Monday, January 23, 2006

Are you a Luddite?

(I will be guest blogging this week while Lance is on Vacation.)

Are you a Luddite?
The original Luddites were workers who, scared of lower wages
via technology, destroyed factory machines. This was around 1811.
Their leader was General Ned Ludd. (Not sure if General was an honorary title)
TODAY the term has come to mean someone who does not adapt to technology
or does not like technology.
If you are NOT one, you can use Google to find out more about them.

Are you a Luddite?
I offer the following questions and let you score yourselves.

1) At a conference do you use
        a) Powerpoint with fancy animation and pictures off the web.
        b) Powerpoint with nice backgrounds, but nothing much else
        c) pdf files
        d) physical slides made using latex
        e) physical slides made using magic markers and overlays
        f) physical slides without overlays
        g) chalk
        h) draw diagrams in the sand with a twig

2) Same as question 1 but for  large classroom lecture (over 50),
small classroom lectures (under 10), seminars (8 people who actually
know something).

3) For writing papers do you use
        a) LaTeX (or some other package)
        b) Typewriter
        c) Handwritten and give to your secretary to type
        d) Quill pen and inkwell on parchment.

4) When listening to talks do you
        a) Take notes with an e-pen that automatically puts it online
        b) Take notes in an e-notebook 
        c) Take notes in a p-notebook (thats paper)
        c) Not take notes at all
        d) Fall asleep

5) When you applied to grad school did you
        a) Check out the website of the school
        b) Ask your roomate who also majored in CS and Math
        c) Ask your roomate who majored in Political Science
        d) Apply to schools you heard were good
        e) Apply to schools randomly (time bounded Kolmogorov Random)

6) If you need a result that is already known do you
        a) Goto Google
        b) Goto the library
        c) Goto your own file cabinet
        d) Rederive the result by yourself

7) Which of these might you most likely say?
        a) When is the next version coming out so I can update?
        b) I'll update in 2 years (and you do)
        c) I'll update in 2 years (but you don't)
        d) You can have my chalk when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

8) Do you play music on
        a) MP3's
        b) CD's
        c) LP's
        d) 78's
        e) Wax Cylinders

                                        bill g.

Postscript: Thanks to my collegue Jack Lutz for catching that I spelled Luddite wrong
originally. I used him instead of a spell checker, and note that the error he found
would not have been discovered with a spell checker.


  1. this is hilarious

  2. Nice post, Bill!

  3. Funny post.
    Nevertheless, I consider myself a very technology-oriented person, but still, scientifically, I always prefer lectures with a chalk on the board.
    PowerPoint lectures (or transparency slides), have almost no advantage. Most people can't absorb the information a single slide contains in the limited time the slide is being screened. Writing thing on the board is much more adequate to mathematics, where one needs to develop gradually in his intuition the mathematical/geometrical/quantitative/logical concepts one at a time (Intuition � in the, somewhat, Kantian sense).

  4. I like the way you signed off: Bill G.
    Made me think of the chieftain of the evil empire :-)

  5. I would say that today's equivalent of Luddism is protectionism and xenophobia. The difference is, instead of people having misplaced fears that machines will destroy jobs they believe "outsourcing" destroys jobs.

    Most mathematics courses I've taken and most theoretical CS courses used the black board almost exclusively. Only if some special topic was covered would there be overheads or animations. I also tend to pay less attention during PowerPoint-only presentations (particularly if I know the slides are posted online).

  6. I think you're asking these questions in a very limited context. I think more insight can be gained by also asking about our use of technology outside the research arena.

    In particular, I hate cell phones. I had one once but will never have one again. I like my laptop, but I've never actually used it on my lap. I find I can only really work on it if I put it on a desk. Blackberries, Ipods, etc. I'll probably never use them.

  7. Often what prevents its adoption isn't the technology but rather its limitations. When our display technologies allow us to show 3 or 4 slides of context along with our current Powerpoint slide I'd bet that many more of us would be happy to switch from using blackboards.

  8. "When our display technologies allow us to show 3 or 4 slides of context along with our current Powerpoint slide I'd bet that many more of us would be happy to switch from using blackboards."

    upgrade to keynote 2 or higher, you can see your next and current slide. you'll find this is soooo helpful you'll forget you wanted more than 2. seriously, you can do transitions and make awesome segways. and it shows you time on current slide and for whole presentation.

  9. g) chalk

    There are plenty of advantages to chalk over something like powerpoint. Chalk forces you not to go faster than you could write down. I think it makes being dynamic easier.

    d) Apply to schools you heard were good

    I would think the best schools to go to would be those with a good reputation intersect those that do research you want to be a part of.

    d) Rederive the result by yourself

    There's a lot of results I would feel bad if I couldn't derive myself. Of course there's a lot I wouldn't too;)

  10. For item 6 you forgot: e) ask my friend Bill Gasarch (or someone similar)

  11. There was no General Ludd. There may have been a madman who broke some machinery some 30 years earlier.

    For a humanist perspective on the same topic, see


    1984 review, which also has a short history of the term (as does the OED.)

  12. For item 6 you forgot: e) ask my friend Bill Gasarch (or someone similar)

    As if.

  13. Face it--if you're reading a weblog on computational complexity, you are, ipso facto, not a Luddite. However, you do get points for spelling "roommate" correctly, but you lose them when you don't put the customary real world space in the middle of "goto." Now, if you use some exotic interface that doesn't automatically check spelling, what are you? This is getting recursive.

  14. When asked to program a problem on a computer you

    a) Use assembly language because you understand the ins and outs of the computer and can program efficiently.

    b) Use C because you can do it "quick and dirty."

    c) Use Java to avoid all those pointer problems.

    d) Use Basic because that is what you learned when you were young.

    e) Change your advisor to Bill Gasarch so you only have to program Turing machines that never crash.

  15. Addendum to the last post:

    e) Change your advisor to Bill Gasarch so you only have to program Turing machines that never crash.
    (TURING MACHINES! They are not worth anything even on ebay.)