Originally published at Customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

May 26, 2007 12:25 AM (ET)


ATLANTA (AP) – The lesson plan was called “Artificial Unintelligence,” but
it was written more like a comic book than a syllabus for a serious
computer science class.

“Singing, dancing and drawing polygons may be nifty, but any
self-respecting evil roboticist needs a few more tricks in the repertoire
if they are going to take over the world,” read the day’s instructions to a
dozen or so Georgia Tech robotics students.

They had spent the last few months teaching their personal “Scribbler”
robots to draw shapes and chirp on command. Now they were being asked to
navigate a daunting obstacle course of Girl Scout cookie boxes scattered
over a grid.

The course is aimed at reigniting interest in computer science among
undergraduates. Educators at Georgia Tech and elsewhere are turning to
innovative programs like the Scribbler to draw more students to the field
and reverse the tide of those leaving it.

At risk, professors say, is nothing less than U.S. technology supremacy. As
interest in computer science drops in the U.S., India and China are
emerging as engineering hubs with cheap labor and a skilled work force.

Schools across the country are taking steps to broaden the appeal of the
major. More than a dozen universities have adopted “media computation”
programs, a sort of alternate introduction to computer science with a New
Media vibe. The classes, which have been launched at schools from the
University of San Francisco to Virginia Tech, teach basic engineering using
digital art, digital music and the Web.

Others are turning to niche fields to attract more students. The California
Institute of Technology, which has seen a slight drop in undergraduate
computer science majors, has more than made up for the losses by
emphasizing the field of bioengineering.

“Many of our computer science faculty work on subjects related to biology,
and so this new thrust works well for us,” said Joel Burdick, a Caltech
bioengineering professor.

At Georgia Tech, computing professor Tucker Balch says the brain drain is
partly the fault of what he calls the “prime number” syndrome.

It’s the traditional way to teach computer science students by asking them
to write programs that spit out prime numbers, the Fibonacci sequence or
other mathematical series.

It’s proven a sound way to educate students dead-set on joining the ranks
of computer programmers, but it’s also probably scared away more than a few.

That’s why Balch, who oversees the robotics class, is optimistic about the
Scribbler, a scrappy blue robot cheap enough for students to buy and take
home each night after class but versatile enough to handle fairly complex

The key to the class is the design of the robot. It weighs about a pound
and is slightly smaller than a Frisbee, sporting three light-detecting
sensors and a speaker that can chirp. And at about $75, it’s roughly the
price of a science textbook.

The class centers on twice-weekly lectures, but the real excitement is in
the weekly breakout session. That’s where teaching assistants outline their
cheeky lesson plans and instruct students how to use commands like
turnLeft() and sense() to navigate their Scribblers around makeshift
obstacle courses.

Students aren’t just teaching the Scribblers how to move, they’re teaching
them how to dance, how to draw and how to create music – a sort of artistic

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Ami Shah, a 21-year-old senior biology major.
“I’ve learned a lot from this class, and I think it’s a really handy skill.”

Professors are planning to expand the class from around 30 students to more
than 200 next semester and are exporting the class to two other Georgia
schools in the fall.

Georgia Tech, which has branded the robot the “new face of computing,” is
hoping that the class can be a new national model to teach students
computing. To Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), which is investing $1 million to
jump-start the program at Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr, it’s investment in
what could become its work force.

Outside groups have applauded the effort, too.

“In fact, computing is a tool that can be used for virtually every
application – from entertainment to medicine,” said Virginia Gold of the
Association for Computing Machinery. “And the Scribbler helps show how
pervasive computers are in everything.”

The computing industry has a reason to be concerned about the future.

The number of new computer science majors has steadily declined since 2000,
falling from close to 16,000 students to only 7,798 in fall 2006, according
to the Computing Research Association.

And the downward trend isn’t expected to reverse soon. The association says
about 1 percent of incoming freshmen have indicated computer science as a
probable major, a 70 percent drop from the rate in 2000.

The aftermath of the dot-com bust may have triggered the exodus, but
computer scientists admit they’ve also been slow to adapt to the changes by
reprogramming their teaching methods.

Although the Scribbler is one of several methods to lure more students to
the field, its popularity has been surprising. Some 30 schools have already
expressed interest in the course, said Deepak Kumar, the chair of Bryn
Mawr’s computer science department.

“It’s fresh and new and engaging,” said Kumar, who teaches a class of 24
Scribbler-wielding students. “We’ve got our fingers on one way to solve the

Balch, who is watching the students from the corner of the classroom, is
happy to agree.

“It beats prime numbers.”

Originally published at Customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

Yevamot 24


The prohibition of a Kohen {priest} marrying a Chalutzah {a Chalutzah is a
woman whose brother-in-law has refused to perform the mitzvah of yivum for
This seems an odd thing to be considered shameful in this day and age, but
it has to be remembered that at that time, women were pretty much dependent
on their husbands for their day-to-day provisions.
A man who refused to perform yivum for his sister-in-law was effectively
saying that he had no desire to care for her, nor for the safeguarding of
his brother’s estate and any possible children already born, and was willing
to let his brother’s property pass out of the family and into another only
because he didn’t want to take up his responsibility.}
is mid’Rabanan {forbidden at the rabbinic level, but not according to the
written Torah}. Therefore if a Kohen marries a Safek Chalitzah {a woman
whose status as a chalutzah is doubtful} he does not have to divorce her. It
is a Mitzvah l’Chatchilah {obligatory} for the older brother to do the Yibum
but if the younger one does the Yibum it is valid.

The Mitzvah of Yibum does not apply to an Ailonis {a woman who is incapable
of conception. This word is derived from the word “Ayil”, a ram, which is a
male and does not have a womb
(Kesuvos 11a)}
The Yavam inherits the property of the deceased brother.
If the Yavam is a Saris (a person who cannot have children) the Mitzvah of
Yibum does not apply to him.
There is no need for a Yavam to name the child that is born for the deceased
That is, there is no need to name the child that results from the union of
the brother who fulfills the obligation of Yivum with his deceased brother’s
wife after the deceased brother.
Even though the Pasuk says that the Bechor shall do Yibum the Pasuk is not
referring literally to the Bechor. Instead it is referring to the oldest
It is a Mitzvah for the oldest brother to do Yibum. If he declines the
younger brother is given a chance. If the younger brother also declines the
reverts back to the older brother.
When a Yavam inherits his deceased brother he only receives the property
that is in his possession at the time of Yibum. He does not inherit property
is owed to his brother and had not yet been collected.
If there are rumors regarding a person’s inappropriate relationship with a
non-Jewish woman or maidservant he may not marry that woman after she
a Ger {convert}.
R. Nechemiyah says that a person who becomes a Ger for the purpose of
matrimony or other ulterior motives is not a valid Ger, however, Rav says
that the
Halachah is that they are valid Geirim.
No Geirim were accepted in the times of David and Shlomo nor will they be
accepted in the times of Mashiach.
This is because the times of David and Shlomo were seen as times when it
would be advantageous to be a Jew, and thus it was assumed that the
prospective convert had alterior motives.
It is the same with the times of Mashiach.
At that time, the Jewish People will finally stop being persecuted, and so
times will once again be good for the Jews.
It will then be assumed that anyone who wants to convert or repent will be
doing so because of alterior motives, and so it will not be allowed.
If two witnesses testify that a person had a relationship with a married
woman she is prohibited to her husband. She is also prohibited to the person
had the relationship with even b’Di’eved {after the case} even if she has
children from her husband.
If there are rumors regarding a person’s inappropriate relationship with a
married woman that person may not marry the woman after her husband divorces
her, but b’Di’eved if he does marry her he is not obligated to divorce her
if she has children from her first husband.

Originally published at Customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

Building by youth may be destructive, while when elders dismantle, it is
constructive (Nedarim 40a).

It seems paradoxical, but it is true. We make the most important decisions
of our lives when we are young and inexperienced, and our maximum wisdom
at an age when our lives are essentially behind us, and no decisions of
great moment remain to be made.

While the solution to this mystery eludes us, the facts are evident, and we
would be wise to adapt to them. When we are young and inexperienced, we can
ask our elders for their opinion and then benefit from their wisdom. When
their advice does not coincide with what we think is best, we would do
a great service if we deferred to their counsel.

It may not be popular to champion this concept. Although we have emerged
from the era of the `60s, when accepting the opinion of anyone over thirty
anathema, the attitude of dismissing older people as antiquated and obsolete
has-beens who lack the omniscience of computerized intelligence still

Those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat
them. We would do well to swallow our youthful pride and benefit from the
of the school of experience.

Today I shall …
…. seek advice from my elders and give more serious consideration to
deferring to their advice when it conflicts with my desires.

Originally published at Customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

I’m watching a show on the Science Channel about a group of card counters from MIT.
The slant is that you’re supposed to feel sorry for the cassino owners, but I’m not buying it.
If you live by the sword, (which all cassinos do), then you’ll die by it, and just because someone or even a group of someones beats you at your game doesn’t mean you should receive any pity.
It’s all about statistics, and the cassino owners should have realized that someone would figure it out.
No reason to whine and throw a temper tantrum.