Archive for April, 2012

Spilling coffee and prime number connection to freezing

April 26, 2012

Two interesting reports; one talks about the biomechanics related to coffee spilling; the other about the connection between prime numbers and freezing. Have fun!

Step up and …

April 23, 2012

Be a scholar! (You tube video). A must-see!

Foreigners in their own country

April 22, 2012

It is said that the past is a different country. Mukul Kesavan makes a point about how in this country, there exist different countries in the present, and not just in the past:

Walking my children to their school in Brooklyn some years ago, I met panhandlers asking for money at the corner of every block. My technique was to either ignore them or to hurriedly give them change and move on. The natives did things differently; they stopped, exchanged greetings, and only then did money change hands. A fraternal acknowledgement of a poor man’s humanity doesn’t come naturally to desis. This has everything to do with the exclusions of caste. The caste system is distinguished from other forms of social differentiation not merely or even principally by its endorsement of inequality; what makes it unique is its ideological hostility to fraternity.

In India, the poor and the privileged, even those who are modestly middle class, aren’t divided by class; they’re divided by a line of control. The poor, to adapt L.P. Hartley’s famous first line, are another country. It’s a country that we write about or help make policy for — if we’re feeling curious, generous or charitable. Our concern is frictionless because their country and ours might be adjacent but they’re sealed off from each other. It’s only when this line of control is legislatively breached, when people not-like-us have to be admitted into our country, that we find reasons with which to repair the breach. Thus every episode of affirmative action in our history has been met with arguments from merit, arguments against a pernicious ‘creamy layer’ and now an invocation of the ‘real’ problem in Indian education, the reform of the state schools.

Take a look!

Denial of tenure for effective teachers!

April 17, 2012

Here are some thoughts from the latest Tomorrow’s professor post (Message #1170):

The results of this exploratory study provide some interesting insights into the differences in student versus faculty perceptions of an effective teacher. In general, students and faculty define effective teaching very differently. From a faculty perspective, an effective teacher should love the subject and be able to present it in multiple ways. From a student perspective, an effective teacher should be funny, interesting, and able to relate to students.

Here lies our dilemma. From an administrator’s position, if we are dependent on student evaluations to better our professors’ efforts in the classroom and, ultimately, a professor’s tenure and promotion, then are we not concerned when many students perceive an effective teacher as someone who perhaps does not deliver correct information but who keeps them entertained?

If we are interested in effective teaching, then perhaps other methods for evaluating teaching (peer observations, evaluations from those in the field of education, or the model of “teaching to the test”) should be incorporated into the mix. It is disconcerting to think that an effective teacher may be denied tenure because he or she did not induce laughter in the classroom. Again, if we are truly interested in rewarding effective teaching, then let us be assured that we understand the various definitions of effective teaching. If colleges and universities are committed to the idea of teaching and learning, then they must begin by defining this amorphous phrase of effective teaching. Research such as this study only begins to address this issue.

All these might seem fairly straightforward and obvious; however, in my experience, I have  found that these thoughts do need emphasis — lots and lots of — before they become part of our psyche.

Gratification: delayed and instant

April 16, 2012

A nice piece on why netflix did not implement the algorithm which won the million dollar prize, towards the end of which I found this:

The viewing data obviously makes a huge difference, but I also find it interesting that there’s a clear distinction in the kinds of recommendations people that work if people are going to “watch now” vs. “watch in the future.” I think this is an issue that Netflix probably has faced on the DVD side for years: when people rent a movie that won’t arrive for a few days, they’re making a bet on what they want at some future point. And, people tend to have a more… optimistic viewpoint of their future selves. That is, they may be willing to rent, say, an “artsy” movie that won’t show up for a few days, feeling that they’ll be in the mood to watch it a few days (weeks?) in the future, knowing they’re not in the mood immediately. But when the choice is immediate, they deal with their present selves, and that choice can be quite different. It would be great if Netflix revealed a bit more about those differences, but it is already interesting to see that the shift from delayed gratification to instant gratification clearly makes a difference in the kinds of recommendations that work for people.

Link via MR.