Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Via Priceonomics, How Dodgeball Became America’s Most Demonized Sport:

…the game was brought to the United States by an observant (but non-participating) missionary in the late 1800s. Rocks were supposedly substituted for “broken house-bricks,” and the game became known as “deathbrick.” During the game’s “golden age” from 1910 to the late 1920s, it was adapted as a sport at Princeton and Yale, and a “National Deathbrick League” was instituted. According to the questionable source, deathbrick is “alive and well today:”

BRB; selling my worldly possessions to journey across the country, apprentice myself to a master deathbrick player, and rise through the ranks to become the best ‘bricker the world has ever seen.

Published on under It’s Nerf or Neck Brace

Elizabeth Green writes for the New York Times, asking Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&W’s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.

Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed. Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s. The “4” in “¼,” larger than the “3” in “⅓,” led them astray.

The only thing America likes more than overeating is being bad at math, apparently.

The rest of the article largely focuses on math standardized test scores in Japan (and China and Korea), which handily beat American students’ scores. That’s not news.

What is news? Japan and China and Korea are teaching their kids math with methods developed in America in the 1980s. We didn’t adopt the thing we invented, and they did. And it works way better than the instructional model we cling to. There have been numerous (heh) attempts at updating our math curriculum in America, but they’ve all been abandoned shortly after adoption.

Published on under This Doesn’t Add Up

You know, I make fun of industries and institutions which predate the Internet a lot. They were built for an era when it cost money to infinitely copy and/or instantaneously move information around the world. (The horror!)

But sometimes they show a surprising digital savvy, and you wonder if they really have been paying attention all these years. Or if greed is just the best teacher.

From Grantland, a story about Weird Al Yankovic. He’s tired of making albums with parody songs of last summer’s hits, when he could just record single parodies and upload them in 48 hours. Record companies want records, though, and those take time. And then there’s that whole digital illiteracy thing:

“White & Nerdy,” Yankovic’s first top-10 hit in 2006, [came] 23 years after the release of his first album. That song was released right when YouTube was taking off […] Yankovic suspected he was doing better online than his balance sheet suggested. Sure enough, an audit discovered that Yankovic was owed royalties from YouTube clicks and iTunes downloads.

Two years after approaching Sony with the discrepancies in 2010, Yankovic sued his record company for $5 million. (The two parties settled in December.) If Yankovic was looking for extra motivation to rethink his future association with record labels, this surely didn’t hurt.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure these folks know exactly what they’re doing online. Bravo, Sony. It seems like just yesterday you were screwing with artists in Old Media, and now you’re doing it in New Media. Sniff. They grow up so fast.

Published on under The Digital Age

The bar exam is a topic that, not surprisingly, has featured heavily in posts on Barely Legally. Also, my Twitter feed. Also, my nightmares.

It’s the biggest baddest test a lawyer has ever had to face. You can easily confirm this by asking any lawyer about it and then being Talked At until you literally die of boredom. This works no matter how many decades ago he or she took it. Fact.

Now, when I sat for that exam in the stone ages, this blog was still called Almost Legally, and the year was 2010. In those primitive days, we hand-wrote exams in our first year of law school, and only earned the option of using computers to write exams in our second year. I never made the transition to computers because there was never an exam I was particularly eager to use as an experiment for the typing of my essays. I had practice hand-writing exams, so I kept hand-writing exams.

But that, Dear Reader, was ancient history. It was back when America only had one black president. Now we’ve had one two-term black president. Completely different world.

Nowadays, the kids use computers for all their exams, from first year up to and including the bar exam. A private company called Examsoft has contracted with the various law schools and state bar associations to sell nearly- and newly-minted JDs software for the typing of said bar exam. It costs $100-$150, and you probably know where I’m going with this.

The system went down. The Daily Dot has a good roundup of all the insanity and the apoplectic tweets that only a person robbed of their humanity for an entire summer can compose:

It appears that Examsoft’s servers had some problem dealing with the crush of bar applicants trying to upload their exams last night. As Inside Higher Ed and Above the Law report, many bar applicants were unable to upload their exams on Tuesday evening or had significant upload difficulties. Were that not bad enough in itself, the bar exam is delivered over multiple days, so even those who were able to upload their exams late into the night had to get up early this morning to take the next part of the exam.

To be honest, this sort of mishap was in the back of my mind as I put off learning to write times essays on my computer every semester. But this system worked for years and years just fine. Every year, I was the paranoid Luddite with ink on his hands, and I’m not about to scream “toldjaso” just because there happens to be a mishap. Someone at Examsoft must have misplaced a decimal point when they rented server bandwidth at Amazon or something.

But seriously, totally vindicated. High fives all around, guys.

Published on under Nightmare Fuel

The New Yorker on the Cold War’s nuclear standoff:

In 1960, the Soviet Union had just four confirmed intercontinental ballistic missiles. And although Air Force intelligence informed Kennedy, after he took office, that the Soviets might have a thousand ICBMs by the middle of 1961, by the end of that year they had sixteen. In 1962, the Soviet Union had about thirty-three hundred nuclear weapons in its arsenal, and the United States had more than twenty-seven thousand.

The Soviets had thirty-six ICBMs; the Americans had two hundred and three.

The threat was largely, although not completely, imaginary. The Soviets didn’t have the capability that nuclear-war scenarios assumed, and there was no good reason to believe that anyone’s nuclear weapons would work the way they were designed to. The Kennedy Administration estimated that seventy-five per cent of the warheads on Polaris missiles (the missiles carried in submarines) would not detonate.

Nuclear armageddon is apparently like the Obamacare web site: a faulty launch but eventually everyone gets covered. Tip your waiter, I’m here all week, etc.

Published on under Big Boards

WNYC has a nifty story on a school district in New Jersey which spent an unexpected windfall on a whole bunch of laptops: one for every child. The purchase was intended to keep a technology gap from opening or widening between poor kids and not-poor kids.

However, the officials didn’t necessarily… think about what they were going to do with the computers. Their first instinct was to make the computers unusable, by installing so much nannyware that the computers ground to a halt.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. [One of the school district’s IT guys] Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. …

All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.

Okay, so the computers don’t work because they’re crippled with software to make sure the kids don’t cripple them. That’s a great IT plan. But it’s okay, because there wasn’t any educational plan to go with it anyway:

Superintendent Toback admits that teachers weren’t given enough training on how to use the computers for instruction. Teachers complained that their teenage students were too distracted by their computer screens to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.

All right, then. That’s actually pretty convenient. The computers were useless, but there were no uses for them anyway because teachers were just expected to magically pull Computer Lessons out of their /dev/null files.

The school district is now going to pay a recycling company for the privilege of disposing of these laptops. Great job, guys.

Read the whole story; it’s a train wreck. These kids deserved better.

Published on under The Digital Age