Linky Friday #48

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Kazzy
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    E1: To some extent, students bear responsibility for sluggish WiFi. With so many of them bringing internet-enabled phones, which they won’t turn off, the drain is huge. I was speaking with my 7th and 8th graders yesterday and all but one of them had a cell phone which they brought to school, and some of them had it for several years. It is really pretty ridiculous, given that every classroom has a phone for making and receiving calls. So, we would probably do well to improve this piece of infrastructure. But speaking for a school that recently did so, it could only do so much with so many people (teachers, too) with WiFi sucking devices.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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      We also have really spotty cell service in my building, which compounds the issue. I bring my phone but it usually sits on my desk so it isn’t constantly searching and draining battery. My iPad (school provided) is usually off and in my bag.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy
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        Interiors of buildings are typically a nightmare from a cell-phone RF perspective. Lots of metal, and lots of thick walls and floors for noise control. Dead spots where you’re in a shadow from every local tower. Reflections that are exactly out of phase and cancel the signal in certain directions. Reflections that create multiple paths to the cell tower and multiple signals that interfere with each other. For better or worse, cell phone service came along rather late in the game and was assigned frequencies that are less well-behaved.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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        Well, the surrounding area is bad. It is mountainous and sparsely populated. The building itself… part of it 100+ years old, another 40+ years old, and the third about 15+ years old… also creates havoc. We run into a lot of issues here. Running wires through the main part of the building (the historic section) sometimes means drilling through several layers of brick.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    LA1-It could be worse, they could be exporting orcs instead.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    E4-How many coders does the world actually need? We probably need more than we do now but if the number of people who can code increases beyond the needs of the market than computer programmers would have the same problems that the legal market currently does.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      isn’t that just another way of saying “everything changes”?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to dhex
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        says:

        No, its more about creating more programmers than we actually need. Learning the basics of programming is a useful skill these days but training lots of programmers that aren’t needed, not so much.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      The point of “teaching everybody to code” isn’t “make everybody a developer”, it’s a couple of other things:

      (1) If you get more people to learn how to do it, you will get more people who want to do it. Not everybody you teach will want to do it, of course, but a non-trivial number of people who wouldn’t have considered it otherwise will consider it if they enjoy it and know they can do it. This is arguably an important factor in closing the gender gap.

      (2) Fewer people cite this one, but it’s actually more important to me: Learning to code teaches problem-solving on a scale that few other tasks do. It’s not about knowing the code*, it’s about using code to build things and solve problems. These are skills that are important regardless of your career. My wife had to learn code in college (for her biochem degree) and considered it useful in this context.

      * – Which is – or should be – true more broadly. Employers sometimes lose sight of the fact when they want someone with ten years of JAVA-experience. But knowing how to logically piece it out is an incredibly important skill. I learned Pascal in high school and it was a dead language by the time I got to college… but it was a really useful class.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Good points but I’m refering to what ND said bellow. We have schools that are having problem buying the most basic equipment or paying teachers to teach the usual suspects. Anything that is seen as a luxury is getting cut back in the name of savings. Where do schools get the money to buy computers and hire a person skilled enough to teach coding?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Computer costs are marginal these days (for what we’re talking about, you don’t need a good computer). Finding someone to teach it, though, could be more of an issue. Affording it brings us back to questions about where we’re spending our education money. As far as educational expenditures go, I am increasingly a fan of using them on technology where we can.

        Which is very much not how I felt before I subbed and saw it in action. Though when I say “technology” I mean “a computer lab or two and perhaps some special centers” and not “WiFi and a tablet for every student” as some are advocating. Which, for that matter, leads me to believe we are beyond the “Should we have computer labs in schools?” question.

        But finding a teacher could be an issue. As a tech guy, and as someone considering going into teaching, I looked into the issue and asked around. What I found out was that the market for tech teachers (and thus, tech classes) isn’t very good. Which could mean that it would be easy to find teachers because those that are have difficulty finding work. Or the failure of it to take off could be a result of the difficulties in finding personnel.

        I would cite, as a potential issue at least, the fixation we have on College of Education backgrounds. To teach computer classes, you’d need to go to college to be a teacher first and a tech person second. That can provide a real disincentive for tech-minded people because if the teaching market doesn’t bear it out, your degree is a lot less useful than it could have been. The opportunity costs are less for someone who would major in English but majors in Education-English instead.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Will,

        Another issue (and more easily changeable) is that computer classes do not count as either a science or math course right now. They tend to be electives.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        That’s among the things advocates would like to see changed. Either compsci counts as a math course or is a required course in its own right.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I think tech teachers, specifically computer teachers, are hard to find for two reasons. The first is that there isn’t much of a demand for them because at best computers are an elective course rather than a required course as ND pointed out. The other issue is that most programmers can probably make much more money working in the non-educational sector than in schools since their skills are really in demand. Most people are going to elect working as programmers for businesses or governments than public or private schools for that reason, making tech teachers hard to find.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        As I told ND, one of the things that people hope to change is compsci from an elective. Or at the least get more kids to take it one way or another.

        The opportunity cost thing is real, though I think it would be far less of an issue if being a computer science teacher didn’t require such a different education track than being a degreed programmer. I suspect there are a fair number of programmers who would be interested in teaching, but (a) aren’t willing to make that commitment during college or (b) aren’t willing to go back to school for the duration that would be required. (As a tech-degreed professional, unless I got into the right program or pursued alternative certification, it would require less schooling to get an MBA than to become a teacher.)Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @will-truman , can you elaborate on that? I’m going back to school for a teaching credential right now, and with no related coursework during my undergrad, I’m still able to complete the program with a year and change worth of coursework & student teaching.

        Is an MBA really that much easier to get?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Trained coders, more than we have, given the ubiquity of spreadsheet software use in the business world. Spreadsheet errors of various sorts (ranging from miserable dataflow design to outright coding errors) were instrumental in JPMorgan’s $6B loss in the “London Whale” debacle. There’s a whole literature on spreadsheet as programming languages (miserably designed for that job); the frequency of errors (much higher than are tolerated in any other sort of programming); and the failure to follow not just best practices, but even good practices. If you want to piss some people off, ask the accounting department at a large corporation to see the test cases used for regression testing when the budget spreadsheets are modified :^)Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    It was said when I was a young person in Madison that Milwaukee was the most segregated city in the country. (I think it’s since been overtaken in that title.) I don’t recall people usually extending that to charges about its level of “racism,” though. I think these statistics would merit a claim more along those lines than a conclusion about the level of racism of the city overall. (Full disclosure: as most here know, I was born, raised, and educated in Madison and have lived there for most of my 35 years, though not this year nor last nor in parts of 2003, ’04, ’06, all of ’07, nor parts of ’08 and ‘Eleven. I said it would be *full* disclosure.)

    I wouldn’t say the kinds of disparities talked about in the article, which are very real and noticeable and noted by residents of the city from young ages, have nothing to do with structural racism, and the fact that they’re more severe in Madison than the national average does tell us things that are important to know about the city. People in the city have long been focused on these problems, though with not a lot of change to show for it, as these kinds of structural problems are very hard to counteract. The article itself points to causes that don’t seem particularly tied to racism at least in a direct way to me, in particular the city being dominated by the university and state government. There’s an argument to be had about how these kinds of factors have structural racism as underlying causes. But I don’t think the article manages to present much of one to back up the idea it suggests, though tellingly doesn’t clearly charge the city with, that the severity of the social and economic disparities it lays out mean that the city is one of the most racist in the country. I would certainly consider that argument if it were made with conviction by someone who actually professes to believe it, but the article instead uses the suggestion that it could be said as a sensationalist hook to get clicks and eyeballs. The issues they are rightly trying to bring attention to, however, should be and, treated correctly, I think would be very attention- and concern-justifying realities about the city that are worthy of discussion on their own terms, a discussion in which racism should play an important but considered role.

    /non-disinterested territorial defensive postureReport

  5. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    E3: Sometime in 2012, I met a British woman in her mid or late 30s who was in the United States. Her husband transferred here or was a yank. She was getting her undergraduate degree late and was pissed about it. She said in the UK it is illegal to practice wage discrimination based on educational level. So a person from Cambridge and a high school graduate need to be paid the same if they are doing the same job with the same responsibilities. So I think it was always a bit more possible to work your way up in Britain and they kept some of their training and apprenticeship programs. Julian Barnes has a novel in which a character does not go to university but enters a banking trainer program in the late 1960s. In the US, it is perfectly legal to pay someone a premium because they went to university or beyond so university will still have premium. Also unemployment statistics show that the university graduates suffer it less.

    As I said before we are entertain the gambling age of jobs. Universities are no longer a sure bet towards middle class life. However, despite the cynics and naysayers, I think the situation is damned if you don’t and maybe damned if you do. Not going to university seems to lead to higher chances of unemployment and certainly not advancing because completing a degree is seen as sign of competency. However, many university grads are underemployed. There was a company that advertised that their dog walkers were college educated. I thought this was rather silly but my friends (who are more hardcore about their pets, I have none) defended the concept. They felt that they could trust college grads more with their pets.

    I think we are entering a world where college grads are isolating themselves from non-college grads. When I was growing up, working as office staff in a medical office was a working-class (pink collar) job for women and they were often kind of cranky (but not always). So was being a lab tech (taking blood, etc). I went to One Medical in San Francisco recently for a physical. The front desk staff were young hipsters (and I presume college educated). The people in the lab section were equally young and hip looking. Skinny jeans and all. I think the same thing is true of Lyft and Sidecar. There is a subconscious or maybe even conscious desire to deal with likes instead of working class people. Much better to talk with a sidecar driver about his indie band than it is to be in a cab with a 50 something immigrant from Africa or Vietnam Vet.

    E4: I see where the author is coming from. I’m not opposed to teaching some programming but I don’t think you can teach it in a way or enough to give students from modest or struggling backgrounds an employment edge. Schools in poor areas are under budgeted for things like chalk. How are they going to be able to afford computers to teach decent programming?Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    A1-Does the price of living go down as wages go down or does like become more of a struggle on Taiwan?Report

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