How I make coffee
This is how I fight off coffee addiction. To make coffee, I use a Zassenhaus hand grinder and a French press. The grinder belonged to my father. It's an antique with some wear and tear, but it still grinds up coffee beans perfectly well. Making coffee this way is a manual process, but I like it. It becomes a special ritual, something I don't do every day.
Yet more proof that the UK is one of the best countries in the world:
The Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office is the title of the official resident cat of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at 10 Downing Street. Only two cats, Humphrey and Larry, have been given the title officially; other cats were given this title affectionately, usually by the British press. There has been a resident Treasury or Downing Street cat employed as a mouser and pet since the reign of Henry VIII, when Cardinal Wolsey placed his cat by his side while acting in his judicial capacity as Lord Chancellor, an office he assumed in 1515.
But even if TextMate 2 drops from the sky fully-formed and marveled at by all, Emacs will still be there, waiting. It will be there when the icecaps melt and the cities drown, when humanity destroys itself in fire and zombies, when the roaches finally achieve sentience, take over, and begin using computers themselves - at which point its various Ctrl-Meta key-chords will seem not merely satisfyingly ergonomic for the typical arthropod, but also direct evidence for the universe's Intelligent Design by some six-legged, multi-jointed God.
Randomly generated from the text of the King James Bible and the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. This one is my favorite:
The integral procedure at the end of the garbage-collection phase the useful data will have been moved and scanned, at which point we start over from the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down
In the most dramatic Russian literary killing since a dispute over Kant turned deadly last year, a man allegedly stabbed an acquaintance for preferring prose to poetry. RIA Novosti has this report: "A former teacher was detained in Russia's Urals after being accused of stabbing an acquaintance to death in a dispute about literary genres, investigators said Wednesday. The 67-year-old victim insisted that 'the only real literature is prose,' the Sverdlovsk Region's branch of the Investigative Committee said. The victim's assertion outraged the 53-year-old suspect, who favored poetry, and the dispute ended with the ex-teacher stabbing his friend to death, investigators said."
For the most part, "density" is an unhelpful, unenlightening way of thinking about neighborhood conflicts. Most conflicts about "density" are really conflicts about parking or road space. Try it yourself. Next time you're thinking of using the word "density" in this context, try replacing it with "competition for parking" or "competition for space on the road." I bet you'll find it clears some things up.
Marco Arment discusses the importance of including a salary range in a job post:
A job’s salary is one of the biggest factors in whether an applicant can or should consider it at all. It’s just as important as the physical location. Dan said he was hiring for a local-only position, so location is an essential eligibility requirement for him as the employer; similarly, salary determines whether the applicant can afford to take the job, so it’s an essential eligibility requirement for the applicant.
In practice, this is incredibly rare. If you are recruiting and want candidates to take your inquiries seriously, having a salary range will make a huge difference.
Living in San Francisco, this is the time of year I feel most disconnected from friends around the country. Elsewhere, fall has arrived and the leaves have changed color (by now they've fallen, but bear with me). Here, the foggy summer recedes and it is warm and brown, though the days are still short. Soon, the rainy season will start and it will turn green, for a while.
The golden age of free MOOCs
Jenny and I have been taking some online courses lately. The flowering of college-level online courses has been a real boon to self-learners. I am not sure it will always be the case, but as startups "disrupt" the industry and traditional universities scramble to figure out the new medium, a huge number of free courses from great schools and amazing teachers is available.
I'm currently taking Introduction to Recommender Systems offered through Coursera by the University of Minnesota (my alma mater) and taught by Professor Joe Konstan and Ph.D. candidate Michael Elkstrand. This class appealed to me because I'm interested in recommender systems and I never got a chance to take a class with Professor Konstan. It's been a pretty big time commitment, but I'm enjoying the class.
Taking this class has exposed me to a number of other classes that I now want to take. There are some terrific classes like Stanford's machine learning, compilers, and database classes; the University of Texas's linear algebra class; a public speaking class from the University of Washington; and Princeton's statistics class. My main problem is figuring out a schedule that allows me to take these classes -- since many of them require 10+ hours per week of coursework, it's difficult to take more than one while working a full-time job.
A great thing about these classes is that you can learn from some of the best teachers in the world. Introduction to Recommender Systems is taught by one of the pioneers in the field. Alex Aiken created the Cool language to teach compilers. And of course, MIT's legendary 6001 computer science class is available online.
The biggest challenge with MOOCs (besides the terrible name) is the absolutely dismal completion rate. The average completion rate for MOOCs is under 7%. In a paid, for-credit trial San Jose State, Udacity managed a completion rate of 83%, but the failure rate ranged from 56-76%. I have been party to the completion problem. I dropped Udacity's Intro to Computer Science because it was too basic to be interesting (that's good news, I guess). Less happily, I bailed on Udacity's self-driving car class in the last unit because I got busy. In general, MOOCs seem to offer self-starters a good opportunity for guided learning. I would guess the outcomes are better than just buying textbooks and trying to learn from them. But the time commitment is real and the classes can be quite difficult.
That's why I am a skeptical of entirely replacing college with MOOCs. I think online classes can augment the learning experience, but the traditional classroom still provides a huge benefit for many learners (not to mention the social capital attending a particular university generates). As traditional universities scramble to get into the MOOC game, much free learning is available -- which I am happy to take advantage of -- but the ultimate goal of Udacity and Coursera is profit. Universities are looking for a way to cut costs, and outsourcing their lecturers to Stanford, Harvard and MIT may seem appealing. Or maybe Podunk State thinks they'll be exporting their lecturers to Podunker State. Good luck, this is likely to be a winner-take-most game.
Ultimately, some form of recorded instruction might offer a way out of the university cost spiral. Baumol's cost disease can be blamed for part of the eye-watering increase in college costs:
The bubble analogy does work in one respect: education costs, and student debt, are rising at what seem like unsustainable rates. But this isn’t the result of collective delusion. Instead, it stems from the peculiar economics of education, which have a lot in common with the economics of health care, another industry with a huge cost problem. (Indeed, in recent decades the cost of both college education and health care has risen sharply in most developed countries, not just the U.S.) Both industries suffer from an ailment called Baumol’s cost disease, which was diagnosed by the economist William Baumol, back in the sixties. Baumol recognized that some sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, have rising productivity—they regularly produce more with less, which leads to higher wages and rising living standards. But other sectors, like education, have a harder time increasing productivity. Ford, after all, can make more cars with fewer workers and in less time than it did in 1980. But the average student-teacher ratio in college is sixteen to one, just about what it was thirty years ago. In other words, teachers today aren’t any more productive than they were in 1980. The problem is that colleges can’t pay 1980 salaries, and the only way they can pay 2011 salaries is by raising prices.
But I think we are a long way from figuring out how to integrate these new ways of learning. In the short-term, if we are looking to cut costs, university administrators seem like an attractive target to me. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the free online classes and thank my lucky stars I attended college back when it was cheap.
Allan Metcalf writes about research tracing the word "dude" back to "doodle" (as in Yankee Doodle), circa 1893 (interestingly, this makes the "dood" spelling you sometimes see the original).
Etymology is fascinating by itself, but what I found most interesting about this is how much the foppish dudes of 1890s New York City seem like the hipsters of today.
. . . a new and valuable addition has been made to the slang vocabulary. … We refer to the term “Dood.” For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present. …
-- New York Mirror, February 24, 1883
What is the dude, papa?” she said, with sweet, inquiring eyes,
And to the knowledge seeking maid, her daddy thus replies:
A weak mustache, a cigarette, a thirteen button vest,
A curled rim hat—a minaret—two watch chains cross the breast.
A pair of bangs, a lazy drawl, a lackadaisy air;
For gossip at the club or ball, some little past “affair.”
Two pointed shoes, two spindle shanks, complete the nether charms;
And follow fitly in the ranks, the two bow legged arms.
An empty head, a buffoon’s sense, a poising attitude;
“By Jove” “Egad!” “But aw” “Immense!” All these make up the dude
-- Brooklyn Sunday Eagle, April 22, 1883
For more on "dude" and it's role in today's American speech, check out this short piece in The Atlantic.