Re: 50 Greatest Inventions

1

I think # 23, the sextant, is probably the weakest one.

I dunno heebie I think this is too obvious a troll.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 8:50 AM
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When I was in at SJC, the middies across the street still had to learn celestial navigation to graduate.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 8:51 AM
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The lever should be #1. The whole concept of mechanical advantage is so fundamental to machinery that we take it for granted, but no lever means most of the other shit on that list never happens.

Also the Egyptians bloody well did have the wheel when they built the pyramids. Most of the time someone claims that XYZ ancient civilization did not have the wheel they are wrong. Wheels just aren't all that useful unless you live somewhere with lots of firm flat ground. Or roads.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 8:56 AM
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Nitrogen fixation? Getting people hooked on laughing gas is a great invention?

</urple>


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 8:58 AM
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No one invented electricity.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:00 AM
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Seems like something better could be found to replace paper money and the Gregorian calendar on the list. Double entry bookkeeping and the clock, for instance.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:02 AM
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Double entry bookkeeping is a good one. The clock is already on the list.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:03 AM
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8

Metallurgy seems underrepresented.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:04 AM
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Missing from the list:

Numbers - 3rd millenium BCE.

Specifically, quantity terms that are not tied to any particular kind of object and form a series that can be extended indefinitely.

Writing - 3rd millenium BCE

This is a bit redundant with number, since the first writings were numbers

Alphabetic writing - 2nd millenium BCE

Can't have alphabetization without an alphabet now can you.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:04 AM
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10

The gear should be on there.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:04 AM
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There are some pretty weird dates on that list. And they confuse vaccination with immunisation (not the same thing). Arguably penicillin wasn't the real breakthrough, sulfanilamides were (though penicillin was far better).
No one had sanitation systems before the 19th century?? No rockets before 1926??


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:04 AM
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7: Whoops. And I checked, too.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:04 AM
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3.1: I'd guess the lever came before the wheel.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:05 AM
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13: Numbers too, maybe?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:06 AM
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15

I haven't even looked at the list, but if "mouldboard plow" isn't on there it's total bullshit.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:10 AM
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15: good news.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:10 AM
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The lever is on the list already, it is just not number 1.

The article above the list gives the 6th millenium BCE as the rough time frame for the emergence of the wheel. You have to wait 3,000 years before you see numbers being recorded in permanent media (clay tablets.) Of course, it is possible that other civilizations recorded numbers in less durable media.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:11 AM
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Cotton gin and rocketry wouldn't be on my list.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:12 AM
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"information could move no faster than a man on horseback."
It's like they never even watch the LOTR movies.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:13 AM
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Also the Egyptians bloody well did have the wheel when they built the pyramids

Teo has a whole thing on one of his blogs about how no one really does much with the wheel unless they also have domesticated animals. This is mostly in regard to Native American's non-use of the wheel. I'm not going to track the post down, though. I'm going to get to work. No really.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:14 AM
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21

Also missing: the iPhone atlatl.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:15 AM
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22

The ranking of the internet above many clearly more important things is silly but it's a neat list.

Things they forgot: burritos and porn. On that note, on with my day.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:15 AM
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23

Oh my God it's on there but if my glancing on the phone is correct they claim it is from the 18th century. BULLSHIT. Try like 14 centuries earlier ASSHOLES.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:16 AM
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I'd also disagree with television- once you have sound or text, pictures aren't all that revolutionary.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:16 AM
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And anyway ASCII art.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:16 AM
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No one had sanitation systems before the 19th century??

Only off by four-five millenia or so. No biggie.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:18 AM
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Yuck. Corn is missing.

Similar exercise, better execution:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/british-museum-objects/


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:21 AM
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I think private offices should be on the list. I just got moved to a cubicle (for my secondary office that I'm rarely at) and I'm having lots of trouble not picking my nose when people are walking by.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:30 AM
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I am surprised that stirrups aren't on the list!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:33 AM
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30

Also, my computer screen is visible from the hall. But mostly the nose thing bothers me.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:34 AM
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I believe you need one of these (not one of the greatest inventions but useful if people are always walking by your computer.)


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:39 AM
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And it's more representative of the real trend in inventions, where one supposedly great thing requires the invention of something else to fix the things that suck. For years flatscreen monitors and TVs were advertised for their awesome 195 degree viewing angle (you can read it from behind!!!) and now that's annoying because people can see you reading blogs.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:41 AM
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I don't read blogs from the computer at this office regardless.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:43 AM
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31: Yeah, this conversation wouldn't even be happening without the invention of ALT + TAB


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:45 AM
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Sexual Intercourse (1963)


Posted by: Opinionated Philip Larkin | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:45 AM
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29. Yes, that's true. This books looks like an interesting followup to White's really nice book:

Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700 by Carlo Cipolla

SOmething similar for China would be really nice. Maybe reading about Xi'An would be the way to start, abyone know of something better? I'm especially interested in porcelain and bronzecasting.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:46 AM
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Not read the comments, but it's odd they included the sextant but not the astrolabe. Which is a much older and more interesting invention.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:49 AM
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Yeah, I dunno, this is kind of a silly exercise. Where's all the innovation in weaving and textiles, for instance? A lot of those techniques were more important than the cotton gin. Crop rotation? Various measuring tools? Insecticides/insect repellents? Lighthouses? Keels & rudders? Candles & lamps? Dynamite? Meh.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:51 AM
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39

I can't believe "distilled spirits" doesn't make top 50.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:52 AM
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40

Maybe they picked the list while drunk.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:54 AM
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39: Life without alcohol is no goddamn life at all!


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:56 AM
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42

No fair suggesting things without saying what they should replace. Antiseptic practices in, air conditioning out.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:57 AM
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43

I don't think much of their list of experts, tbh. A bunch of people who work in IT, and basically no historians who work on the ancient and medieval worlds?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 9:59 AM
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44

No fair suggesting things without saying what they should replace.

Replace cotton gin with Plymouth gin.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:05 AM
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45

Right now I'm inclined to vote for the umbrella.

I should remember, if you even have to ask the question: should I bring my umbrella today? The answer is always: yes.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:27 AM
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46

42: What if only 47 inventions are actually important?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:28 AM
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Where is place value!!!

Also, Calculus.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:29 AM
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48

You may remove items without replacement. We'll get civilization down to a manageable size yet.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:30 AM
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49

For years flatscreen monitors and TVs were advertised for their awesome 195 degree viewing angle (you can read it from behind!!!)

Readers of Alex Harrowell's blog will know that it's perfectly possible to read a screen that's facing directly away from you, if you have a fast CCD sensor and a fairly dark room.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:36 AM
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50

Sign of a misspent youth: when I see the sidebar, I keep thinking the Aztecs invented the vacation!


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:37 AM
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51

The "meta" item that I feel is missing is the scientific method.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:37 AM
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52

Fuck antibiotics.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:37 AM
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53

You may remove items without replacement. We'll get civilization down to a manageable size yet.

My list is as follows:

1. the bathtub

That's it.


Posted by: Opinionated Grover Norquist | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:39 AM
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54

Right now I'm inclined to vote for the umbrella.

We'll make a Brit out of you yet.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:44 AM
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The "meta" item that I feel is missing is the scientific method.

Ann Druyan had some quote about our failure to appreciate the enlightment as a spiritual revolution or something that always struck me as profound.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:45 AM
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56

54 Traditional or collapsible?


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:51 AM
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What exactly does it mean when they say this is a list of the "greatest breakthroughs"? It seems like that's meant to capture something different than the 50 most historically significant inventions. If it's supposed to the 50 most historically significant inventions, at least 10 of them, probably more, ought to be various military weaponry.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:55 AM
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At least 10 of them have military applications (gunpowder, fission, automobile, airplane, sailboat, rocket, various communication methods)
What about the camera/photography? Moreso than TV, it let large numbers of people see what something actually looked like without physically being there.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 10:59 AM
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What about the camera/photography?

#29 on the list.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:03 AM
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What about love? and souls? and heaven?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:15 AM
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Oh good grief. I just clicked through and had time to read the actual list, and it's put together by people like John Doerr, Walter Isaacson, and various in-house people at IBM, Sun, and Google. Why even bother to take this remotely seriously? Has anything Walter Isaacson's been involved in not been complete and utter bullshit?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:17 AM
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61: Because heebie is trying to feed our gaping maws with content.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:19 AM
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Re: the scientific method

Maybe, but its invention was spread over many hundreds of years and people still argue over what 'it' is. So it doesn't fit naturally on that sort of list.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:21 AM
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56: surely you wouldn't rather be a collapsible Brit.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:21 AM
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65

no love for plastics?
writing?
distillation?


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:22 AM
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Metallurgy seems underrepresented.

Word.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 11:52 AM
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I saw that a few day ago and wondered why, with all the stuff not on there, we got oil twice. Also coal. Surprised that they didn't include natural gas while they were at it. Once we'd already figured out we can burn stuff from the ground to make machines operate it's not that big a step to figure out that oil burns and that to get a useful liquid out of the ground you drill a hole and pump it out. Refining is just distillation.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 12:19 PM
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Alphabetization, because it "made knowledge accessible and searchable." Take that, Chinese people. Too bad you can't access and search for your information, you primitives.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 12:39 PM
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The nail, because it "extended lives by enabling people to have shelter." That's the stupidest goddamn thing ever. Well, maybe just one of a trillion equally and maximally stupid things.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 12:43 PM
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70

The nail, because a few of them and some wooden boards led to one of the major religions.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 12:45 PM
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For want of a nail, the life-extending shelter was lost.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 12:46 PM
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Yeah, but there's nail broth.


Posted by: Danny Kaye | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 12:46 PM
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68: IIRC they sort based on the number of strokes in a character.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 1:07 PM
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68: IIRC they sort based on the number of strokes in a character.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 1:07 PM
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68: IIRC they sort based on the number of strokes in a character.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 1:07 PM
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73-75: And the number of the counting shall be three.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 1:12 PM
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But yes, they organize by radical (base element of a character), then number of strokes.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 1:13 PM
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What about love? and souls? and heaven?

Love was discovered in 1023 by Al-Hazen, working from a mistranslation of a Greek treatise on conic sections. While they showed some initial promise, souls were discarded as inefficient and antiquated after the invention of the heavy plough. Despite the hope that our best scientists hold out for it, heaven has always been thirty years away.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 1:43 PM
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Pretty sloppily done; Obvious things not on that list that should be

Salt preservation
Double entry bookkeeping
Container shipping
Ratchet and pawl
Statistics
Calculus

Also, but arguably too abstract: scientific method, systems engineering

They are wrong about dates and attributions in many places, also. And repeats.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 2:29 PM
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Pretty sloppily done, says the person commenting without a name.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 2:35 PM
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81

Also, they forgot puppets


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 3:01 PM
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82

Or puppies! I guess the "after the wheel" thing rules out domesticated animals as the greatest invention.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 3:03 PM
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83

Pop tarts.
Dark-colored underwear for guys.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 3:25 PM
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84

Sliced bread
Toilet paper
The bong


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 4:42 PM
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Teo has a whole thing on one of his blogs about how no one really does much with the wheel unless they also have domesticated animals. This is mostly in regard to Native American's non-use of the wheel. I'm not going to track the post down, though. I'm going to get to work. No really.

Here you go.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 6:55 PM
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86

The wheel is overrated. You know what's more important than the wheel? The axle.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:02 PM
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87

Right, a wheel without an axle is just a circle. Lame.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:12 PM
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You think circles are lame? Geez I bet you pick favorites among the platonic solids, too.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:16 PM
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89

Don't even get me started on spheres.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:18 PM
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90

I bet the guy who invented the ball would be disappointed. It's like the wheel, but more so, and yet it's not close to making the top 50 list.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:30 PM
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91

89: where to start!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:33 PM
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92

I enjoy 91.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:34 PM
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93

And the bong's not much without the carb.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-31-13 7:39 PM
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I guess the "after the wheel" thing rules out domesticated animals as the greatest invention.

The existence of the United States of America is due entirely to the domestication of the pig.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:22 AM
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People actually proposed Zero/True positional Arithmetic and they were still left out. Therefore the list is BS if for no other reason. Also why Paper money (China, 11th century CE) and not just Money (Lydia, 7th century BCE)? Croesus knew about wheels.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:34 AM
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94 -- http://www.nps.gov/sajh/historyculture/the-pig-war.htm


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:40 AM
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Off-topic: there's a student in my class who is not doing well on the assignments, has never asked me a question, and has never come to office hours. Now he sent me an email saying he wants to discuss with me how he's struggling mostly due to "the wording on the problem sets". Does anyone with teaching experience have any suggestions for how I handle this? It's way too late in the semester for him to salvage much, I think, so I don't really know what to say to him except "why didn't you ask for help weeks ago?" or "if the wording confused you, why didn't you ever ask me a question about it?", which isn't very constructive.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:08 AM
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97: I dunno, what year is he? "You should have asked for help weeks ago" might have some chance of improving his prospects in other classes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:21 AM
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Put on your "I'm unamused" face and help him with specific homework questions for a specific, fixed length of time, and then recommend he see the tutoring center (does it exist?) for any additional questions. No moralizing but also don't waste your time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:23 AM
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Actually, before that just respond "These are my office hours. Feel free to stop by."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:23 AM
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97: Don't waste time on telling him how hosed he is or how he should have done things differently. Just encourage him to come to you with questions in the future.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:24 AM
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The tutoring center exists unless an atom decays in this tiny sample of radioactive material.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:25 AM
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98: Senior undergrad (taking an advanced graduate class). "Tutoring" for a class like this is not an option.

Also, Googling, he seems to be some kind of math wunderkind who has already published research papers I can't understand.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:27 AM
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If he turns into Unabomber Jr. it's all on you.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:31 AM
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97: Couldn't he get a grad student student to tutor him? If you care about your evaluations, you need to at least politely listen to his concerns. I'd make an appointment that overlaps your existing office hour (assuming they're not busy), maybe starting 10 min before normal time so you can escape when another student shows up. Then, after listening carefully, suggest hiring a one-on-one tutor (if you think there's a grad student who could help) in addition to using your office hours more frequently (which he won't do). I'd also nicely try to align his goals with what's still possible. I assume it's too late to drop the class. Can he still pass? I think the worst problems I've run into have been caused by my appearing unsympathetic and also students' unrealistic expectations (if I go to all the office hours and get perfect scores on the third exam and final, I can totally get an A still).


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:36 AM
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Jesus, the kid was asking questions about algebraic geometry that I don't understand on Math Overflow when he was a freshman. At least I don't have to worry much; even if I give him a low grade, he'll clearly end up going to grad school in math at one of the top places.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:36 AM
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It seems worthwhile to hear him out just on the off chance he's actually identified something confusing about the questions.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:39 AM
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Huh, 105 was I.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:39 AM
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Is he the only undergrad in the class?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:40 AM
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107: I'm using problem sets inherited from someone who taught the class before and I think they're kind of awful and I probably should have written my own. But they can't be that confusing, because almost every other student has been getting more than 90% of the possible points.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:41 AM
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109: No, I think there are three others. One of whom is a sophomore(!) who's doing really well.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:42 AM
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Also, Googling, he seems to be some kind of math wunderkind who has already published research papers I can't understand.

He's not the astonishingly irritating wunderkind Ja/cob Barn/ett, I hope. No, I see he's at school somewhere in Canada. But just think how much more annoying your wunderkind could be!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:42 AM
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110: if everybody else was a grad student, I was going to ascribe it to grad students being better at compensating for things like that (for no well-motivated reason). But with undergrads my (half-assed, unsupported) theory falls apart.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:45 AM
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No, I see he's at school somewhere in Canada.

"I do so go to school. I have a school in Canada."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:51 AM
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"These are my office hours. Feel free to stop by."

This. Also, keep the string of e-mails, just in case he complains (which is hugely unlikely, but still).


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 9:14 AM
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I met with the student, who seemed reasonable and not really upset about the class, just very confused. Apparently he's already been asking lots of questions of the TF. I don't think I can really help that much? The guy is obviously very smart so it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong, but on the other hand most of the other students seem to be following along just fine.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 1:12 PM
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Huh. That sounds from here (the student's smart, actually working at the class, asking questions, and the rest of the class is doing fine) as if he's got some basic conceptual misunderstanding that's throwing everything else off, and if that could just get fixed he could pull out of it (maybe not to save his grade, but to figure out what's going on). But I have no idea how you'd figure out the specific problem.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 1:21 PM
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I'd bet he's doing poorly in his other classes, but I may be projecting.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 1:25 PM
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On the assumption that I'm right, is there some sort of adviser who can both check how he's doing in general and give him personal attention?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 1:28 PM
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Essear, have you talked to the TF yet? The TF might have some insight into what's going wrong, but also you need to tell him/her that it's his/her responsibility to let you know when students are having trouble. A smart hard-working kid not understanding the problem sets? You should have known about this weeks ago.


Posted by: Mme. Merle | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 1:46 PM
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Two thoughts: Maybe the kid and the TF just have a gaping communication gap? I've watched this happen sometimes where two people just don't understand each other but neither realizes it. Maybe he'd be better off asking you (or anyone not the TF) for help. Second, it's not clear what's going wrong when he's working problems. Is he giving valid answers to some other question that's not what you're asking? Is he mangling something in the execution? Is the problem consistent, or is he doing things differently wrong each time? It seems like looking at the graded problem sets might let you figure out what's wrong. Once he's seen the answer key, can he work a similar problem? If I were the TF, I'd have probably written out a few problems that were really similar to the assigned set and gone through in painstaking detail how to solve them before he had to turn in the graded assignment, but that might not be practical.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:09 PM
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All of this advice sounds like above-and-beyond effort on your part, of course. But the student does sound like someone with a soluble problem.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:12 PM
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Soluble like salt or soluble like water?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:14 PM
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Is water soluble? In what?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:16 PM
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124: Alcohol


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:17 PM
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D'oh. I ruined my own joke. It was supported to be like salt or sugar.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:18 PM
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I didn't realize he was already a senior. You're right that he'll get in anywhere he wants even if you give him a B.

Are there other math people in the class? It seems quite plausible to me that there are questions which would be totally fair for physics students but which a math student could be struggling with.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:24 PM
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I'm pretty sure all the undergrads are math students. I don't think any of the grad students are.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:33 PM
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Hrm, it's a bit odd then that one of them would be struggling in a way that the others aren't. Although the class you're teaching is the sort that a mathematician with totally insufficient physics background might still decide they want to learn and so could get in over their head.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:36 PM
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I do have the impression that he might be a bit weak on some of the prerequisites. I don't really know who signs off on what these students take, or checks that they know the relevant background material. I was really surprised that the university somehow let a sophomore into this class. I had to beg and plead to get into less advanced classes in college, until my fourth year when they started grudgingly letting me do more or less whatever I wanted.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:37 PM
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Math departments are generally very lax about prerequisites, and the one at your school even more so (as a side affect of the crazy freshman class). My recollection was that it was difficult there for a physics major to take physics classes without the prerequisites, but trivial for a math major to take physics classes without the prereqs. (E.g. the only physics class I took in college was quantum mechanics.)


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:41 PM
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He said that he got an A in the graduate quantum mechanics class. Actually what he said was "I think the class I took was the graduate class. I think I got an A." But the "I think"s seemed to be a verbal tic, or I would worry if he can't remember taking a class a year ago.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:44 PM
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In particular, I think the person signing off on it is a math professor, not a physicist or an administrator.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:44 PM
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I guess I did have an easier time taking grad math classes than grad physics when I was in college. But I still don't understand why Pa/ul Sal/ly refused, bluntly and with no room for negotiation, to let me take a class on Lie algebras, which I was already pretty familiar with at the time.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:45 PM
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Is it too late for him to switch to Pass/Fail? Presumably you're not actually going to fail anyone.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:47 PM
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133: Ah, that's interesting. I can't remember enough about Chicago's rules to figure out how it worked, but I seem to remember always needing at least one person in the department to sign off, although not always the person teaching the class.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:48 PM
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I'm really not sure what grade I would give him, but he definitely won't fail. I seem to remember that in advanced classes like this the norm was that even the people doing worst got at least a B-. He does seem to have really basic conceptual confusions and is so far running at about 50% on the course grade, though.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:50 PM
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It's much too late to switch to pass/fail.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:52 PM
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Well, he'll learn a valuable life lesson. It turns out being really good at math, doesn't automatically mean you can do everything else too.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 3:01 PM
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