3-2-1 For 12-11-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

It’s a long read, but this story at Huffington Post offers a great look at how the National Football League works hard to hook kids on their product (“tobacco-style” may be slightly hyperbolic), including the development of a fantasy league for 6 year olds. The League’s TV ratings have taken a big drop this season so the company has a lot riding on growing the audience. (about 32 minutes)

Patton Oswalt is a very talented, funny performer. But a year ago, his wife died suddenly at the age of 46, leaving him to raise their 7-year old daughter. In this honest, touching post he talks about his Year of Magical Parenting. (about 4 minutes)

IBM’s Watson made a big splash a few years ago playing Jeopardy. But if you switch to Monopoly, that big brain wouldn’t even know where to start. We hear a lot about artificial intelligence but an opinion writer at Wired says the current systems are more artificial than intelligent. And it’s likely to stay that way for a while. (about 3 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Is college worth it? NPR addresses that question by following a group of students from suburban Washington, DC who graduated high school in 2011 or 2012 to discuss their experiences and the choices they made. It’s an interesting program but the pre-roll sponsor is Columbia University, which makes me wonder a little about the objectivity of the reporting.  (49:52)

Most people in the US don’t understand copyright, and especially their rights under the concept of fair use. In the first segment of a new podcast on the topic, Kirby Ferguson, who coined the phrase “everything is a remix”, introduces the idea that even Star Wars is a mixture of story elements going back centuries. A little geeky but still an interesting start. (8:50)

One video to watch when you have time

I am big advocate for using maps to help people visualize a variety of topics, and not just geography. This video from Vox is a great explanation of why all world maps are wrong and where the Mercator Projection, the format used by Google and most other mapping systems, came from. This is a good one to show your middle or high school students. (5:59)

3-2-1 For 12-4-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Still thinking about Cuba. This story of a filmmaker who created a documentary in the country without permission is a reminder that the steps to restore relations with the US over the past two years are only a small start. The Cuban people still have no right to speak freely and live in fear of their government if they try. (about 4 minutes)

What happens when a Finnish teacher takes a job in an American school? This article in The Atlantic received a lot of notice on social media but in case you missed it, the story is a good contrast between national educational philosophies. Bottom line is that Finland trusts their teachers to make instructional decisions, unlike most districts in the US. (about 6 minutes)

In a wonderful post, Chris Lehmann reflects on a recent trip and suggests that we are often “tourists of our ideas”, spending too little time and effort to “fully and intentionally plan for change”. “And over and over again, we are shocked when the ideas don’t fully take hold.” (4 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

The US exports all kinds of products all over the world, including cowboy culture to Russia. This Planet Money segment is an interesting story of how that country is trying to develop a cattle business by bringing in American consultants, complete with a traditional rodeo. (18:16)

And one final item about Cuba (promise!). In these two segments about the country, On The Media talks to an author about New York Times coverage from 1957 that shaped the world image of Castro before the revolution, and then looks at how media covers Cuba today, complete with the usual cliches. (13:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

The movies of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and my favorite The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) are definitely an acquired taste. Enjoy a free sample of his style in a sweet, funny, and very quirky holiday short film. Ignore the sponsor splash pages at the start and end. (3:52)

3-2-1 For 11-27-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

The death of Fidel Castro this week produced a lot of comment and, having recently visited Cuba, it was a story that caught my interest. One of the best pieces I read came from The Atlantic’s interview with “one of the leading historians of U.S.-Cuban relations” who actually interviewed Castro several times. Excellent historical context missing from so much US coverage. (about 12 minutes)

A new study finds that students in middle school through college have poor skills when it comes to evaluating the validity of material they read online. I know, not surprising. And it probably applies to many of their parents as well. I blame a school curriculum that emphasizes memorizing trivia and getting “right” answers over learning to analyze information. (about 5 minutes)

Over the past decade, much has been written about how digital devices are disrupting our ability to concentrate and messing with our memories. Nicholas Carr has created an entire career around that topic. One writer, however, says the idea is a myth and that every change in communications tools throughout human history was met by many of the same fears. (about 9 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Technological breakthroughs and “moonshot” programs generate a lot of noise, but real, lasting progress usually comes in relatively small steps over long periods of time. Freakonomics has an interesting discussion in praise of that incrementalism. It’s a followup to the previous segment championing the value of maintaining what we already have, over innovation and the drive to produce something new. Both are worth a listen, in either order. (48:29 and 41:41) 1

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that nothing you find on a shelf in your supermarket lands there by accident. Manufacturers pay “slotting fees” to not only make their products available but also get them placed in a prime location. It’s a little geeky, but Vox does a good job of explaining the system, and why it could be both good and bad for the consumer. Nothing is ever simple. (6:58)

3-2-1 For 11-20-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

National Geographic says our national parks are changing, due to a warming climate and other factors, and looks at how our management of those wilderness areas must also change. As you might expect from Nat Geo, the photographs that accompany the article are wonderful. (17:00)

If you want to learn something about virtual reality, The Guardian offers their complete guide to the topic. It’s a pretty good overview of the current platforms, with a short list of currently available software for each (mostly games, of course). But don’t count on this article being accurate for very long since the field is moving fast. (20:00)

Way too much has been written about the election results and I’ve been avoiding as much of it as possible. However, this intelligent essay by Baratunde Thurston is worth your time. Empathy is indeed a two-way process. (12:00)

Two videos to watch when you have a few minutes.

In a small Virginia town, about 90 minutes from here, the Library of Congress is using a Cold War-era nuclear shelter to protect and restore the world’s film history. Even the crappy stuff. This short video checks in with the man responsible for dealing with the very oldest stuff, films printed on fragile and very combustible nitrate. (3:09)

When times are tough, people sing the blues. And who better to sing the blues than a white British actor. Seriously though, Hugh Laurie does an excellent job, on piano as well as singing, with the New Orleans classic St. James Infirmary. The late, great Allen Toussaint leading a band of outstanding jazz musicians completes a near perfect package. (7:00)

One audio track for your commute.

Who do you trust and does it make a difference? In a recent episode of Freakonomics, they look at the concept of societal trust and ask what can be done to reverse the decidedly downward trend in the US and UK. Did you know that “societies where people trust one another are healthier and wealthier”? (27:42)

3-2-1 For 10-30-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Many parents (and other relatives) post millions of pictures of kids on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other places online every day. The co-author of a parenting book wonders if that is an invasion of the child’s privacy. It’s a good question. At least everyone should remember that any materials posted to Facebook is fair game for them to use in ways you may not like. (about 7 minutes)

The Guardian has for you a list from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, 40 things you can stop doing right now. A couple of them are UK-specific, and I’m pretty sure I can never talk my wife into the one about never owning more than 10 items of clothes, but the serious entries are intriguing. (about 6 minutes)

Despite living right outside DC, I don’t pay close attention to the minutia of politics, although it’s hard not to notice during this never ending presidential election. However, New York Magazine’s inside look at the Final Days of the Trump campaign is thoughtful and very compelling. Read it, then go watch some Adult Swim to regain a little sanity. (about 16 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

For rational members of the 50% or so who believe there is “massive” voter fraud going on in the US, know that it is really, really, really hard to pull off that conspiracy. Really! Listen to this episode of Decode DC for directions on how you too can be a fraudulent voter, and why it’s not happening. (33:02)

The Smithsonian is trying it’s hand at podcasting with one called Side Door. With only two episodes, it’s promising but still a little rough around the edges. But the first episode, titled tech yourself, is worth a listen just for the discussion about how teens use their smartphones. They could have spent the whole program on that topic. (20:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

You may not think of the Blue Man Group as musicians but the folks at NPR invited them to do a Tiny Desk Concert anyway. It’s very entertaining to watch these performers up close. I want someone to try that Meditation for Winners activity at their next faculty meeting. “Your day won’t get any better than this, I guarantee it.” (13:15)