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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

September 8, 2010 | 15 Comments

Skip Class Calculator Makes The News

I was saving this for another Conversation With Myself, to show that there are too many kids in school. But it’s more appropriate as a lead-in to another story about the Skip Class Calculator, which has now made national news.

Here, except for the name, is an exact email from one of my students that I received last week:

Hi. i missed class on tues and i was wondering what i missed.

Regular readers will know that I can forgive the occasional typo, so I cannot fault this student for forgetting to capitalize the “I”s etc. But the content; well, that’s another thing.

Now, I have no direct proof, but it is at least a possibility that this student used the Skip Class Calculator. If so, it shows yet another flaw in that “decision engine”: it offers no advice on what to do after you’ve skipped. Since I can be a good sport, I’ll provide that advice.

For starters, you certainly do not write an asinine email, one which offers no explanation or apology, but instead contains a request to be privately tutored. This will not endear you to your professor. Best thing is to say nothing, not in an email nor in class: pretend your absence never occurred.

Emergencies do occur, and sometimes you must miss—not skip—class because of them. But do not be tempted to invent an emergency to explain your absence. We professors are a superstitious bunch, and we’re beginning to think that the mere existence of our courses kills off more grandmothers than heart attacks.

But to the news.

Dennis Carter, of the eCampus News, did a story on the Calculator, which includes quotes from Yours Truly. Registration (an act which I did not complete) is required to read the entire article.

Carter also tracked down our pal Michael Anderson from the University of Texas at San Antonio (one of my favorite places on Earth), who has a different take than I do.

“If a class is moderately difficult, it could make [a student] think long and hard about making it to class and paying more attention,” said Anderson, one of many educators and students to post reviews on the Skip Class Facebook page. “It’s another way for them to go out and get independent advice. … We can tell them all day long to come to class, but students tend to trust that kind of objective source much more.” [quoted fully from the original]

Anderson, like me, acknowledges that students “have to miss class sometimes.” But I go further and say that they don’t need the assistance of an idiotic internet toy to tell them when they should miss. Besides, very few of the “weightings” included in the SCC are valid reasons to skip. And once more, skipping is vastly different than missing.

Other news outlets have picked up on the story, including the venerable KQED. There, Tina Barseghian writes:

Who among us has not decided — for better or for worse — to forgo a lecture for an afternoon of productive studying, unavoidable appointments, or even just simple decompressing.

Barseghian must be a generous soul, because she has forgotten a host of reasons why students skip: boredom, laziness, immaturity, improper or misplaced feelings of self-importance and convictions of intelligence, insobriety, contempt, and so forth.

I suggest that any student missing class for an earnest “afternoon of productive studying” would not need the SCC to confirm to them that their actions are justified.

September 3, 2010 | 30 Comments

How Steve Jobs Will Destroy Civilization

September 1, 2012

Steve Jobs unveils the Apple TV, a device which allows “consumers” to relieve themselves of the burden of owning movies and television shows.

Previously, if people wanted to possess a movie or a television series, they would be forced buy a video cassette or DVD version, or they would have to suffer the inconvenience of recording these events on a tape or digital video recorder. Once either version was in hand, then, via direct playback or by running the recording, consumers could then watch these programs as many times as desired.

The Apple TV changes everything. In what industry insiders are calling “iTunes for Television,” the Apple TV lets people rent movies and TV shows, and allows them to pay for each time they view a program. Mr Jobs explained, “Why buy when you can rent?”

Never trust a man who hasn’t learned to shave
Steve Jobs

Jeff Blake, President of Sony Pictures, a company which had previously offered a rival service, hailed the Apple innovation. “The movie and television industry applauds Apple’s amazing new technology. Never before have consumers been offered such an excitingly wide range of methods of paying for content. Sony is right there with them.”

Gizomodo’s Kat Hannaford said, “While it’s true Apple has taken over the video delivery market, a lot of people aren’t seeing that they have done so much more. Up until now, consumers were forced to go to ABC, Hulu, or Fox TV’s websites to watch programs. Worse, there was no way for those consumers to contribute a fee. Apple’s genius lay in discovering a way to get that fee.”

A spokesman for Netflix, another company in the pay-per-view space, said that CEO Reed Hastings was unavailable for comment, because he was out shopping for black t-shirts.

June 8, 2012

Jobs announces the Apple Bowdler, an iPad “app” which will electronically—and quite seamlessly—allow all text documents, such as books, stored on the iPad to be remotely improved.

Through the iPad’s Bookshelf, consumers were relieved of the terrible affliction of owning books. Apple’s book-reading license, present on every Bookshelf, freed consumers from the physicality of paper, and gave them the ability to agree to terms Apple set for reading texts. And now those texts can be endlessly refined with the Bowdler app.

David Spark, host of the popular technology show The Spark Minute, described to reporters how this app works. “It’s really simple. Suppose a publisher has an improvement they need to make to a text. In the days before the Bowdler app, there was just no way they could do it.

“Now, all it takes is a ‘genius’ at Apple headquarters to issue a command like ‘times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted obama rectify’ and for example the number of casualties noted in the text document History of the Iraq War ascribed to Barack Obama will be reduced to reflect the reality that should have been. It’s just amazing.”

Jobs, clad in traditional black outfit, demonstrated the app at his Keynote address by removing the Nixon presidency from not just every iPad bookshelf, but from all libraries that had subscribed to Apple’s ebook service.

Apple fanboy blogs were ablaze after the event. One blogger wrote how he “Couldn’t stop crying” after witnessing Jobs’ feat. “Apple is so so so amazing. Just so amazing.”

Jeff Bezos, in a tone which some are indicating as hurt feelings, put out a press release, in which he said, “Amazon is always innovating, and has had technology like the Apple Bowdler app in the Kindle device since day one. Users who buy the Kindle even have a non-ownership book-reading license, just like Apple.”

Industry insiders are ascribing the success of the iPad Bookshelf over the Kindle to two reasons: Apple’s perceived “cool factor” among hipsters, and because the iPad unlike the Kindle allows consumers to effortlessly switch from reading books to surfing the web or to play games.

December 7, 2012

The success of the Bowdler app was so great that Apple introduces the sister app, the Lucasator, available for the iPhone, iPad, and naturally integrating with Apple TV. This powerful software, designed in conjunction with Hollywood movie directors, does for video what the Bowdler did for text.

February 28, 2013

Apple unveils its Psyops content regulator app. Working with FDA and other government agencies, Apple has produced what many are calling a “miracle app”, and still others are naming the “Eye in the sky.”

The iDecide app uses the latest scientifically proven methods that automatically chooses content, both in text and video form, that are proven to be optimal for viewer enjoyment and edification.

Jobs said, “Working with the Master Database lets us ensure that all content is bias free. But even better is that the horrendous, and often harmful, stress consumers felt because there were too many choices to make has been removed once and for all time. The iDecide is a major entertainment and public health event.”

August 31, 2010 | 38 Comments

Too Many Kids Go To College: A Conversation With Myself

This is the first of many conversations I’ll be having with myself this semester on this subject.

William Say, Matt. I heard you were teaching this semester. Where?

Matt At a place Russell Kirk would have called “Behemoth U.” A good school with a fine reputation.

William Lot of students, eh?

Matt More than you can shake a diploma at.

William What are you teaching?

Matt Statistics, of course, a mid-level Calculus section, and a class that can best be described as Math For Those Who Cannot Do Math.

William What’s that?

Matt Everybody has to have a math credit to graduate, and this is one of the courses designed to give that credit. Everybody is supposed to be able to solve algebraic equations before enrolling.

William Can they?

Matt They cannot. First day of class, I gave them this one for fun (all answers were anonymous):

    (3x – 7)/4 = x + 4.

William How’d they do?

Matt About 15% figured it out. Most wrong answers were, let us say, curious. But mostly they just didn’t attempt it.

William College is about learning, you know. No doubt, they’ll refresh their memories as the semester continues. Not everybody can remember high school algebra on command.

Matt I also asked them, “What is one-third of one-half?”

William They must have done better on that one.

Matt Sure. About 20% got it. The wrong answers were confusing. Some said 1/7, a few said, 1/8, 1/4, 1/16. One said “1.3333”. But most didn’t answer.

William I don’t like your tone. This is the first day math class for people who just aren’t good at math. Some people aren’t, you know.

Matt Yes, some people aren’t. But you know, I also asked these questions to the other classes, and those had stronger mathematical prerequisites. More knew the answers, but only in the calculus class did a majority do well.

William See? There’s hope!

Matt Yeah, but all of the students in the calculus class should have answered correctly, not just most.

William I still think you’re being too harsh. This was the first day.

Matt I also asked them the year the American Civil War started.

William You asked math students that? That’s obviously not fair.

Matt Are you telling me that college students shouldn’t know the answer?

William Well, not quite. But not everybody will remember the exact year.

Matt One student said 1954.

William Obviously a typo.

Matt Didn’t look like one. Others said 1701, 1740, “1770s”, 1779, 1846, 1887, 1945. Most just didn’t answer, but a few jotted down “who cares?”, or something like “This is statistics?”

William Well, it isn’t statistics you know. Students wouldn’t think to come prepared to class to answer questions on history.

Matt Only a handful knew the exact date; about 10% knew it plus or minus 10 years.

William Come on. They just weren’t ready.

Matt Want me to tell you the answers they gave me to, “In what year did the French Revolution begin?”

William I think we can skip it.

Matt Good thing, because I had the idea from the answers that they had never heard of the event.

William It’s the fault of the high schools. They were probably never taught.

Matt I can’t disagree with you, but don’t you think that college students should know the answer, even just to name the proper century?

William They’ll probably learn as they go along.

Matt I was happiest with the answer to, “Who wrote the play King Lear?” More than half, spelling aside, knew.

William So it’s not all bad news.

Matt But almost nobody knew who wrote Paradise Lost.

William High school again. They almost never teach poetry.

Matt They did better with naming a composer who worked in the eighteenth century. Those who knew, about two thirds, said either Mozart or Beethoven.

William That must have pleased you.

Matt Not one person—not one in all the classes—knew who Thucydides was. Some guessed, “Greek mathematician.”

William Obviously, then, these are clever kids. They knew that you were a mathematician and were thus likely to ask about other famous ones.

Matt But, of course, I didn’t.

William I suppose not. It is a hard question, though.

Matt Only if you don’t know the answer.

William Oh, that makes a lot of sense.

Matt I asked them what was the last book they read, which wasn’t assigned to them. About half gave answers. My Bookie Wook (which is a real book), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Harry Potter series, Quiet Strength, many in the Twilight series, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and similar others.

William At least they’re reading.

Matt One wrote, “I don’t like reading.”

William Well…

Matt This is the same statistics student who answered 16.6 for the multiplying fractions question.

William Like I said, not everybody…

Matt And for the algebra question this student said, “I don’t do algebra.”

William Maybe he was having a bad day.

Matt Maybe.

August 29, 2010 | 54 Comments

Ground Zero Mosque vs Baghdad Christian Church?

Its proposed location isn’t precisely “ground zero” and it isn’t exactly a mosque. Its meant to be a few blocks away and is designated a “cultural center.”

Sharif El-Gamal wants to tear down a building that was permanently damaged in the in-the-name-of-Islam mass-murder attack of 9/11, and on the site he wants to build a not-quite-a-mosque center for Muslims to, we can suppose, culturally and peacefully associate.

The equivalent to this would be if evangelist Pat Robertson were to trudge into Iraq—following in Mr Obama’s now victorious footsteps—and propose building a Christian church just around the corner from Saddam’s Baghdad palace.

Now, all lefty readers, a show of hands, please. All who would vociferously support Mr Robertson’s right to build a Christian church in Iraq, all those, that is, who would scream “Ignorant Bigots!” at any slobbish yokels who oppose the church, please raise your hands?


Oh wait, I forgot to add that proviso that, just like El-Gamal is doing, Robertson would seek to pay for a substantial portion of the church using tax-payer funds.

Anybody yet?

No hands. Well, let’s ask an easier question. How many would say that Robertson’s plan was “insensitive” (always a favorite words), or that it was at least in bad taste?

Only one hand. Yes, Michael?

“It’s a bad question. You can’t just go around building churches in Iraq.”

Why not? People can just go around building not-quite-a-mosques here, can they not?

“You don’t get it. Iraq doesn’t have freedom of religion. It’s a Muslim country and they can ban Christian churches if they want.”

Some of you in the back didn’t hear Michael’s answer. I’ll repeat it. Michael, you say that my question doesn’t have an answer because it is flawed. Since Iraq, a predominately Muslim country, has restrictions on building non-Muslim religious centers, a Christian church might be illegal, and thus my question is moot. Is that a fair summary?

“It is.”

Because the Iraqis are intolerant of other religions, they do not have to tolerate Christianity?

“I wouldn’t say it that way.”

Is my way wrong?

“I just don’t like that word.”

Intolerant? It’s meaning is well enough here. It says that they will not allow—that they will, if need be, forcibly ban—non-Muslim religious encroachment. So, would you say that those here in the States that argue the not-quite-a mosque should relocate, or that it is at least “insensitive”, are intolerant?

“They are.”

Intolerant in the same way? Notice that nobody here is arguing that the not-quite-a-mosque cannot be built, just that it should be built in a different location, one removed from the site of murderous attack committed in the name of Islam.

“Those who argue against the mosque are religious bigots. They’re just saying that their religion is right and everybody’s else’s is wrong.”

Since you didn’t answer, I can only assume that all levels of “intolerance” are equivalent to you. Pleas for good taste and civil accommodation by New York City residents are equivalent to their arguing for outright bans of Islam.

Then let me ask you this: are the Iraqis also bigots in banning a Christian church? Their religion preaches intolerance of all other religions. Should we tolerate that?

“You’re just trying to stir things up to get publicity and trying to polarize people to get some votes.”

In the same manner as Mr Obama when he stepped into the debate? Besides, you forget that I’m not running for any office, nor am I selling anything. Nor am I—and here you might want to take a note—proselytizing for any religion.

“Look. It’s simple. Building the mosque is a life-or-death test of religious freedom.”

By that you can only mean—because again, nobody is calling for a ban on building not-quite-a-mosques—that building the center in that precise location is a “life-or-death test”. Why is this precise location important in your labeling critics bigots and calling them intolerant?

“The location has nothing to do with it.”

If that’s so, then why not agree to move it?

“I’m not saying that. I’m saying you can’t have the government dictating where it should be located.”

You mean, our government should not act like the Iraqi government—a government whose actions you just said you support—and say where religious institutions can be built? But of course, nobody is asking the government to ban the not-quite-a-mosque. Private citizens are asking El-Gamal to consider his actions and the feelings of those in the community and move it on his own.

“It’s the same thing.”

Then your argument can be summarized thus: that governments should not tolerate that which you, Michael, do not like, and that government should not only allow but be complicit in obtaining anything that you, Michael, do like. Finally, that anybody who agrees with you, Michael, is tolerant, but that anybody who disagrees with you, Michael, is intolerant.