August 2010

August 30, 2010


Aug. 30, 2010 nyc

The Box

A series of short interviews with people who make cool stuff, hosted by Tim Van Damme.

Aug. 24, 2010 podcasts

Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty

“We’re being driven as herd by these hot microphones—which are like flame throwers—that are causing people to run with fear and panic, and Republican members of Congress are afraid of being run over by that stampeding crowd.” Inglis says that it’s hard for Republicans in Congress to “summon the courage” to say no to Beck, Limbaugh, and the tea party wing. “When we start just delivering rhetoric and more misinformation…we’re failing the conservative movement,” he says. “We’re failing the country.”


Aug. 16, 2010 politics

Amazing Sword

Nine minutes of unadulterated awesomeness.

Aug. 13, 2010 anachronisms awesomeness

A Bookfuturist Manifesto

Tim Carmody:

A futurist (in Marinetti’s original sense) wants to burn down libraries. A bookfuturist wants to put video games in them.

Aug. 11, 2010 books publishing


Look, I love the SI Vault.1 But the reading experience induces headaches. If the tiny Verdana type2, flashing advertisements and general cruft don’t do it, then clicking through 11 pages to read a single Gary Smith story surely will.

Without Readability or Safari Reader, I struggle to finish even the most compelling stories. And that’s a shame. I’d readily pay for access to a well-designed Vault with a usable search function and logical architecture. (Oh, to easily browse by writer!)

But alas, for now I can only hope for something better.

[1] When I can get to and stay at the Vault, that is. First: Why does the homepage link, labeled “THE VAULT” right there in the banner, lead instead to the App Store listing for the magazine’s iPad app? How does that make any sense? Instead users must poke around for alternate entry points, head to a search engine, or manually enter the URL (if they know or guess it). Is a few more apps sold worth the frustrating user experience?

And second: Why send me away, again to the App store, when I try to read stories from recent issues? When I click a link that says, “Read all articles,” I expect a table of contents, and nothing else. Even if I were browsing the Vault on an iPad, this sort of deception wouldn’t be right.

[2] I’ll warn you now, don’t touch that text-size widget; the hideous result is far worse than the original. In fact, every article on sports tiny, sans-serif type. Who enjoys reading that?

Aug. 9, 2010 bookmarklets design webdev

Steps Leading Nowhere

As a student, high school often frustrated me. Math classes were particularly painful to sit through, for exactly the reason Tom Henderson savages, from the other side of the classroom, in this interview at Technoccult:

Many students want teachers to “show me the steps.”

They want a sequence of steps that they can perform that will give them an answer. This is not unreasonable; they know that their performance on exams, and therefore their performance on the All-Seeing Grade Point Average, is largely determined by being able to Do The Steps.

But “The Steps” are cargo cult mathematics.

The Steps are seeing the sorts of symbols that count as “right”, and trying to replicate that dance of steps. It turns out that the easiest thing in the world is to look at a student’s work, and tell the difference between “Knows what’s going on, made mistakes and dozed off” vs. “Can memorize steps, has no idea what’s going on.” […]

Many students want to know the formulas, so that they can float them on top of their short-term memory, ace the exam, and then skim them off. Why do they want to know that?

Probably because, for their entire mathematical careers, math has been a sequence of Steps, and if they get them wrong, they get red pen, bad grades, No No No Look What You Did. Plus, bonus, there is no apparent relevance of these algorithms other than To Get The Answer.

I don’t mean to sound condescending—because, as Henderson says, the system encourages Memorizing The Steps, and my classmates were, on the whole, far from dumb—but this is just the sort of flogging my ears and brain endured year after year. After a week, you knew exactly which students cared only about their grades and would never take a broader view of mathematics. They clutched their formulas and struggled with problems framed in any novel way.

And AP classes were the worst of them all: entire courses building toward one exam. A year’s worth of learning, reduced to a digit, 1-5. Nothing else mattered. The Steps invaded other classes, even those, like English, that should have inspired deeper thinking. (Yes, even critical essays were reduced to tired, AP grader-friendly formulas and checklists; in essence, we learned SEO for AP English.)

At some point, the system has to change. Just look at what schools have wrought: Students unprepared for collegiate rigor and who value only the end result.

“If you are not so worried about presenting yourself as absolutely unique, then it’s O.K. if you say other people’s words, it’s O.K. if you say things you don’t believe, it’s O.K. if you write papers you couldn’t care less about because they accomplish the task, which is turning something in and getting a grade,” Ms. Blum said, voicing student attitudes. “And it’s O.K. if you put words out there without getting any credit.”

A “show me the steps” mentality, in any discipline, encourages uniformity, not originality; this glut of plagiarism, then, shouldn’t be surprising.

In any case, Henderson’s Punk Mathematics book, which spun out of the positive reaction to the above interview, sounds brilliant, and I’ve pledged my support, as much for the ethos as the book itself.

Aug. 6, 2010 books education math


Craig Mod:

The story begins on March 29, 2010, 10:18pm JST, when a woman sitting in her Brooklyn apartment pushed the first domino. Her $65 pledge kicked off a monthlong fundraising effort that would culminate in a room full of hardcover books, a publishing think tank and the means to begin experimenting with books on the iPad. Oh, and this essay.

Aug. 6, 2010 books community publishing