The handwriting on the wall is Chinese

Comes the news that Nvidia just lost an order for 10 million graphics cards to AMD because it wouldn’t open the source for its driver. At a very conservative estimate, that’s north of $250 million in business Nvidia just threw to a major competitor because it couldn’t get its head out of its rectum. Somebody’s quarterlies are going to suck.

The really interesting aspect of this isn’t the amount of money Nvidia’s idiotic secrecy fetish just cost it, but why it happened – and why it’s likely to happen again, soon and repeatedly, to other hardware companies with equally idiotic secrecy fetishes.

Seems the Chinese are rolling their own Linux-based operating system for educational PCs. China is big – their pilot project is 10 million units. The Chinese offered Nvidia the graphics card business on all of these; Nvidia’s negotiators, being utter morons, tried to charge the Chinese for the cost of porting NVidia’s binary drive blob from x86 to the MIPS processor the school PCs will use.

The Chinese apparently didn’t even bother telling Nvidia to fuck off. They just ended the meeting and handed AMD the business. Feel the burn, Nvidia!

Now look at the bigger picture. China now has an economy roughly the size of the U.S.’s – by some measures larger. And a bigger population than the U.S.’s. And no patience for the bullshit companies like Nvidia spew defending their closed-source policies. This wasn’t the last such blow-off we’re going to see, but the first of many.

The message has been sent. Do you work for a hardware company with a closed-source driver policy? If so, tell your boss that policy is going to lock your company out of the biggest market in the world, starting now. And not just that one market, either; word of this will spread. With the Chinese to break trail, we’re going to see the same no-compromise stance from the rest of Pacific Rim and emerging markets all over the world.

Pass the popcorn. Heads will be rolling at Nvidia shortly – and if the company’s top management hasn’t got enough clue to fire the addled fuckwits who just cost it China and change its source-disclosure policy, short the stock because the company itself won’t have a long future.

And everything I’ve written about how economics makes the triumph of open source inevitable? This is what it looks like when those pressures are no longer from the future. This is what it looks like when they burst into the now.

221 thoughts on “The handwriting on the wall is Chinese

  1. TL;DR, I thought Longsoon was a MIPS varient, not ARM?

    Anyhow, as Linus said: “Fuck you NVidia”.

  2. Actually it’s MIPS, not ARM… and the existence of said project nicely explains what goes on in other place of the world: https://groups.google.com/a/chromium.org/group/chromium-dev/browse_thread/thread/356573d45d2a905b/520dd63e0c5a773f

    Apparently Chinese are quite willing to sponsor the port of software to their architecture… but only they can govern the result.

    P.S. It’s also a little ironic that country not known for it’s love for freedom is now in the forefront of the free software development: FSF-endorced Yeeloong/Fuloong2F, now this… funny that.

  3. Off topic for this discussion but too good to pass up.
    Seen on groklaw “RIM Explores Microsoft Alliance, Other Radical Moves”

    And what popped into my head was a picture of a drownding man yelling to someone on shore, “Throw me an anchor!!”

  4. They don’t care about free software as such, any more than they do any other type of freedom, they just don’t want someone else controlling their machines.

  5. They don’t care about freedom, they just don’t want someone else controlling them.

    Right. That makes perfect sense.

  6. Maybe Nvidia itself is using some patented or proprietary IP in its driver so can’t.

    It is also possible that binary ‘blob’ means source ‘blob’ – something hard to port or maintain.

    Why charge for the port if it is simple?

    But the economics can’t change – software is no more expensive for sucessive copies, and the more people who can find and fix bugs, the better.

    Perhaps they don’t want to get Stux, Flamed, or duku-ed. Even thouh there aten’t any md5 or root certs involved.

  7. Actually, this makes sense if you look at it from an Nvidia corporate point of view.

    First off, remember that Nvidia considers its hardware architecture the keys to the kingdom. Open sourcing their code would reveal that architecture to people who would copy it rather than innovate.

    Now, throw in the Chinese, who have no compunction at all about taking other people’s stuff and competing against them with their own designs. They also don’t let little things like NDAs or cease and desist orders in the US or lawsuits in China stop them.

    Now, weigh the loss of your competitive edge, likely for years, against a single order, even one a half a billion dollars.

    Which one’s more valuable to you as a company? Don’t look at it through your open source eyes. Look at it through your company director’s eyes.

    Nvidia’s decision not to open source the driver isn’t as clearly wrong as Eric is making it out to be.

  8. As I sit here, appreciating the grooviness of my twin Quadro2000 cards humming away, I have to admit to feeling the same kind of sadness as I do when I glance at my N900.

    I’m on a bit of a losing streak right now, it seems.

  9. “…First off, remember that Nvidia considers its hardware architecture the keys to the kingdom….”

    Just brainfarting out loud here – if their hardware secrets are so valuable (which I accept), why don’t they hide them behind a hardware API? Maybe some kind of FPGA implementation? That way, the open source drivers wouldn’t reveal a damn thing.

  10. Uh huh. So, by your reckoning, the Chinese *Government* is making better choices than Western private companies?

    I don’t think so.

    This kind of choice – based more on an habitual desire for absolute control than on the efficiency pressure that a free market price mechanism provides – will only last as long as the totalitarian Chinese state: NOT LONG!

  11. Jay Maynard is right. I would add that, if the pilot project works out, the Chinese will clone the AMD hardware for the next 990,000,000 units. That AMD order is a singleton.

  12. I’m with Jay Maynard here. I’ve seen how the Chinese do business.

    Within 1 year, that AMD chip will have been completely reverse engineered. Within 3 years, there will be a wholly owned Chinese chip manufacturer popping out an upgraded version of that chip. Within 4 years, China will buy all of its graphics chips from said wholly owned Chinese chip maker.

    China does not give a rats ass about patents or copyrights. Just walk down the street in any city in China today, and you’ll see clones of nearly every product you can think of. Many of those clones are made by the exact same factory that builds the real thing too.

  13. @hsu

    Within 1 year, that AMD chip will have been completely reverse engineered. Within 3 years, there will be a wholly owned Chinese chip manufacturer popping out an upgraded version of that chip. Within 4 years, China will buy all of its graphics chips from said wholly owned Chinese chip maker.

    Yeah, but….

    Michael Lopp, only yesterday on his blog “Rands In Repose”, argued that what is going to take Apple to the next level – and what should motivate every high-tech firm – is the necessity to constantly innovate. As he puts it, “someone is coming to eat you” – it’s never enough to create just one great product and rest on your laurels.

    When you tour those Chinese city streets, all you see are clones – hardly any innovative designs done locally. Even if the Chinese copy AMD’s (or NVIDIA’s) current chip, they won’t be able to get to the next level faster than the original vendor can. So AMD can make money on the next go-round with that next-gen design.

    And, since we’ve posited that their revenue stream is from the hardware, the best way to encourage uptake of the latest designs is by minimizing the software barriers. Thus, open source the drivers.

  14. +1 John Bell.

    You are so absolutely right John. The statement the other commenter made is just such a classic disprove my point by proving it. “Holy crap, the Chinese are going to make cheap stuff, we can’t have that!!” It is the same xenophobic nonsense that gives us “Buy American first.”

    The way to beat that is by continually innovating. If you are the original innovator then it means you have a major competitive advantage, namely you have innovative people working for you. Hiding behind lawsuits and patents is what you have to do when you don’t. Patents let patents holders sit on their laurels for 14 years. Why exactly is that a good thing?

    BTW, that is not to say I think NVIDIA are off base by keeping their secrets secret, I think Jay’s argument is pretty sound. The only thing I’d say against it is the same argument against DRM — if it goes analog eventually, then you can copy it.

  15. John Bell for the win.

    I completely fail to see how turning down business in an effort to preserve a tech fiefdom works. Microsoft might be an example, but that doesn’t seem to be working for them now, and we know they’ve given the source away in various deals, anyway. Apple keeps ahead with the continual innovation thing, at least for now. (But goddam, Xcode is annoying.)

    “someone is coming to eat you”, indeed.

  16. If the Chinese want to reverse-engineer it, they can throw enough manpower at the problem to do that without source.

    The fact is that, if you’re China, the only significant advantage to having driver source is exactly this…porting the driver to new platforms. If they wanted to steal, they’d just go ahead and steal.

  17. The Russians cloned entire chips during the cold war; they had the KGB steal the unix source code. The Chinese are more than capable of cloning hardware at the gate level and stealing source code for whatever they want. NVIDIA’s security through obscurity approach is a waste of time and energy.

  18. @jessica (in support)
    >> The way to beat that is by continually innovating.

    “They copied all they could follow, but they couldn’t copy my mind,
    And I left ‘em sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.”
    Rudyard Kipling: The “Mary Gloster”

  19. Now, weigh the loss of your competitive edge, likely for years, against a single order, even one a half a billion dollars.

    But, Jay, Nvidia’s reasoning for not open sourcing their drivers have little to do with their hardware architecture and everything to do with the fact that they simply want to develop one driver for all the platforms they support. The nv binary blob driver is basically the Windows driver. Their largest market is Windows and given various licensing with the Windows DDK and so forth, they absolutely cannot open source their drivers.

    It’s the same reason AMD continues with the fglrx driver, which is never going away. Ignoring the existence of the closed source AMD driver does a great disservice to everyone by masking the real issue — Microsoft.

  20. Way back when, I recall my former boss handing me his company laptop to see what I could do to speed it up. The answer was “Not much. It’s older slow hardware. You need a new machine.” Among other issues, the machine used a graphics system unsupported by Linux, because the manufacturer required anyone wanting to write a driver for it to sign an NDA. Since Linux systems expect to have source available for the drivers, there wouldn’t be Linux drivers for that machine. The graphics hardware maker no longer exists, and the “Sign an NDA before we’ll provide the information you need to write a driver.” policy was a contributing factor.

    That said, I can understand why Nvidia might make the move they did, but I suspect it’s ultimately fruitless. The nature of consumer electronics is epitomized by the life cycle of the PC. IBM _created_ the market with the original IBM PC, and created a set of specs others could build to. It wasn’t long before others did. Eventually, PCs became commodity products with commodity pricing and razor thin margins. They were fungible: given equivalent specs, there was little real difference between machines brought from different vendors, and competition became solely on price, with lowest cost producer winning.

    IBM has never been the lowest cost provider in any market they are in (nor have they understood retail), so it was no surprise when they sold the PC operations to Lenovo. (The question was why they hadn’t done so earlier.) We are seeing the same life cycle in other areas of consumer electronics, only an order of magnitude faster.

    There is an advantage to being first in the market, but the challenge becomes staying there, and like gambling, knowing when to fold, and get up and leave the table. There was discussion elsewhere about huge losses suffered by Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp in the TV business. The initial high end market for big screen TVs had been saturated, and Samsung was eating the lower end with pricing the Japanese makers couldn’t match. The Japanese makers had failed to innovate, and hadn’t added any value to their products that would command a price premium and get customers to buy them over Samsung. They should have recognized this would happen, and either innovated or started to withdraw from the market before long billions of yen. (Of course, there were issues of corporate ego and national pride in the way…)

    Nvidia may see their hardware architecture as proprietary, but not releasing driver source won’t help much, The driver is only useful if you have the hardware. Yeah, having driver source might help you duplicate the hardware, but you wouldn’t be able to do it quickly or easily. And by the time you did, Nvidia would probably have a new generation of hardware and you would have to play catchup. What Nvidia _can’t_ do is sit still and let you.

  21. What is wonderful is seeing such huge cash incentive for >> Open Source <<.

    Various comments have highlighted various issues and aspects, but this is a HUGE advertisement and PR boost for Open Source.

  22. >if their hardware secrets are so valuable (which I accept), why don’t they hide them behind a hardware API?

    That’s what Nvidia would do if they weren’t run by idiots. But what just happened in China renders any theory that they’re not run by idiots implausible. Remember, this is a pilot project; counting the followons, Phoronix estimates that Nvidia just threw away half a billion dollars of business. I think that may be a low estimate.

    Jay, you’re wrong about this. The software API they present in the driver is not the keys to the hardware kingdom – it’s the keys to firmware running in an FPGA or custom processor with the “hardware kingdom” (shaders and polygon engines and the like) a level below that. It has to be that way – modern graphics cards have what’s almost a baby realtime OS inside them, because they’re a flock of specialized rendering components for which something has to do scheduling and sequencing.

    What the source code for the driver – or a complete interface specification – would disclose is just another layer of software. Nvidia could set that layer where they needed to in order to protect critical IP, if they were thinking about how to make their hardware as valuable as possible by making it open as far down as it can be programmed.

    But no, they’re not thinking that way. Nvidia’s China blunder is exactly as idiotic as it looks – stupid reflexive baboon territoriality that’s going to cost them huge.

  23. Nvidia pissed off Linus, a man not easy to piss off. When you piss off someone as equable and as influential as Linus, you are doing something that is apt to seriously piss off lots of people. Should not do such things unless a clear and important advantage is gained thereby.

  24. Ni-how ESR,

    Nicely written. Excellent use of profanity,,,

    Zai-jan
    Flint

  25. >> The way to beat that is by continually innovating.

    Yeah…but constantly innovating is *hard*. It’s costly. Copying is easy and cheap. Also, don’t forget that there are limits to innovation; products like TVs are mature and people don’t need extra gadgets added on to them just for the novelty. Constantly innovating is not such a moneymaker as you might think it is, and really hard to do.

  26. As you stated in the reply above, $250 million would indeed be conservative. At 10 million units just for an initial purchase, it would have only gone up from there…

    If you recall my email from a few weeks ago, I suspect we may very well be seeing this again and again if things play out the way they are looking for Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows RT. The next large order Nvidia or someone like them looses might just be from HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, etc.

    Back in the day I used to specifically buy video boards with S3 and ATI chips on them because docs were available to write (and improve) open source drivers for X11. There were plenty of companies like Nvidia that made less expensive boards with Windows-only closed source drivers (Windows 3.1/NT/95/98 …) and for the most part, none of them still exist today. ATI was of course bought up by AMD, and S3 more or less ended up at VIA.

    One thing I can’t help but wonder though, is where would we be in terms of graphics had the mess with ReplayTV never happened and S3/SONICBlue continued to innovate? Only time will tell what will happen with the similar lawsuit over Dish Network’s ‘Hopper’ and another related lawsuit with IAC’s ‘Aereo’, but unlike S3/SONICBlue, Dish at least has the means to defend itself…

    [For those unfamiliar with the ReplayTV story, the cliff's notes version is ReplayTV was SONICBlue's baby, which was sued by the TV industry (ABC, CBS, NBC) over the ReplayTV's ability to skip commercials and "share" recorded programs between ReplayTV devices. This ultimately pretty much put them out of business, with R&D being the first to go. This also killed off further development and improvement of the Empeg/RioCar, which itself had been bought by SONICBlue back in 2000.]

    I dunno about anyone else, but I certainly miss the days of the S3 924/928 graphics chips.

  27. @LS

    Note – staying alive “is *hard*”. And costly. Easier to just lay down and die.

    Given that these are capitalistic corporations in an essentially free market, the expressed job of the board of directors and top management is to take the capital (the stockholders’, i.e. other peoples’, money) entrusted to them and use it to maximize the return it generates. Just copying, or adding “extra gagets” to mature products, won’t do that.

    Also, there are no limits to innovation. Yes, there are limits to those extra gagets – but what about whole new lines of invention?

    (In a Star Trek derivative novel I read a long time ago, which revolved around the first diplomatic meetings between humanity and the Klingon Empire, the Klingon protagonist explained that in their language and world view, there were only two kinds of things – those that were growing, and those that were dead.

    Think about that for a bit.)

  28. This is evolution in economics. What works best, survives and thrives. What doesn’t, doesn’t.

  29. Ni Hao flint -

    Excellent use of profanity,,,

    In this sort of context, profanity is sort of like using exclamation marks at the word level (as opposed to the sentence level).

  30. Once again +1 John Bell, you are hitting them out the park on this thread John.

    For sure, it is a lot easier as a corporation to sit on your laurels behind the government subsidy of a patent. It is easier to sit on your ass at home and collect a welfare check too. But why does that matter? Our goal should not be to make it easy on fat cat corporations, our goal should be a vibrant economy that encourages innovation, demands they innovate, and gives all of us the benefits of the exponential growth in technological and other capabilities.

    It is part of the same thinking that gave us too big to fail, as if the failure of big corporations was a bad thing. It is the opposite of a bad thing, it is the absolute genius of the capitalist system.

    Patents are just a poison to that whole process. Reward the dinosaurs and keep the mammals buried in their burrows. Nothing short of an asteroid seems to shake the whole thing up.

  31. Excellent use of profanity,,,

    I find it interesting that “fuck off” has a specific meaning in English that can’t really be expressed by any word or short phrase that isn’t profanity.

  32. Jay: “Open sourcing their code would reveal that architecture to people who would copy it rather than innovate.”
    I think Eric has already covered this in http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/magic-cauldron/magic-cauldron-17.html#drivers
    In particular note the following quote: “the time your competitors’ engineers would need to spend copying and understanding the copy is a substantial portion of the product cycle, time they are not spending innovating or differentiating their own product. Plagiarism is a trap you /want/ your competitors to fall into.”

  33. Eric, you may be right. All I’m saying is that Nvidia’s decision isn’t as overtly boneheaded as you’re making it out to be *in the eyes of the decision makers and investors*.

    For your explanation to become received wisdom in the wider world will require that Nvidia crash and burn because of its policy. They haven’t even departed straight-and-level flight yet.

  34. Sound and Fury: The flaw in that argument is that you have to constantly innovate by enough to justify the price premium you have to charge over the cloners. That’s a highly nontrivial task.

  35. @ Jay

    …world will require that Nvidia crash and burn because of its policy.

    Nvidia’s decision doesn’t really hurt the company; it is more a matter of throwing away a tremendous benefit. The lack of all that business doesn’t show up in financial statements.

    Financial statements don’t list opportunity costs.

  36. Brian, if it’s truly as big a win for AMD and as big a loss for Nvidia in the long term as Eric claims, then it’ll show up eventually.

  37. @ Jay

    ESR did say:

    Somebody’s quarterlies are going to suck.

    but, if I am catching his meaning, they are only going to suck compared to what they could have been.

    Quarterlies don’t show business they could have gotten but effectively turned down.

    I don’t know what the long term effect this situation will have on Nvidia and AMD.

    I also don’t know about…

    Their largest market is Windows and given various licensing with the Windows DDK and so forth, they absolutely cannot open source their drivers.

    If Nvidia had no choice…. they had no choice.

    But if they could have done the deal with China… it was a LOT of business to turn down.

    I do see one of your points, thought. A hundred years ago, if a public corporation was making money, it distributed a good proportion of its profits to its shareholders as dividends and the size (and apparent) certainty of future dividends determined the price of the stock.

    Now most folks care little about dividends – they want to see growth and make their money from a change in the price of the stock. Today, businesses are expected to grow.

    If a business’s competitors can offer the same product/service at a lower price and take away the business’s customers, the business has no choice but to keep trying to innovate – the business equivalent of the “Red Queen Hypothesis” – you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in one place. I believe that making video cards falls into this category of business.

    If for Microsoft reasons, Nvidia had no choice… that is too bad for them. If they could have complied with what China wanted… that is too bad for Nvidia’s shareholders.

  38. What Nvidia is trying to do is competion by obscurity.

    But this is a buyers market: The customer can chose. And big customers hate technical obscurity because the aim of all this secrecy is to lock them in and fleece them.

    Say the Chinese had used Nvidia in the pilot. Sudenly, during the national roll out the prices raise, or there will be only a Windows driver?

  39. @Jay Maynard:

    [Y]ou have to constantly innovate by enough to justify the price premium you have to charge over the cloners. That’s a highly nontrivial task.

    There are significant ways to make money that don’t involve justifying a price premium. One of those ways involves innovating in cost of goods, something that most semiconductor companies have gotten excellent at (but it’s much harder at smaller process nodes, which is why we see the current falling out between NVidia and its fab). Other ways involve good testing and integration support, etc. There are lots of semiconductor companies making good money dealing with the Chinese. Yes, it gets harder. But it gets harder slower as the Chinese standard of living goes up while the western standard of living stays stagnant.

    @LS:

    Yeah…but constantly innovating is *hard*. It’s costly. Copying is easy and cheap. Also, don’t forget that there are limits to innovation; products like TVs are mature and people don’t need extra gadgets added on to them just for the novelty. Constantly innovating is not such a moneymaker as you might think it is, and really hard to do.

    Business itself requires constant innovation. Not necessarily in the end product itself, but in how it is delivered, tested, created. If you don’t do this, you will be disrupted. The only question is when.

    @DMcCunney:

    Nvidia may see their hardware architecture as proprietary, but not releasing driver source won’t help much, The driver is only useful if you have the hardware. Yeah, having driver source might help you duplicate the hardware, but you wouldn’t be able to do it quickly or easily. And by the time you did, Nvidia would probably have a new generation of hardware and you would have to play catchup. What Nvidia _can’t_ do is sit still and let you.

    Exactly.

    @Duh:

    The Russians cloned entire chips during the cold war; they had the KGB steal the unix source code. The Chinese are more than capable of cloning hardware at the gate level and stealing source code for whatever they want. NVIDIA’s security through obscurity approach is a waste of time and energy.

    Exactly again.

    And one more thing. For those assuming the entire point of the Chinese exercise is clonage, let’s go with that — assume, just for the sake of argument, that the Chinese successfully clone AMD’s graphic processor.

    Now what?

    You now have the “industry standard” architecture, available from AMD and the Chinese, with lots of attention and loving care lavished on a driver stack that works well with these chips. You have competition and innovation and massive volumes driving the cost down. This is a game AMD knows how to play. Even if the Chinese become top dog, AMD will still be there to kick around for a long time, and to help provide pricing pressure.

    And then you have — everybody else. NVidia and the other graphics companies become the MIPs, the Motorolas, and the Fairchilds of the world, hawking their increasingly irrelevant GPUs to the shrinking market locked in by legacy applications.

  40. @Brian: ” Somebody’s quarterlies are going to suck.

    but, if I am catching his meaning, they are only going to suck compared to what they could have been.”

    Sounds about right. Financials include business you actually *got*, not business you bid for and didn’t win. And big one-time pops like that are two edged swords. Gee! You just got a half billion dollar order. What do you do for an encore? Depending upon who you are and what you do, you might be better off *without* such a win.

    “Now most folks care little about dividends – they want to see growth and make their money from a change in the price of the stock. Today, businesses are expected to grow.”

    It’s a little more complicated than that, but true in essence. The value of a company is an amalgam of growth and dividends, with different companies emphasizing different things, and sometimes wrenching changes as the emphasis is forced to shift.

    For decades, for example, Microsoft was the quintessential “growth” company, regularly posting double digit revenue and profit gains year over year, and getting a stock price in the stratosphere. They didn’t pay dividends for a long time, retaining earnings instead, but shareholders got capital gains. When Bill Gaines stepped away and left Steve Ballmer holding the bag, I thought it was appropriate timing. He left a winner, having built MS to the position it commanded. It was now Steve’s job to support the price of the stock. But *doing* so would be a neat trick, as MS was arguably in transition from “growth company” to “mature” company. Mature companies throw off great gobs of cash, but *don’t* have stock prices in the stratosphere. Ballmer’s challenge was effectively where to *find* continued growth, since the core market for Windows and Office was largely saturated.

    And Apple finally bit the bullet and instituted dividends when Tim Cook took over, because they had accumulated $80 billion in retained earnings and needed to do something with it. The usual use would be an acquisition, but nobody could think of an acquisition that size that would make sense for Apple to make. The issue had been a pressing one when Jobs was still alive, and Cook finally addressed it by doing what Jobs had refused to do.

    The whole question of growth for growth’s sake has been called into question, with Steve Denning’s take in Forbes as a good example:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/11/28/maximizing-shareholder-value-the-dumbest-idea-in-the-world/

    As for Nvidia, doing what China wanted might have been impossible.

    The current chinese government wants three things: economic growth, population *reduction* (via their “one child per family” rule,) and social stability while they accomplish one and two. It’s a bit like riding the back of a charging tiger and getting it to go in a desired direction while avoiding getting bucked off and mauled.

    To work with China, what I expect might have been required was an extreme level of *local* involvement, with pretty much *everything* including making the chips done *in* China *by* Chinese. TI is currently doing something like that (see http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4376069/Why-TI-does-MCU-designs-in-Shanghai), but not everyone is prepared to bite that particular bullet.

  41. Well, I see that I’m surrounded and outnumbered by the ‘You have to innovate!’ gang. It’s innovate or die! – except that telling someone to innovate, and actually creating an innovation are two different things. True creativity is rare and precious, and can’t be produced on demand. We seem to be moving in the direction of a Cyril Kornbluth world, owned by a handful of ‘the innovators’ while the ordinary people of normal intelligence become the morons by default. This is not something to applaud.

  42. Jay Maynard on Saturday, June 30 2012 at 11:29 am said:

    Brian, if it’s truly as big a win for AMD and as big a loss for Nvidia in the long term as Eric claims, then it’ll show up eventually.

    The benefit to C level and board people who were responsible is that by then the loss won’t be attributable. The business press are as ignorant of business as are the science press of science. By the time the shit hits the fan, no one will will remember or know how to look back and say, “This is where it all went wrong.”

  43. @LS: ” We seem to be moving in the direction of a Cyril Kornbluth world, owned by a handful of ‘the innovators’ while the ordinary people of normal intelligence become the morons by default. This is not something to applaud.”

    You have an alternative?

    There have always been a handful who actually drove the world, though that did not necessarily mean ownership or control. We don’t need *everybody* to be an innovator. But we need to foster innovation and insure there is a sufficient supply. A few are needed to innovate, but many more are needed to turn those innovations into useful goods and services. (How many people work for Nvidia? How many of them are the architects *designing* the next generation of video hardware, and introducing innovation in the process? How very many more are required to turn those designs into finished products, and make, sell, and support them?)

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately are the implications of the changes being wrought by technology and the increasing globalization of the market. An increasingly high-tech society raises the bar in terms of what is needed to survive and prosper in it.

    One thing is a higher level of knowledge and skills than has previously been the case, with the result that President Obama wants *every* child to go to college. (C’est tres joli pas, but it makes the assumption every child is *capable* of doing college level work. That wasn’t true when I went to school, and I don’t think it’s magically true now. I’m already seeing colleges who basically exist to be places kids who would never have gotten into college decades back can get a degree, and degreed graduates from such places whose basic skills would have gotten the flunked out of high school when I attended.)

    Another is that increasingly, you can’t be stupid. You need to be *able* to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, and if you can’t, you have a problem, because there will be little you *can* do.

  44. @ DMcCunney

    I certainly agree that public companies should basically ignore the stock market. In the longer term, shareholder’s are best served by the company actually trying to do well. Managing for quarterlies is not as good as making money in the longer term and having good future prospects. Managing “whisper numbers” is bull shit.

    Sitting on huge piles of cash and/or acquiring another company is also not in the investor’s best interest. Sure, the company needs working capital and a cash cushion, but unless they can produce a better ROI on the cash than the investor could do elsewhere, the company should be distributing the cash as dividends. And, unfortunately, huge piles of cash attract lawsuits – a thriving business in America.

    I would also like to say that the Red Queen Hypothesis does not apply to everyone.

    The American Alligator (a single species) has been around for about 10 million years; they have something that works for them and they do it.

    A great hotel or a maker of wine glasses or many other sorts of businesses need to watch for opportunities to improve but there is no need to change continuously. Hotels may now have 12 volt sources and Wi-Fi in the rooms – peripheral changes, but essentially, a great hotel can be a great hotel and make money doing it.

  45. @Gary Turner: “The benefit to C level and board people who were responsible is that by then the loss won’t be attributable.”

    I talked to a tech C level exec years back who was the long-term strategy guy at his firm, and he was refreshingly honest about it. He talked about his early days working at a small midwest radio station that made a few grand a month in ads, and if they didn’t make that nut every month, someone didn’t get a paycheck. In the job he had when I spoke to him, he said: “People ask me all the time if I feel pressure in my position. I tell them about my old radio days. Here, no one will even *know* if I made the right long-term call for at least 5 years. By that time, I’m likely to be somewhere else in a different position anyway. And it’s not *my* money. Pressure? *What* pressure?”

  46. @ DMcCunney

    Trying to ensure that every child goes to college will, in the end, be just about as good an idea as trying to ensure that every American family should be able to own their own home. Letting every student advance through the educational system (up to and including high school, at least), regardless of whether they have actually learned what they were supposed to, makes a high school diploma almost worthless. Letting every one that applies for a mortgage have one didn’t work out too well, either.

    In the long run, both policies are crazy.

    I have also argued in the past that, if students actually learned everything they are supposed to up to grade nine, that is all that almost everyone in the country needs. It is good to expose students to many things so they can find out what they like and what they are good at. But I agree with Paul Simon – “When I think of all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all”. Even most professional people, including almost all software developers, don’t need anything that is taught in high school.

    I don’t want to hear about how programming is a branch of mathematics. It can be, if you are a mathematician. But outside of various technical areas like signal processing and data compression, basic algebra and SOH-CAH-TOA trig is as advanced as almost any developer needs. Actually, I did some graphics stuff – clipping to polygons and such, so in about 10 projects in 20 years I used a bit of trig – almost no body uses it (but it is so easy to learn SOH-CAH-TOA that it is worth teaching anyway – most kids will forget it, but the ones that like to think will probably remember it).

    What you learn in High School is basically only truly valuable if you are going to become a High School teacher or a professor. We need great thinkers and being a professor is a good job for them to do their great thinking in. But as a proportion of the population? Balancing ionic equations? Factoring polynomials? What proportion of people need this? Some do, and there should be a way for them to get it. But for the vast majority of people, they would be better off spending the time in the real world learning how to make furniture or telephones or whisky.

    Another aspect about the college thing is that not everyone wants to work behind a desk. Some people want to work with their hands. We need good plumbers and welders just as much as good geologists and engineers. Good plumbers and welders make about as much as many professional people.

    A lot of people don’t want to think or pursue a skilled trade. They often end up in jobs that they don’t like, but considering what they have to offer, that is likely in any case. Even an technologically advanced society needs people to work in factories and warehouses.

  47. I can’t remember how to factor polynomials or how to do differential calculus, and I never really was comfortable with integral calculus, mostly because much of it was special cases for trig functions, and each one had its own rule to memorize.

    Nevertheless, given the (weird) fact that the speed of light is the same for all observers, I can demonstrate the relativity of simultaneity in about… well let me try it….

    You have a light in the center of a train car. Just as the train goes by a person standing on a platform outside, a person inside turns on the light. To the person inside the train car, the light strikes each end of the car simultaneously. To the person standing on the platform, the light hits the back wall first because it moves closer to the source so the light doesn’t have to travel as far. This isn’t just a matter of what appears to happen – to one observer, the events are actually simultaneous and to the other they aren’t.

  48. @LS
    >except that telling someone to innovate, and actually creating an innovation are two different things. True creativity is rare and precious, and can’t be produced on demand.

    I could not disagree more. The algorithm for innovation is this:

    1. Identify a problem — something that bugs people
    2. Find a solution to the problem
    3. Find a way to monetize the solution
    4. Make a profit.
    5. Profit.
    6. Goto 1.

    There is this crazy idea that innovation is some mystical thing. It is not. In my job I innovate every day. Innovation does not necessarily mean “find a cure to cancer” or “create a new paradigm.” Lots of people make a fortune with a cool new way to hang shower curtains.

    Innovation is as infinite as the space of problems that bug people. When everyone is absolutely happy, then innovation will no longer be necessary. Don’t hold your breath though (unless you do that thing they did with the rabbits where they innovated a way to oxygenate your blood with a blocked trachea.)

    Identifying and then solving problems, which is to say innovation, is absolutely something that can be done on demand. It happens every day when engineers and other geeky types try to justify their paycheck.

    Most types of innovation is easy. The idea that it is hard, rare and precious is the very poverty mindset that gives birth to monstrosities like the patent system.

  49. @ Jessica

    Most types of innovation is easy. The idea that it is hard, rare and precious is the very poverty mindset that gives birth to monstrosities like the patent system.

    I totally agree. If you have a talent for coding, you sit down at your desk and innovate.

    In regard to my previous comment regarding polynomials – don’t get me wrong – I realize that the world needs mathematicians; but for everyone who needs “a good basic education”? No.

  50. The patent system made (more) sense when everything was done in hardware. Try doing even a bubble sort in hardware. But in software, patents are evil.

  51. @Brain Marshall: “I certainly agree that public companies should basically ignore the stock market.”

    The trick is how you do that when you are publicly held. I’ve seen companies go private in leveraged buyouts precisely to get off that treadmill.

    Peter F. Drucker talked about the issue in his book _Up the Organization,_ a memoir of his days as the CEO of Avis Rent-a-car in the days of the famous “We try harder!” ad campaign. He said one job of the CEO was to put the board to sleep, and that he had never heard a worthwhile suggestion made *by* a board member *at* a board meeting. (No surprise, as board members tended to come from other industries, and wouldn’t know enough about the one the company was in to make useful suggestions.) Among other things, he advocated taking the idea literally, and serving a heavy lunch before board meetings. Guaranteed, an older director would fall asleep in the meeting, and no one would ant to embarrass the old guy by waking him, so various things would not get discussed. :-)

    Any publicly held company has several different constituencies: the shareholders who collectively own it, the workers who work for it and make the products and provide the services, the communities in which it operates, employs people, pays taxes, and it part of the economy, and the customers it sells to. The interests of these constituencies are not identical and cannot always be harmonized, and the CEO must strike the best compromise she can.

    What happens when a major shareholder wants the CEO to do something in the short-term interest of that director (“It will boost the value of my holdings!”), but may be to the long term detriment of the company? Say no, and the CEO risks being fired and replaced by a more compliant successor. (When Google went public, Larry and Sergey got criticized, because they could have made more by selling more stock. But they were careful to retain control, so they *could* tell a director “It would not be in the long term interest of the company, and we aren’t going to do that.” and make it stick.

    What I read about the whole SCO debacle, for example, indicated Darl McBride was in that cleft stick. He got painted as the villian, but he had a VC major shareholder pushing on him the idea that SCO’s business wasn’t selling Unix – it was licensing intellectual property, and SCO should go after Linux. Darl wasn’t exactly in a position to say no. As far as I can tell, what the VC hoped for was that IBM would buy SCO at a premium to shut them up, and he would make a handy profit on his holdings when it did. But IBM chose to fight the suits instead. The VC liquidated his holdings and left, but not before driving nails into SCO’s coffin.

    “Sitting on huge piles of cash and/or acquiring another company is also not in the investor’s best interest.”

    That depends on the company. Companies that retain earnings are “growth” companies, and use those retained earnings to fund expansion and growth. Sometimes the funds are invested in continuing operations. Other times they are used to make an acquisition, as the company wants to enter a new market segment, and finds it simpler and cheaper to buy someone who is already there than to build their own operation from scratch. Whether a particular acquisition is a good idea is a separate question from whether an acquisition should be made.

    But Apple reached the point where they could no longer delay deciding what to do. Tim Cook admitted they didn’t need $80 billion sitting around to fund continuing operations. They had three basic choices: continue to sit on it, and not return value to investors, make an acquisition, which would require they to *be* a major acquisition that would make sense for Apple to make, or pay dividends. That they should choose option three was no surprise whatsoever.

    Yeah, the American alligator has been around 10 million years essentially unchanged, but consider why that is. Evolution happens in response to *changes* in the environment in which an organism exists. The alligator is well adapted to a particular niche, and has had no *reason* to evolve. What would happen if its niche went away? The same is true for business, but the environment they are in changes a lot faster. They change, or they die.

    And I’m an SF fan. I’ve spent the past few decades involved in organized SF fandom, and one of the things I do for fun is help plan and run literary SF conventions. These days, my job tends to be the point man who deals with the hotel. Hotels must continually change to adapt to changes in the market. The changes may not be obvious to the patron staying in the hotel, but if various changes hadn’t occurred, the patron might not be staying there.

  52. As an example of the difficulty of innovating in hardware, the escapement mechanism on/for a pendulum clock, not only allows the weight to advance the hands a tiny bit, but the weight adds a tiny bit of energy to the pendulum, keeping it swinging way longer than it otherwise would. This is a clever innovation.

    Given integrated circuitry, doing clocks is much easier.

    And, as we have observed, innovating in software is what a developer does for a living.

  53. @ DMcCunney

    Yeah, I agree that with the way public corporations work, they are often forced to focus on the quarterlies. But if a major shareholder forces a CEO to do something that is not good for the company, he is essentially engaging in extortion and should go to jail.

    Of course, VCs are focused on their exit strategy, but the same principle applies – unless the VC basically owns the entire company, he has no right to force the company to do something that is bad for the company in the longer term.

    I realize that both the preceding paragraphs don’t actually work on the planet Earth at this time.

    When I said “working capital”, I was allowing for the fact that growth companies need more than mature companies.

    I sort of have a problem with companies acquiring other companies with their retained earnings. For one thing, it doesn’t actually change anything in and of itself. If better management or more available cash can help the acquired company become better, that would be good. But for company A to acquire company B to 1) take them out of business, and 2) get their customer list and 3) make company A larger so… um…company A is larger… where is the value in that? Particularly considering they are doing with before tax dollars, whereas if I want to buy shares in a company, I have to do it with after tax dollars.

    Sometime industry consolidation is good – Mom & pop video outlets compared to big video rental places for instance. But doing acquisitions to make the company larger or to move into a different field with the same company… sometimes it adds something and is good; other times the biggest effect is fewer competitors, which generally isn’t good for the economy, although it is good for the company… I think that they should at least be doing their acquiring with after tax dollars.

    American alligators have lasted 10 million years because the environment they need is pretty stable. It could change where they live so that they would have to adapt or die, but it would have to be quite a change.

    I agree that hotels must adapt to a changing market, but the fundamental business is pretty much established isn’t it? Wasn’t this even true 2000 years ago? Sure, they change, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but fine hotel or a fine restaurant… overall, the rate of change tends to be slower than video board manufacturers because the hotel is usually tweaking rather than innovating, isnt’ it? Larger or smaller wine list, more beautiful but more breakable wine glasses versus the current ones, business travelers want 12 volt outlets in the rooms… sure, it is changing all the time, but most of the time, the changes are small compared to the operation as a whole is it not? Granted, small changes can affect competitive position and profits/losses a great deal.

  54. I realize that hotels make significant changes, like Wi-Fi, way more people want 12 volts in the room, people want a gym, electronic locks on room doors that can be changed after each guest leaves (I don’t know if any actually do this, but they could), carpet that lasts longer, um…. in Vegas, adding a bit more oxygen to the air in the middle of the night… compared to the capital value of the hotel, this is tweaking, isn’t it?

  55. The real crime with education is the crap they teach… They could be teaching kids how the world works, but instead, to a great degree, they teach them how to become school teachers that teach crap.

    In chemistry, they spend most of their time on balancing ionic equations and (this is new since I did chem) learning that you can’t say Ferric Oxide (aka. rust), you MUST call it Iron III Oxide. They could be learning about alkanes (methane, ethane, propane, butane…) and the basic alcohols (add an OH – methanol, ethanol, hey.. you can add the OH to an end carbon – n-propanol or the middle carbon – iso-propanol). And the beauty of the periodic table… I kid you not… my son came home from school one day in about grade 8 and said “I want a job that uses the periodic table”. And hydrogen – a proton and an electron, is technically a metal – this only occurred to me yesterday… does liquid hydrogen look like mercury? And Benzene – it is almost like a metal around the ring but like an alkane when it comes to adding stuff to the carbons. Add an OH and you get phenol the active ingredient in that throat spray – I can’t remember its name – the only thing I have ever found to anaesthetize a sore throat.

    Short story – kids that want to learn at all could be easily learning interesting stuff about how the world works. Instead they learn crap.

    OK…. unless someone wants to argue about something, I will leave this thread be for a while.

  56. @Brian Marshall
    > I certainly agree that public companies should basically ignore the stock market. In the longer term, shareholder’s are best served by the company actually trying to do well

    Don’t agree at all, in fact, on the contrary, the board of directors of most companies should only be concerned about the stock market. Not, by any means the day to day ups and downs, but the overall long term growth of capital, by some definition of “long term.”

    Why? Because that is what they are paid to do. In most companies the investors put in their money with the goal of growing that money. That is why I bought Apple at $90 and sold it at $350 (bad move, doh!) The board and executive team are supposed to carry out the orders that come when they accepted the capital money.

    The wonderful reality of the market is, that absent the twisting distortions of the market introduced by governments, that the best way to increase market cap is to produce goods and services people want, and to be continually running at top speed to keep ahead of the competition nipping at their heels. Unadulterated capitalism is a glorious thing.

    (BTW, there are some corporations who’s charter has additional charges to the executive team besides growing market cap, but they are rarely public. However, that is why I said “most” above.)

    So again, the only thing the board and executive team should be concerned with is the company’s market cap, or more specifically the long term growth of that market cap, it is what they are paid to do. Failing to do so is nothing short of a gross, perhaps even criminal, breach of their fiduciary duties to the shareholders.

  57. @Brian Marshall
    > The real crime with education is the crap they teach

    No, the real crime of education is that I teacher from the 1950s would be able to fit into the modern classroom with barely a hitch. Education is one of the few things that has not grown exponentially more effective over the past fifty years. And why? Because it is run in a non competitive market run by a cartel of teachers unions, who have engaged in the grossest form of legislative capture. Which is to say schools are run for teachers not for students. It is simple the miracle of the decent, honest, hardworking teachers who really care about their students despite all the crap, that means our schools manage any education at all. In my opinion, it is probably criminal child neglect to send you kids to some inner city schools, certainly some here in Chicago.

    The solution for American (and perhaps Canadian) education? Stop all funding of public schools immediately, and offer a $7000 tax credit for every child between the ages of 5 and 18 that can be applied to educational expenses only.

    We’d have the best education system in the world in five years.

  58. @Brain Marshall: “But if a major shareholder forces a CEO to do something that is not good for the company, he is essentially engaging in extortion and should go to jail.”

    Nope. First, as a major shareholder, he’s an *owner*, and the CEO works for him. He pushing to have the company do something in *his* interest. That’s hardly extortion, any more than the CEO effectively saying “I’m the boss, I made the decision, and you implement my decision or I fire you.” to a balking employee. Second, what is “not good for the company?” That’s pretty much what the owners of the company decide it is.

    And sending the guy to jail brings up the issue of some of the commentary I’ve seen in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown that precipitated the recession that various senior executives of big financial firms should have been jailed. Er, you go to jail because you did something that broke the law, and you are arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to jail as a result. What laws did those guys break? They didn’t. You can justifiably claim that they were greedy, short-sighted, stupid, and incompetent, but what they did *wasn’t* illegal.

    “I sort of have a problem with companies acquiring other companies with their retained earnings.”

    I don’t. You retain earnings in the first place to invest in your business. It’s where at least some of your capital comes from. If you’re the sort that doesn’t pay dividends, you are almost certainly a growth company, and you are retaining those earnings instead of paying dividends to fund that growth. The question is when you stop retaining all earnings and start paying dividends.

    It depends on what they are doing with retained earnings and why.

    In some cases, they want to grow, and the easiest way to do so is buy somebody doing what they want to do, rather than do it themselves from scratch. Actually pulling off that sort of acquisition isn’t easy, and there are plenty of cases where it was a dismal failure, but if it works it can be beneficial.

    And I’ve seen a fair number of cases where the business plan of a startup was effectively “Establish ourselves and our product as valuable, and position ourselves to be acquired by someone bigger and better heeled who wants to be in our market and could provide what was needed to grow to the next level.”, rather than remain independent.

    I’m not thrilled with buying someone to reduce competition, but I don’t see the practice going away. Like it or not, doing so is a form of competition.

    But what’s the value in being bigger? You’re worth more, and it’s reflected in your stock price. That’s of value to your shareholders.

    Industry consolidation is inevitable. In any industry, consolidation happens, till you eventually have two of three big boys and an assortment of smaller niche players targeting specific areas the big boys don’t address. In the consolidation phase, if you are in that industry, you have three options: grow as big as you can to be one of the big boys left standing, be a small niche player, or be acquired or go out of business because you can’t compete with the big boys.

    Agreed on the alligator’s niche, but that was the point. The economic environment changes several orders of magnitude faster than the ecologic one the alligator lives in, with more likelihood of a change that dramatic.

    Yes, the hotel business is pretty much established, but we need to distinguish between types of change. They don’t have to be dramatic and highly visible to be necessary. But to mention one that’s tech related, consider that once upon a time, hotel record keeping was manual on paper. Now it’s entirely computerized and electronic. I had a case years back where an SF con I worked on had a problem because one of the things we printed and mailed before the con to people on the mailing list was a progress report that included a registration form for the con, and a reservation form for the hotel. I had to unsnarl an issue because a con attendee had filled out and sent in our printed hotel registration form to the hotel with a check, and the hotel wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. They expected registrations made by phone with a credit card. :-)

    A more visible change in the past few decades has been marketing related, and the rise of themed “boutique” hotels, catering to the luxury and status markets, where there is a cachet to staying at such a location. It’s still a hotel, but there’s a big difference the Ritz and a Holiday Inn.

    (And the electronic door locks aren’t changed: the passcard keys simply stop working at the end of the time you reserved the room.)

  59. “…but it is so easy to learn SOH-CAH-TOA that it is worth teaching anyway”

    I’m surprised that nobody ever called out that one as a racist stereotype of Native Americans. Obviously campus radicals never paid attention in math class.

  60. I’m waiting to hear from all you great innovators about the new and exciting products you developed so simply and easily…or, if innovation is so easy, why aren’t you all rich?

  61. @ Jessica

    Don’t agree at all, in fact, on the contrary, the board of directors of most companies should only be concerned about the stock market. Not, by any means the day to day ups and downs, but the overall long term growth of capital, by some definition of “long term.”

    Sure… “long term”.

    As you say, you don’t want the board focusing on the short term ups and downs. As for the “long term”, the best way to increase the overall worth of the company is focusing on earnings, long term. In fact you say this lower down…

    the best way to increase market cap is to produce goods and services people want, and to be continually running at top speed to keep ahead of the competition nipping at their heels.

    The board’s job is to try to ensure that the officers of the company are doing this.

  62. @ Jessica

    I agree that a tax credit and private education would be great.

    But I also think that what is taught is… non-optimal because so much of it is of use only if the student is going to become a teacher.

    There is so much room for improvement in what is taught. So much of it isn’t retained beyond the next exam. Students need to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. They could do that in more interesting ways. Beyond that, they could teach interesting material about how things are, from cells to elephants, from atoms to galaxies. It just seems to me that the focus is on the names of things and… the stuff you only need to know if you are going to become a teacher or a professor – stuff the kids aren’t going to remember.

  63. @ DMcCunney

    When I said

    But if a major shareholder forces a CEO to do something that is not good for the company, he is essentially engaging in extortion and should go to jail.

    I was being facetious and, like you say, the major shareholder is an owner. He is not the owner. One major shareholder shouldn’t be arranging to harm the company to the detriment of all the other shareholders. Ditto with your second point.. it is for the owners to decide, not just one big one with leverage.

    You retain earnings in the first place to invest in your business.

    But after the company has billions more than they need as working capital, shouldn’t the owners be getting their share of the profits as dividends? Microsoft was a growth company, but they made a fortune and… just kept it for the longest time. They could have been paying dividends to their owners. Granted, capital in the bank makes the company worth more so the share price goes up, but the old way was good too… Profits beyond what the company has any use for should be given to the owners. I realize that this is just my preference.

    You said

    But what’s the value in being bigger? You’re worth more, and it’s reflected in your stock price.

    but the company has to pay for the acquisition, either with cash or by issuing more stock. If an acquired company can be more profitable as part of the buyer, that is good. But simply having one larger company rather than two smaller ones doesn’t add wealth anywhere.

    As you point out, it is a whole different story for little startups to come up with something good and get bought out by a big company. That is frequently the plan right from the start – it is the best way for the owners of the startup to get the big bucks.

    Of course I know that hotels do change, and “boutique” hotels is an example of a significant innovation. Using computers is also good and, of course, costs a lot of money to set up. I was only trying to suggest that the “Red Queen Hypothesis” applies to some life-forms and businesses more than others.

    I also understand about electronic door locks, even if I described it poorly ;-)

  64. @ LS

    Native Americans?

    SOH-CAH-TOA

    sine = opposite over hypotenuse
    cosine = adjacent over hypotenuse
    tangent = opposite over adjacent

    All you need to remember to right-triangle trig.

  65. @ LS

    I’m waiting to hear from all you great innovators about the new and exciting products you developed so simply and easily…or, if innovation is so easy, why aren’t you all rich?

    The point is that software developers take off their jacket, sit down and innovate – they write software – that is what they are paid for. In general they don’t get rich because, if you have a talent for coding, it is easy to do. However, few enough people do have the talent, that the work pays well.

    I don’t know about innovating re: video cards, but writing software is easy.

  66. @LS
    “if innovation is so easy, why aren’t you all rich?”

    Innovating is easy, ideas are cheap. Producing a product and selling it is difficult.

    Everyone here can suggest some great innovations of existing products. If you read about how Eric managed to get a great and useful innovation into production GPS chips, you will see what more is necessary to execute an innovation.
    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4281

    In the end, the people who get rich are those who take a great idea, or any idea, and succeed to incorporate it into a product and sell it.

    But this is so everywhere else.

    Romeo and Julia was an old story. It takes a Shakespeare to make it a literary classic. The classic movie Casablanca was a string of cliches of the movies at the time. Nothing in Harry Potter is really new. Dan Brown was the third writer who took the story of Maria Magdalene as the wife of Jesus. In all cases, it was the execution of the idea that made them all-time bestsellers.

  67. @ Brian Marshall

    I’m not American and so can’t really comment about the quality of the US education system (although I did do a year of elementary school in California) but it seems to me that one of the purposes of high school is to teach kids to learn. Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic (the 3 Rs) are the fundamentals but part of schooling needs to be about opening up the mysteries of the world – both the natural, physical world and the world of ideas – to young minds.

    In my view, if this doesn’t happen in the school you are sending your kids too, then you are sending them to the wrong school.

  68. @Brian Marshall

    Just take the acronym of the phrase “Sex on holidays can advance happiness to outrageous amplitudes.” Remembering that phrase can help you avoid confusing big chief SOHCAHTOA with big chief SAHCOHTOA.

    (You’ve already memorized that phrase. Just like “correct horse battery staple.”)

  69. @Ms. Boxer:

    No, the real crime of education is that I teacher from the 1950s would be able to fit into the modern classroom with barely a hitch.

    Do you really think that an instructor from 1950 could walk into todays classroom and either be carried out on a gurney after some thug shanked them, or be walked out by the police after implementing the sort of in loco parentis no longer implemented by either the parentis or the in loco?

    I know what you mean–by and large contemporary schools are run on the same factory-industrial model, attempting to process different inputs into outputs out of date by a generation.

    The problem is that when you’re working on a tool that is going to be used 12 to 18 years from how you have to make some predictions. With a general purpose tool it’s a bit easier, you design it to be configurable and field upgradeable (The Harrier came on line about the time I entered the military. It’s still in service, much upgraded. The CH46 had been in service for a generation or more at that time. It also is still around). But to build flexible, self upgrading tools you need involved, educated, intelligent builders.

    This does not describe 90% of the instructors I had, and only 1 or 2 of the instructors in my family.

    There is a reason I use “instructor” rather than “teacher”.

    @DMcCunney:

    It’s still a hotel, but there’s a big difference the Ritz and a Holiday Inn.

    Not really. I’m not going to say I’ve given up on staying in chain hotels, but for the last decade the only difference between a moderate hotel and an expensive one is that the expensive one bills the cost of breakfast to your room and charges you for wifi so you can expense it easier, while the moderate hotels give you free wifi and a breakfast bar with COFFEE for free. Yeah, its’ usually Starbuck’s or Peet’s coffee, but it’s warm and dark and caffeinated.

    These days I try to stay in backpacker hotels for vacation. They’re cheaper, you can cook your own food, there is usually an area outside your room with comfortable furniture to access the internet from (here in AU I have a 4g puck that does LTE/whatever to the tower and wifi to the room) while the wife and child do their nightly rituals and go to sleep.

    Yeah, they usually don’t have swimming pools or workout rooms, but frankly the pools at the fancier hotels suck for swimming laps and the workout rooms have the absolute minimum of stuff necessary to check that box off.

    As to NVIDIA and the Chinese, the Chinese show what happens when you have no respect for intellectual property.

    If you ship a product, say for instance you build a new Red Dot Sight, and show it at SHOT every single sample will try to escape. Within a month distributors will have something that is almost indistinguishable until you actually try to use it, and it will cost 1/4th (at most) of what the original does.

    If it’s not something with a lot of high tech electronics or obvious…carp, can’t remember the word…design specs sort of…anyway, compare this http://www.condoroutdoor.com/602_soft_shell_jacket.aspx with http://www.tripleaughtdesign.com/Apparel/Jackets/Stealth-Hoodie

    Guess which one is the cheap knockoff. Go to aliexpress.com and you can find pictures *taken from TADs site* advertising gear that looks like their down to the logo in colors TAD never shipped, and for jackets that were made in the US.

    When you can put 20 well trained engineers copying the hard and soft of a card for what NVIDIA pays their build/release engineer. Yeah, the copying will never be as fast as the release, but your second tier game box builders will wait 2 months, the start shipping gaming boxes with cards that are spec-for-spec compatible with top of the line NVIDIA cards, and are only marginally less stable.

    And on the linux side, given the stability of the NVIDIA drivers anyway…

    (BTW, I detest NVIDIA’s driver model. I have to use these things at work. I hate binaries that I can’t for lots of reason) create packages out of. I don’t wish NVIDIA would crash and burn, but I do wish they’d release something more manageable and more open)

  70. Brian and others: SOHCAHTOA is a highly suboptimal method of learning trig., as it doesn’t indicate where any of this *comes* from; it’s just “here’s a magic method that does it”.
    A better approach is to learn that a unit length rotating about the origin traces out (x = cos theta, y = sin theta), and that tan := sin / cos. Now you can derive the SOH, the CAH or the TOA easily when you need them, and you also know what sin and cos really mean, which makes more complicated trig. much easier.

    Mathematics should not be taught as a set of opaque recipes and magic methods, but rather through derivation and construction of those methods, both improving the student’s understanding of the methods and enabling the student to modify those methods to solve differently posed problems. Incidentally, this dictum has inviting similarities with open source.

  71. Some years ago I read an entertaining piece that argued that US high schools are nothing more than daycare centers for teenagers.

    Any teaching was to be seen as a way to keep the children busy.

  72. @Winter
    >Some years ago I read an entertaining piece that argued that US high schools are nothing more than daycare centers for teenagers.

    That is incorrect (though there is a grain of truth, since schools are very much designed to accommodate the schedule of working parents.) What schools really are is a place for teachers to earn a living, and not much more than that.

    The reason teaching takes place is because most of those teachers are decent hardworking people who care about kids and want to help them grow and learn. That despite a system that burdens them with so much crap it is a wonder they can get out of bed in the morning.

    If you think of what schools would be in a competitive environment, it is actually quite exciting. Miss Susie’s school for the precocious, Three highly motivated teachers hire a couple of teaching assistants and start a small business. MegaSchool Corp, setting up lots of larger schools using the advantages of scale, perhaps acquiring Miss Susie’s school. Adventure School where education is developed as a continual video game that kids compete on, and to get through have to learn various social, language, and math skills that increase in complexity as they go through the levels. Schools that last four hours a day, schools that last one hour a day in support of homeschoolers, schools that last ten hours a day with lots of non educational features, to accommodate working parents.

    The possibilities of what a competitive school market would look like are actually pretty overwhelming, but none of these innovations can possibly be countenanced in the context of the “make factory workers with unionized teachers” model we have today, and little if any deviation is allowable. Really, it is the worst thing about American society.

    (BTW one downside is that no-one in Kansas would hear about evolution…)

    It is a plain fact that we have more flexibility in choosing toppings for our pizza than we do for what sort of education we give to our kids.

  73. “Native Americans?
    SOH-CAH-TOA”

    @Brian Marshall: Back when I was in high school (ca. 1962), I was taught about “the old Indian Chief Sohcahtoa” as a mnemonic.

    @Sound and Fury: While you were paying attention in your Advanced Placement Math class, the more normal students were thinking up ways to convince Barbara Ann (or Rhonda, or Peggy Sue) to go out with them. Even SOHCAHTOA was pretty much beyond them….

  74. What happens when a major shareholder wants the CEO to do something in the short-term interest of that director (“It will boost the value of my holdings!”), but may be to the long term detriment of the company?

    The CEO has to be able to make the case to the board as a whole that the long-term interest prevails, because the true value of a share of stock is the discounted present value of all future money that can be expected to flow to the shareholder. The tough part is making the case to people who seem to have a fixation on the quarterlies.

    At my company, I have seen first-hand the push at the end of a quarter to complete work so that revenue from that project can be booked in this quarter rather than next. I have been paid overtime to push some projects over the line. And it doesn’t make a damned bit of sense to me. Whenever we do that, we are literally robbing the next quarter’s P&L to make this one look better. In 90 days, the net effect will be zero, if not worse (due to that “what do you do for an encore” mentality), but people like me got paid extra money to produce that effect.

    I don’t think my company is atypical. I think one big reason for this mindset is that we have to make the money now, because next quarter some new government regulation may make it impossible to earn it then. With Taxmageddon approaching, this is going to get really bad. Companies will do anything to recognize profits before the “Bush” tax rate cuts expire, even if that means showing a loss in the first year of the higher rates, because the net effect after tax will be beneficial to their stockholders.

    Science and technology can only progress because the laws of nature are fixed, so results are repeatable. Business cannot trust that the regulatory/tax regime in the future will remain the same, so long-range planning suffers. The single most pro-business policy any government could adopt would be to require that all new laws/regulations/tax-rate increases be announced five years before they take effect. But legislators and regulators are incapable of maintaining a stable environment.

  75. sine = opposite over hypotenuse
    cosine = adjacent over hypotenuse
    tangent = opposite over adjacent

    I agree with Sound and Fury.

    I memorize it by visualizing the angle between the positive x-axis and the hypotenuse of a ray from (0,0) to a point on a unit circle, and remember that sin(θ)=y, which makes cos(θ)=x and tan(θ)=y/x. In doing so, I’ve also automatically remembered the basics of polar/rectangular coordinate conversions.

  76. @ TomM

    it seems to me that one of the purposes of high school is to teach kids to learn.

    I agree. I think the best way to do this is to teach interesting stuff so that the kids who are going to learn to learn and love to learn will, in fact, learn to learn and learn. Not all of them will – some will fail to learn much (in which case the 3-Rs is all that you can hope for).

    I ranted on about this last year, and then again last night, but I believe that 2 of the major flaws in the education system are:

    1. There is so much emphasis on the names of things – which is boring – and formal processes (ex. balancing ionic equations and factoring polynomials) – which is extremely boring but more difficult to learn, so they spend more time on it and it is of no use to anyone not intending to become a teacher, professor or chemist. Why not teach about the chemistry of the stuff around us? At least some of the kids will be interested and will learn.

    2. Practically everything you learn in high school is of no use to anyone, ever. It is daycare with discipline (the Japanese approach) to make well disciplined factory workers. We need factory workers, but high school is an expensive way to train them and it drives anyone that actually wants to learn absolutely nuts.

    In the future, if I feel the need to rant on this subject, I will just quote Paul Simon….

    When I think of all the crap I learned in high school,
    It’s a wonder I can think at all,

    and leave it at that.

  77. DMcCunney on Saturday, June 30 2012 at 8:19 pm said:
    >What happens when a major shareholder wants the CEO to do something in the short-term interest of that director

    I’m addicted to cheesecake. Most of the time I can resist, but occasionally I indulge myself. For sure, it is in the short term interest of my taste buds, to the long term detriment of my butt. However, it is a trade off I make occasionally.

    Why can’t corporations do the same? Certainly it is complicated by the fact there are a whole bunch of shareholders involved, but that is why they have boards of directors, shareholder meetings, and grilling of CEOs by shareholders to explain their decisions.

    Just remember my friends and fellow contributors — a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.

  78. @ Erbo

    When I learned SOH-CAH-TOA, there was never any reference to Indians. It just has a rhythm that made it easy for me to remember.

  79. @ Sound and Fury

    SOHCAHTOA is a highly suboptimal method of learning trig…A better approach is to learn that a unit length rotating about the origin traces out (x = cos theta, y = sin theta), and that tan := sin / cos. Now you can derive the SOH, the CAH or the TOA easily when you need them, and you also know what sin and cos really mean, which makes more complicated trig. much easier.

    This is a perfect example of the crap you learn in high school. Who ever uses this? At least SOH-CAH-TOA is easy to remember, so a few kids will remember it and be able to do trig. What you proposed is what makes people that want to learn hate school – it is difficult to learn, boring and useless to everyone that doesn’t want to become a math teacher or a mathematician.

    The fact is that even for almost all professions (geologist, manager, person that works in HR, quality control, almost all software developers, psychologist, sociologist, teachers…) you need basic arithmetic. Some more technical people need to know about square roots, algebra and maybe a bit of trig (you know, if you are going to become a software developer that does graphics or a surveyor, which also needs some statistics).

    But, in our advanced technological society, ALMOST NOBODY NEEDS MATH!

    Yeah, I AM yelling. It is SO stupid. It makes kids hate school and hate learning, particularly people like us, who are people that do like learning – the ones who advance society.

    If, out of a population of a city, I got a dollar from everyone who has never never factored a polynomial outside school and paid a thousand dollars for everyone who had, I would make a fortune.

    There are exceptions, of course… ex. signal processing, geophysics, various kinds of engineering.

  80. @ Winter

    Any teaching was to be seen as a way to keep the children busy.

    in an expensive way, which is stupid AND MAKE THEM HATE LEARNING because they do it is such a boring way, which is criminal.

  81. Oops… another mistake….

    There are exceptions, of course… ex. signal processing, geophysics, various kinds of engineering.

    Almost none of these folks need to factor polynomials, either. Outside a university, who DOES factor polynomials? Engineers (ex. mechanical engineers doing finite element analysis) generally use software – you aren’t going to do it with pencil and paper.

  82. Sound and Fury’s approach to learning trig from first principles appeals to people (like him) who love math. But, as I may have mentioned in the past, as a proportion of people in a city, practically no one needs math.

    All this approach does is make almost all kids hate math – THAT is sub-optimal.

  83. @LS:

    Yeah…but constantly innovating is *hard*. It’s costly.

    Which is why companies that do a good job of it, such as Apple, are handsomely rewarded. What, you think Apple’s patents (which just now started being seriously litigated) are why they are rolling in money hand over fist?

    Yeah…but constantly innovating is *hard*. It’s costly. Copying is easy and cheap.

    Either you can innovate or you can’t. If you can’t innovate and all you have to copy is the end product, then you won’t be able to make it well or cheaply, no matter how cheap your labor.

    Also, don’t forget that there are limits to innovation; products like TVs are mature and people don’t need extra gadgets added on to them just for the novelty.

    Yeah, yeah. Everything worth patenting was patented in the 1800s. We’ve all heard that before. But it’s not just about adding extra gadgets. It’s about bringing the cost down and taking them to the masses. It’s about better picture quality for less money. It’s about LED backlighting instead of LCDs.

    Constantly innovating is not such a moneymaker as you might think it is, and really hard to do.

    McDonald’s has some very innovative people who are very well compensated. They also have some people who they almost certainly don’t want innovating, and they don’t compensate those very well at all.

    I’m not sure what your point is here. Patents as currently implemented protect the first one to get to the patent office with a vague description of a combination transporter/replicator. They are a drain on society. No amount of handwaving about how innovation is hard will convince me otherwise.

    But if innovation, as you now posit, is not a moneymaker, then there is no reason to protect it with patents. If, on the other hand and as the example of Apple seems to show, it actually is a moneymaker, then there is no reason to protect it with patents, because the true innovators will be off working on the next thing while the cloners are busy with the last thing.

  84. I said

    All [Sound and Fury's] approach does is make almost all kids hate math – THAT is sub-optimal.

    What I should have said is…

    …approach does is make almost all kids hate learning

    Most kids don’t need… ok, ok, I have said that enough times. I will just listen to Paul Simon in my head.

  85. @Brian Marshall:

    This is a perfect example of the crap you learn in high school.

    I don’t think so, but obviously your mileage varies.

    Who ever uses this? At least SOH-CAH-TOA is easy to remember, so a few kids will remember it and be able to do trig.

    I never heard of SOH-CAH-TOA, so I had to look it up. I think your statement is completely wrong. Just because you know an acronym that describes a definition doesn’t mean that you understand the definition, and anybody who actually knows what a “hypotenuse” is probably doesn’t need this stupid mnemonic.

    What you proposed is what makes people that want to learn hate school – it is difficult to learn, boring and useless to everyone that doesn’t want to become a math teacher or a mathematician.

    I disagree completely. What is boring and makes people hate school is rote problem solving and teaching to standardized tests designed to find out if you know how to do rote problem solving. Learning about how things work is the interesting part of school, and any teacher who can teach this is golden.

    The fact is that even for almost all professions (geologist, manager, person that works in HR, quality control, almost all software developers, psychologist, sociologist, teachers…) you need basic arithmetic.

    This sort of attitude is part of why we have terrible innumeracy, which costs society a great deal. And it’s simply not true, although it may appear so to a first approximation.

    Some more technical people need to know about square roots, algebra and maybe a bit of trig (you know, if you are going to become a software developer that does graphics or a surveyor, which also needs some statistics).

    Believe it or not, everybody needs calculus. No, they don’t need to remember everything from calculus, but they ought to remember a bit about limits and be able to understand what is happening when they work a compound interest problem. And as you mentioned in a subsequent post, at least some people should learn statistics. Personally, I think everybody should learn enough about statistics and probability to understand likelihood of dying in a car vs. an airplane. Or how, while it may be amusing to play the lottery and dream about winning, it’s not a real substitute for a retirement plan. Or be able to understand number of deaths from coal vs. nuclear. Small things like that. But that’s just my naive belief in the power of an informed electorate talking.

    But, in our advanced technological society, ALMOST NOBODY NEEDS MATH!

    We only have an advanced technological society because enough people do enough math.

    Yeah, I AM yelling. It is SO stupid. It makes kids hate school and hate learning, particularly people like us, who are people that do like learning – the ones who advance society.

    I won’t disagree that more streaming should happen, or that some people should leave school at 16, or that college isn’t for everyone, or that the system is far from perfect. But arguing that “people who advance society” shouldn’t be taught math theory is stupid. Especially since obviously some of them will need it, and the precision that even a perfect high school could bring to bear on deciding how smart someone is and what they could do and what they should learn just isn’t going to be all that high, even in a creepy Minority Report world.

    If, out of a population of a city, I got a dollar from everyone who has never never factored a polynomial outside school and paid a thousand dollars for everyone who had, I would make a fortune.

    You should probably pick your city extremely carefully. I wouldn’t be so sanguine about where I live.

  86. Brian: my approach doesn’t, in fact, make kids hate maths /or/ learning. What makes kids hate maths is being taught opaque methods (“follow this recipe to factorise a polynomial”). Because they have no idea what a polynomial /means/ or why anyone would /want/ to factorise it, it’s just gibberish to them. If, instead, you develop ideas naturally and encourage children to ‘discover’ things for themselves (with, of course, a lot of subtle guiding from the teacher), suddenly there’s hardly anyone who hates maths.
    If you don’t believe that this works, look into NRICH and the Millenium Maths Project, who have successfully implemented ideas like these.

    As for “no one needs math[sic]“, I merely submit http://xkcd.com/1050/ for your consideration.

  87. I learned it as “Oscar had a heap of apples”, and I use it when building in Second Life. But then, I build by making prims to the exact dimensions I want, and placing them by figuring out where they need to go, and at what angle, and…

    I don’t doubt that many people have no use for it at all.

  88. @ Patrick Maupin

    Just because you know an acronym that describes a definition doesn’t mean that you understand the definition, and anybody who actually knows what a “hypotenuse” is probably doesn’t need this stupid mnemonic.

    The point is that some kids will remember SOH-CAH-TOA and, later in life, be able to do trig. For almost everybody in ANY city… why would you want to be able understand trig from first principles? Obviously some people do – we need mathematicians, but managers, geologists, cooks, factory workers, doctors… they don’t need trig from first principles, but they might benefit from being able to do trig.

    This sort of attitude is part of why we have terrible innumeracy, which costs society a great deal.

    If it cost society a great deal, it would matter if people remembered the stuff – who remembers how to derive trig or factor polynomials? (Factor is a verb as well as a noun.)

    Believe it or not, everybody needs calculus.

    This is ridiculous.

    No, they don’t need to remember everything from calculus, but they ought to remember a bit about limits and be able to understand what is happening when they work a compound interest problem.

    I hate to break the news to you but virtually no one can or needs to be able to “work a compound interest problem”. They just need to understand how it works, which can be taught in about 5 minutes – not how to solve it; the fact that if you compound it long enough, it increases WAY more than you would expect. So, teach the principle and leave the math to the folks who like it.

    People should know what an “average” is. Beyond that, trying to teach most kids about standard deviations is teaching them something that if they retained it (which almost none will) they will never use.

    I agree that a few hours of probability would be of benefit to everyone. But again, knowing how to actually do the math beyond “1 in 10″ is a lot more risk than “1 in 100″ is something that almost no one does. I was going to say “It would help people to know the implications of the zero and double-zero on a roulette wheel” but I doubt if it would measurably affect the number of people who play roulette.

    I said:

    If, out of a population of a city, I got a dollar from everyone who has never never factored a polynomial outside school and paid a thousand dollars for everyone who had, I would make a fortune.

    and you said:

    You should probably pick your city extremely carefully. I wouldn’t be so sanguine about where I live.

    I don’t know…. Cambridge? Come on… pick a hundred thousand people at random from a major city, hell pick only professional people, who knows how to factor a polynomial?

    @ Sound and Fury

    Because they have no idea what a polynomial /means/ or why anyone would /want/ to factorise it, it’s just gibberish to them.

    Polynomials are just gibberish to all but a tiny minority of people – a small minority of professors and a minority of engineers and, I don’t know… software developers that write programs that geophysicists use?

    Really – even in ESR’s blog, here, mostly people with well above normal intelligence and a strong interest in ideas, mostly in professional jobs, how many people factor polynomials? Not how many people now what it means (I do) or how many can do it (I can’t), but how many people DO IT?

    I found the website from your link cute but it doesn’t change the fact that almost no one has any need to be able to derive trig from first principles or factor polynomials or infinite series (except for bets in the bar about Zeno’s paradox) or calculus. For some kids, being exposed to these ideas is good, but being able to do the math is something you do in school for all but a minute proportion of the population.

  89. I am not naive enough to expect to change Western Civilization, but I believe that:

    - WAY more people should leave school after junior high

    - HR should stop using a High School diploma as an indication of discipline or even intelligence

    - kids should be encouraged to consider the skilled trades – we need them just as much as professionals

    - kids should be able to go though the material at school at their own rate – I hated school because I had to sit there listening to the teacher explain something I already knew four times so the dumbest kid in the class could pass the next test

    On a side note…
    As for high school teaching kids to learn how to learn, if it can’t be done in 9 years, another 3 isn’t going to help.

    Interestingly, this whole rant is not off-topic…

    “When I think of all the crap I learned in high school,
    It’s a wonder I can think at all,
    And my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none,
    I can read the writing on the wall.

    I believe the third line was ironic, but I must admit that Paul Simon probably could not have read “the handwriting on the wall” if it was in Chineese.

  90. Brian wrote “- HR should stop using a High School diploma as an indication of discipline or even intelligence”

    And well they shouldn’t since it does not indicate that any longer. But in fact, HR depts don’t. They use college degrees for that kind of signaling these days, in part why the college degree is debased in value but astronomical in cost.

  91. @Brian Marshall
    > – WAY more people should leave school after junior high

    Don’t agree. The problem is not when they quit it is the crappiness of high school, that is the problem that needs fixed. 14 year old kids just don’t have the physical maturity to make it on their own.

    > – HR should stop using a High School diploma as an indication of discipline or even intelligence

    I don’t think they do. I think it is considered the lowest bar possible. If you can’t even do that then you are probably destined for selling drugs or digging ditches. (Though having said that, one of the smartest people I know didn’t graduate HS, but that is because she was sick through most of her childhood. She went on to college, graduated and is a CPA now.)

    > – kids should be encouraged to consider the skilled trades – we need them just as much as professionals

    That is true, some should anyway. However, skilled trades definitely need a lot of math. How many tons do I need in my AC unit for this house? What angle should I cut this board at so that the it holds the shelf out 3 feet? I agree you don’t need integral calculus, for the most part anyway, but everyone needs a basic grounding in math: algebra, arithmetic, geometry and trig.

    Really, in America you have two choices career wise: be a smart information worker where your leverage allows you to make you much more expensive time much more productive, or be a worker than needs a local presence. You wanna live in a rich country? You have to make your labor super valuable.

    > – kids should be able to go though the material at school at their own rate – I hated school because I had to sit there listening to the teacher explain something I already knew four times so the dumbest kid in the class could pass the next test

    To some extent, however a good teacher needs to push. But good technology can really help with that. I have a niece who is learning to read. Mom and teacher sit and listen to her try to read, and correct her when she goes wrong. Why the heck isn’t there an iPad application to do that without Mom or teacher? Add in a few rewards for doing a good job, maybe even a remote assistance option where you can video dial a live teacher for the tricky parts, and you couldn’t get her to put it down, she’d be reading in a quarter of the time, she’d feel an awesome sense of self empowerment and achievement, and the app would cost $4.99 rather than the teacher who costs $80,000 per year.

    Can’t do that though, not substantially. It is a nice educational toy, but the idea that all education can be replaced by a series of such mechanisms is something we don’t even countenance. We need kids to go to real school.

  92. @ Winter

    OK – That was beautiful – mathematics as art. That is about learning to learn. It was about everything I was trying to say and more. It reminded me of stuff that I hated in school that I had forgotten about.

    LOL…

    TRIGONOMETRY. Two weeks of content are stretched to semester length by masturbatory definitional runarounds.

    I learned more math reading this article than I learned in school (not counting all the crap).

    I have some comments, not disagreeing with the article at all, just things it made me think of….

    Any particular art is only of interest to some people.

    John Lennon couldn’t read music.

    We need mathematicians partly for the same reason we need(ed) John Lennon.

    The most important thing a parent can do is find something their kids love to read – if it’s comic books – great! If they find something that they want to read, they will do enough of it that reading becomes easy – then the world is at their finger tips. For some odd reason, I got exactly one class of grammar in school – I learned grammar by reading.

    Kids should eventually be taught enough “math” to make change.

    When I was in elementary math class, everybody hated “story problems” – you know “If two trains….”. They had to think enough to understand how to apply the stupid rules they had memorized and they found that very difficult to do. On the other hand, story problems were the only part of math class that I found interesting at all.

  93. @Brian Marshall:

    The point is that some kids will remember SOH-CAH-TOA and, later in life, be able to do trig.

    Again, I disagree. This thing (which I had never heard of before) is apparently some stupid mnemonic to get you through silly questions on a rote test without really having to learn/understand anything. How is that going to help you in later life?

    For almost everybody in ANY city… why would you want to be able understand trig from first principles?

    Because if you don’t understand it from first principles, you don’t understand it. Look, I don’t have a college degree. But I distinctly remember back in the early eighties when I worked at a computer store, getting calls from degreed engineers. Two in particular stand out in my memory. One guy was using Applesoft BASIC and wanted to do the engineering thing and take logarithms base 10, and all Applesoft had was the natural log function. Now, if you’re doing cookbook stuff, sure you can do it without knowing how to calculate a log base 10 if you have ln() in your toolbox. But if you’re really, truly doing serious engineering, no. It’s kind of silly to have to rely on the 20 year old at the computer store to do your math for you.

    The second one that stands out in my memory might be more appropriate to your example. A guy called up and told me he was using Cromemco FORTRAN and he needed aTan, and there wasn’t one in the library. So I asked him if there was aCos or aSin in the library and he said “sure, there’s aCos, but I need aTan!” If all you remember from trig is SOH-CAH-TOA, you will probably be to scared and scarred by the experience to realize that basic algebra and the Pythagorean theorem together are what you need here.

    Obviously some people do – we need mathematicians, but managers, geologists, cooks, factory workers, doctors… they don’t need trig from first principles, but they might benefit from being able to do trig.

    You can understand something from first principles without having an incredibly deep understanding of all the nuances. But if you’re relying on a crutch like that mnemonic, you didn’t learn it well enough when you “learned” it. Seriously, how do you know if you’re “doing” anything useful with trig if you don’t understand the basics?

    If [innumeracy] cost society a great deal, it would matter if people remembered the stuff – who remembers how to derive trig or factor polynomials?

    Simple facts never were that important to remember. But having applied them once and knowing you can get your hands on them and apply them again — that’s golden. The internet now serves a function formerly handled by lots of self-help books and things like the CRC. But it’s extremely easy to misapply math if you didn’t learn it to start with. (And, by “learning it” I include the little things like approaching the problem from a couple of different directions to validate your work.)

    I hate to break the news to you but virtually no one can or needs to be able to “work a compound interest problem”.

    To have the intuitive understanding of how it works, they damn sure need to have worked it a few times.

    They just need to understand how it works, which can be taught in about 5 minutes

    Maybe to somebody with enough background.

    – not how to solve it; the fact that if you compound it long enough, it increases WAY more than you would expect.

    Thanks for proving my point about innumeracy. For interest rates in the current “normal” range, this isn’t at all true. For example, if you borrow $10000 at 5% for a year:

    - with no compounding, you will owe $500 in interest.
    - with monthly compounding, you will owe $512.62 interest.
    - daily, $512.67
    - continuous, $512.71

    It’s even worse if you put $1000 into savings at 1% per year. If you don’t understand how this works and put your money in a savings account that paid 1/8% less because it had better compounding, you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favors. I know, I know — there are calculators out there for this. But if you had seen a compounding curve (as you apparently did, to make that remark) at a high percentage, and extrapolated that incorrectly to a low percentage, you might not even go look at one of those calculators.

    So, teach the principle and leave the math to the folks who like it.

    The thing is, you can teach the principle without too much arithmetic. But if you really teach the principle, you are in fact, teaching math.

    People should know what an “average” is. Beyond that, trying to teach most kids about standard deviations is teaching them something that if they retained it (which almost none will) they will never use.

    Maybe not directly, but it would certainly help them to distinguish between average and median, and possibly to reason about what that means. Again, this is a capability I’d personally like to see in the electorate.

    I agree that a few hours of probability would be of benefit to everyone. But again, knowing how to actually do the math beyond “1 in 10? is a lot more risk than “1 in 100? is something that almost no one does.

    This is obviously true, due to the number of people who religiously play the lottery. But I still think it’s a problem. I think they shouldn’t let you play the lottery unless you can be given the rules of a few arbitrary games, and calculate the odds and show your work. (Using a calculator, of course — I’m not sadistic.)

    I was going to say “It would help people to know the implications of the zero and double-zero on a roulette wheel” but I doubt if it would measurably affect the number of people who play roulette.

    That’s because it doesn’t noticeably affect the outcome, except for the house. Duh.

    I don’t know…. Cambridge? Come on… pick a hundred thousand people at random from a major city, hell pick only professional people, who knows how to factor a polynomial?

    You realize that anybody who ever uses the quadratic equation is factoring a polynomial, right?

  94. @ Jessica

    > – WAY more people should leave school after junior high

    Don’t agree. The problem is not when they quit it is the crappiness of high school, that is the problem that needs fixed. 14 year old kids just don’t have the physical maturity to make it on their own.

    Everything almost everybody needs to know is taught by the end of junior high. So.. if it is true that “14 year old kids just don’t have the physical maturity to make it on their own.” high school is just day care (as it stands).

    What I think most kids after junior high should be doing is getting a a part-time job – learn about how the work works.

    > – HR should stop using a High School diploma as an indication of discipline or even intelligence

    I don’t think they do. I think it is considered the lowest bar possible. If you can’t even do that then you are probably destined for selling drugs or digging ditches. (Though having said that, one of the smartest people I know didn’t graduate HS, but that is because she was sick through most of her childhood. She went on to college, graduated and is a CPA now.)

    I got divorced because… to give an example that happened after the divorce – no one forced my son to go to school so in junior high, he stopped going. (I was actually sort of proud of him for this.) They let him into high school a year or two later but he didn’t complete it. He got a job as a cashier at a supermarket chain gas station (billion dollar chain but just in Calgary). He loved it and had a real talent for it. He quickly became a supervisor. After 2 or 3 years they were talking about him going into the pre-management program. He needed a high school diploma to be a manager. He got one. He was one of the youngest people to ever be made a manager in the whole chain. He has been a manager for a few years now and I am very proud of him. I am also very proud of my twin daughter, who is a registered nurse.

    However, skilled trades definitely need a lot of math. How many tons do I need in my AC unit for this house? What angle should I cut this board at so that the it holds the shelf out 3 feet?

    I agree (sort of) – trades need basic arithmetic and some trig.

  95. All this talk about not needing math is missing the point. Learning math is basically the brain’s equivalent to getting a workout at the gym.

    > But, in our advanced technological society, ALMOST NOBODY NEEDS MATH!

    Almost nobody needs to repeatedly pick up heavy objects and then put them back down in the same place. That doesn’t mean they should stop going to the gym to lift weights.

    If you don’t exercise your body, your body gets out of shape and you eventually turn into a couch potato. Similarly, if you don’t exercise your mind, your mind gets out of shape and you eventually turn into a Fox News viewer.

  96. @ Patrick Maupin

    When I mentioned compound interest, I was thinking of investing (at a rate significantly over the rate of inflation) over a lengthy period, not borrowing. There are calculators on the web.

    I agree that investing at 1% is futile.

    And, let’s see…. that is all that I agree with. If you have to do something rarely and you can look it up in a book or on the web, memorizing it is a waste of time.

    You are aware that in roulette, the house wins because, after playing over time, the customers lose, right?

    Everyone who disagrees with me about math should read Lochart’s lament – Winter provided the link:

    http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

  97. @ Patrick Maupin

    I took a quick look at the pi versus tau post. I think it is an example of math being an art – it only appeals to some people. Since I don’t do it, I favour the view that pi is the circumference/diameter of a circle and tau is a derived value, but if you do do math a lot, I can see that it would be a valid question (possibly mostly for people with a lot of time on their hands).

    Nevertheless, one comment had me LOL:

    @Paul Sand:

    It is “e^{ i \pi } + 1 = 0?, and expression that includes all important constants (for certain values of “all” ;-))

  98. @ Jessica

    Actually, I should have said skilled trades require basic arithmetic, usually basic trig and (what I forgot) is the basics of algebra – doing stuff to both sides of an “=” sign to move all the known values to one side.

  99. This news makes me just a little bit sad.

    I remember that Nvidia came to the party with Linux drivers years before AMD. OK sure they weren’t completely open source (binary blob etc…) but there excuse was that there was other people’s IP in there that they couldn’t open, and the drivers would be crap without them. I’d hoped they’d work out the whole “so integrate it into your hardware” line but it appears not.

    And the part that makes me sad is that at a purely technical level, i really do prefer Nvidia chips.
    I hope they find a clue, and quickly.

  100. “I could not disagree more. The algorithm for innovation is this:

    1. Identify a problem — something that bugs people
    2. Find a solution to the problem
    3. Find a way to monetize the solution
    4. Make a profit.
    5. Profit.
    6. Goto 1.”

    Or reallocate resources towards more efficient methods of alleviating the dissatisfaction of consumers.

    a.k.a. the entrepreneurial function in a nutshell.

  101. @ John

    All this talk about not needing math is missing the point. Learning math is basically the brain’s equivalent to getting a workout at the gym.

    That is no excuse for making the subject matter boring and stupidly irrelevant for almost everyone.

    I encourage everyone to read Lochart’s lament – Winter provided the link:

    http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

    It is truly wonderful, particularly to anyone who hated memorizing stuff in math class. The point is that math is a beautiful art. While everyone needs to know how to add and subtract and find a calculator, there is no excuse for the crap that is taught in “math” class.

    I personally can see the art but don’t really care for it. But I still found this article to be wonderful.

    I don’t go to the gym. I think anyone who wants more exercise should find something to do that is less stupid than picking up heavy things and putting them down (unless you are into body building).

    For me (and many hackers, it seems) it was martial arts. I no longer train (but still hack). I reached a junior-senior level of Wing Chun kung fu.

    Note that Japanese arts (Judo, Karate, Kempo) are normally taught in a Japanese way – shouted orders, many repetitions and uncounted push-ups.

    The primary Korean art, Tai Kwon Do, is heavily into kicking and stretching so as to be able to do high kicks. It is perhaps the fastest way of learning something very impressive. In some schools, the teacher hits students with a thing made up of multiple pieces of bamboo tied back together to remind them of… anything.

    There are vast numbers of Chinese arts, most of which are called kung fu and most of which claim to have descended from the Shaolin Monastery (this includes Wing Chun). Some arts are hard, some are soft; some are longer range, some (like Wing Chun) are close range.

    The close range of Wing Chun can initially scare some people off, but it is actually a great advantage because you are trained to do it, whereas most people don’t know what to do about someone who is 10 inches away, or behind them giving them a shot to the kidney before hitting them in the head until they fall down.

  102. @Brian Marshall:

    When I mentioned compound interest, I was thinking of investing (at a rate significantly over the rate of inflation) over a lengthy period, not borrowing.

    But how did you know it had to be significantly over the rate of inflation, and how many people are able to find such opportunities that don’t involve people like Madoff?

    There are calculators on the web.

    Yes, I believe I already said this. There are even calculators that take into account both the rate of inflation (which of course is variable) as well as the interest rate. But you need to know enough to know you need one of these.

    I agree that investing at 1% is futile.

    And so is investing at anything less than 4/3 the rate of inflation — if your tax bracket is 25%. Unless, of course, your objective is short term capital preservation, in which case you might trade the known quantity of the government eroding your capital through inflation and taxes against the risk of other types of investment.

    And, let’s see…. that is all that I agree with. If you have to do something rarely and you can look it up in a book or on the web, memorizing it is a waste of time.

    But you should do it once or twice and see it in relationship to other things. You should learn enough to know what you don’t know and how to find it, and, more importantly, how to use it once you find it.

    You are aware that in roulette, the house wins because, after playing over time, the customers lose, right?

    I think if you read what I wrote carefully, you will find that I am extremely aware of this, and am also aware that for the average customer, the fact that every $100 worth of “normal” roulette wagers has a tax of around $3 in Monaco or $5 in Vegas is completely immaterial to their lives, even as it is vital to the life of the casino itself.

    Everyone who disagrees with me about math should read Lochart’s lament – Winter provided the link:

    I have seen that before. I read a lot of the stuff on Devlin’s page when William pointed it out in that previous post. Yes, there is some good stuff there, but there is also crap. And the good stuff doesn’t at all mesh with your thesis that math shouldn’t be taught to ordinary people. If you want to change your thesis to “math should be taught in a better way than it is currently taught in a lot of schools,” then we agree, but you have to admit you’re changing your thesis.

  103. @esr:

    I have a comment, and slightly updated version of the comment, stuck somewhere in the ether — doesn’t show up as “awaiting moderation.” Second version would be preferable. Thanks.

  104. DMcCunney on Saturday, June 30 2012 at 8:19 pm said:
    Peter F. Drucker talked about the issue in his book Up the Organization

    ITYM Robert Townsend.

    BTW, Google search reveals a woman namved Avis Townsend. In fact there are several, including one listed in the 1940 Census.

  105. @ Patrick Maupin

    Disagree.

    The Michelson–Morley experiment demonstrated that the ether (or aether) does not exist.

    Sorry… just kidding.

  106. Brian: “- kids should be able to go though the material at school at their own rate”
    This is so true. Sadly, our politicians here in the UK have an irrational hatred of selective education (because they think it entrenches social divides) and are trying to get rid of grammar schools.

    In general I think you and I agree on the diagnosis – kids are being taught a load of pointless drudgery under the name of “Math”. But we disagree on the treatment; I maintain that we should teach them ‘mathematical thinking’, whereas you seem to want them to learn no maths at all.

    A mathematical mindset is not just applicable to polynomials and trig., it also fosters a logical and rational approach to all problems whether numerate or otherwise. There is a community which uses the phrase “basically sane” in a ha-ha-only-serious way to describe people who are /fluent in Bayesian statistics/. Without a good understanding of Bayes (preferably coupled to some knowledge of cognitive biases and heuristics), you cannot make an ‘informed decision’ about anything.

    Given how often I find myself needing to factor polynomials in contexts far removed from mathematics, I am amazed by your assertion that almost no-one needs to. It is more likely that almost no-one *recognises that their problem can be solved by mathematising it*.

  107. @ Sound and Fury

    I don’t think kids should be taught no math at all. I think they should be taught… I just did this in my last comment, but it seems to be hung up…

    Kids need to be able to add, subtract and find a calculator.

    People going into trades need basic algebra: V=HxA => A=V/H and basic trig. Kids should be exposed to this; some will need it and some will like it.

    Kids should be exposed to the beautiful art of math to see if they like it and/or have a talent for it, just as they should be exposed to music (which, of course, they do by themselves) but if they love music and want to learn more, or if they love math and want to learn more, great – encourage and nurture that.

    But, “Lord, how long…” – HST very few people need to be able to factor or find roots for polynomials.

    Just out of curiosity, in what context do you factor polynomials?

  108. Why can’t corporations do the same? Certainly it is complicated by the fact there are a whole bunch of shareholders involved, but that is why they have boards of directors, shareholder meetings, and grilling of CEOs by shareholders to explain their decisions.

    A large part of the practical problem is the principal-agent conflict. Most of the board members are CEOs of other companies whose boards this particular CEO is on, and there’s plenty of you-scratch-my-back going on. The shareholders usually don’t grill the CEO, and when they do, the board is unlikely to do anything about any but the most egregious abuses.

  109. It’s funny to me reading the sentiment that most people can get by with only trigonometry. It might even be right. Mid-level math (PDEs and the like) is so much a part of what I think about right now, that it’s very hard to imagine not being able to do something like integrate a function, or viscerally (visually) what most of this math means.

    And I’m feeling a bit like a mathematical idiot, trying to read and understand some of the higher level physics right now. Part of it is that there seems to be no bridge between mid level math (College undergrad stuff) and higher level math (the sort of strange stuff graduate mathematicians and quantum physicists sling regularly). I’m sort of stuck in a spot where things seem either trivially obvious, or incomprehensible, but nowhere in between.

    I suppose I *don’t* really need it, on a day to day basis. But if I was trapped on a desert island and needed to construct a tokomak to run my directional signalling radio … :-P

  110. PS – I suppose part of it is that I have a rather compulsive need to understand where things come from. *Why* certain math works the way it does, how you go about solving these problems. It’s not enough, not anywhere *near* enough to have mysterious formulas that you plug crud into to get mysterious answers.

    But that’s just me. Most people could probably care less.

  111. @ AMS

    Even in Calgary, which employs a lot of engineers and geophysicists, I imagine that “most people” don’t even use trig – some skilled tradesman do, but vast numbers of people work in factories, warehouses, wholesale and retail. This is true even in a fairly professional city in a highly advanced technological society. We need people to do this stuff. They need to add and subtract. If they actually do the arithmetic to do their taxes, they need a calculator, but you can get tax software or do it on-line for $20 to $30 – why do all that mind-numbing arithmetic (twice to be sure)?

    Most people need to add and subtract.

  112. PPS – I’m curious: Those of you who do a lot of math – do you tend to understand things in terms of symbolic manipulation, or geometry/visual-type-metaphors?

    It may have something to do with my block, but I am very biased towards visual understanding. If I can picture why something works, I can reproduce it on demand and apply it to almost any situation. If I can’t ‘see’ what I’m doing with a symbolic manipulation, it is very hard to do anything novel with it. I can push the symbols, but I can’t see where I am going, or why.

  113. @ AMS

    Re: your second comment… Yeah, some people like you want to know how it works, but many people don’t. I am curious what you use math for.

    I am getting into relativity on a non-mathematical level. This works well for the Special Theory but for the General Theory, all you get is general… stuff.

    Einstein wrote a wonderful little book for the layman. He said he was debating whether to have no arithmatic at all, but decided to include a bit of basic arithmatic and I imagine he also included the Lorentz transformation – you know – square root of (1 – v**2/c**2) but you just multiply or divide it by lengths and times and masses.

    I personally didn’t like his example for relativity of simultanety and I came up with one I like better, which is in a comment earlier in this post.

    Some people like to understand certain things but it is different for different people.

  114. “I am curious what you use math for.”

    Currently? Plasma physics. Also assorted other things related to my curriculum. I suppose my long term ambition (which I understand on an intellectual level to be unrealistic, but there you go) is to achieve a deep and broad understanding of physics that I can use to find useful principles to design cool stuff. Plasma physics because it gives us extra handles with which to manipulate an ionized gas.

  115. PS – I noticed you have a lot of AI stuff going on on your website. Cool! I recognize something like neural network theory (admittedly I’ve only read one book on the subject) in your “shrieking demons” setup. I suppose I would have to have time to look more closely to understand the finer points on what you have constructed. Time is the one thing I never have enough of!

    But keep up the good work. I suppose if we physics/aero/nuclear geeks don’t pull some awe inspiring reactor/propulsion system out of our work, then the sci-fi future we are all trying to build will be up to you hackers and AI tinkerers. Race you there. :-P

  116. @ ams

    Ah – plasma physics – that would explain building a tokomak… but they still produce less energy than they consume, don’t they?

    Yeah – I was into AI, mostly about 20 years ago, but it made Google REALLY like anything on my website.

    It started as an attempt to do staff scheduling which is an NP-Hard problem…. 7 days x 5 shifts/day = 35 slots/week. If you have 7 people on staff (some part-time), this modest scheduling problem has 7**35 ways of being filled out… the first slot has 7 possibilities times the second slot with 7 possibilities…. = 4e29 different ways!

    So I looked at it like a person does. I also used navigating a car and playing chess and a mouse trying to get across a creek on stepping stones as alternate problem solving domains where you have to make a series of choices where each choice affects the ones that follow.

    I realized that when people make at least some kinds of choices, it is based on 3 aspects:
    – avoiding badness
    – desire for success
    – desire to try new things

    I realized that these are a lot like what I called emotions: fear, greed and curiosity. The beauty of it is that it is so easy to implement. Each possible answer at a decision has these 3 buckets. Various things make the total in the bucket go up and down. You don’t have to consider combinations of aspects… each “emotion” is just a register with a value that goes up and down.

    A deer can get by with fear, which goes up if it hears or smells something bad and degrades over time.

    Predators and bond traders can get by with greed and fear – when they have wealth, they have something to lose.

    Scavengers, like ravens and humans need curiosity to try new things.

    When I started this, basically no one else was into it at all. Now I do a search on the web and it is being used all over the place. It is great for making the background characters in games behave in believable ways. Google likes it, I have a bunch of links to it, but I have never had any communication about it. And I didn’t want to try to start a software company… so Google and I like it.

    What I am into now is the BC Placer website. I have a bad spine and my placer mining is now limited to helping others with my computer. I am working on a way to make some money out of it… my web-site as a whole currently gets about 700 people per month clicking into it from a Google search…. mostly to the pages about the BC governments online mapping and data system.

    If you type “placer claim” without the quotes into Google, a page I wrote comes up second. Ahead of all the pages in the huge government website and the various organizations and companies trying to sell placer claims. The only page ahead of mine is the Wikipedia page. It hasn’t made me rich however….

  117. Actually, I don’t know how much this approach to AI is being used. But there is wide-spread recognition that people make decisions this way. It is so easy to implement. Ravens do it. Mice do it.

  118. Actually, I am still overstating it – there is widespread recognition that decisions are a major part of decision making. When scientists get into it, they discover a much more complex process than I developed (duh).

    However, my process can be very useful and it is SO easy to implement. It is so much easier to code (in software, hardware, wetware or levers and string) independent reasons to become more afraid and a threshold than it is to code a decision to run away or not.

    People and even mice are more complex, but fear, greed and curiosity is a very powerful way to make a series of decisions.

  119. @Patrick
    “As I’m sure you’re aware, we’ve discussed a lot of this before”

    You will find comments from me there. Actually, I posted a link to the same paper.

    Note that the original essay was written by Paul Lockhart in 2002. I have no idea why you think devlin is involved in this beyond that he stores the document and is easiest link to the document to find. I do not subscribe to devlin’s 2008 analysis of the paper.

    One thing I took home from Lockhart’s essay (rather it reinforced my own experiences) is the evil threesome of teaching:

    1 Multiple Choice tests (in any subject)
    2 Teaching to the test
    3 Concentrating on useless but testable factoids for root-learning. See the SOHCAHTOA.

    This threesome also ruins English teaching in Japan. Japanese children manage to get extensive education in English that is so misdirected that they end up lacking any proficiency.

  120. Actually… Nvidia has a very good reason for what they did.
    AMD has much better hardware, but Nvidia has much better drivers. The reason people even use Nvidia nowadays is because of those proprietary drivers for games. Open sourcing them would allow AMD to copy some of the tricks those drivers use.

  121. >Open sourcing them would allow AMD to copy some of the tricks those drivers use.

    The right answer to arguments like this one is always the same. If you have a technique you think you need to hide, you put it in the goddamn hardware. You push it down to the FPGA and publish the interface.

    I get so tired of hearing this line of apologetic crap repeated over and over again. It was idiotic the first time, and it remains idiotic every time after that.

  122. @esr:

    The right answer to arguments like this one is always the same. If you have a technique you think you need to hide, you put it in the goddamn hardware. You push it down to the FPGA and publish the interface.

    Have to disagree. If you screw up the algorithm in the hardware, it’s very hard to fix — unless you make the hardware soft, in which case you’re back to distributing some sort of binary blob.

  123. >Have to disagree.

    All you’re doing is describing the other end of the tradeoff. Yes, FPGAs are more difficult to alter – but there is no way that difficulty is worth half a billion dollars in opportunity costs. Those fscking idiots had fifteen years of warning from myself and others that something like their Chinese epic fail was coming; they could have used that time to clean up their act, and didn’t. May the death of Nvidia be swift, horrible to behold, and an example to others.

  124. @esr:

    All you’re doing is describing the other end of the tradeoff. Yes, FPGAs are more difficult to alter – but there is no way that difficulty is worth half a billion dollars in opportunity costs.

    It might be, depending on the details. The opportunity costs of a broken tapeout are huge — they can be almost 3 months, plus the time to diagnose, plus the time to fix and regenerate masks. If you can greatly reduce the chances that any tapeout is broken by putting lots of stuff in software, that’s the right answer.

    Those fscking idiots had fifteen years of warning from myself and others that something like their Chinese epic fail was coming; they could have used that time to clean up their act, and didn’t.

    But that’s actually orthogonal to the hardware/software tradeoff, which is actually about flexibility and time to market vs. BOM cost. Putting stuff in hardware is classic security through obscurity. That can be reverse-engineered, as well. I know — we do it all the time at work. Sure, it takes a bit longer, but not that much in the grand scheme of things.

    Yes, it slows people down. But it’s a continuum. In reality (and I’ve mentioned this before, but maybe it didn’t sink in) the reason that a lot of companies don’t publish their source or data sheets has more to do with the fear of patent trolls than it does with the fear of having their stuff replicated. The cost to reverse-engineer a product is not that big if you’re intent on making one just like it, but it’s a harder bet if you’re not even sure you’ll find the smoking gun that shows it infringes your precioussss IP.

    Note that just “fixing software patents” doesn’t even touch this problem, because the software source code usually discloses a lot of what is going on in the hardware. No, you have to fix the problem in general.

    AMD has been battling patent lawsuits practically since its inception, and they seem to view them as a cost of doing business. nVidia has had a couple as well, but seems more reluctant to gird up.

  125. Arghh. Screwed up block quotes.

    Anyway, I just wanted to add that, like you, I am glad that it appears that AMD will be rewarded for doing the right thing, and nVidia punished for doing the wrong thing. I just think it’s important to try to figure out exactly why nVidia is so secretive, as opposed to just having a knee-jerk “the Chinese will steal everything” assumption — especially if you’re going to try to convince nVidia to change their ways.

  126. @Winter writes:
    >1 Multiple Choice tests (in any subject)
    > 2 Teaching to the test
    > 3 Concentrating on useless but testable factoids for root-learning. See the SOHCAHTOA.

    You know I am by no means an expert in teaching, however, as you know, lack of expertise never stopped my expressing my opinion before :-)

    This whole “no teaching to the test” thing I think is a big of a fallacy, designed to propagate the myth of the ART of teaching. I think about it in terms of programming. I consider a key attribute of good quality software that it is testable. This often involves making design choices that have no benefit, and even occasionally a direct detriment, that make the software more testable.

    For example, when designing software to use IoC and DI design patterns in statically typed languages it is pretty common to have two parallel type architectures — an abstract class suitable for IoC and a concrete class based on that abstract class (often the abstract class is an interface, but that is a minor detail.) This means that dependent classes can be replaced by predictable test architecture (using for example a reflection oriented mocking framework) and consequently makes the software more testable, by allowing functional isolation of the tests.
    However, this design choice is a chore to maintain, and consequently an additional cost.

    When programming children with skills for the future, being able to determine their capabilities is a very important metric to properly manage the curriculum for their learning, an important tracking mechanism to know when they are going off the rails. So teaching to the test is not a bad thing in my opinion, and easily assessable, objective testing such as multiple choice is also not necessary a bad thing. It might not be the ultimate quality of test, but it is a sufficient approximation, and the tractability of it offers a considerable advantage.

    Teaching to the test, in my opinion, takes advantage of one of the features of human cognition and learning, namely that it is associative. By trawling through the knowledge base necessary to pass the test, one drags along all sorts of extra detritus, flotsam and jetsum that provides a much broader learning that a narrow acquisition of facts for the test only.

    Testing also has a focusing effect on learning that is really important in knowledge acquisition.

    Which isn’t to say that the quality of the tests don’t matter. It does. I think a lot of the bleating about teaching to the test comes from the professional teaching bodies that want to have a level of control that objective testing robs them of. And god forbid objective testing might actually be reflective on the quality of instruction the children are receiving too. And we certainly can’t have teachers being measured.

    But that is just my uneducated opinion.

  127. There’s also the fact that AMD has been caught putting code that detects when benchmark programs are running and fudging the results in the driver. NVIDIA has been accused of the same.

    With skeletons like this in their closets, as well as the fact that a goodly chunk of the code in the drivers is patented and licensed, the major GPU vendors will never, ever open source their driver code. Not in this lifetime.

  128. @Jessica Boxer:

    Which isn’t to say that the quality of the tests don’t matter. It does. I think a lot of the bleating about teaching to the test comes from the professional teaching bodies that want to have a level of control that objective testing robs them of. And god forbid objective testing might actually be reflective on the quality of instruction the children are receiving too. And we certainly can’t have teachers being measured.

    Agree completely. I’ve had almost exactly this same argument multiple times in the instance of patient outcomes in hospitals. The only good answer to “well, this is subjective, so the data is meaningless” is to say “if it looks subjective, you aren’t taking enough data.” If your hospital is in an area with a lot of diabetic patients who are going to die more frequently, this can be figured out with blood tests on intake. If your students are so poor they are too hungry to learn, this can be figured out in a number of ways.

    @Jeff Read:

    There’s also the fact that AMD has been caught putting code that detects when benchmark programs are running and fudging the results in the driver

    And here we come full circle back to the original subject. Can we all agree that transparency on any product we buy is a good thing?

  129. >the major GPU vendors will never, ever open source their driver code

    Then they’ll die. And good riddance.

  130. @Jessica

    Teaching to the test limits the information presented to the student.

    A test is a sample, not an inventory. There is no way that an hour or a three hour test can inventory a student’s knowlege and skills. There is no way we will devote the resources needed to do a comprehensive inventory of student knowlege and skilles even once in their careers.

    The students are taught what will help them do well on the tests. The tests are aligned to make them relevant to the majority of the students. The cycle repeats itself in a spiral to the bottom.

    I got a late start on my family. Many people my age have grandchildren. I have children and see first hand two generations of dumbing down. It’s not pretty.

  131. @Bob:

    A test is a sample, not an inventory. There is no way that an hour or a three hour test can inventory a student’s knowlege and skills.

    Which is why there should be several different versions of standardized tests, taken more often. Shoot, you could probably replace all the tests with standardized/custom generated/randomized ones.

    There is no way we will devote the resources needed to do a comprehensive inventory of student knowlege and skills even once in their careers.

    Randomized, reactive testing with questions tailored to each student would actually require fewer resources than are devoted to teachers making and using tests at the moment, and would even help the teachers by letting the computer explain to the teacher the exact concepts that the student seems to be struggling with, and would greatly reduce cheating over current standardized tests, because every student would be looking at different questions. But as Jessica says, this sort of thing would actually let us know which teachers are capable of teaching, an outcome that is undesirable to some.

  132. @ Brian Marshall,

    I think the ultimate problem with the current teaching of math is that there isn’t enough why and how being taught. I have to disagree with you on SOHCAHTOAH, no one will remember it past the last test they need it for, because they’re given no need or use for it. Stupid plug and play formulas are great for remembering things long term, but you need to know why they work before you’ll really commit them to memory. As an example, in my schooling when they taught us line equations, they gave us both the standard slope intercept y=mx+b equation and the point slope equation (y-k) = m(x-h). When they taught this early on, they taught them as plug and play with no relation between the equations and the line, all they taught were straight lines. Everyone thought the point slope form was stupid and useless, and they were right, we never learned a reason why we would want to use or prefer that equation at all. 4 years later, we finally got around to graphing parabolas and similar lines which use a very similar equation, and all of a sudden that stupid y-k and x-h nonsense makes a whole lot more sense, and suddenly you could see the purpose of that point slope equation and how it works and makes understanding the line and graph easier. Now I don’t think you need to know the minutia of everything, but explaining why an equation makes your life easier and how it relates to the problem at hand certainly will be better remembered by people than any simple mnemonic.

    But you are right that most people won’t ever need or use this stuff, and that’s really why its boring as hell. All the greatest discoveries in history are the result of curiosity (why and how) and those are the two questions that modern schooling beats out of every kid. If more math were taught to help children explore the world around them, people would find children more receptive to this. Think about all the bes teachers you had, chances are they were the same type of teacher that everyone else says was their best, creative, inventive and always connecting the lesson with reality. Children are naturally curious about the world around them, but school rarely answers the questions they have, and they give up on learning.

  133. @Patrick Maupin

    I think you are confusing the world as it should be with the world as it is.

    The standardized tests do change every year. I suspect the test companies have become very sophisticated at preventing people from gaming them.

    I recommended to my nephew that he forget about trying to game the tests. The testing companies know much more than we do about gaming them. Don’t even try. It’s a distraction. Just concentrate on getting the questions right with some attention to whether or not he is taking too long on each question. “There is no test, no test-taker, only the questions.”

    The criteria by which the questions on the tests are chosen become ever more narrow….

  134. @Bob:

    The standardized tests do change every year. I suspect the test companies have become very sophisticated at preventing people from gaming them.

    No, the problem with the standardized tests are they are standardized. A teacher can read out the answer to all the students.

    http://www.ajc.com/news/school-test-scores/cheating-our-children-help-1455141.html

    It would be more difficult for cheating to occur if each student had customized, reactive questions.

    I recommended to my nephew that he forget about trying to game the tests. The testing companies know much more than we do about gaming them. Don’t even try. It’s a distraction.

    Then how come it’s the newspapers, rather than the testing companies, finding the cheating?

    Just concentrate on getting the questions right with some attention to whether or not he is taking too long on each question. “There is no test, no test-taker, only the questions.”

    Sure, but that’s completely irrelevant to our discussion. It appears you’re trying to subsume the discussion about how tests should be run under the discussion of what an 8th grader should do when confronted with a standardized test. These are two completely separate questions.

    The criteria by which the questions on the tests are chosen become ever more narrow….

    Which is the opposite of what would happen with an individualized reactive system.

  135. @Bob:

    I think you are confusing the world as it should be with the world as it is.

    BTW, what the hell did I write that makes you think I don’t know what goes on with standardized tests?

  136. @Bob
    > Teaching to the test limits the information presented to the student.

    So? Reality of time constraints does this too. And that is perfectly ok, if the most important information is presented. (And FWIW, I don’t even think it is vitally important that the core information is presented either. People don’t learn in hierarchical trees, they learn in disconnected graphs that over time begin to join together.)

    > A test is a sample, not an inventory.

    So what? Statistical sampling is a well regarded method of calculating overall results.

    > I got a late start on my family. Many people my age have grandchildren.
    > I have children and see first hand two generations of dumbing down. It’s not pretty.

    That probably has little to do with testing. It is more likely to do with the deeply dysfunctional education system. However, obviously I don’t know the particulars of your situation.

  137. >the major GPU vendors will never, ever open source their driver code

    “Then they’ll die. And good riddance.”

    Uh huh…and then we’ll have to buy our graphics modules from the Chinese, who cloned the AMD models and innovated from there, without opening their driver code, either….hmmmph…

  138. @tmoney
    > I think the ultimate problem with the current teaching of math is that there isn’t enough why and how being taught.

    I think you are saying that people learn things when they use them in useful ways. I totally agree. Which is why I love the model of a school curriculum based around an adventure type game, which progress depends on solving tasks that are both fun, but involve using a variety of skills, and teachers providing the resources to learn those skills.

    Of course that is pretty hard to do well. It is a hell of a lot easier saying “take and memorize this table of standard integrals.”

    Though it fits in very much in a sense with my comments above in favor of testing. Tests at least provide some purpose in learning the stuff. Not as much fun as killing the dragon or decorating your virtual house, but at least it is something. Why am I learning sin(x) = y/r? Because it will be on the test, and passing the test offers these benefits. It is a second order benefit, and first order benefits are more powerful. But it is a hell of a lot better than some wishy washy, lets all learn together for fun nonsense a la Montessori.

    The reason why learning is insanely boring is because teachers are too lazy to create powerful tools to make it interesting, and government control of schools kills any market for innovation to allow entrepreneurs to do so. The only money available in a school budget for such a thing is the scraps from the table.

    If you want to know what can be done then do this: try to learn Spanish from a 1950s dry as the desert textbook with tables of conjugations, vocabulary word lists, and dry discussions of the difference between aspect and tense. Then go get Rosetta Stone, and be able to converse with a Spanish speaker after twenty hours of instruction.

    Wanna guess which of these two paradigms corresponds with the way we teach math, language arts, or social studies? Yup, you got it bucko. Really, when you think about the waste of human resources it is that we are spending gazillions of dollars on schools that produce kids who mostly learn only to hate books and learning, we should be raging mad at the appalling loss to civilization of all the contribution these people could have made.

    And to think these selfsame teachers have got their panties in a wad about microscopic changes to their pension plans, when all around them is the most dreadful waste of human capacity. I guess that shows where their priorities lie.

  139. @ tmoney

    Yesterday I went on and on about one of my pet peeves (all the crap you learn in high school) and a few of my favourite topics (relativity, kung fu and my emotion-based AI)… I figured that I would just leave this post alone unless I was directly addressed….

    I have to disagree with you on SOHCAHTOAH, no one will remember it past the last test … Stupid plug and play formulas are great for remembering things long term…

    Um… you have contradicted yourself, here – “no one will remember” versus “great for remembering things long term”.

    I cannot BELIEVE the reaction I have gotten re: SOH-CAH-TOA – it is probably mostly a matter of the sort of people that hang out here, but… I have 4 comments…

    1) The beauty of SOH-CAH-TOA is that it makes basic trig easy to remember – as a software developer that wrote vector clipping functions for three different employers/clients, I use trig about once every five years. SOH-CAH-TOA means that I can just do trig if I have a calculator that has trig functions.

    2) a lot of people, including me, don’t really care for math as an art form so we don’t feel a big loss not being able to derive it from first principles. Many folks here feel differently, but that is them. I just want to be able to do trig when I need trig (and that is not often).

    3) for the folks who say “You don’t understand it if you can’t derive it”, I say “go fu…” no wait… I say “see point 2 – I don’t want to understand it, I want to be able to do trig when I need it”.

    NEW IDEA HERE>>>
    4) for the same “You don’t understand it” folks, I say SOH-CAH-TOA isn’t mathematics – to a person with a calculator with trig functions, it is basic arithmetic that makes it possible to solve some kinds of problems with triangles – not math – arithmetic.

    I don’t recognize the point slope equation: (y-k) = m(x-h)
    To me, it is more of the crap you learn in high school except for:
    A) the people that need it (as a proportion, very, very few)
    B) the people that like it (some, not many but lots here on ESR’s blog

    When I was doing point-in-polygon and vector clipping, I invented a technique that I found very useful (this is almost certainly one of the situations where I invent something that has already been invented)…

    NEW IDEA HERE>>>
    To avoid having to have separate code to handle vertical line-segments where the slope is infinite, and to generally make the code easier whether the slope was negative or positive and which direction the segment is going, instead of expressing slope as y/x I used two values dx/ds and dy/ds (where s is length for some bizarre reason) – it worked for me.

    I agree with the last paragraph of your post… school makes intelligent thinkers hate school and math in particular. Personally, I never had any great teachers – there were some I liked, but I came to school loving to learn… and therefore I hated school.

    I still maintain that math – as opposed to basic arithmetic, a bit (several hours each taught well) of stats (averages), probability, SOH_CAH_TOA trig and algebra (V=HxA => H=V/A) – is all almost anybody needs, including almost all professional people. There are exceptions, of course. But, if a kid doesn’t happen to like math, even if it is taught well, it won’t be needed later so it doesn’t matter.

    I certainly agree that if the beauty of math is demonstrated in an environment where the kids explore problems…. yeah, this would be wonderful and many more kids would get into it and it would even help how they look at the world. But factoring polynomials for kids who will never use it and don’t like it? It is just stupid.

  140. @Brian Marshall:

    I have seen it written multiple times that people who don’t understand Lisp will reinvent it badly.

    You have just demonstrated that the same is true for polar coordinates.

  141. Teaching To the Test is gaming the tests at the institutional level. Gaming the tests compromises the mission.

    On the individual level it distracts the test-taker, perhaps enough to impair performance.

    On the institutional level over the years it narrows the subject matter taught exposing the students to ever smaller slices aimed at improving overall scores at the institutional level.

  142. @ Patrick Maupin

    I have seen it written multiple times that people who don’t understand Lisp will reinvent it badly.

    You have just demonstrated that the same is true for polar coordinates.

    I suppose you would have used polar coordinates as angle and length and used trig to do point-in-poly and vector-clipping. I did it with no trig at all – add, subtract, multiply and divide.

    Whose code do you suppose ran the fastest?

  143. @Bob
    > Teaching To the Test is gaming the tests at the institutional level. Gaming the tests compromises the mission.

    Which mission? If the mission is to convey to the students a body of knowledge, and that knowledge is sampled randomly in the test, it seems to me that it validates the mission. Of course if you are a physics teacher who knows that momentum will not be covered in this years test because of randomness, and you don’t teach momentum, then you have a valid complaint. So good testing does need a separation of responsibilities. But, generally speaking they do.

    > On the individual level it distracts the test-taker, perhaps enough to impair performance.

    I think the contrary is true. I think it focuses the test taker of a specific measurable goal, that has considerable benefits beyond the mere passing of the test.

    > On the institutional level over the years it narrows the subject matter taught exposing the students to ever smaller slices aimed at improving overall scores at the institutional level.

    Only if you let it.

    BTW, I also wanted to pick up on your word “gaming.” Gamification is a kind of hot trend in software today, the idea that you can make a process you want to encourage a game, with challenges, competition, score keeping, tasks and so forth. I think gamification applied to learning would be a HUGE win.

  144. @Brian Marshall:

    Hey, man, it worked for me.

    I’m sure it did.

    I suppose you would have used polar coordinates as angle and length

    Then you suppose badly. Most of the time an angle is not specified in degrees or radians, but rather in cis form using a complex number. Which sounds like what you did.

    and used trig to do point-in-poly and vector-clipping.

    An understanding of trig, sure. Conversion to/from radians or degrees, no.

    I did it with no trig at all – add, subtract, multiply and divide.

    Sometimes that’s all that trig requires.

    Whose code do you suppose ran the fastest?

    It’s been a long time since I did any 2D graphing like that and it was all in assembly (or hardware) before there were things like X86 vector operations. But as to whether your code was optimized or not, I’d have to ask if you organized it in such a way that it could take advantage of newer SIMD hardware. For example, by storing what you call dx/dr and dy/dr, and I call cis, as a complex number and manipulating it as a unit, so the compiler can more easily see the underlying parallelism in the problem and use the hardware to exploit it.

  145. @ Patrick Maupin

    Right – you know more math than I do, you seem to enjoy it for its own sake more than I do, and you can do useful things with it. That is all good.

    Everyone has their preferences and strong suits. I discovered a love for coding when I was in High School. I have managed to get by.

  146. @Brian Marshall:

    I don’t actually know enough math. A lot of people around me know more. Like you, I discovered a love for coding, and I also discovered that a lot of times, good coding can mask my lack of knowledge and/or make it irrelevant. But not always.

  147. @Brian Marshall:

    One example where I had the opposite experience was at my first programming job.

    This was in 1979. The company I worked for had a big Fortran system that did energy loss calculations for utility company sponsored (government mandated) residential energy audits. It was a huge system with a natural language input system and lots of math, accessed by dial-up terminals.

    One evening, my boss came to me and told me that there seemed to be some precision loss in the floor plan calculation functions, and asked if I could look at them and improve the precision.

    I said sure, and spent several hours studying the hundreds of lines of code that was given a list of coordinates, and carefully determined how to create an optimized list of rectangles that exactly covered the house shape, and then added up the areas of all the rectangles.

    When my boss (the company owner) came in in the morning, he asked me if I had fixed the floor plan functions, and my answer was “sort of.” He asked what I meant, and I told him that it was so complicated that I was sure I would break it if I touched it, so I just rewrote it. He started yelling at me about how Stuart had worked for months on that function and how sophisticated it was, etc. And I calmly replied that, after reading the code, I was sure that Stuart was a much better programmer than I was at that point in my career, but that maybe Stuart didn’t fully understand basic geometry. And that my new function was 7 lines, if he would like to take a look at it to see what he thought. And that it passed the few testcases we had. And, oh btw, it now works with non-orthogonal floorplans.

  148. On Nvidia:
    I initially was going post a long and rambling rant about how Nvidia’s proprietary driver consistently outperforms the open source driver, despite the proprietary driver being an evil binary blob that taints the kernel. Then another, more interesting thought occurred to me.

    When initially reading up about the proprietary and open-source drivers for Nvidia, I read about the tools the Nouveau team had to aid in their reverse engineering. If AMD/ATI can be tricky enough to have their driver detect when benchmarks are being done and then fudge the results to inflate the score, what prevents Nvidia from doing similar to sabotage reverse engineering attempts? I imagine a scenario where the proprietary Linux driver is designed to detect when it is being monitored or traced and then feed the monitoring tool misleading info. Thus, with the misleading data, the Nouveau team codes a driver which does work, but pales in comparison to the proprietary one. As a result, Nvidia’s super-special-secret IP doesn’t escape into the wild via the open-source drivers. Hanlon’s Razor comes to mind immediately afterward and I realize the above scenario probably wrong (I at least hope it is), but that’s never stopped my imagination before.

    On Math:
    I was never taught the SOH CAH TOA mnemonic, but I recognized the trig functions it represented fairly quickly. Opposite over hypotenuse et al. were certainly drilled into my head during high school. That was boring and un-fun, and not just for trig. What did look interesting and fun were the exercises which demonstrated some real-world practical application, or some natural phenomenon that mimicked the mathematical pattern. I recall one that showed how the temperature regulated by a thermostat mimicked a sine wave. I don’t recall if we were outright forbidden to work on such exercises, but they were at the very least extra credit. It was far more important to use trig functions to solve for the length of the side of a triangle.

    From Lockhart’s Lament:

    This is a major theme in mathematics: things are what you want them to be. You have endless choices; there is no reality to get in your way.

    That last sentence puts a smile on my face and immediately calls to mind the second line of recent xkcd strip. I wonder if that was intentional bit of ha ha only serious on Mr. Munroe’s part, or if it is just an amusing coincidence.

  149. Why do comments get hung up at this time of day? Let’s try again…

    @ Patrick Maupin

    That’s great. You apply your knowledge to your talents. From your description, I doubt if Stuart was a better programmer than you. Code that is too complex to touch is bad code even if Stuart was able to touch it. If Stuart couldn’t write good code to solve the problem, the problem should have been given to someone else. Handling non-orthogonal floor plans is impressive. Off-hand, I would guess using triangles – any 2D shape on a plane without curved edges can be covered by triangles (well, it doesn’t have to be a plane, but floors usually are).

    We all have our domains. I have a variety of talents that I have used in different combinations at different times. I have had a series of jobs that I have loved.

    I now nurse a bad spine, an inheritance and the BCPlacer.com website. I mentioned this above, but if you type “placer claim” into Google, (with or without the quotes), a page I wrote comes up second. One way or another, I will make money from my love for, and knowledge of, placer gold mining in BC. I am a data and mapping specialist – a relevant combination. I am doing research now that I will either turn into an e-book or use to further increase the traffic to my website. We will see. I haven’t given any money to Microsoft for about 12 years. Life has been a blast so far.

  150. @ Jessica Boxer

    >I think you are saying that people learn things when they use them in useful ways.

    It’s pretty much exactly what I’m saying. Learning things isn’t hard when you have a need and a way to apply what you learn. As the “Lament” posted earlier points out, we don’t teach music by starting with a rigorous study of music theory, and we don’t teach painting that way either. Hell we don’t even teach reading, arguably the most important skill you will ever learn, in that manner either (well, some exceptions abound once you get to school, but your parents didn’t sit you down with a grammar book and a dictionary when they were teaching you. In fact, everyone has probably had experience in a situation where a real world need to know something or know how to do it popped up and suddenly they became at the very least fluent in the topic in less time than your average school semester. Learning is easy, and especially given all the crap that surrounds the modern education system about “teaching children how to learn”, there’s no better way than having them learn something on their own, to solve their own problems and questions.

  151. @Brian Marshall:

    Yeah, but I haven’t yet devised an experiment to tell if the ether is stationary or not…

  152. Let me try this one more time… I really hope this doesn’t get put up three times…

    @ Patrick Maupin

    That’s great. You apply your knowledge to your talents. From your description, I doubt if Stuart was a better programmer than you. Code that is too complex to touch is bad code even if Stuart was able to touch it. If Stuart couldn’t write good code to solve the problem, the problem should have been given to someone else. Handling non-orthogonal floor plans is impressive. Off-hand, I would guess using triangles – any 2D shape on a plane without curved edges can be covered by triangles (well, it doesn’t have to be a plane, but floors usually are).

    We all have our domains. I have a variety of talents that I have used in different combinations at different times. I have had a series of jobs that I have loved.

    I now nurse a bad spine, an inheritance and the BCPlacer.com website. I mentioned this above, but if you type “placer claim” into Google, (with or without the quotes), a page I wrote comes up second. One way or another, I will make money from my love for, and knowledge of, placer gold mining in BC. I am a data and mapping specialist – a relevant combination. I am doing research now that I will either turn into an e-book or use to further increase the traffic to my website. We will see. I haven’t given any money to Microsoft for about 12 years. Life has been a blast so far.

  153. Not that my post has any foul language in it. My comment is only 3 paragraphs, one of them short… maybe it’s because I mentioned…. Microsoft?

  154. @ Patrick Maupin – paragraph 1

    That’s great. You apply your knowledge to your talents. From your description, I doubt if Stuart was a better programmer than you. Code that is too complex to touch is bad code even if Stuart was able to touch it. If Stuart couldn’t write good code to solve the problem, the problem should have been given to someone else. Handling non-orthogonal floor plans is impressive. Off-hand, I would guess using triangles – any 2D shape on a plane without curved edges can be covered by triangles (well, it doesn’t have to be a plane, but floors usually are).

  155. Paragraph 2
    We all have our domains. I have a variety of talents that I have used in different combinations at different times. I have had a series of jobs that I have loved.

  156. paragraph 3 and the end… Hopefully the 3 full submissions will stay lost…
    I now nurse a bad spine, an inheritance and the BCPlacer.com website. I mentioned this above, but if you type “placer claim” into Google, (with or without the quotes), a page I wrote comes up second. One way or another, I will make money from my love for, and knowledge of, placer gold mining in BC. I am a data and mapping specialist – a relevant combination. I am doing research now that I will either turn into an e-book or use to further increase the traffic to my website. We will see. I haven’t given any money to Microsoft for about 12 years. Life has been a blast so far.

  157. @Brian Marshall:

    So… you are suggesting that the ether wind may have blown the comments away?

    Yeah. Good thing esr has a tractor beam to retrieve them.

    Handling non-orthogonal floor plans is impressive.

    Only if you start off thinking that you actually have to divide things up.

    Off-hand, I would guess using triangles – any 2D shape on a plane without curved edges can be covered by triangles (well, it doesn’t have to be a plane, but floors usually are).

    Nope. I doubt that you could use any kind of covering strategy in 7 lines. All you want to do is to calculate the area under each line segment, and then sum them up, where the area under the line segment is (x2 – x1) * (y1+y2) / 2

    If someone enters a house as an ordered list of perimeter points, then there are really only two relevant observations: (1) you should close the polygon if they didn’t, by drawing a line from the last point to the first point (actually, for simplicity you should always close it — if they already closed it, you’re adding zero area), and (2) It doesn’t really matter what they use for the origin, because when they loop back around, the sign of (x2-x1) will change appropriately.

    In Python this is even easier. You could actually do it in one line, but that would be impenetrable. But 3 lines (4 including the function header) is not too bad:

    def area(points):
        points.append(points[0])
        points = zip(points, points[1:])
        return sum((x2-x1) * (y2+y1) / 2.0 for ((x1, y1), (x2, y2)) in points)
     
    area([(0,0), (0,2), (2,2), (2,0)])
    area([(0,0), (0,2), (2,2), (3,0)])

    I now nurse a bad spine, an inheritance and the BCPlacer.com website.

    That’s some interesting stuff, and I’m sure there’s a lot of money to be made by feeding the lottery dreams.

  158. @ Patrick Maupin

    That is pretty impressive – I don’t know if a person dares use this word to one’s non-technical boss, but: “Elegant”.

    Yeah – gold at $1600/oz attracts attention.

    There are also some changes to the law as of yesterday to make it more expensive to just sit on claims – some good ground should open up.

    The thing is, the BC government really does make the laws, the fees, everything work for a single guy prospecting or working a small claim just as much as for a billion dollar mining company. They know the single guy isn’t going to add to the province’s wealth, but a lot of big discoveries are made by single guys, who then sell a claim to a big company or try to start their own – that adds to the province’s wealth.

  159. From Steven Levy’s book “Hackers”, the original MIT hackers made the first video game with two space ships that could move around and shoot at each other. This was in, like. 1964 or something. At one point the added a star with a gravitational field. Then a while later someone said “The wind of space!” and they tried it out (essentially a gravity field all going in one direction instead of around a center of mass.

  160. Those MIT hackers were the guys that did the “Game of Life” – a grid with some starting configuration and some rules that get applied to each cell based on the cells around it. You can model wolves and mice, the spread of a disease, tiny things in a pond competing for food… vast numbers of things, including just cool stuff…. someone basically by accident set up configuration that was a glider gun, which kept shooting out gliders that would fly away. An example of a glider is the Hacker Emblem at the bottom of this page.

  161. @Brian Marshall: Actually, The Game of Life was invented by a mathematician named John Conway around 1970…nit pick…nit pick…nit pick….

  162. @Jessica
    “This whole “no teaching to the test” thing I think is a big of a fallacy, designed to propagate the myth of the ART of teaching.”

    No.

    A test/exam intends to sample the knowledge and proficiency of the student. Teaching to the test is trying to bias the sample.

    The idea is that you can get a high score even if you do not qualify.

    Root learning of factoids (all the names and definitions of the trigonometric functions and variants) for multiple choice questions (‘sec’ is a, b, c, d ?) is such a strategy. The result is students who can recite every definition, but have no clue how to convert a sin(x) to some cos(x+a).

    Underlying such teaching to the test is the hypothesis that if a student masters trigonometry, she will know the names and definitions of all the functions and variants. This is weakly plausible. And then invert that statement.

    However, the reverse is most definitely false: You can know all the names and definitions without having the slightest clue about what these functions are for.

  163. @Jessica
    On teaching to the test.

    As usual, Richard Feynman explains it best. If you want to be entertained and learn about the evils of Teaching to the Test, read:

    Richard Feynman on education in Brazil
    http://v.cx/2010/04/feynman-brazil-education

    After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn’t know what anything meant.

  164. @Winter:

    The result is students who can recite every definition, but have no clue how to convert a sin(x) to some cos(x+a).

    This can only happen if the teacher can be sure that the question of ” how to convert a sin(x) to some cos(x+a)” is not on the test. But the tests are gamed in multiple ways — not just teaching to the test, but also downright cheating.

    This is why there should be multiple tests, preferably administered by independent parties.

  165. @Winter:

    After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn’t know what anything meant.

    This may indicate a failure of designing good tests, but it doesn’t at all prove that such design is impossible.

    Unfortunately, I think one of the reasons that we are dumbing down tests is that we are trying to separate out, e.g. English comprehension from math. But that is impossible, if only because math in a vacuum is useless. Bring back word problems.

  166. @Patrick
    “This may indicate a failure of designing good tests, but it doesn’t at all prove that such design is impossible.”

    There seems to be a misunderstanding. Tests are difficult to write and grade. A lot of work is involved. Work that teachers are often not paid for. Eg, Universities want more and more often tests. But the allowance for a course, in hours, is kept fixed. Oh, and they want objective grades with fixed, explicit grading rules.

    So a teacher needs a test that is easy to write and easy to grade. That would be a multiple choice test, or tests that require reciting definitions. But a multiple choice test is testing memory, not understanding. So the course is changed to add factoids that can be tested in multiple choice tests.

    The end result is the situation described by Feynman. Students are tested on root memory of names, definitions, and theorems. Therefore, students will concentrate on root learning these tested items.

    Why you all think that if you oppose “teaching to the test”, you oppose testing itself is a mystery to me.

    I prefer the type of rigorous examination they had in 19th century UK universities. The exam questions even initiated progress in mathematics and science.

  167. @Winter
    > A test/exam intends to sample the knowledge and proficiency of the student.
    > Teaching to the test is trying to bias the sample.

    We are drifting down into arguing over the meaning of words. Of course what you describe is a bad thing, but that isn’t teaching to the test really, it is cheating. There are ways to fix this with good test design, for example the teacher is not the test writer, having multiple different tests and so forth.

    I also know where you are coming from on learning names but not meaning. But learning names is important too, you know. If you learn the name “sine” you can attach in your mind a whole network of information that is associated with that function. Learning the name doesn’t learn you all the other stuff, but it is the starting point — the hook.

    There are many valid criticisms of the way kids are educated, nearly all of them come fro the lack of competition in school and the fact that schools are generally measured by throughput rather than output. Certainly testing could be done better, but there are a whole raft of issues to solve before that one gets in the top three.

    However, I agree testing is not the optimum solution — not in the form we test anyway. But it is better than nothing, and it is better than the “trust me I’m a professional” attitude that the teachers’ unions would want us to adopt.

  168. @Jessica
    We are divided by a common language ;-)

    I am advocating the most rigorous centralized tests. And they should be tough, really covering the breath and depth of what should have been learned.

    My ideal is a contest for the best test questions. With a large prize after the exams for the winners.

    If there is one downside to testing, it would be that during a test you learn so little.

  169. @LS

    Actually, The Game of Life was invented by a mathematician named John Conway around 1970…nit pick…nit pick…nit pick….

    I’m battling with bedbugs right now, so all my books are in boxes inside garbage bags. I recognize the name Jonn Conway. I guess 1970 would be after the original MIT hackers sort of dispersed.

    I though Life was done on the second computer the MIT hackers got, the one with the CRT screen.

    Where does John Conway come in?

  170. @Brian Marshall
    > so all my books are in boxes inside garbage bags

    Books??? :-)

  171. @ LS

    I read about Jonn Conway on Wikipedia. The Glider Gun was first invented in 1970 by Bill Gosper, one of the original MIT hackers. From Wikipedia, I can’t seem to determine whether this happened at or whether “the MIT hackers” were still doing their thing at MIT in 1970.

    Regardless, the Glider Gun was very cool.

  172. “As usual, Richard Feynman explains it best. If you want to be entertained and learn about the evils of Teaching to the Test…”

    Around 1948, Feynman was invited to a scientific conference in South America. Since he was travelling by ship, he decided to spend the time by learning Spanish. He locked himself in his cabin, and when the ship landed ten days later, he had learned the language. Only when he got ashore did he find out that the people in Brazil spoke Portuguese. He had taught himself to the test, but the wrong one.

  173. >Anyone know what Chinese policies on open source are in general as distinct from this one deal?

    As I said in my earlier comment: They don’t care about free software as such, any more than they do any other type of freedom, they just don’t want someone else controlling their machines.

    This is why they have been trying to get away from Windows and promoting Linux for years.

  174. @Jay Maynard

    >Sound and Fury: The flaw in that argument is that you have to constantly innovate by enough to justify the price premium you have to charge over the cloners. That’s a highly nontrivial task.

    Since they have to keep innovating to stay ahead of their other competitors anyway though, I don’t see that as a major problem.

  175. >Engineers (ex. mechanical engineers doing finite element analysis) generally use software – you aren’t going to do it with pencil and paper.

    I agree with Heinlein, if you can’t do approximate calculations in your head, or at least on the back of an envelope, you’re not an engineer, at best you’re a half-trained technician.

  176. >I never heard of SOH-CAH-TOA, so I had to look it up. I think your statement is completely wrong. Just because you know an acronym that describes a definition doesn’t mean that you understand the definition, and anybody who actually knows what a “hypotenuse” is probably doesn’t need this stupid mnemonic.

    Same here, but I do use the right triangle definition that the acronym describes when working trig problems; when working on coordinate geometry I still visualize the right triangle on the grid.

  177. >>But, in our advanced technological society, ALMOST NOBODY NEEDS MATH!

    >We only have an advanced technological society because enough people do enough math.

    The math is mostly built into our tools so it isn’t readily visible, but if you don’t know the math you cannot effectively participate in developing or even improving those tools. I strongly suspect that the fact that the math and other knowledge is less visible now, by being so thoroughly built-in, is one of the reasons fewer people, especially young people, are as deeply interested in technology and science as earlier generations.

  178. >The thing is, you can teach the principle without too much arithmetic. But if you really teach the principle, you are in fact, teaching math.

    Math is a skill, if you can’t do it you don’t know math. Learning the principles without the skill isn’t math, it is learning about math.

  179. @ams
    >Part of it is that there seems to be no bridge between mid level math (College undergrad stuff) and higher level math (the sort of strange stuff graduate mathematicians and quantum physicists sling regularly).

    There are courses and books, usually called something like “Introduction to Analysis”, that are designed to fill that gap, between Calculus III and Advanced Calculus (or differential equations), Friedman’s Foundations of Modern Analysis and Rosenlicht’s Introduction to Analysis, both published by Dover, are two that I have seen (though not really read, so I can’t say they are particularly good).

  180. Sorry for the multiple comments, but we had a major storm sweep through the area Friday night and I just got power back after 90 hours without.

  181. “Why you all think that if you oppose “teaching to the test”, you oppose testing itself is a mystery to me.

    Because the argument is specifically used by teachers’ associations here in the US to oppose testing.

  182. @SPQR:

    Because the argument is specifically used by teachers’ associations here in the US to oppose testing.

    The same people who have a vested interest in getting rid of the tests entirely rather than using the sort of comprehensive ones that Winter thinks might be useful. What a coincidence!

  183. @ billswift

    I agree with Heinlein, if you can’t do approximate calculations in your head, or at least on the back of an envelope, you’re not an engineer, at best you’re a half-trained technician.

    I think the Heinlein quote you are thinking of goes more like: “If it can’t be expressed in numbers, it ain’t science.”

    In any case, I agree, some people, particularly engineers and hard-science scientists do use math and benefit from understanding it.

    My point was that as a proportion, almost no one needs to be able to find the roots of, or factor, polynomials – a subject that gets an enormous amount of attention in school.

    re: SOH-CAH-TOA

    The people that have attacked this are not representative of the population as a whole. SOH-CAH-TOA isn’t math – it is a mnemonic that, if you memorize these 4 syllables (which I found easy) and you have a calculator with trig functions, you can do basic trig. I don’t want to understand it – I want to be able to do basic trig.

    >>But, in our advanced technological society, ALMOST NOBODY NEEDS MATH!

    The math is mostly built into our tools so it isn’t readily visible, but if you don’t know the math you cannot effectively participate in developing or even improving those tools.

    I’m not sure what tools you are talking about. Since I did some graphics programming, I did some trig, but the vast majority of software developers don’t use much in the way of math. The vast proportion of professional people use basic arithmetic, some very basic stats and conceivably a bit of probability. Skilled trades people probably do more trig and basic algebra ( V=HxA => H=V/A) than most professional folks. This is all basically arithmetic, not math.

    The vast majority of people in society (not those that build the tools to advance the state of jet engine design, people as a whole in the US, Canada, say) need to be able to add, subtract and find a calculator. They should know how percentages work. It would be good for them if they knew at least a tiny bit about probability. They most certainly do not need to “understand” trig. Even skilled trades people that use trig don’t have any reason to “understand” trig – some of them use it but they certainly do not need to derive it from first principles.

    One of my primary points is that almost everything a person learns in high school is crap. Most people don’t need any of it but the ones who learn beyond the next exam would benefit from knowing a lot more about history and how the world actually works. Some would like chemistry if they learned how interesting it can be, however what they do learn is the names of things and how to balance ionic equations – they hate it for good reason. The same thing applies to math and physics. A very small proportion of people will go on to actually learn a lot about math and/or chem and/or physics, etc. and become engineers or scientists or some other technical professionals. Some kids will love learning this stuff for its own sake, but school makes them hate it instead.

    Basically, I think:

    1. Many people, even professional people, don’t use math, physics, chemistry, etc. at all ever. A tiny proportion of people do. Exposing kids to all sorts of stuff is important. Whether they learn much of any particular science is unimportant for almost everybody. For the few that are going to become engineers and such, it would help a lot if the subjects were taught in ways that were not focused on names and formal processes so that they end up hating the subject. We would get a lot more engineers if sciences weren’t taught in a way that is so incredibly boring.

    2. Except for engineers and a few other professionals, everything that practically everyone needs is taught by the time a kid finishes junior high. If society was structured differently, which I don’t expect to happen as a result of my opinions, I think a large proportion of kids should stop formal education after grade 9 and do a series of part time jobs to learn about how the world actually works.

    And of course, the idea that you need a university degree to work in HR or be a manager or a lot of other professions is… silly. It might be an effective sorting mechanism for the companies doing the hiring but it is an incredible waste of resources for society and often the students themselves. ESR doesn’t have a degree. Neither does Bill Gates (I have heard). I was a technical computer programmer (ie. started with FORTRAN, not COBOL, to do work for engineers, geologists and geophysicists rather than accounting and HR. I don’t have a degree. (ESR officially made me a hacker in one of his blog posts a couple of weeks ago – it is an honor that must be bestowed by others.) I have managed to contribute to society using no math and no arithmetic beyond SOH-CAH-TOA trig and algebra,

    I could go on – I have gone on and on, here and above.

  184. >the vast majority of software developers don’t use much in the way of math

    That is true; having been a mathematician I notice this. But I think it is helpful for programmers to know some boolean logic and basic finite-set theory, a bit of combinatorics (enough so that factorials and binomial coefficients are meaningful), a smidgen of graph theory, and a bit of applied statistics. Finite discrete math, in other words.

  185. >I think the Heinlein quote you are thinking of goes more like: “If it can’t be expressed in numbers, it ain’t science.”

    I wasn’t thinking of a quote, I was thinking of the attitude that he displays in the majority of his books from Rocketship Galileo on, most explicitly in a couple of scenes in Rolling Stones and Have Space Suit – Will Travel, though if you want a quote, “Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable sub-human who has learned to wear shoes, bathe and not make messes in the house.”

  186. Sorry for the rant, but this hits a sore spot.

    @SPQR:
    “Because the argument is specifically used by teachers’ associations here in the US to oppose testing. ”

    I deduced something like that. If they really do that, they should all be fired on the spot.

    Testing students is like benchmarking. Without a good benchmark there will be no quality.

    But testing is more. Students need honest feed-back on their performance. This feedback is necessary for them to schedule the time to practice and learn. They need the tests to know whether they spend enough time learning and practicing, and whether they do the right thing. (and, obviously, without a test, they won’t study :-)

    Denying students honest and good tests is denying them a good education.

    “Teaching to the test” implies bad testing. Because, if the exams are good, teaching them will teach you the subject. Only bad tests can be gamed by root-learning “teaching to the test”. The solution to “teaching to the test” is better tests.

    But better tests also expose unqualified students and bad teachers. So there is a perverse motivation to prevent good testing in (wealthy) parents and bad teachers.

    Bad testing is always accompanied by remedial teaching where parents with money can hire assistance doing remedial tutoring (root-learning) to give their their bad performing children an edge. Japan is a perfect example for this vicious circle of bad tests motivating both bad education and spending money on tutoring by the same teachers that messed up the education in the first place.

    I mentioned “teaching to the test” wrt Lockhart’s lament because in reality the causation is backwards. Tests are dumbed down to cut costs, but bad tests will decreases the quality of teaching and allows the tests to be gamed, decreasing the quality of education still more.

    In the end, the quality of the tests determines the quality of the teaching.

  187. Winter, I agree entirely. But I also think that in far too many circumstances, teaching to the test means that they are getting at least a minimal amount of teaching done. And there are times when I think that’s more than would happen otherwise.

  188. @SPQR
    “But I also think that in far too many circumstances, teaching to the test means that they are getting at least a minimal amount of teaching done.”

    *Schudder*

    Actually, I read such stories, and worse, from people discussing the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) program.

  189. @Winter
    >Denying students honest and good tests is denying them a good education.

    Totally with you my little Dutch buddy. That is why I had a visceral reaction to the complaint about “teaching to the test” above. Teaching to the test is, in some respects, a good thing, but it actually requires that we have good tests.

    Learning is an interesting process. I have, for example, read studies where students were given some book to read where a control group were given no instructions, and a test group were given instructions to read the book to learn about one specific topic covered in the book. Both groups were given the same comprehension test afterward, and the students who were given the focused instruction did significantly better, not only on the subject they were told to focus on, but on all other subjects covered! Why? Because learning is an associative process: learning one thing drags along understanding of lots of other things. Again, that is why teaching to the test offers so many benefits – you might think you are only learning the stuff on the test, but you actually drag a whole bunch of stuff into your brain collaterally.

    As I have said “don’t teach to the test” is always the lament of those who don’t want to be measured. And we all know that the only things that improve are the things that are measured and tracked.

    Don’t complain about teaching to the test, complain about how sucky the tests are. (Also, as I have said, I think there are even better ways of learning beyond tests, but if testing is what we do, lets do it right.)

  190. Years ago, I had a truly wonderful teacher, who believed that tests, besides measuring what you learned, should also *teach* you something. His test questions were carefully crafted to do just that. It was teaching *from* the test. Marvelous. God rest his blessed soul.

  191. Five or six years back, I spent a year in sabbatical and taught community college classes full time ( I teach one class part time still ). It was illuminating in the sense of shining a flashlight in a dark pit full of snakes.

  192. @ esr

    It has been a long day in the struggle against bedbugs from the apartment next to mine…

    But I think it is helpful for programmers to know some boolean logic and basic finite-set theory, a bit of combinatorics (enough so that factorials and binomial coefficients are meaningful), a smidgen of graph theory, and a bit of applied statistics. Finite discrete math, in other words.

    Given your background in math and programming, I imagine that you are correct. Personally, I have brushed against boolean logic and graph theory to the extent that I have a very hazy idea of what the subjects are about… and that is about it. As I have said, I have never cared for math, but I imagine that I would have cared for it a lot more if I was educated in a better way (ala Lochart’s lament) rather than the “crap I learned in high school”.

    Considering it’s you I am addressing, I am giving this more thought than I might otherwise; in some ways you might not think that this is appropriate, but I think that you gave more thought to your comment than many of the people that have responded to me. I find what you didn’t comment upon even more interesting than what you did.

    My first gut reaction is, sure, mathematicians take a mathematical approach to programming. I, on the other hand, have simply taken advantage of a great talent for coding plus object-oriented-design / entity-relationship analysis (which in some ways, are two sides of the same coin) – they are so easy to me that I can’t even really tell how I do it.

    There is a matter of domains.

    When dealing with difficult, technical problems, I can imagine that the subjects that you listed could be very helpful – compiler design and code optimization would be great examples, and various engineering problems. When dealing with tools like awk or even sed, it is important to make them as optimal as one can before some diminishing returns aspect kicks in, and I can imagine “finite discrete math” being of value, not only as tools to be used but in how problems are viewed.

    On the other hand, the vast majority of programmers that work downtown put the data in, get the data out, display it and maybe let some people edit and/or delete it. I can imagine that exposure to finite discrete math would have less relevance to these people.

    When I was started out, I learned FORTRAN in the high school computer club and I vowed to never learn COBOL. As a professional, I sort of specialized in mapping software but also did a lot of pretty straight forward data processing. Their were times, however when I can imagine that having a background in finite discrete math would have done me and my work some good.

    Given the right teacher and education system, I could have learned about such things in high school. It is such a shame that high school math (and the sciences) were taught in ways that make almost everyone hate them, and that everything is paced for the slowest student (to ensure that no one ever “fails”). I enjoyed chem and physics because I knew almost all the material before being taught it, so they were easy classes in which I did learn some interesting things. Making them harder in a way that makes them more interesting rather than more hateful would not be trivial to implement – for starters, you need teachers teaching subjects that they know and love. In practice, this isn’t what happens.

    I haven’t been a professional “I.T. person” for about 5 years, now. My career kept moving more and more to a database facing role and I kept finding jobs that I loved. However, only tiny companies wanted to hire me – big companies would get DBAs or techs to do what I do (but not as well as do). Anyway, I love data and working with it. I love dealing with data in text files and using the Unix tools.

    A couple of days ago I was showing my son why I like Linux. I wanted a list of all the *.mid files (the middle parts of what gets turned into html files) where I said “click ” instead of “click on <something"…

    grep "click " | grep -v "click on" | sed "s/mid.*$/mid" | sort -u

    To me, this is beautiful. Sure it is basically trivial but I still think that it is beautiful. When I work, I like to have four terminal window open; Gnome 3 is horrible for me. Xfce seems fine for what I do.

  193. @ esr

    I didn’t notice “a bit of applied statistics”.

    I know what an average, median and mode are. I know conceptually what a normal distribution and a standard deviation are but I can’t define them mathematicaly. IIRC, a variance is the mean of the squares of the difference between the values and the mean. If I had to guess… 86% of a normal distribution lie within one standard deviation from the mean (but there are two tails…) …I know the basic ideas.

    @ billswift

    I am pretty sure that I am human.

  194. @ billswift

    I can’t factor polynomials any more. I can’t say that it has been a major impediment in my life. I hated the six months we spent fucking around with them with no clue as to why they were that important. To the vast majority of the population, they are of no value whatsoever.

    Einstein wrote a wonderful little book for the layman. I didn’t care for his demonstration of the relativity of simultaneity. I came up with one I like better, which I provided in a comment, above.

    Everyone is good at different things.

  195. >When dealing with difficult, technical problems, I can imagine that the subjects that you listed could be very helpful – compiler design and code optimization would be great examples, and various engineering problems. When dealing with tools like awk or even sed, it is important to make them as optimal as one can before some diminishing returns aspect kicks in, and I can imagine “finite discrete math” being of value, not only as tools to be used but in how problems are viewed.

    Quite right. The work I seek out by preference tends to be in the more algorithmically dense parts of systems programming – that’s where GPSD and giflib live, not to mention reposurgeon and doclifter (significantly, three of those four programs make unusual uses of compiler technology). This is precisely the programming neighborhood in which a decent grasp of finite discrete math is most useful.

    Your last clause, “not only as tools to be used but in how problems are viewed”, is very insightful considering that you describe yourself as having a weak math background. Well spotted!

  196. >To me, this is beautiful.

    To me regex-s are horrible. Conceptually they are powerful and useful, but there must be a better syntax than the nightmare we currently have. Mostly,even minimally complex regex-s are close to write only.

  197. @ Winter

    You know that regular expressions are “deep” math?

    You have led me to realize that I don’t care to “understand” regular expressions, either.

    To everyone who thinks I am impaired because I don’t “understand” trig, I ask:

    Do you “understand” the electronics under the hood of your car? Of course I and many people understand how a 4-cycle internal combustion engine works, but all the computers and chips and black boxes?

    Do you find your car useful anyway?

  198. @ Jessica

    To me regex-s are horrible.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to have to deal with another developer’s “clever” regular expressions. I only brush the surface, and in my case, these days, the only code I have to maintain is my own.

    But to be able to:

    s/mid.*$/mid/

    to remove everything past the first “mid” is so useful and so easy. You just can’t do that with simple “find and replace”.

    I may even decide to solidly learn how to do regex find and replace in the string – to find items and move them around in each string. I find that I would like to do that from time to time. Now I have to write a bit of awk to do that.

    re:

    Books??? :-)

    I should have said: You know – legacy paperware data systems.

  199. @Jessica Boxer:

    > To me regex-s are horrible.

    Yeah, if I’m doing something exceptionally complicated, I will build up the expression programmatically before handing it to the regex machinery.

    This allows me to name pieces of my expression and easily see the relationship between the pieces.

  200. I said…

    I may even decide to solidly learn how to do regex find and replace in the string – to find items and move them around in each string. I find that I would like to do that from time to time. Now I have to write a bit of awk to do that.

    Done.

  201. Pingback: nVidia Loses Huge Graphics Card Bid « 36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

  202. A good test is a sample of the student’s knowlege and skills. It is not an inventory.

    At some point teaching to the test turns the first into the second. What should have been a subset becomes the entire set.

  203. Nvidia, no matter if you like them, or don’t like them, did the only logical thing to do, and to refuse to let go of the driver code, and especially to china.

    I suspect that Nvidia wont even let the driver code go to certain US defense companies. Rather Nvidia makes the code changes in house, as needed for those customers. AMD made a dreadful error. I hate to say it. But that may be the death nail to sell AMD stock. Its a very short sighted position. The stock holders of AMD should fire their management, and look into possible criminal action against same.

    Even defense companies in the usa are now riddled with spy’s from asia and south asia. Congress of the usa, is killing the US with these insane H1B and immigration policies. Will China let any US engineers in their critical silicon and coding facilities. Not even maybe.

    At least this war mongering may end, as soon there wont be an economy to pay for it.

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