Stuff I Found

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

College = rip off!

Here's an interesting opinion article by Marty Nemko, a career counselor from... somewhere. I agree with the problem he describes...

most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

But I don't really agree with his proposed solutions...

Colleges should be held at least as accountable as tire companies are. When some Firestone tires were believed to be defective, government investigations, combined with news-media scrutiny, led to higher tire-safety standards. Yet year after year, colleges and universities turn out millions of defective products: students who drop out or graduate with far too little benefit for the time and money spent.

I disagree... I don't think colleges need to be punished like unsafe tire companies. A college is not responsible for students the way tire companies are responsible for tires. Tires have no free will. Students can think and choose, and I wouldn't reduce students who drop out to "defective products."

I ask colleges to do no more than tire manufacturers are required to do. To be government-approved, all tires must have — prominently molded into the sidewall — some crucial information, including ratings of tread life, temperature resistance, and traction compared with national benchmarks.

Nemko then recommends:

A national test, which could be developed by the major testing companies, should measure skills important for responsible citizenship and career success.

Woah! Bad idea. Neither the government nor testing companies should be producing any sorts of tests. If it is the students' destiny to be employed, employers should be taking the reigns in determining how best to judge if a college graduate has the needed skills. No middle men. In fact, apprenticeships (not always the same as internships) would seem like a good idea. I believe they're already in use in the manual labor industry; it would be nice if they were more widely used. Apprenticeships involve working with a large focus on learning at the same time. In a boring college classroom it can be extremely difficult to understand how certain material can be applied in the real world, if it can at all.

With such a wide variety in the specific requirements for jobs, a national test would either have to cover way too much, or be too general to be worthwhile.

If your student is in the top half of her high-school class and is motivated to attend college for reasons other than going to parties and being able to say she went to college, have her apply to perhaps a dozen colleges. Colleges vary less than you might think (at least on factors you can readily discern in the absence of the accountability requirements I advocate above), yet financial-aid awards can vary wildly. It's often wise to choose the college that requires you to pay the least cash and take out the smallest loan. College is among the few products that don't necessarily give you what you pay for — price does not indicate quality.

While I agree price doesn't always indicate quality, I think Nemko's missing something. He's saying price doesn't indicate quality, but then saying it's wise to choose the least costly?! That's absurd! If the student is really motivated to get something specific out of college (beyond the "good paying job" it's said to help get) then shouldn't quality be the main concern? Of course it should. That said, I have no idea how a student could judge quality beyond actually going there for a semester or two, so I think this might be something that lies in the hands of employers...

I've met some adults who didn't go to college or who dropped out who tell me they wish they went, not for the education, but for the degree. Perhaps too many employers are (or at least have been) using degrees to easily weed out potential employees. But then it's a loss for both sides... employers can easily miss a very skilled worker. We need better ways for students (and everyone, for that matter) to show what they're capable of. Portfolios should be emphasized more. A degree shouldn't be used as a dividing fence.

This would improve life for all to a much greater degree!

Portable music keyboard

Check out this portable music keyboard posted on Engadget... oooo, I'd love to get my hands on that. I'm so used to using my computer and keyboard to compose, I can't just sit there with paper, so this sort of thing would be extremely useful.

Teens use emoticons in school

Someone posted this article on Twitter.

It’s nothing to LOL about: Despite best efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, two-thirds of teens admit in a survey that emoticons and other informal styles have crept in.

ZOMG ROFL!!1! 1337!

The chairman of the commission’s advisory board, Richard Sterling, said the rules could possibly change completely within a generation or two: Perhaps the start of sentences would no longer need capitalization, the way the use of commas has decreased over the past few decades. “Language changes,” Sterling said.


But seriously, what makes a piece of writing "formal" is whether or not we choose to call it "formal" ... well, ok, it's more of an emergent property that requires the agreement of a significant number of people, but you get the point. The rules of language do not come from God. XD

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Robot pulls itself together

After being kicked by a jealous human, this robot can put itself back together. Unfortunately it goes pretty slow, but the idea is pretty darn cool, no?

When I was a freshman in college, I attempted to join the robot club, but didn't like it... I hated having to deal with the physical problems of physical robots... I much prefer the theoretical "computer model" side of things, where sensors aren't needed, things don't break, and robots never weigh a lot and never move slowly.

Still, somebody's gotta do the dirty work and actually build the physical things, eh?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Harry Potter = Required!

According to this article:

Harry Potter has taken his place alongside such greats of English literature as Shakespeare's Hamlet and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and is required reading for A-level English students.

A critic says:

"The point of English literature is to provide works that have stood the test of time and that allow people to understand their place in the world as others have understood it.

I forgot how much I loathe the study of "English literature"! It's an art, isn't it? And, like every art, isn't "greatness" subjective, in the eye of the beholder? Time is not a test that determines objective greatness, nor is popularity for that matter. The real "point" of the study of English literature, it seems, is to give English teachers something to do.

That being said, I don't think Harry Potter is "great" (nor do I think Shakespeare is all that "great"). I hate the idea of a selective group of people deciding for everyone else what art is important and what is not.

(The Fountainhead is great, read that. Ender's Game is pretty darn good too; literature doesn't have to be old-style Shakespearelly confusing to be "great" to me.)

[Students] will have to write a 1,200 to 1,500-word piece of coursework comparing the "approaches" of J.K. Rowling and the other writer.

Examiners will mark students on how they relate story lines and the activities of Harry Potter and his friends to the context of the times.

Poor students!! :-(

It's important to keep in mind that the ability to write good... er... well is definitely an important skill, but I don't think forcing students to analyze any literature they're not interested in helps at all.

But fears that the curriculum is being dumbed down have been bolstered by plans announced earlier this month for 'flexible' GCSEs which will allow students who fail sections to retake them.

Critics said it would give them a false sense of their abilities and make the exams "almost impossible to fail".

Woah! A false sense of their abilities? Is that the point of the exam? I'm not really sure what the GCSEs are (and I'm not going to go look it up because this computer goes too slow), but to me it seems like learning is more important than assessing and judging students and their "abilities." Right now I bet the exams may already be giving plenty of students and teachers false senses of their abilities.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

If Mario, Homer were real

If Mario and Homer were real, they'd be very ugly and scary...

Real Mario

Real Homer


Boring movie posters

I went to to watch some movie trailers, and the first row of movie posters sure seemed pretty boring...

Boring posters!

I know they're probably not final, but if you have enough material to put together a trailer, surely you can come up with an image that's little more eye-catching?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Honking to reduce traffic!

Honking is encouraged; if we would just all honk a bit more, traffic would start flowing much more nicely.

Traffic problems really have little to do with people who don't know how to merge.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Real Truman Show

Actually, I don't think he has any plans to broadcast his recordings to network television, but according to Engadget:

Roy and his wife installed 11 video cameras and 14 microphones throughout their house to record just about every moment of their son's first three years.

This is for the study of how children learn language. Not sure I'd love to be on the analysis team, but the results should prove rather fascinating, eh? This probably jumped out at me since I'm reading Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought which is all about language and thinkin' and stuff.

Guillermo del Toro to direct 'Hobbit'

According to Variety:

In a major step forward on “The Hobbit,” Guillermo del Toro has signed on to direct the New Line-MGM tentpole and its sequel.

Sounds good to me! Mr. del Toro, director of Pan's Labyrinth, has certainly proven he can create immersive-fantastical worlds worthy of Tolkien's work. Lookin' forward to it!

World Violence Declining

I twittered that I was reading a Steven Pinker book (The Stuff of Thought) and someone on twitter (Tom of the TrueTalk Blog to be exact) recommended Pinker's TED talk on the history of violence. I thought it was great, so here it is, check it out!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We need more whale education!

The names of the bones in their bodies, the integrals of logarithms, and the layers of the atmosphere. These are just some of the useless facts included in public education. But what about whales? Why are we not teaching our children more about whales? Do we need to add a 13th grade?

Stars and Clouds photo

April 23rd's "Astronomy Picture of the Day" is quite a captivating one, no?

From the windswept peak of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, your view of the world at night could look like this.

Robot to Conduct

The ASIMO robot will soon be conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot will focus attention on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s (DSO) nationally acclaimed music programs for young people in Detroit by conducting the orchestra as it performs “Impossible Dream” to open a special concert performance with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

I personally think the robot's performance will be a bit stiff.

Complicated clock

I really don't think this is as brilliant as some other bloggers, but it's fun to watch.

I put together more than 150 individual clockworks and made them work together to become one clock. I show the progress of time by letting the numbers be written in words by the clockworks. Reading clockwise, the time being is visible through a word and readable by the completeness of the word, 12 words from “one” to “twelve”.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ultimate slideshow creator

Unfortunately it's not free though.

Well, creating 30 second videos is free...

I discovered through Leo Laporte's blog. It basically lets you upload pictures, then an mp3, and it makes the fanciest slideshows you ever did see.

If I had more pictures of stuff I cared about (and a job), I don't think I'd mind paying for this sort of thing at all... pretty cool!

Here's a little 30-second video I created to test it out:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Future Unknown

I came across this little quote today... just a reminder that we live in times in which the future is unimaginable... (so stop trying!)

Television will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on the screen. The average American family doesn't have time for it.

-New York Times at the 1939 World's Fair

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Schools Squash Creativity!

Schools mercilessly squash creativity; they grind it into the dirt with boots and laugh.

Something I discuss often, usually to people who are tired of hearing it, is how much I hate the modern education system. Well, most people do, I guess, but most people I talk to blame the students for being so darn lazy these days...

Anyway, every now and then I come across encouraging articles or books or videos that at least somehow give me a sense of reassurance that in the future it will all be different because the current system won't be able to sustain itself. (Too bad it will be too late for me, and I'll have to try to not agonize about that for the rest of my life.)

So here's a great video I came across about the role of creativity in education, hope you enjoy it, even if you still think learning useless things you're not interested in and you're never going to use again should continue for all students until they're about 18...

Hate to say I told you so... :-P

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Can Computers Write Books?

According to this New York Times article, a man named Philip M. Parker

has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.

And here's a (boring) YouTube video explaining the process:

Hmmm... I'm not really impressed. This was my YouTube comment:

This looks like its more about data collecting and formatting than actual "automated content authorship" as it doesn't look like the software is actually doing anything that would seem creative. It would probably be more helpful if he sold the software he developed instead of the "data books" he generates.

And learning a new language involves more than vocabulary. The game and the word of the day video look like just fancy flash cards. Ooh, flash cards, what an innovation! :-P

After I hit "Post Comment" button, it said "Comment Pending Approval" which I guess means that Philip will have to approve my criticism for the comment to show up there... so let's see whether or not it does! But it appears here anyway, so it's not like I'll lose it.

All that said, I do not think the notion of computers being creative is far-fetched... look at the books by professor David Cope, who wrote software that writes music (convincing music, that is, unlike any other person's attempts I've heard) and the book The Creative Process: A Computer Model of Storytelling and Creativity by Scott R. Turner. Mind-boggling and exciting stuff in those books! Philip M. Parker's programs could not write books like those!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pixar to go 3D

According to this article on, Pixar and Disney have announced that all upcoming Pixar films (after this summer's Wall-E) will utilize the new 3D technology stuff... you know, with the glasses, that make the movie look 3D. I must say, I look forward to this, since Pixar certainly makes the best computer animated films out there!

Pixar also announced that they will re-release Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D. (Toy Story 3 is in development.)

Pixar movies will be released in 3-D and the traditional two-dimensional format, beginning in May 2009 with "Up," about an elderly widower who embarks on a South American adventure.

The lineup from Walt Disney Animation Studios also includes the November release of "Bolt," the story of an actor dog who believes he has super powers; "Rapunzel," a retelling of the fairy tale set for release for Christmas 2010; and the modern-day fantasy "King of the Elves," set for release for Christmas 2012. Those films will be released in both 3-D and two-dimensional formats.

Pixar's upcoming releases include "Toy Story 3" in June 2010; "newt," a love story involving the last two blue-footed newts alive, set for the summer 2011; the Scottish fantasy "The Bear and the Bow" for Christmas 2011; and "Cars 2" in the summer of 2012.


What Birthdays Mean

I know, this is one of those stupid meaningless horoscope things, but I thought the meaning of my birthday was funny:

Your Birthdate: November 25

You excel at anything difficult or high tech. In other words, you're a total (brilliant) geek. It's difficult for you to find people worth spending time with. Which is probably why you'll take over the world with your evil robots!

Your strength: Your unfailing logic
Your weakness: Loving machines more than people
Your power color: Tan
Your power symbol: Pi
Your power month: July

Funny because it's true! I am brilliant with unfailing logic! I do find it difficult to find people worth spending time with! (No offense to anyone of course. :-P )

I know, it's one of those things that no matter what it says it will seem right, but it made me laugh.

And then I couldn't help looking up the meanings of other people's birthdays I knew, which also made me laugh...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How to Recharge Batteries!

This guy is better than Christopher Lampshire!

Old Frank Lloyd Wright Interview

Speaking of Howard Roark, somebody posted a link to this old Mike Wallace interview (who's still alive by the way... whew!) with Frank Lloyd Wright on Twitter as well. A very interesting interview, I think, though I completely don't understand his thoughts on architecture. And he sure likes to clear his throat.

Misguided Motivation

Found this from somebody's post on Twitter... at times this article sounds like a cheesy self-help book (like "The Secret", which a lot of people just love), but it's true, and perhaps one of the differences between Peter Keating and Howard Roark... sort of, kind of... maybe.

Whenever you have a goal, ask yourself what your motivation to achieve that goal is based on. Are you motivated by some reward? Does your motivation rely on someone else? Are you motivated by anything other than a desire for self-improvement or to help others? That’s the million dollar question.

The only real motivation in life comes from the desire we just discussed. All other motivation is simply an illusion, and a dangerous illusion at that.

Let’s think for a minute about self-based motivation vs. object-based motivation. If you are motivated by a desire to improve yourself, you will always be accomplishing—it will be an ongoing process. On the other hand, if you are motivated by a single reward, thing, idea, etc. you may achieve that thing, but unknowingly forsake all others in the process, including yourself. We see this in people who do the minimum required to be rewarded.

Think about all those people who come out crying from American Idol auditions... tsk tsk! Misguided motivation!