Wal-Mart is more exclusive than Harvard

From the American Thinker:

Harvard College accepted just 6.9 percent ofapplicants for the class of 2015, its lowest rate ever. The numbers were not much better elsewhere in the Ivies: 8.2 percent at Princeton, 11.5 percent at Dartmouth.

In contrast, a new Walmart in Cleveland recently received 6000 applicants for 300 positions.

Open Question: The Texas Instruments Graphing Calculator

What’s the difference between being able to do math and being able to use a computer that can do math? There must be some difference, since you can’t use an iPod or other dynamic electronic device on most college mathematics assessments. Instead, students are stuck with the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Silver Edition (at best).

This calculator is, for most purposes, the same calculator that I was required to use in my high school math classes, the TI-81. The thing was designed 21 years ago. I honestly think if a student had a TI-81 instead of a TI-84+SE, they would be just as able to hack it in any math class up to College Pre-Calculus. The display is the same on both calculators… 96×64 pixels! Straight up black and… green.

Of course, this thing is a total piece of crap when compared with an iPod on 4G. Wolfram Alpha alone renders much of the TI-84+ SE functionality obsolete! Certainly the graphing functionality is superior using Alpha. Also, Alpha is intuitive… it’s largely unnecessary to learn the arguments in order to use Alpha, unlike the TI.

My guess is that internet access is something colleges believe will lead to cheating… that the work students do on assessments may represent aptitude using the computational instrument rather than aptitude for mathematics. Hence, the use of a less functional tool. (Also… what about pencil-and-paper? Why use a calculator at all? Slippery slope?) But I could be wrong.

Why are the Texas Instruments graphing utilities still in heavy use despite the prevalence of tools with superior functionality?

This question is open.

On Dick Durbin and facebook

So U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has asked Mark Zuckerberg to allow Facebook users to be anonymous. Presumably this is for political dissidents to be able to speak without fear of retribution from their governments (as in Egypt). How this meshes with the ever-expanding governmental power platform of the Democratic Party, I don’t know… probably some expectation that facebook turn over the real identities of the users. “My name’s Dan Smith, and I totally checkmarked the anonymous box in my privacy settings, so that means no one knows who I am… except anyone Zuckerberg told.”

Anonymity is essential to subversive power. Durbin has that right. I think he means anonymity from the bad guys… never anonymity from Durbin, of course. He’s one of the good guys.

Unemployment in the News

Here’s an headline from today’s USA Today:

Millions to lose jobless checks

This link is to the article, by Paul Davidson, also published at tennessean.com.

Now, let me preface this by saying that it sucks to be unemployed, and for the purposes of this discussion, I will concede that unemployment’s existence, to ease the transition from one job to the next, is a fine thing.

This article, however, simply highlights how consumer spending could be negatively impacted, and quotes Democratic Party senator Max Baucus, who says something about how now people won’t be able to put food on the table.

I wonder what the reasons for declining to extend unemployment benefits would be? Not only is no Republican senator quoted in the article, but there isn’t even a “declined to comment” reference about an attempt to contact such a senator. USA Today doesn’t include this information. (There is an irrelevant thing about some Republican toady saying something about how Democrats should pass tax cuts.)

I wonder what the actual unemployment bill was about? You know, like how long these people who are suddenly going to be denied unemployment benefits have already received them?

“Unemployed Americans typically get 26 weeks of benefits from states and up to 73 more weeks in federal aid.”

First of all, Damn. Six months A year and a half of unemployment is doing all right, no lies. Granted one might complain about how much an unemployment actually amounts to, and then complain about how little it is, but that doesn’t somehow mean that six months isn’t enough time to find a job. Yeah, “… are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” I’m pretty much Scrooge here, right? But seriously, if you can’t find a job in six months, that means you’re literally of no use to anyone but yourself. What do you expect? Oh wait, yeah, you can still vote, right? So I guess you’re gonna vote for whoever continues to take money from those that do work and give it to you. So you’re literally of no use to anyone but the Democratic Party.

Ahem. I digress.

Is that 73 weeks of federal aid what was being voted on? The article isn’t clear about that, but I guess the United States Senate doesn’t vote on state unemployment benefits, right? Or do they? No mention of that in the… news… paper… article. Now that the bill failed, how long do unemployment benefits last? Also, no mention.

The USA Today article stops before going into the sad sack story of Wayne Pittman. At last at tennessean.com, there’s at least this:

Ninety-nine weeks may seem like a long time to find a job. But even as the economy grows, jobs that vanished in the Great Recession have not returned.

Maybe waiting 99 weeks for your job to return isn’t the thing to do. Maybe a different job, you know, in the meantime would be advisable? Perhaps people don’t find other jobs because they’d lose their unemployment! No kidding? You mean getting money for not working dissuades people from finding work?

If I lost my job, I guess the first thing I’d try to do for more money is get a worse job than the one I had. Then, while not slinging coffee or delivering pizzas or whatever, I’d look for a better job than that one.

It’s a good thing people have brains, to follow up on the huge amount of information that is necessary to actually process this article, or  better yet, read something instead of USA Today.

All press is good press, why link to something that people shouldn’t be reading, etc.

Steal this Science Fiction Idea #2

I’d like to read a story in which there is a betting market, a-la Intrade, that offers a bet regarding the nationality of the perpetrator of the next terrorist attack. The idea is that betting markets tend to be excellent predictors of the future, and that in the case of these sorts of questions, reveal the beliefs of those doing the betting. The story could take place sufficiently far into the future that the market for prediction trading would be large enough that a conspiracy could be constructed. Let’s suppose that the market for “next terrorist attack on American soil perpetrated by an American citizen” would be manipulated. A group could bet huge money on this, and then actually arrange the perpetration of the crime, thereby getting a huge payout. Kind of like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Then you could have some insider in the scheme simultaneously arranging some other non-American to commit a terrorist act, thereby foiling the predictive market scheme.

Of course, many innocent bystanders would be killed. The idea, of course, is that the predictive market could be self-fulfilling.


Steal This Science Fiction Idea #1

So there’s a lot of stories on 365 tomorrows which feature the idea of a person’s mind being “uploaded” to somehow extend the consciousness of a person, thereby ensuring immortality, to whatever extent that makes sense.

I guess I’d like to read a story about the time after which the technology was initially developed; that the first person’s mind was uploaded and their body was left behind.

The protests by people who believe this to be unnatural… and the question of whether to do this yourself. The dilemma for Christian people to, in the eyes of those who trust in the technology, effectively commit suicide by not choosing to be uploaded… that Christian people might be thought of as we consider the Heaven’s Gate people in their cult suicide.

Then the question of whether the very first person whose mind was uploaded was really uploaded; what sort of test might there be? I imagine a massive number of people gathered in Times Square looking up at a screen and awaiting the voice of the first disembodied mind to speak to them, to assure them that everything is OK, that to be in a computer or whatever, that it’s safe to do and that people really might consider having their minds uploaded. How would people know that the person wasn’t just someone talking on a phone? Would the voice be the same as it was when the person had a body? How would that work? Would the voice be synthesized John Lennon style? What would the test be to ensure that the person was really there? Would there be someone else who is the only person that knows something about the subject and could verify the truth? Really, that’s an insufficient test, also falsifiable. Then there would be many conspiracy theories about the truth of the mind upload.

Maybe people believe it works and purchase plans to upload their minds at certain points… like hospitals could install mind uplinks for the moments before passing to ensure that the body life would be sustained as long as possible… but the mind could be whisked from the body at the last moment.

Maybe hospitals don’t do as good a job with preserving the body because it’s not that big a deal… the cure for terminal cancer needn’t be discovered because you can just upload your mind and it’s all good.

What if it really is just a hoax? Why would someone posit a mind upload? Certainly for something sustainable, as the profit gains for the technology would be massive… maybe the person who perpetrates the hoax indeed makes huge money off the process. I think there’s a faking of death resolution to this story idea… that the person makes a huge amount of money getting people to pay him to upload their minds, effectively killing them… he knows it doesn’t work, but his plan is to “upload himself” in a way that people will believe he’s a part of the system, then break the system… so that people will realize, “Man, I guess that didn’t work, that sucks, but at least the dude who was in charge of it is dead, what a tool.” But they can’t seek their revenge for the hugely culture-altering affects, not to mention that he’s basically murdered a huge number of people.

I’d prefer that he either get away in the end, or that he die but before dying he might attempt to tell his story to someone nearby, thereby “uploading” his life to someone in the normal, human way. Something like that.

Hating Boston is becoming harder

…when the Celtics spank the Heat for the second time this season, and the New England Patriots (who spent last Sunday getting routed by the Cleveland Browns) take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.

I still hate the Red Sox.