10 September 2008

The blackboard of anonymous questions

There are blackboards in the common room of my department. They don't see much use.

We were joking at tea today that people ought to write problems they want solved or questions they have on the blackboard, and other people could write the answers. Surely this has been tried somewhere. How did it work?


Unknown said...

Such a board existed for a whole in Berkeley. There a few interesting problems, and more dumb jokes on it, but the whole, I wouldn't call it a rousing success.

Anonymous said...

You remember when I was there it was just the most natural thing in the world to leap to the board when we were talking, rather than try to wave my hands in midair. I'm surprised that everyone in your department doesn't do that.

At Yale you couldn't find clear space on the lounge's boards. At Tulane there was a board and there was usually something on it (though it was pretty small). Of course, here at WKU the common room looks like my grandmother's house, with outdated decor and nothing "mathy" in it at all. I'm pretty disgusted, actually.

Tyler said...

When I was a grad student at Courant, I would occasionally put up a problem, but answers were rare. I'm guessing this is because (a) it just wasn't a part of the culture there - the boards felt like they were for one-way teaching, less than communication; and (b) the janitors (or other folks?) erased most of the boards too often.

usenet (still very usable via some sites, such as google groups) is one possible way to do this online. This site isn't public yet, but there will soon be a very nice online interface like this for programmers at stackoverflow.com.

Here's an interface for sci.math.research:


Namit said...

Ummm... this was also tried in the movie "Good Will Hunting". Matt Damon is a prodigy janitor who ends up solving all the problems. Although, I think it was a blackboard for homework questions, not one for open problems.

It worked because it was a movie.

And I don't think this was quite the answer you were looking for.

Anonymous said...

Blackboards remain empty when polished, precise, insipid personnel have nothing to say. Original thoughts fit poorly within academic and industrial Korporate Kultures. Discovery is insubordinate or it would be PERT-charted and budgeted.

Delip Rao said...

Similar things were done at Caltech during the Manhattan project. It wasn't blackboards but the university coffee shop tables apparently! See the book "Brighter than a thousand suns."

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