Monday, July 30, 2007

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

This is an old essay well worth reading. We have been given great and powerful tools that we need to use to find out more about the world around us.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Classic Films, Back to College - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything: "Now this is science! A fifty-year-old anthropology professor, who has done fieldwork in primitive societies in faraway lands, realizes that she knows almost nothing about the lives of undergraduate students at the American university where she teaches."

How easily we forget our own past, much less history. Okay, admittedly someone who becomes a professor has different motivations compared to most students who just want to get a "good job."

But this is going to be very useful to many students particularly homeschoolers who go on to college. Most homeschoolers don't have the tolerance to BS that is so prevalent in most bureaucracies and college is just another bureaucracy.

Most people stick with the familiar, I just I was very unusual as I went to college without knowing anyone. I made friends, some of whom I am still in contact with, and found a wonderful wife.

I was one of the "witches," I asked questions about things I didn't understand and couldn't find an answer to and that wouldn't be on the test. But yeah, there was that "go along to get along" riptide in there.

"Go along to get along" is indoctrinated into children as soon as they get into school. It never goes away. I do think that we may be programmed for that in general but it doesn't allow for much innovation.

I am looking for a good home broadband provider, the first on the list was Comcast and when I mentioned that I used a Mac they started telling me I should get a Winbox to be like everyone else. I hung up on them at that point. I spend my days "fixing" PCs, I like my Mac since it gives me way less trouble and I can actually get work done. All they need to do is provide an Internet connection they don't have to care what kind of computer I have to connect to it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The aim of education should be to teach us rather
how to think, than what to think - rather to improve
our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than
to load the memory with thoughts of other men."

- Bill Beattie

Moebius strip riddle solved at last - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Moebius strip riddle solved at last - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation): "Popularised by the Dutch artist MC Escher, a Moebius strip entails taking a strip of paper or some other flexible material.

You take one end of the strip, twist it through 180 degrees, and then tape it to the other end.

This creates a loop that has an intriguing quality, dazzlingly exploited by Escher, in that it only has one side."

Sometimes, math is hard.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Open Library

About Us
(The Open Library)
: "What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book—our planet's cultural legacy."

Ambitious: Yes,
Doable: Yes
Worth it: Yes

Saturday, July 14, 2007

How Would a Duck Count


We all know how we count from 1-10 on our fingers but how would a duck make a number system.

Ducks have 3 main fingers on each foot. So they might start with 1 and instead of their last toe being 6, like we might use, it would be their ten. So they would count 1 2 3 4 5 10, 11 12 13 14 15 20, and so on. What we call eight they would call 12. We call this base 6, because they use only 6 numbers as the basis of their number system.

A horse with only 2 hoofs would count 1 10, 2 20, 3 30 and so on. We call this base 2 also known as binary. Counters use base two as their native language as they are made up of switches that can only be on or off. Computers count like this. 0 1, 10 11, 100 101 110 111, and so on.

Schoolhouse Rock's Little Twelve Toes does the same thing with base 12.

Computers also use base16 a lot, 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F, 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 1, 1B 1C 1D 1E 1F, and so on.

The ancient Mesopotamians in Babylon used a base 60. In our terms they go through all our numbers, and our entire alphabet almost twice before getting to use 0 to create their equivalent to 10.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Current Chaos Manor mail

Current Chaos Manor mail: "The Sphericity of the Earth"

The Earth was known to be spherical for a long time and not really lost. But everyone thinks it was. I wonder why that was.

How to Change the World: Ten Things to Learn This School Year

How to Change the World: Ten Things to Learn This School Year: "It seems to me that schools often teach the opposite of what's necessary for the real world. Perhaps in school people have plenty of time and no money, so long papers, emails, and presentations are not a problem. However, people in the real world have plenty of money (or at least more money) and no time. This is a list of what I wished I learned in school before I graduated."

There is a big difference between school and business and that is a real problem. Why spend 16+ years learning to get good at something that is of no use in the vast majority of the economy?

How do you reform something that is built around the opposite assumptions you need it to have?

I am thinking more and more that it just isn't possible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Counting and the start of Addition are the Same

We are trying to teach our daughter to go beyond counting, which she can do pretty well up to 26.

The essence of counting is relating counting to real concrete things. 

3 eggs and 3 blocks and three rocks are all the same number of things.

But once you have counting down moving to addition is straightforward. 

1+1=2
2+1=3
3+1=4
and so on. Kids pick up on the pattern pretty quickly. 

Monday, July 9, 2007

Quarks to Quasars, Powers of Ten

Quarks to Quasars, Powers of Ten: "This site is a study on the effect of adding another zero. Since I was young I have been fascinated and inspired by the essay 'Cosmic View' by Kees Boeke and the book The Powers of Ten, written by Philip and Phyllis Morrison and the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. The idea was to examine the relationship of the size of things from the atom to the entire universe. I have used these sources as a jumping off point for this presentation. The internet provides a flexibility unavailable to the linear structure of printed books."

The old powers of ten scaling. It shows you the power of math.

Neatorama � Blog Archive � The Origin of Everyday Punctuation Marks.

Neatorama � Blog Archive � The Origin of Everyday Punctuation Marks.

= was invented in 1557 by Englishmen Robert Recorde but took over a century to displace the curly symbol Descartes used who actually came later.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Current Chaos Manor mail

Current Chaos Manor mail: "A good friend, who was once on the school board (and the only totally sane SB person I've ever known) told me that 'We can't, in six hours a day, make up for what happens with the kids during the other 18 hours.' And yet, NCLB and the state level testing require them to do so, or pretend to do so, so what we get is a system that is rigged to show the 'results' mandated by these bad laws."

Hmm, interesting. To me and my friends and the people we know it is more like "we can't in 18 hours a day make up for what happens in 6 hours of school." Though in reality it is often less then an hour after homework, chores, dinner (prep, eat, cleanup), sleep and all the rest. Wasn't there a study not long ago showing most parent end up only spending 20 minutes with there kids a day?

Obviously there are goals in conflict here. 

Many parents say they want the best education for their children, but aren't sure what "best" is and don't have any time to figure it out, and looking at problem is like looking for a book in a library without a catalog, just too big of a problem. So they just go with the default the school has and try to get into the "good" schools but good isn't exactly defined either.

School bureaucracies  seem to try maximizing the amount of money they bring in. More money is more pay. Makes sense. 

A big problem is what is vitally important to parents in New York is completely irrelevant to parents in Idaho. A nationalized education system is just not able to work, much as we may hope for the best that way. 

Each local school should have a school board made up of parents with children in school. The results will be a lot more consistent that way.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The new age of ignorance | Review | The Observer

The new age of ignorance | Review | The Observer: "Angier's tipping point, the reason she came to write the book, was a decision made by her sister. When the second of her two children turned 13 the sister decided that it was time to let their membership lapse in two familiar family haunts: the science museum and the zoo. They were, the implication went, ready to put away childish things, ready to go to the theatre and the art gallery, places where there was none of this 'mad pinball pinging from one hands-on science exhibit to the next, pounding on knobs to make artificial earthquakes'. They had grown out of science."

This is the saddest things I have read  all year. It explains so much yet tells us so little.

Reason Magazine - Why Poor Countries Are Poor

Reason Magazine - Why Poor Countries Are Poor: "We still don't have a good word to describe what is missing in Cameroon and in poor countries across the world. But we are starting to understand what it is. Some people call it 'social capital,' or maybe 'trust.' Others call it 'the rule of law,' or 'institutions.' But these are just labels. The problem is that Cameroon, like other poor countries, is a topsy-turvy place where it's in most people's interest to take actions that directly or indirectly damage everyone else."

Maybe it is just me but there is a whiff of similarity to Cameroon and our school system. You can also see it other places like our health care system. There is something systemic about it that makes it worse. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy doesn't seem to explain it all to me either. Economic theory even expects people to be self-interested which should cause people to work together and make things better. But things continue to get worse.

If we don't have a word for it, its hard to talk about. 


Another way to solve a problem

  • Accept the problem
  • Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen?
  • Gather some good knowledge.
  • Try to figure out possible problem along the way.
  • Ask for help
  • Let go of the need to be right
  • Come up with more than one solution
  • Redefine failure
  • Break down the problem into smaller pieces
  • Use the 80/20 rule
  • Use Parkinson’s Law
  • Find the lesson or opportunity within the problem
  • Actually talk about the problem and communicate clearly
  • Create fewer problems
  • Use the power of words to your advantage
  • Keep your motivation up.
These are really good and sure beats Feynman's Method.