Thursday, 22 December 2011
Monday, 21 November 2011
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Whenever we watch the Saw movies, or a particularly gruesome episode of The Tudors, people bite the big one in extremely awful ways. Although the sight is repulsive, we still want to take a peek because we're a little bit curious. What would the scariest kinds of death be like, and how long would they take?
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
The Willat Effect is the hedonic change caused by side-by-side comparison of similar things. Your hedonic response to the things compared (e.g., two or more dark chocolates) expands in both directions. The “better” things become more pleasant and the “worse” things become less pleasant. In my experience, it’s a big change, easy to notice.
I discovered the Willat Effect when my friend Carl Willat offered me five different limoncellos side by side. Knowing that he likes it, his friends had given them to him. Perhaps three were homemade, two store-bought. I’d had plenty of limoncello before that, but always one version at a time. Within seconds of tasting the five versions side by side, I came to like two of them (with more complex flavors) more than the rest. One or two of them I started to dislike. When you put two similar things next to each other, of course you see their differences more clearly. What’s impressive is the hedonic change.
The Willat Effect supports my ideas about human evolution because it pushes people toward connoisseurship. (I predict it won’t occur with animals.) The fact that repeating elements are found in so many decorating schemes and patterns meant to be pretty (e.g., wallpapers, textile patterns, rugs, choreography) suggests that we get pleasure from putting similar things side by side — the very state that produces the Willat Effect. According to my theory of human evolution, connoisseurship evolved because it created demand for hard-to-make goods, which helped the most skilled artisans make a living. Carl’s limoncello tasting made me a mini-connoisseur of limoncello. I started buying it much more often and bought more expensive brands, thus helping the best limoncello makers make a living. Connoisseurs turn surplus into innovation by giving the most skilled artisans more time and freedom to innovate.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Steven Pinker has a new book coming out next week, and I'm very much looking forward to it. It is titled The Better Angels Of Our Nature: How Violence Has Declined, and its premise is that humans have been becoming increasingly less violent over time. I'm very sympathetic to this view: I think cooperation, not conflict, has been the hallmark of human evolution.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Friday, 16 September 2011
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Friday, 9 September 2011
The Winalot Diet**
A real story by a Man who was standing in a queue in Tesco's.........
I have 2 dogs & I was buying a large bag of Winalot in Tesco and was standing in the queue at the till. A woman behind me asked if I had a dog. On impulse, I told her that no, I was starting The Winalot Diet again, although I probably shouldn't because I'd ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.
I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and the way that it works is to load your trouser pockets with Winalot nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry & that the food is nutritionally complete so I was going to try it again.
I have to mention here that practically everyone in the queue was by now enthralled with my story, particularly a guy who was behind her.
Horrified, she asked if I'd ended up in the hospital in that condition because I had been poisoned. I told her no, it was because I'd been sitting in the road licking my balls and a car hit me.
I thought one guy was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard as he staggered out the door.
Stupid cow..........why else would I buy dog food??
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Friday, 2 September 2011
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Whether it’s the wail of Eddie Van Halen or Chuck Berry, this tongue-in-cheek look at rock and roll history hits a lot of high notes. Created by the ever strange crew at Cracked, the graphic takes the rock stereotypes of each generation since the 50′s, showing timelines for that times archetypes, subject matter, volume, thievery, profitability, competition and social impact. What was your favorite era?
Friday, 26 August 2011
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Monday, 22 August 2011
Dr. Carl Sagan, who originally requested that the picture be taken, famously reflected on its meaning:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
Friday, 29 July 2011
Friday, 22 July 2011
Still from "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System"
How has one industrialized country created one of the world's most successful education systems in a way that is completely hostile to testing? That's the question asked -- and answered -- in a new documentary called "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System." Examining the nation with one of the most comparatively successful education systems on the planet, the film contradicts the test-obsessed, teacher-demonizing orthodoxy of education "reform" that now dominates America's political debate.
On my KKZN-AM760 radio show, I talked to Harvard researcher Tony Wagner, who narrates the film and who is the author of the 2008 book "The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need -- And What We Can Do About It." The interview became the basis for my recent newspaper column on the subject. Because that column generated so much feedback, I wanted to publish this abridged transcript of our larger discussion. You can listen to the full interview here.
What has Finland achieved, and what's the history behind its improved education system?
In the early 1970s, Finland had an underperforming education system and a pretty poor agrarian economy based on one product -- trees, and they were chopping them down at a rapid rate that wasn't going to get them very far. So they knew they had to completely revamp their education system in order to create a true knowledge-based economy.
So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.
So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland's performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.
So, Finland basically focuses on teachers and not on domestic testing. Those PISA tests that you cite are international assessments.
That's absolutely right. There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is "Trust Through Professionalism." The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that's without any testing at all.
This is the antithesis of what we're hearing about in the United States in terms of so-called education "reform." When you hear the debate in the United States over education, the idea is that we need to demonize teachers and that the real way to fix our education system is to simply test the hell out of kids. Why do you think there is such a difference between the attitudes of our two countries?
First of all I want to point out that Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. It's not your grandfather's socialist country in any sense of the word.
But beyond that, what I find so striking is that the reforms in [the U.S.] have been driven and led by businesses for the last quarter century. It was David Kearns at Xerox and Lou Gerstner at IBM calling for a national summit on education and they didn't invite any educators. They invited CEOs and governors and senators and congressmen.
Now, I understand and respect business needs for better skills, and I understand a certain mistrust of the education system based on the fact that it's the only profession where you're guaranteed a job for life. But what's different in Finland is that there has been a bipartisan consensus over 30 years about the importance of education and the importance of high-quality teaching as the real solution. It's been a partnership between businesses, policy makers and educators, and that's what we need in this country but don't have.
What would you say to folks who say you can't compare the United States' educational system to Finland's educational system because Finland has a homogenous population and the U.S. is a much more diverse population?
First, Finland is more diverse than people realize. Fifteen percent of the population speaks second languages. There are 45 languages spoken in Helsinki schools today. Point two for a point of comparison, and there are obviously huge differences, but it's not Finland as a country compared to US as a country. Finland has the size and population of about 33 of our states. So let's compare Finland to Minnesota -- very similar demographics, right? But not at all similar results in terms of international comparisons. So while it's true that there are differences, there's a lot we can learn from the Finnish story.
What about the role of economics? New York University professor Diane Ravitch often says that the education system in this country cannot alone solve poverty, and in many cases it will inherently reflect poverty. Finland is a much less economically unequal society. How much does that lack of poverty explain Finland's success as opposed to our own?
There are two answers to that. First of all, yes, race and class matter. You want to know what a test score in a district is, you find out how poor people are. There's no question that race and class, and the economic disparity in this country, go a very long way to understanding our achievement gap.
But having said that, I've been in some of this country's best schools in some of the wealthiest districts, and even some private schools, and I've seen stunningly mediocre teaching there with teachers teaching to the test. And the tests are primarily factual recall, memorization tests where students may pass, but will learn none of the skills that are necessary in the global knowledge economy.
This is what Finland has done that's different -- they've defined what is excellent teaching, not just reasonable teaching, and they have a standard for that. Second, they've defined what is most important to learn, and it's not a memorization-based curriculum, but a thinking-based curriculum. So even in our wealthiest districts we're not approaching that global standard of success and excellence.
If we could somehow wave a wand and implement Finland's education system right now here in America, what do you think the results would look like? Would they be so much better, keeping in mind those economic disparities and that economic inequality?
It's going to take generations and I do believe we're going to have to address these economic disparities. But I've been in schools with high poverty, KIPP schools, which like schools in Finland, have defined what is excellence in teaching and learning. I think you can see from the results that KIPP schools get, how graduates of KIPP schools go to college and succeed in college at higher rates than white, middle class kids. That's because of excellent teaching. So yes, race and class matter. We have to address those issues, and we cannot use that as an excuse for low achievement.
How did Finland manage to elevate the role of teacher in the eyes of the population to something that is not just an honorable profession, but a revered profession, whereas in the United States, teachers are so regularly denigrated?
They really think about teachers as scientists and the classrooms are their laboratories. So, as I mentioned -- every teacher has to have a masters degree, and it's a content degree where they're not just taking silly courses on education theory and history. They're taking content courses that enable them to bring a higher level of intellectual preparation into the classroom. That's the first point.
The second point is that they've defined professionalism as working more collaboratively. They give their teachers time in the school day and in the school week to work with each other, to continuously improve their curriculum and their lessons. We have a 19th century level of professionalism here, or worse, it's medieval. A teacher works alone all day, everyday, and isolation is the enemy of improvement and innovation, which is something the Finns figured out a long time ago. Get the teachers out of their isolated circumstances and give them time to work together.
Buy This Title
On Salon, David Sirota interviews Harvard's Tony Wagner about his documentary, The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System, which looks at the way that the Finnish education system delivers consistent, high-quality education without testing, with long holidays for students, and with teachers who are considered national treasures.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Thursday, 7 July 2011
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Saturday, 2 July 2011
Help the Bolton funnyman regain his observational mojoFacts and Opinions
started: Jan 27 2009 by fourfoot
newest: July 1
has 19 entriesList Rules
Mum's bought Rola Cola!
Hilarious! But where is Northern fat fuck Peter Kay going to go next with his observational wit.
Help him out of his fat hole with new material.
Friday, 1 July 2011
A short story is like a chess game: The opening is a huge part of whether you win or lose. The first sentence of a short story doesn't just "hook" readers, it also sets the tone and launches the plot.
Sure, the opening sentences are important in novels, too. A strong beginning, in a novel, can help provide momentum that will carry the reader all the way to the last page, sometimes in one sitting. But short stories are different: the first sentence, or the first paragraph, often hangs over the whole rest of the story. Many short stories are really about one idea, or one situation, and that's what the opening sentences establish.