Sunday, September 30, 2012

A gender on the way out

January 2010:
men are a gender on the way out - not very smart, socially autistic, high maintenance, low return. We heard a really cool rap song "Du bist der Weihnacht@mann" at a Gottingen grade school school, sang by a chorus of 8 year old girls. Why were they so good? They had kicked out the boys from the choir, "because they were too lazy." Sounds familiar? This whole gender is on the way out, methinks. It's a disgrace to the species. Women will not have us, even those of us who are female in all ways but the genital, having been raised by single mothers and their girlfriends (alleged fathers only pitching in with an occasional postcard).

If I may be so bold as to quote the introduction to the Pulitzer Prize winning ChaosBook.org, from a letter from Hermann Minkowski to David Hilbert:

"It seems sometimes that through a preoccupation with science, we acquire a firmer hold over the vicissitudes of life and meet them with greater calm, but in reality we have done no more than to find a way to escape from our sorrows."

iPhone owners might seek solace in youtube.com/watch?v=ZBNu6WMfR1k. Requires only one finger. [Warning: those over 48 might experience dizziness and shortness of breath]. The rest of us will have to drown our sorrows in sensitive, chick flicks such as Off the map.

30 September 2012:
Much recent back and forth in New York Times and recent books about the alleged decline of male gender. It's complicated.  Progress of women in US jobs has stalled in the past decade (see statistics here, and a very good county-by-county map here). Today's New York Times:

If the ascent of women has been much exaggerated, so has the descent of men. Men’s irresponsibility and bad behavior is now a stock theme in popular culture. But there has always been a subset of men who engage in crude, coercive and exploitative behavior. What’s different today is that it’s harder for men to get away with such behavior in long-term relationships. Women no longer feel compelled to put up with it and the legal system no longer condones it. The result is that many guys who would have been obnoxious husbands, behaving badly behind closed doors, are now obnoxious singles, trumpeting their bad behavior on YouTube.

Their boorishness may be pathetic, but it’s much less destructive than the masculine misbehavior of yore. Most men are in fact behaving better than ever. Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time. In recent decades, husbands have doubled their share of housework and tripled their share of child care. And this change is not confined to highly educated men.

On the Run

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Beijing Arts District 798, Mr Jones?

I'm reputedly in 'fine shape'; In Whattabore DDs conference Roberto classified me as from Pleistocene. Which is kind, that is as recent as 11,700 years ago, he could have had me in Cambrian, half a billion years ago.

I loved Beijing Arts District
798 - there might be lots of SoHo kind of schlock for people with money, but the art there is more vital and inventive than anything in Europe or US. The painters are only 30! When they were born there was no art in China! My totally uniformed and based on nothing guess is that today 20% of China is middle class. Which is only 300 million. NY Times says there are 400 million bloggers. You have to be literate to some extent to be a blogger. Try to find 75 million bloggers in US? 

All in all, I'm blown away by the vitality of Beijing - Americans and Oy-ro-peens have no conception of what is going on in Asia. The Confucian empire is back, courtiers and mandarins are in charge, the most recent crazy Emperor is only an image on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. It is amazing and it is unstoppable, unless the generals fuck it all up, and they get into wars again... Which is always a possibility, the idiocy of generals of peoples armies should not be underestimated.

Erik says: It is a fascinating place, but impossible to understand without knowing the language. You can just scratch a little bit on the surface. In Sweden and Finland it is rather so that people and the government think too much and too positively about China. There are delegations from my university to/from China all the time, with wide-eyed Swedes knowing even less about China than I do pushing "the great East" for all they are worth. Volvo was sold to the Chinese, and Saab almost was also.

The food is fantastic, and I have never in my life met so many happy and optimistic colleagues (not in the US, not in Europe, not in Russia, not anywhere). America in the 40ies and the 50ies at the height of the brain drain must have been something like that.

Katrin says: Shanghai is probably even more amazing. I've never been to a place like this. It combines Paris, London, Venice, and NYC in one place.

"Something is happening here / But you don't know what it is / Do you, Mr Jones?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Foundational SOOCs (Specialized Open Online Courses)

I've been wondering when The Thing will happen in higher education for at least two decades, and that's what my ChaosBook.org is about. Now that Sebastian Thrun has happened, we are in the lemmings mode, every University trying to the same thing. But when the dust settles, there will be only one 'iPhone' left standing, the rest will be crushed in competition.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has come out with solicitation for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) grant proposals. Theirs is a laudable goal:
...Must focus on a high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income/first-generation students...
If my institution decides to enter the fry on the level of introductory undergraduate courses, it should pick only very few - like one 2-semester sequence, taught by lecturers universally known to be exceptional, and these few should be given full technical and organizational support, because either you get it perfect the first time around, or do not attempt it at all. This is no arena for amateurs. And very few courses a suited to MOOCsisation - it is no accident that the first success was a rather straightforward computer course.

For research universities most research training will continue as is, by one-on-one apprenticeships. Though I think there is a market for SOOCs (Specialized Open Online Courses). There have been no resources to develop ChaosBook.org - since I moved to US everything has been done by myself, alone, in free time, so it is woefully technologically primitive - but do I keep meeting graduate students who use it.

I think a nonlemming strategy would be a boutique education approach: create for Coursera.org several high level SOOCs in areas where the institution has particular strengths. They will never be money makers, enrollment will be in hundreds at the best of times, but their advertising value would be high: they would enable us to recruit into our research programs top notch students whose quality we already know through our courses that they have taken.

[for the next installment, click here]