Saturday, July 26, 2008

Military History

The World History Blog has found a military history site that looks pretty interesting.

The blog states that the site, Real Military Flix

...has war movies and military videos. This includes American basic training films, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq Wars, the Afghanistan War, and others. There is a clear American bias in the selections but some non-American conflicts are covered as well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Physics for Future Presidents

The web site Open Culture just posted an article on the book Physics for Future Presidents -- one of the more popular courses at UC Berkeley. You can take the actual course online (see the article for the link). Here's an interesting preview of the book:

The End of the Scientific Method?

Wired magazine has an article entitled "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete" by Chris Anderson. Everyone in the field of education ought to read it. His basic premise is that the sheer amount of data available now makes the old scientific method -- hypothesize, model, test -- rather quaint. He argues that there are no longer absolute certainties and that there are statistical and mathematical trends. Here's what he says about physics and biology:

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality. The reason physics has drifted into theoretical speculation about n-dimensional grand unified models over the past few decades (the "beautiful story" phase of a discipline starved of data) is that we don't know how to run the experiments that would falsify the hypotheses — the energies are too high, the accelerators too expensive, and so on.

Now biology is heading in the same direction. The models we were taught in school about "dominant" and "recessive" genes steering a strictly Mendelian process have turned out to be an even greater simplification of reality than Newton's laws. The discovery of gene-protein interactions and other aspects of epigenetics has challenged the view of DNA as destiny and even introduced evidence that environment can influence inheritable traits, something once considered a genetic impossibility.

In short, the more we learn about biology, the further we find ourselves from a model that can explain it.

I don't know that I fully buy into his argument, but I don't think I can discount it either. My uncertainty perhaps lies in a fear that we're all trending ourselves into oblivion, but I can also see how alleged post-scientific method age could be liberating. Fear of the unknown, I guess...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Who Hates Whom?

I'm finishing up Bob Harris' book Who Hates Whom? It's a handy little guide to global conflicts that is utterly depressing. Harris isn't an expert on any of these topics and he openly professes his reliance on others to inform him. But he does a great job of summing up the many global conflicts that we regularly ignore. He discusses all the familiar spate of killings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, but he also goes where U.S. media generally fails to go.

Here's a depressingly funny little clip that discusses what the media overlooked the day Anna Nicole Smith died.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

End of the College Lecture?

Will the traditional college lecture be a thing of the past? The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses some ideas being discussed:

Let’s take for example, the course, Introduction to Biology.

The Association of College & University Biology Educators would select 15 outstanding educators who teach Introduction to Biology. The 15 would divide “Introduction to Biology” into 15 modules, with each educator choosing to create and deliver the lecture section of two modules, so there would be two versions of each module. Instead of having just one lecturer, the student would be exposed to 15, hence the moniker, DiversiSection.

Each professor, for his or her two modules, would develop:
— mini-lectures punctuated by demonstrations
— student-immersive simulations
— remedial and enrichment supplementation
— quizzes
— sample reading list, assignments, and exams. Each institution’s academic department or an individual professor could use those or develop their own to better align the course with the professor’s or department’s preferences.

Experts in online education and in the technology of its implementation would be available for the professors to call on in developing their modules.

During DiversiSection classes, a person would be available online to answer questions in real-time.

N.B.: Discussion/seminar sections of those courses would remain in-person, as in a traditional course.

The development of DiversiSections could be funded by government, higher education consortia, the private sector, or public-private partnerships.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More On Video Games And Education

Under the heading of doing a topic to death, I ran across an ABC News article that does a pretty good job of showing the pros and cons of using video games in the classroom. The article focuses on the game Immune Attack, profiled in this very blog not long ago.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Spiritual Capitalism

Can capitalism coexist with an ethical code? There are times when I despair about that issue and in my more leftist moments, I seriously doubt this is possible. But Ode Magazine has an article called Spiritual Capitalism that outlines a relatively recent movement to reconcile the apparent conflict between doing good and doing well.

As we move into the post-Bush era and the possibilities for a post 1960s era opens up, I like the ideas presented in the article. And to be honest, I have know committed businesswomen and businessmen who are remarkably ethical individuals, entirely committed to making the world a better place. The article talks about commitment to the environment, social justice, and the like. I'm still somewhat skeptical, but this article gives me cause for hope.

The Flintstones, Sexism, and Cigarettes

I'd heard that the Flintstones had peddled cigarettes but hadn't actually seen the tv ads. Here they are in all their glory:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Geek Girls"

Being a nerd or geek used to be an exclusively male domain (at least in the popular imagination). As a recent Newsweek article points out, however, women are making a foray into that social caste. The article is interesting, but it does spend a fair amount of time focusing on this new breed of nerd and their physical appearance. As it turns out, the new geek is not socially awkward but is in fact attractive and self-confident in her embracing of techno-culture. Apparently, her archetype is Tina Fey.

What happens to the more traditional "nerdy" women (or men, for that matter)? Is this just another instance of cultural appropriation by the "in crowd"? or is it really an embrace of nerd culture? Does this mean that social awkwardness and a slightly out-of -the-mainstream appearance won't get you into the nerd clique anymore? Are we going to have to develop a new subcaste for those kids?

As someone who works with kids on a daily basis (as a father and as a teacher), I don't know what to make of the trend. Maybe it's a good thing, but maybe it's absolutely terrible. Maybe the reality lies somewhere in the middle. I feel like my head is ready to explode.