3-2-1 For 12-18-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Area 51, the top secret military base in the Nevada desert, is the stuff of conspiracies and legends. And, yes, it does exist. While there’s nothing about space aliens and their crashed spaceships, the real story of how the myth developed is still an interesting read. (about 6 minutes)

Although their animation technology is amazing, Pixar’s greatest skills lie in telling engaging and entertaining stories. One of their storyboard artists has been tweeting for years about that process and a graphic artist has put together 22 of the best ideas into a slideshow that includes some great inspiration for your story telling students. (about 10 minutes)

The US is facing a major shortage of qualified teachers in the next decade, and I don’t think the reasons are difficult to determine. But for some great insight into the problem, read this story about one talented science teacher who is planning to exit the profession because “US schools are broken”. (about 14 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

We walk into a room, flip a switch, and expect that we will have light. It wasn’t always so, of course, and for most human history “getting light was a huge hassle”. That history of light parallels economic growth in the world and it’s an interesting story. (20:29)

One summer night in 1979, at a Chicago stadium, disco died. Or at least that’s the verdict of many cultural historians. A new podcast called Undone examines events only to find that they “were actually the beginning of something else”. This first episode is an entertaining story about how disco actually got wrapped into many other musical styles. (39:20)

One video to watch when you have time

Stephen Johnson writes about innovation, both where it comes from and where it leads. In an unusual video from the TED people (no lectures here), he uses stop motion animation to illustrate the idea that innovations like the computer come as much from people playing around as they do from necessity. Maybe more from play. “You’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun.” (7:25)

3-2-1 For 9-18-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

First up, a very quick post pleading Blog, You Idiots. “We need good things to read. We need them steadily, from people whose voices we enjoy. Short things. Commentary about a topic the writer has a greater interest in than you do. Something funny. Something very stupid. Not some big, long, boring thing, just a little thing that you read and enjoy.” Now that’s inspiration. (2 minutes)

Under the heading of a silver lining to global climate change, one route of the Northwest Passage was so free of ice this summer that a 1000 passenger cruise ship was able to make the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The voyage sounds exciting (that’s an amazing picture in the article) but also something that cannot be a good sign for the future of the world. The company is going again next summer if you have $22,000 to spare. (4 minutes)

South Park is beginning it’s 20th season this fall, and the show is almost as subversive, offensive, and funny as when it started. Even more surprising is that it’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, still produce the show and write most of the material according to this interview. After the huge success of The Book of Mormon, you’d think they might have turned the making of a little cartoon over to someone else and just collect the royalties. (12 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of the great science explainers. Ray Kurzweil is one of the few people who can genuinely be called a futurist (not to mention a genius). Tyson’s interview of/discussion with Kurzweil as part of New York’s 92nd Street Y “7 Days of Genius” series is an interesting, sometimes scary, and fun (in a geeky sorta way) exploration of where human intelligence could be going. (51:36)

Why do textbooks, especially for college courses, cost so much? That’s right up the alley of the people who produce the Planet Money podcast. And this week, in an update to a segment first aired two years ago, they try to find some answers. (15:12)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

In the first episode of a new National Geographic video series on the Ingredients used in common products, a chemist takes a deep dive into what’s in the toothpaste most of us use. In the last section, the narrator tries to blend his own toothpaste from only natural ingredients. This would be a good view for a middle or high school science class, although I wonder if district lawyers would allow students to replicate the recipe in class. (6:44)

3-2-1 For 9-4-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Remember all the talk from a few years ago about how MOOCs were going to disrupt higher education? Audrey Watters offers a great review of all the hype and attempts to figure out what happened to the MOOC revolution? Spoiler alert: it has to do in part with course completion rates around 15 percent. (about 8 minutes)

To celebrate the opening of a new year in most US schools, The Atlantic published the opinions of a panel of “education experts” on six different topics. The post on homework is an interesting read, and, despite the title of When Homework is Useless, most of the experts felt kids should still be required to complete at least some form of the traditional assignment. (about 5 minutes)

It’s probably only for total geek baby boomers, but I enjoyed this oral history of the 80’s 20-minute-into-the-future media phenomena that was Max Headroom. The program is still entertaining, and possibly even more relevant. (about 30 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

In a segment of the podcast Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell (whom you may know from books like The Tipping Point) talks about The Satire Paradox (39:10). The paradox being that satire doesn’t seem to change anyone’s mind. Something to think about.

Planet Money took a novel approach to the issue of fossil fuels by actually buying some oil and following it to the pump, looking at a variety of issues along the way. If you don’t have time for all five segments, listen to the last one that imagines a World Without Oil. (26:29)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

When it comes to TED talks, you probably think of inspiring lectures. But the E in the name stands for Entertainment and in this “talk” from a 2015 TEDx in Sydney, Australia, the wonderful acapella group The Idea of North explain their music and provide great, very entertaining examples. (17:04)