Saturday, January 27, 2007

Quote of the Day - January 27, 2007

(when hacking into an alien computer) I only hope the Irkens use the same operating system as me... (he gains access)... Yes!

- Dib, Invader Zim

I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

English's greatest strength is also it's greatest weakness. It has a plethora of words, derived from languages all over the global, from which to choose. This enables the speaker or writer to convey subtle differences in a way that is difficult in languages with fewer words. However, it also means there a LOT of words out there, most of which you will never use unless you are taking a standardized test. The problem with that, as Joel Achenbach opines, is that standardized tests seem to use a thesaurus rather than a dictionary for their definitions. You don't get the full flavor of the word or understand how it would actually be used. A person is not generally picturesque (even if they are photogenic). Though the idea of being chased by an exasperated bear is kind of amusing.

The best way to learn new words is to encounter them in their natural environment. Books, newspapers, and magazines also tend to be more engaging than lists of words. Words in isolation lose their vitality and fail to inspire. But I guess kids don't have time to read these days. They're too busy studying for standardized tests.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Knack

Seeing as how I just spent ten minutes this evening figuring out how to access the auxiluary input on my uncle's tv (to which his DVD player is connected) using only the buttons on the front (since he lost the remote, thus eliminating the simplest method) and then writing a one page procedure for him to follow when I'm not around to help, I think I have "the knack".

My uncle asked me how I remember how to do this stuff. But he's asking the wrong question. It's not about memory, it's about problem solving. I can't remember how to use a DVD player or TV I've never used before. I have to figure it out. But I must figure it out so quickly, that it looks to him like I already know how to do it. The only things I "remember" are what I know of interfaces for similar devices - TVs, VCRs, DVD players, and cable boxes all have overlapping functions and features. It's just a matter of figuring out which buttons do the things you know it should be capable of. There's some exploring that needs to happen, too: navigating the menus to see what options are available and get familiar with the mindset of the people who set up the interface (i.e., let's force people to buy a new TV once they lose their remote by giving them only one or two buttons that do everything, poorly, on the front of the TV). Now hopefully he won't lose the procedure the same way he lost the remote.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Quote of the Day - January 22, 2007

Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.

- Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters