Saturday, November 02, 2013

A poem on famous expressions

A poem on famous expressions

This has been an issue
People have pondered over
For ages; hence
The famous expressions
An eye for an eye
Or, two wrongs don't make a right,
Revenge is best served cold.
You get what I'm going for here.

Friday, November 01, 2013

A Poem on Difference

I believe to me that it is all up to the individual.

Different things are different at different times. It to me is all in the way you look at things. What is different to you might be different to me. Everyone has their own difference. Who is to say what is the same? If you believe in Christianity, which I am, you don’t do certain things. But other people do because they are different.

I believe it depends on the situation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thoughts on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

I watched it Tuesday with Molly, and I just watched it again with Joey. I enjoyed it the second time, and and picked up on some new stuff, which is a good sign.

This is definitely Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, not Joss's Agents of SHIELD. There are a some Whedonesque touches, like the way J. August Richards feels complete moral clarity at the moment he's doing the wrong thing. And, of course, the dialogue is razor sharp. But mostly this is a big dose of Marvel style storytelling.

Molly pointed out that Skye is basically Eliza Dushku. The part seems to have been written for her, and Chloe Bennett is copying her. Molly thinks that Dushku was passed over because she's too old for Hollywood. I was thinking that Dollhouse might have soured people on her. But, while Dollhouse definitely showed Dushku's limitations, but a character like Skye is totally in her wheelhouse. So maybe Hollywood just can't handle the concept of an older hacker babe.

Why does Skye play around with sugar packets like they are a game of three card monty while talking with Richards in the diner?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

boss's boss's boss's ...

Guy on radio: Coming up, are kids hardwired to believe in God?

Me (thinking): Well, we are hardwired with a notion of authority, and we are hardwired with a generative notion of infinity. So we can imagine our boss's boss's boss's ....[on and on indefinitely] boss. Is that really all it is?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Andre Leonard: "Lego Robots Ate My Son"

Andrew Leonard is the dad in a father-son lego team. His boy is 16 now, about about to go off to college to study robotics. Is this Joey in 8 years?

Also, there is a new edition of Mindstorms (EV3) coming out. Like Leonard, I started playing with EV1, first with Caroline, then with Joey. The best robot we built was "Fast Phillip," made with two EV1 bricks. Fast Phillip would barrel full steam at a wall, hit it, turn around, and zoom for the next wall. It generally survived three collisions before falling apart. We never did much with Mindstorms EV2, mostly because I never found a command for the brick that just said "Go as fast as you can as far as you can."

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness, with Spoilers

Misc thoughts, with spoilers on ST: Into Darkness
  • With all the fan servicing in this installment, why not have Pike end up stuck in box only able to communicate "yes" and "no" with a single beeping light? 
  • Holy shit was there a lot of fan servicing. Do you really want a jokey reference to a previous movie at the big climactic moment where the main character appears to die?
  • If the final face off between the Enterprise and the Vengeance is right next to Earth, why don't any other Federation ships intervene?
  • Ms. Day is extra correct when she says "seriously, in the future not one woman over 40 is in charge in this world?!  How can that happen?" The plot pivots around Kirk, his commander Chris Pike, and Pike's commander Marcus. Someone in this hierarchy could have been female. You could do this either by making Marcus female--imagine if Carol Marcus had played this role in this timeline--or by not having Pike continue to be Kirk's immediate superior.
  • Chris G., somewhere I can't link to directly, notes that there is really no reason why old-Spock should be all cryptic about what he knows from the alternative timeline.
  • Few people, writers or fans, appreciate the Prime Directive. It is not an arbitrary rule devised to create moral dilemmas for the characters. It is also not some weird artefact of a show that first appeared during the cold war. It is a hedge against imperialism. For once, our explorers are actually noble. They are not bent on conquest. They are not interested in finding proxies for conflicts with rival empires. This will continue to be relevant as long as there are empires.  
  • Why is it called Into Darkness anyway? 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One for the bioethics section on "naturalness"

A couple is suing on behalf of their adopted child who was born intersex, because doctors decided to assign the gender "female" to the child when he was 16 months old, before they had custody of the child. The child was judged male at birth, but the doctors changed their minds at 16 months and went with female. He now identifies as male and the suit alleges that he was "a true hermaphrodite" at birth.

Decades ago, doctors would have "corrected" the child's genitalia without ever notifying the parents or even leaving any record of the procedure, because ambiguous genitalia were deemed shameful. The Advocate says doctors are currently encouraged assign a gender at birth but "to hold off on any unnecessary surgery until they are old enough to self-identify with a gender." The fact that doctors are now being sued for what used to be standard operating procedure is a sign of progress.

I'd actually like to know what the child's exact intersex condition is. (A variety of chromosomal and hormonal factors can lead to intersexuality.) This has no bearing on the merits of the case. I'm just nosy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Association, perceptions of relevance, and common sense


So we are doing machine moral status today, and I start out with oblique question. "True or false: What is important about me isn't how I look on the outside, but what goes on in my spirit." After some discussion of this statement, we talk about whether a machine could ever legitimately demand rights or could ever be held responsible for an action.

I then ask the students how they think my first question, about appearances, is related to the second. The first student raises her hand and says “Well you know, they guys who work on robots, they don’t look too good, because all they care about is work.”

How does one’s brain come to work like that, to think that was the answer I’d be going for? This is entirely a matter of association, perceptions of relevance, and common sense. It seems like it should be obvious that I am concerned with whether outward differences in machines and people could be unimportant compared to mental properties. But that wasn’t obvious to this student. What popped into her head was that computer guys are slobs.

How do you teach someone to think differently at this level?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Caroline rejects the difference principle

Joey got to play video games while Caroline was at ice skating. So Caroline thinks that she should get an equal amount of video game time, and Joey can't be allowed to play video games during that time. He can't even watch her play, because then he would have more video game time than her. I try to reason with her. Me: "Suppose you have two options. In one, both children get one cookie. In the other, once child gets two cookies, and the other gets three. Which is the better option?" Caroline [shouting]: the one where everyone gets THE SAME. Everyone should get THE SAME. Me: But you would get more in the other option. Caroline: He has to get the same as me! You only let him get more than me because you like him better! Me: But that's not rational!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

History of D&D: The Primary Sources

These guys sell .pdf files of many of the millions and millions of Dungeons & Dragons products over the decades. The game I played was Advanced D&D, which apparently ran from 1977-1979. This was definitely one of the books I had, as was this, but I can't find of the others.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Cognitive Science and the bad logic student

This article is an opener for a conversation I've been wanting to have for a while. Hutchins suggests that the failure of some otherwise bright, hardworking students to do well in logic is due to a heretofore unknown learning disability she calls "inference blindness." I am quite convince that there is a class of students who do poorly in logic classes which cannot be attributed to general problems in learning, like a lack of effort or general study skills. Normally the poor performance of these students is attributed to some sort of math-phobia. Hutchins doesn't consider this possibility, which I'm ok with, because I don't think math-phobia can account for all of the phenomenon we are looking at. This leaves us with a substantial body of students whose poor performance we don't have a good explanation of. I would really, really like an understanding of these students that is grounded in some real cognitive science.

Hutchins' proposal doesn't go far at all in this direction. She doesn't so much ground her hypothetical in the cognitive science as offer one way a learning disability like inference blindness might be realized in one model of the neurology of inferential reasoning. She does not say that the model predicts the existence of inference blindness, nor does she say that putting inference blindness in the context of this model leads to some other prediction. The model in question is Vinod Goel's dual mechanism theory, which says that we reason about logical connections using a combination of two different systems. One is a visual-spacial system that is used in unfamiliar or highly abstract situations. In terms of hardware, this systems is based on a bilateral occipital-parietal-frontal network. The other system is a linguistic system based in the left frontal and temporal lobes and comes on line when logical problems are placed in concrete, familiar situations. Part of the advantage of this model is that it explains performance on the Wason Selection Task. Subjects do better when reasoning about the conditional "If you are drinking alcohol then you must be over 21" because the second system is brought online. Hutchins thinks inference blindness, if it exists, would be cause by a neurological deficit, perhaps marked by real physical lesions, which prevents the linguistic system from coming to the aid of the spatial system. I'm not sure why she wants the deficit to be specifically located in the connection between the two systems. Why not say that the students in question have a weakness in just the abstract spatial system? We know this system is weak in everyone, but it is still possible for their to be lots of individual variation. Alternatively, why not say that the deficit is just in the verbal system? Perhaps there are many distinct kinds of deficits out there?

Another problem with the proposal is the use of the language of disability and talk of specific physical lesions. For starters, it creates the risk that the class of students we wind up identifying is too narrow to be of any use to us. In my fourteen years of teaching logic, I have had precisely one student whom I could confidently say struggled with logic because of a neurological deficit. He had been the victim of a gunshot wound to the head. The doctors had initially said he would never walk or talk again. As it turned out, he could do both, and was one course away from graduating college. Unfortunately, that course was not going to be symbolic logic.

Of course, not all learning disabilities wind up picking out a very narrow class of people. Experience with disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia show that once a learning disability gets picked up by the media, its definition can be blurred to the point of complete meaninglessness. But this is also a bad outcome, if what we are seeking to discover is a substantial body of students that can be helped with a concrete intervention. When I taught at an extremely elite private school (which we will call Stuffwhitepeople Like University) huge numbers of students, sometimes as much as a third of the class, would come to me with documentation of a learning disability that would give them accommodations like time and half on tests. None of these students ever needed the accommodation. As near as I can tell, they had just learned how to game the system to get every advantage for themselves. Their training in this probably began in infancy, while their parents were intently reading New York Times articles on how to get your kids into the "right" preschool. These days I teach at a community college which serves a lot of severely underprivileged students and I am also seeing a lot of students who deserve and would benefit from the kinds of accommodations that come with a diagnosis of ADHD. Only very rarely do I get students who will ask for accommodation, can document their disability, and be able to get the help they need.

Rather than talking about disability here, I think it would be more productive to talk about a subpopulation of normal students who do poorly in logic for reasons not related to general scholastic ability or some kind of math-phobia. This will allow us to look for a class of students that is larger than the topic of a single case study of a neurological deficit, while avoiding the extensive political complications that come the language of learning disabilities. To be clear, its not that I doubt reality of learning disabilities. I just think that the way the American educational system addresses learning disabilities is hopelessly dysfunctional.

There are other issues that come up in deciding what kind of class of student we should be looking for. I've already said I'm interested in a broader set of students than just the handful that can be categorized as having a physical brain lesion. Another question is whether we want to specifically target students who don't improve their performance when familiar contextual information is added. Hutchins' idea for Inference Blindness was that it involved the failure of the verbal system to help the visual-spatial system. This means that we are looking at people who continue to do badly on the Wason Selection Task even after concrete details are added. This is definitely an interesting class of people, but are they the ones we want to intervene with in our classes? If the alternative is simply looking at students who do badly at the abstract version fo the WST and improve on the concrete version, then the answer is "yes," because the latter category is basically everyone.

The next step in this conversation is to look for, or develop, correlation studies. It would be interesting to see, for instance, whether doing well in logic without extra help correlates with doing well in the abstract version of the Wason Selection Task. Similarly, it would be interesting to see if students who do poorly even with extra help also fail to respond to the addition of concrete detail in the WST. It may be hard to identify correlations here, though, simply because success in a symbolic logic course takes you into realms of abstraction far beyond recognizing the truth conditions for a single if...then statement. Also, even though undergraduates are typical subjects for psychological experiments, actual empirical work on the process of education always seems to run into many more difficulties. It is easy enough to set up a single psych test for undergraduates to take, but tracking them through a full course introduces all sorts of other confounds.