TED Talk: The riddle of experience vs. memory

We tend to think of memory the same as an audio-visual recording of the events in our life. Unfortunately, it is not. Memory captures snapshots which influence what we recall later. So a relatively good experience with a particularly bad ending can bias memory to recall the whole as bad.

If the below video does not display, then try Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory.

Should CS Be Required?

Each of the nearly 2,000 freshmen entering Georgia Institute of Technology each year must take a computer science course regardless of their major, says Charles Isbell, associate dean for academic affairs at the school’s College of Computing… Similar to traditional general education requirements such as philosophy or world history, the purpose of each courses is to turn out well-rounded graduates, Isbell says.

“Why you need to take a CS1 … is the same reason why you need to take humanities, why you need to take a science, why you need to take a math,” he says. “It’s not because you’re going to be programming …. it’s because each of those represents a different way of thinking.”

Computer science was not a requirement at my alma mater (not GT). Introduction to Computers was an easy core class lots of students took. The class offered by Mathematics and Computer Science was about the components of a desktop, using Microsoft Office, and making a web page. The College of Education and the College of Business offered their own versions tailored to their disciplines.

At first, I did not want to go through a class on “This is a mouse. This is a keyboard.” At the time I was looking at upgrading from an AT form factor to ATX. Microsoft Word 95 was my fifth word processor. Plus I had made the web site for African American Studies for the university. In the end I took the class because it would improve my GPA. Like, I thought, it was an easy A, but the instructor did challenge me by making me available to help the others in the class.

This was not a real CS class though. I had already taken one, FORTRAN, which apparently did not count towards my core to graduate, oddly enough. I took another, Introduction to Programming, where I picked up some Java. Both programming classes gave me novel practice at the time for how I solve problems, plan, and researched. They were good for me.

Despite not graduating with a computer degree, I did have a strong computer background and ended up in a computer profession. So my perspective pretty much is skewed in a positive direction for all college students taking computer science classes.

Black Box Magic

black boxes ttv

With a black box system a person working with it sees what goes in and what comes out. The machine’s decision making process is obfuscated. Theories are made based on incomplete evidence on the behavior. More data points on more situations confirming the behavior is my way of being more comfortable the theory is correct. Sometimes we lack the time or conscientiousness or even access to ensure the theory is correct. This leads to magical thinking like labeling the software in human-like terms, especially insane or stupid or seeking revenge.

With a white box system, a person working with it can see the machine’s logic used to make decisions. Theories can be made based on more complete evidence due to investigating the code to see what it is intended to do. The evidence is far more direct than testing more.

Systems today are so complex they tend to have many parts interacting with each other. Some will be of each type.

Then there are Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which expose vendor supported methods to interact with a black box by disclosing how they works.

Proprietary systems tend towards a black box model from the perspective of clients. This black box philosophy depends on the experts, employees of the company, design the system so it works well and resolve the issues with it. So there is no need for clients to know what it is doing. Where the idea breaks down is clients who run the systems need to understand how it works to solve problems themselves. Sure the company helps. However, the client will want to achieve expertise to manage minor and moderate issues as much as possible. They want to involve the vendor as little as reasonably possible. Communities arise because peers have solved the client issues and getting an answer out of the vendor is either formulaic, inaccurate company line, or suspect. Peers become the best way to get answers.

Open source systems tend toward a white box model from the perspective of clients. This white box philosophy depends on clients to take initiative figuring out issues and solutions to resolve them. Clients become the experts who design the system so it works well. Where the idea breaks down is some clients just want something that works and not to have to solve the problems themselves. Sure the open source community helps. Companies have arisen to take the role of the vendor for proprietary systems to give CIOs “someone to yell at about the product”. Someone else is better to blame than myself.

Cases of both the black and the white box will be present in either model. That is actually okay. Anyone can manage both. Really it is about personal preference.

I prefer open source. But that is only because I love to research how things work, engage experts, and the feel of dopamine when I get close to solving an issue. My personality is geared towards it. My career is based around running web services in higher education. Running something is going to be my preference. (Bosses should take note that when I say not to run something, this means it is so bad I would risk being obsolete than run it.)

This post came about by discussing how to help our analysts better understand how to work with our systems. It is hard to figure out how to fix something when you cannot look at the problem, the data about the problem, or do anything to fix it. So a thought was to give our analysts more access to test systems so they get these experiences solving problems.

Photo credit: black boxes ttv from Adam Graham at Flickr.

Moral Operating System

“We have stronger opinions about [iPhone vs. Android] than we do the moral frameworks to guide our decisions.” To be fair the choices were selected to be ones most people would have to have taken a Philosophy major to understand, Kant versus Mill. There are other moral guides like Jesus, Aquinas, Richard Dawkins, Mohammed, Pope Bennedict, Baha’u’llah, we could use. But, yeah, the point is to think and discuss.

Why not cut the regular courses instead?

Don’t get rid of honors courses, abolish ‘regular’ classes | ajc.com:

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Writers Group
Published on: 07/23/07

Washington —- The honors course was once a vital part of American high schools, respected by all. That is changing fast, and many students and their parents are upset about it.

Read moreWhy not cut the regular courses instead?

A couple of quotes

Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems. Rene Descartes French mathematician & philosopher (1596 – 1650)

Quote Details: Rene Descartes: Each problem that I… – The Quotations Page


It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that powerattracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by otherthings than power. David Brin US engineer and science fiction author(1950 – )

Quote Details: David Brin: It is said that… – The Quotations Page

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