A busy weekend. New Education Technology?

Chaos Manor View, Monday, September 28, 2015


1330: Just back from a walk with Paul Schindler, former BYTE editor and old friend who comes down from the Bay area once or twice a year. We usually take a hike up the trail to Mulholland, but with the walker that was right out, so we had to make do with two miles on the flats. I am now motivated to get up the paved fire road past the ranger station at Fryman so that I can get up the hill again. I am sure I can manage the fire roads. But first time I think I want Barnes along, just in case…

Saturday night I went to a gumbo party out in Woodland Hills. It was a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America local chapter. I have been off and on going to MWA meetings since the late 60’s when it met in the Los Angeles Press Club building, and I used to hang out with Ed McBain aka Evan Hunter. Alas the Press Club sold the building (I have no idea where the money went) and met in various places thereafter, with increasingly smaller meetings. Some were in the nearby Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City and I went to those, but then they got increasingly harder to get to, and each time I went I knew fewer and fewer people. For some reason I decided to go to the gumbo party and said I would be there.

Then Greg Bear and Astrid Anderson Bear came down for the weekend to see Karen Anderson, and I was committed for Saturday night, so we had lunch at a nearby Italian place that serves gluten free pizza that my wife can eat. That went well, but there was no way Karen could get into my house with the front stairs – I use the garage, as I can’t get up the front stairs either. But my garage opens on another street, not the front of my house, and it has stairs too, only not so complex, so I couldn’t invite them in. It worked out fine, and the restaurant was quiet enough that we could have a great conversation, sort of finishing the conversation we started Thursday night at the LASFS meeting.

At the MWA party there was no one I knew, and I doubt anyone there ever heard of me, but it was interesting getting the mystery writer point of view on what is happening to the publishing industry. After a while I found myself sitting at a table with a younger guy, whom my son Alex introduced with a name I didn’t catch – my hearing aids aren’t so good at noisy parties – as having produced a recent documentary on Glenn Campbell. I mentioned that I had met Glenn Campbell a long time ago when I was one of the managers of Sam Yorty’s campaign for Mayor. Of course I didn’t know him, but that led to other conversation, and eventually I found out I was talking to Trevor Albert, who produced a lot of big movies including Groundhog Day. I was impressed.

Then Sunday there was at LASFS a memorial to Ann Morell, an old friend, as is her widower Bill Ellern. I’ve known Anne since before she met Bill, and they were married for thirty years.

That pretty well used up the weekend, and I am off to Kaiser and physical therapy in few minutes. More another time.


1605: Hah.  Kaiser Physical Therapy specialist Theresa Wong has just said I don’t need her any more; I have graduated. I suppose that is good, but I will miss her.  I have to go out to the Podiatrist tomorrow, so I’ll drop off a couple of books for her when we go.  The first day I came home from hospitals I was a mess.  Now they can’t do a lot more.  And I can do several miles walk after vegetating for a week.  Good progress, and no reason to believe I can’t keep improving. 


USAF tankers 

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Here’s a pretty good writeup on the KC46 Pegasus, the USAF’s next generation air-to-air refueling tanker.


While it isn’t much of an improvement over the older KC-135 and is quite a bit more expensive, that doesn’t change the fact that the older aircraft is quite long in the tooth, and still needs replacing.

Also, the procurement process is wasteful. I’m sure that comes as a shock to all readers .


Brian P.

The elimination of Systems Command was a drastic mistake.  Now we pay for that “saving”.


Dave Hammond

Begin forwarded message:

Subject: Popular in NYT Technology: Microsoft Releases Office 2016, With Features Focused on Teamwork

Microsoft Releases Office 2016, With Features Focused on Teamwork
Office 2016 has numerous changes, with the most prominent ones designed to improve how the software is used by groups of people to collaborate.
September 21, 2015 at 05:00PM
via NYT Technology http://ift.tt/1V7CKtx

Eric installed  Windows 16 on Swan, my Windows 10 system in the back room, and on Precious, the Surface Pro, over the weekend, but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet; I’m hoping it will improve our collaborative efforts.  More when I know more.



Watch NASA scientists explain why they think water still flows on Mars (LA Times)


Some of NASA’s top scientists are set to share new findings they say will solve a mystery about Mars.

Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, and Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, will hold a news conference Monday morning at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to “detail a major science finding,” according to the space agency.

The news conference will also include three members of the research team behind a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience that offers evidence of “contemporary water activity on Mars.”

In that study, scientists from Georgia Tech, NASA Ames Research Center and elsewhere explain that an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted telltale signs of hydrated salts in several locations on the surface of the Red Planet.

Using data collected by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument, the team members concluded that salts are deposited on the slopes of several craters and canyons. These salts — including magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate – appear to have been carried there recently by flowing water.

Mars has frozen water at its poles and traces of water in the dust that covers its surface. Finding liquid water flowing on Mars would make the planet much more Earth-like, and potentially increase the likelihood of Martian life.

In their study, the researchers write that their findings “strongly support the hypothesis that seasonal warm slopes are forming liquid water on contemporary Mars.” But they aren’t sure where that water comes from. One of the possibilities that comes to mind – that water ice melts in the relatively warm summer – is unlikely, since these salts weren’t found near the icy poles. They list a few other theories but say none of them seems probable.

More details may be forthcoming in the news conference, which begins at 8:30 a.m. You can watch it live in the window above.



How Humans Can Win the Race Against the Machines

American education is ripe for a technology revolution to prepare students for the 21st century      (journal)


Christopher Mims

Sept. 27, 2015 6:13 p.m. ET

Whatever your measure—the reading and math proficiency of high-school graduates, the skills gap in the nation’s labor market, or the real value of college—there can be little argument that America’s schools, as a whole, are failing to prepare students for the 21st century.

There are countless explanations why, but here’s a significant contributing factor: Until recently, we simply didn’t know how to use technology to make teachers and students happier, better engaged and more successful.

Think about it: In every field of human endeavor, from manufacturing to knowledge work, we’re figuring out how to use technology to make humans more successful—to raise the quality of their work, if not their measured productivity.

But the same can hardly be said of teaching. In education, the overwhelming majority of students are still learning as they always have, in classrooms dominated by a one-to-many lecturing model in which teachers inevitably leave some students behind while boring others. That model has barely changed in a century.


We need a new education technology, but we won’t get it.  There are too many who have built their lives on learning the old technology, and they now lead the unions to protect their comrades. We cannot fire incompetent teachers; we cannot fire incompetent education professors; we cannot require new teachers to learn the new technologies assuming we have some in development.  The public school system now exists to pay unionized teachers salaries and pensions; if that condition is not fulfilled, then the children don’t matter.  Again that may not be true of individual teachers, but it will be true of their union leaders at both the public school and teachers college levels levels.  Pournelle’s Iron Law will prevail; heck we can’t fire obviously incompetent teachers now;  how can we ever replace those who don’t know whatever new technologies we may develop?  We can’t even keep order in the classrooms.

It may be that parents will learn the new technologies; but will regulators ever allow schools using them to be credentialed?  Perhaps I am misinformed?



Matt Damon Tinkers to Survive on Mars in New Movie

In ‘The Martian,’ opening Oct. 2, Matt Damon plays a stranded astronaut who has to figure out how to survive on Mars for almost two years      (journal)


Don Steinberg

Updated Sept. 24, 2015 9:37 a.m. ET

“The Martian,” a science-fiction movie opening Oct. 2, isn’t about mind-bending quantum cosmology or the intergalactic origins of human life. There are no bureaucrats or evil CEOs with hidden agendas who could sabotage a space mission. There’s no back story about parental issues between a wistful astronaut and a child peering into the night sky.

Instead, “The Martian” is the story of an enterprising scientist who is stranded on a planet and must use his wits and limited resources to survive and be rescued. The movie, directed by Ridley Scott, is based on a book that Andy Weir, then a computer programmer, published chapter-by-chapter on the Web.

“No one would ever accuse ‘The Martian’ of being literature,” Mr. Weir says of his book. “I’ll be the first to admit it. There is very little character depth at all. There’s no character growth. It’s a story about events, not people.”

In the movie, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a crew sent to Mars. (Other members are Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara). A storm hits and Watney is struck by debris that appears to kill him. The crew reluctantly aborts and blasts off. Then Watney wakes up amid the rusty red dust of Mars and wonders where everybody went. The NASA brass in Houston (boss Jeff Daniels and scientist Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrange a funeral—there’s no grieving family—before receiving word from Watney that he isn’t dead after all.


Andy Weir, author of ‘The Martian,’ at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Photo: Jeff Vespa/Getty Images

The driving force of the film is Watney’s Popular Mechanics-style approach to surviving on Mars for almost two years. He measures, calculates, builds, experiments and blows thing up. He adapts communications devices and mulches Mars dirt with his own waste to create soil for growing food. He’s like the Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” guys in space, joking darkly, with little time for brooding about his plight. Six years ago, Mr. Weir was a programmer working on mobile apps who had gained a modest following for the comics and sci-fi stories he published as a hobby on his website. A space nerd, he plotted missions in his head and wrote software to calculate orbital trajectories. He figured a Mars mission gone awry would make a thrilling tale, which he started posting online in 2009. The science, he says, became the drama.


Robinson Crusoe in space.



Astronomical costs of intellectual property rights patently wrong    ft

Kate Burgess

Innovations are still being stifled by dense thickets of overlapping patents

The International Space Station cost €100bn over a decade, smartphone patents wars have cost $20bn over two years

It seems cruel that it costs comparatively little to launch groundbreaking ideas into space yet so many are held back by the billions spent protecting intellectual property rights on earth.

The price of funding the International Space Station, the collaborative project that has taken the technology of many corporate tots to the stars, is about €100bn over a decade, according to Europe’s Space Agency. That means every European paying about €1 a year.

Put that against the $20bn that the patent wars cost the smartphone industry alone over two years when the likes of Apple, Motorola and others filed thousands of patents and battled to protect them.

As far back as 2011, the Hargreaves Report, sponsored by the UK government, warned that innovations were being stifled by the dense thickets of overlapping intellectual property rights. Since then, growing numbers of patents have been filed across the digital spectrum with holders laying claim to algorithms and formulas and through them sweeping ownership of broad technologies and products.

Multinationals may have the resources to file and then defend their claims in court when necessary, but few small businesses do.

For most start-ups, the costs of litigation are astronomical and the outcome too uncertain. Academics from the London School of Economics put the total cost in the UK for claimants and defendants in patent litigation at between £1m and £6m in 2012. The costs are rising. It emerged last week that the UK government is planning to double the fee for issuing civil lawsuits — the second increase in 12 months. The Law Society says it is a further deterrent to small businesses defending their rights to intellectual property.

It does not deter big companies.



Dear Jerry:

Washington’s  Growing resemblance to the City of Dis  has washed over into another Dantean analogy:  the Best Practices of both sides in the Climate Wars increasingly  draw on the Seven Deadly Sins


Finding seven deadly sins Emoji in short supply, I had to make my own.

Best regards

Russell  Seitz

Fellow of the Department of Physics Harvard University    

An example

Model Envy-   The need to command larger research budgets than competing models or theories, if need be by having competitors defunded or charged with crimes.




Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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