The Downfall In Education

An essay I wrote on education. The one-line summary? "We want to be happy, so we avoid quality education." How did I manage to write nine pages on that? Guess you'll have to read it.

[pdf] The Downfall in Education


The Trend Toward Mobile Computing

I was reading http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/20/technology/20cell.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all, which is an interesting article on Japan's cell phone market. While the point of the post was that Japan was ahead of us technically but unable to gain much marketshare outside of Japan, I realized that Japan might be a source for 'foreshadowing' of technology in the US.

In essence, the trend is toward increasingly mobile computing. This should not come as a surprise; it is a well-known fact that laptops are in higher demand than desktops nowadays. I think there are several elements of technology that are encouraging and will continue to encourage this trend:

First, obviously, are laptops. Aside from the drop in demand for desktops, netbooks are also helping the mobility trend. I find it interesting that we have hit a point where we actually demand slow computers that are small. It shows that, to some extent, we have reached a plateau in computing: we can now make computers that are faster than we need. Related to that is that we can now make them cheap enough that people will buy them just as a secondary or tertiary machine. And ultimately they're buying them because they're cheap and small, making it convenient for people to get on the Internet whenever and wherever they want.

Related to the increase in laptop and netbook sales is the growth of free public WiFi. It encourages people to bring their computers with them wherever they're going. People can now head out to a restaurant and, while they're eating, get on their computer and do stuff. As more and more cities consider implementing city-wide WiFi networks, it will most likely reach the point where you won't need a cell phone; you'll just need something like an iPod Touch and a service like Google Voice.

As well, the rise of cloud computing has helped the mobile trend. Peoples' data isn't stored on any one computer now; they can just log into their account on the internet and access all their documents, email, voicemails, and so on. They don't have to worry about syncing their data across computers and to PDAs and cell phones anymore; it's all handled transparently for them. Cloud computing makes netbooks and smartphones feasible to the average user.

Finally, the increase in the smartphone market is encouraging the mobile computing trend. Many people have pointed to the iPhone for opening up the smartphone market to average users instead of just businesses. With more and more phones coming with data contracts, it is becoming easier to depend on a cell phone for emails and web browsing. And with the speed increases in the mobile cell phone market--the average smartphone is approximately twice as fast as my first laptop--it is more and more feasible to use a cell phone as a small computer. To quote the article that sparked this post: "Many Japanese rely on their phones, not a PC, for Internet access." Smartphone manufacturers have and will continue to add features and power to their phones, resulting in something like a 'mini-netbook'. At one point in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow points out that many 'old' people think of computers in terms of laptops and desktops, while many teens increasingly use their cell phone as a computer.

Ultimately, for any business to 'keep up with the future', they will have to recognize this trend and innovate along it. I think that in the next few years we'll see a lot of advancements in the smartphone and portable computing areas.


Culture and Teens

The teens are important years in our kids. During their teens, kids develop into adults: they develop their own worldview. Over these ~6 years, they take what they have learned and are learning and synthesize it into a view that will shape their actions and attitudes for possibly the rest of their lives. Because of this, many parents, most notably conservative Christian parents, seek to 'shelter' their kids from the world, understandably. This does make sense: expose them to too much of the world and they take the views presented by the world as their own.

However, by the time that they are at most 16, it doesn't make sense anymore. At this point, most of the framework of their worldview should have been laid. They should have a fairly clear idea of what they believe and why they believe it. And so, at this point, parents need to be concerned about the other major factor in changing their child's worldview: college. At college, their kid (by now a young adult) gets to test their worldview against the 'real world'. They find out whether what they believe actually makes sense and holds water when they apply it. Unfortunately, too many college students think that their Christian-esqe worldview doesn't actually fit reality when they get out into it.

Parents can and should work to prevent this problem. Once their child has developed a fairly firm worldview, the parents have no reason to insist on only Christian music and G-rated movies. Instead, they should be open to exposing their kids to parts of the world--within reason. Their exposure needs to be tempered with strong teaching on worldview. Parents need to teach their kids about the worldview presented in the things they are exposed to.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying buy explicit rap music and R-rated movies. I am saying to pick out the important 'classics' of their day and age--the stuff that is going to have a near-universal impact on their generation. Teach them to analyze that for worldview. They need to understand what their friends are going to believe--and why they believe it.

And you are responsible to make sure that they do.

Is this going to take work? You bet. Is that a surprise? Kids are work. You didn't have kids just so you could have free slave labor, did you?


WolframAlpha, Bing, and Google

First off, sorry for not posting in over a month. I know a lot of you used to read this, and it's my fault entirely that I've left off posting. Hopefully within the next couple of months I'll be able to start posting regularly again. I'll explain what's been going on in a future post, hopefully.

I was reading http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2009/07/wolfram-alpha-and-hubristic-user.html and it kicked off an interesting train of thought in my mind. A lot of people have been talking about Bing and WolframAlpha lately. I am a halfhearted Google fan; I like their services, but I kinda have to suppress my privacy paranoia to use them. That said, I use Gmail and Blogger and hopefully soon Google Voice (if they ever give me an invite...).

WolframAlpha piqued my interest when it came out. However, when I used it, I ran into the same problems as the guy describes: the tools are there, but it's hard to get WolframAlpha to guess which tool you need. I've tried to use it for a few searches, but ultimately ended up going to Google for my info--although what I needed could have been easily provided by WolframAlpha. And I've only wanted it once or twice in the few months that it's been out. Maybe that would change if I could actually see a list of the features it has and tell it exactly what I want it to do. But ultimately, it will not have as much usefulness to me as Google does, even though I'm a student, which is probably a large part of the target audience for WolframAlpha.

Same thing with Bing. Sure, it's nice to be able to look up celebrities or sports teams to find scores and pictures and news and whatnot, but in practice, how much do you actually do that? For me, most of my internet searching is for specific, detailed information--either research for a school paper, or information on computer issues like setting up e17 on Debian. I don't use Bing simply because I don't need or want those features. If I wanted to have a switching UI, I'd use Bing. But most of the time, I just want a plain full-text search.

Oh, and the times when I actually do want news or something? Google will most likely throw in a "News" hit section that will give me what I'm looking for. And if that's not what I'm looking for, I still have all the full-text search results which probably are what I'm looking for.

Ultimately, neither Bing nor WolframAlpha are useful to me. WolframAlpha because I can't get to the features I need easily and quickly, and Bing because I don't need what it gives me in addition to Google. Neither have given me a reason to use them over what I already have: Google.