Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: May 2009

MySpace Robber

According to this FBI press release, a Roanoke, VA man was arrested after bragging about robbing a bank on his MySpace page.

Had this man attended Goochland County Public Schools, he might have known to keep private information private…

ITRT Life

Tonight, for the first time since becoming an ITRT, I baked cookies on a weekday. I had not realized it had been so long. This used to be a regular event, baking cookies for my kids, both at school and my own.

My commute to Goochland is longer, and my own children now participate in a few afterschool activities, and all that takes time. However, I have to admit there is another reason. I come home, and after spending my day with my laptop at school, I still spend a substantial amount of time staring at my screen after my kids go to bed.

I thought I’d have all this “free time” when I was out of the classroom, not having to grade papers or contact parents. I could have this free time, but so often there is something I heard about, or read about…I I have a hard time just letting it go.

I’m lucky to have a job where I have time to learn.

Thinking and Knowledge Workers

Some diagnostic situations contain a lot of variables. Any given symptom may have several possible causes, and further, these causes may interact with one another and therefore be difficult to isolate. In deciding how to proceed, there often comes a point where you have to step back and get a larger gestalt.

Critical thinking at its best, no?

Is this something said by a physician, a financial analyst, a CEO?

The quote comes from an essay by Matthew B. Crawford, a motorcycle mechanic, published in the New York Times Magazine. The essay is adapted from Mr. Crawford’s book “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work”

Yes, this is not your run-of-the-mill mechanic. He says,

When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail.

But he had options (i.e. a college education) and he chose this path as the most rewarding AND intellectually stimulating. It was not sacrifice but self-realization.

Sometimes I think No Child Left Behind aims at No Child Shall Do Manual Labor, and in trying to standardize “up” we rob students of opportunities that might make them so much happier.

Jump Start

Have you looked at our summer class offering yet? Sign up soon. Classes are filling up fast. Please email me if you need help adding your name to the wiki.

Wolfram to the Rescue?

This morning I read a post on Webware announcing the launch of the much-anticipated Wolfram Alpha. The post urged readers to play around and come back to share our opinions.

The first search term I entered was my birthday, as suggested by Wolfram Alpha sidebar. The returned data included my age in days and weeks, that I was born on a Sunday, and told me no significant historical events occurred on that date (WHAT??? My birth is not significant???) Pretty cool.

I typed in a few more dates, and then went back to look at the Webware survey. One of the questions is, “Do you see Wolfram Alpha as a competitor to Google?” Really? Here is what W|A itself has to say about itself.

Is Wolfram|Alpha a search engine?

No. It’s a computational knowledge engine: it generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of searching the web and returning links.

I went back to my date searches and entered a favorite date in history, “1066”. I left out the month and day out on purpose, to compare my search on WA to my search on Google.

The French Republic? Really? In 1066? Could this listing of facts replace Google?

I repeated the search in Google, and my first hit was, as it usually is these days, the Wikipedia article on the year 1066. Beyond that first hit I could choose from about 53,600,000 result. I got much more than bullet points on a single event. I got links to the perihelion of the commet Halley, the Bayeux Tapestry, the Battle of Hastings, Harald Hardrada, William the Conqueror, Harold II, Edward the Confessor, etc. With a few clicks I could read about how all these related to the event that set the stage for English-French relations up until World War I.

I went back to the FAQ and read a bit more about what W|A does. The strongest suit, as expected is in the areas of mathematics and computational stuff in general. But they hope to expand to all areas to bring “expert-level knowledge to everyone.”

So where does this expert knowledge come from? And how reliable is it?

Does Wolfram|Alpha get its data from the web?

No. It comes from Wolfram|Alpha’s internal knowledge base. Some of the data in that knowledge base is derived from official public or private websites, but most of it is from more systematic primary sources.

Hmm…Here is what I got when I asked about the sources for my “1066” query.

Enough said. For now, unless I’m looking to graph some sine waves, I’ll stick to Google and Wikipedia, even if many educators choose to disagree.

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Going Online

Does anyone else out there feel like they are constantly defending the Internet, pointing out its benefits and raving about all that is out there?

I recently met a mom who told me she will NOT let her kids “go online” until they are 16. Less than twenty minutes later she told me about her son’s new gun and how he’s been hunting with dad since age seven. Hmmm…So, is going online any more dangerous than hunting, tackle football, diving off the high board, or riding a bike to the ice cream store?

Today I read this hilarious interview with Lenore Skenazy about the dangers of growing up today versus growing up in the 1970’s. She pokes fun at how parents today (including me, sometimes) overprotect our kids. She also points out that the Internet is no more dangerous than riding a car (the #1 cause of death for children in the United States), and we drive kids everywhere rather than letting them walk.

Of course, this mom I met will never read my blog. She doesn’t “go online” either. But, if you are reading this, you do. And you can help educate a child about the real danger of the Internet: not knowing how to behave online.

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