Capella’s Constipation

The feeds brought me an article [Link] this morning that deals with college courses on Science Fiction. Hmmmmm.

The first problem is that, based on titles, none of these courses have to do with Science Fiction. Fantasy, yes! (Tolkien) SciFi (SyFy as it is now commercialized?), yes! Star Wars, Star Trek, and other video. But Science Fiction? No evidence.

I know there have been courses on science fiction, I’ve read about them in ANALOG and in the notes of collections, but these had to do with how to write science fiction, a chancy proposition given that those who major in literature and syntax are not usually given to actually do the Four Ts of any nerdish discipline, and those who are are not really inclined to study literature or syntax in college, which perhaps explains why those who teach the courses are nerds who have gone on to be successful writers of science fiction, which in turn raises the question of how many successful science fiction writers have been educated as litterateurs and syntacticians? Or the courses had to do with the technologies predicted in science fiction or the social concepts explored.

I have rather a problem finding that sort of insight provided in Star Wars, which seems to be primarily about Germanic architecture and the machinations of tyrannical despotisms. Star Trek, on the other hand, seems to be entirely healthier since it takes such a negative view of slavery, at least in its more obvious forms. Tolkien, on the other hand, does an admirable job of arguing the fundamentalism of good and evil in the context of severely dysfunctional but idyllic societies.

Still these are popular and obviously appeal to many, not just the geeks and the weaker minded and willed of the nerds. At issue is not whether those who read science fiction or Sci Fi or Fantasy are depraved but what the depth of that depravity is. Quantity, not quality. Although that is rather more difficult with the readers of fantasy since almost no magics are mathematical, at least as portrayed. [1]

When I was in shul, I never heard any intimation of courses on science fiction or sci fi, maybe fantasy. Such were limited to shuls with large private endowments, notably Ivy Leage and wannabe shuls. Shuls dependent on the whims and prejudices of legislatures could ill afford the death knell of that era, frivolity, being sounded by elected officials [2] in the state capital.

Besides, when you carry a triple major there is scant time to go wandering off too far on electives. As I recall the farthest I wandered was a few applied maths courses in the engineering shul. But we read science fiction in those moments when it would contribute to our getting our heads back. Read, not watched. Yes, we all trooped over to watch Star Trek, the original with villains Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley as heors, second string, and a goilem as first string. Of course the show got missed whenever classwork intervened; the program never missed was Laugh In, which was to be laughed with and not at.

So it seems the question is whether these courses are for bogs who want to understand geeks, or just geeks who want to avoid bogs?

[1] ‘Nerds do maths, Geeks talk about maths admiringly and worshipfully, and bogs disparage and denigrate maths.’
[2] Idealism and thievery are antithetical and inimical.

Ignorance in Shul

Occasionally, especially rare these days as the traditional media is in recession, a chance group of articles meshes to provoke new direction of thought. The end of this week gave rise to such.

The starting piece on all this was a New Yawk Times piece [Link] on Freeman Dyson, which demonstrates, among other things, what education should be all about. All right, perhaps technical education – a sop to Capella – but isn’t that combination of creativity, independence, and integrity what education should be about but basically and definitely isn’t these days? I shan’t deny that in my estimation, valuing proper disrespect for false authority, that Dyson is a kultur hero or role model, not least because the modern establishment would quake in horror at that statement along many modes.

I also have to acknowledge being prodded by several excellent blots this week by Alexa Harrington [Link] who always has an uncanny grasp of separating pony from poo. In particular I found her blot on the issue of teacher recompense nudgeful and richtik. That was cemented by Melissa Lafsky’s article (if you get paid to be a journalist it isn’t a blog!) [Link] on our social degeneration and, in particular, our whacked educational system. I’m not at all sure I agree with her implied social engineering approach, an experiment that we have to repeat every decade or so to relearn its lemon-like nature – sweet smelling but the fruit is inedible. Nonetheless, the matter stands that the current shul system in this Yankee republic is broken and getting worse, as demonstrated by the recent triumph of the forces of darkness in Texas. [Link]

To contribute my unasked and probably unwanted 0.02$ Yankee currency, I want to look at what one has to learn when one seeks to learn physics, or any other nerdish discipline, and, I suspect, a lot of disciplines that aren’t technically nerdish, but being a nerd I am not very qualified to comment on such.[1] I have blogged on this taxonomy previously, [Link] and reproduce some of that here.

  • Thoughts – the ideas associated with the discipline;
  • Terms – the words used to express those ideas and their application;
  • Tools – the means by which the discipline is practiced; and
  • Techniques – how the other three T’s are combined to practice the discipline.

These are the ‘Four Ts’ and the point I want to make here is that to be able to teach these, you have to know something about them.

So if we look at this, and teachers who have sterling credentials of education – as educators – but pitiful education in the technical disciplines. Please note that I am not talking here about the people who teach children the basics of how to learn and the basics of human knowledge, the three Rs as it be except that such are outmoded today. That latter is another matter.

The fact remains that those who teach nerdish stuffs in high shuls and even in junior high shuls in our ‘certified educational system’ are woefully undereducated in those disciplines. I can recall as a Freshman and Sophomore taking maths and sciences classes of basic and introductory material alongside Juniors and Seniors majoring in the education version of maths and sciences. Yep, the sad fact then and apparently now, is that the folks who teach nerdish disciplines in high shul have about half (or less) or an undergraduate major in what they are teaching.

It may be argued that this is sufficient since what these ‘teachers’ were exposed to is less than what they are expected to teach in high shul. Balderdash! That would be accurate if those teaching understood what they were teaching.

If we go to the ‘Four Ts’ the only one of the four that half of an undergraduate major (or less) will provide those ‘teachers’ is (some of) terms. By limiting themselves to the introductory, often survey and service, courses [2] these education majors assure that all they will see is definitions and simplified problems. Neither of these contribute manifestly to the other three Ts.

In particular, the wanting of the certified education educated teacher is that they are unable, in these nerdish disciplines, to have obtained the first T. Simply put, they are incapable of thinking in that discipline and as such are incapable of teaching it. The best they can do is push out rote presentation of the terms and simplified tools and techniques that they learned, most at the level of high shul algebra.  And that is failure on the part of the teacher and on the part of for the students.

Err not, being a teacher is not easy, but our present system sets our society and its young members up for failure. The current system of highly educating future teachers in education matters and woefully inadequately in the discipline they will teach, at least in high shul, is inverted and suicidal. If we are to reform education and its apparat then part of that reform has to be to hold the teachers of nerdish disciplines primarily accountable for knowing and understanding and living, at least mentally, their disicpline. That means something of the order of a real actual major in that discipline and a second minor in education stuffs.

Or we can resign ourselves to being no better than a third world nation in another generation. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
[1] Yes, Quadgop, I realize that hasn’t prevented me, or 0.9944 of my species from commenting such innumerable times in past and hence, we expect similarly in future.

[2] A service course is one that is taught as both an introductory course for discipline majors and minors and as a curriculum requirement for roundness in other disciplines. As such it is weak in the former and strong in the latter.

Frat Rat Darwin

We note, in this year of observation of the birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin, the Isaac Newton of biology, that the folks at Cambridge has uncovered the accounting records of Darwin’s attendance. [Link]

In reviewing this article I am not at all which of several nuggets to ingest. One is clearly the stuffiness of having preserved these records, uncatalogued and unattended for this length. Is this academic in general or British, or the intersection of both? And how accurate are they? My experience is that academic accounting is somewhere between abysmal and fascist.

But the encouraging thing is the message this set of entries conveys about Darwin himself. The picture is definitely one of a privileged and pampered – spoiled even – child who spends his days ding little more than (the equivalent of) attending fraternity parties and goofing off. Why the lad even had maid service, something unseen in this nation’s environs since before my father was an undergraduate.

And what is this with the vegetables? Another evidence of being a monied twit or the influence of a physician father? Clearly different from my undergraduate days of eating in dormitory cafeteria, whose prison guard workers assured that vegetables went on every plate along with an obligatory meat, but that was long before vegetarianism was more than a furrin aberration, or on my own, which primarily meant sandwiches or frozen food boxes. Of course that may be why my digestion is unstable these days just like Darwin’s was in his advancing years.

Anyway, here we have a record of a young man who was clearly as frivolous and wastrel as the scion of any fraternity house, heavily committed to his primary goal of partying but no more than tepid to actual learning, and went on to set the foundation for biology and the structure for modern debate between religion and understanding.

There may be hope yet for our own vapid, inept, apparently useless young.

Post Scriptum

Oh, and since the thesis is that buying a PC with WINDOWS OS is cheaper than buying an APPLE PC, which is the only way to get a PC that runs MAC OS (easily), let’s extend the thesis a bit to ‘buy a PC with UBUNTU or some other form of open source LINUX on it and save even more!’ [1]

[1] ‘let’s’ is a contraction of ‘let us’.

Sermo Tumidus

Who died and left MegaHard title to “PC”? The latest bit of idiocy advertising from MegaHard [Link] has resurfaced my question of how did MegaHard get intellectual property rights to the acronym PC? And I am not talking about that intelligent design opium dream “politically correct”, I am talking about the term invented by the HAL company, “personal computer”.

To me the term is highly specific and has about the same kind of meaning as the  term “personal toothbrush”, that is, an device that I use to perform some activities that is mine and that except in exigent circumstances I do not share with other people. Although I do acknowledge that I do not worry about sterilizing my PC quite as much as I would worry about doing so after loaning my toothbrush to someone other than FD SCP.

As I note the term was originally invented by HAL but it got stripped from them in the same way that “XEROX machine” doesn’t mean the paper copying machine was made by XEROX. Although in the interregnum between HAL coming up with the term and when it lost the term there was a lot of entertainment in the names that other manufacturers came up with for their boxes.

But it is implicit now to the use of PC that it means, at least in this context, a personal device. That means that an individual owns it and does not regularly share it with others, otherwise it isn’t personal although I might acknowledge it is a computer. And I am willing to loosen up enough to let dependents claim their computers as personal even though they may actually “own” it. But I draw the line short of a “family computer” that is used by all or most of the family members resident together, and I draw the line short of computer used in the workplace that are owned by the organization. Those are not PCs. [1] The are OCs or FCs or something else.But let us not call them PCs as that is a horribly misleading, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous misuse of the term.

But I still come back to the question of who decided that a requirement for a computer to be a PC included that it run some form of WINDOWS OS. The bishop of Rome? Richard Dawkins? The current administration of the Yankee government? The United Nations? The obnoxious lout who hawks crap on TV?[2]

I should like to remind MegaHard (and that lout!) that even though the Yankee government has delayed the transition to digital television, a decision apparently ignored by much of the corporate television apparat, the lifetime of my analog televisions is now a near term given and hence the reticence to heave a brick or other reasonable dense artifact through the image tube is under less restraint. And if I do that you can rest easy at night with the expectation I am going to mail the remains to you postage due.[3]

Although, after watching the commercial and seeing some shiksa schmendrik pick out a laptop based on “how it looks”,  I am thinking that it might not be a bad idea to give MegaHard intellectual property rights to all the people who think that way.

[1] Note, no apostrophe here! PC’s is possessive, not plural. Lesson for all you folks who can’t get this straight

[2] Note, crap here refers to retail goods, not per se fecal matter although they are remarkably similar if one analogizes manufacturing and alimentation.

[3] Usually I just glue the artifact to a return post card and dump it in postal box but in this case I will actually make mailing labels. And yes, I know that is an old MASH gag. From the books, not the television or movie versions.

Thin to Death

An article [Link] on thin client office computing came in my eLetters this morning. Somehow this seems rather expectable given that the new administration is (modern) democrat? After all, isn’t that what social engineers are all about: reducing everyone who isn’t a social engineer to monomodal serfdom and establishing all the social engineers as mystical aristocrats? Of course the same might be offered for (modern) republicans except it would be consumer serfdom and corporate aristocracy. Of course the high priests of that latter mysticism, the ones in the big banks around the old Dutch fortifications in New Yawk City, have all been found to be manipulative heathens and hedonists.

The problem with thin client computing is that it tends to be a reduction to the lowest absurdity.  I have discussed this in terms of the individual member previously, but this time I want to take the approach of cost trade-off. When you go to thin clinet computing what you are basically doing is moving all the clients onto a server so that instead of the member loading a program off his/her hard drive they load it off the server hard drive. So the difference is that instead of needing individual client licenses for each member box, you now need server licenses for all the clients you provide.

Notice the subtle difference there between what clients members have (and need) and what the organization provides. There is a cost trade-off between individual licenses and server licenses. Just on the basis of instances of the client, that break even point is usually somewhere in the range of 1E1 to 1E2 (10 to 100 for the notationally challenged.) If your organization needs less than that break even number it is cheaper – just on a client license basis – to have individual licenses. Of course there are other costs like support. These tend to accentuate or intensify the sharpness of the trade-off since it is usually cheaper for small numbers of clients for the using members to provide their own support rather than have centralized support.

So in an organization that has typical client requirements, everybody uses some clients, everybody (or many members) use a few clients that only a few other members use, you end up with a mixture situation. In a traditional environemnt built on stand alone boxes networked, this is not too big a problem, the organization just buys multi-install licenses for the common clients.

But when you move to a thin client environment all that changes. The common clients stay pretty much the same just moving from a multi-install license to a multi-instances license. But the few user clients now become a pain. That pain takes several forms. One is that the number of clients of a particular client may be below the break even number so that providing that client to those few members increases in cost. This increase is intensified, deepened as it were, by shifting from individual to central support. And while just supporting one client may be a flea bite, the combination of all for a diverse organization (e.g., lots of nerds doing different things,) become a Tyrannasaurus Rex nibble. Sipmly put, it is not unreasonable that the bill for software more than doubles in client diverse organizations.

This problem is made worse by a combination of management mental ossification and the nature of the cost saving promise of thin client computing. That promise has two components: software, which has been discussed; and hardare. The hardware side of the promise is that thin client hardware is cheap and it is, but it also won’t run software that isn’y hosted on a server it’s connected to.

So a quandry develops. If everyone uses only the same clients the thin clinet computing saves lots of money on hardware and software with only a modest rise in centralized support cost. But if the organization is client diverse, then the savings are reduced because you have to choose between providing the members who need low density clients with stand alone machines, or you have to pay extra for multi-instance licenses for those low density clients. Either way, savings are reduced.

Now in the rational mind a decision about thin client computing would be an assessment of client requirements and a detailed cost analysis of options that preserve the information handling capabilities and needs of the organization. But that assumption of a rational mind is not often compatible with the management mind, and less so the higher up the management mind is in the herarchies of management minds. Any activity of low density is of low benefit and generates low revenue. That is not what the buisness shuls really teach but that is what superficially successful management minds learn and more disastrously, practice.

So management, based on this fraudulent principle and the arrogance of management (that’s why it’s so like politics!) decides to change over to thin clients and eliminate any and all clinets not used by a cost effective fraction of the organization, say 0.5 of the population. After all, everyone who isn’t a senior manager is just a serf and doesn’t need anything but a shovel or a hoe. And all the lower managers need are whips.

I shan’t burden you with describing the cosequences. That is left as a trivial exercise. but I shall remind you of the parable of the farner and the mule.