Weakly Post #10

This should have gone out yesterday, but the weather was so nice, a bike ride along the river and a visit to sister-in-law pushed this back. Maki’s sister is going to take care of the cat while we drive out to Nagoya and get their mother ready for moving out of her home to a nursing home near our house here in Tokyo. We will drive up to the countryside in Gifu so she can sell her family house, bought many years ago for about $100,000, and now worth $15,000 (mostly for the land, the neighbors will rase the house and grow vegetables). Another indication on the hollowing out of rural Japan as it empties into the Tokyo basin called Kanto, now with almost a third of the entire population.

Maki and I were also watching the 30th anniversary of the ascension of the Emperor when we both realized that we got married six weeks later. So now I in the market for a nice 30th wedding anniversary present for April 15. Suggestions welcome.

Reading list for the week
Reading list for the week

News: People in the US, most notably in Fountain Colorado, near Colorado Springs, are seeing some really nasty chemicals in their drinking water. Turns out that the military (which has 3 bases in the area) are the source. The military does not seem too concerned about rising cancer rates in the area, minimizing the problem. Unfortunately, this has historical antecedents. Kodak, in Rochester New York, in 1945, noticed that their x-ray film was fogged. They discovered it was run-off from military nuclear testing. So the military quietly told Kodak the days when the water they let out was “hot”. Nobody notified the public. When will people learn never to trust their government? (Popular Mechanics)

Media: Is there any way to monetize (make a buck off of) digital media? People keep trying and failing. This time, Buzzfeed, following AOL, Yahoo and Huffpost. (NYTimes)

Media: Joi Ito from MIT’s Media Lab (I saw him at a Media Lab conference last summer) has just proposed a way to solve the expensive journal article problem in science. Keep your eyes peeled for PubPub and Underlay. (Blog)

Media: Netflix is making the world more international. Really. It makes a lot of business sense, but is also good for the world. Surprisingly. Farhad Manjoo. (NYTimes)

Media: Favorite headline for the week, but also on how to manipulate media for political purposes, this one about privatizing the internet. Blockbuster Gizmodo investigation reveals probable masterminds of the massive anti-Net Neutrality identity theft/astroturf campaign. Includes bots and dead people. Another one about the same topic, this time the government lying with statistics in manufacturing. (Mother Jones)

Communication: Scientists figure that only a small percentage of a verbal message is contained in the selection of words. Use this to explore the 24 sounds humans use to communicate. All those sighs, grunts and moans. Captivating. (Discover Magazine).

Tech: Read these 6 stories about rewriting your program online. A good idea? Depends. EdTech: Training your customers (support)? Use some ideas from online education. This will probably be the direction I go when I retire from the uni in a few years. I have a feeling I am leaving academia at just the right time. Expecting my retirement to be exciting. Download the 48-page report Shift Happens 2 to find out why it is a good idea to be looking at other avenues if you are teaching at a university. Stephen Downes thought this was an unusual EdTech “device”: bring a baby to class and have students watch to practice empathy. Seems to work, though. With Facebook and Instagram and other social media getting toxic, it is worth a look at how Forums work online (by Howard Rheingold). Toxic is right, with China forcing DNA tests on the Uighur minority. (NYTimes) Online Petitions don’t work. Just ask the people behind #FuckFuckJerry. (Atlantic)

Productivity: Stephen Wolfram is productive. He talks about the many ways and tools he uses. (Blog). There are a lot of ways to measure success, once you become productive. Try some Effective Altruism to make your life better as well as the lives of others. (Forbes)

Politics. Steve Salita got fired from his university lecture position for tweeting about Palestine. He is now a bus driver. He writes about how things have changed and how they haven’t. I just wish society would be consistent in prosecution by tweet.

Learning: Valuable new look at learning in this book review and interview of How Humans Learn. Is teaching an art or a science?

Free Podcasts for learning English. I have not listened to any of these, so if you have an opinion, please comment. Thanks. Watch this Video about Questions from the Right Question Institute. It works. I have tried it, and use it regularly in class. Adapted of course. Buy the book. Or take the $200 grad school course from Harvard. TechTool: Keep your blog syndication simple (use RSS!) (CogDog)

And finally, a concert with the boys. A colleague pointed us to a group coming to Tokyo in June. I have been a fan of Susan Tedeschi, but lost track of her about a decade ago. Now I see she is singing with her husband and one-time Allman Brothers Band member Derek Truck. Great blues.

Weakly Post #9

I have an intensive course this week and had my first session today. The group of 16 is great because it is small, and nothing else is going on at the university. Thus it is more relaxed. I am using Socratic Circles as a discussion tool for this Speaking and Listening class. (pdf). Also called Socratic Seminars. After preparation, the discussion is like a fish-bowl with some observing and taking notes. I have found that 2 observers for each discussant is the best ratio. So I made 3 groups of 5, each a different topic, then we will have 3 different fish-bowl discussions. Follow-up feedback after each session.

And you thought the SAT Test was to measure college readiness. It’s been refurbished and is trying to shape the college prep curriculum (i.e. high school) to focus on two “codes”, computer programming and the US Constitution. Last week I was amazed to hear the head of ACT say that he was not worried about reduced market share because they were moving into prep instead of measurement. Are we seeing the first shift into irrelevancy for college entrance exams? Lots to discuss here.

This interactive map of humans making sounds of emotions has me thinking. Can I use this to teach descriptive words about emotions? After getting students to listen and match sounds in English, the idea is to pull out Japanese equivalents (or better new ones) of emotions in YouTube, and make a database of those in the class.

Remember Basra? From the Iran-Iraq war? Marshes full of oil? Mostly destroyed? Well, it is coming back, and the Marsh Arabs have a lifestyle like no others. An historical perspective (Noah’s Flood).

I have been listening to The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson. In the introduction, he says he was distracted by the book he wrote about Steve Jobs, and that this gives a better perspective. It starts with Lady Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and goes through the complete arc of the Digital Revolution. A great compliment to Steven Levy’s The Hackers.

Sometimes I wonder if everything I learned in college is wrong. Now we are seeing that constant stress of poverty can actually change people’s genetic makeup of their cells. In my undergrad psych classes we studied Luria and his wiring of bull brains, but now we see that animals have much different cognition than we thought. (Atlantic)

This series of half a dozen articles about games for learning makes me feel good about all those hours with that controller clutched in my hands, red eyes the next morning. But really, it is true, and we need to get it right. The balance is the key. (EdSurge) My favorite was about using a MOO (text-based MMO back in the day. This guy got rich and famous in an industry that dwarfs movies playing LamdaMOO, then Zelda, then Final Fantasy.

Kashmir Hill gives up the 5 most important silos on the Internet and tries to live her life without them. The crisis comes when her daughter has a meltdown and she needs the key to her hotel room, but has forgotten the code. She is braver than I. We are now officially addicted to our tech. Time for a camping trip this summer.

A good literature review of (49 studies of) educational technology leadership 2013-2017. Get the pdf. Wish there were something like this for CALL (tech in language learning). This is supposedly the 5th wave, maybe.

A beautiful website (as it should be) about the Laws of User Experience (UX). Find out quickly what is important to design an interface that works. Learning CSS is a little like learning and language and you should no longer have to worry about memorizing too much stuff. Get a good connection to what is happening in the world of CSS with an old tool, one of my favorites: An RSS Reader (I use feedly) to link to good resources. That is building your own learning tool.

Nice 9-minute video of Shenzhen and how the sleepy fishing village is now 13-million strong at a hyper tech speed for creating new devices. Talk about a rich innovation culture.

I have been watching the Netflix show Cable Girls (or rather, Las Chicas del Cable) in Spanish about the 20’s in Madrid. Great story about women and their struggles for liberation. Also great is the music, which is R and B mostly. I especially like the Title cut (Salt, by B. Miles), and never forward through the Intro each episode. Get the playlist on Spotify.

Nice tool to get your students to research something, then make an infographic, then do a poster presentation. I have been using poster presentations for years now. I find that about 1/4 of the students presenting at the same time is a good ration (3 to 1 audience to presenters). Got the idea from a project based book Widgets Inc, which now has a second edition, which I will be using with my business students at Keio. Zanifesto.

It is easy to give short shrift to the planning part of a writing exercise. This tool may help some students get their ideas in order. A Semantic Environment Map is a fancy alternative to a mind map.

I am a big believer in Peer Grading, and if I weren’t using the Workshop Module in Moodle, I would definitely be using PeerGrade. Here is a short video on how to set up your first assignment. Related research article.

Tech tool: Visual Studio has been around forever, and got too bloated for me more than a decade ago. But it looks like it is worth another look. Microsoft is really surprising me this last year with so many innovations. They have learned to live in the new digital environment.

Weakly Post #8

This week was the last class for many of my students. Tuesday the first-years will receive guidance on how to prepare for April and the new academic year, I will be there to remind them that learning English is like playing an instrument, or keeping in shape. Daily practice is key to maintenance. English has a phrase “One step forward, two steps back” but the Japanese equivalent is a bit more optimistic: “Three steps forward, two steps back.” I will give a 10-minute lecture on how to maintain their English in the next two months (slides). I am working on adding resources to the handout from last year.

I also am developing a module on getting student to build their own vocabulary learning tool or process. I outline the process into four stages (FILM) for Find, Investigate, Learn, Maintain. Slides. That I tried out for the second time last week and find it works better early in the term, along with follow-up.

The third project is analyzing data from our Extensive Reading component of our skills program. I have managed Xreading, the software instead of a typical physical library of graded readers. Students find the access to materials on their phones allows them to read in many more places. The idea of Extensive Reading is to get students to read a lot of easy books to improve their English. This has solid research behind it, but Xreading allows me to monitor things like which books they choose and read, when they start and finish, and how much time they spend on each book and scores from simple comprehension quizzes. I now have ported data vrom the 21,000 books 232 students in 9 groups based on TOEIC scores have read this year. Looks to be a wealth of information. I am using JASP for statistical analysis because it allows me to try out many different kinds of relationships in the data. More as analysis proceeds.

Reading this week: Science: If you aren’t religious, or if science is your religion, you should watch this 6-minute video of a zyogote develop into an embryo and then into a salamander. This may tilt your opinion with the amazing way life develops. (Kottke). On the other end of the spectrum, you can watch as 10,000 maggots devour a pizza. What is amazing is that they follow the rules of fluid mechanics. (BoingBoing)

Politics: My sister, niece, and nephew just moved to Anchorage Alaska, where it was warmer than the midwest US this week. They were feeling hemmed in in Portland, and were seeking out more space and fewer rules. The goverment there, though, seems to be in worse shape than the rest of the US, but maybe that is what they wanted.

What is wrong with the Democratic Party in the US? They tried to sideline Bernie Sanders and now they are trying to sideline Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is a breath of fresh air and a new look at a very stale party that looks like it has been bought and piad for my corporate doners. She could lead us back to the roots of the party, post-war at least, when they used to fight for the little guy. Now they seem as bad as the Republicans. AOC is AOK, in my book.

An author writes about how her life at 47 resembles her life at 27 with a marriage in between, and how maybe she was meant to live this way. In New York. (Medium)

Thinking: I have been learning the wrong stuff all these years, trying to stay on the “bleeding edge” of technology (as my Tokyo PC User Group cohort put it in the 90’s). It seems that Warren Buffett studies things that don’t change that much, and is thus able to “compound” his knowledge, much like compound interest. Over at Farnam Street they look at a new book about him, called The Snowball. Read the post, to get the idea. It is an important one.

Toilets: I have long considered sewage systems one of the most important advances of technology, and James Fallows and a panel of 12 scientists at the Atlantic agree, rating it number 12 out of 50. But things have gone portable in recent years. Read this engrossing story about a port-a-potty king and his world in New York. (The New Yorker)

Pizza: More New York centered history, this time looking into who was the first Pizza Kingpin in that fair city. The common story has come under investigation. Another sign that History is Not Over. Also, to get your pizza on, and maybe to increase your chances of passing on those genes, a study has found that along with increased appetite, marijuana smoking can increase your sperm count.

Holes: In the ground. South Carolina spent $US 9 Billion to dig one and then fill it up. Nuclear power is now more expensive than renewable (solar/wind) when you factor in the waste. (The Intercept). The amazing thing is how little we have heard of this story.

Games: Computer/video/TV games make far more than movies do. It is important to know what these billions of dollars of entertainment are throwing at people. Go read about Fortnite, or talk to any teen. Then read about how the model of gaming is the future of entertainment (Redef). They even have concerts in the virtual world, attended by millions (Wired). But Epic Games, who host Fortnight, are moving into the territory long held by Steam, using their money to entice developers over to their new online store, making the sign exclusive contracts. The competition may be good for prices, and good for developers, but right now there is a lot of recriminations and confusion.

And finally, a great beer glass, available from Swiss-miss if you can afford it.

Weakly Post #7

Mimi Wada, artist, and former student

Friday I met Bill and we went to a steak place in Roppongi. Nice, not so much for the steak, but for the salad bar, and dessert bar. Then we went to see Mimi Wada at the National Art Center. She was part of an exhibit of sumi-e, or painting with India ink. We got to meet her sensei, and caught up on her travels around the world. She and I have an affinity for Myanmar, and for trying out new things. Altogether a very very pleasant afternoon.

I saw that my credit card was charged for my donation to The Correspondent, who aim to purvey Unbreaking News as they start to use their $2.5 million to get set up and turn their Dutch agency international.

Facebook earns more than ever as fact-checkers leave. Kind of like Mitch McConnel, who made his bones blocking campaign finance reform and supreme court appointments. Both he and Zuckerberg figure that the public cares, but not enough. Sadly, both are right. Zuck knows that with 2 billion daily users, even if leaving Facebook makes you happier, he’s got the lock in.

Here in Japan, my students (I teach at a women’s university) move out into a very tough environment when they graduate. Japan is rated as one of the worst in the world for workplace equality, and that has not been fixed for a long time, even though it gets lip service. But even after they get married, it gets worse.

There is such a thing as too clean. We need lots of bacteria to help us avoid allergies. We are an ecosystem.

My kind of linguist. A traveler and scholar, he even got a new name on his quest to link his native Transylvanian to the Mongol Magyars. He spent his life trying to prove the theory but it was the journey that lead to a Tibetan dictionary and then on to India. He picked up his new name Sikander Beg in Iran.

Required reading for waiting in line. Cueing theory parses what is the best way to organize to shorten lines. Ignored around the world.

Scary stuff. Prisons in the US are assembling a database of voice prints (like fingerprints, but with the voice) from inmate calls. Those voice samples can be compared to live or recorded voices to match them up. Some prisons only give permission for outgoing calls if the inmate consents to be recorded and added to the database.

More scary stuff. The Trump administration is moving plutonium around the US without telling anyone.

If you ever need to teach a course on how to facilitate online learning, get this manual. It is really helpful. It includes specifics on the content for 4 different courses. Great for teacher-trainers, or anybody interested in teaching online. The FLO Facilitation Guide.

My mother, then my wife, picked out my ties. I did pick out one, but you can tell immediately. That is why this color-picker helps to choose which colors go with which. Good for web developers or if you are going to paint the room again. Really simple to use.

Cool video of people talking about their scars. 4 minutes and they come at you quickly. Maybe something to base an English lesson around?

Cheers until next weekend.