Sunday, November 17, 2019

Fields used to be closer together than they are now. Good? Bad?

There was a retired software Eng professor that I had heard two very non-controversial rumors about:

1) He got his PhD in Numerical Analysis

2) He got his PhD in Compiler Optimization.

So I asked him which was true.

The answer: Both! In those days you had to optimize your code to get your NA code to run fast enough.

We cannot imagine that anymore. Or at least I cannot.

Over time the fields of computer science advance more so its hard to be  master of more than one field.  But its not that simple: there has been work recently applying Machine Learning to... well
everything really. Even so, I think the trend is more towards separation. Or perhaps it oscillates.

I am NOT going to be the grumpy old man (Google once thought I was 70, see here) who says things were better in my day when the fields were closer together. But I will ask the question:

1) Are people more specialized new? While I think yes since each field has gotten more complicated and harder to master. There are exceptions: Complexity theory uses much more sophisticated mathematics then when I was a grad student (1980-1985), and of course Quantum Computing has lead to more comp sci majors knowing physics.

2) Is it good for the field that people are specialized? I am supposed to say that it is terrible and that great advances are made when people are interdiscplinary. But there are many more small advances that are made by someone who has a mastery of one (or two) fields.

3) The PhD Process and the Tenure Process encourage specialization. This I think IS bad since there are different modes of research that should all be respected.'

Monday, November 11, 2019

A non-moral dilemma about cheating, but it brings up some points

I often give two versions of an exam and TELL THE STUDENTS I am doing this so that they don't even try to cheat. I've even had two different classes take the midterm at the same time, same room, every other seat, so the person next to you is in a different course. And I TELL THE STUDENTS that I am doing this.  A colleague of mine says I shouldn't TELL THE STUDENTS. Here are our arguments

1) Don't tell: students cheat a lot and this is a way to catch them.

2) Tell:  Dealing with cheating distracts from our mission of teaching so best to be preventative so it does not happen. Less noble- tell them so that you don't have to deal with the cheating issue.

I have heard of the following case at a diff school some years ago and want your take on it:
there was one question on the midterm that was different on the two exams- the prof changed the key number, but they were the same question really. The prof was in a hurry for some reason and FORGOT TO TELL THE STUDENTS. You can probably guess what happened next, but not what happened after that

One of the students exams had the solution to THE OTHER PROBLEM on it. Clearly cheating. When called in the student said:

Since you didn't tell us that they were different exams the cheating claim is unfair!

They DID admit their guilt, but they DID NOT have any contrition.

 Options for what penalty to go for:

1) A 0 on the exam itself

2) An F in the course

3) A notation on the transcript indicating Failed-because-cheated. I don't know what that notation was at the schol the story took place, but at UMCP its XF. (Side Note- not clear if someone outside of UMCP looks at a transcript and sees an XF they'll know what the means. But the F part makes it look bad.)

4) Expulsion from school. (This might not be the profs call- this may depend on if its a first offense.)

The lack of contrition bothers me, though the prof who told me the story said that the student may have said it out of shock- the first thing that came into their mind. I asked the prof how the student was doing in the class and the prof said, CORRECTLY, that that is irrelevant.

SO- what penalty would you go for?

The professor went for XF. The student, at the hearing, once again said

Since you didn't tell us that they were different exams the cheating claim is unfair!

The professor told me that he thinks the student was trying to claim it was entrapment, though he had a hard time expressing this coherently. If the student had been a coherent thinker, he probably wouldn't have needed to cheat.

He got the equivalent of an XF.

But here is my real question: Should we TELL THE STUDENTS that they are different exams (I think yes) or
should we NOT tell them so can catch them?

Monday, November 04, 2019

Limits of using the web for info- self-reference

(I wrote this a while back so when I say `I Googled BLAH' I meant back then. It is prob different now.)

While the web is a wonderful to find things out there are times when it doesn't quite work.
  1. An old blog of Scott Aaronson's had as part of its title a Woitian Link. Wanting to find out what a Woitian Link is but not wanting to bother Scott (he's busy enough making comments on Shtetl-Optimized) I went to google and typed in "Woitian Link". The ONLY hits I got back were to Scotts blog. I finally had to email Scott. He told me that it was referring to the blog not even wrong by Peter Woit which often has links that... Well, Scott never told me quite what it was but I'll go there myself and try to figure it out.
  2. An old blog of mine was the man who loved algorithms. Part of my blog said that I thought the man would be Knuth but it was not. (It was Thomas Kailath) One of the commenters said that it couldn't be Knuth since he was still alive. This made me want to check the original article to see if Thomas Kailath, is also still alive (he is). I didn't have the issue with me at the time so I typed "the man who loved algorithms" into google. The first page of hits all refered to my posting. Eventually I found one to verify that yes, indeed, he was still alive.
  3. Donald Knuth VOLUME FOUR was originally published in a series of fascicile's. Whats a fascicle? Here the web was helpful- Wikipedia said it was a book that comes out in short pieces, the pieces of which are called `fascicle'. They gave only one example: Donald Knuth's Volume 4 will be coming out in Fascicle. Still, they DID tell me what I want to know. (Note- this was a while back, they have since removed that comment.) For most things the web is great. But for some more obscure things, better off asking someone who knows stuff.
Do you have experiences where you ask the web for a question and you end up in a circle?