View 762 Monday, February 11, 2013
THIS IS A REPEAT Warning
All right, maybe a bit over dramatic, but it is important.
There is a deadly new vulnerability that relies on features of some routers. The router is your first line of defense, the firewall, and if a hacker gets past that it’s a lot easier. I won’t explain the vulnerability, but I will recommend that you immediately go to GRC https://www.grc.com , go to the Shields Up page, and do the test he indicates. If your router is vulnerable it will tell you, and you should immediately take action. If you have never done the Shields Up vulnerability test, it’s always worth doing once in a while, but just now there is a new vulnerability out there, and bad guys are just exploiting it. This is a time sensitive alert.
Joe Zeff suggests that this link https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2 leads directly to Gibson’s Shields UP and may be more stable. For those who might be a bit concerned about letting an outsider test your defenses, I can say that I have known Steve Gibson for decades and so have a great number of people I know including many you have heard of, and I know of no one who has ever questioned Gibson’s competence or integrity.
We Do Not Hate Teachers
John Stossel recently aired a video column (column? Report?) called Stupid in America. You can see it all on U-tube, unless someone has taken it down. Stossel looks into a number of case histories on what’s wrong with the American system of education. He doesn’t quote Seaborg on the American system of education being indistinguishable from an act of war against us, but he might as well.
One segment of his broadcast shows the head of the Washington DC teacher’s union giving his reasoned defense of the teachers union position that no teacher should ever be fired. His main reason is that being fired would have a negative effect on the fired teacher’s quality of life, and no, I am not making that up; watch the video and you can see him yourself.
His remedy is to keep the bad teachers and make good teachers of them with retraining and more practice and correction and — again, no I am not making this up.
The union official does not address the negative effects on the lives of the students who are required to endure the bad teacher during this transformation. He was not asked whether he would allow his children to be in that teacher’s classroom, but like many teachers’ union officials he did not attend public schools, so it is possible that his own are not in the DC public school system. Ms. Rhee, the DC Chancellor who went in to reform the system and was pretty good at it until the DC Teachers Union got a change through political action against the mayor, using intellectual arguments such as “One Two Three Four, Show Michelle Rhee the door” and other profundities chanted in unison. At least those doing the chanting were carrying teacher union signs and represented the teachers although from their appearance some in those marchers were probably not teachers.
No one has asked the teachers who demanded that Ms. Rhee be fired for her anti-bad-teacher (and pro-student) activities whether they would be willing to let their children be taught by the teachers Ms. Rhee fired. I have heard much discussion of the entitlement of teachers to their job, but little on the obligation of students to endure bad teachers. It does not seem to be a subject that attracts human rights lawyers. In California a teacher who had – as seen on videos – given students cookies frosted with his own semen was not fired, but allowed to retire with full benefits before being terminated. He faces criminal charges, but not administrative charges. There are other bizarre cases in California and in some the teachers in question remain in classrooms; others occupy ‘rubber rooms’ where they sit out the day doing no productive work, but are not allowed to return to classrooms. They can’t be fired, and their pensions accumulate. I gather this happens in other states. The position of the teachers unions is that no one should be fired, presumably because it would lower their quality of life.
There are three million teachers in America. Most all of them are hard working and many are underpaid. Unfortunately hard working does not guarantee competence because some of what they learned – were required to learn – in colleges of education is dead wrong, and some is ludicrous. Go to any college campus and ask the first fifty people you see to tell you which is the easiest major on campus. Certainly a majority and possibly 90% of them will tell you education. Of course easy doesn’t mean that good people won’t become teachers. Educating the young is a rewarding experience and many bright and competent people want to do it.
But one does wonder why the three million teachers allow themselves to be represented by someone who says that you can’t fire teachers because that would have a negative effect on the quality of that teacher’s life. I understand that education is subject to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy. But at some point the competent and conscientious teachers need to take a hand in the governing of their profession. They cannot continue to leave it in the hands of those who don’t want to teach but do want to be teachers’ representatives. At some point self government requires that people who don’t want the leadership jobs take their turn in the barrel – even if it requires choosing them by lot, which would almost certainly work better than the present system.
There is good news in the education sector. We’ve talked about this before. Bill Gates is supporting Salman Khan. If you don’t know about Khan and the Khan Institute use Google to find out, and go visit Khan’s site. It is almost certain that there will be a lecture on a subject you want to know more about, and the probability is very high that it will be the most instructive lecture you have ever experienced. The only lecturer I have ever experienced who is as good as Khan was Phillip Morrison who gave the best single lecture I have ever heard in my life one early morning at a Boston AAAS meeting. If you’re rusty on calculus, look up Khan. If you have kids in school make sure they’re aware of Khan. It is possible to get a pretty good education without bothering with the schools just from the Internet; once good teachers learn more on this, the combination of a good teacher – who can learn much about the subject matter from the Khan Academy, then let the students go through the lecture and have conversations about it – education will change. It already has in many places. We’ll have more on that another time.
But most states spend much of their huge state budgets on education, and the results are awful. It is possible to do much better for a lot less money, and the means are developing at Moore’s Law rates. At some point all the parents who care will find this out. Meanwhile, a great number of our children are subjected to bad teachers who are inflicted on them by the solidarity of the rest of the teachers – and no one ever discusses what those kids did to deserve that.
Mad Scientist Projects: Bring Back the Neanderthals
Every now and then someone comes up with a piece about using DNA and clone technology to re-create the Neanderthal species of humanity. Leaving the inevitable religious questions to some Jesuit – I wouldn’t doubt that several are studying the matter now – the best commentary I have seen on this comes from my old friend Greg Cochran, who has been upsetting the evolutionary history applecart for some time now.
You can find that at Thawing Out the Neanderthals, and it’s worth your while. He also points out that since we can do it – or will be able to rather soon – it’s probably inevitable, and while his suggestions are mostly made in ironic mode, there will arise quite real questions that someone will have to answer.
Pluto has two tiny moons which have not yet been named. There is now a contest for names. See Help Astronomers Name Pluto’s Tiniest Moons. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/02/name-plutos-tiniest-moons/
A final note for the day on education. There are several purposes to education but one of the most important is to prepare the bright kids to learn how to function in a high tech society. For a great number of those kids the existence of great lectures like those of Khan (and for the brightest Richard Feynman) will be enough once the equipment for watching them is widespread and those who need to know about them find out. Yes, someone needs to find the bright kids and make them understand that just getting through isn’t enough. Assume the rest of the motivational argument. The point is that those who want to learn can even if that requires that they play hooky so they can watch Dick Feynman on physics. Over time ambitious parents will realize just what’s out there.
The other requirement for education is to teach those who aren’t able to learn high science and technology how to be useful. After all, half the population is below average, which pretty well by definition means they ought not waste their time in college – they ought to learn how to be useful without all the high cost of ‘higher education.’ We used to understand this. And a Republic which has nothing important for half its citizens to do will not endure. It can’t.
Now this doesn’t mean neglecting to teach everyone what they can learn, which for well over 90% of the population means reading, and for a large number means being able to read for enjoyment as well as enlightenment, (Clearly I have a vested interest in equipping as many as possible with the ability and desire to read my books…)
This second half of education, making good citizens of those who aren’t going on to University, is sadly neglected in our colleges of education, yet it consumes enormous amounts of money and resources. And until that part of our education system is reformed, we will be in big trouble.
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Wednesday at dawn I board a United flight to Boston. The airport seem to be working. I’ll be at Boskone for the weekend, so there won’t be much more this week. I will try to do a couple of updates while I am there, but we’ll see about time. The pledge drive continues, so I’ll see if I can’t at least bug you about subscribing, which means I have to say something other than send me money. I expect there will be snow, snow, snow…
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