Disrespect in Education

Originally posted on Luke Palmer:

I was sitting at a large, round table with all the teachers of the CHOICE middle-school program sitting around me solemnly. They had called me here to inform me that, in my final year at middle school, I wouldn’t be allowed to go on this year’s spring trip — a multiple-day hiking and camping excursion taken every year by the school. Ms. Green cried as she delivered this news. The reason was that I was not a good enough student — that I did not complete enough of the work that they had assigned me to be afforded this privilege.

I don’t remember analyzing the situation closely, but I do remember being rather unfazed.  After all, it meant that I got to stay home for a week doing as I pleased instead of spending a week with my cruel classmates and lack of friends.  I did empathize with my teachers…

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Invented here syndrome

Originally posted on Musing Mortoray:

Are you afraid to write code? Does the thought linger in your brain that somewhere out there somebody has already done this? Do you find yourself trapped in an analysis cycle where nothing is getting done? Is your product mutating to accommodate third party components? If yes, then perhaps you are suffering from invented-here syndrome.

Most of use are aware of not-invented-here syndrome, but the opposite problem is perhaps equally troublesome. We can get stuck in the mindset that there must be a product, library, or code sample, that already does what we want. Instead of just writing the code we need a lot of effort is spent testing out modules and trying to accommodate our own code. At some point we need to just say, “stop!”, and write the code ourselves.

Varying levels of quality

As a general rule it makes sense to not write code that already exists…

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To register or not register

I’m at an impasse at the moment with regard to the forum. The classic way to run a forum was to create a user account with username, password and email that tied each and every post to a particular user. This made viewing the history of a user and establishing a reputation easy, but it also meant established users asserted their authority quite often. Sometimes objectionably.

Then there’s the ye olde imageboard system where a user may enter a name and password, but it’s only tagged per post via a pseudo-unique identifier. I’m not sure if this method is better than the registration, but it does cut down on the code requirements. It also makes viewing a user history more difficult as the system deliberately caters to anonymous posting first.

4Chan, the most well known imageboard in the West, uses this system as well. Something it inherited from 2Ch, the most famous textboard in the East. Despite 4Chan’s reputation as a wretched hive of scum and villainy a la Mos Eisley, there are sections that are remarkably well kept despite the anonymity. I’ve even seen intelligent and remarkably humane discussions take place, on a few salient boards.

Of course, registration doesn’t  automatically make for a well kept community either. Reddit, for example, can easily surpass the reputation of 4Chan. A cursory browse of some of the more unsavory subreddits can easily depress the most optimistic folks with an unshakable faith in humanity. Likewise, there are others that offer the same or better intelligent content as well. Of course, it also offers many other flavors that don’t quite fit anywhere on the spectrum of discussion.

The difference, then, is moderation.

I’m trying to create a voting system that, while remaining anonymous, still affords users a voice at a balanced volume in determining what should be promoted to the front page or remain in the “New/Firehose” section or which ones should be nuked from orbit. I also want to ensure voting power decreases over time. I.E. When a post is new, all votes for or against it count more than when it’s a few hours old. I think this prevents excessive judgment with the hindsight of over-analyzed social norms which, for better or worse, tend to be overcorrected. The user interface and online disinhibition make sound judgments more difficult, but we should all know what is obviously wrong upon first read and right away take appropriate action.

This level of self-moderation with rare moderator intervention early can work as long as consistency is maintained. I don’t believe in excessively long codes of conducts, which are seldom followed by those intent on not following them anyway. I mean the first law in all civil discourse is “Don’t be an ass”. How hard is that? Those obviously being asses are easy to spot and should have their candy taken away.

In that regard, I’m still following the old tried and true approach to community building and moderation. Least amount of friction, least amount of fluff, brutally simple and consistent.

Right then. Onward to building the damn thing.

From graduate student to faculty

Originally posted on Spectrally Clustered:

Following a very hectic couple of weeks–formatting and submitting the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) to the University involves a lot of hoop-jumping–I received this email just last week.

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 2.22.32 PM

Thus concludes my tenure as a graduate student, and officially begins my faculty employment.

Farewell, Pittsburgh. It has truly been an honor.

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