Sunday, June 7, 2015

Just listen...

Just listen ... to this whiny, self-important little mind: Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans.  The author is one Lee Siegel, best known for his sock-puppetry at The New Republic a few years back.  This conspicuous moron:
  • Chose to go to colleges with expensive tuitions
  • Chose to borrow the money to do so
  • Willingly accepted the offered loan
...and then has the unmitigated gall to deliberately default on repayment of the loan, because it would inconvenience him.

This is what we get when we encourage a culture of entitlement – morons who believe they're entitled to have the rest of us pay for whatever they want.

I have no patience for that attitude, and I am not willingly going to pay for his chioces.  Our student loan programs may be administered by idiots, and they are most definitely contributing to the high cost of college these days (especially when college is more about the amenities and the partying than the education), but still: it was his choice to partake.  Lee Siegel and the others like him should have their student loan payments extracted from them by force if that's what it takes...

New Horizons...

New Horizons...  The NASA robotic explorer New Horizons is set to do a close flyby of the planet (or whatever they're calling it these days) Pluto.  At it's closest approach, on July 14th, it will be just 7,800 miles from Pluto's surface.

How close is that?  At it's closest approach to Earth, Pluto is almost 46 billion miles away.  Aiming New Horizons to approach within just 7,800 miles is phenomenally good aiming.  It's the equivalent of shooting a gun at a target a mile away, and deliberately missing the bulls-eye by exactly a tenth of an inch.  NASA was able to make some course corrections along the way, but still ... that's mighty fine shooting!

New Horizons was launched in January 2006, over nine years ago.  That's one very long voyage it's on.  It's still in perfect condition, too – a testament to some excellent engineering and fabrication work.  Surviving nine years in the harsh environment of space didn't happen by accident.  The mission of the New Horizons explorer will continue for at least another year, exploring the Kuiper Belt for the first time.  The mission team has identified several Kuiper Belt objects that they'd like to fly by, and if they get their extended mission (through about 2020) funded, they'll be able to do it.  The funding required is far less than the launch of an ISS mission, but nevertheless it's at risk due to the priorities given (pretty much totally useless) manned spaceflight...

Innovations in education...

Innovations in education...  These sorts of articles always leave me with a funny feeling, as they generally leave out the education method that's worked so well for me: self-education.  It's not that I think there's no place for pedagogy – there clearly is.  The vast majority of people I know both got their education in some sort of institutional setting, and expect that's where their education (and their kids') will come from.  But I think there's a place for autodidacts as well.

Institutional education (i.e., schools) weren't completely useless for me, but they weren't far off.  I was bored out of my skull in just about every classroom; the few exceptions provide the few good memories of my school experience that I have.  Part of the problem was the slow pace, but the bigger problem was the shallow treatment of just about every subject.  I was constantly wondering Why?  Why?  Why? in nearly every subject, and I wasn't getting answers from either the teachers (to whom I was an annoying pest) or the texts (which even then I could tell were glossing over huge areas of interesting knowledge). 

On the other hand, the schools provided me with something I did need: access to textbooks (there was no Internet back then, so books were the only source of recorded knowledge), through the school libraries.  Those books I absorbed on my own, almost entirely.  Every once in a while I'd have a question I couldn't figure out, and a librarian (most often) or a teacher (occasionally) would answer it.  All too often, though, what I got was an admonition to stick to material more suited to my age.  For example, in high school I got very interested in understanding how semiconductors (the basis of transistors) worked – and when I asked my physics teacher about it, he advised me to wait until I was in college to investigate that.  So I learned about semiconductors from a book checked out from the school library, instead – and what I wanted to understand was easily accessible by an interested high school student with a limited mathematics background.

Once I left high school, I continued my exploration of science and engineering on my own.  I had my own motivations, even if I didn't understand them, and I didn't need a teacher to be able to learn the things I wanted to.  That has been a lifelong habit of mine, continuing even now in my dotage.

This is the source of that funny feeling I mentioned at the start of this post.  I've never quite been able to figure out why so many people seem to depend on institutional education.  I'm convinced at this point, after having met quite a few others with the same point of view, that the answer has little to do with native intelligence (that mainly seems to affect the speed with which one learns) and much more to do with the motivation and will of the individual.  There's something else as well, something to do with that expectation of institutional education.  I've heard a great many people make the assumption that if they wanted to learn X, then they'd have to go to school (take a course, etc.) to do so.  Relatively few people assume that they can learn X on their own.  I have no idea why that's the case, because these days – especially with the information resources available for free on the Internet – there's very little in the way of obstacles impeding anyone from learning just about anything.

I have the sense that self-education is on the rise, though.  It's definitely more respectable in the engineering world these days :)  I think the Internet is making it more common, as well.  I hope so...