Stephen Tyler

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.

September 9, 2011
by stephen
1 Comment

Unintended consequences of plagiarism detection

NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again—and Faces a Backlash:

A New York University professor’s blog post is opening a rare public window on the painful classroom consequences of using plagiarism-detection software to aggressively police cheating students.

The result was an education in “how pervasive cheating is in our courses,” Mr. Ipeirotis wrote. By the end of the semester, 22 out of the 108 students had admitted cheating.

The professor’s blog post described how crusading against cheating poisoned the class environment and therefore dragged down his teaching evaluations.

Worse, Mr. Ipeirotis’ campaign aroused mistrust. Students were anxious, discussions contentious. He found teaching to be exhausting rather than refreshing. Dealing with the 22 cheating cases sucked up more than 45 hours “in completely unproductive discussions,” forcing him to focus attention on the least-deserving students, Mr. Ipeirotis said.

I think there are valuable lessons to be learnt from this experiment.

  1. Focus on those students who really want to learn, and work to provide an environment where opportunities for learning are maximised. Looking beyond education, companies should focus on rewarding and engaging their good customers, rather than pursuing and punishing those who are not. The music & computer game industries immediately spring to mind.
  2. As I observed very early in my own education, cheaters exist and obtain unfair short-term advantage. But cheaters also fail to learn, and in the long term they fall well behind. There are many opportunities to evaluate performance where the opportunities for cheating are minimised, such as closed book exams and class presentations. Perhaps, rather than providing the automatic plagiarism detection report to the lecturer, the report could be provided first to the student, so that student could amend their assignment prior to final submission.
  3. Be careful what you measure. If you base teacher rewards on positive student evaluations, then you may have created some unintended consequences. Fewer students will fail (since a failing student is unlikely to be a happy student). And plagiarism and other transgressions may tend to be overlooked.

September 8, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on Mobile Phone Patent Wars

Mobile Phone Patent Wars

Last March, Apple sued HTC over patent infringement in Android phones.

Now HTC has counter-sued Apple, this time using 9 patents it acquired from Google on September 1, including some patents Google recently acquired from Motorola.

Google makes the Android phone operating system, but it is not a party to these lawsuits.  It recently purchased Motorola, apparently so that it could acquire a large mobile-phone patent portfolio to better protect itself from patent infringement lawsuits that plague the industry.

However I did not expect the Motorola patents to be used so quickly, nor did I expect Google to sell or give those patents to its partners.  I wonder under what terms those patents were sold.

September 3, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on Happy 30th, HP 12C

Happy 30th, HP 12C

The HP 12C calculator just turned 30.  It remains the dominant financial pocket calculator, and is still the recommended calculator for most finance courses including CFA and CPA exams.  In addition to the financial functions and RPN notation that make complex financial calculations quick to perform, it also features a very long battery life and buttons that almost eliminate false keystrokes.

New limited edition versions of the 12C and 15C are available from HP’s special anniversary page for US$80.

Personally, I think the HP 42S is the ultimate calculator.  More recent calculators have inferior keyboards and too much emphasis is placed on graphs and menus.  I wish it was still available.  Maybe in 2013 HP will release a 25th anniversary edition.  I can only hope.

September 3, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on When will a competitor for the iPad arrive?

When will a competitor for the iPad arrive?

The iPad is completely dominant in the tablet space. With around 70% market share, it is the product that every competitor’s product is measured against. And those competitors have all been failures so far. So why have they failed:

  • They are more complicated to use than the iPad. The iPad has iOS and iTunes with hundreds of thousands of apps ready and waiting to purchase with the press of a finger. The competitors have a mish-mash of versions of Android (which is kind of kludgy compared to iOS), and marketplace that is tiny by comparison, with very little quality control. The purchaser of an iPad competitor needs to be much more tech-savy.
  • They are priced either at a similar price-point, or a higher price-point. If you can afford an iPad, why buy a product that is merely trying to be an iPad.
  • They are differentiated only by minor hardware differences, such as I/O ports. The competitors are unable to differentiate themselves with software, since they are built by hardware companies using free software built by other parties.
  • They invariably look inferior to an iPad. This is partly because they are all trying to be an iPad, without being so close that Apple will be able to block their sale. And partly because they are trying to be cheaper than an iPad, so corners are cut with materials.
  • Apple has enormous economies of scale. They get first access to all the new display technologies, batteries, flash memory and processors. All the other competitors have to wait for the manufacturing facilities to have excess capacity, which can be months after Apple has already launched new products utilising that new technology. And if there are supply constraints, Apple’s schedule will always be honoured first.

So far, the only significant tablet other than the iPad has been the HP TouchPad, which was abandoned by HP after being on sale for just a few days and liquidated in a US$99 fire-sale. At US$99, consumers rushed to buy the device. This clearly demonstrates that there is a market for an iPad competitor, if only it can be clearly differentiated from the iPad on price.

Perhaps the forthcoming Kindle from Amazon will be the first real competitor. Rumours say that they will release a 7-inch touchpad at a price of US$249. This is quite significantly different from the iPad, and has the potential for significant sales:

  • The price point is well below the iPad.
  • The device will be marketed as an enhanced Kindle (eBook reader), rather than a crippled iPad.
  • The device will be simple to operate (like the Kindle).
  • The brand is widely known and dominant in the eBook market.
  • It will be marketed to non-technical customers (book readers), based on software and marketplace features rather than technical specs.
  • The size will make it considerably more portable than the iPad. The iPad is too big to comfortably carry around all day. And the iPhone is too small for comfortable eBook reading, web browsing and typing.
  • Amazon has a huge customer base and diverse product range, allowing all manner of cross-selling opportunities and after-market sales.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Amazon’s launch of the new Kindle. If the screen is good for eBook reading, the battery life is good, and the Android OS is not crippled then I think they will have a winner.

September 2, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on Digitally sketch on paper

Digitally sketch on paper

Wacom is introducing a new pen (the “Inkling”) that digitally records what you draw.  1000 levels of pressure over an A4 sized area.  You just clip a small receiver to the top of the page and draw with the ink pen onto your paper.  No special paper is required.  The pen takes standard refill cartridges, and lasts 8 hours on a charge.  Images can be saved in JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG, SVG and PDF.  The latter two formats should allow you to manipulate your drawing on your computer.

Pricing is expected to be RRP US$199.99 on release.  Australian release not known.

Check out the video:

August 29, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on Apparently books need trailers too

Apparently books need trailers too

I’ve noticed more and more books on Amazon come with some kind of video introduction, but I had never made the connection. Books need video trailers now, just like music. Without the video, the product is just another unknown, unexciting product on a shelf. It is only via the trailer (or movie or TV show or TV advertisement) that the book can stand out from the crowd and achieve some kind of identity amongst the myriad other products vying for attention.

And it is not just children’s books. Academic text books are getting trailers too. But the following trailer seems to up the ante somewhat: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children [UK Hardback, UK Kindle, US Hardcover & US Kindle]

Making of the trailer:

And the trailer itself:

August 27, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on (contra)band


New restrictions on the movement of wood from protected species are causing problems for musicians travelling with older instruments:

Not knowing where your instrument came from could cost you $17,000:

If people can’t prove where every part of the instrument originated from, they could have it seized and be slapped with a fine (whether the instrument is factory new or decades old doesn’t matter).

Guitar Frets: Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians in Fear

If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.


August 26, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on iPad, I Saw, I Waited: The State of E-Textbooks

iPad, I Saw, I Waited: The State of E-Textbooks

Wired has an interesting article on the state of eTextbook publishing, and the opportunities that are being wasted while the publishers focus on crippling their products with restrictive DRM and archaic pricing models:
iPad, I Saw, I Waited: The State of E-Textbooks

If you’re looking for a textbook example of technology obstruction by the media industry, look no further than e-textbooks.

Over a quarter of college students (27 percent) think their laptop is the most essential item in their bag, compared to just 10 percent who pick textbooks. … Simply put, this generation of scholars is helpless without technology.

Many textbook publishers, meanwhile, are acting like 1990s music executives, slapping on high price tags and copyright handcuffs that conspire to make their products less valuable than their dead tree counterparts.

The Australian Government is currently providing each student in years 9 to 12 with a small netbook PC at a cost of $2.4 Billion ($2400 per student, for a netbook that retails for around $300). While the tiny netbook is filled with a complete suite of Microsoft and Adobe software, it appears that there has been no provision for the supply of textbooks in digital form.

If the Government was really interested in empowering students, it would fund the creation and adoption of open-source/copyleft text books and lesson materials.

August 26, 2011
by stephen
Comments Off on Henri Cartier-Bresson at QAG

Henri Cartier-Bresson at QAG

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), the French photographer who redefined both photojournalism and his craft as an art form, is being celebrated in a major exhibition – Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Man, The Image & The World – at the Queensland Art Gallery from August 27 to November 27, 2011.

More information: Queensland Art Gallery, ABC