrun told the story of his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class, which ran from October to December last year. It started as a way of putting his Stanford course online — he was going to teach the whole thing, for free, to anybody in the world who wanted it. With quizzes and grades and a final certificate, in parallel with the in-person course he was giving his Stanford undergrad students. He sent out one email to announce the class, and from that one email there was ultimately an enrollment of 160,000 students. Thrun scrambled to put together a website which could scale and support that enrollment, and succeeded spectacularly well. Just a couple of datapoints from Thrun’s talk: there were more students in his course from Lithuania alone than there are students at Stanford altogether. There were students in Afghanistan, exfiltrating war zones to grab an hour of connectivity to finish the homework assignments. There were single mothers keeping the faith and staying with the course even as their families were being hit by tragedy. And when it finished, thousands of students around the world were educated and inspired. Some 248 of them, in total, got a perfect score: they never got a single question wrong, over the entire course of the class. All 248 took the course online; not one was enrolled at Stanford.
He follows with news of a new venture:
But that’s not the announcement that Thrun gave. Instead, he said, he concluded that “I can’t teach at Stanford again.” He’s given up his tenure at Stanford, and he’s started a new online university called Udacity. He wants to enroll 500,000 students for his first course, on how to build a search engine — and of course it’s all going to be free.
Looking out there now, I see a couple computer science courses. This could shape up well.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
In my sidebar I recommend using an old abandoned computer to learn the LAMP stack. If you, friends, or family, have such a computer sitting around, it's obviously the cheapest path.
The Raspberry Pi is a very similar and low cost alternative. As Roy Wood reports:
The Raspberry Pi system is a single-board computer based on the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-a-chip. The specs include a 700MHZ ARM CPU, a VideoCore IV GPU, up to 256MB of RAM, an SD card reader, USB ports, and an optional ethernet port. The device supports common USB peripherals like mice and keyboards, can be connected to a TV or monitor, and will run Debian Linux. Oh — and did I mention that a Pi will cost a mere $25 or $35, depending on the model?
The Pi is just entering production. It is an alternative, but might be a little tight on memory, compared to the typical disused closet PC.
Monday, January 2, 2012
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Google App Engine
There are currently three languages options offered: Go, Java, and Python.
I did a little by the Python path, and liked it. I think Python is a better match than Java for a widely distributed cloud solution. It's just so much lighter to interpret a page, rather than launch an object-oriented runtime. If you take the Python path, the "stack" is HTML, CSS, the Python language, the Django framework, and then the AppEngine API.
I haven't tried the Go Programming Language and won't comment on that option ... other than to say it is probably a fine language, but wouldn't yet have the market potential of Java or Python.