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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Summer Reading List

Perhaps not what I should have read this summer, but what I did read this summer.

And note: when I say read, I mean primarily listened to as audio books. Does this count? Is it cheating somehow? I love audio books, but I’m not sure that they have been accepted by the mainstream as an honorable way to consume literature.

Here it is

Summer 2015 Listens:

The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein – In Progress.
This is one that I read long ago – either during high school of college, but I really wanted to share with my son. It’s a Sci-Fi story from Heinlein’s juvenile series about a pair of twins, Castor and Pollux Stone, who go rambling through the solar system with their family – a mix of cantankerous geniuses who obviously learned to converse from repeated viewings of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe.’

Compare_sun_tau_ceti

sol left, tau ceti right

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robertson – In Progress
This one I’m listening to by myself. It’s an interesting account of the last years of a many-generational space flight from Earth to Tau Ceti, a Sol-like star about 12 light years from Earth, and the first years of the colonization of Aurora, a moon orbiting a ‘SuperEarth’ planet. Interestingly, Tau Ceti is Spectral Class G like Sol, making it a popular science fiction setting (among other books, Heinlein’s ‘Time For the Stars’ also follows a colonization trip to the same system)

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

not the only problem

not the only problem

I read this when it came out. I was in college and just starting to study Biology and therefore found the book to be absolutely magnetic. I was drawn in and taken for a ride at the time. This time around I was equally drawn in to the story – Crichton is nothing, if not a page-turner. But I was also dismayed by the anti-GMO tone of the novel this time. I think a lot of solid moral arguments are made and some good (but obvious) philosophical questions brought up. However, I would be as bad as John Hammond (the park’s creator) in my zeal to clone dinosaurs if it were even remotely possible. Unfortunately, it’s not. DNA has a half-life of about 50,000 years, which means that on the outside limits, it’s probably only around for half a million years – not long enough for any dino DNA to remain.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
I have a mixed reaction to this book. On the one hand, I completely recognize that Felicia Day has worked her ass off to get where she is now. But, on the other, even if I worked equally as hard, I still would be stuck being me. Her book wants to encourage others to follow their dreams – however geeky they may be, but … really? Most of us are just lucky to have a day job that keeps us fed (…hmmm…). Nevertheless, you can only be on her side as she relates all the fun twists and turns of her life.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This was a solid geeked-out masterpiece. I think it has a pretty restricted audience of nerds born between 1968 and 1979, mostly male, middle class, computer geeks with affinities for 80s music and movies, and a history that includes many hours devoted to role playing games. Since I’m in that demographic, along with Will Wheaton (who reads this audiobook) and Chris Hardwick, I completely loved it and ‘got’ almost 100% of even the most arcane references.

Carrie by Stephen Kingcarrie-2002-720p-largescreenshot2
What the hell? I’ve seen the original film countless times and love it. I also love the recent 2002 remake with Angela Bettis (who also stars in May – also in 2002 – one of my favorite films of all time). I can’t remember if I’ve ever read this before, but there’s a good chance I did when I was in high school. Listening to Sissy Spacek read was delightfully nostalgic (Just like listening to Rosemary’s Baby as read by Mia Farrow was earlier this year) and gave me a sense of the story looping back on itself in the way that a good standup comedy routine comes back to the first jokes to ‘tie it all together’ at the end.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I wondered whether of not to read / listen to this at all. Then I debated whether it should be read or listened to. Then I decided that the only way to get through it quickly enough to not have it spoiled for me by hearing online book clubs talk about it was to listen.
When I finally did, I was at odds with myself. Initially, it took me several chapters to get into it, then I completely enjoyed the last half of the book. It will never replace Mockingbird, that book is something else entirely, but it was still good and I am happy I listened to it.Atticus, I forgive you. As much a hero as you were to all of us, you’re just a man of your time.

The Fold by Peter Clines
the Fold started strong. I immediately liked the protagonist and thought the story was incredibly interesting and well crafted. However, it did collapse into a Planet of the Apes style scrimmage at the end (maybe I mean Battle for the Planet of the Apes?) This book wanted me to like it and I wanted to like it, but in the end… meh. It was OK.

Unnatural Selection by Mark Roeder
Unlistenable.
I thought this was going to be a lot more lighthearted than it was. I stuck with it as long as possible, but just couldn’t. Thesis: We’ve gotten to a point in human history that being a jock is less likely to make you a success than being a geek. Surprise. (by the way, I have a hard time imagining that the geeks are out competing the jocks genetically – but that’s like comparing the geek’s (K reproductive strategy) to the jock’s (r reproductive strategy). There – I made the book better than it was already.

The Unwelcome Guest by Scott Meyer
Last of the trilogy of another set of geek fantasy novels (see how I self-identify?) Again, this was great. Each book in the Meyer’s trilogy: Off to be the Wizard and Spell of High Water was unique and delightful. Be sure you’re in the same demographic as Cline’s Ready Player One, but it you are, this is a trifecta.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Good. Typical Stephen King. I liked it plenty, but I don’t think it’s a favorite that I’ll be coming back to time and again.

Reads:
Ha! Not much:
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
This is one of King’s own favorite books, written early in his career, when he was probably still worried about being a flash in the pan. I’m hovering near the end of this book. It’s a great read, but I have just run out of steam for it myself. I’m hoping that I’ll finish it in the next push though.

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcockelric_is_watching_you_by_bowie_spawan
Again, something I read in high school that I often think about. Moorcock forces you to identify with a tortured soul that you have nothing in the world in common with. He then builds up a world of pain and harshness around this character and then makes you watch as he torments his protagonist. Published as a single book in 1972 (books are collections of short stories published elsewhere), it feels even older and probably influenced a hell of a lot of fantasy books and film that came after it. I’m not sure how much I like the Elric Saga, but I find it ever-present in my mind. I guess I’m fascinated with it, like it or not.

What have you read this summer?

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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Finally: Basketball made interesting

I’ve never been much of a basketball fan. When I was in college I got behind my team (the Blue Hens) for two of their best seasons on record (1992 and 1993). It was easy to be a fan because I was going to UD at the time, which meant that we got free (?) or at least heavily discounted tickets – and all my friends were doing it, so …

bridge

However, youtube has actually turned me on to a couple brilliant uses for the sport. First, the simple one: Who doesn’t like watching what happens when you drop something mundane from a very high place?

I don’t actually know if this shot really merited a world record – although, really, how could it not? But it’s certainly fun to watch:

However, here’s where things get interesting. You’re all set to make the shot (drop, whatever) and you put a little spin on it. Natural enough. Enter the Magnus Effect:

Applying the Magnus effect to baseball demonstrates how the spin of a fastball affects its trajectory:

From Michael Richmond of RIT.edu, the horizontal flight path of a baseball with or without spin (in this case a 2200 RPM backspin)

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 12.00.47 PM

From the website of Michael Richmond: “The effect of air on baseball pitches”

Turning up the backspin to 3500RPM, the ball assumes a flat path ( actually rising in height as it approaches the plate.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 12.03.20 PM

Ahh. Physics.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Post Brand Positioning Seminar

I attended a great Brand Positioning seminar today held at the Enterprise Center of Johnson County. Today’s speaker was Grant Gooding of Proof Positioning. Let’s drop a cliche here: It was an engaging and informative talk delivered by an excellent speaker.

I knew I was out of my neck of the woods when I overheard a discussion behind me where one person lamented, “It’s not that the money is going away … I guess it’s just converting into equity.”

Most people I know don’t talk that way. Or perhaps I just spend my money on the wrong things.

Probably the most interesting point made was distinguishing between business decisions and brand decisions. Much of the rest of the talk was distilled here into the idea that we make a lot of decisions every day about our companies. Some of these are clearly Business Decisions – those intended to maximize margins in the short term. Some are clearly Brand Decisions – those that are intended to build the brand regardless of short term margins. (note: I’m paraphrasing these definitions here. I don’t want to give short shrift to Grant.)

95797955-1-207x300As examples, he focused on two companies: Starbucks and Tylenol.

With respect to Tylenol, the cyanide poisonings of 1982. I remember this well. These poisonings came about a month before Halloween and pretty much put an end to the holiday that year. By the way, guess how many people have even been poisoned by Halloween Candy?

Why bring up Tylenol’s troubled past? Because of the way that, then Johnson and Johnson CEO, James Burke, handled the crisis. From Time Magazine‘s article on the occasion of his death, “Under Burke’s leadership, the company spent $100 million to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol and re-launched the product two months later in tamper-proof packaging.” Burke’s actions, which looked to be devastating to the company at the time, won him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

How about that? A brand decision so good that President Clinton awards you the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Slam dunk.

A second example, which is totally appropriate to bring up now, because I’m sitting in one, is Starbucks. To paraphrase again, What did the decision to put a drive thru on a Starbucks have on their brand? What defines the Starbucks brand? The coffee – or the experience? Perhaps putting Starbucks cups in the hands of half the population is great for advertising, but what does it do to the experience?

It doesn’t look like there is much room for the ‘Starbucks Experience’ in this building:

2014_03_2014_0324_starbucks

Would you like an authentic coffeehouse experience with that, sir?

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Holy Smoke: PiL at the Troc

Johnny Lydon

Johnny Lydon

It looks like Johnny Rotten had to sit down through this one. But give the guy a break, he’s nearly 60 and it’s not like he’s treated his body like the temple that other aging rockers like Keith Richards have.

The new Public Image Limited release “Double Trouble” from their album ‘What the World needs Now’ rages against the unreliability of  appliances and a general distaste for cuddling.

If you’re in Philadelphia, get your tickets to see them at the Troc on November 11, you lucky dogs.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 7.10.30 PM

Hey, I could be wrong…

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Vaccines

To all my former students (as well as everyone else who reads this blog): please check out “Vaccines” a PBS documentary about the challenges faced by society revolving around maintaining society’s immunity against a number of vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines airs on PBS stations on August 26th at 9pm. You can also watch the film online here.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Cover Design: The New Yorker vs Text

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 8.24.57 AM

The online periodical, Medium, takes a clear look at Magazine covers over the decades. In most cases these have morphed from simple illustrations to glaringly sexualized images crowded with eye-grabbing text.

One standout: The New Yorker

It’s true, The New Yorker’s covers have changed little since its introduction in 1925 with dandy Eustace Tilly examining a butterfly through his monocle.

1925 Cover Illustration: "Original New Yorker cover" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Original_New_Yorker_cover.png#/media/File:Original_New_Yorker_cover.png

1925 Cover Illustration

As a long-time subscriber, I’m particularly fond of The New Yorker.  My son has taken to examining their beautifully witty cover illustrations to try to extract all the meaning from each – a great exercise in art, current events, and history.

Inside,  its longer articles actually do go ‘beyond the headlines‘ – not just claim to. On the pages, surrounded by the wrapping text of the articles are the cartoons and incidental illustrations that may or may not have any bearing on the stories themselves.

Not to steal any of the impact from Karen Cheng and Jerry Gabra’s Medium article, I present three New Yorker covers highlighting clever takes on the news from the past several years:

The death of Steve Jobs

The death of Steve Jobs

Anthony's Weiner

Anthony’s Weiner

Debating an Empty Chair

Debating an Empty Chair

References

  1. The Evolution of Magazine Covers: https://medium.com/@karenxcheng/the-evolution-of-magazine-covers-d55514210a57
  2. New Yorker Cover Illustration: “Original New Yorker cover” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Original_New_Yorker_cover.png#/media/File:Original_New_Yorker_cover.png
 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

It’s amazing how difficult it is to get students to define a ‘fact’

ThumbTacksOver the years, I’ve found this idea to be much more slippery than I would have ever expected prior to teaching. As a biology teacher, these distinctions are incredibly important – along with the constant reminder that even ‘facts’ are slippery, changing things. Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA offers, in her recent Edutopia article, ways to establish rules for discussion.

Her article approaches this problem broadly by establishing a number of steps. Here, I focus on just two:

From “Fact, Feeling, and Argument: Helping Students Tell the Difference

Require Evidence

Even when you are discussing hot topic issues, make sure that evidence is required. This is a classroom, not a session of psychotherapy (although it can sometimes feel like that). When discussing particularly dicey issues, remember the importance of citing evidence for every declarative statement.

Explore the Difference Between Fact, Feeling, and Argument

Each about these three concepts and instill argument skills in your students to equip them with the abilitiy to “defend” each.

For example, ask questions to clarify if the student is asserting a fact, a feeling or an argument. How do we know it is a fact? A fact is a specific detail based on an objective truth. A feeling or an opinion is a value judgement that can neither be proven nor disproven. An argument is a way to utilize facts to validate your opinions, it can be considered a fact-filled opinion.

One major difference I see between our views is the ‘provability’ and implied ‘immutability’ of facts. As I said above, I see ‘facts’ as conclusion about evidence as we see it today. I think she has a more absolute view of facts than this.

Galaxies, galaxies everywhere - as far as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope can see. This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years. The snapshot includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes, and colours. The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies - the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals - thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old. In vibrant contrast to the rich harvest of classic spiral and elliptical galaxies, there is a zoo of oddball galaxies littering the field. Some look like toothpicks; others like links on a bracelet. A few appear to be interacting. These oddball galaxies chronicle a period when the universe was younger and more chaotic. Order and structure were just beginning to emerge. The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through a 2.5 metre-long soda straw. In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image. In this image, blue and green correspond to colours that can be seen by the human eye, such as hot, young, blue stars and the glow of Sun-like stars in the disks of galaxies. Red represents near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, such as the red glow of dust-enshrouded galaxies. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days,

Galaxies, galaxies everywhere – as far as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope can see. This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

As an example of what I mean by this:

Prior to Edwin Hubble’s examination of the Andromeda Nebula, no galaxies outside of the Milky Way were known. So, in the early 20th century, one could state as a fact that the Milky Way was the extent of the (at least matter-filled) universe. Today, we see this ‘fact’ as dated and supplanted by more recent evidence.

However, our solution is the same: Require Evidence.

I’m thinking specifically about discussions that emanated either from our reading of Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” or just the way that I commonly discuss molecular biology, which adheres pretty closely to Theodosius Dobzhansky’s central thesis from, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The American Biology Teacher, March 1973:

Are theological principles facts? What about when they are brought up in the classroom as alternative “theories” of life? Interestingly, when I’ve asked for support for these ideas, I’ve been presented with Ken Ham‘s extensive publications for ‘Answers in Genesis.’

Honestly, I could have gone on all semester with this discussion if I had the time for it. This student introduced such a cornucopia of ideas to run with:

  • What is a reliable source?
  • What is good science?
  • What is evidence?
  • How do we interpret evidence?
  • How do we compare or decide between competing interpretations of the same data?

My head almost exploded in excitement about getting down to brass tacks. Fortunately or unfortunately, these ideas have been discussed ad nauseam over the years. On the one hand, a wealth of data was easily found to support or refute any number of claims, on the other, it was impossible for this discussion to ever find new ground.

In the end, we discussed evolution and creation for longer than I think is strictly appropriate in a science classroom, but I felt the conversation was justified in the sense that my students could benefit more from learning about how science is done than they could from knowing details of Kreb’s Cycle (but don’t worry, I taught that too).

If any of you reading this are teachers, have you had these conversations before (not necessarily about evolution, but just about separating opinions from theories, and how to form valid and true arguments, etc. )? If so, please let me know here what you discussed and how it went. I’d love to hear others’ experiences.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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