A fate worse than death

by reestheskin on 17/10/2018

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To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.

This is a validated Einstein quote (many claims of what he did say appear mistaken.

Einstein quotes

The 9 Cognitive Distortions Taught in College…

by reestheskin on 17/10/2018

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The 9 Cognitive Distortions Taught in College… – The Polymath Project – Medium

In each case, university customers are increasingly paying for management of feelings, rather than access to knowledge. It is as if universities have discovered what Pepsi figured out in the 1950’s, Your Customers Want Your Therapy, Not Your Product.

Inverse mentors and inverse role models

by reestheskin on 16/10/2018

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I do not like the term mentor. It is a perfectly fine word, it is just that I have a suspicion of the people who tend to use it. I prefer to think about people I would like to be like; or not. And think about how some people can help me; or hinder me. But the following exchange between Nassim Taleb and Tyler Cowen is fine.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Self-Education and Doing the Math (Ep. 41 – Live at Mercatus)

TALEB: I don’t know, but I know how to find inverse mentors.

COWEN: How do you do that?

TALEB: People — you know they’re doing something wrong, and you figure out what makes them do something wrong. There’s a fellow I worked with, and I knew that he was a complete failure but a nice person. When he would do something wrong, he was always caught into details. I realized that there’s only one set of details. You cannot get into more than one set of detail. So that’s one thing I learned.

Also, I find inverse role models, people you don’t want to be like when you grow up.You pick someone and you go with it. You have an instinct to know what you don’t want to look like. Look at what they’ve done, what they do, and then you counter-imitate. You do a reverse imitation, and it works.

It’s a forever escalator down to pain

by reestheskin on 15/10/2018

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Is College Worth the Expense?

Yes, it is the US of A.

What we’re seeing with the highest [student] debtors is unbelievable,” says Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for financial counseling at the nonprofit Lutheran Social Service. “It’s a lifelong maiming of their finances.” One in three holders of student debt today is 90 days late or more on their payments. “Once you default, it’s a matter of cascading penalties,” he says. “It’s a forever escalator down to pain.”

Let them eat chocolate cookies

by reestheskin on 14/10/2018

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OBJECTIVES

“Results from end‐of‐course student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are taken seriously by faculties and form part of a decision base for the recruitment of academic staff, the distribution of funds and changes to curricula. However, there is some doubt as to whether these evaluation instruments accurately measure the quality of course content, teaching and knowledge transfer. We investigated whether the provision of chocolate cookies as a content‐unrelated intervention influences SET results.

…….

CONCLUSION: The provision of chocolate cookies had a significant effect on course evaluation. These findings question the validity of SETs and their use in making widespread decisions within a faculty.

Link

On having a Welsh Temperament

by reestheskin on 13/10/2018

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Some tidy words from a Master

Anthony Hopkins: ‘Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie’ | Film | The Guardian

When I was at the National all those years ago, I knew I had something in me,” he says, “but I didn’t have the discipline. I had a Welsh temperament and didn’t have that ‘fitting in’ mechanism. Derek Jacobi, who is wonderful, had it, but I didn’t. I would fight, I would rebel. I thought, ‘Well, I don’t belong here.’ And for almost 50 years afterwards, I felt that edge of, ‘I don’t belong anywhere, I’m a loner.’ I don’t have any friends who are actors at all

On the ability to read — and avoiding meetings

by reestheskin on 12/10/2018

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This is from a transcription of a podcast from the Mercatus centre and Tyler Cowen. It is an interview with Charles C Mann.

COWEN: Your works are, in scholarly circles, very highly respected. Hardly anyone, if anyone, knows more about the history of the New World than you do, as illustrated in your books, 1491 and 1493. The breadth and also depth of your knowledge of the environment and history of environmental movements in your new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, again seems virtually without parallel. So I would ask, what is the Charles C. Mann production function? How do you get this stuff done? What is it you know about being productive in your path? I’m not saying you would tell other people to do exactly what you did, but what’s your insight into how you’ve become Charles C. Mann? What’s your production function? What’s the secret?

MANN: [laughs] Well, I don’t go to meetings. And unfortunately, academia is replete with meetings. One of the reasons for living in Amherst is that they don’t request me to come and talk to people. So there’s a huge amount of the overhead of, say, an academic job, that I’m very lucky not to have to do.

The other thing is that, because I live near a university, I’m able to use the University of Massachusetts Library. And there’s a bunch of colleges and universities around here, good libraries, a wonderful thing, and they’re kind enough to let me use it even though I’m like a parasite.

The second thing is the wonderful tradition of scholars in which, if somebody with a plausible interest in what they’re doing calls them up or writes to them, nine times out of ten, they’re very happy to talk to you about what they’re interested in. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to this tradition. People will talk to me for hours; it gains them nothing. I try to make it pleasant for them, but frankly, it’s sort of nuts, but they’re willing to do this.

Then the third thing is that I am able to sit down and read a lot of stuff, and my secret weapon is that I can read.

The business of academic publishing: “a catastrophe”

by reestheskin on 11/10/2018

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The business of academic publishing: “a catastrophe” – The Lancet

How is it that publishers can continue to make profits of 30–40%? How can Elsevier get away with charging, as described in the film, $10,702 for an annual subscription to Biomaterials? It’s partly that if you are a major research university you need access to all journals not just some of them, says Richard Price of Academia.edu, a platform for academics to share research papers. It’s a question of moral hazard, explains Stuart Shieber, a Harvard professor of computer science: the consumers of the research, the academics, are not the people who have to pay. It’s the libraries who pay, and the academics remain insensitive to price…..

In addition, publishers sell bundles of journals. It’s like cable television, you get a few things you do want along with a lot you don’t, explains one librarian. But unlike cable television you don’t know what others are paying—because publishers do secret deals with libraries.

Yes. But it speaks volumes about universities, too.

Economics Nobel: Paul Romer and William Nordhaus

by reestheskin on 10/10/2018

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Paul Romer and William Nordhaus, were awarded this year’s ‘Nobel’ for economics. I first came across Romer in the David Marsh book, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations. Since then I have read quite a bit of Romer’s more public work. Nordhaus pens great articles for the New Your Review of Books, too.

The FT writes of Romer:

One of his first big contributions was to show that “ideas” were the missing ingredient of economic growth, contributing as much as the traditional inputs of labour, skills and physical capital — and that this could help explain the big variation in growth and living standards between otherwise similar countries.

He went on to show that rules, or policy interventions — around patent law, competition law or subsidies for research and development — are vital to encourage actors in a market economy to produce the ideas needed to drive long-run growth.

The second paragraph is something I failed to fully appreciate before middle age.

But Romer has also said some very sensible things in this context about higher education (as readers of my web pages will know).

“In the old model, a teacher had to be so engaging that he inspired students to put in the effort that is necessary for learning,” Romer explains. “The problem is that that is not a scalable model [emphasis mine]. There simply aren’t enough inspiring teachers and inspirable students.”

“What we have right now is a reputational model for universities rather than an outcome model,” Romer says. “The presidents at the elite institutions know that if the competition were to be based on some credible measure of output or value added, they would lose.”

For me the key issue here is ‘scalability’ (first para). I wrote at that time:”Romer’s solution, a company he founded called Aplia is, I think, the direction we should be going in.”

I think there is a lot more that needs to be said about this. We are living though a world of massive expansion in higher education, driven by institutions that have failed to get to grips with the fundamentals that underpin their own value proposition.

Now I never knew that

by reestheskin on 10/10/2018

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In 1903, Elizabeth Magie patented the Landlord’s Game, a property-based board game created with two sets of rules: a monopolist set in which the winner took all and an antimonopolist set in which all wealth was shared across society. It is revealing that only the former set of rules took off, giving birth to the bestselling game Monopoly. Radical Markets sketches a vision of how society might look if it adopted Magie’s second set of rules. Unlike playing with Monopoly money, the stakes in this societal game could scarcely be higher, and the importance of this book could scarcely be greater.”–Andrew G. Haldane, chief economist, Bank of England

Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society: Amazon.co.uk: Eric A. Posner, E. Glen Weyl: 9780691177502: Books

Humankind and mediocrity

by reestheskin on 09/10/2018

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Premature optimization, noted Donald Knuth, is the root of all evil. Mediocrity, you might say, is resistance to optimization under conditions where optimization is always premature. And what might such conditions be?

Survival of the Mediocre Mediocre

I think this speaks to the value of conscious thought over reflex.

Publishers and universities.

by reestheskin on 07/10/2018

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It is easy to make facile comparisons between universities,  publishing, and the internet. But it is useful to explore the differences and similarities, even down to the mundane production of ‘content’.

This is from Frederic Filloux form the ever wonderful Monday Note

Dear Publishers, if you want my subscription dollars (or euros), here is what I expect…

The biggest mistake of news publishers is their belief that the presumed uniqueness of their content is sufficient to warrant a lifetime of customer loyalty.

The cost of news production is a justification for the price of the service; in-depth, value-added journalism is hugely expensive. I’m currently reading Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s book about the Theranos scandal (also see Jean-Louis last week’s column about it). This investigation cost the Wall Street Journal well over a million dollars. Another example is The New York Times, which spends about $200 m a year for its newsroom. The cost structure of news operations is the may reason why tech giants will never invest in this business: the economics of producing quality journalism are incompatible with the quantitative approach used in tech which relies Key Performance Indicators or Objectives and Key Results. (

In France, marketers from the French paid-TV network Canal+ prided themselves of their subscription management: “Even death isn’t sufficient to cancel a subscription,” as one of them told me once.

Millennials

by reestheskin on 06/10/2018

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As the joke goes, everyone hates millennials until they need to convert a PDF document into Word.

Edward Luce.

Politics as a dominant negative mutation.

by reestheskin on 05/10/2018

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If Scotland offers a lesson in how to shift the behaviour of a higher education system at speed without resorting to bribes, it is that keeping institutions in a state of anxiety about their financial future and in competition for political favour can be very effective. There are also echoes of 2013, when student grants were cut while spending on tuition fees was protected. Now, the evidence points to disadvantaged young people outside SIMD1 areas being squeezed most, even while the SIMD1 figures are being successfully driven upwards. Yet again in Scottish HE, the rhetorical investment in free tuition is casting its long shadow, and being in or out of the political spotlight makes all the difference.

WONKE

Theory follows practice

by reestheskin on 04/10/2018

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When working in Africa in the 1980s with my good friend Victor Pretorius, I heard a legend about an important tribe in Central Africa, the Masai. The legend claimed that a genius member of the tribe in the nineteenth century or earlier had the idea that cow’s urine was the safest fluid for washing cooking utensils. Compared with the previous practice of using far from clean river water, it avoided the dangers of dysentery and probably saved many lives. This simple and effective public heath practice was cast out by medical missionaries who had quite different ideas, more religious than medical, about what was clean and what was dirty. Neither the original genius, nor the missionaries, knew anything about the epidemiology of water-borne disease. Whether or not there is any substance to this legend, it has stayed in my mind as a metaphor appropriate for many of our problems today. Inventions such as Newcomen’s steam engine, Faraday’s electrical machines, and the idea that fresh urine is a sterile fluid, all came long before their scientific understanding.

James Lovelock, A Rough Ride to the Future. This is like so much of real discovery in clinical medicine, although the academy gets to write the history of how it is supposed to work.

A tool for water sharpening?

by reestheskin on 03/10/2018

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It just puzzled me…

 

The gig economy

by reestheskin on 02/10/2018

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Joe plays guitar in a metal band – averagely well for a 20-year-old – and is enrolled on a music degree course at a post-92 university whose most pressing issue is its own surviva. He didn’t have to audition and there was no real interview. He was told what to expect, but he didn’t fully internalise the message that he’d be better off if he could read music.

The problem is that the delivery and even the content of the courses these days are centrally informed by student feedback, which goes straight to middle management. If some students say that there’s too much classical music, modules get chopped. Coursework is dumbed down. New modules are frowned on (students walk away from the unfamiliar). Feedback is narrowly prescribed, and entered on to tick sheets. The spectre of student complaint lurks at every corner.

This wholesale embrace of populism in pursuit of higher recruitment and satisfaction numbers irons out musical minorities and marginalises any sense that music is a value in and for itself. Gone is the idea that study can (and should) be difficult at times, and certainly not always concerned with what is most immediate. Gone is the possibility of a musical democracy based on a critically informed public.

This article is about Music Degrees, but many in Higher Education will recognise the tune.

Crash landing

by reestheskin on 01/10/2018

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Europeans may wish to opt out of the global battle for corporate domination. They may even hope that they may thus achieve a greater degree of freedom for democratic politics. But the risk is that their growing reliance on other people’s technology, the relative stagnation of the eurozone and the consequent dependence of Europe’s growth model on exports to other people’s markets will render those pretensions to autonomy quite empty. Rather than an autonomous actor, Europe risks becoming the object of other people’s capitalist corporatism. Indeed, as far as international finance is concerned, the die has already been cast. In the wake of the double crisis, Europe is out of the race. The future will be decided between the survivors of the crisis in the United States and the newcomers of Asia.44 They may choose to locate in the City of London, but after Brexit even that cannot be taken for granted. Wall Street, Hong Kong and Shanghai may simply bypass Europe.

From: ‘Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World’ by Adam Tooze. This book brings to my mind Alan Kay’s comment when he was awarded the Turing Prize:’the computer revolutions hadn’t happened yet’. I don’t think we have even begun to live through the worst of the Crash (yet).

Carrot weather gets it right again

by reestheskin on 29/09/2018

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Facebook accounts hacked? I thought that was the feature not the bug.

 

 

 

Carrot weather — the weather app with attitude.

 

Marie Curie said: “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.”

Problem teaching

by reestheskin on 25/09/2018

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“I have been seriously attempting to raise money to carry out this science education effort ever since the Nobel Prize (in 2001),” Wieman said. “While on sabbatical last year I prepared about 34 proposals for support directed to private individuals and foundations, mostly in Colorado, and to state and federal funding agencies,” he said. None of the proposals were awarded.

Carl Wieman.

Nature cannot be fooled — only investors

by reestheskin on 24/09/2018

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Two quotes from Bad Blood: Secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. Only without much silicon.

“Henry, you’re not a team player,” she said in an icy tone. “I think you should leave right now.” There was no mistaking what had just happened. Elizabeth wasn’t merely asking him to get out of her office. She was telling him to leave the company—immediately. Mosley had just been fired.

He also maintained that Holmes was a once-in-a-generation genius, comparing her to Newton, Einstein, Mozart, and Leonardo da Vinci.

The reality distortion field lived on. Medicine is indeed tricky.

It is all about incentives

by reestheskin on 21/09/2018

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This is a scary story. But the lesson is (yet again) our inability to understand what makes humans tick.

The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History | WIRED

How Maersk was taken down by Russian malware, and how it recovered. The passage that got the attention is the bit about flying a domain controller backup in from Ghana (the only one that survived). The one that matters is that they were still running Windows 2000 on some servers and hadn’t carried out a proposed security revamp because it wasn’t in the IT managers’ KPIs and so wouldn’t help their bonuses. Link  

Via Ben Evans

The waste bin as the essential tool

by reestheskin on 20/09/2018

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This is from David Hubel, although the citation is not to hand.

Most importantly, today’s organization of science tends to deprive a young scientist of one of the most important learning experiences, that of thinking up a project of one’s own and carrying it through; deciding for oneself, independently, whether to persist or to give up and switch over to something else.

Academies versus universities

by reestheskin on 19/09/2018

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This is essentially about the importance of the ‘Long Now’.

What’s the point of scholarly academies? | Times Higher Education (THE)

Academies can also argue for different research priorities from universities, he pointed out. As if by “magic”, when universities create their own research strategies, “they all focus on medical sciences and life sciences”, he said. But their motivation is often financial, as they want to host subjects with strong economic links, he said.

On the contrary, academies are better placed to make the case for the less lucrative humanities and social sciences, he argued, and do not need to generate corporate research funding, meaning that they can be more objective about what type of research is needed to help society. One of the key roles of academies is “thinking about the societal consequences of new knowledge”, Professor Loprieno added.

Ouch!

by reestheskin on 18/09/2018

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I read this book so long ago I cannot remember when. But Perutz had a way with words ( as well as molecules).

Schrödinger’s cat among biology’s pigeons: 75 years of What Is Life?

What is Life? helped to make influential biologists out of several physicists: Crick, Seymour Benzer and Maurice Wilkins, among others. But there’s no indication from contemporary reviews that many biologists grasped the real significance of Schrödinger’s code-script as a kind of active program for the organism. Some in the emerging science of molecular biology were critical. Linus Pauling and Max Perutz were both damning about the book in 1987, on the centenary of Schrödinger’s birth. Pauling considered negative entropy a “negative contribution” to biology, and castigated Schrödinger for a “vague and superficial” treatment of life’s thermodynamics. Perutz grumbled that “what was true in his book was not original, and most of what was original was known not to be true even when the book was written”.

Art as cryptocurrency

by reestheskin on 17/09/2018

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Discreet music: at the heart of Brian Eno’s work | Financial Times

He finds the current art scene disturbing in its voracious focus on acquisition. “It is not so different from bitcoin. Art is the ultimate cryptocurrency. What the art world is doing is engineering the consensual value of something, very quickly. It only needs two people, a buyer and a seller.”

“And often the learned men of our time are only dwarfs on the shoulders of dwarfs.”

The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

Identifying with the problem

by reestheskin on 12/09/2018

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Is identity politics ruining democracy? | Financial Times

School leavers and manual workers have propelled Britain into Brexit and Donald Trump to the White House. Universities once thought they were the answer to inequalities of identity. Now they realise they are part of the problem.

Money matters

by reestheskin on 11/09/2018

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USS crisis: can the pension system be reformed? | Times Higher Education (THE)

As such, the 2004 Pensions Act is a prime, but by no means unique, example of well-intentioned but inept financial regulation. Over-prescriptive, it has led to the demise of the defined benefit schemes that it was designed to protect. If proposed changes to the USS are implemented, there will be no defined benefit schemes of any significant size outside the public sector open to new members.