Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nerd v. Geek

The question of Nerds vs. Geeks continues, with a twist!

Sure, people have clever distinctions between nerds, dorks and geeks. But David Anderegg argues that these labels should become dirty words.

I don't think these terms are necessarily offensive, but I fit into the stereotype. Anderegg's point is that these labels perpetuate the stereotype of geek culture that keeps it a white male bastion, and excludes women and minorities. And he's right.

I was very glad in high school to have a computer room to hang out in and belong to. But we need to find ways to cultivate a wider array of people to develop computers. Because the contributions we're missing would make them better.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What do we learn from practicing?

Does constant texting and googling really make us dumber? Or is the moral panic about new technologies just another in a long line of unfounded fears, going all the way back to Plato's comments about how "writing" ruined kids' ability to remember stuff?

Stephen Pinker thinks we're going to be fine, that it's just a generational divide and that new tech isn't making us dumber. Amongst his evidence is that we keep making more cool new discoveries and inventions. And we keep training new scientists and inventors.

In fact, in this discussion of different opinions on the topic, someone points out that reading is unnatural. We evolved into our current state long before the Book was invented. Reading printed words is a very unnatural act, and if doing something regularly changes your brain, then reading little black squiggles on a white page utterly alters your brain from its natural hunter-gatherer preference.

I really like how Pinker slams on quick-fix "brain training" games and things. Like diet and exercise to lose weight, the way to become skilled in a field isn't complicated:
Accomplished people don’t bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.

It isn't easy to devote years to learning a field, but it's not complicated.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Is Steve Jobs Big Brother?

Many, including me, have argued that if the iPad ends up dominating the mobile computing market, then the App Store's current model of censorship is unacceptable. Right now, I can use a web browser on any computer to go get content any way I want. But what's to keep Steve Jobs from deciding that Safari will only load pages that have content he deems acceptable?

I found this argument worth considering though: while Steve is a control freak, he won't corner the market because he won't compromise. Specifically, he won't license his software to other hardware makers, or sacrifice operability for profitability.

The argument is that the iPad will go the way of the Mac, because someone else will build off of great ideas in the iPad and sell their competing product more cheaply, and eventually Steve will lose market share.

I'm not convinced that this is destiny. iPods are staying strong as the dominant mp3 player, despite lots of competition willing to add in "missing" features. On the other hand, while the iPhone is the standard, its market share is not a majority.

I'm more convinced by the argument that even if the App Store is censored, you have a web browser. Want to read incendiary political cartoons or see pictures of naked people? Google it. There may not be an app for that, but you can get there by Safari. So long as Apple's web browser stays open, the censorship complaint is a little hollow. Although Apple is blocking all Flash apps on the web, so there's that debate...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Game design evolution

Some have noted recently that what passes for good game design has changed lately. At least, the stuff I mostly play now is lots of little short games, with mini-rewards every 5 minutes. Of course, that can be taken too far.

I'm glad that back in the day, games were designed with a different aesthetic, rather than giving you a little congratulations every 5 minutes for doing stupid stuff. But there are different audiences with different desires. A 5-minute payoff is great if you only have 5 minutes to play. Still, I think a vision of Super Mario designed in 2010 is disturbingly accurate.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nanotechnology could save the Gulf

A scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, who makes nanoparticle coatings that break up ice from forming on power lines, has created a cotton filter that separates crude oil from seawater.

I hope they can produce mass quantities of this stuff in time to help. I'm sure in the long term this will be awesome, but it's too bad we didn't already have this a month ago.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lego felt-tip printer

More awesome creations. Can nerds ever be stopped?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What does "being silent" mean?

When I first heard about the Supreme Court decision that you have to actively tell police officers you aren't answering questions and invoking your Miranda right, I thought it was ridiculous.

When I read the details of the case, I became less sure.

The suspect in question sat mostly silent for 3 hours while police badgered him with questions. Mostly, I think, is a key word. The man
said little during the interrogation, occasionally answering 'yes,' 'no,' 'I don't know,' nodding his head and making eye contact as his responses. But when one of the officers asked him if he prayed for forgiveness for 'shooting that boy down,' Thompkins said, 'Yes.'

If he answered some questions, even with "yes" and "no", that's not silence.

God forbid I should be interrogated for 3 hours by the police. But if I have a right to be silent, I think actual silence would be what I'd want to provide.

The court's requirement that I say I'm being silent is a little absurd, since I have to contradict myself. But given the case they had, I can understand ruling against the guy who wasn't totally silent.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wait.. What?

The Tea Partiers have many goals: returning to the gold standard, repealing the health care law, lowering taxes.

And apparently, they don't want to vote for senators. Several Tea Party candidates for office want to repeal the 17th amendment. The one that took the decision over who would be a senator away from state legislatures and gave it to the people.

Most ironic are the people who favor this who are running for the US Senate. Personally, I think if Tea Party people don't want to elect senators, they should feel free to not vote for a candidate in the Senate races this year. I doubt they'll take this idea to its natural conclusion, but I wouldn't mind.