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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

There was an interesting article in the January 31, 2016 New York Times about the proliferation of fake locksmiths on Google.

I was really interested in this because I ran into this problem about four years ago when I locked my keys in my car (while it was running!) in Seaside.  I went into the office of the hotel where I was parked and used their internet connection to search for a locksmith in Seaside.  The one I called immediately started asking for personal information rather than the address where the car was.

I asked them where they were and it turned out they were in Salem.  It wasn’t clear to me how they were going to help me from Salem, so I hung up and found a phone book.  I called a local locksmith in Seaside listed in the (paper) yellow pages.  They showed up in ten minutes and got in my car for $20.  Problem solved (for me).

This is why I was so interested to see this article in the NY Times about locksmith internet scams.  Apparently, the call centers that come up in a locksmith search farm the jobs out to independent contractors who often bait and switch by charging far more than the original quoted price.  They also are typically short-term temps who don’t care about their reputation.

Some of these scammers go so far as to create fake digital storefronts that show up on Google maps as if they were an actual local business.

The moral of all this is:

“DON’T MISTAKE THE MAP FOR THE TERRITORY.”

In other words don’t think that, because something exists in a mediated form, that it will necessarily exist in the physical world.  This problem has essentially no effect on Google’s revenue, so they have almost no interest in fixing or monitoring the problem.  The internet is a wonderful tool, but be aware of the REAL physical local businesses in your area and support them in the real world.

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I read a very interesting article today from the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) about the intelligent use of technology in mathematics.  This article, titled “The Misfortunes of a Trio of Mathematicians Using Computer Algebra Systems. Can We Trust in Them?” describes the experiences of these three researchers in using the mathematical software packages Mathematica and Maple.  The details of their research are interesting but the important point for students of mathematics is to be aware of the limitations of the technology you use.  A key quote from the article is:

…even more dramatically, his algorithm yielded different outputs given the same inputs.

A more detailed explanation of what was going wrong:

…given the same matrix, the determinant function can give different values!

The authors do give credit to technology as a groundbreaking aid in modern mathematical research, but as is true in other research disciplines, they recommend using multiple sources.  In this case, checking the results of one mathematical software package against another software package to compare the results:

Having made this criticism, let us stress that software systems have proved very useful to research mathematicians.  Some well-known instances are the proof of the four-color problem by Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken and the Kepler conjecture by Thomas Hales….Software bugs should not prevent us from continuing this mutually beneficial relationship in the future.  However, for the time being, when dealing with a problem whose answer cannot be easily verified without a computer, it is highly advisable to perform the computations with at least two computer algebra systems.

And, for students of mathematics, I would add,

– When dealing with a problem whose answer CAN be easily verified without a computer, do so!

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Calculators

I am of the opinion that students need to learn what a calculator is doing in order to use it properly.

Here’s an example – calculating with decimals can be somewhat tedious and there certainly is a point of diminishing returns with regard to the length of problem sets assigned for practicing concepts.

But, if students don’t develop number sense and don’t really understand what a calculator is doing in a situation as simple as adding two decimal numbers, they can get unexpected results and not be sure whether or not they’ve made a mistake.

Suppose someone needs to add 0.547+0.453

Entered into a calculator, the answer is 1

No big deal – IF you understand how adding decimals works.  If you don’t, this answer might be confusing – where did all the other digits go?!

There’s always a balance to be struck between drills and “big picture” ideas and it’s a different balance for different topics and different groups of students.

But, as Professor Wu points out, basic skills vs. conceptual understanding is a bogus dichotomy.

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There was an interesting article in this weekend’s New York Times about the SAS Institute, a software company in North Carolina.

The company was started in 1976 by four former professors who worked in the agricultural statistics department at North Carolina State University.  The business software they design is made to analyze and interpret massive amounts of digitally generated data.

Their business model is also pretty interesting in that most employees typically work a 35-hour week and the company provides an on-site day care center and medical clinic.  60 Minutes profiled SAS in 2003, but I don’t see this video readily available on the web.

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More and more low cost web tablet or internet readers are becoming available, like the Kindle DX, among others.

This article in Slate talks about the possible demise of stand alone music players and single function hardware (like the Kindle) in general.

What I (and many others) see coming is most likely a MOBILE iPhone-type computing interface that handles phone, photo, and Internet as well as a Kindle sized TABLET that does the same thing.  The MOBILE may have to have some limitations, but who knows.

This is all media – magazines, newspapers, books, music, video, TV, movies, Skype, telephone – all through an interface that will either be pocket sized or tablet sized.

I think there probably will still be a place for a desktop interface, but this may just be a tablet on a stand that you can then pick up and carry around the house or office with you.

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I’m on vacation until September, and my work priority this summer is to prepare to team-teach a class on Technology & Privacy for the Winter 2010 quarter.

If you’re interested in this topic and haven’t read Privacy On the Line by Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau and The Eavesdroppers by Samuel Dash, they are both excellent.

I’ll probably post every few weeks, but, at the moment, my priorities are elsewhere.

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This from the Wikipedia entry on Complex Analysis and it’s related to what I was writing about in the last post.

I’ll talk about some of the details later, for now it’s just pretty!

600px-Color_complex_plot

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