Computational Efficiency

I’d like to give a brief overview of computational efficiency, since it’s a topic that has come up in a few conversations recently. The super short version is this: it’s often helpful to understand the resource (time, space, or power) needs for a given algorithm. Why? Because we want the fastest algorithm, or the one that uses the least amount of storage on our hard drive. In extreme computing environments (think Mars Rover, Apollo capsules, etc), we many have very limited resources available. For example, your digital wrist watch almost certainly has more memory than the Apollo capsules, which only had about 32KB of RAM. How can you possibly land a person on the moon with only 32KB?!!
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Co-work and Coffee Shops

It strikes me that co-work spaces and coffee shops are similar, but… not. Your typical coffee shop grudgingly offers moderately useful WiFi (can we get rid of the 20 minute timeouts and required “accept terms” pages, please!) and a few power outlets and has yet to figure out what to do with all these individual patrons taking up so much table space for so long. In short: lots of coffee, little access to power or high speed WiFi.

Co-work spaces have more than enough power outlets and Wifi, usually high speed and reliable (if not, find another co-work space!), but very little coffee. People are expected to come in, spend time without buying anything, and slurp all the Internet they can.

Could we have a coffee shop-style chain of co-work shops with space, meeting rooms, power, and WiFi and sell day passes/memberships? What’s the critical population/entrepreneurial density to sustain it?

Note to “Content Providers”: Don’t Harsh my Mellow

So-called “content providers” who provide little to no content in their RSS feeds break my flow. They’re an annoyance to read. Their one-line teasers drive me away from their content, not toward it. I tend to unsubscribe from those feeds, rather than visit their websites.

If your one-paragraph introduction is compelling, I’ll visit your site to read the rest. However, your one-line teasers are rarely compelling and often annoyingly vacuous.

Please, provide the content and let me decide how to consume it.

Reeder for the iPad

While many content providers are working diligently to find ways to lock us in to their content and to exclude aggregation, it’s aggregation that I want!! I want to be able to read my content in the form and manner that fits my workflow of the moment.

Reeder for the iPad is a great example of an app that makes reading a pleasure. It’s fast; amazingly fast. I can read my Google Reader subscribed feeds, mark items for further follow-up, forward them to my Twitter feed (Note to Reeder devs: I maintain more than one Twitter account and more than one account on other social networking sites, to separate the personal from the professional roles vested in me), add it to my Instapaper account, and so on. In short, reading news feeds in Reeder is a pleasure; very nearly perfect.

I Don’t *WANT* an App for That

With the explosion of applications for the iPhone and iPad, I wanted to point out that, for many things, I don’t want an app for that! Consider the works of Shakespeare; I really don’t want a separate app for each of his plays and sonnets. Some books and magazines are being published as separate apps, to take advantage of the graphics in OpenGL ES, to control content distribution, etc; I understand their reasoning. But I don’t want one-app-per-book; it’s too messy and disjoint. Similarly, I don’t want one-app-per-magazine or one-app-per-newspaper; I read too many sources each day for that model to work.

What I want is to be able to retrieve, review, annotate, and share content I view with the tools I find most natural and that enable my workflow. I do wish “content providers” could grasp that and start providing some content, instead of trying to lock it away.

Thoughts on Course Grades

Like many educators, I worry about the level of effort that my students commit to their studies (the process) and the quality of their work (the product). We call the process many things: engagement, time on task, passion… But we mean to describe that self-driven, motivated commitment to learning for the sake of learning that we value.

Unfortunately, in many educational environments, the standard proxy for effort is the course grade. Grades are a poor proxy, but are so ingrained in educational practice (in some of the institutions where I teach) and in students’ minds that it may be useful to consider a way to structure grade rewards to encourage the genuine engagement from students that we desire.

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