## Re: Passing the time

1

Fortunately, plenty of students are being actually humbling, like Sdt "I still can't remember to drop the giant S symbol after I integrate" and Sdt "What does a negative exponent mean again? Again?"

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:27 AM
2

I initially read "Sdt" as "integral of t", and found your habit of referring to poor calculus students as differential equations somewhat abstruse.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:31 AM
3

It's how I teach. Get with the program or get an F.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:32 AM
4

Math frightens me. I blame society.

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:37 AM
5

In honor of your students, I've distilled the first six paragraphs of this extremely poorly written article down to their numerical essence:

Dec. 11. 67,000-pound, \$109,000, 2.5 tons. 6 feet 2 inches, 1.88 meters, 215 pounds, 98 kilograms. 43-year-old. 2008, 10.5 million-pound loan. 69 percent, 31 percent, hundreds of people. "December, January, February and March". 12 weeks of 2009. 4:30 a.m., 20 kilograms.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:42 AM
6

Calculators genuinely are horrible things in the classroom. Especially in K-12. Is there any job out there that requires a TI-89? No. If so, that is the most idiotic, specific job training, ever.

So they are glued to their calculators, and so they never really get fractions, like they don't conceptually think of ratios, or cancelling. Because everything has always been converted to decimals.

So, then come along expressions! With variables! Which you can't convert to a decimal! And they have no idea when they can cancel, and when they can't. I've had so many Calculus II students say, cheerfully, "When can you cancel again? Can we go over that?" And what they mean is: Can you cancel 4/3? Or just 6/3?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:59 AM
7

Society frightens me. I blame math.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 9:21 AM
8

I'm here to ease your transition, Bob. We've got a nice camp for people like you.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 9:22 AM
9

6: Yes. I believe this firmly -- that no one should be using a calculator in a math classroom, um, pretty much ever. For science classes, great, the point is to get the answer. But if you're not doing the calculations yourself, you don't understand how they're done.

My students in Samoa had calculators, and lots of them were flummoxed by the idea that one-half was .5 was 50% was one divided by two was one over two -- the idea that these were all equivalent, rather than totally distinct concepts, was very confusing for them.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 9:26 AM
10

But Yay! for the terrible student. Do you think she got over some kind of hump, and understands what she's doing now?

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 9:29 AM
11

10: I do, to a degree. Repeating a class is really a fantastic way to master difficult material. I'd say it's even preferable to --

AAAAH WHY do I keep forgetting to attach bottles when I pump??? How can I be so (3x) absentminded???

--- alright then. Preferable to a hypothetical course that goes halfspeed for two semesters. After the first time through, you've got a sense of the organization of the course, and having that road map really aids your understanding of the material, the second time through.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 9:43 AM
12
Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 10:21 AM
13
Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 10:55 AM
14

I thought the conventional wisdom was that using calculators in the classroom freed the student up from mechanical work so they could really learn the concepts. Is that just not true? Or is it only true if you use the right teaching techniques?

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:03 AM
15

14: IMX that works for physics/engineering problems where it's all too easy to screw up, say, a long division early on and then spend lots of time going down a bad road.

Getting the concepts down should happen first, I think.

Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:16 AM
16

14, 15: I think that's true for science -- presumably you could do your calculations by hand, but there's no reason to and it's a possible source for error. Learning math, though, following the calculations through by hand is part of learning the concepts, and you can mostly set problems up so that the arithmetic is easy. (I could see some virtue to spending a couple of class periods a year in high school on calculator drills -- evaluating complicated expressions to get a right answer. That can be tricky without practice, and I suppose it fits in math class better than in the science classes where you'd end up needing the skill. But it's not something that's going to help you learn the math.)

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:23 AM
17

For heebie (and nosflow).

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:35 AM
18

Hey teo. I remember seeing a cartoon in probably ~2001, long before I knew what xkcd was, but now in hindsight I think it probably was, but I can't find it.

It had a professor, and in his speech bubble was an anatomically correctly drawn heart. Then in the student's thoughts was a valentine, breaking. It was somehow drawn in a really charming way, or so I remember it, at least.

I bet it would really piss neb off if you helped me find it?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:43 AM
19

I don't think xkcd has been around that long, but that does sound kind of familiar. I'll see what I can find.

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:44 AM
20

Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:46 AM
21

I was doing calculus last night - had an email from a prospective tutee saying she's going to train to be an actuary and needs to know some differentiation and integration and could I do 4 revision sessions in January. Now, my tutoring advert says up to GCSE (age 16), so no calculus to speak of, but I think she's asked me because I am nearest to her. Wondering whether to go for it or not - I say only up to GCSE because that's really easy and I don't have to think at all. Don't know whether having to think might make it more interesting or more hassle.

Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 11:54 AM
22

I'd think the big difference wouldn't be the calculus/non-calc divide, but grownup-working-for-professional-reasons/kid-working-for-school. Where that takes you depends on your tastes, of course.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 12:10 PM
23

I've done some adult tutoring before - for a GCSE and for a numeracy test for a job - and really, the difference isn't age, it's motivation. (I've got a 14 or 15 year old home educated boy at the moment who's only doing it because his mum wants him to get the GCSE, and that's being really hard work - hoping it's going to get better because I can't do another year or so of this.) So the teaching bit would probably be enjoyable - the question is whether I want to do the revision!

Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 12:51 PM
24

My calc professor could multiply something like 452.34 x 45.78 faster than most people could punch it into the calculator. (He was at the blackboard, so he could do a digit and move on, but he didn't write any intermediate steps.) Also, one of my stats professors made me do regression by hand (matrix algebra). I don't remember much calc or matrix algebra, but I did learn something valuable. Or I'm assuming I must have because I don't recall running screaming from the room.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 12:55 PM
25

I am, if the standardized tests are to be believed, very good at math. This is a great example of a reason not to believe the standardized tests.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:00 PM
26

You shouldn't doubt standardized tests. I did very well on standardized tests also. Therefore, I took honors calc with a full professor who clearly loved his job and 30 other highly motivated students, nearly all of whom were willing to help me when I got stuck. My friends who didn't test so well took calc with 300 people in a lecture hall and a lab once a week with a 22 year-old TA who'd never taught before. Amazingly, the standardized tests exactly predicted how well we knew calculus after college.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:05 PM
27

Okay, this is actually a very good student, but they are just learning how to write proofs, and so terrible at it. Anyway, this is making me laugh really hard:

"Let R^n be the number of vectors in a subspace..."

Mmm, let's see, let's pick some nice neutral notation. How about R^n?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:06 PM
28

23: Eh, the review will be interesting. I'd do it.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:06 PM
29

According to standardized tests, I'm about the 90-93th percentile in math. But if I could only go back and take it now, I'd really show them who's 1 in 10.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:09 PM
30

Ninety-threeth?

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:28 PM
31

By the skin of my tirds.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:31 PM
32

That reminds me—someone here linked to a math review site recently (government-affiliated? university-affiliated?), and I forgot to bookmark it. Anyone remember?

Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:36 PM
33

This might push yer buttons, Jesus.

I lost my login and there's absolutely no contact email to be found. Poor me.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:40 PM
34

Oh look I remembered my login. I can't believe I've only solved 64 problems!

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:43 PM
35

I think there's plenty of use for calculators in mathematics classes. They save wasting a lot of time on arithmetic so that you can focus on whatever material you're actually supposed to be covering. That's especially true at a tertiary level, but even at high school the way to make the students know fractions is to teach them fractions, separately, and assess it separately. You can structure questions so that they test your target material and don't just let them plug numbers into their calculator and get the answer out.

That's not to say that they don't get too attached to them. Or that there aren't areas where they're genuinely not useful at all, but where they'll try to use them anyway. But they do serve a valid purpose within a classroom assuming you're not teaching arithmetic.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:48 PM
36

Thanks, I'll have a look at that one.

Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:50 PM
37

but even at high school the way to make the students know fractions is to teach them fractions, separately, and assess it separately.

Oh, this is a dismal failure. Students do not integrate topics well on their own.

But they do serve a valid purpose within a classroom assuming you're not teaching arithmetic.

Oh, you always are.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:51 PM
38

re: 35

In the Scottish system, as it existed when I did it [it's no longer even the same qualifications now] there were two different 'O' grade qualifications [exams sat at about 15/16] divided precisely to encourage that separation between methods.

In the Maths exam calculators were allowed, but in the Arithmetic paper they were not. The first covered all the things you'd expect -- algebra, trigonometry, etc -- while the second was purely arithmetic calculations. Percentages, ratios, fractions, long multiplication, that sort of thing.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:54 PM
39

Oh, this is a dismal failure. Students do not integrate topics well on their own.

I don't see why that should be the case if it's taught properly. Particularly since you really benefit from knowing how to do things 'manually' even if you do usually use a calculator. FWIW, in the system described in 38 the stuff was taught by the same teachers, in the same classrooms, but it was assessed in different exams.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:56 PM
40

Right, I shouldn't speak about the universality of our students, for sure. But if your school system is in a downward spiral of rigor, calculators will accelerate that plummet.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 1:56 PM
41

On preview, basically what ttaM said, except I never had separate exams (you were just expected to know the arithmetic before exams came around, but it wouldn't have been a bad idea).

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:00 PM
42

re: 40

I don't know. I think there's a benefit to knowing how to use calculators properly, too, and being able to do stuff with them is helpful [Teaching-Granny-to-suck-eggs stuff, this of course].

FWIW, again, under the Scottish system when I did it you weren't allowed to use calculators at all until the 3rd year of high school. Then only allowed to use them in Maths [and Physics, and Engineering exams].

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:03 PM
43

40 to 38.

39 is confusing to me. Wispa said "the way to make the students know fractions is to teach them fractions, separately, and assess it separately."

Which is not the same as "FWIW, in the system described in 38 the stuff was taught by the same teachers, in the same classrooms, but it was assessed in different exams."

Also, keep in mind that we have fairly weak students. Once you have a thorough mastery of algebra, by all means, use a calculator. But my original point is that these students have always used a calculator and it is massively screwing them over.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:04 PM
44

Students seem to pick up calculator use way, way easier than they pick up algebra. Therefore, I'd rather ditch that one until the real world. Especially because they'll end up using an i-phone App, not a TI-TwoMillion.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:06 PM
45

I could see assessing arithmetic separately from math, but I still think allowing calculators is a mistake. If your arithmetic is weak enough that doing calculations manually is going to slow you down much, that's going to mess up learning the math concepts.

You know where I noticed this particularly (other than fractions, which heebie's already mentioned) is factoring polynominals. A kid who looks at 42, and can't see offhandedly that it's either 6 and 7, 3 and 14, 2 and 21, or 1 and 42, isn't going to be able to factor a polynominal, and a calculator won't help much. But using a calculator all along will mean that they won't ever develop that kind of casual fluency.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:07 PM
46

re: 43

We had, I think, somewhere between 4 and 6 hours of 'maths' a week. I can't remember the exact numbers, it might sometimes have been more. Anyway, some of those sessions would be primarily devoted to arithmetic, and some to algebra, and some to geometry, and some to statistics, and so on. The teachers would teach a range of topics and methods, and some of those topics were examined in a calculator-free exam [Arithmetic] and some in a calculator-permitted exam [Maths].

No different, from say, taking English classes, and then having, say, composition/essay-writing assessed in one paper, and comprehension and interpretation assessed in another.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:09 PM
47

You know where I noticed this particularly (other than fractions, which heebie's already mentioned) is factoring polynominals.

And by extension, factoring and cancelling rational functions, whew boy. This is the biggest, biggest problem they have. I attribute it not fully getting fractions.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:09 PM
48

Follow-up to 32: Found it (them, as it turned out). Call off the search.

Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:10 PM
49

Students do not integrate topics well on their own.

My impression in from personal experience and glancing around research on teaching is that the best students can make connections across topics and even across courses. This makes people think that if you encourage average students to make these connections for themselves, they will become great students. But this doesn't work.

In general, there is a large class of "Things smart students do on their own" which you think you can use leverage the other students up a notch, but you can't. Its not clear whether these practices are causes or effects of the person being a good student.

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:10 PM
50

But my original point is that these students have always used a calculator and it is massively screwing them over.

And my point is that it's not the 'used a calculator' part that's a problem, but the 'always' part.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:11 PM
51

I don't exactly know where our system looses all semblance of rigor and produces students who couldn't factor their way out of a paper bag, to be honest. They're sitting in math classes, five days a week, year in and year out. And by middle school and high school, I just hear stories of endless cajoling to get the kids to pick up their freaking pencil.

So the students who pick up their pencils are considered college-bound, at least to our college, and they think school is a piece of cake. I really don't know what exactly causes this disastrous lack of rigor.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:13 PM
52

50: Like Rob is alluding to, with weak students they really need to stay off the calculator in all math classes. Stronger students, sure, they can handle a hit every now and then, and even regular social calculator use as they get older. But not weaker students.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:15 PM
53

43: I'm not suggesting having a separate "Fractions" teacher, just that you explicitly teach them during the year rather than relying on them being picked up implicitly.

45: If your arithmetic is weak enough that doing calculations manually is going to slow you down much, that's going to mess up learning the math concepts.
Sometimes, perhaps, like the example you give. Other times not though: matrix multiplication by hand takes an age, and so when that isn't the point of what you're doing (perhaps coding theory, linear algebra) it would be sensible to allow calculators to save time for the stuff that matters.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:16 PM
54

I'm not suggesting having a separate "Fractions" teacher, just that you explicitly teach them during the year rather than relying on them being picked up implicitly.

I know this is what you mean. Like, in high school, they should have a unit on fractions, be tested on fractions, and then move on to the next topic, at which point they can resume calculator use.

For strong students, this is unnecessary and remedial. For weak and midgrade students, this does not facilitate them practice and integrate fractions into their knowledge.

There is tons of research done with how poorly it goes to teach math in a compartmentalized way, one skill at at time.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:20 PM
55

I'm still bitter about being forced to buy a TI-84 graphing calculator in 10th grade, although it must be said: that snake game was pretty fun.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:21 PM
56

Other times not though: matrix multiplication by hand takes an age, and so when that isn't the point of what you're doing (perhaps coding theory, linear algebra) it would be sensible to allow calculators to save time for the stuff that matters.

I would not make my students carry out tedious matrix multiplication. By all means, use a calculator here. Good work on seeing past the meaning of what I'm saying and finding a counter-example.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:24 PM
57

This is kind of cool, Jesus.

Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:26 PM
58

Like, in high school, they should have a unit on fractions, be tested on fractions, and then move on to the next topic, at which point they can resume calculator use.

For strong students, this is unnecessary and remedial.

But anything you're doing with fractions by the time you get to high school should be unnecessary and remedial.

I don't know, I don't think it has to be that far separated out. Just that it be clear what is a problem for fractions/ratios/... and what is a suitable problem for a calculator. Later in the piece it doesn't have to be so explicit because they'll just know. Always and everywhere using a calculator is a problem, but that doesn't mean they aren't useful or don't have a place.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:28 PM
59

Right, ok. So it's a less blanket prohibition than I thought. Certainly there are times when they shouldn't be using a calculator and it's fine to tell them that and stop them.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:30 PM
60

59: It really is a blanket prohibition, but I think we still basically agree. If I had students who had a decent high school education, I would let them use calculators on reasonable occasions. Since I don't, I don't.

They can use calculators when they get to differential equations, but not in my linear algebra. This linear algebra class is proof-based, not computational, so it's not really relevant anyway.

The reason I don't allow calculators in linear algebra, though, is that I don't want to get into an arms race. There are calculators that can compute null spaces and ranges and bases, etc, and I don't want to stay on top of that. I'd rather just give them easy numbers and small matrices.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:33 PM
61

Is it cheating if I solve a project euler problem only because I read a relevant wikipedia article?

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:35 PM
62

Is it cheating if I care too much?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:36 PM
63

58: This isn't wrong, but the emphasis seems off to me. While there are legit uses for calculators in math (like, carrying around paper trig tables would be silly), the vast majority of the calculations you do in a math class are going to be something that won't slow down a strong student much (so they don't need a calculator), and the students who would find a calculator significantly helpful have weak enough arithmetic that they need all the drill they can get. (That sentence had a total parallelism failure.)

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:36 PM
64

What really sucks is having poor math teachers. I'm not naturally gifted at math, but had I sucked it up and been willing to work hard I would have advanced past pre-calculus - if I had felt like I could get the instruction I needed. Instead, I had teachers who lacked any real ability to teach math to those of us who needed extra help; they were only ever teaching to the strong students.

I still remember the day that the AP calculus teacher taught our precalc class for a day; I learned more in that day than I did in the whole quarter, but unfortunately because he was such a great teacher they reserved him for both the most remedial and the best students, not those of us squarely in the middle.

I was getting A's, but I knew I didn't know the material at all, and once we started moving onto topics in precalc that required me to actually know all the stuff that I had supposedly mastered before, I knew I was fucked. So I labeled myself "bad at math" and moved on.

(This topic is amusing to me because quite recently - and pardon my breach of the sanctity of off-blog communication - I shocked Otto with the fact that there are people on Unfogged who have no clue what a derivative is because they never took calculus.)

Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:36 PM
65

What really sucks is having poor math teachers.

This. I tend to ignore it when bright people tell me they're bad at math. I just don't believe them. I think they'd do fine in a good class.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:39 PM
66

And my teaching experience is only secondary school, of course. In college, I'd only worry about calculator use for weak students (like heebie's).

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:41 PM
67

Where I lament the use of calculators is in students' inability to estimate. No, dammit, you don't need a calculator to get an idea of what 210/43 is.

Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:44 PM
68

67 is so true. Like, if they have to put sq rt (10)/3 on a graph, they won't know how to figure out if it should be to the left or right of 1.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:48 PM
69

All of 60 seems reasonable. Linear algebra was really a bad example on my part, I was just groping for a second one. The calculator rule I had through undergrad was "no symbolic manipulation", when they were permitted at all.

the vast majority of the calculations you do in a math class are going to be something that won't slow down a strong student much (so they don't need a calculator), and the students who would find a calculator significantly helpful have weak enough arithmetic that they need all the drill they can get
That's true too. There does come a point where it genuinely does have an effect though, so I don't think there are absolutely no circumstances for them, but I guess from a teaching perspective excess drilling isn't as bad as not enough.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:49 PM
70

57: That is cool, thanks.

I've been wanting for years to review math, just because it was something I enjoyed that fell by the wayside in college, but without any real need, I never got around to it. Now I feel like the time when I have to keep a step ahead of my daughters will be upon me before I know it.

||
Speaking of my daughters, one of them, who previously informed me that she wants to be a brown person, told me yesterday that she wants to celebrate Kwanzaa.
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Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 2:54 PM
71

Maybe Our Favorite Student has been lurking here all along and the shame of seeing herself mocked here has led her to really put her nose to the grindstone?

Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 3:06 PM
72

63 - why is carrying around paper trig tables silly? When I first did sines and cosines etc I had to look them up in tables, and I was planning to buy some again for my kids. There's something nice (not to mention useful) about being able to see all the values laid out, rather than just plucking them out of the blue with a calculator. Yeah, sure, once you know whats going on, use a calculator because it's quicker, but I don't think the tables are silly.

People really don't make connections and carry things across topics. I was tutoring a boy once, and we'd been talking about the angles in a quadrilateral adding up to 360. Then a bit later there was some other geometry problem, and after he'd answered the actual question, I pointed out the 360 sum again. He was surprised that it applied to this one as well, and then drew some 4-sided shape and asked whether it would work for that one too. He was amazed when I said yes and said that he'd thought that was just "some maths thing, not real life".

67, 68 - oh yes.

Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 3:35 PM
73

Linear algebra should be taught with computers.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 3:37 PM
74

We always used Napier's bones.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 3:40 PM
75

Jesus, you need to explain to your daughter the concept of being brown where it counts.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 3:48 PM
76

Jesus, you need to explain to your daughter the concept of being brown where it counts.

I am sick and tired of that Da Vinci Code nonsense, people, and it is not improved by racism. I am appalled.

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 4:38 PM
77

76 is good.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:06 PM
78

||

Internets are trying to get the Peter Watts story to go viral. Digby, three diaries at DKos, all SF blogs. Needs defense money, and with luck and pressure, perhaps charges dropped and possessions returned.

I like the phrase "Obama's blackbooted criminal thugs" myself. As long as "if only the Czar knew" is operative deniablility, the Czar can use the Kossacks with impunity.

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Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:28 PM
79

re: 72 and 74

Clearly we should be issuing our kids with Curta calculators.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curta_calculator

[Again, at the risk of sound old, we were taught to use slide rules and trig tables at school, as an addendum to using electronic calculators.]

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:32 PM
80

||

Spent an hour this evening riding on a train across from a middle-aged woman who was trying to convince her mother that the US is inches away from being a communist dictatorship. This after they had a long conversation about kids these days (literally!) and the mother expressed fear that the young generation will euthanize her generation. I was still reeling from the realization that this wasn't some sort of dark humor, but an actual fear, when the real crazy got started.

It's one thing to encounter Grade-A crazy on the internet, but being just a few feet away from it is even weirder.

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Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:35 PM
81

I never saw a slide rule in school (my father had one I taught myself to do multiplication on, but I've forgotten how by now). But I certainly used paper trig tables -- scientific calculators were still expensive when I was in high school, and they weren't going to tell us to buy them just to do trig.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:42 PM
82

80: That happened recently to me on a metro car. Only the crazy person was trying to convince a random other, not her mother.

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:43 PM
83

80:Fuck you Fuck you Fuck you essear

Dr. Watts was stripped of his winter coat for the crime of leaving his car, charged with the offense of assaulting a federal officer and faces two years for backing away from a punch, and dropped across the bridge at 3 AM without a coat in 18 degree winter.

And motherfucking essear talks about paranoid internet crazies and dotty old women on busses.

Overseas readers, do not come to the US under any circumstances. Your life can be destroyed at whim.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:43 PM
84

Oh. And there are many people like essear supporting police brutality and thuggery.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:44 PM
85

73: Why? What more than 2x2 matrices do you need to give nice, concrete, examples of the general stuff?

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:45 PM
86

85: not relevant to the computer question, but taking the determinant of a 3x3 matrix leaps to mind immediately.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:49 PM
87

But really, I feel like Matlab taught me much more about linear algebra than my linear algebra classes ever did. Using linear algebra to accomplish abstract manipulation of data structures makes it concrete and useful in a way that is I think pretty difficult to accomplish if you're just working through things by hand.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:50 PM
88

83 is pretty funny. Can I get some of that misdirected rage, mcmanus? I spent part of today annoyed at, um, somebody on facebook complaining about healthcare.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:52 PM
89

I'm willing to claim that I support police brutality and thuggery, if it'll help get you in the mood.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:52 PM
90

bob "Skip Gates made the whole thing up to take down a white cop" mcmanus, everyone!

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:55 PM
91

You two are just making fun of bob to curry favor with the rest of the commentariat.

Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:56 PM
92

83:Misdirected, my ass. Essear knew what he/she was doing.

Another site, Simon Bradshaw, supporting Dr Peter Watts, this time discussing how often the authoritarians use the cover of anonymity.

"Sifu Tweety"

See, this is how supposedly tangential and unrelated comments can be used as attacks and insults by cowards and bullies.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:57 PM
93

bob if it would help I could just make fun of you out of the blue for no reason. God knows there's plenty of material filed away.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 5:59 PM
94

||
I'm looking at a flyer for a futsal tournament, and #1 on the list of tournament details is

Each team MUST represent its cultural affiliation based on:
a. country of citizenship,
b. country of birth, or
c. country of ethnicity

WTF?
|>

Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:00 PM
95

90:And you put that in quotes, without a link or cut-and-paste. I'd ban your ass for that shit.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:00 PM
96

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:00 PM
97

See, this is how supposedly tangential and unrelated comments can be used as attacks and insults by cowards and bullies.

Does this refer to 83? I think?

Is this some kind of weird meta-commentary on random, shitty sniping at people?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:01 PM
98

put that in quotes, without a link or cut-and-paste

I guess I'm just not aware of all internet traditions.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:05 PM
99

86: Yes, well, certainly that. However, there's just not a lot of "content" in taking the determinant by minor expansion. And the mechanics are easy enough to teach without computers.

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:05 PM
100

I was just reading about Peter Watts and thinking "yup, another reason I hate America." This country isn't heading towards a communist dictatorship, but we certainly have a very strong and powerful authoritarian streak that's really not concerned about human rights, or constitutional rights, or much of anything except abusing power for fun and profit. So, as usual, I'm just another old crazy guy in solidarity with McManus.

Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:06 PM
101

99: no, I know there isn't. I mostly just like computers.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:06 PM
102

72: People really don't make connections and carry things across topics.

45: A kid who looks at 42, and can't see offhandedly that it's either 6 and 7, 3 and 14, 2 and 21, or 1 and 42, isn't going to be able to factor a polynominal

Right. What kids get and don't get goes toward a great deal more than the ability to do math, though. If you can't, say, work backward and see what 42 might be comprised of, well, you're potentially ripe to look at this thing on Fox News and not notice at all that there's something wrong. I may be exaggerating slightly there.

I'm increasingly persuaded by you all that kids should be required to take an intro statistics course in high school, not in order to be able to do statistics, exactly, but in order to become familiar with such concepts -- which I hope would be introduced -- as selection bias, margin of error, and so on.* The egregious level of cluelessness among the general populace is, well, a stumper. It generates people unable to see when something's not quite making sense, and they're therefore endlessly manipulable.

Yeah, I know this is all obvious, but sometimes my jaw just drops. I talked to a 40-year-old a while back who actually didn't know that there are two houses of Congress. House of Representatives, Senate, 2 senators per state, 100 Senators, bills must pass both the House and the Senate, blah blah. The guy was so gobsmacked that he took issue with my claim. It's just Congress, he said; it's the legislative branch. It became a brief argument, not heated.

I hypothesize that a lot of people surf their way through things without ironing out complexities they do not understand. (That 40-year-old votes, and apparently just glossed over the fact that he's voting for Representatives as well as Senators.) Someone upthread said that they knew that they weren't getting something -- I suspect a lot of people can't tell when they're not getting something. How do you teach that ability?

* I've never taken a statistics course.

Also, end rant.

Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:06 PM
103

Michael H Schneider has the courage to stand up against essear! Does anybody else?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:07 PM
104

I'd read Bob's blog. But I admit I'm mystified why Bob believes essear's 80 had anything to with Peter Watts.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:07 PM
105

Longer bob mcmanus starts here. My paraphrase might have been slightly exaggerated for effect.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:08 PM
106

100: It's not that mcmanus isn't right that it seems shady; it's that mcmanus is (as far as I can tell) pissed off at, of all people, essear (who, last I checked, is neither a border guard nor in charge of 'em) about it.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:09 PM
107

essear you realize that makes you a war criminal. Of course you realize. You know what you're doing, you sinister bastard. Any science fiction authors would be well-advised to leave now, run, cover your tracks, burn your IDs and bras and precious moments figurines. Freakin' essear is in this thread. Do you even know what that means?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:09 PM
108

I should preview more often.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:09 PM
109

Great, now Stanley and apostropher are pro beating and freezing science fiction authors in the name of state security. Essear you're truly machiavellian.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:10 PM
110

106: Thank you. I'm agnostic on the Essear question. I am, however, strongly hating America, ICE, Homeland security, and a whole lot of what America Stands For. It sure as hell ain't Truth, Justice, and whatever the American Way is these days, I don't like it. I think a strong dose of loud and public outrage is a good thing.

Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:12 PM
111

I suppose I'll be forced to condemn, reject, repudiate, and/or renounce the beating of science fiction authors at border crossings if I wish to win the bob vote.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:12 PM
112

111: oh, sure, you can try and do that now, but we know the truth.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:13 PM
113

That fateful train trip will be dogging you for a long time, you jack-booted thug. We have crazy old ladies everywhere.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:13 PM
114

I mostly just like computers.

Fair enough. I certainly enjoy using matlab. But I can't get it at work (after using it for the past eight or so years, I'm all jumpy and have spiders under my skin). Maybe I can get them to accept python and use numpy (or whatever they call it).

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:14 PM
115

I would express an opinion about linear algebra, but I'm afraid I'd just reveal more aspects of my sinister evil plans.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:16 PM
116

I've been trying to convince myself that Python can adequately satisfy my Matlab jones, because it does seem rather more practical.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:16 PM
117

You should investigate numpy/scipy, then.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:17 PM
118

I know that this is really hard, Sifu whoever you are, but immediately following a post about alleged police brutality (78) with one about the surfeit of delusional paranoids (80) has a purpose that should be obvious even to you.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:18 PM
119

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:19 PM
120

I suppose that's not fair. Obviously, I'm reading them right now. Nobody pays attention to your comments.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:19 PM
121

109: Hell, given some of the recent SF I've read, more alleged authors need to be iced.

Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:19 PM
122

If only my train had arrived ten minutes earlier, 80 would have preceded 78 and I could have avoided showing my sinister intentions.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:19 PM
123

This Peter Watts guy got euthanized by his grandson the border patrol officer, and essear has the audacity to make light of it.

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:20 PM
124

I'm increasingly persuaded by you all that kids should be required to take an intro statistics course in high school, not in order to be able to do statistics, exactly, but in order to become familiar with such concepts -- which I hope would be introduced -- as selection bias, margin of error, and so on.
I would absolutely be in favour of this. Studying mathematics makes you a better mathematician, studying statistics makes you a better person.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:20 PM
125

Truly, it is a vile thing, to use the ||-power so vilely.

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:20 PM
126

120 cont'd: speaking for myself, I actually didn't read it until you pointed it out just now. pause, play and "bob mcmanus" were enough to trigger my (by this point quite powerful) internal unfogged filter.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:20 PM
127

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:21 PM
128

124: It might, but at what level of significance?

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:21 PM
129

122: the truth will out, you monster. The truth will out.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:21 PM
130

Studying mathematics makes you a better mathematician, studying statistics makes you a better person.

Statistics is mathematics.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:22 PM
131

125: See, essear put the pause/play symbols in invisible quotation marks. That's how diabolically clever he is.

Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:23 PM
132

I shouldn't need to remind this group about the long practice of labelling those calling out oppression and privilege "crazy".

The Soviet Union and Eastern Block made it into an institution. Feminists understand it very well.

This is what essear was doing at comment 80.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:23 PM
133

I think I'm going to follow's Beck's advice and start hoarding gold, guns, and Goddesses. I'm a bit light in the Goddess hoarding department at the moment. I wonder if one can hoard Goddesses the way dragons hoard gold and jewels, by making a big pile of 'em and sleeping on it. There's probably some federal law against it.

I hope you live long enough to enjoy the world you deserve.

Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:23 PM
134

110: Right. In all seriousness, current America is not what I thought we were supposed to be heading towards. Disgusting.

Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:24 PM
135

It's almost as if bob takes mentions of delusional paranoids personally. Don't worry, bob! Had it been a left-wing rather than a right-wing delusional paranoid across the train aisle from me, my comment would have read something like "Omg you guys! I think bob was on the train with me today! Isn't that great!?"

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:24 PM
136

Bring the Nazis into it, dude. This is essear we're talking about. Did you hear about his train ride? You know who else used trains, don't you? Mm hmm.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:24 PM
137

Seriously bob? essear was not labelling those calling out oppression and privilege "crazy"; he was labelling those saying the US is inches away from being a communist dictatorship "crazy".

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:25 PM
138

The intersection of statistics and mathematics is nonempty. I wouldn't say they were the same or even that one was wholly contained within the other. But more importantly statistics has all sorts of content that makes you function better in society.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:26 PM
139
Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:26 PM
140

139: Haven't you deployed that one already?

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:27 PM
141

You're going to run out of those one of these days, aren't you?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:27 PM
142

I think so, yes. But it's so topical here.

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:27 PM
143

Enough or arguing with fascists.

Peter Watts could use some help, and it could be really useful to publicize this case.

Which was my only purpose before essear and tweety started a fight

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:28 PM
144

142 to 140. As for 141, I think I'll be able to keep reusing them forever.

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:28 PM
145

133.last: one where mcmanus doesn't comment on unfogged?

Or did you mean to imply that I was somehow unaware of the story McManus mentioned, which has been all over the blogosphere (including specifically BoingBoing, one of the top ten most popular blogs on the internet) for like a week?

Or oh! I understand. Your complaint is that I'm not loudly denouncing the actions of the US Border Patrol in every comment I make on unfogged.

Because, you know, before they beat the shit out of a (white) science fiction author coming in from Canada, they were basically sweetness and light. The fact that this story has gained prominence has literally nothing to do with the fact that the guy is both heavily privileged and the member of a class with strong connections to blogs and the internet.

Really, I love you sometimes, internet.

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:28 PM
146

I don't disagree with 138. (130 wasn't really fair.) But it's true of lots of subjects (including mathematics)--not just statistics.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:29 PM
147

Oh, crap. I posted my rant at 102 before seeing this exchange involving bob. Bob, I hope you know that I wasn't ignoring your post about Watts. Just didn't see it.

I suspect essear didn't see it, either. You're overreacting.

Jesus. Actually, I saw the Peter Watts news last night via Making Light, and it's kind of serious. Jokes about SF authors needing to get iced, not so funny.

Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:29 PM
148

Feminists understand it very well.

I would only have threesomes with two girls, because I understand it very well.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:30 PM
149

How can anybody joke about anything with the world as fucked up as it is? Somebody innocent is facing serious jail time: that's never happened before!

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:33 PM
150

Actually, he was heading back into Canada after helping a USian friend move. Just to nitpick.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:33 PM
151

150: obviously somebody like me isn't going to care about those kinds of details.

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:35 PM
152

It seems inevitable to me that in the new era of digital freedom, with capability for infinite data storage and infinite surveillance, governments of rich countries will become superintelligent despots, which it would never even be imaginable to overthrow or remove.

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:36 PM
153

But it's particularly true of statistics, for all the reasons parsimon gave. Understanding margins of error instantly makes you better informed in a way that understanding how to find roots of a function doesn't. I don't have any particular yen for statistics otherwise.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:37 PM
154

Other than having just read Bob's link, I don't know a damn thing about this Peter Watts story. Serious question: is there a reason to believe Watts is telling the truth?

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:37 PM
155

Statistics does get used for policy-making in a way that (say) number theory doesn't. And of course, and intuitive understanding of Bayes rule makes you much better able to evaluate all kinds of claims, whether or not they're even strictly numerical.

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:38 PM
156

150:Not really so minor, for several reasons

It means the authorities lied to the Canadian authorities and the press, and that the press did not bother to check the facts.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:38 PM
157

is there a reason to believe Watts is telling the truth?

I don't know. Is there a reason to believe he's not?

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:39 PM
158

154: the border patrol are often shitheads, obviously, but other than that as best I can gather it's because a lot of people on the internet know and like and trust him (and the people who were in the car with him, who witnessed it, I believe?).

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:39 PM
159

154:essear and tweety have drawn support from their ideological ally

Reason to believe Watts:fucking cops lie as they breathe

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:41 PM
160

There were other people in the car? Oh. I guess I didn't read the link very carefully.

Is there a reason to believe he's not?

Well, the "official" stories seem to be quite different from his. That's one reason. But it doesn't prove anything, of course.

Is there a reason someone on the border patrol would wish him harm? (Something more than just "they're often shitheads"?)

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:42 PM
161

Dammit, Brock, you've given your position away! If mcmanus figures out how many of us fascist stooges are secretly tracking him online he might go deep underground.

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:44 PM
162

By the way, I'm not trying to imply that "because a lot of people on the internet know and like and trust him" isn't necessarily a good reason to believe him. It's certainly a good enough reason for those people who do know and trust him, of course.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:46 PM
163

153: really? That seems more than a bit overstating things.

Posted by: turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:46 PM
164

160: wouldn't read bp thugs fanfic?

Posted by: turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:49 PM
165

Reason to believe Watts:fucking cops lie as they breathe

Unless their name is James Crowley, the best cop in Cambridge!

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:50 PM
166

164: wouldn't address key Enterprise vs. Star Destroyer question?

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:51 PM
167

Damn. I thought bob was off-base calling you a fascist, essear, but 165 is a perfect illustration of 152.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:53 PM
168

Yes, really. Knowing what the reported margin on a political poll means is hugely useful. Knowing what the confidence interval is on reported demographic or scientific data (say) is hugely useful. So is knowing about sampling.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:53 PM
169

Good, walk it back. Bob's deeply paranoid, but he also has a limited short term memory. If you ingratiate yourself, he'll soon enough likely forget the brief slip in your cover.

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:54 PM
170

169 to 167, unless you're bob, in which case you saw nothing! (waves hands)

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:55 PM
171

Knowing what the reported margin on a political poll means is hugely useful.

I'm curious: how exactly do people untrained in statistics get this wrong? I mean, most people are aware of reported margins of error--so, what do people who misunderstand them think they mean? Because the technical meaning seems pretty intuitive to me. I can't really think of what a plausible misinterpretation would be.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:57 PM
172

There are fewer intuitive things in math than most of us realize.

For example, I'm sure a huge number of people see a number like "45%, margin of error plus-minus 5%" and think that there's an equal chance that it could be 40%, 45%, 50%, or any number within that margin of error.

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 6:59 PM
173

Unless their name is James Crowley, the best cop in Cambridge!

I don't see that Bob maving made (or possibly not made) inconsistent statements in the past tells us anything at all about the Watts incident. Am I missing something?

I tend to believe Watts because it's consistent with what we did to that other Canadian (the one we sent to be tortured, I've lost his name), it's consistent with my personal experience with US Border guards at the Canadian border, and it's consistent with a lot of other police misconduct cases, and with the story of the witness in the car, and people like Charlie Stross's comments that were linked by Digby.

Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:01 PM
174

Yes, what ned said. That's why you hear "statistical tie" all the time.

Also that there's a non-zero chance that the real number is outside that range. And that it only applies fully to a binary choice at exactly 50%.

Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:01 PM
175

Am I missing something?

Seemingly.

______________________________________________
ADDENDUM REQUIRED BY IDEOLOGICAL PURITY ACT, CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF INTERNET NERDS, SESSION OF DECEMBER 12, 2009: dear border patrol, please don't beat up science fiction authors. Dear crazy people, you were right all along.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:03 PM
176

172 and 174 seem obvious now that I'm thinking about it. 171 was pretty stupid.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:03 PM
177

173: I haven't said anything about the Watts incident; my comment was about bob. I tend to believe Watts, I think it's a bad thing, and I think it probably happens to many more people who aren't fortunate enough to be able to ask the internet for donations to a legal defense fund and get them.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:04 PM
178

172 gets it exactly right. See the inane controversy over the death counts in Iraq, or the endless complaints that this or that poll oversamples Democrats/Republicans.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:04 PM
179

that other Canadian (the one we sent to be tortured, I've lost his name)

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:04 PM
180

And if I never heard "X is polling below the margin of error" again, stated as if it meant something, I would be happy.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:06 PM
181

It's amazing how many scientists who should know better don't understand Poisson statistics.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:07 PM
182

My statistics is a fish.

Posted by: Vardaman | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:08 PM
183

179: thank you. There are a lot of drawbacks to having a poor memory, but I can't remember what they are.

Oh, sorry. Just speaking for myself, I'm not terribly interested in talking about how crazy other commenters are, or whether they've made other statements at other times. I'm much more interested in the political and social and cultural implications of the Watts incident. But that's just me.

Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:08 PM
184

So Brock, by the way, on the Watts thing, if you want to see more about it, go to BoingBoing here, which links to other things. Watts's statement there is kind of compelling.

Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:12 PM
185

I think I'm recoiling at 153 (and earlier) mostly because my course on probability in the mathematics department was about ten times as useful as my introductory statistics course. (And by more useful, I think I mostly mean "gave me a deeper understanding of the concepts"). But it's entirely possible that was mostly a function of those two particular courses, rather than a generalizable point.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:13 PM
186

183.last: If bob hadn't started sniping at me for no apparent reason, I wouldn't have sniped back. I'm done for now.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:16 PM
187

172: For example, I'm sure a huge number of people see a number like "45%, margin of error plus-minus 5%" and think that there's an equal chance that it could be 40%, 45%, 50%, or any number within that margin of error.

Well, this is embarrassing. I see I have to go learn a few things, because that's kind of what I thought it meant. Well, not that there's an equal chance of errors in those directions, but still. Gah.

Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:17 PM
188

What Watts doesn't seem to understand is that it's the victors who get to write the history books. If he'd beaten up the cops, instead of the other way around, then he could be the one accusing them of initiating the incident, and he could be the one suing for damages. But he lost the fight, so.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:19 PM
189

I'm thinking of a high-school statistics course, more than undergrad. I imagine it would include some probability as well. But I'm not really fussed if people properly understand the calculus behind it all or anything else, just the overall concepts and what they mean. Confidence intervals and sampling are the big topics for me.

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:21 PM
190

187 might have just changed my views on 153 and earlier.

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:21 PM
191

190: Does it help if I mention that I've taken more than one logic course? Probably not. Sorry.

Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:29 PM
192

It's amazing how many scientists who should know better don't understand Poisson statistics.

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:32 PM
193

The comic linked in 192 in incredibly unfunny. Like, so unfunny I'm wondering if I'm somehow missing the joke. (And yes, I read the mouseover.)

Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:35 PM
194

Yeah, that's one of the worst ones.

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:36 PM
195

It was topical, though. (I think. I don't actually know anything about the Poisson distribution or Poisson statistics.)

Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:37 PM
196

187: back in my day we had some standards for deviation. Nowadays it's all relative. We didn't allow any "margin of error." It was either right or wrong.

Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:43 PM
197

196: Oh, that's helpful. I'll be looking into this later.

Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 7:52 PM
198

we had some standards for deviation

This is hilarious.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-12-09 8:12 PM
199

how exactly do people untrained in statistics get this wrong? I mean, most people are aware of reported margins of error--so, what do people who misunderstand them think they mean?

They don't know what to disregard. They can't identify a poll that smells funny, and then verify their intuition by looking at the sample size and margin of error, etc. They're at the mercy of the spin of the news source.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-13-09 7:24 AM
200

They don't know what to disregard.

Don't forget that there is usually only a 95% chance that the value is within the margin of error. It's best to disregard everything that doesn't support your pre-existing views.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-13-09 7:28 AM
201

68% actually. They usually quote a "1 sigma" error in polls.

Posted by: mealworm | Link to this comment | 12-14-09 3:46 AM
202

I have never seen a poll quoting anything below a 90% interval and would be untrusting of any that did. Almost always it's 95% (or inverse-square-root, which is slightly off).

Posted by: wispa | Link to this comment | 12-14-09 2:24 PM