Friday, May 27, 2011

Can money buy happiness?

The OECD launched its measure of well-being which includes 20 different indicators across 11 sectors in its 34 member countries (from life satisfaction to air pollution). You can see their interactive tool that shows details for each variable and country.

The chart below shows the results of its headline Better Life index (which is equally weighted) plotted against GDP per person at purchasing-power parity (which adjusts GDP for differences in the cost of living across countries). Can money buy you well-being (and happiness)? The chart below seems to indicate such a correlation...

Read more here: Well-being and wealth: The pursuit of happiness | The Economist

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Japanese company plans to build a ring of solar panels around the moon

The Japanese Shimizu Corporation construction firm’s research branch, CSP, unveiled a long-term planning project to install a belt of photovoltaic panels across the surface of the Moon. Power gathered from the 13,000 terrawatts of continuous solar energy the Moon’s surface receives daily would be beamed back to an Earth-based receiving station via microwave or laser transmission. The costs for this visionary construction would be truly astronomical.
Read more here: LUNA RING: Solar Energy from the Moon

Japanese company developed car that runs on nothing but water

Japanese company Genepax developed an eco-friendly car that runs on nothing but water. The car has an energy generator that extracts hydrogen from water that is poured into the car’s tank. The generator then releases electrons that produce electric power to run the car. The electric powered car can run on any type of water. The car can run for an hour at about 80 km/h on just one liter of water. The Genepax car does not require that batteries be recharged and has no emission.

Read more here: Car that runs on nothing but water unveiled in Japan. No gasoline, no battery recharging and no emissions. | PRESS Core – Evidentiary News, World News, Special Reports, Technology, Health, Videos, Polls

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Biologists found an entirely new branch on the tree of life - Cryptomycota

A paper published in Nature suggests that biologists in the UK have discovered an entirely new and unique branch in the tree of life, called cryptomycota. This group of microscopic organisms is related to fungus but are actually so different that they make up their own branch (clade) in the tree of life. Cryptomycota have remained hidden from sight even though it turns out they are everywhere, living in many different environments, including freshwater lakes and sediments, as well as pond water.

Read more here: Biologists Announce Discovery of an Entirely New Branch of Life | Popular Science

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Biometric IDs in India

In India, an estimated 500 million people have no form of reliable identification. The Indian government started $430 million initiative to use modern biometric methods to identify hundreds of millions of citizens. From each volunteer participant, the government collects 10 fingerprints, 2 iris images, and a photo, and if the new data don't match any identity already enrolled, it assigns the person a unique 12-digit number. After that, a single fingerprint or iris scan should be all that's needed to verify the identity of any person.

Gathering the biometric data is challenging in the rural population of India as many fingerprints have been obscured or erased by manual labor. The combination of fingerprint, iris image, and photo reduced false positive errors in 0.0025 percent of cases in the pilot study. Biometrics data are collected at government offices by government employees or private enrollment agencies. A single sensor can collect data from up to 50 people per day.

Once people received their biometric ID, their data can be used to provide them access to banking services and improve transparency for how support money reaches people living in poverty.

Emotions and Decision-Making

I came across two seemingly unrelated articles and noticed an interesting connection.

-First, an article in the New York Times  celebrated the 300th birthday of philosopher David Hume. The article cited the following quote by Hume: "Hume argued that “reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will.” Desire, for example, “arises not from reason.” And yet it can (and ought to be) “directed by it.”
-> Hume points out that an entirely rational model of decision-making is not feasible.

-Second, a blog entry on geekosystem described a new computer simulation that aims to model schizophrenia. There are multiple definitions of schizophrenia. This simulation builds upon the hyperlearning theory of schizophrenia, which holds that the disease springs from an inability to forget or ignore non-essential information. The human brain uses dopamine to mark certain information as essential. Dopamine is commonly associated with the reward system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate a person proactively to perform certain activities. In other words, the brain connects emotions to certain information to mark them as important. The computer simulation increased the virtual dopamine release which reduced the programs ability to distinguish important from unimportant information. 

Both articles address the same idea: Emotions are an important part of human thinking and decision-making. An entirely rational computer program without emotions can therefore never simulate human thought processes. Instead of seeing emotions as an opposition to rational thought processes, they should be seen as complementary (read more here about using emotions for decision making).

My model of decision-making includes five elements: 1) Rational, 2) Emotional, 3) Socio-cultural conventions, 4) available resources, and 5) political strategic. Both "conventions" and "strategic" factors are socio-cultural as we make different decisions depending in which social setting we are.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Failed Technology Predictions Infograph

#E2sday: Failed Tech Predictions (And Some That Came Close) | The Future of Work

DNA Infograph

Education Theories Overview Mindmap

I created this dynamic knowledge visualization of main education theories and concepts using the dynamic mindmap tool TheBrain (one of my favorite tools). My mindmap includes major theories of education and education research methods.

This mindmap is ongoing work in progress. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome.

To navigate the dynamic mindmap below, just click on a term and it will move to the center - showing related concepts. You can also search for terms in the textbox at the bottom.

See this mindmap on the website (where you can find other interesting mindmaps).

Electronic Paper Demo

This video demonstrates a new flexible computer screen.

YouTube - Paper computer shows flexible future for smartphones and tablets

Map of Science History

This map, inspired by subway maps, shows leading scientist arranged by discipline.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Poverty is key factor to improve US education

The popular 2010 education documentary Waiting for Superman suggests that teachers can perform miracles (as seen in movies such as Freedom Writer and Dangerous minds). Former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, "... even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them."

On the other hand, there is evidence that the key factor influencing US education is not teachers (or teacher unions) but students' socio-economic status (a.k.a. poverty). Michael Marder is a professor at the University of Texas and co-director of the university's UTeach program. In 2009, Marder published an article which suggested that "educational outcomes for students from wealthy and poor families are very different in Texas (get article here 

More recently, Reeve Hamilton conducted an interview with Michael Marder in the Texas Tribune article titled "Is Poverty the Key Factor in Student Outcomes? (Get article here Quote Marder (2011) (Get article here "For the short term, preparing teachers in mathematics and science is a wise and useful step toward improving schools. . . . . .[But]. . . As quickly as possible, we must understand the link between poverty and educational outcomes in the US, devise solutions, and test and implement them. Britain briefly tried to substitute public relations for aircraft safety and paid with the loss of its commercial aviation sector. I hope the United States can avoid a similar error, that proponents of teacher quality and charter schools will recognize the weakness of the evidence before it is too late, that we will not damage public education, let down our most vulnerable students, and lose technical leadership we take for granted."

Joe Nocera, a columnist for the New York Times, discusses the influence of poverty on education in his article "The Limits of School Reform".

If poverty is key to educational success, why are education reforms focusing on all other kinds of issues (for example charter schools, teacher unions, student-performance-based teacher salaries, standardized testing, etc.)? I see two reasons: First, poverty might be a key factor to education, but improving the US education system needs a multi-level approach that improves students' socio-economic situation and includes teachers, principals, teacher unions, and policy makers. Second, improving poverty is a problem beyond the range of education reforms on a limited budget. Poverty is a fundamental problem of the US society. Nearly 20 million US children now receive free or reduced-price lunches in the nation's schools, an all-time high, federal data show (Read more here) (In the US, free or reduced-price lunches are used as an index for low socio-economic status of students' families). A large body of research shows that an individual student who is eligible for free or reduced price lunch is at risk for academic failure (Read more here).

Unfortunately, poverty is such a large, complex, and loaded problem that few US politicians dare to address it (as it is strongly related to minority issues and because politicians want to run projects that produce results within their term). Hopefully, the US government, parents, teacher unions, the education research community, and non-profit organizations will increase their existing efforts to improve the situation of students and their families who live in poverty.

The Crux with Educational Jargon

Education researchers and education policy makers love using and creating jargon: From "at risk," "scaffolding," "value-added," "best practices," to "raising the bar", "literacy, "rigor," "authentic assessment," "research-based", and "21st century education."

This leads to statements like "Aligned instruction with buy-in by highly qualified teachers for authentic inquiry-based learning and student engagement in professional learning communities will produce 21st century skills in our youngsters."

Does jargon disguise vacuity? Author and blogger John Merrow (The Joys of Educational Jargonoffers this analysis: "I have come to the conclusion that it exists because of a professional lack of esteem. Other professions requiring college degrees have a specific language -- medicine, the sciences, engineering, law. But educators only have plain English, so they change it into a "professional" language that sounds fancy and inaccessible when it ought to be the most accessible profession of all."

While I agree with Merrow that there is an abundance of jargon in education research, it is not because of vacuity. New terms allow to precisely describe new concepts and theories which reflects the research community's increasing understanding of how learning works. Words are vessels for thoughts, and creating new terms allows us to think in new ways.

However, there is a trend for education researchers to develop one's own jargon ("research framework"). For example, I collected a number of terms that all describe the same idea "students' knowledge before receiving formal instruction on a topic": 
  • Prior Knowledge
  • Misconceptions (Fisher, 1983), 
  • Alternative framework (Driver & Easley, 1978), 
  • Intuitive belief (McKloskey, 1983), 
  • Preconception (Anderson & Smith, 1983)
  • Naive belief (Caramazza, McCloskey, & Green, 1981)
  • Alternative ideas (Linn, 2004)
  • Naive theories
  • Erroneous concepts
  • False Beliefs
The saying goes that educational theories and jargon are like toothbrushes: Everyone has one and uses it frequently, but nobody likes to use somebody elses. The crux with educational jargon is that it makes communication within the education research community difficult. More importantly, it makes it more difficult for teachers, policy makers, and the general public to understand education research theories and findings. There is a well-know (unfortunate) disconnect between education research and teachers. Too few education researchers take their time to publish their findings in journals for teachers in an accessible language. Education research could have a much stronger impact on education practice if there would be a shared jargon.

Geek Zodiac

The Geek Zodiac: Concept by James Wright. Design by Josh Eckert.
Source: geekzodiac.jpg (2000×1517)

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-The Geek hirarchy chart:
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