Educators, open source your test material

I've heard from several professors that they don't like to put their course material in publicly accessible places, because then students will merely memorize that material, and be able to pass the course without any real understanding of what is going on.

That's true for a single professor posting her material from the past couple of semesters, which she hopes to re-use again in the next few semesters.

But what if an entire department established an open source repository of all of their test and homework material? Then the faculty would have access to a pool of thousands of possible test questions and homework assignments.

And what about some student who went and memorized all of this material? Well, such a student deserves an A!

In other words, the way to handle the problem of students looking up previous tests and homework assignments so that they can gain an edge in their course is not to try to hide that material (which, as my colleague admitted to me, doesn't work, since students find a way to share it anyway), but instead to overwhelm the students with so much publicly available material that any student who memorizes all of it is good to go.

Building software tools

How much time one should spend building the software the customers want, versus how much time one should spend building tools to better enable one to build the software the customers want, is simply a special case of how "round-about" one should make any production process.

My friend Howard Baetjer noted this many years ago, but it seems it is still not widely recognized in the software industry.

Puzzling blog post puzzle

And just why do so many of my recent posts have "puzzle" in the title?

Another page hit puzzle

I don't really look at these stats too often, so that's why when I occasionally do, I am so puzzled by what I see. For instance, this month, most of the top posts have gotten a thousand or so hits. But this post, from 7 years ago, has 47,000 hits this month! Say what?! It's not even a very interesting post.

What the heck is going on here? Is there some way someone could be routing spam through one of my blog posts? That doesn't seem possible, given what I know about blogs, but I ask because I don't really track how these things work, and I can't understand why one of my old, relatively uninteresting posts could suddenly be generating so much traffic.

A linguistic puzzle

I am watching a Hindi language movie. In the opening scene, a board showing the train schedule at a station is shown.

The headings on the board are all in English: "Track", "Train", "Departure", etc. But all of the entries on the board are in Hindi.

Why would anyone design a train schedule board in this fashion?

A passenger who can only read English can read the headings but not the actual train information. A passenger who can only read Hindi can read the train information, but not the headings. And anyone who can read both could read the board if it was written entirely in one language or the other.

So what could be the motivation for this mixed language board?



Traffic puzzle, part II

It seems I do have a lot of new links to this blog, but they are being recorded as coming through this site.

But what is that site? And why are my hits showing up as coming from it, rather than the actual blogs that are linking here?

Man, this software stuff is confusing!

The falsity of the "they're just reading" response



In response to my post "The Most Rapid Alteration of Human Behavior in History," A couple of readers essentially responded, "They're just reading," and sent me links to items like the photo above.

First of all, before the photo above was taken, reading had been gradually spreading amongst humans for many thousands of years. Nevertheless, the spread of literacy did represent a profound change in people: we remember far less than our preliterate ancestors did, instead relying on external documents for our memory. No less a figure than Socrates worried about this change, and apparently that is why he never wrote anything.

But the photo I used in my post (the one linked to above) was taken, not several thousand, but only a dozen years after the invention of the smartphone.

Furthermore, the behavior of smart phone users is pretty different from that of newspaper readers. True, for some time people have read newspapers while waiting in line, or riding a train. But as far as I recall, newspaper readers did not:

  • Read the newspaper while biking down a busy NYC street.
  • Drop their newspaper under a bus and die while trying to retrieve it.
  • Go on a dinner date and spend most of their time reading the newspaper.
  • Read the newspaper throughout an entire three-hour lecture that they paid many thousands of dollars to attend. (I see about half of all students at university lectures continually using their smart phone throughout the lecture.)
  • Cause 1.6 million accidents a year by reading the newspaper while driving.
  • Walk into walls, pools, and bears because they were reading the newspaper.

Now I don't deny that any of these things might have happened very rarely with newspapers (or books, etc.) in the past. But newspapers did not cause 1 in 4 car accidents, and while every few months I might encounter someone reading the newspaper while walking down the street, today, in NYC, about half the people I see out walking are also on their cell phone.

So, when you convince me that newspaper reading was causing similar problems to the above, then I will believe that nothing new is happening.


Now available for pre-order on Amazon



Our new ebook, The Idea of Science.

Why Are We Discussing the "Probability" of Something That Happened?

This is bizarre -- when illustrating how dominant the Warriors were during the NBA regular-season, Ben Alamar chooses to discuss their "win probability"... rather than, say, their actual number of wins! Statistics have become more real to him than actual events!

Dynamic Programming, the video

Greedy Choice Versus Dynamic Programing

To give a mini lecture on when one can use a greedy algorithm and when one must resort to dynamic programming, I had a little cross disciplinary breakthrough: we can make the greedy choice (and thus use a greedy algorithm) when there is no opportunity cost for doing so. When are choice does come with opportunity costs, the greedy choice won't work.

I hope to post the lecture later.

"Contacting" Amazon

On their Kindle publishing site, Amazon has a "Contact Us" button. (It is at the bottom left on this page.)

Is it just me, or does the "Contact Us" button just lead you around and around more web pages, with no ability to contact anyone at all?

UPDATE: I finally found a link leading to an actual contact page!