Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alternate Paths: MOOCs

I've long been a fan of online education. The origin of these pages was my past experience self-educating on the web. I don't think it's that hard, if you just do it. Hence the fairly straightforward sidebar to the right. I recognize though that it is hard to know you can just do it, until you've done it once or twice.

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.

Alternate Paths: Nand to Tetris

"Here [via boing-boing] is an absolutely inspiring TED Talk showing how 'self-organized computer science courses' designed around students building their own PCs from scratch engaged students and taught them how computers work at a fundamental level."

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


So ... as we programmers fully automate everything, what happens to the work week?

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.

Brains Plus Brawn

I'm slightly off charter again, but I love this article by Daniel Lieberman on the evolution of humans as big-brained runners:

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

Conservatives and Science

I'm veering off-charter a bit. Do read the sidebar to your right for a learn to program gameplan.

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 May Seek Bankruptcy

A sad day for electric vehicle enthusiasts. At one time A123 was the contender for cheap and powerful batteries. Now, not so much.

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.)

Small Science

This article confirms a hobby horse I've had for some time, that big science is too much loved, and small science is neglected as a result:'

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

Cognitive Surplus is Real, Waterfall Swing Edition

"Shown at the World Maker Faire in 2011, the device is a swing set capable of accommodating one or two people using it at a time. What makes it interesting, is that water comes out of the top support bar, forming a wall of water for the riders to pass through. This wall is then broken when the swing user flies through it making for a dry experience." Via Hack-A-Day.