Why universities don’t work anymore

The longer I teach, the more I have become to understand that the problem with universities is that they are too big, and that they were never designed for teaching the amount of students they do.

In 1910, the US had a population of 92,228,496 people, at that time its universities and colleges graduated 37,200 bachelor degrees, 2,100 masters, and 440 PhDs. Now consider the population 100 years on: 308,745,538, an increase of 3.35 times. Degrees have changed in the same way right? Well, no. The number of undergraduate degrees received per year have increased 43-fold. Masters and PhD degrees have increased an amazing 312 and 152 times respectively. Yes, I get that we have transitioned to a “thinking economy”… oh wait have we?

Now these stats are for the US, but is it any different in Canada? I doubt it. We have created large degree mills, basically teaching the same way we have for the past 100 years. The only difference is class sizes are huge. First year class sizes are often 500-1000 students, crammed in lecture theatres like sardines. The only thing missing? VIP classes. You know, like Cineplex… small theatres, reclining seats, food service to your seat. Pay extra fees, get a “small-class” feel. Actually now that I’m talking about it, I’m wondering why they haven’t done this yet. Food service included.

Look, overall the university model doesn’t work anymore. It needs shorter degrees, more hands-on experience, less lectures, and smaller classes. And not everyone needs to go to university to get a good job. We have spent years removing shop-classes from highschools and now have too few trades. Something has to change, but will it?

You can’t learn the really hard things in universities.
– Ivar Jacobsen, (Masterminds of Programming, 2009, O’Reilly and Associates, p.320).



Software is not rocket science

Developing software is not rocket science. Look at the 5-10 million people who call themselves software developers. Very few of them really do anything creative or fundamentally new. Unfortunately the outside world thinks that programmers are creative and brilliant people, and that’s far from reality.

Ivar Jacobsen, (Masterminds of Programming, 2009, O’Reilly and Associates, p.332).

Xmas bug

No matter HOW hard we try, programmers still design error messages that are meaningless to all but the coder. This from a payment machine on one of the new TTC streetcars. There is enough to know that it is a Critical error, of type 19? Come on people, design error messages that are meaningful! To top it off it says that it is “reconnecting” to the backend… but there is NO STATUS to show anything. Usability 101!


What’s up for 2017?

Time for a blogging siesta… I  have two other blogs to work on. What’s happening in the winter? There will be a bunch of posts related to Fortran, Ada, and other language related issues. There will also be a series of posts related to image processing, and digital photography. Hopefully I will also start posting on my new blog codebootcamp, which is a blog for beginner programmers.

Have a great break, and I’ll see you back in January.

What’s with technology companies?

Talked to a friend the other night at a Christmas party. He use to be a huge Apple fan. One of those first-adopters. Not any more… I asked why. He said that Apple just isn’t producing anything cool anymore. Maybe he’s right? That’s the problem with technology, or maybe not just technology – successful companies in general. They are innovative at the start, but then become complacent, and just produce incremental changes to their products. What’s cool about the iPhone 7? Two cameras? Sorry, mirrorless cameras take better shots, regardless of the hype and digital remastering you do. It’s not about the 12MP camera sensor, it’s about the optics – and that makes or breaks how good an image is.

I have had my iPhone 6s since Oct. 2015. Now this morning it decides to shut-down at 43% battery.  It’s been progressively getting worse over the last few weeks, and I’ve tried everything I can to sustain the battery life. Yes, it’s one of the problematic batch. No problem, I have made an appointment for the end of the week to get a free battery replacement. But the thing is I shouldn’t have to, should I? Sure it’s not a terrible problem, but after paying $$$ for a phone, one would hope it works properly for a bit more than a year. But that’s technology today… you never know how well a product will work, or for how long.

It’s likely a symptom of “too much technology” syndrome. Cramming extra things into a device because that’s the only realistic way to “improve” it. Or maybe mobile devices have come to a design nexus… nothing else (short of long-life batteries) will improve them. Adding two cameras does nothing if you can’t make the battery hold a charge beyond a day of average use. Is anything Apple does visionary anymore? The truth is technology is nothing special anymore. Just something we fill our lives with, and then dispose of when we are ready to migrate to the newer model.

“Smart” homes – the dark side

There is a darker, more sinister side to automating your home – security. If its so easy to hack a car, imagine how much easier it is to hack internet connected devices in your home? And it has happened before (and will likely happen again). On October 21st this year,  Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks caused widespread disruption of corporate internet activities in the US, e.g. Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit. They basically used the “internet of things” – thousands of unsecured internet-connected digital devices, such as home routers and surveillance cameras to drive the assault.

That’s what happens when you connect a whole bunch of crappy embedded devices with lacklustre security to the internet with the pretext of being “smart”.And there are a bunch of these “things” in peoples houses: IP connected security systems, climate control and energy meters,  connected printers, VoIP phones, smart fridges, and even smart lightbulbs. I guess one also has to question how easy it is to hack these things?

Read this paper on hacking lightbulbs. Check out the videos. It’s frightening. Smart houses? Forget it. The best security is having dumb appliances.

The F-35 : An exercise in what software shouldn’t be

The development of the F-35 has cost more than $1 trillion, which is a *lot* of money for a white elephant. I previously posted on some of the programming decisions made early in the project, and their potential consequences. Now apparently they need another $500 billion to complete the project. One would think the software problems have been solved right? Wrong. Apparently there are huge problems with the F-35 radar systems. To top it off? they don’t even know if the F-35 is hackable, because they haven’t tested for that yet.

Read the article from theGuardian, which discusses some of the more recent issues. Of particular interest are the comments made by Keith Joiner, who is evaluating the plane’s performance for the Australia Defence Forces: “Some systems like the radar control are fundamentally worse than the earlier version, which is not a good sign. The next software version is block 4. It won’t be available until 2020. So there’ll be nothing but fixing bugs in the original software between 2013 and 2020.


Here’s a funny review of the F-35’s problems, from the Australian perspective.