Thursday, September 13, 2012

Extra Credits: Gamifying Education

This Is Water: David Foster Wallace on Life

by On the anniversary of the tragic literary hero’s death, revisiting his only public insights on life.
Four years ago today, David Foster Wallace took his own life, becoming a kind of patron-saint of the “tortured genius” myth of creativity. Just three years prior to his suicide, he stepped onto the podium at Kenyon College and delivered one of the most timeless graduation speeches of all time — the only public talk he ever gave on his views of life. 

On solipsism and compassion, and the choice to see the other:
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted’, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
On the double-edged sword of the intellect, which Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Anne Lamott have spoken to:
It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no-bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.
On empathy and kindness, echoing Einstein:
[P]lease don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
On false ideals and real freedom, or what Paul Graham has called the trap of prestige:
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
On what “education” really means and the art of being fully awake to the world:
[T]he real value of a real education [has] almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
‘This is water.’
‘This is water.’
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime.
In the altogether excellent Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, Tom Bissell writes:
The terrible master eventually defeated David Foster Wallace, which makes it easy to forget that none of the cloudlessly sane and true things he had to say about life in 2005 are any less sane or true today, however tragic the truth now seems. This Is Water does nothing to lessen the pain of Wallace’s defeat. What it does is remind us of his strength and goodness and decency — the parts of him the terrible master could never defeat, and never will.
Complement with the newly released David Foster Wallace biography.
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Wisdom of the Crowds

President Kennedy's Speech at Rice University, on Sept. 12, 1962

GAMIFICATION IS BULLSHIT - IAN BOGOST at For the Win, Wharton Gamification Symposium

In his short treatise On Bullshit, the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt gives us a useful theory of bullshit. We normally think of bullshit as a synonym—albeit a somewhat vulgar one—for lies or deceit. But Frankfurt argues that bullshit has nothing to do with truth.
Rather, bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit.
Gamification is bullshit.
I'm not being flip or glib or provocative. I'm speaking philosophically.
More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.
Bullshitters are many things, but they are not stupid. The rhetorical power of the word "gamification" is enormous, and it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games—a mysterious, magical, powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people—and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business.
Gamification is reassuring. It gives Vice Presidents and Brand Managers comfort: they're doing everything right, and they can do even better by adding "a games strategy" to their existing products, slathering on "gaminess" like aioli on ciabatta at the consultant's indulgent sales lunch.
Gamification is easy. It offers simple, repeatable approaches in which benefit, honor, and aesthetics are less important than facility. For the consultants and the startups, that means selling the same bullshit in book, workshop, platform, or API form over and over again, at limited incremental cost. It ticks a box. Social media strategy? Check. Games strategy? Check.
The title of this symposium shorthands these points for me: the slogan "For the Win," accompanied by a turgid budgetary arrow and a tumescent rocket, suggesting the inevitable priapism this powerful pill will bring about—a Viagra for engagement dysfunction, engorgement guaranteed for up to one fiscal quarter.
This rhetorical power derives from the "-ification" rather than from the "game". -ification involves simple, repeatable, proven techniques or devices: you can purify, beautify, falsify, terrify, and so forth. -ification is always easy and repeatable, and it's usually bullshit. Just add points.
Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity. That may be true, but truth doesn't matter for bullshitters. Indeed, the very point of gamification is to make the sale as easy as possible.
I've suggested the term "exploitationware" as a more accurate name for gamification's true purpose, for those of us still interested in truth. Exploitationware captures gamifiers' real intentions: a grifter's game, pursued to capitalize on a cultural moment, through services about which they have questionable expertise, to bring about results meant to last only long enough to pad their bank accounts before the next bullshit trend comes along.
I am not naive and I am not a fool. I realize that gamification is the easy answer for deploying a perversion of games as a mod marketing miracle. I realize that using games earnestly would mean changing the very operation of most businesses. For those whose goal is to clock out at 5pm having matched the strategy and performance of your competitors, I understand that mediocrity's lips are seductive because they are willing. For the rest, those of you who would consider that games can offer something different and greater than an affirmation of existing corporate practices, the business world has another name for you: they call you "leaders."


Gabe Zichermann: How games make kids smarter

Common Criticism of Gamification (and how to respond to it)

Friday, August 17, 2012

On discovering the complexities in life...

Reflecting on the last minute of Jon Ronson's TED talk (from 17:00):
"...the grey areas are where you find the complexities. It's where you find the humanity. It's where you find the truth."  
   

In his latest book, The Psychopath Test, Jon explores the unnerving world of psychopaths -- a group that includes both incarcerated killers and, one of his subjects insists, plenty of CEOs...

Cute cartoon "Disasters" by Andrew Matthews (not me!)

How to Level the Playing Field for Introverts and Extroverts

How to Level the Playing Field for Introverts and Extroverts

“The fantastic success of Susan Cain’s Quiet demonstrates that she has  tapped into something very important in our culture and our society at this moment in history.

Inevitably, corporations and many other kinds of organizations will realize the implications of Susan Cain’s work for their practices and cultures. Here are some very preliminary suggestions of what organizations might do  to better “hear” introverts who may be “quiet” but still have tremendous value that they bring to the workplace each day...

How TED Makes Ideas Smaller - The Atlantic

How TED Makes Ideas Smaller - The Atlantic


chaut615.png
In 1874, the inventor Lewis Miller and the Methodist bishop John Heyl Vincent founded a camp for Sunday school teachers near Chautauqua, New York. Two years later, Vincent reinstated the camp, training a collection of teachers in an outdoor summer school. Soon, what had started as an ad-hoc instructional course had become a movement: Secular versions of the outdoor schools, colloquially known as "Chautauquas," began springing up throughout the country, giving rise to an educational circuit featuring lectures and other performances by the intellectuals of the day...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Robert Hughes: The writer who saw into the modern

Original post by Elizabeth Farrelly at smh.com.au

...Considering him, now, I'm reminded of Hilary Mantel's take on Thomas Wyatt. Mantel writes through Thomas Cromwell's narrowed eyes but it reads like her own statement of love, her own billet doux to the writerly life:
He writes to warn and to chastise, and not to confess his need but to conceal it…
He is perfectly equipped as a courtier but he knows the small value of that.
He has studied the world without despising it.
He understands the world without rejecting it.
He has no illusions but he has hopes.
He does not sleepwalk through his life.
His eyes are open…

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-writer-who-saw-into-the-modern-20120808-23ued.html#ixzz230LIEDVd

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Michael Norton: How Money Can Buy You Happiness




The World's Greatest Exercise?

Why Squats are Essential to a Stronger and Healthier Body


Consider this your wakeup call: A good workout program must include some type of squat.
This isn’t just about your legs, even though squats are the best way to build stronger quads, hamstrings and glutes. From a functional training standpoint, you can’t do better.
Squatting is a fundamental pattern that’s basic to human movement. Regularly performing squats keeps your body moving the way it was designed to, while helping to protect you from injuries related to a sedentary lifestyle.
Squats are also heart healthy. Forget the butt-numbing stationary bike or elipitical machine; sets of higher rep squats will jack up your heart rate to near sprint-like levels.
Finally, squatting is just plain fun. It’s good old-fashioned hard work that requires every ounce of focus you got, and almost makes you feel like an athlete at the same time. What’s not to love?
Some people assume that squatting is beyond their current capabilities. But guess what: If you’ve picked something up off the ground, sat in a chair, or straddled a toilet seat today, congrats. You’ve performed a squat.
But the real magic happens when you begin loading the basic squat with weight. This is what improves performance, increases muscle mass, burns fat, and helps offset postural imbalances....

Squats are so demanding that they trigger the release of hormones like testosterone. Once those hormones enter the bloodstream, they support the growth of your whole body.

Read full article: http://www.livestrong.com/article/556240-the-worlds-greatest-exercise/#ixzz1t64kqgMY

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lisa Randall, Theoretical Physicist, Harvard



A leading expert in the field of particle physics, Lisa Randall is an articulate advocate for the significance of science and the art-science connection in our everyday lives. Her new book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World has led to speaking engagements all over the world, along with a recent appearance on The Daily Show.
SOURCE AND FULL POST HERE

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Wisdom From Steve Jobs

Below are some highlights from author Brent Schlender’s recently unearthed conversations with Steve Jobs. (from FAST COMPANY)
BY BRENT SCHLENDER | APRIL 17, 2012

GREAT TECHNOLOGY IS INVISIBLE

June 1995

"The thing that I really love about Pixar is that it's exactly like the LaserWriter. I remember seeing the first page come out of [Apple's] LaserWriter [in 1985]--which was the first laser printer, as you know--and thinking, There's awesome amounts of technology in this box. There's the graphic engine, there's the controller, there's the PostScript software, awesome amounts of stuff. And yet no one is gonna care and they don't need to know; they're gonna see this output, and they're gonna go, I think that's great. They're gonna be able to judge for themselves...

...THE PAYOFF OF A GREAT EMPLOYEE

June 1995

"In most businesses, the difference between average and good is at best 2 to 1, right? Like, if you go to New York and you get the best cab driver in the city, you might get there 30% faster than with an average taxicab driver. A 2 to 1 gain would be pretty big.
"The difference between the best worker on computer hard-ware and the average may be 2 to 1, if you're lucky. With automobiles, maybe 2 to 1. But in software, it's at least 25 to 1. The difference between the average programmer and a great one is at least that...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

New House Price Data from The Economist

For interactive graphic showing latest house price data from The Economist: CLICK HERE

See related article and a good discussion looking at data from Australian perspective. For my money renting is the way to go in Australia for a while yet.

David Brooks: The Social Animal

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nice little video produced by the kids at St Jude's...

St Jude's offers all round education to bright kids from the poorest homes.

More information at http://www.schoolofstjude.org

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guitar Zero: A Neuroscientist Debunks the Myth of “Music Instinct” and Learns to Play

by 
On nature, nurture, and the neural pathways of possibility.
Are musicians born or made? What is the line between skill and talent in any domain, and can we acquire either later in life? That’s exactly what neuroscientist Gary Marcusexplores in Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning — a fascinating journey into the limits of human reinvention...
...the idea that learning works best when the student tackles something that is just beyond his or her current reach, neither too hard nor too easy. In classroom situations, for example, one team of researchers estimated that its’ best to arrange things so that children succeed roughly 80 percent of the time; more than that, and kids tend to get bored; less, and they tend to get frustrated. The same is surely true of adults, too, which is why video game manufacturers have been known to invest millions in play testing to make sure that the level of challenge always lies in that sweet spot of neither too easy nor too hard.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Year-End Review

January 9, 2012 , from Down to the Wire Newsletter
by Weston WellingtonVice President, Dimensional Fund Advisors

Equity investors around the world had a disappointing year in 2011 as thirty-seven out of forty-five markets tracked by MSCI posted negative returns. The US did well on a relative basis and was the only major market to achieve a positive total return, although the margin of victory was slim. Total return for the S&P 500 Index was 2.11%, and the positive result was a function of reinvested dividends—the index itself finished the year slightly below where it started.

Throughout the year, investors seeking clues regarding the strength of business conditions or the prospects for stock prices were confronted with ample reason to rejoice or despair. Optimists could cite the strong recovery in corporate profits and dividends, the substantial levels of cash on corporate balance sheets, low interest rates and inflation, a booming domestic energy sector, continuing strength in auto sales, and record-high share prices for leading multinationals such as Apple, IBM, and McDonald's. Pessimists could point to persistently high unemployment, slumping home prices, tepid growth in retail sales, worrisome levels of government debt at home and abroad, and political gridlock in both Congress and various state legislatures.

Although the broad market indices showed little change for the year, there were opportunities to make a bundle—or lose one. Among the thirty constituents of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, thirteen had double-digit total returns, including McDonald's (34.0%), Pfizer (28.6%), and IBM (27.3%). But losing money was just as easy: The three worst performers in the Dow were Hewlett-Packard (–37.8%), Alcoa (–43.0%), and Bank of America (–58.0%). If nothing else, the substantial spread between these winners and losers discredits the argument we often hear that all stocks are now marching in lockstep and that diversification is ineffective.

Achieving even modest results in the US market required more discipline than many investors could muster, since investor sentiment fluctuated dramatically throughout the year and the temptation to enhance returns through judicious market timing often proved irresistible.

For fans of the "January Indicator," the year got off to a promising start as stock prices jumped higher on the first trading day, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a twenty-eight-month high. Bank of America shares jumped 6.4% that day, the top performer among Dow constituents. With copper prices setting new records and factory activity worldwide perking up, the biggest worry for some was the potential for rising prices and higher interest rates that might choke off the recovery. "Overheating is the biggest worry," one chief investment strategist observed. By April 30, the S&P 500 was up 8.4%, reaching a new high for the year.

Stocks wobbled through May and June but strengthened again in July. On July 19, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its sharpest one-day increase of the year, jumping over 200 points, paced by strong performance in technology stocks. Just a few days later, however, stocks began a precipitous decline that took the S&P 500 down nearly 17% in just eleven trading sessions. The century-old Dow Theory—a sentimental favorite among market timers—flashed a "sell" signal on August 3, and on August 5, Standard & Poor's downgraded US government debt from AAA to AA+. As investors sought to assess the implications of sovereign debt problems in both the US and Europe, stock prices fluctuated dramatically, with the S&P 500 rising or falling over 4% on five out of six consecutive trading days in early August. Rattled by the sharp day-to-day price swings, many investors sought the relative safety of US Treasury obligations in spite of the rating downgrade, pushing the yield on ten-year Treasury notes to a record low. Stock prices hit bottom for the year on October 3 as some market participants apparently lost all confidence in equity investing. A Wall Street Journal article cited a number of individual investors as well as professional advisors who had recently sold all their stocks and did not expect to repurchase them anytime soon. "I feel like a deer in the headlights," said one.

As it turned out, the article appeared in print on the second day of a powerful rally that sent the Dow Industrial Average surging over 1,500 points during the next 19 trading days, putting it back into positive territory for the year.

What can we learn from a difficult year like 2011? As Dimensional founder David Booth is fond of saying, the most important thing about an investment philosophy is that you have one. Many investors (as well as some professional advisors) apparently decided to switch from a buy-and-hold philosophy to a market timing strategy in the midst of an unusually stressful period in the financial markets. We suspect few of those adopting the change would have been able to clearly articulate their investing beliefs and why they had shifted.

Legendary investor Benjamin Graham offered the following observation nearly forty years ago: "There is no basis either in logic or in experience for assuming that any typical or average investor can anticipate market movements more successfully than the general public, of which he himself is a part."

Good advice then, good advice now.

Mark Gongloff, "Investors' Forecast: Sunny With a Chance of Overheating," Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2011.
Jonathan Cheng and Sara Murray, "Stock Surge Rings in Year," Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2011.
Matt Phillips and E.S. Browning, "Tech Sends Stocks Soaring," Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2011.
Steven Russsolillo, "'Dow Theory' Confirms It's an Official Swoon," Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2011.
Damian Paletta, "U.S. Loses Triple-A Credit Rating," Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2011.
Tom Petruno, "Investors Stampede to Safety," Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2011.
Kelly Greene and Joe Light, "Tired of Ups and Downs, Investors Say 'Let Me Out'," Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2011.
Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor (New York: HarperCollins 1949).
The S&P data are provided by Standard & Poor's Index Services Group.
MSCI data copyright MSCI 2011, all rights reserved.
Yahoo! Finance, www.yahoo.com, accessed January 3, 2012.