Two Ideas
29Jul/091

Form without content is void.

The same "EdLife" section of the New York Times that I referred to in my last post contained a sad-but-true article on SAT scoring, in which a test-prep professional writes an essay receiving a near-perfect score extolling the Nazis' intellectual courage and integrity. As the article notes, SAT essays are not graded on the basis of the position taken by the essays, only on whether or not they're properly structured.

This reminded me of an anecdote that Matthew Crawford included in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, in which he recounts his time writing article abstracts for a database company. The articles Crawford extracted were scientific and technical in nature, and he admits to not having understood the bulk of the articles he was tasked with. Nonetheless, he was expected to abstract the content of the pieces for the database, almost as though it was a mechanical act that could be captured in a brief set of rules—rules not unlike those for grading SAT essays.

As the scholar said, form without content is void.

22Jul/091

“Unix Beards” part of a distinguished tradition

The existence of Unix Beards is exceptionally well-documented, from Dilbert to Fortune, with a notable appearance in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

But even the author of In the Beginning was the Command Line doesn't seem to note that the Unix beard is really an extension of the philosopher's beard, and the academic's beard. (Perhaps that oversight is only fair, as One Thousand Beards doesn't even mention "hackers" or "Unix.")

Personally, I think it's nice that Unix hackers see themselves as scientists and philosophers, or at least their descendants.