Using the Khan Academy to Vet Online Panhandlers

I'm a huge fan of the Khan Academy (and if you haven't yet watched Salman's presentation at TED2011 you should go do that). I'm involved (slightly) in an effort to bring Khan Academy instruction to a local school district and have a standing offer to "coach" participants. Today, though, I found a use for the Khan Academy site probably doesn't endorse: dealing with online panhandlers.

Before today I'd never seen an IRC panhandler, email sure, but never IRC. This morning, though, someone wandered into #mercurial asking for money to renew a domain. Most people ignored the request since it's grossly inappropriate in a software development work space, but I offered the kid the money if he'd do algebra problems on the Khan Academy site.

We dropped into a private chat and with a mixture of whining and negotiation struck upon a deal wherein he'd do some math and I'd paypal him a few bucks. The whole exchange was silly and I got nothing out of it except a blog entry, but the math did serve some small purpose: it made sure the exchange took time and attention for long enough to not be something that the kid could be simultaneously working in multiple other channels at the same time. Also who doesn't need to known mean, median, and mode.

The Khan Academy coach interface provided me real-time feedback on the problems, including seconds spent on each, what they were, and how he answered. He might have been plugging them into Wolfram Alpha or asking in another IRC channel, but I didn't get that sense, and the time consumed would be the same either way.

Khan Academy coach interface

Surprisingly, further chat proved out the details in the initial pitch. The domain is now registered through 2014 and hosts a nice blog. Whois info, blog identity, and paypal address all align with a Florida teen. Not that I would have cared if it was a gold farmer in China -- though their thirteen year olds can do algebra.

Other kids: For the record, I'm not interesting in giving you money for math, or anything else, but if you add ry4an at as a coach on Khan Academy I'm happy to help with math.

Below are some of the choice parts from the full chat transcript:

<Kid> it just brings me to the homepage,
<Ry4an> I don't know what to say.  That's a popular website and logins
    should work from anywhere.  When you figure out how to login ping me again
    and we can do this.
<Kid> Dude...can i do somthing else? This is not working...and i really need
    the money. :(
<Ry4an> no.  Figure out how to login to khan academy and we'll talk.
<Kid> And if we start it, can i get 10 i know its legit?
<Kid> ?
<Kid> its working now.
<Kid> hello?
<Kid> ??
<Kid> you there?
<Kid> ??
<Kid>  didnt leave did you? :(
<Ry4an> yeah, I'm here, and no.  Do it and I'll pay you.
<Kid> do i know its legit? Can i get 5 that i know its
    legit? Please?
<Kid> ?
<Ry4an> No.  I'm not getting anything out of this.  I'm given you
    a relatively easy way to make $20.  Take it or walk.
<Kid> Okay...but some of these i dont know.

including a free grammar lesson:

<Kid> im doing good.
<Ry4an> yah, 6 for 6 so far
<Ry4an> (though it's doing "well"; "doing" is a verb)
<Kid> man.
<Kid> i clicked the wrong one
<Kid> do i got to do it all over?
<Ry4an> ouch.  I hate it when stuff like that happens.
<Kid> can i redo it? the streak?
<Ry4an> passing means a 10-in-a-row streak, so it's going to keep asking you
    questions until 10 in a row are right.

checking on a wrong answer:

<Ry4an> do you understand what the median of (6,1,1,1,5,1,7,8) was supposed to be?
<Kid> yea
<Kid> 3
<Ry4an> cool, just making sure.
<Kid> thankssss
<Ry4an> np

the end:

<Ry4an> I'm going to post this to my blog w/ your name/info removed.
    Do you mind?
<Kid> brother wants to know if he can do it for 20?
<Kid> please?
<Ry4an> no.  That was a one time thing.  Also, don't panhandle in
    #mercurial.  They'll not take kindly to that.
<Kid> Okayy.