Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To Err is Human...

Problem: In the last few years, many congressmen have gotten in various affairs and scandals and been forced to resign. It seems its too difficult for these powerful people to avoid getting into trouble. Yet people still want to vote for the platform the representatives ran on. 

Solution: Instead of having human representatives, people should be able to vote for algorithmic representatives. Computers can't sin, so there won't be any scandals. The computers will have set principles that they will vote by, and will be able to follow their campaign pledge better than any human. Humans are also too slow, and can never pass a law in time for it to work (e.g the Stimulus). An algorithm will just kick in some predetermined measures at a certain time, which will be much more effective ;)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NPR on Intellectual Ventures

NPR recently ran a full story on Intellectual Ventures and patent trolling. Most software patents are pretty ridiculous, and clearly the system needs some fixing. More on that in the future... 

At the same time Crawford's patent was being prosecuted, more than 5,000 other patents were issued for "the same thing," Martin says.
Crawford's patent was for "an online backup system." Another patent from the same time was for "efficiently backing up files using multiple computer systems." Yet another was for "mirroring data in a remote data storage system."
And then there were three different patents with three different patent numbers but that all had the same title: "System and method for backing up computer files over a wide area computer network."
Martin says about 30 percent of U.S. patents are essentially on things that have already been invented. In 2000, for example, the patent office granted a patent on making toast — patent number 6080436, "Bread Refreshing Method."

Things Gmail should Fix

Microsoft Hotmail and Outlook allow the user to view both his inbox and specific emails at the same time. This is very useful if you don't want to view every email in your inbox, but just click on the important ones. On Gmail, you either have to click through every email or go back to the inbox each time, which takes too long. 
Which brings up second issue - Speed. Gmail often takes too long to do things. Maybe its because of all the labs and stuff I have enabled, but Google is supposed to be faster than this. 
There are other basic abilities Gmail should add, such as better multi-send features,  better formatting options and more. There are also random features that could be useful, such as "Deal-with-this-email-later" option, but that could be for another post. 

Posting from email

One advantage of posterous is you can post from email. Email is always easy to get to, so you can quickly share a link or comment that way. In fact, I'm currently writing this on my phone in the subway. It does raise security issues though. Do they make sure the email really originated from you? That's what I'll check next.

Update: When I sent an email from PHP, they saved it as a draft so I could confirm it was really me. So they don't have any gaping security hole. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Math Education

Intro - Education & Math
Mathematics is probably one of the most important subjects taught in school, and the school system does spend a large amount of time on it. But they do not teach it in the best manner. There are a few basic questions that need to be asked, such as Why, Who, What & How. 
Why teach math? 
Its useful. Its wise. But how well do are these reasons applied in practice? 
Who to teach math to? 
Many people barely use or appreciate any of the math they learned after division, so they don’t get much from it. There’s little point in causing them all that trouble. Maybe people who have no mathematical inclination, should not  go through such a system. Of course, an improved system might interest some of them… 
What they teach now
I never understood (at least since elementary school) why they have to teach so much by hand. What is the point when there are computers? People give many reasons to defend the practice, but they’re mostly just attempted justifications for keeping things as they are. For example, some people used to say ”What will you do if you don’t have a computer/calculator?” I’m not sure that rare occasion ever really justified spending so many years on it though. Anyways, that reason has become obsolete now that everyone has cellphones, and soon all will have smartphones.
A slightly stronger claim is that true understanding only comes when you do it on your own without a computer. Except there’s no real fundamental difference. People rarely actually understand what they’re doing, they just plug things into formulas they’ve memorized. In which case, they are just like a mindless computer, generating an answer. I bet many people don’t even know why the most basic formulas work, such as multiplication of 2-digit numbers.
Also, much of the math learned doesn’t even involve any true understanding, its just techniques to do things before computers. For example, most of calculus II is learning unnecessary techniques to solve integrals. There is no reason for so many people to learn such things when they can have silicon “formulas” to the work for them a billion times faster without errors. 
What they should teach
I’m not even sure how much of a value there is teaching the understanding of every formula. Maybe for mathematicians, or in certain areas. But the main thing they should be teaching is how to convert life into math so the computer can solve it. Computers cannot analyze life on its own, and wont be able to for quite some time. Students need to learn how to take questions in life and mathify them. People can focus on the higher-level interesting and useful questions, and let computers do their calculating thing. 

For more on this topic, see Conrad's Wolfram talk, which discusses similar issues.

Posting on Posterous

Every now and then, I try out a new blogging service. I would like to be able to share links, comments and thoughts on the web. I normally use Facebook, but that limits the audience somewhat. I'm also planning on writing some longer posts, so I wanted to try a new platform. Wordpress works fine, but I wanted something focused on speed. I thought about Twitter, but I decided the 140-character is too ridiculous. So I'm trying out Posterous!