Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cleaning up ocean trash

Everyday we read and see how the oceans are being overrun by trash and plastics. Animals are dying, people are surfing through garbage, and our coastlines are becoming waste dumps. Everybody gripes about plastics in the ocean, but does anybody do anything?

If Boyan Slat, a 22-year old college drop out, gets his way we will soon see a fleet of floating ocean trash collectors. "'We let the plastic come to us,' he says. The group hopes to eventually finance the operation by recycling the plastic and selling it as a branded product or raw material." Once the plastic arrives at the drifting garbage tank, it is funneled towards a central tank and then picked up monthly by ships.

But his critics believe that it is a waste of effort and too much money for something that in "10 to 20 years" will disappear.
They also list "technical limitations and concerns such as harm to marine life. 'It’s not the best solution,' says Marcus Eriksen of the ocean nonprofit The 5 Gyres Institute, based in Los Angeles, California. 'In fact, it’s a distraction from the work going on upstream.' Most environmental groups working on ocean pollution focus on reducing the amount of plastic that enters the ocean, and, ultimately, what Eriksen calls 'the heavy lift of ending the one-time, throwaway culture.'
But what about all that plastic floating around out there? I mean there's supposed to be a continent of plastic out there somewhere. It seems like a long shot to think that we are just going to stop using plastics, considering they are in everything we use. How do we reduce the plastic going into the ocean when the world seems like it can't agree on anything. Can't we collect and dispose of the trash at the same time that we look at reducing our use of plastic? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Criticizing with kindness

Can you be kind to your critics? You betcha...and it is especially important if you want them to listen to you, and if you want your readers to take you seriously.

If  you write counterarguments that are weak or insubstantial, all the better to dismiss them and lose ethos to boot. This is especially true if your readers are passionate about your subject.

Somewhere along the way you have to take on, and tackle, the strongest counterargument you can think of - and that can be difficult.

Daniel Dennett, one of today's best modern philosophers, asks "Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”

Here's his answer, word-for-word:
"How to compose a successful critical commentary: 
"1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, 'Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.' 
"2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement). 
"3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target. 
"4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."
This strategy builds ethos, pathos, and logos when formulating counterarguments. Ethos by being able to re-express your opponents position plainly (you are fair). In addition, when you can show that there are points of agreement you are building ethos (again, you are fair), but this also expresses pathos since we all want to get along somehow.

You can accomplish logos by expressing the logical outcome you gained from your opponent's position (what you learned). That sometimes seems to be the sticking point for new college writer's, how can I validate the claim I am supposed to be arguing against? You don't have to validate all of it, just some of it. At times, you may not be able to validate any of it, but if you look like you can reach some kind of common ground that makes you look reasonable (again, more ethos).

So thinking of your own counterargument, how can you adopt this formula?

Didn't the ancients have any feelings?

If you've ever read Roman, Old English, Medieval, or Renaissance lit, you may have noticed how devoid of feeling it is? Many of the ancient sagas from Homer to Iceland are filled with action, especially violent war-type action. But didn't any of these societies have any feelings? Of course, they must've by why don't they ever write about it? Is it because we expect everyone to reveal their every feeling on the page? Is this desire something that makes us modern?

I mean pick up a novel, open it to any page and read. Feelings are spread before us in almost every paragraph with gallons of ink. There are so many feelings that it sometimes takes the characters forever to DO anything.
"Literature certainly reflects the preoccupations of its time, but there is evidence that it may also reshape the minds of readers in unexpected ways. Stories that vault readers outside of their own lives and into characters’ inner experiences may sharpen readers’ general abilities to imagine the minds of others. If that’s the case, the historical shift in literature from just-the-facts narration to the tracing of mental peregrinations may have had an unintended side effect: helping to train precisely the skills that people needed to function in societies that were becoming more socially complex and ambiguous."
At least that is what one researcher thinks. Our tendency to reflect, read, and write about feelings helps us to navigate society today. We evolved those skills over time, and, if you think about it, in a relatively short period of time...5,000 years or so.

Not to say that there wasn't emotions in early texts, but it was more "hand wringing and tearing of hair," and relatively little of the more subtle emotional cues we read in our novels today.

When did this change? Between 1500 and 1700 and who was writing about emotions then? You guessed it, Shakespeare. Specifically "when it became common for characters to pause in the middle of the action, launching into monologues as they struggled with conflicting desires, contemplated the motives of others, or lost themselves in fantasy—as is familiar to anyone who’s studied the psychologically rich soliloquies of Shakespeare’s plays."

So that leads this researcher to ask:
"If mentalizing skills can be burnished by language that draws attention to mental states, has literature’s increasing use of such language improved readers’ social intelligence over the centuries?"
What do you think? Are we socially more intelligent than our ancestors?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

17 Majors Where you Might Not Find a Job

Forbes just released a list of  "17 college majors that report higher unemployment." This report completed by PayScale, polled 962,956 workers between March 2014 and March 2016. What they found may or may not be surprising depending on your major, but it correlates with the idea that popular majors may not be the best choice when it comes to finding a job.

So let's take a look.

No. 1 - Physical Education Teaching. 56.4% underemployment.

No. 2. - Human Services. 55.6% underemployment.

No. 3 - Illustration. 54.7% underemployment.

No. 4 - Criminal Justice. 53% underemployment.

No. 5 - Project Management. 52.8% underemployment.

No. 6 - Radio/Television and Film Production. 52.6% underemployment.

No. 7 - Studio Art. 52.0% underemployment.

No. 8 - Health Care Administration. 51.8 % underemployment.

No. 9 - Education. 51.8% underemployment.

No. 10 - Human Development and Family Studies. 51.5% underemployment.

No. 11 - Creative Writing. 51.1% underemployment.

No. 12 - Animal Science. 51.1% underemployment.

No. 13 - Exercise Science. 51% underemployment.

No. 14 - Health Sciences. 50.9% underemployment.

No. 15 - Paralegal Studies. 50.9% underemployment.

No. 16 - Theatre. 50.8% underemployment.

No. 17 - Art History. 50.7% underemployment.

What's surprising about this list is that underemployed majors are not just in the arts and humanities. Specifically, health sciences is on this list and that includes nurses.

How worried are you about getting a job in your major once you graduate?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Your tax dollars at work - Thanks NASA!

NASA is a great program that produces technical wonders including freeze dried food (yuck) and cameras (YAY - including the one in your phone.

In the past few years we've been receiving photos from various space projects and some of them are just so stunning they look fake. But these are fake news photos! This picture of the moon in front of the sun was taken from NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite that sits a million miles away from Earth.

"In 2015, it looked back at its home planet and captured a series of images showing what rock band Pink Floyd refers to as the 'dark side' of the moon (more aptly known as the 'far side' of the moon) as it passed between the camera and Earth. It's an almost startling perspective from a satellite that has a primary mission of monitoring solar winds."

Here's one reminiscent of All Hallows Eve- the sun looks like an evil Jack-O-Lantern. This picture was taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which imaged the sun in early October 2014.


"Auroras are a fascinating phenomenon involving swirling lights. When viewed from Earth, they light up the night sky and might make you think magical fairies really exist. This image from the crew of Expedition 32 on board the International Space Station in 2012 looks like the product of an artist's imagination, but it's real."

These are just some of the pictures sent back to earth by the many vehicles roaming our galaxy and they are beautiful (even in a horrible sort of way) and remind us that the universe is a really large and unexplored place.

Do you think that NASA is a good use of taxpayer dollars? What kinds of things would you like to see NASA do or discover in the future? Do you want to be an astronaut? Do you want to go to Mars and be a part of a colony? What kind of discoveries do you think will be made in your lifetime.

April's Fool

Did you ever wonder how April Fools Day came about? Did you think it was some Hallmark holiday, except they forgot to make the cards (April Fools). In reality, it is a very ancient tradition which even the Romans celebrated and they borrowed it from the Greeks.

Here's one of the accepted reasons for April Fools in the western world. The move from the Julian to the Georgian calendar - the what to the what you ask? We don't have enough space to devote to the change in calendars, but suffice to say that New Year's used to be celebrated in March and when we switched to the Georgian calendar it was moved to January 1. But there were the detractors who refused to celebrate New Year's in January. These people were made fun of as Fools, thus the spring day was created just for them.

Well, that's just one theory.

April Fools Day can be seen as a traditional spring festival celebrated in many cultures and taking many different forms, from our April Fools Day to the Hindu "Holi" festival. It seems to be a holiday about fun and frivolity.

The English especially love this day and in 1698 took the hoax to a new level with tickets to the "Washing of the Lions" at the Tower (now that's a job you could die for). This tradition continued on well into the 19th century (the above ticket is for April 1st, 1857), and we continue celebrating pranks and hoaxes today.

Maybe people just go a bit crazy when Spring has sprung. Why do you think we celebrate April Fools Day? Do you think we are just sick of winter and need to cut loose a little bit? What kind of pranks have you pulled on someone or has someone done to you?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Academia's Dirty Little Secret


Do you still want to get a Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate in order to become a professor? Think again. Not only does it take a lot of time and resources, and while money may not be everything, you most likely will find yourself living in poverty, That's right, not poor, or lower middle class, but living in actual poverty.

Here's academia's dirty little secret.

Those professors that you respect and admire (hopefully), and who spend hours planning, grading, and teaching your classes, are most likely part-timers. Over half of all college instructors today are adjuncts. That means that they are not entitled to full-time pay or benefits even though many of them teach four, five, six, or even seven classes a semester in order to make a decent salary. 

Do you have any idea how much time it takes to teach five courses? Let's think about it. You need to get to those courses, which may be at one, two, or even three different campuses. You need to prep for those courses, you need to hold office hours for those courses, you need to grade all homework, papers, and exams, and, finally, you need to teach those courses (that's the easy part).

Do you find that hard to believe? Want to see for yourself? Check out TransparentCalifornia.com and you can see how much all California public school teachers make. Look me up, my latest figures for 2015 show how much I made teaching five classes a semester.

Here's some hypocrisy for you, something that Academia loves to gripe about is WalMart and how they teach their employees to go on welfare and unemployment. Well, guess what? The institutions of higher learning where I teach taught me the same thing. If this were Walmart they'd be marching in the streets.

Why is this secret? This trend has been slowly growing over the years, and if you shine a light on this epidemic, the powers that be, namely the bureaucrats, admin, and full-time, tenure tracks, might lose a piece of their pie. Academics love to blame the "corporate model, " but this seems to be more about greed and like corporations those at the top are making more while those at the bottom make less. Do you see any administrators or full time employees at your school protesting this phenomenon? Do adjuncts have any power to change things? Not really, they are more fearful of losing what little they make now.

Don't get me wrong. I love my job - anybody who is a professor has to love their job. It just seems like the people who are among the highest educated and most respected members of our society are not treated very well (to say the least).

There is a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell points out, and this is something to consider as you contemplate your majors. Again, while money isn't everything, you need to be able to survive, so you must consider if your future career will pay your student loans, home mortgage, car payments, and food. Do you think you will have to delay adulthood and postpone marriage, homes, and families?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fast learning artificial intelligence

One of the things that have kept some experts from freaking out about Skynet and the takeover of human existence by artificial intelligence is that AI takes ten times longer to learn than humans. Well that is until now.

Google's Deep Mind just created an AI that learns at about the same pace as humans.
"If you’re unfamiliar with how deep learning works, it uses layers of neural networks to locate trends or patterns in data. If one layer identifies a pattern, that information will be sent to the next layer. This process continues until all the information is collected."
The new way of AI thinking imitates the way human and animals learn, "replicating what happens in the prefrontal cortex and then, as a backup, in the hippocampus."

But not to worry, no AI has reached a true human level of thinking, at least not yet.

Robotics may soon take over all of our jobs, but "as AI gets better at learning, it can be taught more and more ways to improve our lives." What is it with futurists? They are such an optimistic bunch.

Do we freak out now?

Should we resurrect extinct species?


Harvard says it's two years away from cloning a woolly mammoth. But maybe the question, should be, "Should we resurrect extinct species?"
"Advocates, like Vanessa Adams from the University of Queensland, hope that this resurrection will be beneficial not only for extinct species, but also for modern species and our environment. Adams studies how applying economic concepts, like bringing back an extinct animal that people would pay to see, can increase the effectiveness of on-ground conservation action, like raise money that can be used to conserve other endangered animals."
But there are detractors. If we decide to bring back dinosaurs, mammoths, and dodos what will that do for animals currently on the endangered species list. Will we just forget about them because of the novelty of these "new" animals? Conservation budgets are already stretched pretty thin.
"In modeling the reintroduction of some recently extinct species, the scientists discovered that funding the conservation of just 11 focal extinct species in New Zealand could instead be used to preserve 31 species that are not yet extinct. While the idea of bringing back extinct species is exciting, that trade off simply does not make sense for our environment."
So what do you think? Should we resurrect animals and stretch conservation budgets even thinner or work towards preserving the species currently inhabiting our globe? Is there are happy medium?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Teamwork according to Google

Google has five tips for effective teamwork as discovered by their People Operation's Group. They asked 200 people in their Project Aristotle a series of questions hoping to figure out the proper mix of tech nerds to physicists to scholars to come up the proper ingredients for the perfect team.

But what they found was not what they expected. It wasn't the mix of PhDs that made a good team, but how they worked together. Is it just me but doesn't that seem obvious?

So what are Google's five keys to a successful group:

1. Psychological Safety. Are you free to safely take risks in your group or will you be ostracized or punished. Hopefully, your teammates are supportive and don't see risk takers as ignorant or disruptive.

2. Dependability. Anybody who has done a school project knows exactly what this means.

3. Structure and clarity. Does the group get the assignment (task), have a plan to accomplish the assignment, and will it be successful? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are on your way to success.

4. Meaning. This can really only be defined by an individual, but it basically boils down to "Do you like what you are doing?" In the case of Google (or any other employer), this can be a lifetime of drudgery or delight. In the case of student groups, it can amount to how valuable the project may be to your landing a job. Did it help you make a decision (do you really want to do this for the rest of your life?).

5. Impact. For Google employees what "impact" amounts to is does your work make a difference? For student groups you might think it applies to the grade you received, especially in those groups where you get to grade each other. There is ALWAYS that one person that didn't do anything (or very little).

Do you like working in groups? You will be working in groups when you get into the working world, how do you think you will handle that? What do you think makes a successful team?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Student Loan Forgiveness

There is a lot of confusion about student loan forgiveness, so let's try to clear things up a bit.

In 2014, 37 million Americans had student loan debt that averaged $23,200. Depending on where you live and where you go to school your student loan debt may be larger - a lot larger.

I bet most college students are aware of student loan forgiveness programs, but they probably have no idea how they work.

Over at Student Loan Hero, Eric Roseberg has outlined the basics of student loan forgiveness - and it's something to think about.

Here's some of the basics (disclaimer: this stuff changes all the time, so stay caught up with new or revised forgiveness plans):

Student forgiveness plans apply mainly to federal student loans (Perkins loans are another matter), so all those loans you took out with Wells Fargo will NEVER qualify for forgiveness. Most banks are private institutions out to make money, so avoid taking a loan with them at all costs.

Federal loans for certain kinds of degrees, mainly public service (social workers, etc.), qualify for some type of forgiveness after ten years. You have to work in the field to qualify for forgiveness.

Some teachers with federal student loans qualify for forgiveness after as little as five years depending on where you teach. For the rest, they have to wait for ten years.

Loan holders with income-driven payment plans will qualify for forgiveness after twenty to twenty-five years.

Something to keep in mind, most forgiveness programs only apply to loan holders who have maintained good standing, meaning you have made all your payments on time and are not in default.

Sounds good? Well, think about this. Yes, you can get a big chunk of your federal loans forgiven, but the government treats that like regular income, with an exception for public service and teachers who will not receive a tax bill. What does this mean? If you have $100,000 of your student loan debt forgiven, you can expect to pay taxes on $100,000 worth of income. That's right forgiven loans are treated just like regular income and are taxed at whatever rate you fall into. On $100,000 for some that could mean a tax bill of $25,000.

As Rosenberg points out student loan forgiveness is not "all rainbows and unicorns." Do you have any student loans? Do you plan on having any student loans? How can you avoid borrowing as a student?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Superman Explained

This blog usually talks about DC's Superman, but this time let's talk about Nietzche's Übermensch, aka Superman.

What? Yes, you are supposed to take philosophy somewhere along your college academic path, and, in the words of Monty Python, "Now for something completely different . .  ."

 

Friedrich Nietzche is not examining physical strength (like the DC character), but the mind of the superman and claims that we can't possibly be the final product of evolution. So what might the man of the future be like? 

Nietzche felt supermen would make their own values, be independently minded, they might need to hurt people in the name of great things, selfish, reform men towards pagan values, not resentful, hard to understand, lonely, gentle towards the weak, sexually wicked, and all those characteristics were needed to lead mankind towards salvation through culture.

Who would you be mentally if you could be the "super" version of yourself?