December 18, 2012, 4:17 pm

By Robert Talbert

I’m excited and happy to be teaching linear algebra again next semester. Linear algebra has it all — there’s computation that you can do by hand if you like that sort of thing, but also a strong incentive to use computers regularly and prominently. (How big is an incidence matrix that represents, say, Facebook?) There’s theory that motivates the computation. There’s computation that uncovers the theory. There’s something for everybody, and in the words of one of my colleagues, if you don’t like linear algebra then you probably shouldn’t study math at all.

Linear algebra is also an excellent place to use Peer Instruction, possibly moreso than any other sophomore-level mathematics course. Linear algebra is loaded with big ideas that all connect around a central question (whether or not a matrix is invertible). The computation is not the hard part of linear algebra — it…

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May 24, 2011, 3:19 pm

By Robert Talbert

Let me preface this article by saying that *I really like Google Documents*. It’s a fantastic set of tools that extends basic office functionality to the web in really compelling ways. I’ve been incorporating Google Docs pretty centrally in my courses for the last few years — for example, I no longer hand out paper syllabi on the first day of classes but instead write the syllabi on GDocs and distribute the links; and I’ve given final exams on Google Docs with links to data that are housed in Google Spreadsheets. I love being able to create a document on the web and *just leave it there* for students (or whoever) to come see, collaborate, and comment — without having to keep track of paper and with virtually zero chance of losing my data. (If Google crashes, we have much bigger problems than the loss of a set of quiz data.)

But like anything, Google Documents isn’t perfect — and in…

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August 4, 2010, 7:16 pm

By Robert Talbert

Image via Wikipedia

Google today announced that it will be suspending development on Google Wave, the communications tool it launched last year. Wave attracted unprecedented hype in the run-up to its launch, with Wave invites serving as a kind of geek status symbol and going for $70 on eBay. But despite the initial enthusiasm, Google reports that Wave “has not seen the user adoption we would have liked”.

I used Wave once or twice once I managed to get an invite. It was one of the most befuddling experiences I have ever had using technology. Wave was supposed to be a sort of combination instant messenger, email, and file-sharing software platform with social media inputs and outputs. But like a lot of attempts to combine existing services and solutions, instead of being “both-and”, Wave ended up being “neither-nor”…

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November 5, 2008, 1:50 pm

By Robert Talbert

1. Why is it that, in Google Spreadsheets, you can take a two-column set of numerical data and find the slope of the regresssion line for the data, you can find the y-intercept of the regression line, and you can make a scatterplot of the data — but you can’t plot the regression line on top of the scatterplot?

2. How come, in Google Documents, there’s no rudimentary equation editing? How come we can’t have a simple Equation Editor-like pallette system for mathematical typesetting, inline \(\LaTeX\) compiling (like WordPress.com blogs and Wikispaces wikis have), OpenOffice’s math typesetting syntax, or even just old-school MathML editing?

I’d be nearly ecstatic, and much more likely to actually use Google Docs for everyday purposes, if some of the smart people at Google could make either one of these two questions go away.