Posts tagged education.

Do not be afraid to want a lot.

Things take a long time; practice patience.

Avoid compulsively making things worse.

Finish what you start.

Often people start out by thinking about all the things that they can’t do. Once you take that path, it’s very hard to get off of it. Shoot high and shoot often.

In this interview on The Great Discontent, the inimitable Debbie Millman (who is newly on SoundCloud!) offers five pieces of advice for young people starting out in any creative field – a fine addition to our running record of sage advice.

Complement with Neil Gaiman’s advice on the creative life and treat yourself to Millman’s sublime Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design.

(via explore-blog)

(via explore-blog)

  January 22, 2013 at 11:35am


Health and The Gut Flora: Improving Health by Targeting Gut Bacteria: A Q&A with Jeremy Nicholson

The body and its intestinal flora produce all sorts of chemicals that hold clues about a person’s health. Jeremy Nicholson is deciphering the signals, which could lead to new kinds of medicines

One of the hottest biomedical fields right now is metabolomics—the study of the metabolites and other chemicals that the body and its bacteria produce. The goal is to find out how the compounds can serve as indicators of health and disease. For the Insights story, “Going with His Gut Bacteria,” in the July 2008 Scientific American, Melinda Wenner talked with Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London. One of the founders of the field, Nicholson thinks that metabolomics may prove that the best medicine actually targets intestinal flora rather than cells of the body. Here is an edited excerpt from the interview.

You were one of the first scientists to study the metabolome, the collection of chemicals produced by human metabolism. Was it hard getting people to take the idea seriously?

Nobody was in the slightest bit interested. I had terrible difficulties getting funding throughout the 1980s in this area. I remember sending a paper to Nature in 1987 that showed how you could use nuclear magnetic resonance and computational pattern recognition to look at urine from animals that had been poisoned with lots of different sorts of drugs. The editor said, “There’s no interest [in this] to anybody whatsoever.” That would have been 10 years in advance of the first paper that would really call itself metabolomics or metabonomics.

Over the 10 years that followed, I built up a hell of a laboratory, so when our work started to get noticed, we were already one of the best-equipped labs in the world.

Why was no one interested back then?

I don’t think it was necessarily willful resistance; there was a lot of other stuff going on. In the ’80s molecular biology had just come in. You couldn’t get a grant in the U.K. unless you were doing molecular biology, because everybody thought that was going to solve everything. Then, also, in the late ’80s you had the idea of genomics coming in.

Why do you think that the metabolome is more likely than the genome to give scientists the answers they want?

Genomics only takes you part of the journey to real biological discovery. The genome is a blueprint for life, but it doesn’t tell you how the thing works. If you had a blueprint for a nuclear power station, it would tell you exactly how to build one, but it wouldn’t tell you anything about quantum mechanics, physics, the idea of nuclear fission, radioactive decay or anything that made it work. You can look at the genome the same way. It may well have a blueprint for building life, but it doesn’t tell you how the parts fit together.

And your work has shown that the environment makes a huge contribution to your health.

People talk about the genes that make you fat, but really, if you sit on your butt eating pork rinds and Big Macs and watching television, you will get fat, no matter what your genes say. What you do to yourself is really important. Metabolism captures environmental signatures as well as genetic. Your environment involves things like drugs you’re exposed to, the pollutants you’re exposed to, the products of your gut microbes, the metabolic products of your diet—so when we do a broad-screen metabolic profile, we’re capturing all of that information, plus information that links to genome variation. For me, metabonomics is the most holistic of the “-omics.” In principle, it can capture the signature of everything.

We’ve found that humans are far more metabolically diverse than genetically diverse. For instance, Chinese and Japanese people are actually metabolically very distinct, despite the fact they’re genetically near identical. And they have very different incidences of diseases.

How could scientists use this information to inform medicine?

I have this new concept of metabolome-wide association study. It will allow us to sample the genetic and the environmental things that cause diseases in people. We’ve found metabolic biomarkers that link to things like blood pressure in humans. Using this approach, we can generate new hypotheses in physiology that can be tested and may ultimately result in new drug discovery.

And you believe many of our metabolic differences have to do with gut bacteria. How did you come to realize that these microbes were so important for our health?

I’ve always known, ever since we started working on metabolic profiling, that there were metabolites that came from the gut microbes. We never really paid a lot of attention to it until maybe about seven or eight years ago, though. It was not just me—it was also Professor Ian Wilson [a scientist at AstraZeneca in England]. He became intrigued because he looked at colonies of rats—supposedly very, very similar groups of rats—but some produced one set of metabolites and others produced a different set. And yet they were from the same breeder; they were the same genetic strains. The differences were down to different gut microbial populations in rats residing in different parts of the laboratory.

The more we looked into it, the more we realized that microbes were so intimately involved in animal metabolic processes that they might have contributions to disease development in ways that hadn’t really been thought of before. We’re really just starting to expand this now, thinking about how gut microbes influence all sorts of things. They have influences on liver diseases and gut pathology like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome; there’s even evidence that autistic children have very, very different gut microflora [than other children]. Almost every sort of disease has a gut–bug connection somewhere. It’s quite remarkable.

What, ultimately, are you hoping to achieve with metabolomics?

We want to be able to take a set of biological data from a human being, and then, based on what we know about the metabolic makeup of that person, say how long they’re going to live, what diseases they’re likely to suffer from, how to treat those diseases, and how to manage their lifestyle and drug therapy optimally. We’re opening up sets of doors here into the future of health care—the manipulation of biology that would be just unimaginable five years ago.

Any funny or surprising moments you’d like to share from your research?

We did some work about 10 years ago at another person’s laboratory on something called magic-angle spinning spectroscopy [a kind of NMR spectroscopy that relies on spinning the sample to achieve higher resolution data]. What I was interested in was whether or not we could get some extra information out of lipoprotein signals by spinning the probe very, very fast. I put the blood plasma sample in and the spectrum that came out was totally nothing like plasma is normally. I thought, absolutely fantastic! We’ve liberated all this new information! We tried several more samples and the same thing happened, and so I started to chat with one of the guys in this laboratory. I said, “We got an amazing spectrum, it looks nothing like plasma spectra should be.” And he said, “Oh, show me!” And I showed him and he said, “Hmm, that looks very familiar.” To cut a long story short, what happened was that the previous week the guy had been running samples of blue cheese—a food science company had been conducting experiments. Rather than discovering a new part of the fundamental dynamics of lipoproteins, we discovered how to detect blue cheese in plasma.


Einstein Was Right: Space-Time Is Smooth, Not Foamy

Space-time is smooth rather than foamy, a new study suggests, scoring a possible victory for Einstein over some quantum theorists who came after him.

In his general theory of relativity, Einstein described space-time as fundamentally smooth, warping only under the strain of energy and matter. Some quantum-theory interpretations disagree, however, viewing space-time as being composed of a froth of minute particles that constantly pop into and out of existence.

It appears Albert Einstein may have been right yet again.

A team of researchers came to this conclusion after tracing the long journey three photons took through intergalactic space. The photons were blasted out by an intense explosion known as a gamma-ray burst about 7 billion light-years from Earth. They finally barreled into the detectors of NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in May 2009, arriving just a millisecond apart.

Their dead-heat finish strongly supports the Einsteinian view of space-time, researchers said. The wavelengths of gamma-ray burst photons are so small that they should be able to interact with the even tinier “bubbles” in the quantum theorists’ proposed space-time foam.

If this foam indeed exists, the three protons should have been knocked around a bit during their epic voyage. In such a scenario, the chances of all three reaching the Fermi telescope at virtually the same time are very low, researchers said.

So the new study is a strike against the foam’s existence as currently imagined, though not a death blow.

“If foaminess exists at all, we think it must be at a scale far smaller than the Planck length, indicating that other physics might be involved,” study leader Robert Nemiroff, of Michigan Technological University, said in a statement. (The Planck length is an almost inconceivably short distance, about one trillionth of a trillionth the diameter of a hydrogen atom.)

“There is a possibility of a statistical fluke, or that space-time foam interacts with light differently than we imagined,” added Nemiroff, who presented the results Wednesday (Jan. 9) at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.

If the study holds up, the implications are big, researchers said.

“If future gamma-ray bursts confirm this, we will have learned something very fundamental about our universe,” Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University said in statement.

(via scinerds)

  January 11, 2013 at 12:13am


Happy Birthday Stephen Hawking!

“It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. Its a crazy world out there. Be curious.”Prof. Hawking

Image: Noted physicist Stephen Hawking (center) enjoys zero gravity during a flight aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft owned by Zero Gravity Corp. (Zero G). Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is being rotated in air by (right) Peter Diamandis, founder of the Zero G Corp., and (left) Byron Lichtenberg, former shuttle payload specialist and now president of Zero G. Kneeling below Hawking is Nicola O’Brien, a nurse practitioner who is Hawking’s aide. At the celebration of his 65th birthday on January 8 2007, Hawking announced his plans for a zero-gravity flight to prepare for a sub-orbital space flight in 2009 on Virgin Galactic’s space service. Credit: NASA

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is a British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. Among his significant scientific works have been a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularities theorems in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation. Hawking was the first to set forth a cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He is a vocal supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009.

Hawking has achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; his A Brief History of Time stayed on the British Sunday Times best-sellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Hawking has a motor neurone disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years. He is almost entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device.


Reading Rainbow Might Stop the iPad From Ruining the Brains of All Children

For a generation now creating advanced things and placed in corridors of power, LeVar Burton was a god-king: both Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge, and the guy who taught us to like books on Reading Rainbow. Now, the two Burtons are fused—and it’s pretty incredible.

LeVar Burton has an app—it’s available starting today. Sure. Lots of people have apps. But it’s doubtful anyone cares as much about their app as LeVar Burton. I step into an expensive hotel room in Midtown Manhattan, and Burton springs up, greeting me by name, shaking my hand, talking almost immediately about reading. There’s an iPad in front of him.

But this isn’t just any product pitch—which is good, because Burton lacks all the unctuousness of a salesman or marketing player. He just… cares. His enthusiasm for an app designed to encourage little kids to read is almost overwhelming. How many people care about anything this much? And how much can I possibly properly appreciate an app designed for tiny kiddo brains? I can’t—so we brought our own: two boys, 3 and 5-years-old, stuck in that valley of super-hyperactivity spanning the end of school and the beginning of summer camp. As Burton lays out the app’s basics—a free download, a $10 per month subscription for unlimited kid-friendly titles, a vibrant cartoonish interface with hot air balloons and floating islands that capture the original series’ acid trip charm—the kids fidget. The older immediately covers himself in pretzel crumbs, the young starts chirping for mom’s attention. The kids are kids. It’s summer and they’d rather not be in a Midtown Manhattan hotel room on a beautiful day. Nobody would.

But then something incredible happens. We hand the older boy the iPad and fire up the Reading Rainbow app. He’s transfixed. The only word is transfixed. The fussing and pretzel-crunching stops, and his little brother curls next to him. They don’t fight over who gets to hold it. They both know intuitively how to use it—complete naturals. He picks pirates, animals, and space as his three preferred topics to generate recommended books. He starts reading along with Burton’s pre-recorded narration. The Wi-Fi sucks and the download stalls. He doesn’t care. The kids are—patient? Attentive? About a book.

I ask Burton if he thinks this is ultimately good, this sticking of LCDs under the eyes of children. Having seen lots of absentee parenting by way of iOS—kids handed a stray iPhone as they might be handed a pacifier, to shut them up in public—could the ubiquitous computer hurt little heads? Can the touchscreen warp fingers that’ve been flipping (and smearing chocolate on) paper for hundreds of years? “We can try to sequester ourselves from technology,” Burton shakes his head. But this is pointless, he explains. Kids like those two mesmerized by an app are an inevitability—and if we can make them mesmerized by a book instead of a game, we have to take the chance. We must. Burton is emphatic. “Ed[ucational] tech!” Burton grunts, pounding his palm with his fist. It’s imperative to him that we get kids using these everywhere-screens to become readers, writers, and thinkers, before they become something else. “We’ve already lost an entire generation of children. Maybe two,” he laments. This one, for whom touch screens are a given, should be different. It must be different, and you can see in LeVar Burton’s almost crazed eyes that the dude really, really, really wants kids to read more. And it seems like they will—if there’s one young charm you can count on, it’s that a little boy will tell you something is stupid and is bad and smells like poop if he thinks so. They’re a brutally honest lot. But our kindergarten demo team gave shy smiles and thumbs up.

Burton doesn’t act surprised in the slightest. And why should he? He lived this world 30 years ago: “I mean, come on—Geordi was carrying an iPad around the Enterprise!”

(via scinerds)

This week only. Free issue of Climate and Development. ›

What if students forced colleges to stop investing in oil stocks? ›


Guess what? They’re doing it. Students at over 100 colleges across the U.S. are petitioning, debating, writing letter campaigns, and giving speeches and presentations to force their colleges to dump oil stocks. The point is to make owning oil stocks the moral equivalent of investing in tobacco or other harmful products.

Thus, the clever idea is to hit oil companies where it hurts - their wallets. It’s called “divestment.” “Divestment” is the opposite of investment. It’s when an organization liquidates its stock and other investments in certain industries, in this case big oil.

A group of Swarthmore College students is asking the school administration to take a seemingly simple step to combat pollution and climate change: sell off the endowment’s holdings in large fossil fuel companies. For months, they have been getting a simple answer: no.

But, the students are very organized with the help of Bill McKibben, a well known environmentalist and head of They’ve had some success:

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

Divestment has worked before:

Students who have signed on see it as a conscious imitation of the successful effort in the 1980s to pressure colleges and other institutions to divest themselves of the stocks of companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid.

A small institution in Maine, Unity College, has already voted to get out of fossil fuels. Another, Hampshire College in Massachusetts, has adopted a broad investment policy that is ridding its portfolio of fossil fuel stocks.

A new chapter in activism is born. The full story makes for an exciting read, To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios.


Stella Young: Why she kicks ass

  • She is a comedian and disability advocate.
  • She is an Editor of ABC’s Ramp Up website, the online space for news, discussion and opinion about disability in Australia.
  • She began her disability activism at 14 when she conducted an access audit of the shops in the local main street.
  • She is a member of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Ministerial Advisory Council for the Department of Victorian communities and Women With Disabilities Victoria.
  • She is a two-time state finalist in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Raw Comedy competition.
  • She has hosted eight seasons of Australia’s first disability culture program No Limits, which aired on Channel 31 and community stations across the country.
  • She has worked with Youth Disability Advocacy Service to establish the LiveAccess project, advocating for better access to live music venues. 
  • She holds a degree in Journalism from Deakin University and a Diploma of Secondary Education from the University of Melbourne. 
  • Before joining the ABC, she worked in Public Programs at Melbourne Museum, where she taught kids about bugs, dinosaurs and other weird and wonderful things about the world.
  • She was part of the global atheist convention in Melbourne during April 2012.
  • Places you can find her: website, twitter, youtube, archive of ABC articles written by Stella, Don’t Look Past My Disabled Body - I Love It, Ramp Up (the website she is an editor of), Eulogy For A Wheelchair.

(via badasswomen)

Another Way Student Loans Are Like Mortgages: Subpar Servicing ›


The parallels between the mortgage market and the student loan industry have been frequently noted. Both involve big borrowing and have a history of lax underwriting by lenders. But the two are also strikingly similar in another way: When it comes to both mortgages and student debt, the servicers, or companies that handle loan payments, sometimes add roadblocks and give struggling borrowers the runaround.

That’s the main takeaway from two recent reports by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the independent agency created by the financial reform law passed in 2010.

Servicers have misapplied payments, given borrowers bad advice, and reported incorrect information to credit bureaus, according to one of the reports. The findings were based on the agency’s recent tracking of student loan complaints, focusing on the companies who handle private student loans.

Borrowers facing hardship and looking for flexibility through refinancing or a more manageable repayment plan “struggled to get an answer from their lender or servicer,” wrote the agency’s Student Loan Ombudsman, Rohit Chopra. When they tried to postpone payments, they were sometimes charged a recurring fee to do so.

And even when servicers encouraged borrowers to make “good faith” partial payments in amounts they could afford, the payments sometimes still resulted in delinquency or default, according to the report.

As we’ve noted in our reporting, private loans often don’t have the same protections as federal loans: Death and disability discharges typically are not guaranteed or are decided on a case-by-case basis.

And when the loans are packaged and sold to investors, it’s even harder to know who has the authority to make decisions about repayment options, discharges, or other issues that arise: “Borrowers report that sometimes servicers cannot even answer who owns a loan,” noted an agency factsheet. Homeowners have faced similar trouble.

Sometimes, the parallels are exact. By law, members of the military are entitled to special protections, including lower interest rates on both mortgages and student loans. But thousands have been overcharged on their mortgages. And according to the government’s second report, service members have also had the same problem with student loans. The report, which focused exclusively on the loan debt of military borrowers, blamed the overcharging on servicing errors and demands for unnecessary documentation.

The report also noted that loan servicers at times “guided” members of the military into putting loans into deferment or forbearance — even though interest accrues during those periods, and there may be better options available.

Of the more than 2,000 consumer complaints received by the CFPB from March and September of this year, the two most complained-about servicers were Sallie Mae, representing 46 percent of complaints, and American Education Services, or PHEAA, with 12 percent.

Though the focus was on the servicing of private student loans, it’s worth noting that many of the companies servicing loans in the private market are the same contractors handling federal loans.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, borrowers of federal student loans have also faced some of the same challenges as those with private loans. For instance: Since last fall, the Department of Education has been transferring some borrowers to new servicers it’s contracted with to handle federal student loans — often resulting in confusion for borrowers, some of whom have even seen their repayment plans changed.


Most of Nature Thinks Your Sex Life Is Boring

The animal kingdom is full of weird sex. From detachable penises and exploding genitals to four-headed phalluses … let’s just say that evolution has provided life with a variety of entertaining ways to create more of itself. And behind each of those odd adaptations is real biology.

Wild Sex, a new web show coming up from Carin Bondar (who is awesome, btw), will explore all of that. Looks like it’ll be quite entertaining, hilarious, and educational. I’ll definitely be tuning in. Check it out here.

(via io9)


Three anti-social skills to improve your writing

Well, we know that many great writers of bygone eras were famously anti-social (I’m looking at you, Hemingway), so it should come as no surprise that anti-social skills could come in handy for the modern scribe.

By Nadia Kalman, full lesson at TED-Ed.



To give you pause, then chills: How state science standards stack up, according to a new report from The Fordham Institute. 

Good thing there’s hope for science education outside the classroom. 

Demand better … and we can do better. Who’s with me? 

Honored to be thought of as part of the “hope” :)

  November 13, 2012 at 12:59pm

How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning ›


Jim Stigler is a psychologist who studies the differences in how Eastern and Western cultures approach learning. After watching a Japanese student try and fail and try again, for a whole period, to draw a geometric shape in front of the entire class, and then enjoy the experience … he knew something was different about the philosophy of struggle in Eastern classrooms. A key bit from the NPR story (emphasis mine):

“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

“They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing,” Stigler says. “I mean it sounds bad, but I think that’s what they’ve taught them.”

Not all Eastern cultures are identical, of course, but I think it could serve American students nicely to realize that yes, this stuff is hard, struggle is part of learning, and not learning something at the same pace as others doesn’t mean you are stupid … it means you are learning the way that you learn.

That idea should be encouraged. Success in learning and in life comes from the desire to work hard to master the problems before you. Intelligence is not bestowed upon us like magical powers from above. 

Very good read over at NPR, check it out.

  November 13, 2012 at 12:36pm
via NPR

Global Gender Gap Report 2012: The Best And Worst Countries For Women ›


You know how people like to say the US is the “best country in the world?” well, check this out….

The report ranks 135 countries (which collectively contain over 90 percent of the world’s population) based on 14 indicators used to measure the size of a nation’s gender gap in four key areas:
1. Economic participation and opportunity, which includes female labor force participation, wage equality and the percentage of women in high-ranking jobs.
2. Educational attainment, which looks at female literacy and how frequently women are enrolled in higher education.
3. Health and survival, which is measured by comparing female and male life expectancy and mortality rates.
4. Political empowerment, which examines the number of women holding political office as well as the number of female heads of state over the last 50 years.

Well, last year the US ranked #17. Guess where we are now? #22. We dropped FIVE SPOTS IN ONE YEAR. This is in SPITE of even more mainstream coverage of these so-called “women’s issues.”

Now imagine if Romney takes the White House. Politicians who want to take away the rights to our bodies (which is key to our economic success), call rape a “gift,” will run around being unchallenged. We will only go down in terms of gender equity. There is a lot of work to be done.


2012 Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend

Image: A composite image of every meteor captured in a viewing session for the 2011 Orionid Meteor shower at Middle Falls, near Mount Shasta in California. Credit: Brad Goldpaint/Goldpaint Photography

The meteors for the Orionid shower meteors appear to fall from above the star Betelgeuse, the bright orange star marking the shoulder of the constellation Orion, so if you live in the northern hemisphere look towards the southeast, and in the southern hemisphere look towards the northeast during the best viewing times. The best viewing times are usually about midnight to 2 am, or in the hours just before dawn in your area. The quarter Moon will have set about midnight, so it won’t be a hindrance.

As always, for the best view get away from city lights. If your backyard is lit by too many streetlights, look to go to state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision, say the folks at StarDate, a bi-monthly publication put out by the McDonald Observatory.

(via scinerds)