This is such a hard thing to teach, especially to people who are used to doing quite well — I include myself here on programming and my daughter on some things as well as any number of students I have encountered over the years: the importance of just trying and trying. And trying.
In response to a question about being “clever enough” to do higher math, two responses in particular caught my attention, one from a mathematician:
I’m not very clever but have managed to end up doing a PhD in higher order PDEs. The way I’ve come to approach problems is by something akin to echolocation. Rather than using sound to see the shape of things, though, my preferred output is idiocy. If I throw enough idiocy at a problem from enough different directions, the way it bounces back will (eventually, with some luck and feelings of shame) guide me to what I can do to solve it.
and one from a software developer:
I run into so many people who want to solve an entire problem in their head before they try anything. I tell them they have to start wiggling, and if that doesn’t work, try thrashing. I solve so many problems I have no business solving just by generating randomness to try. You probably aren’t going to break the computer, and you definitely aren’t going to break math.
The image of “breaking math” is worth the read alone: here’s the thread on Reddit.
Huh, spending on research in the humanities is up 9 percent, according to this report from the NSF.
Interesting convergence of different dimensions of my world: an article on “Fair Use Legends” — they insist on prefixing urban, but I have a firm belief that we can work with librarians.
Speaking of conspiracies, the World Bank — the World Bank! — has a post in one of its blogs on the nature and role of the “deep state.” Great read to make you paranoid.
Can we add mysteries of the mind that seem to have been solved? I like those too. In the case of “sacred frequencies” it’s fun to imagine that there are mechanical ways to make us more focused or more productive or more something…
I’ve always liked conspiracies. Vatican Conspiracies are perhaps the best, with their ability to reach far back in time and around the globe, but alien ones come close. Area 51 is a song sung by sirens, I tell you.
Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, keeps a spark file. It’s a version of the “one Big Text File” idea that circulated, as [one commenter] put it earlier this year, in the “mid-naughties.” There are plenty of one-file [approaches], and [rejections, and even variations like one-directory approaches. The canonical entry is probably Doctorow’s.
Paige Morgan has a post about how to create a space, what she calls a microclimate, for the digital humanities. Morgan is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, and she at first worked with one other graduate student, now two, to offer a series of workshops to provide an “introduction to digital humanities and multimodal scholarship, and some of the activities associated with digital humanities (DH) — professionalisation through social media, working with code, and project development.”
What I like about her approach is its realistic expectations about what time and energy their audience possessed and how best to manage it: “We avoid assigning readings, because the majority of our students are already carrying a full course load, and teaching. We can’t make this a stealth 5-credit seminar for which they don’t actually get credit. Instead, we send out email teasers, in which we often highlight one paragraph, or even one sentence, from an essay or website, and we teach using that.”
There’s more. Follow the link above.
Why the explosion in machine learning? As always, major and minor reasons. Major reason? Data. Lots and lots of data, both because we human beings have put so much up ourselves, but also because businesses, and other organizations — Hello!, NSA! (Call when you’re ready to talk about how I can help!) — have collected so much. And that’s the minor reason right there, if one can consider it minor: organizations want to “learn” things from all this data.
Inspired by the wonderful folks at Kano, I think 2014 is the year I get my daughter programming. Kano has done a marvelous job of making the Raspberry Pi experience more Lego-like, and that works well in our household. I’m not patient enough to wait until July 2014 for their hardware to ship, but I contributed $29 for access to the software (and for the tee shirt). We can pick up a Pi and a case and other bits that we might need off Amazon.
When we need inspiration, we might look to Make, which regularly features posts like this.
Michael Hills’ discussion of the so-called “crisis in [of?] the humanities” in various media outlets as a form of fill-in-the-blank reporting begins terribly well. Having read more than a few of these articles, his ability to compress them down into a few generic moves made for a fun read: it also made me wonder if one couldn’t do something computationally with a collection of those texts, which is, after all, sort of what a fill-in-the-blank activity asks of us.
Sadly, Hill wasn’t content to leave it at that but to offer his own “cure for what ails us.” He isn’t quite brave enough to engage in a similar fill-in-the-blank exercise for balms of the sort he offers, but his advice struck me as open to such an approach as the others: I’ve read plenty of accounts that assert that we need to “get back to basics” or get “back to teaching” — I don’t know who these people are that live the life of luxury that got away from such things, but I can assure you that it’s just not possible in a regional public university. If anything, we are fighting to keep from being reduced to nothing more than the basics and teaching.
At the very beginning of The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polanyi reminds his reader why he turned to philosophy:
I first met questions of philosophy when I came up against the Soviet ideology under Stalin which denied justification to the pursuit of science. I remember a conversation I had with [Nikolai] Bukharin in Moscow in 1935. Though he was heading toward his fall and execution three years later, he was still a leading theoretician of the Communist party. When I asked him about the pursuit of pure science in Soviet Russia, he said that pure science was a morbid symptom of a class society; under socialism the conception of science pursued for its own sake would disappear, for the interests of scientists would spontaneously turn to problem of the current Five-Year Plan. 
How ironic that modern capitalism seems to be asserting much the same thing. (And now, now it seeks to erode general education in favor of “workforce development”.)
More on Bukharin (Wikipedia).
Open Biometrics is a communal biometrics framework supporting the development of open algorithms and reproducible evaluations. (Their use of mugshots is entirely unfortunate.) OpenBR is “supported on Windows, Mac OS X, and Debian Linux. The project is licensed under Apache 2.0 and releases follow the Semantic Versioning convention. Internally the code base uses the CMake build system and requires Qt and OpenCV.”
It’s on GitHub.
All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.
– J. M. Coetzee in the Mail and Post