Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reaction Time

"Watson" didn't have to push a button, a huge advantage when everyone knows the answer well before the question ends on "Jeopardy".

You could see it in real time, but I'd like to see data equivalent to what was used to determine the lock-out time for a false start in track when they shifted to electronic timing. I'd guess that "Watson" rung in at the same instant every time as it didn't have to worry about moving a finger or the delay as flesh meets button. After all, it could devote a processor to that task without any distractions from the main task at hand.

Indeed, this raises two questions about how "Jeopardy" determines when the board is open to ring in with an answer.

1) Does a human press a button, or is the end determined by an electronic sensor listening to the host's microphone? If the latter, a machine with a non-mechanical reaction time can learn to anticipate when the lights will come on.

2) Does the system lock out for a reasonable reaction time after the lights come on, the way they do for false starts in track? In track, extensive tests with world class sprinters showed that none had a reaction time less than 0.1 s, with the best around 0.12 s. Since visual responses are, reportedly, slower, does Jeopardy have a 0.2 s lockout for a valid response?

If it doesn't, "Watson" had a huge advantage.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unacceptable humor?

Comments complaining about Rudbeckia Hirta's snark about psychology and biology at her university sound like they also don't appreciate where she is on the "Purity" continuum! (And it appears that Psychology and Sociology are reversed at her university.)

They also reminded me of the kerfuffle created by the Top Gear guys being their usual selves. Complaints that their remarks were "offensive, xenophobic and humiliating" led me to say "and this is news?". Ever notice what they think of the US, particularly the southern parts of the US, and our giant cars designed to hold our giant bellies? Or what they think of France?

But back to the academic question of easy majors that drew the ire of RH's commentariot: You don't have to do much advising at my CC before you encounter students who wish there was a tool to help them select a major at Wannabe Flagship based entirely on a list of classes they don't want to take. Each time you click on the radio button next to a class, the possible majors would change. The opposite of the way we usually do advising, which is to pull up the major and tell them what they need to take next.

Their exclusion list usually starts with any math above about what I characterize as the 9th grade level (basic algebra with some inequalities, the occasional exponent but no exponential or trig functions,a few fractions, and the rules of probability), but can also include "too much reading" or "science".

The people who teach the HS-level science classes perceived as the easier choices among those that meet our liberal arts requirement have my greatest sympathy. Imagine students complaining about exponents being used to give the size or age of the universe, because there isn't supposed to be any math in the class, and you get the general idea.

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