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Just Another Tech Blog

Anything and everything having to do with technology, computers, science, and most of all... Linux! The documentation of my Linux endeavor.

History: Where Did The Fun Go?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I sit here at my desk tonight, studying for an AP World History test. Bored out of my mind, yet stressed to the point of depression, I just have to wonder: what happened to the fun in history? Where did the "interesting" go, and who says that it has to be this dull? Throughout my entire schooling (up to now, 10th grade that is), I have noticed a disturbing trend in the teaching of history classes. It seems that teachers simply do not put forth the effort to make history a mentally stimulating or in any way compelling class.

Upon each onset of a new school year, I delve into a higher level history class hoping that I will stumble upon a teacher who actually cares about what they are teaching; One who makes an honest effort to present the curriculum in such a way as to make it appealing to the teenage mind, or any mind for that matter. Sadly, it seems that this year I have hit rock bottom. AP World History has proven to be a class so incredibly dry, yet so frustratingly difficult, that even the mention of it evkes a horrid sense of dread. DO YOU SEE THE IRONY? How, is it even POSSIBLE to make a class on the HISTORY OF THE WORLD so dreadful that a student fears the mention of its name? Quite simply, it is a complete and utter lack of teacher effort.

By all means, I am not one to criticize a class simply because it is too difficult or because the teacher is too strict. No. I enjoy a challenge and praise a structured class. However, when a teacher gives no effort in making a class interesting, it simply sickens me to no end! Case in point: AP World History. Although my teacher is an incredibly nice person, there is no love in her teaching. Class will begin with an "opening activity" of some sorts, usually asking us to apply our knowledge to reach broader conclusions. This is perhaps the only conceptual activity that we participate in all class. The rest of class is occupied by the teacher reciting to us, the exact same things which we had read the night before for homework. How is that teaching? If we are required to read up to 30 pages a night, then PLEASE, do NOT insult our intelligence by "REVIEWING" the exact same content. In an AP class, if a student does not read and partake in self study, then that student deserves to fail. It is NOT the teacher's responsibility to spoon-feed the students facts which were covered in more detail elsewhere. This is not fair to the students who were prepared and ready for a higher level of thinking. Things must change.

Incorporate discussion and higher level thinking skills.

I absolutely love discussion. If I could discuss a subject all class, I would regardless of the topic. I also feel that the only way in which one can grasp broader concepts about history, or any subject for that matter, is through active discussion. Now, I have seen many a teacher label something as discussion, when in fact it is not. Discussion is not asking a student, "Who founded the Tang Dynasty?" Discussion is not asking a student to spit back information which they memorized from the reading. Discussion is the active use and application facts and human, high level comprehension to achieve a more profound level of understanding and a reach conclusion, formulate a thesis, or propose an issue. Discussion is the analyzation of the "why" and how it relates to the "how." Discussion is the synthesis of knowledge and evaluation. This is what history is all about! As Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills shows, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation comprise the highest levels of thought. An AP World History class cannot dwell on the lower level of simple knowledge, the teacher of such a class should strive to require the highest level of thinking skills possible. Assign an essay (yes, I am asking to have write an essay)... grade it ... discuss it! Stage a mock trail... discuss it! Debate an issue... discuss it!

Say no.

When a teacher asks a question, and a student replies with something that is wrong... then the teacher should say it is wrong! They should say that they aren't right, and EXPLAIN why. Unless the student is truly an idiot, in which case they should be ignored, it is not beneficial to learning when you are never told you are wrong. Even better, ask the CLASS to explain why! Often, I will ask a question and the teacher will simply beat around the bush, never saying I'm wrong, but never answering the question either. Perhaps the teacher doesn't know (in which case they should say they don't, and not waste time), but in any case, my feelings would not be hurt if I was told I was wrong. If it is possible that a statement be misinterpreted, then it should better not be said, especially when explaining intricate concepts.

Kick out the "faint of heart" and the low in intelligence...

What more is there to say? Those that are not intelligent enough for an AP history class or simply to lazy, should be kicked out of the class. An AP environment should be one of students interested in the subject. A teacher's faults can only be made more obvious through the accommodation of students not willing to learn.

Make it possible.

Now here is where I get truly annoyed: testing of concepts that the teacher hardly attempted to cover in class. In a class that conveys only factual knowledge, it should not be expected that a student do well on a test that examines only the more profound concepts of the subject. This may seem like an excuse for bad grades, but it simply another issue that I feel teachers do not address properly. I try my best to study hard and examine closely the intricate relations present in world history. Yet for a 10th grade student, it is extremely difficult to go from the lower levels of thought required in "honors" classes or below, to the high levels required in AP. Yes, I realized that these are college classes, but does that excuse the teacher from not making any attempt to help us in seeing attaining these higher levels of thought? I think not! I do not mind thinking! Where other students may groan at the thought of having to analyze, interpret, and apply, I rather relish the opportunity to expand my comprehension. However, when the occasional conceptual question is asked in class, it does not help if it the teacher never reviews it! Especially in this first semester, it is difficult to grasp the needed concepts to do well on the test. If a teacher poses a question which requires much thought from the student, then a teacher should spend the time reviewing that question. Here is where step one comes in. Discuss! I would adore my history class if we could simply discuss our work with the teacher, and with other students. If I have to write a detailed essay comparing political development in post classical China and the Byzantine Empire, then the teacher should make an effort to go over such things in class. No, I am not asking for the answer! I am asking for the basis from which to draw my conclusions. Simply reading won't do me any good, and hearing the same information spit back at me during class doesn't either. Again, discussion! Discussion reinforces the concepts. If a student gets something wrong in a discussion, then the teacher can go back and review the facts. However, it is a waste to repeat facts that we should already know, and which, in their raw form, won't help us any on the test! Please do not misinterpret this. I am a student who has, for the extent of his scholastic endeavor, made excellent grades and has ranked in the top of his class for the extent of his current high school schooling. I wish simply to facilitate learning in such a way as to better prepare the high school student for the future requirements of higher learning. Spoon-fed analysis and evaluation would be no better then spoon-fed facts! The key is finding the balance between "telling" and stimulation of thought, so as to make concepts accessible to the high school student.

Bring back the fun! (Please?)

As I have said before, history class would already be better if we could simply discuss things at a higher level of thought. However, I am sure that I am in the minority, and most students will again groan being required to think at a higher level. Regardless of the fact that these students should not be in an AP class, there are other ways to make history interesting. I have always found that watching a video on the subject is very beneficial to my learning. While broader concepts are stressed, small details are also gained which are very helpful in the writing of essays and answer of multiple-choice questions. However, this video cannot be from the text book or in any way affiliated with it... this would again be the reiteration of knowledge already acquired (yes, I realize that repetition will assist in the memorization of facts, but this can really be done at home). Also excellent are games. Games in an AP class? Why not? I'm not suggesting "heads up, seven up" but there are education games that the teacher can improvise which really aid the learning experience and again, incorporate discussion.
Rather opposite, there are also ways to make history a definite bore. Number one, extensive notes. Sitting in a class taking notes all day is not helpful if one is being tested on the application of knowledge. However, notes, when in moderation and properly formulated, can be extremely helpful. Still, this is yet another thing that can be done at home. One of the few things I actually approve of in my AP World History class is having to do "IDs" or "identification" vocabulary. Not only does this present an excellent opportunity to take notes, but it actually requires thought (*GASP*) to provide reasons for each ID's significance.

And so...

I'd love to have fun in history, and I find it impossible that a history class is even ALLOWED to be taught in such drab a manner. History simply IS interesting, there is absolutely no denying that. Those who say it is not important, say so out of blunt ignorance and idle apathy. I don't see how such a excellent school as the one I attend can hire such teachers who make history a painful matter. Perhaps they are very nice people, but I'd rather have a strict teacher who facilitates higher learning than a nice one who tarries over simple facts. History is such an important topic to understand, and every day we must analyze the past so as to make for a better future. If my generation grows up with such disdain and ignorance towards history, then I wish not to be around to experience the dreadful consequences! A change must be in order, and I call upon every teacher of history to truly put forth their all. Be it cliché, I must say that it is the least they can do to help the future of humanity. We'll need all the help we can get.

Please, do feel free to comment. However for the senile amongst us, I am not asking for an easier class. I am asking for more effort by the teacher and even by the students. An easier class would evoke the same dread in me were it taught in the same mind numbing manner. And for the lazy seeking solace and excuses, turn not to me! Express none of these thoughts in such a manner characteristic of your ineptness. If nothing else, I wish for a class in which history is once again fun, yet challenging and thought-provoking.
posted by linnerd40, Sunday, November 25, 2007 | link | 8 comments |

Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon: A Quick Look

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I know that I enjoyed the days off of school, and thankfully having nothing better to do than finally install the latest Ubuntu: 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon." So onwards now, lets see how it fared:

As usual, I downloaded the i386 architecture Live CD. I didn't go 64bit mainly because of poor experiences I have made in the past concerning 64bit Linux. If life would be so kind as to grant me more time... I will check out the 64bit version and report on that. After popping the CD into my drive, I waited for the system to boot up. Oddly enough, startup time was fairly long, around the 5-6 minute mark. This really isn't all that horrible seeing as the Live CD performed beautifully after it got started; however, I am used to shorter startup times, even from a Live CD.

When the Live CD was finally fully up and running, I was ecstatic to see that my default screen resolution of 1680*1050 was detected by default. This was a very pleasant surprise as the standard resolutions really don't look all that great on my high-res, wide screen monitor. Also nice was the fact that my wireless card was once again detected by default. The updated network manager showed all the available networks to connect to in a nice drop-down menu from the tray icon. After entering the WEP key for my wireless network, I was for the interwebs. Just for fun, I also tried the networks of my neighbors foolish enough not to have their network encrypted... needless to say, they all worked flawlessly.

Moving on, I went straight to the install. As usual, installation was flawless. No major updates were made to the installer, and there really wasn't any need. Perhaps the most confusing part of any Linux install, to the Linux newbie, is partitioning the hard drive. Ubuntu does a great job of making this process as painless as possible. The guided partition setup can make use of any available space on the disk and doesn't prompt anything that could make a new user uncomfortable. Due to the more complex nature of my partition setup, I went to the "manual" option. This loaded a fairly full-featured partition manager similar to gParted. Selecting the disks to be formated was as simple as checking a box, and mounting options were also intuitive.
After the standard array of questions pertaining to you (area, username, password, etc), the true install began. As is Ubuntu fashion, there is no addition package customization, which is beneficial to the new user who may get confused by such choice. A more "seasoned" user, such as I, may like to see customization of package selection integrated, but is by no means necessary.
Install time itself was a little longer than how I remembered my Feisty install, but none-the-less came in under 35 minutes on my AMD 3700+ (2.2Ghz) system.

Ubuntu initial boot, I experienced no major difficulties. As with the Live CD, my screen resolution was again set correctly, and my wireless connection was easy to set up. I could insert a long rant about the "Human" theme now, but really, it simply isn't worth it as it is so simply to install a different theme. The default desktop wallpaper is nice although a tad dark. It actually made me think of chocolate... and so... I got chocolate.
Upon the finishing of my chocolate, I noticed that the restricted drivers manager was notifying me of available proprietary drivers. For me, this was the official nVidia driver for my graphics card. Others may see different drivers available. After checking the box for this driver to be used, Synaptic handled the installation. Upon the required reboot, I was greeted by a fully function graphics accelerated desktop. Apparently, the installation of the proper video card drivers will automatically enable Compiz Fusion to start up.
The default configuration for Compiz Fusion was subtle (no cube, just basic animations, expo, window switching, etc), but gave the whole operating system a very professional feel.

Media support in Ubuntu is always an interesting issue. By default, mp3 playback and such is not available. However, if you try to play and mp3 file, Ubuntu will present you with a nice option to install the necessary (proprietary) codecs. This is excellent for almost any user, as it simply makes full media support that much easier to come by. Upon installation of Amarok, I was again asked if I would like to install the necessary packages to play mp3 files. As any sane person would do, I agreed, and Synaptic popped up, did its thing, left, and... there was mp3 support! Very nice.

As I continued to explore the many small improvements, Gutsy was truly shaping up to be a winner. Then... I opened Firefox. As I waited in anticipation for Google to load, one second passed... two... three... four... five... six... seven... EIGHT?... NINE?... TEN?... ELEVEN? After about 11 seconds, my Google homepage finally loaded. I immediately recognized it as the same problem I had in openSUSE 10.2... slow internet... no solution? I searched Google and again came up with many people reporting the same issue. Apparently ipv6 was the culprit once again... but however many guides I followed which apparently "fixed" the issue.. I couldn't get my internet to speed up. Just do a Google search for "slow internet Ubuntu Gutsy" and you will see the others that share my plight. I am not sure what the solution is... or even what the problem really is, but in any case, such an issue is definitely something keeping me away from permanently upgrading to Gutsy.

Overall, Ubuntu Gutsy features a plethora of small updates that uphold the great Ubuntu quality. However, the issue with my internet will keep me from permanently upgrading.

That's all for today's quick look :-)
posted by linnerd40, Sunday, November 25, 2007 | link | 2 comments |

The AMD Spider Platform: Hope for AMD?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

AMD recently announced a new breed of gaming PC: the AMD Spider system. A combination of AMD's upcoming Phenom quad-core processor, RV670 GPU, and 7-Series chipset, the system is touted as proving "teraflops of performance" reaching performance levels of up to 80 times that of the PS3 and 200 times that of IBM's Deep Blue computer. The goal of AMD's Spider platform is to provide the cinematic quality of movies released this year, rendered in real time on the desktop. Check out the video:

Via: GeekZone.co.nz

The system also sports a brand new overclocking utility by AMD which effectively redefines the overclocking experience. Video:

Via: GeekZone.co.nz

Read more @ Register Hardware.
posted by linnerd40, Sunday, November 18, 2007 | link | 1 comments |

Just Another Tech Blog To Be Included In Top 500 Blogs

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back in the day, if you didn't know HTML, or code, you couldn't
publish content on the web. Well, nowadays with tools such as
Wordpress, and services like Blogspot, and Xanga, anyone.. yes anyone
can tell the whole world what is on their mind through blogging.

But, there really isn't a robust way to search for the best blogs on
any specific topic. Sure, there's Technorati, but what else? Besides,
much of the world wide web is full of splogs, spam, and
made-for-adsense blogs. And how many times have you read the same
exact post over and over in different blogs?

That is why a project, listing the top blogs by general categories
would prove useful. The book, titled "The Top 500 Blogs" is being
written by Vicky Zhou of GotACrush.com. From topics ranging
from dating to technology, lifestyle, sports, music, health and
fashion, the books aims to be a comprehensive list of the top 500
blogs on the world wide web.

The Top 500 Blogs will be out in bookstores in Q4 of 2008. Just
Another Tech Blog will be included in the category of "Technology",
so keep an eye out for that!
I received an email notifying me of this the other day. Some things just make you smile :-) Thanks!
posted by linnerd40, Tuesday, November 13, 2007 | link | 5 comments |

Compiz, Beryl, eyecandy vs. productivity. My approach to quantify interfaces

Sunday, November 11, 2007

There is no doubt that Compiz is some of the best eyecandy available for Linux now-a-days, but many people have raised the question: where does the eye candy translate into an actual productivity increase? I, myself, approached this question some time ago in my post: "A Look at Beryl: Function vs. Eye Candy." That was back in the day when Beryl was still the best thing around, but really, the basis of Compiz now and Beryl then remains the same. So, the question comes up again: what kind of increase in efficiency can be achieved through the use of Compiz (or whatever interface you use).
Paul over at Paul's Digital World has taken a very mathematical approach to the problem. Basically, he has come up with a fairly simple formula to determine the "computer interface efficiency index" or CIEI for short:
So the formula is CIEI = AWP * weighted average of task b (over all tasks) times b's efficiency index (which is 1/eb1 + 1/eb2+ ...) So with a computer that does two major tasks b, c (others are just too rare so we approximate it with a 2 case) 1/3, 2/3 of the times and there are 2 and 3 ways to start each application respectively.
CIEI = AWP * ((1/3)*(1/b1+1/b2) + (2/3)*(1/c1+1/c2+1/c3))
Don't let the names or the math scare you, this formula makes perfect sense with a bit of thought! I encourage you to read the full post and try the formula for yourself! Check it out at Paul's Digital World.
posted by linnerd40, Sunday, November 11, 2007 | link | 1 comments |

Compiz Fusion: New Plugins, Applications, Fun

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sam over at the "SmSpillaz - Random Compiz Fusion Stuff" blog has written up an excellent post on recent Compiz Fusion happenings. It is part of his excellent series of Compiz Fusion "Community News." Some of the highlights in this posting:
  • Freewins Plugin
  • Anaglyph Plugin
  • Photo wheel
  • Stars Plugin
Along with a few application updates. Check out the full post. Lovers of Compiz Fusion should have his blog bookmarked! I know I do! It is a most excellent resource for everything Compiz related.
posted by linnerd40, Monday, November 05, 2007 | link | 1 comments |