Updates from August, 2009 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Hober Short 5:59 pm on 29 August 2009 Permalink  

    Being a blogger is a very surreal experience some times: on a whim, I decided to do a google search for “stanley kaplan isaac asimov” to see if there was any evidence that they’d met.

    The first result is your post, dad.

  • Pat 8:41 am on 29 August 2009 Permalink  

    Thoughts about Stanley Kaplan:

    • I wonder if Kaplan ever ran into Isaac Asimov. They were evidently growing up in the same part of Brooklyn at the same time, and came from nearly identical national and ethnic backgrounds.
    • Asimov was a poster child for the sort of success that Kaplan helped people achieve. A poor Russian Jew from the slums, Asimov was exactly the kind of student the universities tried to keep out, but he got in through luck and perseverance, and made it all the way to a Ph.D. and a teaching post through hard work. He also became a bestselling author and science fiction legend through more hard work.
    • Thanks for the shout-out, Ben, but I don’t believe your mother and I rate it. We weren’t obsessive, hovering parents where your schoolwork was concerned. We certainly didn’t talk about committing suicide over your test scores, or lurk outside your classrooms with towels.
    • Why is the collegiate acceptance system incentivized towards towards “naturals” over “grinds”? Think about the origins of what we call a liberal education. Wikipedia says, “In classical antiquity, the liberal arts denoted the education proper to a free man (Latin: liber, ‘free’), unlike the education proper to a slave.” In other words, it was all about class. Slaves learned practical skills like building and farming, but free men (those who didn’t have to work for a living) only studied subjects that had no practical use, like art and philosophy. Work is what slaves do, and makes you dirty and sweaty; no gentleman would sully himself with it. And being a gentleman was something you were born to, so this attitude translates very easily into racism. In that kind of world, the notion of upward mobility is shockingly subversive: if elite status is available to anyone who just works hard, that’s a threat to those who got it just by being born into the right families.
    • Yes, this whole attitude is antithetical to the American Dream. That’s because it’s an inherently European worldview that dates back to ancient times and flourished in the Middle Ages. In modern American society, it is indeed quaint. But the academic world is still medieval in many ways. Universities still think they are training the sons of nobility to take their proper place as the leaders of the world. And so the notion of elite status as an inborn trait persists in academia, disguised as “aptitude”.
    • I haven’t read Outliers, but I clearly need to. I did read Gladwell’s previous books The Tipping Point and Blink, both of which are excellent.
  • Hober Short 6:57 pm on 28 August 2009 Permalink  

    My Technology in History professor noted recently that Stanley Kaplan had died. He linked to a profile of the man from 2001 by Malcolm Gladwell which is quite long, but bears commenting on. So, in correlation to the numbered sections:

    1. Young Stanley clearly had aptitude, but not in the ways his teachers wished!
    2. A six-hour SAT isn’t a better predictor than a 4-year high school GPA? Whaaaaaat?
    3. The idea of keeping the test secret sets off my “Security Through Obscurity” alarms. If it can’t be studied for, why not release old tests? Whoops, check your premises.
    4. Love ya, Mom & Dad. (Also, the widespread anti-semitism of the early Twentieth Century is so quaint in the lens of history, isn’t it?)
    5. The SAT clearly succeeded in this case of awarding the best education to the brightest minds, right?

    I think the most ridiculous thing about the whole SAT apparatus, which this article reveals is the simple fact that it’s built on measuring this evanescent “aptitude” over actual immediate capability. Of course, it fails at this, but the underlying issue is more worrisome: why is the collegiate acceptance system incentivized towards towards “naturals” over “grinds”? The obvious, yet unhelpful answer is “the guys at the top think naturals are ‘better’ than grinds”.

    Given my understanding of the American Dream (“work hard and you’ll do well”), this seems a downright un-American premise.

    Anyway, Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, tackles this more in depth. I’ve only read about half of it, but so far it’s pretty much an indictment of the idea that success comes from “naturals” over “grinds”. Why did Bill Gates become the richest man in the world? He had thousands of hours of experience in writing software at just the right time to put it to use.

  • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 9:15 am on 26 August 2009 Permalink  

    The headline caught my eye:


    But I’m sorry, just look at the guy’s picture. I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t have burst into flames anyway. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  • Hober Short 11:08 am on 22 August 2009 Permalink  

    An interesting manifestation of the Pareto Principle brought to us by the developers of EVE Online: a purge of EVE “gold farmers” (they call money ISK, but it’s all the same) that ended up banning 2% of the overall population reduced the server CPU load by 30%. Clearly, not only were these farmers messing with the in-game economy, but they were a disproportionate drain on EVE resources.

  • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 10:57 am on 19 August 2009 Permalink  

    Wow. That Toy Biz ruling strikes me as an important legal precedent that could have major implications in the future. And I’m almost serious about that.

    This is surely the first legal decision that squarely addresses the question of whether mutants, aliens, and cyborgs are legally human. Today the decision applies only to action figures; but what happens in the future, when cyborgs and genetically-enhanced people might walk among us? Will this decision set a precedent supporting the idea that they are not human?

    More seriously, I think this dispute (by exploring edge cases) exposes the ridiculousness of the tariff law. Does this mean that an action figure of James T. Kirk should be taxed at a different rate from a figure of Sarek? What about Spock? What about a Borg drone? Does Anakin Skywalker pay higher taxes than Darth Vader? He’s more machine than man now.

    Surely our courts have more important issues to attend to…

  • Hober Short 10:05 am on 18 August 2009 Permalink  

    This is how you do it right:

    The group, Angry Neighbors With Paintball Guns, posted signs at strategic locations throughout the city [of Durham], warning motorists to slow down or risk being shot at with a paintball gun.

    . . .according to an e-mail from a group member, who declined to release his or her name.

    . . .

    [Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael] said it is a crime to shoot a paintball at a vehicle and that the signs could be a distraction for some drivers and make the problem worse.

    Of course the cops would be annoyed at citizens taking responsibility for their own neighborhoods. So these people have done this entirely anonymously. No one to arrest, no to persecute, no central organizer to shut down.

    Durham PD needs to just start ignoring these people pronto, because there’s no way they can win this battle. Either up the patrols or put your money where your mouth is and start arresting people when cars start getting hit with paintballs.

    Neither will help you very much.

  • Hober Short 9:25 am on 18 August 2009 Permalink  

    Haha, what?

    U.S. law distinguishes between two types of action figures for determining tariffs: dolls, which are defined to include human figures, and toys, which include “nonhuman creatures”. Because duties on dolls were higher than on toys, Marvel Comics subsidiary Toy Biz argued before the U.S. Court of International Trade, that their action figures (including the X-Men and Fantastic Four) represented “nonhuman creatures” and were subject to the lower tariff rates for toys instead of the higher ones for dolls. On January 3, 2003, after examining more than 60 action figures, Judge Judith Barzilay ruled in their favor, granting Toy Biz reimbursement for import taxes on previous toys.

    Read the whole thing (it’s pretty short).

  • Hober Short 2:40 pm on 14 August 2009 Permalink  

    Great Maker, I’m glad I’m not living in North Hall anymore.

    One dormitory is located on the north side of Hillsborough Street in the heart of the construction zone, and officials said students trying to move into the dorm will need to be patient while dealing with the slow-moving traffic through the area.

  • Hober Short 12:34 pm on 14 August 2009 Permalink  

    I like Rage Against the Machine. In a musical way. There’s something about the unique use of guitars and the rap vocals that gets me every time. I know I’m alone in this around here.

    But what we (three) can agree on is that they have some rather… interesting politics. Wikipedia charitably characterizes them as “revolutionary”. As in “we’re done with this, get your guns” revolutionary. “Militantly leftist” would probably be my characterization.

    But, whatever. I just gloss over that. But I decided to check out RATM guitarist Tom Morello’s Twitter feed after his tribute to Les Paul sounded remarkably like a tweet. Sure enough, it was.

    Further down the page?

    “Tom Paine was the Che Guevera of his time.”

    Ouch. Just… ouch.

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