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An Education


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A research seminar talk I gave at Cardiff University on 5th December 2016. I rather co-opted this as a dry run for some ideas I am developing on how to teach computer science in general. Enjoy!

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An Education

  1. 1. An Education Joshua Knowles University of Birmingham
  2. 2. Don’t panic! (Douglas Adams)
  3. 3. Take off your shoes
  4. 4. No worries! (mate) -Australian saying
  5. 5. Be happy
  6. 6. Be polite
  7. 7. Hello Learn first aid
  8. 8. Know where the fire exits are
  9. 9. Always digress! (Knowles; cf. JD Salinger)
  10. 10. The anti-library (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
  11. 11. The jobsworth In case you don’t know: this is an employed person who is unprepared to do what you think is part of their job because to do so would break a petty rule, and doing so is more than their job’s worth to their employer. Hence they would be sacked if they did so, and refuse stubbornly any and all polite requests you might give them! (This definition by me, Knowles)
  12. 12. There’s no smoke without fire
  13. 13. Mud sticks
  14. 14. 2+2=5 (George Orwell) Comment: probably the scariest sentence ever to appear in a book. Winston Smith is forced to believe it after undergoing torture and brainwashing. The problem is he also believes 2+2=4 and 2+2=3, and thus has lost all ability to reason, or retain useful knowledge. Are we doing this to our students?
  15. 15. No Logo (Naomi Klein)
  16. 16. No Logo (Naomi Klein)
  17. 17. The right tool (for the job)
  18. 18. Life is difficult. (M. Scott Peck; and The Buddha)
  19. 19. Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. (M. Scott Peck)
  20. 20. Brevity is the soul of wit. (Shakespeare) ...NB: This is what I (Knowles) have been saying all along!
  21. 21. Love is blind. Comment: questionable. Consider...
  22. 22. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. [The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible....] (Oscar Wilde) NB: [ ] parentheses mine If love is blind why is lingerie so popular?
  23. 23. Who dares wins (The motto of the SAS)
  24. 24. Be good to yourself
  25. 25. How to win friends and influence people (Dale Carnegie) Note to self: I must read this again ... soon!
  26. 26. What (the hell) is Quality? (Robert M. Pirsig)
  27. 27. Swearing is a sign of intelligence
  28. 28. Matrices don’t fucking commute! Remember this – it will save you a lot of shit. (Especially if you try to control robot arms or want to render 3D computer graphics) (Knowles)
  29. 29. A Hilbert space is a vector space with a complete inner product. (David Hilbert) We live in a Hilbert space – spacetime.(Knowles) We usually work in a Hilbert space. Sometimes a finite dimensional one, sometimes an infinite dimensional one. (Knowles)
  30. 30. More Hilbert 2. Prove that the axioms of arithmetic are consistent. (There is no consensus on whether this problem is solved, though we know it can’t be proved from within arithmetic due to Kurt Gödel’s work on incompleteness.) 10. Find an algorithm to determine whether a given polynomial Diophantine equation with integer coefficients has an integer solution. (Proved impossible)
  31. 31. Observe the simple disciplines: polish your boots*, brush your hair and teeth, and shave well. It will make all your days much easier. (Knowles) *and your talks
  32. 32. Walk across the damned grass if you like. You will feel the damp, cool blades beneath your feet, and the conversation you have with the park keeper will brighten his day. (Knowles)
  33. 33. Fortune favours the brave
  34. 34. Fortune favours the prepared mind (So is bravery the prepared mind? Yes! See Plato’s The Republic. --observation by Knowles)
  35. 35. The division of labour (Adam Smith)
  36. 36. Wealth (of nations) is not constituted of gold in the bank (Adam Smith)
  37. 37. The veil of ignorance (John Rawls)
  38. 38. The Golden Rule: treat others as you would have them treat you (The Buddha, Jesus Christ, ...)
  39. 39. The purpose of the warrior is always peace (von Clausewitz)
  40. 40. Should I marry R? ...Not if she won’t tell me the rest of the letters in her name. (Woody Allen)
  41. 41. The Road Less Travelled M. Scott Peck
  42. 42. The four disciplines 1. Delay of gratification (to be learned from 5 years old) 2. Acceptance of responsibility 3. Dedication to truth (including openness to challenge) 4. Balancing (a.k.a. giving up) ..and Love provides the motive for discipline
  43. 43. Delay of gratification NOW LATER
  44. 44. Dedication to truth Who is open to the challenge of updating your CS curriculum? ...No? Then either your CS curriculum is the best and most current mental map of the discipline, or you are too tired or too bored or care too little about your students to do this vital task! (Sorry).
  45. 45. Acceptance of responsibility A. To solve a problem, one first has to accept it as our own problem. B. Then we have to take our time to solve it. Both of these are also PAINFUL, and we can see that this is just really a footnote to “Delay of Gratification”, which is the granddaddy of discipline
  46. 46. Balancing Prospect theory (Daniel Kahneman)
  47. 47. Computer Science A modern subject with ancient foundations (of course!)
  48. 48. Computer science: a definition Computer science comprises several foundational theories: computability theory information theory complexity theory, and the theory of NP-completeness logic, methods of inference, and learning theory decision theory game theory (network or) graph theory set theory discrete mathematics, including combinatorics and basic number theory... ...and their applications. (Knowles)
  49. 49. Computer science: a definition Computer science comprises several foundational theories: computability theory information theory complexity theory, and the theory of NP-completeness logic, methods of inference, and theories of learning decision theory game theory (network or) graph theory set theory discrete mathematics, including combinatorics and basic number theory...
  50. 50. Information theory 1. How do we send readable messages over slow, noisy communication channels? 2. How short can a message be whilst maintaining the integrity of the meaning to be conveyed? (Shannon) (Definition phrasing by Knowles)
  51. 51. Decision theory How to choose a car at the lot (or online). (Phrasing by Knowles)
  52. 52. Game theory How to get the maximum payoff in interactions with an other (or others) when formal rules of engagement apply. (Phrasing by Knowles)
  53. 53. Game theory ⊂ Decision theory
  54. 54. Graph theory How to determine properties associated with an object comprising nodes and links between them. For example, how to count the number of possible paths from one node to another one, or how to determine if one graph is equivalent (identical) to another one once the nodes and links are allowed to move without disconnecting any. (Phrasing by Knowles)
  55. 55. Magic (not) Magic does not exist; blood, sweat and tears do, and then learning, and then success...and finally death. (Knowles)
  56. 56. Magic (not) Derren Brown (illusionist)
  57. 57. Magic (not) Ben Hogan (professional golfer)
  58. 58. Magic (not) Attack of the Hawk (video)
  59. 59. Magic (not) How I write (Bertrand Russell). An extract: “There are some simple maxims-not perhaps quite so simple as those which my brother- in-law Logan Pearsall Smith offered me-which I think might be commanded to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short word will do. Second: if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences. Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end. Take, say, such a sentence as the following, which might occur in a work on sociology: "Human beings are completely exempt from undesirable behaviour-patterns only when certain prerequisites, not satisfied except in a small percentage of actual cases, have, through some fortuitous concourse of favourable circumstances, whether congenital or environmental, chanced to combine in producing an individual in whom many factors deviate from the norm in a socially advantageous manner". Let us see if we can translate this sentence into English. I suggest the following: "All men are scoundrels, or at any rate almost all. The men who are not must have had unusual luck, both in their birth and in their upbringing." This is shorter and more intelligible, and says just the same thing. But I am afraid any professor who used the second sentence instead of the first would get the sack.”
  60. 60. Magic (not)
  61. 61. Magic (not)
  62. 62. Acknowledgments Irena Spasić The Universe and all of literature (my ant-library thanks to my computer) A long list of colleagues and friends available on request, but particularly David Corne, Doug Kell, Simon Fong, Andrew Webb, Steve Miller, Sanaz Mostaghim, Aaron Sloman, Ela Claridge, Mark Lee, Barzan Rahman and Major Lieutenant, Christopher J Leese. And thank you for your kind attention and patience. Contact me at -- Don’t panic! --
  63. 63. Selected References (in order of appearance) Douglas Adams, “A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Travelled”. Hermann Hesse, “Steppenwolf”; “Siddhartha”; “Narcissus & Goldmund”. Timothy Gowers, “A Very Short Introduction to Mathematics”. Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Adam Smith, “The Wealth of Nations”.
  64. 64. Selected References (in order of appearance) Percy Boomer, “On Learning Golf”. Curt Sampson, “Hogan”. J.D. Salinger, “The Catcher in the Rye”. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “The Black Swan”. Bertrand Russell, “How I write” (essay). Richard Feynman, “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”; and other memoirs of his.