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September 26, 2008

The Mother of All JACK-isms

93.1 JACK-FM no longer wishes to be called a radio station.  We're applying for a commercial banking license in hopes of a bailout.

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September 23, 2008

On Learning

This is the part of the piece of writing I would use as the disclaimer, up here in the preface. I am not in education, I have not been educated on these matters, I am making stuff up as I go along, don't take me as an authority, your mileage may vary, contents may have settled during shipment and this is sold by weight not volume.

Please don't tell me how unoriginal this is, whose theory of whatever it rehashes, how much better it could have been stated with these links to those research materials. I have done no research whatsoever into this matter and am presenting my findings because I want to get them down before I contemplate where it might be intended to go.

OK. Disclaimers over, let's get to what I wanted to espouse.

I think there are different kinds of learning, and different goals in education.

Sure, that's not revolutionary, but I had to have some easily-digested thesis before I broke down what I meant.

Learning is an overloaded term that does not go far enough.  The types of learning we think about most often are glorified conditioned responses, or what I will henceforth call "imprints".  Skinner argued that behaviors could be reinforced, that through positive rewards, positive actions could be conditioned to continue.  Pavlov illustrated this by causing dogs to drool when hearing a bell.  Not, you know, that dog drool is a positive action, but that here we have a demonstrable conditioned response.

There is too much "learning" and too much emphasis in education on "learning" and too much study of "learning" to have people remember the point:  Learning is a means to an end, and the end is understanding.

You can drill multiplication tables and spelling words and the periodic table of elements into anybody, given enough time and enough rewards.  Congratulations, you can imprint a series of encoded information.  Then you can turn around and give a test that measures how much of the information was properly imprinted.  Is that teaching?  Is that really a measure of learning?

Supposing you can cause a parrot to correctly repeat the relevant pieces of multiplication tables -- does that mean it has learned multiplication?  If is passes an oral examination can we certificate it for anything?

Without (intentionally) politicizing the issue, the chief problems with "education" as I see it in the USA (the only country I've been able to observe "the system" first-hand) are that we are attempting to standardize the means by which successful imprinting can be measured, and that quite a bit of time and resources are devoted to understanding which imprints will "take" the quickest for which individuals.  "Oh, Billy is an auditory learner but Bobby is more of a visual learner" is hogwash.

Billy takes imprints faster through his ears and Bobby takes them faster through his eyes.  Nevermind that both would be capable of doing it all by touch through Braille, it would just take much much longer and be more prone to errors in encoding because a first set of imprints would be required -- those to "learn" Braille -- and only once those became second nature could any subsequent imprints be reliable.

There is of course a great deal of study also applied to the ways in which various imprints are shall we say unsuccessful.  If one is color-blind, one cannot make a reliable imprint of red.  If one is deaf, one cannot make a reliable imprint of sound.  If one is autistic, one cannot make a reliable imprint of social cues.  Dyslexia, synesthesia, I could go on but I have hopefully laid out the analogy well enough that it holds.

So.  The faults I find are that much is made of a child's ability to be imprinted in a certain timeframe with a certain set of codes, yet little is made of that child's (or teacher's) ability to understand the imprints being exchanged, and less of the chasm between the two.

With apologies to Douglas Hofstadter, self-aware and self-reinforcing feedback or symbols are to me akin to layers of understanding.  True learning is in taking a series of observations (selected elements without express correlations) and relating them to each other in ways that hadn't previously been clear (to the observer) but which are nevertheless valid and meaningful.  In other words, true learning is in the formulation of a new imprint, rather than the passing along of a regurgitated one.

The crux of the leap from "imprint" to "understanding" leads back to the self-aware or self-reinforcing nature.  Understanding, in a way, is having an imprint form about an imprint (or set of imprints).

"They" say that you learn the most about something when you try to teach it to someone else.  I believe that's true because in the attempt (to pass along the imprint), you come to a better understanding of what it is you are trying to imprint.

A critical part of understanding is predicting application.  Using fingers to make these motions causes the scissors to cut.  I've learned how to cut with scissors.  I practice shapes on paper.  If I translate that to a new application -- say, hair -- I have understood scissors better and have learned more.

A different example would be the invention of velcro.  The imprint of a burr attaching to a sock is "understood" at the level of being reproducible and desirably useful.  Further understanding, however, is required before the conclusion can be derived that a generation of children is coming up for which "tying one's shoes" is meaningless -- hooks-and-loops do not tie.  The same manual dexterity required to tie a shoelace or maneuver a button through a buttonhole is not required to line up two pieces of velcro; the manual strength required to gain adhesion from the velcro pieces is less than that required to close two lined-up bits of metal that should snap together.  Pulling the burr from the sock and putting it back on does not automatically lead one down those paths to those ramifications.

Rocketry (or any other examples of the militarization of scientific applications) is another area where certain ideas were hatched and implemented without foreseeing some of the eventual alternative uses and their ultimate consequences.  As new imprints were formed and different understandings reached, quite a few things were learned.

In a way, what I am writing now is something I certainly do not "fully understand" (or even "a little bit" understand, in the "learning" sense I intend).  That scares and excites me a bit.  I could be onto nothing at all, or old ground outside my fields of expertise.  I could be onto something revolutionary.

This will have to be good enough for now.  Over time, I'll make more observations.  I'll formulate new imprints.  I'll understand the ones I've laid out better.  I'll learn about my theory of learning.  Maybe it will be better (put) someday.
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September 18, 2008

Dialing 9-11

I remember like it was yesterday. Except.

So many ways to go with that. I remember being two or three years old and thinking that I had a hard time remembering things that had just happened about a day ago, but that I could remember things from further back really easily. So I guess remembering "yesterday" hazily is nothing new to me.

Anyway, like it was yesterday I remember my best friend telling me about his grandmother's reaction to the new emergency number you could dial: Where's the eleven? How am I going to dial nine eleven on my phone without an eleven?

Like it was yesterday I remember my wife (new! not yet 18 months married!) waking me up to tell me someone had flown an airplane into the World Trade Center and wondering what the damn big deal was, OK so some clown took his commuter plane and cracked it up. Little did I know it was a commercial airliner, and it had been done intentionally, and it was about to be repeated.

We had a baby newer than our marriage. Not even 9 months old, he was. We knew it was a dangerous world when we decided to bring him into it, and we knew it wasn't any less dangerous when we decided to bring his little brother in, too.

I wish I could say "it all changed in that instant" but I know I would be lying.

Not a damn thing changed in that instant except for the fact that we had an awareness level that had magically expanded. This crap, all these different viewpoints, the rhetoric, the not-so-veiled threats ... it wasn't just ignorable background, anymore, and it had come to tell us personally.

The world today is in so very many ways the same as it was about a quarter of a century ago. In 1987 we had "Black Monday", and that of course was after a few S&L's had to get bailed out, and there have always been economic downturns followed by the resumption of business as usual.

There's always been somebody to be The Bad Guy.

In the weeks following that dreadful incident, the country rallied like it hadn't in some few decades. Broadcast television did something unprecedented for what wasn't an overtly political "scheduled" event -- this wasn't election season, we didn't have the "State of the Union" or some debate. Yes, it was unquestionably political in nature, but it was also star-studded and it was simulcast on all networks nationwide. It was a retrospective and a concert they called "America: A Tribute to Heroes".

My (newish) wife and I sat, along with much of the country, and watched it, subdued and vaguely awed. Some performances were a bit rocky, but many of them were much needed and entirely well received. After a while, we turned to one another and said, "If this comes out on DVD, we're buying it." After Neil Young came onstage and sang John Lennon's "Imagine", we decided we'd pay $100 for it if we had to.

The DVD came out. We bought it, for about $25. It's sitting on a shelf, we've watched it maybe once. The moment has passed.

Nothing changed. Everything changed. Life goes on.

I'm very glad we have that DVD. I'm very glad we have those boys. I'm sorry that at some point we're going to have to explain all of that to them in some way that makes sense to their young minds. I can't explain how happy, satisfied, content, there's a word out there that might do it justice but it won't come to mind, that I am that we will be able to explain it with a concert "event" that so utterly captures the American response to that anti-American sentiment and action.

This is who we are, and this is the world we live in. Try to remember and try to keep it in perspective, that's all we can do.
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It worked. One more excuse down the drain. At least the plumbing's clear.

For my next trick, I will see if I can integrate the MacBook as well as this lurvely desktop. That's a trick, a project, a distraction.

So, for my next non-trick, I will throw out a brief JACK-ism, and then write something about that anniversary a few days back.

Speaking of, geez, today's the 10th anniversary of my mother getting her driver's license. Way to go, Mom!

JACK this morning hurt my head (I know, you all feel so bad for me) by playing Metallica -- Enter Sandman -- followed by Lipps Inc.

Yes, Funkytown. What, you think Stars on '45 gets airplay?

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Been meaning to write.

Then, you know what they say about that road to hell.

I'm an awesome paver.

I'm also an excellent driver.

Wapner's on at 3 o'clock.


OK. Got that out of the way, anyhow.

I really have been meaning to write, you know. It's just that there are so many other things to do. Like obsessively game. Or, well, those job and parenting things are pretty huge time sinks, too.

Now that I've got my browser all cozily reconfigured the way I wanted it to be, I'm re-blogging in ScribeFire, 'cause that's just too awesome not to give at least one extra shake.

This is the "I've been meaning to write" ramble, the blowing a little dust off of some things and making sure all the plumbing's still in order. The stuff I have been meaning to write, well, that'll have to get written in a bit.

There was a bit on 9/11, because that hasn't been done to death yet, and there's a bit on learning because there's nothing like the theories espoused by laymen. I think I might've mentioned something about a few other things to a few other people, maybe one of those will eventually get written, too. But, well, I doubt it. Geez, I meant to get back to this particular blog over six months ago and dropped in one whole entry, you think I'll get it together and keep it regular this time?

OK, let's see if this "Publish" button works as advertised.
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