The life of the mind

Collect. “Photocopy journal articles, photograph archives; create bibliographies, buy books; make notes on every article or book you read… the higher, civilizing impulse that kicks in after the fact is organization, or librarianship. You must keep tabs on everything you collect, somehow; a system must be had, and the system must be idiot-proof.” — Only Collect (h/t)

Then having collected, synthesize something. “Google has been using search data to model flu outbreaks for a number of years. Generally, they look at the number of searches for words related to “flu” (graphs) and look for sharp increases in the number of searches (slopes, derivatives)… Perhaps, intrigued by this, you’d like to see if search trends make any other predictions…” — Google Search Data vs Real CDC Data: Guess who wins?

But be careful. “Language can also convey pure ritual, for example. By ritual, I mean ‘language games’ that a person or group of people can ‘act out’ – translate from just the remembered song or the big tome into some social practice in the real world, people really ‘acting out’ the ritual with no understanding – no meaning beyond ‘here, we do the ritual.'” — Tom Lord on ritual, knowledge and the web

Be very careful.

No risk in short-term piano exposure, scientists say

“The resultant brain scans were extraordinary. Not surprisingly, the brains of those who simply sat in the same room as the piano hadn’t changed at all.”The REAL brain drain. Well there’s one less thing to worry about anyway. The point, though, is that imaginary piano lessons work almost as well as real ones. That fits with my own experience as a boy. I might just as well have sat and imagined playing that piano for all the good the lessons did me.

Quotes and links

“Motivated by greed and bad ideas, the morally bankrupt use networks to advance schemes ranging from the criminal to the lunatic.”From Great Ideas to Our Greatest Opportunity. Also true if you substitute anything else for ‘networks:’ electricity; the steam engine; bronze; fire; apples.

“Misleading appeals to the authority of “brain research” have become the modern equivalent of out-of-context scriptural fragments. Andrew Sullivan wouldn’t accept a politician’s bible quotations uncritically, and he should learn to be just as skeptical of psychologists.”Blinding us with science

Does The Times think “any bad news [about Iraq] must be true, even if it directly contradicts other alleged bad news?”Vast Resources And Layers Of Editing

Lewis Carroll’s advice on writing letters could be usefully applied to communication in general. It is also an interesting look at how a Victorian scholar ‘maintained a large and active correspondence.’

Math courses

I had hoped to come up with something more insightful than ‘Good job!’ I am glad Second Grade Teacher enjoyed her math final. I expect her students will notice her enthusiasm and find fun what she finds fun, so that’s all good.

In this and earlier posts, Eric has been writing about taking Linear Algebra. He has also done well.

I hope none of that sounds patronising.

If I ever take another math course, it should be Probability Theory I. This and the next one after would fill a hole in my education. What I know about probabality and statistics I’ve picked up along the way, with very little systematic study.

More useful would be basic and managerial accounting, but I really have no enthusiasm for that.

A mathematician surfs the web

Speaking of mathematics, here is another reason why, in the war on terror, the best defense is a good offense. The link is from DOF. The spin interpretation is my own.

Speaking of spin, I admire Professor Paulos and enjoy reading his stuff, but he should get rid of the spinning dice on his web page.

Wisdom and Knowledge

I believe at one time I had five active library cards. With Digital Library Cards you can get a card at the New York Public Library, no matter where you live. If you do not live in New York City, The attraction of the card is access from home to their online databases. San Francisco has a similar deal. You may be able to get this from your local state university for free. And of course there is always inter-library loan. One way and another, we have access to way more information than had Einstein, Ben Franklin, Issac Newton, Thomas Aquinas, or Socrates. Clearly, information isn’t everything.

I do not want to minimize the value of information. If I need medicine, or clean water, or even a good cup of coffee, information will get me that. When I don’t know what I need, or what questions to ask, I need wisdom. Modern society is less good at delivering that on demand: “Now…This”:Daily News and the Death of Wisdom

And yet, like the preacher said, wisdom isn’t everything either.

More humour from the BBC

Japan backs ‘patriotic teaching’

The bill would require teachers to foster “love of the nation and homeland and respect for its tradition and culture”.

“This revision would turn back the clock to the pre-war era… It is a serious violation of freedom of thought,” said Communist Party lawmaker Ikuko Ishii.

The shocking truth

Moebius Stripper says:

When I was a kid, my father told me about a strange phenomenon, which was later explained to him, that he’d observed while eating on airplanes. Back in the seventies and early eighties, Dad travelled a lot on business, and he noticed that the slices of hard-boiled eggs he received never included any ends. Each egg slice that made its way onto his tray consisted of yellow and white concentric circles – and, even more curiously, they all appeared to be congruent. At first, my father chalked this up to coincidence – maybe he just always happened to get the middles of the eggs? – but soon, he noticed that his seatmates also received only egg middles. It was nearly a statistical impossibility that such a large random sample of egg slices would never contain the end pieces. Were the airline chefs throwing out the yolkless ends? It didn’t make any sense.

How the eggs work is bad enough, but the real horror is where textbooks come from.

The mathematics of nonsense

My math class is going very well this semester. My students are bright and motivated, I’m using a spiffy technology-enabled classroom where the technology works well, and I get to use a math textbook, Intermediate Algebra, by Larson and Hostetler. Not everyone is so fortunate. I could be stuck with Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers, by Eric Gutstein and Bob Peterson.

The authors of this tome aim to “provide examples of how to weave social justice issues throughout the mathematics curriculum and how to integrate mathematics into other curricular areas”, and if the cover is one such example, then we can safely conclude that the integral of SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES + MATHEMATICS CURRICLUM equals GIBBERISH.

From Math class: now with more social justice (and less math)