How It Works: Bitcoin Edition

Nothing like avoiding end-of-the-year physical cleanup with end-of-the-year virtual cleanup! I finally got around to reading this detailed description of how Bitcoin works, recommended by Schneier on his weblog, and I need to hang on to this for next time I’m teaching security. From a teaching perspective, it does a nice job of showing how all of the various types of cryptography come together in an interesting way in this protocol. This is the part that always seems sort of wild to me: The idea is to make it so everyone (collectively) is the bank. In particular, we’ll assume that … Continue reading How It Works: Bitcoin Edition

Stabby Robot Less Stabby

First, and most important obviously, this is pretty neat research into training robot motion with online, and non-optimal, feedback. It’s a nice consideration of the type of feedback one is likely to get, or to get easily. And the illustrative video on their page is pretty great (I found the moment when they showed the robot how to point the knife towards itself, not someone else, adorable…) But it’s also worth noting that the TechCrunch story on the research is pretty hysterical: “Cornell Researchers Help Robot Unlearn Stabby Motions With A Human Trainer”.

Building the right community for community editing

There’s something unavoidable about Wikipedia, even when you acknowledge its flaws, which makes it a constantly interested phenomenon to investigate and analyze. As the article notes, its rankings in search results and use in question answering systems like Siri only make it more interesting to understand what’s going on with it. Looking at the effect of the editorial structure and automated tools for handling edits is particularly interesting; I hadn’t really thought about the effect of bots on participation in this way: In their paper on those findings, the researchers suggest updating Wikipedia’s motto, “The encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” … Continue reading Building the right community for community editing

Watch where you put that phone

This is awesome – I’ve long been in love with intrusions that rely on listening in on the sound of keystrokes, or the wiggle of a laptop screen, or what have you to learn and then reproduce what has been typed. This variation where a smartphone on your desk can pick up typing vibrations and from there learn to recognize what you are typing. It’s proof of concept, not found out in the wild at this point, but still very cool.

Are you ready for some learning?

I’m about a week out from another academic year starting (my tenth! how frightening!), and so it’s timely to share a few thoughts about learning and being a student… Lots of attention is going to this article about a study showing that laptop use in class results in lower grades. Less press is going to the portion I remember most from when the article first came out – that someone next to you using a laptop also causes scores to drop. I’ll be mentioning this in my explanation for why I sometimes lock the classroom computers when we’re having discussions … Continue reading Are you ready for some learning?

Traveling Happy Truck Drivers

Starting out as an explanation of the traveling salesman problem, this article goes on to also be an excellent, and I think understandable, explanation of what an algorithm is and computational complexity. If you want to get a quick sense of what computer science is concerned about that goes beyond just “how to program”, and is more the “how to solve problems” side of things, this is a good read. In 2006, for example, an optimal tour was produced by a team led by Cook for a 85,900-city tour. It did not, of course, given the computing constraints mentioned above, … Continue reading Traveling Happy Truck Drivers

Too many options

I’m finding a lot interesting to think about in this discussion of the Guided Pathways to Success conference and it’s investigation of the benefit to students of guidance/constraints in their educational paths: “Schwartz emphasized that even though it may seem counterintuitive and even paternalistic, students are actually much more empowered by choosing among fewer and more carefully constructed options.” My first thoughts are about the curriculum we just instituted, which I have thought of as giving students more flexibility and choice about how they put together sets of courses to complete a major or minor. We try to make clear … Continue reading Too many options

Of course they put E.T. in New Mexico

The news that the landfill of Atari’s E.T. games is going to be excavated swept through the internet. This makes me doubly excited that I still have my copy and I’m considering using it an an anchor point for a “play bad games” day in my intro game design course in the fall. Particularly having also found this really cool review of the games flaws and fixes for them. It starts from the position that the game is actually fairly good, and even groundbreaking, except for a few flaws or misunderstandings about the game (such as, that it is an … Continue reading Of course they put E.T. in New Mexico

Using MOOCs to raise the bar

A recent article about how MOOCs might, in fact, increase and not decrease costs on college campuses has been getting a fair bit of attention for its argument that the large lecture classes that it replaces were already the cost-saving venues of higher education and many of the proposals for integrating MOOCs well involve replacing these cost-efficient large classes with free MOOCs and then expensive associated mentoring. Additionally, it observes that even if a college doesn’t choose to incorporate MOOCs, the fact that they exist may make students less tolerant of paying tuition for large lecture courses. The quote that … Continue reading Using MOOCs to raise the bar

Data Vis Roundup

I’m supervising a capstone project right now where students are providing data analysis and visualization support for a local organization, and the following set of links have been queueing up in my feed as to-read items for me related to that project (and, hopefully, to-read items for them): eagereyes has a nice summary of ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education) which in the roughest strokes is those charts where the number of an item is represented not by a bar but as a collection of images or icons representing the thing being counted. But it’s a lot more complicated … Continue reading Data Vis Roundup