10/30/2009 4:24:25 PM
Students who want to learn something should probably try failing first. According to new research highlighted in the Scientific American, “learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors.” In other words, people who take a test that they are bound to fail before studying the material, actually end up learning better. People who fail first remember things better an longer than people who don’t. According to the article, this could have profound effects on educational programs that specifically try to avoid students making errors. The authors write: “Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning.”
Source: Scientific American
10/28/2009 5:22:41 PM
Hershey’s chocolates, for the most part, aren’t really chocolate. They’re “the terrible bastard children of chocolate and corporate frugality,” according to
10/22/2009 5:27:08 PM
The people who gave the world email, the iPhone, and the text message now want to save the world from information overload. In the latest issue of the electronic engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum, Nathan Zeldes explains how technologists are trying to save people from the constant interruptions, irritations, and maddening deluge of information that’s ubiquitous in daily life. Zeldes, a former productivity guru for Intel Corp, writes that the current situation resembles the “tragedy of the commons” scenario: “Everyone would prefer that there be fewer messages, but nobody can afford to be the first to cut back on sending them.”
Companies have sent out memos and instituted policies, but that’s not always enough. Engineers have taken matters into their own hands, coming up with software that would help people prioritize their incoming messages and shield their personal time. Zeldes points to Priorities, a prototype program released by Microsoft that analyzes incoming messages to predict their importance. It also is designed to monitor the recipient’s activity, to see if that person should be interrupted. There are also programs like ClearContext Professional that is designed to help people clean up their inboxes.
Before implementing those new programs or any new technologies, Zeldes writes, “we should figure out how best to use it in the cultural context it will inhabit.” That way people won’t be plagued with more technology that's designed to improve productivity but ends up just wasting itme.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
, licensed under
10/16/2009 5:38:01 PM
The wisdom of crowds has become a modern motif, a “cultural mantra” adopted with zeal across party and discipline lines, Jonathan V. Last observes for In Character. Conservatives clicked with its endorsement of the free market; liberals connected with its egalitarian appeal. “And nearly everyone associated with the Internet glommed on because they understood that it was, in large part, an exaltation of the new medium that placed the World Wide Web near the center of an entire world view,” he writes.
However many good things have come from crowd-sourcing, though, Last cautions that we devalue the wisdom of individuals at our own peril. Sometimes, for example, crowds are fooled: Enron’s stock was valued at over $40/share just months before the company declared bankruptcy, he notes, proffering the parallel tale of six Cornell business school students who, studying Enron for a research project in 1998, “concluded that the company was a house of cards.”
What appears to be crowd consensus can also be skewed by a handful of vociferous or aggressive members. Those rating systems on sites like Amazon.com? “New research confirms what some may already suspect: Those ratings can easily be swayed by a small group of highly active users,” Kristina Grifantini reports for Technology Review.
For Last, the real loss is creativity: “Even if crowds can reach wise decisions, they don’t create,” he writes. “Genius and inspiration are the province of individuals.”
Sources: In Character, Technology Review
10/16/2009 3:38:41 PM
I have no idea what to do with this information about insults and anger from the New Scientist, and here it is:
If you really must offend someone, wait until they are lying down: people handle anger differently when they're lying on their backs, compared with sitting upright.
University students who heard personal insults while seated exhibited brain activity linked to so-called "approach motivation" – the desire to approach and explore something. This potential urge disappeared when students took their insults lying down, despite their anger remaining.
"In the upright or leaning forward state one might be more likely to attack," says Eddie Harmon-Jones, a cognitive scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station, who led the study. "Maybe in the reclining state you're more likely to brood."
Source: New Scientist
10/13/2009 11:06:02 AM
America has been a nation of sports nuts for even longer than you might imagine—a thousand years, in fact. In “America’s First Pastime,” Archaeology magazine (Sept.-Oct. 2009) writes about the early Native American game of chunkey, which involved throwing spears or sticks at a rolling, hockey-puck-size stone disk. The game was an important tradition in the culture that sprang up around the great prehistoric city called Cahokia, which existed near where St. Louis, Missouri, now lies. And apparently it was much more than just a game, being used to win converts, settle scores, and spread culture:
The people of Cahokia practiced human sacrifice, incorporated obelisk-like timber posts into their worship, told stories of superhuman men and women, used Mesoamerican-style flint daggers, and understood the cosmos in ways similar to Mesoamerican notions. They then spread this new way of life, which included intensified maize agriculture, across the Midwest and into the South and Plains with a religious fervor. Archaeologists refer to the culture as Mississippian, after the river that flows by many of its known sites.
One of the primary vehicles for the growth of this new civilization may have been Cahokian envoys who carried chunkey stones in one hand and war clubs in the other as they ventured into the hinterlands with the purpose of making peace or political alliances. These emissaries seem to have established and enforced a region-wide peace of sorts, a veritable Pax Cahokiana, an important element of which may have been the game of chunkey.
The article describes the biggest chunkey contests as great spectacles taking place on large town plazas with a 30- or 40-foot-tall obelisk or wooden post in the center on a raised mound. And if you think things get crazy when Manchester plays Liverpool or the Packers play the Vikings, consider that other nearby posts were used to exhibit enemy scalps, skulls, and recently captured foes who would soon be killed. “Not only was chunkey an important event,” the magazine writes, “but there were other possible associations, direct or indirect, with warfare and enemy executions.” Suddenly, burning a Brett Favre effigy seems almost tame by comparison.
The story of Cahokia itself, with its cultural undercurrents of brutality and power, is an incredible tale in its own right. The author of the Archaeology story, Timothy Pauketat, writes more extensively about it in his book, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi, which is the subject of a recent Salon article, “Sacrificial Virgins on the Mississippi.” “Some of Pauketat’s ideas,” writes Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, “are both speculative and controversial”—but with characters like “He-who-wears-human-heads-as-earrings,” they certainly are fascinating.
Source: Archaeology (abstract only online), Chippewa Valley Newspapers, Salon
Image by TimVickers, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/12/2009 3:22:16 PM
Nobody ever talks to the cadaver handler. Until now. Cadaver handler Chris Dolph spends his days readying corpses for Stanford’s Willed Whole Body Program, and he tells Stanford all about it. The university processes up to 70 cadavers a year to supply anatomy courses and medical training sessions, and it takes two days and a secret blend of solutions to embalm each body.
“A typical mortuary might use two to three gallons of fluids to preserve a body for a funeral,” Stanford reports, “but Dolph uses up to 25 gallons per body to ensure that each one arrives at the anatomy lab in top condition—even though a body can be held for two years or more before being dissected.” Dolph says he believes his cadavers would even remain unchanged for 300 years, if preserved that long.
10/9/2009 6:50:34 PM
There’s a good reason that people say you should “sleep on it” when facing a tough problem—it helps! A new study suggests dreaming is beneficial for problem solving. Psychology Today reports, “In REM sleep, cortical activation spreads from whatever one’s been pondering to marshal associated ideas, thanks to changes in levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and acetylcholine.” Jasper Johns, Jack Nicklaus and many others have credited their dreams for successful ideas. A co-author of the study adds: “So many times, we already have the solution somewhere in our brain. It just needs an extra 'boost' before it can be accessed.”
Source: Psychology Today
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