Not Very Notable Rambles

I originally wrote this article for Volume 120, Issue 5 of mathNEWS.

Integrating with CAS is a pain if you’re a student. Facebook Connect seems like an obvious solution, but some students may be turned off by the privacy implications. On the other hand, OpenID is too complicated for the average user. What do you do? Perhaps Mozilla Persona ( is the answer.

I was posting in a Facebook group the other day, and a little annotation caught my eye: “Seen by 104”. It occurred to me that most of the members in the group were lurkers. When I post, maybe five or ten people will actually respond with a comment (as opposed to just clicking ‘Like’). But those posts are probably affecting a much larger number of people. It’s hard to fathom what “Seen by 104” actually means when you don’t have those 104 people in front of your face.

Early Adopters are weird. They try new things at a whim, but they’re just as likely to stop using it on a whim if they’re not impressed. It seems like there’s nothing quite like a slightly-overbearing parent to encourage early adoption of technology X or Y in a K-12 school; after all, who would want anything less than the latest and greatest and shiniest for their offspring? What bothers me, though, is how caregivers, teachers, and parents alike will manage to provide appropriate context for all this new-fangled technology. In the age of dial-up, it was telling kids to not put their address and school on public forum posts. In the age of tablets and smartphones with apps that upload your entire contact list to a nondescript server and turn on the GPS on first run, how do we inform kids about the context in which they’re making decisions about the trade-off between privacy and utility?

Regular expressions in vim are really cool, especially when coupled with block select. I think I use them every time I write a computer program now. Granted, I should really set up autoindent…

There’s one piece of advice I got from my high-school chemistry teacher: never drop a course. If you feel like you’re failing; take a look around. Chances are, he said, your classmates feel like they’re failing, too, and they’re doing worse than you. Ironically, this advice is useless at face value because I’m half-Engineer – I can’t drop a course without losing that Engineering half of me. His message however, still makes sense in a greater world context: Never Give Up. See things through to the end. There’ll be ups and downs, and they will pass. If you’re feeling down: it’s okay to cry yourself to sleep; without moments like these, the good ones wouldn’t be as enjoyable. Well, I like to think that. Perhaps he just meant it literally. I think all that “critical thinking” in ENGL 108D has been getting to me.

Happy Belated Birthday to Sarah Tan! I hope that by the time this issue comes out that I actually know what your birthday present is.