kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/28/13 - 5/5/13

## Friday, May 3, 2013

### Monty and the pigeon

I remember, back when Carolyn J. & I first started writing the original Kitchen Table Math, the Monty Hall problem coming up. I had never heard of it.

I think I remember, too, saying a couple of times, on the blog, that I came away from writing Animals in Translation thinking birds might just be as smart as people, or smarter. I didn't want to think that, particularly; How smart are birds, anyway? wasn't the topic of the book, which was mostly about mammals, not birds. But every time Temple told me a bird story, I would think hmmmmm.

The crow-and-the-rifle story, about a crow repeatedly taunting a rancher, has never left me.

So naturally, when I saw "Pigeons, Humans, and the Monty Hall Dilemma," I had to look.
The Monty Hall Dilemma is a probability puzzle that is notorious for eliciting suboptimal decisions from humans. A participant is given a choice from among three doors, one of which conceals a valuable prize. After an initial selection, one of the remaining, nonwinning doors is opened, and the participant is given a chance to switch to the other unopened door. The probability of winning is higher if the participant switches. Pigeons maximize their wins by switching on virtually all trials of a Monty Hall Dilemma analogue, whereas humans utilize a suboptimal strategy involving probability matching. Possible reasons for the difference between these two species’ performance are considered.

Pigeons, Humans, and the Monty Hall Dilemma by Walter T. Herbranson Current Directions in Psychological Science 2012 21: 297
No time to read or even skim --- but looking forward.

## Tuesday, April 30, 2013

### 1974 parody of college freshman writing

I'm on the home stretch! Four more chapters of Debbie's wonderful book, and we're there.

In the meantime, here's a 1974 parody of college freshman writing that contains not a single grammatical error, dangling modifier, comma splice, or sentence beginning with some variant of "In the report it stated." Apparently bad freshman writing in 1974 was quite a bit less bad than bad student writing in 2013.

For the record, I think it's rude to call student writing "intellectually vacuous trash."
[I wrote this parody of a freshman theme to preservemy sanity while struggling to read a batch of themes during one Christmas holiday. The lesson here may be that if we continue assigning themes on such impossible topics as friendship, love, or wisdom, we deserve to get the intellectually vacuous trash that students write for us.]

FRIENDSHIP
WALTER S. MINOT

Statement of Intent: My purpose in this theme is to define very specifically the real meaning of true friendship.

In today's modern world, true friendship is very rare and hard to accomplish. Webster defines friendship as the state or fact of being friends. Thus it can be easily seen that in order for friendship to have a state of existence there must be friends, because without friends there would be no friendship.

True friendship denotes more than just being friendly with someone. We are amicable with many people who are not really true friends. This is not true friendship. Truly real friendship happens only when two people are really true friends. In order to have a friend, you must be a friend first, or you won't have any friends. Everyone needs a friend, or his or her life will be very alienated.

A friend is a person who helps you up when you are down. You may have many but can have a few true friends. A friend is someone who acquaintances, you only  will continue being your friend even if you do something bad to him. He will adhere to you through thick and thin, through rain or shine. If you took your best friend's girl away from him, he would still be your friend.

On mutual respect is based true friendship. A good example of this is the friendship between Allen Whitehall and Robert Epstein. If Al needed a dime to buy flowers for his widowed mother who has arthritis and Bob had a dime, he would give it to him no matter what the cost of the personal sacrifice.

As I have shown, true friendshipis the greatest thing anyone can have. Without friends, no man can stand alone. I can only finalize my definition with these words:

True friendship is eternal and it should last a lifetime.

Gannon College Erie, Pa.

College Composition and Communication, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 1974), p. 154