Christmas Newsletter 2011

Wag more, bark less

Internet University

Dick’s webpage of video lectures has expanded and improved. It’s a real resource now, with diverse teaching techniques and presentations. The scope is wider and is still improving. You can check it out in one click from Dick’s home page above.

This fall, Stanford has raised the bar and lowered the cost of college online. Their Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course is outstanding and free. AI has been transformed every ten years; now it advances by training on gigabytes of data. The Stanford class uses online video snippets that usually end with an interactive question. There are real homework assignments with deadlines and two exams. Assignments are graded by software. The course is conducted to Stanford–level academic standards and we get a certificate with a grade. Eventually, proctored exams would enable traditional college credit. More than a hundred thousand people from around the world are enrolled. Captions in forty languages have appeared. This was a perfect prototype for the future of higher education: a distinguished school, a vibrant topic, zero marginal enrollment cost. The servers seem to be crashing from overload or attack every time a homework assignment is due. When Stanford runs the course again in the spring, they’ll find out the marginal cost of repeating it. By analyzing the data they’re collecting, they should be able to tweak every detail. They’re preparing additional courses. Stanford is just about to become an international university. Don’t overlook this important opportunity.

Carnegie–Mellon’s online course in Statistics is in its second edition. They used a whole team of developers to support four statistics packages and multiple approaches and topics. However Stanford and the Khan Academy have shown the superior power of video.

I’m Feeling Lucky

is an interesting book about Google, written by Douglas Edwards, an early employee. Like his namesake, he has worked for a newspaper; he writes well and has a taste for irony. Too bad he didn’t get along with Marissa Mayer, whom Dick idolizes.

Dick’s a huge fan of Google, excited about their talented employees and their audacious business adventures. For example, two superstar Googlers are teaching the ground–breaking AI course mentioned above.

Another good book, The $12 million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson, dissects the ironic world of artists, dealers and collectors.

Onward to Gaza!

This year, Dick has taken a stand in favor of the Palestinians getting their own state. The San Francisco Chronicle says, “[Gaza’s] Hamas rulers are nothing more than irredeemable, unrepentant mass murderers.” Those are pretty harsh words for a democratically elected government.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement protests the Israeli settlements, demolitions, collective punishments, assassinations and the blockade of Gaza. BDS worked in South Africa.

His hero Ray McGovern was on the Gaza flotilla. Dick is eager to join the next flotilla. Announcements of a new sailing will attract US interference on behalf of Israel, so it’s going to be hard to find out where and when to embark for Gaza!

The Rand Corporation has published an economic development plan for an independent Palestinian state. It’s called The Arc. You can see a short video at Dick is convinced their comprehensive and beautiful plan for a prosperous and stable Palestinian infrastructure will be the best thing that has ever happened to Israel.

WikiLeaks Update

Julian Assange continues to face a risk of rendition to the US; WikiLeaks has released a secret memo documenting that.

WikiLeaks deserves the same publisher’s rights as the New York Times. Their servers around the world are mirrored, but WikiLeaks is vulnerable to a financial embargo from credit card companies, Paypal and Bank of America. Dick tried mailing a check to the Wau Holland Stiftung, but it didn’t clear, and the Wau Holland website is down.

Nuclear Update

The end of the cold war has decreased the nuclear threat from thousands of megatons to tens of kilotons. That’s still a sizeable blast, but a 100,000–fold improvement takes time to register, and to acknowledge. Dick feels much better.

☼ Less is More

Dick has been reducing his dosages of many things, starting with artificial sweetener. Using less than a packet at a time leaves less aftertaste. The improved sensitivity is efficient and healthy. Our household has always minimized salt, but now Dick uses only tiny amounts of toothpaste and shampoo.

Principle of Computational Equivalence

Stephen Wolfram explains:

1 All the wonders of our universe can be captured by simple rules.

2 There’s ultimately no way to know the consequences of these rules except just to watch and see how they unfold. Computer simulation it turns out, is not a shortcut.


Dick was part of the big theater group that saw the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha. It was a stunning production, entirely in Sanskrit. It must have been hard to learn the lines!

At the beautiful Picasso show at the de Young Museum, the conversation was all about identifying stuff: “that’s her arm,” “there’s the violin.” We’re still pretty basic when it comes to art appreciation.

Party–pooping atheists flooded a lottery and took most of the spots in Santa Monica’s Christmas nativity pageant. What a stupid and embarrassing idea! Outraged locals vandalized their snotty banner.

As more people read electronic books, the books will get much shorter. Slogging through the last half of an e-book is tedious!

“Even when patients know they’re taking placebo, it works. Ask your doctor if placebos are right for you.” – Ironic Times

The Dutch company makes creative 3–D building animations; artist Jennifer Steinkamp creates great digital projections too.

☯ Family news

We are grateful for good health, leisure and friends, and hope you will have the same good luck.

☮ Peace and love! Best wishes for 2012!

Dick and Loretta