Monthly Archives: December 2014

For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/26/2014

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1. Hacking The President’s DNA

More to the point, consider that the DNA of world leaders is already a subject of intrigue. According to Ronald Kessler, the author of the 2009 book In the President’s Secret Service, Navy stewards gather bedsheets, drinking glasses, and other objects the president has touched—they are later sanitized or destroyed—in an effort to keep would‑be malefactors from obtaining his genetic material. (The Secret Service would neither confirm nor deny this practice, nor would it comment on any other aspect of this article.) And according to a 2010 release of secret cables by WikiLeaks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directed our embassies to surreptitiously collect DNA samples from foreign heads of state and senior United Nations officials. Clearly, the U.S. sees strategic advantage in knowing the specific biology of world leaders; it would be surprising if other nations didn’t feel the same.

While no use of an advanced, genetically targeted bio-weapon has been reported, the authors of this piece—including an expert in genetics and microbiology (Andrew Hessel) and one in global security and law enforcement (Marc Goodman)—are convinced we are drawing close to this possibility. Most of the enabling technologies are in place, already serving the needs of academic R&D groups and commercial biotech organizations. And these technologies are becoming exponentially more powerful, particularly those that allow for the easy manipulation of DNA.

2. How To Teach All Students To Think Critically

The problem is that critical thinking is the Cheshire Cat of educational curricula – it is hinted at in all disciplines but appears fully formed in none. As soon as you push to see it in focus, it slips away.

If you ask curriculum designers exactly how critical thinking skills are developed, the answers are often vague and unhelpful for those wanting to teach it.

This is partly because of a lack of clarity about the term itself and because there are some who believe that critical thinking cannot be taught in isolation, that it can only be developed in a discipline context – after all, you have think critically about something.

So what should any mandatory first year course in critical thinking look like? There is no single answer to that, but let me suggest a structure with four key areas:

1. Argumentation
Arguing, as opposed to simply disagreeing, is the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and an opponent with the intention of developing a position justified by rational analysis and inference.

2. Logic
People generally speak of formal logic – basically the logic of deduction – and informal logic – also called induction. Deduction is most of what goes on in mathematics or Suduko puzzles and induction is usually about generalising or analogising and is integral to the processes of science.

3. Psychology
We are masses of cognitive biases as much as we are rational beings. This does not mean we are flawed, it just means we don’t think in the nice, linear way that educators often like to think we do.

4. The nature of science.
Learning about what the differences are between hypotheses, theories and laws, for example, can help people understand why science has credibility without having to teach them what a molecule is, or about Newton’s laws of motion.

3. David Foster Wallace And The Nature Of Fact

Before he sat down with the best tennis player on the planet for a noonday interview in the middle of the 2006 Wimbledon fortnight, David Foster Wallace prepared a script. Atop a notebook page he wrote, “R.Federer Interview Qs.” and below he jotted in very fine print 13 questions. After three innocuous ice breakers, Wallace turned his attention to perhaps the most prominent theme in all his writing: consciousness. Acknowledging the abnormal interview approach, Wallace prefaced these next nine inquires with a printed subhead: “Non-Journalist Questions.” Each interrogation is a paragraph long, filled with digressions, asides, and qualifications; several contain superscripted addendums.  In short, they read like they’re written by David Foster Wallace. He asks Roger Federer if he’s aware of his own greatness, aware of the unceasing media microscope he operates under, aware of his uncommon elevation of athletics to the level of aesthetics, aware of how great his great shots really are. Wallace even wrote, “How aware are you of the ballboys?” before crossing the question out.

“I’m not a journalist—I’m more like a novelist with a tennis background.” Wallace had a history of anti-credentialing himself both in person and in print, and while this reportorial and rhetorical maneuver may have disarmed sources it also created a calculus for Wallace to write under.[i] He saw clear lines between journalists and novelists who write nonfiction, and he wrestled throughout his career with whether a different set of rules applied to the latter category.[ii]

4. Dear Kids

The idea that there is anything especially bad about 2014 is temporal narcissism. We just live in an age of countless opinions. We are just starting to get used to it, this idea that we can document everything. We can document it but we can’t begin to interpret or understand it.

You are two sweet, small people with oval faces. How do I prepare you for what’s coming? This week: An angry, mentally unstable man shot two policemen in their cars in a kind of retaliation for the strangulation of a man by police many months before. Some people blame the Mayor, who worries that his black son will be injured by policemen. We’ll put cameras on cops now. That feels like it will fix everything but it will probably just introduce a new class of ambiguities.

And next week: something else.

I’m worried about those things but more worried about getting you out of bed and dressed in the morning. I’m worried about looking out the window one day and seeing a column of fire but more worried about teaching you to be sad when I could be teaching you to be happy. I’m worried about the college teacher writing for the New York Times who also works as a waiter. I want you to have careers and cats; I want you to have apartments without roommates in your thirties.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
– George Bernard Shaw

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/23/2014

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1. The Year In Dinner : On keeping your loved ones fed, whether they like it or not.

Lately I’ve been making garlic shrimp with habanero-lime quinoa once a week or so. I get into grooves; they make me seem and feel more competent than I really am. I’m not even mad when my girlfriend is surprised at how well an ambitious-sounding meal turns out—I am, too. But this is much more a testament to my ability to follow instructions than it is a sign of any real aptitude. I know what smoked paprika is, and I know what it tastes like, but I have no fucking idea how to use it unless someone tells when and how much. This is not an improvisational exercise. I’m not painting a Pollack or playing jazz drums when I cook. I’m building a shed. Out of Lego.

But it’s still rewarding. You work on the Internet all day, trying and sometimes struggling to attach meaning and value to efforts that can seem inherently ephemeral and intangible, and it’s nice to come home and actually produce something, the value of which is self-evident: this is literally the thing that will keep you from going hungry. Do it well enough, and it’s something for you and your loved ones to actually look forward to, but at the very least, it is necessary. This is essential. You are helping people survive.

2. How To Be An Expert In A Changing World

If the world were static, we could have monotonically increasing confidence in our beliefs. The more (and more varied) experience a belief survived, the less likely it would be false. Most people implicitly believe something like this about their opinions. And they’re justified in doing so with opinions about things that don’t change much, like human nature. But you can’t trust your opinions in the same way about things that change, which could include practically everything else.

When experts are wrong, it’s often because they’re experts on an earlier version of the world.

Is it possible to avoid that? Can you protect yourself against obsolete beliefs? To some extent, yes. I spent almost a decade investing in early stage startups, and curiously enough protecting yourself against obsolete beliefs is exactly what you have to do to succeed as a startup investor. Most really good startup ideas look like bad ideas at first, and many of those look bad specifically because some change in the world just switched them from bad to good. I spent a lot of time learning to recognize such ideas, and the techniques I used may be applicable to ideas in general.

The first step is to have an explicit belief in change. People who fall victim to a monotonically increasing confidence in their opinions are implicitly concluding the world is static. If you consciously remind yourself it isn’t, you start to look for change.

3. The Truth About Teens And Privacy

Teens are not particularly concerned about organizational actors; rather, they wish to avoid paternalistic adults who use safety and protection as an excuse to monitor their everyday sociality.

Teens’ desire for privacy does not undermine their eagerness to participate in public. There’s a big difference between being in public and being public. Teens want to gather in public environments to socialize, but they don’t necessarily want every vocalized expression to be publicized. Yet, because being in a networked public — unlike gathering with friends in a public park — often makes interactions more visible to adults, mere participation in social media can blur these two dynamics. At first blush, the desire to be in public and have privacy seems like a contradiction. But understanding how teens conceptualize privacy and navigate social media is key to understanding what privacy means in a networked world, a world in which negotiating fuzzy boundaries is par for the course. Instead of signaling the end of privacy as we know it, teens’ engagement with social media highlights the complex interplay between privacy and publicity in the networked world we all live in now.

4. How The “Halo Effect” Turns Uncertainty Into False Certainty
My absolute favorite new podcast of 2014 is the You Are Not So Smart podcast. Wonderfully produced, voiced, and beautifully written. I can say the same for both books by David McRaney. If you are a fan of thinking about thinking and all the ways our jumble of neurons fails us in predictable ways (and thus how to combat it) you’ll love it too.

At best, you are only truly certain of a handful of things at any given time, and aside from mathematical proofs – two apples plus two apples equals four apples (and even that, in some circles, can be debated) – you’ve become accustomed to living a life in a fog of maybes.

Most of what we now know about the world replaced something that we thought we knew about the world, but it turned out we had no idea what we were talking about. This is especially true in science, our best tool for getting to the truth. It’s a constantly churning sea of uncertainty. Maybe this, maybe that – but definitely not this, unless… Nothing raises a scientist’s brow more than a pocket of certainty because it’s usually a sign that someone is very wrong.

Being certain is a metacognition, a thought concerning another thought, and the way we often bungle that process is not exclusively human. When an octopus reaches out for a scallop, she does so because somewhere in the chaos of her nervous system a level of certainty crossed some sort of threshold, a threshold that the rock next to the scallop did not. Thanks to that certainty threshold, most of the time she bites into food instead of gravel. We too take the world into our brains through our senses, and in that brain we too are mostly successful at determining the difference between things that are food and things that are not food, but not always. There’s even a Japanese game show where people compete to determine whether household objects are real or are facsimiles made of chocolate. Seriously, check out the YouTube video of a man gleefully biting off a hunk of edible door handle. Right up until he smiles, he’s just rolling the dice, uncertain.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Segan

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/19/2014

1. The year in outrage : The day-by-day froth of social media fury in 2014
Since grumpy, indignant, outraged, or exasperated seem to be default modes at this point, it’s worth taking some time to think about whatwe are seemingly so vexed about and why. Here are 11 essays that look at what it is and how it’s shaped the last year.

We think we know what we mean by outrage. It is one molecular component of the air we breathe on social media, swirling around alongside irony and manic enthusiasm. It comes in so many flavors! Conservative outrage. Feminist outrage. Entertainment outrage. Every club has its own vexillology of outrage. And yet it’s hard to pin down exactly what outrage means—what makes it different from garden-variety pique or the simmering thirst for vengeance. Why is your blustery old uncle “outraged” by Obama saluting Marines while holding a latte, but the private incandescence of Achilles in his tent is just “rage”? Outrage, the subjective experience of being furious at something that crosses a perceived line.Outrage, the shocked or indignant reaction, spontaneous or calculated. Outrage, the pickup, amplification, and acceleration of that expression on social and traditional media. Outraged: one answer to the question of how to be in 2014.

Or is it how to seem?

2. What Books Do for the Human Soul: The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature

It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver — because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.
Literature performs the basic magic of what things look like though someone else’s point of view; it allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn’t; and it shows us examples of kindly, generous, sympathetic people.
Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system — the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side — they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can’t afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world.
We’re weirder than we like to admit. We often can’t say what’s really on our minds. But in books we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events, described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves — they find the words to describe the fragile, weird, special experiences of our inner lives… Writers open our hearts and minds, and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia or persecution…
All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, “a loser.” Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media…​

3. For the love of stuff

To care about possessions can seem like a moral failing, like if these people were enlightened enough to know what truly matters, they’d be sending in empty photo frames. The holiday season especially can make people ornery about “stuff” and the companies that encourage us to buy it. But loving objects doesn’t necessarily make someone greedy or materialistic.

There are two kinds of materialism, according to Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a distinguished professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University. Terminal materialism is the kind typically derided as shallow and empty—wanting things for their own sake, or to impress others. What inspires someone to save something from a burning house is more likely instrumental materialism, when “the object is simply a bridge to another person or to another feeling,” Csikszentmihalyi says.

While things are, on the one hand, just things, they are also repositories for the meaning people project on them. Religious objects are obvious examples of things that transcend their thing-ness: A cross is just two pieces of wood but for what it represents to Christians; a menorah is just a candelabra, except that it’s not. Similarly do people build meaning around their possessions—a gift from someone’s mother might represent her love; souvenirs could be reminders of places close to heart but far from hand.

“Things embody goals, make skills manifest, and shape the identities of their users,” write Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton in their 1981 book The Meaning of Things. “Man is not only homo sapiens … he is also homo faber, the maker and user of objects, his self to a large extent a reflection of things with which he interacts.”


People get attached to their computers and phones because of what they can do, not because of what they are. “In these types of objects, there’s a physical part that we need because we are physical beings. And then the virtual or nonphysical part,” Afshar says. It’s the nonphysical things that would be distressing to lose—photos or music saved on the hard drive, or, even more nebulously, access to the Internet and all of its communication potential. These things are enabled by the object, but have little to do with what it physically is. “Objects of our time are not stand-alone objects anymore,” Afshar writes, meaning the nature of people’s attachment to some of their most important possessions is even blurrier.

4. PRODUCT REVIEW: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L. L. Bean

The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is by no means immune to hardship. As an inner-city youth, my artist mom and small business-owner dad struggled financially with no margin for luxury. Having one of the shabbiest Invisible Backpacks at private school and college gave me a complex, and I perpetually felt like “a poor boy in a rich boy’s school,” to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In fact, The Invisible Backpack contains the complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with the Western Canon, largely written by people with my same Backpack. In rough weather, it’s handy to have a rich literary tradition to provide a validation of selfhood verging on the grandiose. Combined with a detachable Gore-Tex underdog mentality that serves to justify the backpack’s pathological egotism, it often makes me consider writing a novel of my own. Should I choose to do so, the Invisible Backpack of White Privilege comes with the instructions and encouragement to create a writing career/funny video/indie band/online satirical essay based on various unpleasant situations experienced while wearing the backpack.


“I am always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.” – Pablo Picasso

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/16/2014

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1.  Atari Teenage Riot: The Inside Story Of Pong And The Video Game Industry’s Big Bang

That better game would be Pong, which was deceptively simple to pick up, but infuriatingly difficult to master (not least because a developmental hiccup meant that your paddle couldn’t defend all your territory in the original coin-operated version). Today it is considered one of the biggest arcade games in the world, responsible for the success of the video game industry, valued at $78.5 billion this year. Pong took video games out of windowless computer labs full of buttoned-up coders and brought it to the masses, and with it, Bushnell’s nascent company, Atari.

It would’ve been hard to imagine then, but games today are bigger than the global film industry, which had a 60-year head start. Pong is the reason that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 can make more than three times as much in its first five days on sale as The Avengers can in its first five days in theaters. But while today’s blockbuster games are largely created by hundred-strong teams at bankrolled developers, the men who created and crafted Pong embodied the bootstrap start-up culture that typifies the most exciting edges of today’s tech landscape. They were knocked back by old men in drab suits who said games weren’t going to be big business. But games were going to be big business, even those started in unassuming surroundings. And nothing was going to stop them.

2. Saving Our Daughters From An Army Of Princesses

What was going on here? My fellow mothers, women who once swore they would never be dependent on a man, smiled indulgently at daughters who warbled “So This Is Love” or insisted on being addressed as Snow White. The supermarket checkout clerk invariably greeted Daisy with “Hi, Princess.” The waitress at our local breakfast joint, a hipster with a pierced tongue and a skull tattooed on her neck, called Daisy’s “funny-face pancakes” her “princess meal”; the nice lady at Longs Drugs offered us a free balloon, then said, “I bet I know your favorite color!” and handed Daisy a pink one rather than letting her choose for herself. Then, shortly after Daisy’s third birthday, our high-priced pediatric dentist — the one whose practice was tricked out with comic books, DVDs, and arcade games — pointed to the exam chair and asked, “Would you like to sit in my special princess throne so I can sparkle your teeth?”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” I snapped. “Do you have a princess drill, too?”

She looked at me as if I were the wicked stepmother.

But honestly: since when did every little girl become a princess? It wasn’t like this when I was a kid, and I was born back when feminism was still a mere twinkle in our mothers’ eyes. We did not dress head to toe in pink. We did not have our own miniature high heels. What’s more, I live in Berkeley, California: if princesses had infiltrated our little retro-hippie hamlet, imagine what was going on in places where women actually shaved their legs? As my little girl made her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom, I fretted over what playing Little Mermaid, a character who actually gives up her voice to get a man, was teaching her.


Apparently, I had tapped into something larger than a few dime-store tiaras. Princesses are just a phase, after all. It’s not as though girls are still swanning about in their Sleeping Beauty gowns when they leave for college (at least most are not). But they did mark my daughter’s first foray into the mainstream culture, the first time the influences on her extended beyond the family. And what was the first thing that culture told her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants — or should want — to be the Fairest of Them All.


Even as new educational and professional opportunities unfurl before my daughter and her peers, so does the path that encourages them to equate identity with image, self-expression with appearance, femininity with performance, pleasure with pleasing, and sexuality with sexualization. It feels both easier and harder to raise a girl in that new reality — and easier and harder to be one.

As with all of us, what I want for my daughter seems so simple: for her to grow up healthy, happy, and confident, with a clear sense of her own potential and the opportunity to fulfill it. Yet she lives in a world that tells her, whether she is three or thirty-three, that the surest way to get there is to look, well, like Cinderella.

3. As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up

Clearly, many workers feel threatened by technology. In a recent New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 who were not working, 37 percent of those who said they wanted a job said technology was a reason they did not have one. Even more — 46 percent — cited “lack of education or skills necessary for the jobs available.”

Self-driving vehicles are an example of the crosscurrents. They could put truck and taxi drivers out of work — or they could enable drivers to be more productive during the time they used to spend driving, which could earn them more money. But for the happier outcome to happen, the drivers would need the skills to do new types of jobs.

The challenge is evident for white-collar jobs, too. Ad sales agents and pilots are two jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will decline in number over the next decade. Flying a plane is largely automated today and will become more so. And at Google, the biggest seller of online ads, software does much of the selling and placing of search ads, meaning there is much less need for salespeople.

4. Study of poverty-ridden neighborhoods shows gentrification is not ruining enough of America

“Because the slow decline is more common and less visible, it is seldom remarked upon, while gentrification, when it happens – which is both unusual and dramatic – is far more evident change,” explains the report.

“There are more areas of poverty than areas undergoing gentrification, but that doesn’t mean that when communities do revitalize that people aren’t uprooted,” says Harold Simon, executive director of the National Housing Institute. “That kind of thing has happened all over the place.”

It’s not a matter of which is worse: gentrification or poverty. Americans should be concerned about both, says Simon.

Often the cities where gentrification occurs are also the cities where poverty slowly spreads across other neighborhoods. Take Brooklyn, for example. Over the last decade, Brooklyn went from having four of New York’s poorest neighborhoods to having five. At the same time, it went from having zero of New York’s richest neighborhoods to having two and was singled out as having the least affordable housing market.


First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. - Epictetus

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links and an Infographic : 12/12/2014

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1. Why James Cameron’s Aliens is the best movie about technology.
Some great film writing on philosophical messages in sci-fi movies we love.

There are not many films on any topic that pull off the trifecta of big ideas, great moviemaking, and deep human resonance, let alone manage to be about technology. For my purposes, there are three that matter: Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Aliens.


Right now (if you’re still reading) you’re thinking, Tim, I love Aliens. But I don’t love it because it makes me think the thinky-thoughts. I love it because people blow shit up, get killed by aliens, then blow up more shit. There’s no way it carries a deep message about human beings and their relationship to technology. It’s not high art. It’s fun. And I say to you, it is both. You just haven’t noticed it until now.


That’s what technology is. It’s the world of things, some impossibly stupid, some smarter than we are, we have assembled around ourselves to cover over our fundamental weaknesses as a species. The strength we have, the advantage this gives us, is our ability to stand apart from the things we’ve made: to use them and set them aside; to make them prosthetic extensions of ourselves and to let them go.

2. The Ethical Dilemma Behind Reporting On The Data Released From The Sony Hack

From the beginning, Variety has not shied away from reporting on what has emerged from the data to date. That isn’t to say absolutely everything that pops up will be duly noted in our publication — personally identifiable information about execs, for instance, would be one no-no.

But my mounting misgivings have forced me to explain to myself what all this reporting is really about. While I found a lot to question about the rationales, ultimately I’ve arrived at an uneasy peace with why the leaks just can’t be ignored.

When ethical boundaries get murky, it’s only natural to grab for some sense of precedent. The one that comes to mind for me is a relatively recent example: the celebrity nude photo leak in October that besmirched the good names of everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Ariana Grande.

These young women clearly had their privacy invaded. There was a lot of justifiable hand-wringing in the press about the plight of these women, but why is there none of that for the corporations? Their privacy has been invaded as well, albeit in a different way.

Nude photos weren’t hacked at Sony, but it’s interesting that while nudity is deservedly considered to be crossing the line, financial records aren’t accorded a measure of respect as well. Rest assured that SPE chairman Michael Lynton would probably rather you see his private parts than the company’s movie budgets.

The difference between nude celebrity photos and the leaked Sony data, respectable media outlets will argue, is only the latter is “newsworthy.” But what does that really mean?

3. Swarm Weapons And The Future Of Conflict

Swarming is a seemingly amorphous, but deliberately structured, coordinated, strategic way to perform military strikes from all directions. It employs a sustainable pulsing of force and/or fire that is directed from both close-in and stand-off positions. It will work best — perhaps it will only work — if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units. This calls for an organizational redesign — involving the creation of platoon-like pods joined in company-like clusters — that would keep but retool the most basic military unit structures. It is similar to the corporate redesign principle of flattening, which often removes or redesigns middle layers of management. This has proven successful in the ongoing revolution in business affairs and may prove equally useful in the military realm. From command and control of line units to logistics, profound shifts will have to occur to nurture this new way of war. This study examines the benefits — and also the costs and risks — of engaging in such serious doctrinal change. The emergence of a military doctrine based on swarming pods and clusters requires that defense policymakers develop new approaches to connectivity and control and achieve a new balance between the two. Far more than traditional approaches to battle, swarming clearly depends upon robust information flows. Securing these flows, therefore, can be seen as a necessary condition for successful swarming.

4. How Fixed Are Personality Traits After Age 30?

When psychologists talk about personality, they are usually referring to what are called the Big Five traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These are our core characteristics, which generally don’t fluctuate depending on the particular mood we’re in. Some newer research in the emerging field of personality neuroscience suggests that these traits are biogenic, stemming from our genes, which helps explain why so many studies have found personality to be relatively stable. Research on identical twins, for example, shows that these five traits are largely heritable, with about 40 to 50 percent of our personality coming from our genes.

Some aspects of our personalities start to show up when we’re just days old, as Little writes in his book:

Such features of personality can be detected in the neonatal ward. If you make a loud noise near the newborns, what will they do? Some will orient toward the noise, and others will turn away. Those who are attracted to the noise end up being extraverts later in development; those who turn away are more likely to end up being introverts.

As we grow older, our personalities do evolve, of course; throughout adolescence and early adulthood, we change rapidly. One review of 152 longitudinal studies found the biggest changes in personality traits occur from childhood through the 20s. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, we can and do still change, but these changes come more slowly, and require more effort, said Paul T. Costa Jr., scientist emeritus at the laboratory of behavioral science at the National Institutes of Health.

Infographic - Highest Consumption of Selected Spirits (2012) : Unsurprisingly the USA is pretty boozy.




Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. - James A. Baldwin

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/9/2014

1. Free The Drones : Regulating Drones In US Airspace

The right way to balance safety and innovation is to create a set of rules for commercial drones that depend on their size, use and so on. That is what happens in some countries: Canada, for instance, exempts small drones from regulatory oversight. The rules should also vary according to location, since surveying the outside of a building in a city is more hazardous than flying over a field. Japan recognises this. And requiring drone pilots to have experience flying manned aircraft is daft. Far better to say, as Britain and Australia do, that drone pilots need to be certified as competent to fly a drone.

Like any disruptive technology, commercial drones will hurt existing businesses. Some pilots will lose their jobs as more farmers and logistics firms use drones instead of hiring a helicopter or aircraft. The incumbents’ opposition to the drone industry is understandable. The FAA’s is not. It should take a more objective view, and free commercial drones.

2. Do Artifacts Have Ethics?

When we do think about technology’s moral implications, we tend to think about what we do with a given technology. We might call this the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” approach to the ethics of technology. What matters most about a technology on this view is the use to which it is put. This is, of course, a valid consideration. A hammer may indeed be used to either build a house or bash someones head in. On this view, technology is morally neutral and the only morally relevant question is this: What will I do with this tool?

But is this really the only morally relevant question one could ask? For instance, pursuing the example of the hammer, might I not also ask how having the hammer in hand encourages me to perceive the world around me? Or, what feelings having a hammer in hand arouses?

6 of 40 questions applicable to the moral considerations of technology/objects/artifacts (all 40 are good)

  1. What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
  2. What habits will the use of this technology instill?
  3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
  4. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?
  5. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?
  6. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to the world around me?

3. Seymour Papert’s Legacy: Thinking About Learning, and Learning About Thinking

Every so often you find a magic word that allows you to find the information you’re looking for. For me recently that word has been “Constructionism” and it has led me to the work of Seymour Papert.

Papert’s constructionism has, at its heart, a desire not to revise, but to invert the world of curriculum-driven instruction. If there is one keystone concept from Papert that will forever set the teeth of educational administrators on edge, it is probably this, from “Mindstorms”:

Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong.’ But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting bugs … The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition we might all be less intimidated by our fears of ‘being wrong.’ - Seymour Papert

Papert was perhaps the first interaction designer especially concerned with digital tools and children. His awareness that children effectively think differently than adults, and that their cognitive evolution requires designing rich toolkits and environments rather than force-feeding knowledge, has set the tone for decades of research. The combination of developmental psychology, AI, and technology proved to be powerful and generative, and created a new genre of educational technologies. Papert was an inspirational force that motivated an entire generation of researchers and practitioners to bring his vision to the world. But the work is far from done. For example, why is it that half a century after these ideas were formulated, still we do not have robust forms of assessment by which to evaluate this vision?

4. It’s official: America is now No. 2 (Economic Superpower)

Make no mistake: This is a geopolitical earthquake with a high reading on the Richter scale. Throughout history, political and military power have always depended on economic power. Britain was the workshop of the world before she ruled the waves. And it was Britain’s relative economic decline that preceded the collapse of her power.

And it was a similar story with previous hegemonic powers such as France and Spain.

This will not change anything tomorrow or next week, but it will change almost everything in the longer term. We have lived in a world dominated by the U.S. since at least 1945 and, in many ways, since the late 19th century. And we have lived for 200 years — since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 — in a world dominated by two reasonably democratic, constitutional countries in Great Britain and the U.S.A. For all their flaws, the two countries have been in the vanguard worldwide in terms of civil liberties, democratic processes and constitutional rights.

“Those who hold a legal monopoly on violence should be held to the highest standards for its use, not the lowest.” – Ramez Naam

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