Just Because You Can?

A while back I had occasion to review the design of a very high-end residence hall facility at an institution of higher learning I can’t name. It is not in the US, so it is unlikely your alma-mater.

There seemed to be no limit on the budget. Each room was equipped with full digital video/voice/data and Internet connectivity. Outside each room a digital touchscreen “whiteboard” where the occupant could leave messages for their buds, who could then leave replies.

Students carried an ID card that gave them building access, paid for their purchases, started the washers and dryers, and most likely unknown to them, tracked their movements. Since the students were members of wealthy families, security was extensive. One goal of the security system was to restrict male student access to female resident halls. There was even discussion of devices that could identify gender remotely. (There were none.)

The consequence of all this was outrageous cost, not to mention a system management nightmare. I don’t know if it all ever worked, but I rather doubt it.

So where am I going with this? Just a mini-rant about technology and what we do with it. We as a technological civilization now have resources and the mind to control our lives and world in minute detail.

A lot of it, particularly medical advancements can be valuable. I have a relative who had bypass surgery twice in her 50’s, a couple of stings, a mastectomy, and two broken hips. She will be 94 this year. Had she been born 20 years earlier, she would have lived half as long. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that we know too much about our health. I have a grandson who was born with a particular heart issue. It has and will cause anxiety for his parents for years to come. It is hereditary, and I have the same issue, but I was 60-something before I found out rather accidentally. I lived most of my life not knowing, and with no impact on my life. In truth I don’t know which scenario is best.

But I veer.

There is a point to my rant. Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

Apply the “What Idiot” test to your designs. Ten years from now — or next week, will someone say, “What idiot thought of this?”

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Teaching

I am not a teacher–I don’t have the patience for it. But I really admire those who do. I know some great teachers. These are people who find real joy seeing the light come on in a student’s eyes when they finally “get it.”  

We in the US are in the unfortunate position of dealing with many years of “dumbing down” of our education system. Efforts to standardize education–while noble in concept–have really just established a standard for conformity and only served to maximize mediocrity. A car race where everyone is required to drive 55 offers little motivation for those who can go 100.

Of course, the Really Big Problem is using education to further an agenda. I came across this a while back. (Sorry, but I don’t know how to attribute it.)

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok. )

/r

Geek, Nerd, Dork or Dweeb?

In November, 2010 BBC Four aired a 6 part series titled “The Beauty of Diagrams”. In the series, beginning with the Vitruvian Man, mathematician  Marcus du Sautoy explains how and why pictures really do serve a thousand or more words. It is currently available on BBC’s iPlayer, and certain internet repositories.

This is something for the truly intellectual geek. I, on the other hand tend to more mundane fare, as the following beautiful diagram illustrates.

/r

Geek Etymology

Why have you suffer’d me to be imprison’d,
Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
And made the most notorious geck and gull
That e’er invention play’d on? tell me why.
  
 Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, V.i

 

Simply, geek is a variant of the Low German/Dutch word, geck, meaning a fool, simpleton, or dupe and I suspect it was originally intended as ridicule.  As a society we have always tended to categorize people and apply short pejoratives to the category created. “Mods”, “rockers”, “hippies”, “boomers”, and so on. “Geek” is generally applied to those of us who tend to become completely captured by the details of some topic or discipline. Thirty or 40 years ago most geeks were technically oriented, but as time passes we have further defined our geekiness into sub-categories, like game geeks, word geeks, movie geeks… (I can’t explain why sports geeks are called “super fans”.)   

In the mid-90s a geek geek,  Robert Hayden created the “geek code”, a programming construct that allowed one to precisely define their geek-traits. Mine is located on the About page.   

There is no question that we are inclined to unusual, “focused”, sometimes foolish behaviors! We probably have deserved some of the ridicule. But give us some credit: We have taken the ridicule and the term, redefined them in our image and made Geek (with a capital G) a core element of what we are.   

Is it any wonder that the preponderance of entrepreneurs are Geeks of one type or another?   

You are probably asking about now, “What are the differences between geeks, nerds, dorks and dweebs. The distinctions are clear and precise, and we will talk about them soon.   

/r

Presidential Geek

No, it is not who you think! While it is evident our current president has certified geeks in his employ, he is really a poseur (“poser” for you millennial readers) when it comes to true presidential geekiness.

Before the word “geek” acquired its current meaning, the concept was most often applied to engineers. And in that context, the true presidential geek was Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer who proudly made his living in the profession. His defense of his work is classic:

“Engineering … it is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege.

“The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned….

“On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort, and hope. No doubt as years go by the people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician will put his name on it. Or credit it to some promoter who used other people’s money … but the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professionals may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants.”