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You actually do need to know things..... - Input Junkie
December 19th, 2010
12:14 pm

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You actually do need to know things.....
I've long been annoyed with "You don't need to know things, you just need to know where to look them up".

It's a half truth, and I think of google as the larger part of my brain, but I also think you need to know a lot of specific stuff to know what things mean rather than just repeating the common opinion, and sometimes the specific thing you need to know is sufficiently weird that I'm not sure what you'd need to know to look it up.

It turns out that in ngrams, if you see a sudden rise around 1800 of a word containing s, it may be because the long s (which mercifully looks like an f) went out of fashion.

I need to come up with a button slogan about the world being made of details. And maybe something about chaos, because you never know when a detail will affect or be connected to something unlikely.

Only vaguely related, but I find it satisfying that it gets colder on clear nights because more heat leaks out into space-- there isn't usually such a direct and obvious connection between something which can be felt and the larger universe.

There used to be a magazine called Lingua Franca which reported on various aspects of academe, and I miss it tremendously. One of the articles was "Atlas Shrugged", about the ability to perform searches on vast amounts of geographic data combined with uncertainty about how carefully the data was collected.

See this from thnidu about just how low quality the ngram hits can be from early books.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/451237.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:jim_p
Date:December 19th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
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It's a half truth, and I think of google as the larger part of my brain, but I also think you need to know a lot of specific stuff to know what things mean rather than just repeating the common opinion, and sometimes the specific thing you need to know is sufficiently weird that I'm not sure what you'd need to know to look it up.

I've only recently realized that part of the reason I had such a hard time at MIT (and Akamai) was that at times I was so confused I didn't even know what *questions* to ask... so helpful offers of "Just ask for help" were of little use to me
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From:richardthinks
Date:December 19th, 2010 09:38 pm (UTC)
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"if you don't know, just ask" is the most frustrating piece of advice ever - especially because it usually comes in exasperated tones, from someone who realises belatedly that you weren't following them. Even Donald Rumsfeld did better than that, with his speech about the things we know we don't know, and the things we don't know we don't know.
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From:womzilla
Date:December 19th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
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Last year I posted about my searches into the word "falutin'" (as in, "high-falutin'"); I commented then on pre-1800 uses of the word "saluting" being mis-OCRed into "falutin" or "faluting".
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From:thnidu
Date:December 22nd, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
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If you really want to see professional linguists dig into the fallacies of those google n-grams, try this thread in the archives of the American Dialect Society discussion list. The top-line "right-arrowhead lightbulb" icon button takes you to the next post in the thread. I count the thread as 31 messages long, starting Dec. 17 through the latest post on Dec. 20.
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From:orawnzva
Date:December 23rd, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
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I would say this: It may be enough to be able to look things up at need, but it is not enough to know where to look things up. You need to know how to look things up — which search systems to ask, what to ask them, how to tell when you've found what you're looking for, and how to interpret what you find. This is one of those Big Things that we should be teaching our kids in school these days, because it's going to be the foundation of much of their knowledge. I know that there's a lot that I don't know about how to do some kinds of scholarly research, and it's holding me back a little in grad school.

As a techno-futurist, think of it this way: Even without direct neural interfaces, people in the developed world today are already cyborgs, plugged into the internet through our senses, just as our ancestors were plugged into books through their senses. But a connection is not enough, you need software that implements an appropriate protocol and can drive the interface so that it actually does what it's supposed to do. Installing good network data service device drivers in our kids' brains should be a primary goal of modern schooling.
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From:orawnzva
Date:December 23rd, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
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And of course, it's not (as I may have implied) one Big Thing — in order to get deeper into a domain on your own, you need to have a foundation in it, which means specific knowledge.

The original claim is also true in the restricted sense that asking students to regurgitate the kinds of things that can easily be looked up, from memory and under time pressure, is not an effective way to assess their intellectual development.
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