November 30, 2008

Experience Supports Lebedev’s Pyramid

Posted in Education, Life tagged , , at 4:51 pm by pmatos

As presented before by Alcides Fonseca and some others, my experience also supports the Lebedev’s Pyramid:

Lebedev Pyramid

Lebedev Pyramid

November 15, 2008

In England every night is Halloween

Posted in Education, Life tagged , , , , , at 5:02 pm by pmatos

Even though this post is based on my experience in Southampton, I doubt it is different in the rest of England. In fact, elsewhere might be worse but I can’t see how.

I have to say I rarely go out at night for a drink or even more rarely dancing (in this case rarely means never), however, I have my share of knowing the night in Southampton.

One day [I do remember it quite well as it was the first, however, images which unfortunately I keep with me, where harvested from the Southampton nights from the last couple of years] I left home at night in search for a place to have an expresso (gosh, I was a “Portuguese in England”) somewhere, just to find out that no pubs sell coffee (or in general, warm drinks) past 6pm. I also found out that contrary to my belief Portuguese teenage girls were not the sluts I thought they were. Because if they were, I had no word to describe english teenage girls. As such, I have to upgrade Portuguese teenage girl status and promote english teenage girls to their new rank.

Throughout my stay in Southampton (already in its third year) my night outs, lately for night running, I could only confirm this fact. Girls basically undress to go to the pubs or clubs, at a temperature that might scratch the zero degrees to have [a lot of] drinks and who knows what else. Never had I seen teenagers shaking on the street due to the cold, undressed and standing on their extremely high and shaky high heels, with enough make up that would make anyone wonder how much they spent on it.

Linus Torvalds blogs that in the US, in Halloween:

… pre-teen girls dress up (or rather, down) as sluts, because it’s the one night of the year when it’s cute to look like a under-age hooker.

In the UK, it’s hooker-night, and consequently Halloween, every single day! Never was I so worried about the raising of a child in this country. Never was I so worried about what kind of education do English parents provide kids that dress like this every single night.

Never was I so worried about not having a word to describe these girls… because hookers from where I come from, are paid!

September 29, 2008

Dimensions, a must see…

Posted in Education tagged , , , , , , , at 1:23 pm by pmatos

Sometimes, some people devote themselves to create material for others in order to educate them. Sometimes, a gem comes out… Dimensions… une promenade mathematique is one such gem. Available as a cheap DVD (which you should buy) and as a free download provides you with a very deep insight regarding some excellent and entertaining animations which educate you all the way through the dvds. (with several audio languages available and even more languages as subtitles)

Found this gem through my friend Catarina Dias, the mathematician responsible for QNED. Thank you!

I can only say that students and teachers alike have a lot to learn from this way of teaching mathematics. The chapters on dimensions (dimension 2 and 3) and on complex numbers provides numerous insights not seen elsewhere in this fashion. No book can explain you things this way, no book can provide you so much intuition in such an easy fashion.

If you always wanted to gain insight into mathematics and wished people could just upload the subject into your brain, this is as close as you’ll get to it. Entertaining, fun, educational, this is Dimensions, an awesome adventure into dimensions, complex numbers, fibrations and proof. Get it now and enjoy it with your family!

September 18, 2007

A Miracle Occurs

Posted in Education, Life at 3:48 pm by pmatos

A Miracle Occurs

May 27, 2007

Epá, já sou caloiro na faculdade, sou adulto!

Posted in Education, Portuguese at 10:07 am by pmatos

Adulto o tangas… Já me viram o que se passou em Coimbra? Ora, eu tive conhecimento através do blog QNED, e nem quis acreditar quando me apercebi sobre o que tratava o post.

Ora, eu não sei quanto a vocês, mas nisto, pelo menos, orgulho-me do Instituto Superior Técnico, onde estas brincadeiras imbecis já não existem (existem umas brincadeiras parvitas mas já nada de grave, praticadas por uma minoria de parvos).

Agora, isto atinge qualquer limite de bom senso, esses rapazinhos a que chamam doutores deviam ser bem espancados, voltar à primária, e quem sabe também lhe deviam cortar um pedacito do escroto visto tornarem-se caloiros da primária.

[ok, respira fundo... tás a escrever no teu blog...]

[inspira, expira, inspira, expira]

Ok, notem: “cortaram o escroto”, “puseram as unhas negras”, “picaram o crâneo”. Ora, se alguém me contasse eu não acreditava. Isto tem todo o ar de um filme tipo Saw. Falando a sério, isto tem dois lados muito graves, um é a de os caloiros se tentarem integrar na comunidade académica aceitando serem praxados (inclusivamente ao ponto de baixar as cuequinhas), outro é a dos veteranos que tudo são menos doutores de praticarem estes actos. Ora, estes meninos vão ser os médicos de amanhã? Mais, estes meninos não vão ser punidos? Eu acho que isto devia ser punido exemplarmente de forma a que nunca mais se voltasse a repetir. Quanto aos caloiros, por um lado sinto que foi bem feita porque só de facto, um tipo estúpido e fraco de espírito é que permite que lhe façam isto.

Quanto à punição dos veteranos, isto não devia ficar só por uma punição judicial, eles deviam ser expulsos da universidade de coimbra sem qualquer possibilidade de recurso. É uma vergonha para uma instituição de ensino superior ver os seus alunos a realizar este tipo de actos, dentro da instituição apelando à tradição académica.

Cada vez mais, quando me falam de tradição, só me apetece apertar-lhes o escroto até se rasgar, picar-lhes o crâneo com uma picareta e pegar num martelo para lhes esmagar as unhas… mas não o faço, prefiro ignorá-los e marcá-los como imbecis indefinidamente…

May 7, 2007

Mens sana in corpore sano

Posted in Education, Life at 10:49 pm by pmatos

One thing it seemed strange when I got to Southampton is that everyone does a lot of sports. Most undergraduate (and even postgraduates), male and female alike, go to the gym regularly or are part (some of them do a lot of sports at the same time) of any of the dozens of available societies. You go to the gym and you do seem very unfit. Girls and guys working out daily with fabulous bodies and running miles and miles like they’re running away from the devil. On the other hand, Southampton tops a lot of other Universities in the world regarding, at least, Electronics & Computer Science and Mathematics.

However, this seems to be part of the UK student culture. A book from the 19th century, specifically 1890, called “Four Years in an English University” by S. Satthianadhan tells Indian students what life in Cambridge, UK was all about. This part is of interest:

A Cantab [from the medieval Latin from Cambridge] never fails to take his two hours’ exercise per diem in one way or another. Seldom does one find a student in his rooms in the afternoon, however passionately fond of study he may be. One who does so and keeps to his books the whole day long will be looked upon as an abnormal character and be snubbed by the other students of the College. Mens sana in corpore sano, — a sound mind in a sound body, — is a maxim of universal and practical application. These young Englishmen, who pay as much attention to their bodily as to their mental development, are in no way worse off as students. These men, who can walk twelve miles a day or row sixteen, without being tired in the least are just as hard-working as the German students; and it is these strong, healthy, muscular, young men who turn out Wranglers and First Class Classics.

If there is one lesson which our students in India must learn from English students, it is this — to pay as great attention to their bodily as to their mental development.

You can find this cited in “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, Robert Kanigel. For a description of Wranglers and First Class Classic search for “Tripos”, or wait for my next post.

In fact, although the book is more than a century old, this cultural habit of body development is still active today. However, I should add a short note (even though this subject deserves a post by itself) that Portuguese male students should not confuse body development with spending a whole afternoon playing football and female students should understand that body development is not make-up and high heels.

April 7, 2007

Sócrates… o nosso Primeiro Ministro

Posted in Dia-a-Dia, Education, Portuguese at 10:30 am by pmatos

Já aqui tinha falado do que penso sobre títulos. Logo, aqui também se aplica, e muito feliz fiquei por verificar que existem outros [aqui e aqui] a pensar nos mesmos moldes que eu. É inadmissível que num país com tantas lacunas, tantas falhas e tantos problemas, andem agora a perder tempo a discutir se o Sócrates é Engenheiro ou não! A questão é, governa bem ou não governa bem? O resto não interessa. Até podia ser papa… se não governasse bem nós não o quereríamos para Primeiro Ministro [acho eu!].

Assim sendo, repito aquilo que o Paulo Vilela já disse e muito bem: “vamos acabar com os senhores doutores e os senhores engenheiros. Vamos todos ser senhores ou senhoras. Ou Paulos, Manuelas, Josés, Carlas, Joaquins. Vamos ser mais competentes, e menos pretenciosos.”

March 8, 2007

Scheme Education @ Portugal

Posted in Education, Programming, Scheme at 1:27 pm by pmatos

This post was triggered by the following comment to a recent post:

I’m a student at Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto, and this first semester, year 1, we’ve studied the Scheme language. My personal opinion is that it is a bit useless and it lacks power. It cannot be compared with python,C,C++,Java.. It is nice for those learning the logic of programing, but, for real development, I think it is really a weak language!
But, anyway, this is just my opinion, try it out :D .

This is a comment from a 1st year, 1st semester student from a highly regarded university in Portugal, where has been common to teach the fundamentals of programming using the Scheme programming language. Having to teach it a couple of times I’ve had many students and I’ve known many teachers. It all comes down to what someone (I shall not name him, since I was not able to find his exact quote on my mail archives) told me once:

The problem with Scheme education is not about bad students. It’s about bad teachers.

I cannot agree more. Most of the student end with this tendency to say that Scheme is a practically useless, weak and nothing more than a pedagogical programming language. This is definitely sad! And this is the tendency that I tried to fight while teaching students because above all, we are not trying to teach students the Scheme Programming Language (or PLT-Scheme , which is what we use), we try to teach programming concepts and use scheme as a tool. We use about 1% of PLT-Scheme to teach these concepts (in fact, we don’t need PLT-Scheme at all… it’s all too powerful, an R5RS compliant interpreter would be enough). I have to stick with the curriculum, no matter what I think about it.

Even though some students might, or not, go through the subject successfully, the problem is that even those that go through it successfully easily lose any kind of interest in the Scheme Programming Language not only because they don’t know much of what the language is able to offer but also because their subject project doesn’t allow them to expand their knowledge about the language and even the teachers tell them Scheme is useless. And teachers tell them Scheme is useless because they incorrectly think it is useless.

In Portugal, as in many other countries, there are lectures (what in Portugal we call “Theoretical classes”) and labs (the so called “Practica/Laboratory classes”) and even though we have very good teachers in lectures, when students need to choose upon going to lectures or labs 95% will prefer to attend labs and miss the lectures. Missing the lectures means missing what good teachers can teach us and instead be in a lab with (many times) a moron dictating how to solve exam exercises and inventing bullshit regarding everything else. In the University of Southampton you have to attend short courses to be able to work as a demonstrator in a lab or even to teach small groups of people and then you’ll only be able to teach things you are used to work with!

Many Scheme teachers (in Portugal and more specifically @ Instituto Superior Tecnico) are people that just like their students left the subject of Programming Fundamentals teaching that Scheme sucks and that’s what they’re teaching their students. It’s impossible to teach something you don’t like, I know that, I had already to teach  something I didn’t like and something I was not really at ease with it. When this happens, things go wrong!

Scheme teaching should motivate students to understand not only the programming concepts but also the language itself  (in this case PLT-Scheme, since R5RS is just too restrictive to be considered a real language, instead it is just a framework to build a greater language). Even though schedules are tight, PLT-Scheme knowledge could come from its use in worksheets to be done at home introducing language aspects like modules, web programming, system programming, GUI programming, shell scripting, etc all possible within PLT-Scheme). Students love this! What students despise is having to find a way to implement a function generating an iterative process given a function which implements a recursive process. But this is important! But if they have to learn this, teachers might as well find a way to sweet student fingertips by making them play with stuff that’s appealing. Otherwise they see PHP for web programming, C for systems programming, C++ or Java or anything for object, GUI, etc… and still think that Scheme is useful for teaching how to implement a function computing the factorial and which generates an iterative process. What they don’t know is that Scheme is also useful to work with other problems… real problems…

In the end it all comes to down to who’s teaching students… if they think Scheme is useless… students will think Scheme is useless… and worst, will later teach their students of Scheme uselessness. I, on the other hand, had a the best teacher one could have at that subject.

February 28, 2007

Fortune of the Day

Posted in Education, Fortune at 11:42 am by pmatos

After some time without a decent quote around here…

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
– Albert Einstein

January 17, 2007

Doutores, Professores, Engenheiros…

Posted in Dia-a-Dia, Education, Portuguese at 11:32 pm by pmatos

Em Portugal existem Doutores, Professores ou Engenheiros… para além destes existem os bestas!

Temos os tipos que trabalham em construção civil à 500 anos, e que apesar de não terem curso, são os engenheiros… temos os tipos com 4 ou 5 cursos que nunca conseguiram emprego, mas dão explicações, logo… são os Professores… e ainda me lembra de ter que chamar Doutora à assistente dos servições de acção social da UTL e é se queria receber bolsa!

Esta cultura tem consequências… uma grave é a relação aluno/docente que não é alterada como consequência de Bolonha ou de outras alterações que possam ocorrer no ensino. Tem de ser alterada, isso sim, a mentalidade. Tanto dos alunos como dos docentes. Acho piada por vezes aos meus alunos que cada vez que me enviam um email a pedir ajuda, mesmo depois de me ter afastado do técnico, este inicia-se com “Caro Professor Doutor Paulo Matos,”. A primeira coisa que me ocorre é: “Este está mesmo a precisar de ajuda…” pois parece que a única outra opção que tinha é começar a disparatar e chamar-me nomes menos bonitos como : “Óh sua besta,”.
A verdade é que nenhuma das formas me parece correcta. Primeiro, não sou Doutor, segundo, não sou Professor e também não me parece que seja uma besta. No entanto, percebo ambos os lados. Infelizmente do lado do aluno é mais seguro chamar todos os prefixos de “enfiada” do que falhar um e não receber uma resposta positiva. Por outro lado, os docentes quando recebem tais emails receiam que mais à vontade com os alunos lhes permita que estes os desrespeitem. Isto porque a ideia é… quantos mais prefixos tiver, mais respeitado sou. Basta verificar que se me identificar como Engenheiro Paulo Matos tenho um tratamento diferente perante quaisquer serviços do que se me identificar por Paulo Matos. Bom, verdade se diga, é que nem Engenheiro sou pois segundo parece este título se restringe àqueles que suportam a Ordem, o que não é o meu caso!

Acontece que esta distânciação e esta necessidade de títulos para a pessoa poder ser respeitada é uma falsidade. Muito espantado fiquei eu com a relação aluno/docente existente aqui em Southampton, seja Professor com 30, 40 ou 50 anos, seja aluno de licenciatura, mestrado ou doutoramento todos felizmente temos um nome e tratamo-nos todos pelo nome que nos foi atribuido. As relações correm da melhor forma e ninguém se desrespeita pois todos conhecem o seu lugar. Em Portugal, se um docente sonhar em permitir que um aluno lhe chame pelo nome está a permitir por pouco que este lhe dê um carolo… ora, a questão está na mentalidade. Todos nós temos que nos respeitar. Infelizmente esta necessidade de títulos está enraizada na nossa sociedade e aquele que não tiver um título pode ir apodrecer no canto mais escuro do inferno porque é um zé-ninguém.

Agora, não estou com isto a dizer que por vezes não seja conveniente usar o título que a pessoa possui por uma razão de cordialidade, tal como vestimos um smoking para nos encontrarmos apresentáveis para uma festa importante. Não é, no entanto, necessário que tal referência seja regular, obcessiva, maníaca ou exagerada. O que leva a que as coisas corram bem é sim o respeito mútuo que devemos ter para com todos, seja um amigo, um conhecido, um docente, um Professor Catedrático, um administrativo ou a porteira do prédio.

Infelizmente, a sociedade não se modifica com posts, nem com discursos… nem sequer tentarei argumentar como se modifica uma sociedade, no entanto, penso que devemos todos ter em conta que respeito nada tem a ver com títulos, e quanto a mim, muito gosto do nome que minha mãe me deu. Obrigado Mãe!

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