Use what we got.

Cuttlefish are awesome. If you didn’t know how awesome before, I recommend this TED:

As you can see, these aquatic animals are pretty cool.  Not that I wish I was one, or that I have any great desire to change my skin pigmentation at will.  Truthfully, most of my bad hair days come from having only half flathead and half ‘fro. Adding color to the mix doesn’t seem wise. But there are things about my own body I’d like to control better – like my flailing limbs, my ability to stand, and my general athleticism. The cuttlefish is one up on me in this.

He may also be one up on me in big-screen televisions as well.  Evidently the way a cuttlefish changes colors is by membrane distancing.  Think of it like a light table, or a window, where a colored piece of paper covers the glass.  If you put a white piece of paper right on top, you can still see the color through it pretty strongly.  If you lift the white paper slowly, the further you get away, the less color you see, until all you can see is white.  That’s what a cuttlefish does, on a large scale and with multiple layers (and without a light source on the inside).  Eventually such substances will be used in television screens and probably as colored electronic paper, all because of a color-changing swimmer that we might not have learned from in the past, even though we wondered at him.

Another place we might have learned more readily from is our own past.  Take cathedrals – they are pretty awesome, but most of the time we think that we’ve learned all we can from them, technologically speaking.  Most cathedral builders operated on the ‘you broke it, you bought it’ principle.  If the building came crashing down while being constructed, the builder was probably dead inside.  Balanced with that was the constant pressure to make the next one bigger, grander, and better.  There was a constant testing process to see what could withstand nature and the elements, and the price of failure was high.

We don’t have that anymore.  We’ve freed ourselves from the rigor of masonry building materials and the solid facade, and learned to anticipate the vagaries of nature with various codes and rules.  Supposedly this makes our buildings safer, but it may not have made us wiser.  We don’t have to take the surrounding environment into account, so by and large, we don’t.  There’s this highly prevalent view about reflective glass and how it doesn’t intrude into the skyscape of a city – which it might not, visually for some humans.  I’m not so sure what a goose would think about a new glass ‘scraper along a traditional migration route, or how a bat might perceive such a surface.  In general, the environment of such buildings is about control of the surroundings, not adaptation to it.  According to John Ochsendorf, adaptive is something traditional construction had to be.  I think there’s a lesson there, about what we know, or think we know, and how best to truly use it.

Oceans of time

I’m a big fan of unrelated bits of knowledge that clog up your brain function and sidetrack you from basic daily tasks.  That’s why I was highly excited when I heard about some of the ocean-related new features in Google Earth 5.  I can follow the migrational paths of sharks?  Excellent.  I can examine coral reefs in the Red Sea?  Awesome.  I didn’t even know they HAD coral over there.

Very highly excited, I downloaded the new version and set about trying to figure out how to key into that whole shark-tracking thing.  Usually I am a somewhat tech-savvy person, a bit of a nerd but not so much so that I can’t talk other than in geek speak.  However, the search function on this program gave me no help finding the sharkies and made me feel consistently dumb.  I mean, how does shark migration get linked to data on shark attacks?  I mean, I know the shark has to be in the area ot bite, but still – one is delightful knowledge, the other is potentially painful.  As Seth Rosenblatt mentioned “For Google to fail so hard with its search algorithms is like Ford failing to stay on top of developing car tech.”  Eventually I just scrolled around coastlines looking for something good, and eventually came across a shark icon, which gave me this.  Hurrah!

gtopp

I especially enjoyed the little ocean floor ‘swim with me’ video that allows you to view at least some of what teh shark would’ve seen while swimming.

Finally, I have yet to explore the Mars maps, but they look interesting, as does all the good ol’ night sky stuff.  I look forward to spending future days pondering the available information, really delving in, and hopefully eventually being mroe able to instantly find what I want.

Pavlov’s dog, and other mistaken desserts.

I consider myself a high-brow culture sort of person.  Sure, I’m not completely suave, but I feel like my intellect more than compensates for some of my less socially acceptable faux pas.  I like knowing lexicon.  I like considering myself on the ‘inside’ of a situation.

For that reason, for some time, I’ve been a fan of a dessert called ‘Pavlova’.  I first encountered the dessert during my six week stay in Australia.  I was in high school at the time, but even then I considered myself intellectually ascendant.  When I returned to the States and no one had heard of this meringue crust with fruit and whipped cream, I consoled myself with my more worldly experiences.  Still, I would’ve liked to find at least one person who knew what I was talking about.

Of course, those who I introduced this dessert to assumed some association with Pavlov.  I supposed they could be right – such a dessert could be a ‘reward’ in his system.  I didn’t know enough to question that judgement.  Tonight, however, I found out it was wrong – it took a sci fi novel to tell me different.  According to Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce (via Carl in 1634: The Ram Rebellion), Pavlova was a desert in memory of a ballerina.  It commemorated the tour of Anna Pavlova in both Australia and New Zealand.

Without science fiction, I would never have had confirmation of the existence of this dessert in the written record.  Without my prolific reading, I would never have rediscovered it.  I’m not saying that such a little factoid has made my life complete.  I’m merely showcasing the interactions of chance in each of our lives.  I do not pretend to know what far-reaching consequence that chance may have.

I’m a nerd.

Today MIT highlighted its ‘Professional Education Program’ on its website.  The PEP is basically MIT’s continuing education module, made for people who are pursuing careers (or possibly changing careers) in the sciences.  While some of its offerings aim to be flexible with continuing a full time job, offering online options or one-week intensive programs, most of them are not.  Because as a professional, you can afford to just up and quit your job and spend thousands of dollars on classes at MIT.

Yes, it’s true I am a little bitter about not being in school right now.  I love education, I love learning new things, and being at what seems like a continual turning point in my career only increases the feeling that this love in my life is currently being wasted.  But at the same time, i know it’s something that’s not going to go away.  In even looking at the programs offered, I became intrigued.  I mean, look at this description:  “Project-based introduction to the contemporary city as a complex system within a context of limited resources and competing interests. Learn to assess scenarios for the purpose of formulating social, economic and design strategies that provide optimized solutions that are humane and sustainable. Group projects develop and advocate visions for housing, urban planning, regeneration of natural ecologies and other sectors of the city. During spring break the class visits New Orleans, the focus of Cityscope in 2007.”  How awesome is that?  Or what about this one: “An introduction to bargaining and negotiation in public, business, and legal settings. Combines a “hands-on” skill-building orientation with a look at pertinent social theory. Strategy, communications, ethics, and institutional influences are examined as they influence the ability of actors to analyze problems, negotiate agreements, and resolve disputes in social, organizational, and political circumstances characterized by interdependent interests.”  Or this:  “Examines the evolving structure of cities, the dynamic processes that shape them, and the significance of a city’s history for its future development. Develops the ability to read urban form as an interplay of natural processes and human purposes over time. Field assignments in Boston provide the opportunity to use, develop, and refine these concepts.”   Wow.  How do I get in on that action?  Better yet, how do I make a career out of any of them?

For the moment, I’ll just have to sigh and pine for more education.  But someday, hopefully soon, I’ll be learning my little brain out.

And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you pesky kids!

I was puzzled recently by this supposedly shortened headline on the main CNN health page:  Virus in China kills 28 children in China.  Well.  Thanks for the redundancy there.  I thought the virus in China only killed kids in Hong Kong.  Or maybe Taiwan.  Or maybe all the kids who get sick are shipped to Japan as part of an international disease exchange program.  Thank God the actual headline of the article was non-repetitive.  But it brings up a familiar question: how much information do we think we need?  And, in association, is this determination of our knowledge needs valid?

In a world where information and records are increasingly transparent, a large body of information is available to the public.  For those willing to search for it, you can find and learn about just about anything.  And yet, specialization runs rampant.  College admissions boards are seeing more and more applicants focused in one area of expertise.  Schools are focusing less and less on a broad-ranging liberal arts curriculum.  And yet in the working world, people are changing jobs and even careers more and more frequently.

What does this say for my own education and skill set?  How do I choose what might be most advantageous?  True, most skills are applicable across a wide range of jobs, but how do I determine even which job is applicable to my interests?  And how much can such generalism really help my life and growth?  How does education translate into skills and experience, and at what point does the body of knowledge I possess become useless junk that I cannot apply to my present life?  Does the thirst for knowledge still have validity, if the possession of that knowledge can easily be recreated by a simple internet search?

Evidently I need to listen to more current music.

When I was a young teenage thing, everybody listened to the radio.  That’s how us hip kidsters were appraised of modern trends.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to according to pop culture at that time either, so I missed out on quite a bit.  Even in my more educated 20s, I am occasionally embarrassed by not knowing particular songs or more often by not knowing the names of songs or singers or groups.  I didn’t own an iPod till someone gave me one last year, and I don’t really do much with iTunes or other music services of the online variety.  So I’m still out of the loop, though in a closer orbit around it.

My youngest sister gave evidence of this online today when we were chatting.  I will give you our conversation verbatim:

Shannon
guess who I saw in concert last night?
Stacey

who?

Shannon

Colbie Caillat

for FREE

she sings Bubbly

isn’t that cool?

Stacey

um, I don’t know who that is

so potentially, yes

but then again, maybe not?

How did I get myself into this fix yet again?  Should I start listening to the radio?  Or Pandora?  Or some other online radio station?  Or do something with Myspace Music?  Or just bother people for their favorite new stuff?  Please people, I’m in immediate need of education here!

The Web has lost me the ability to read.

A part of my current job is to do research for my boss. Sometimes the research is fun, and completely irrelevant, sparked by fancy or perhaps the urge to hone my research skills (such as “Stacey, please find out what kind of weaponry Genghis Khan used from the back of his little pony”). At other times, the research is actually relevant (“Stacey, please look at the Cambridge Associates website for information on securities lending – I want to find out how it works”). Most often, it involves the web rather than the library and I’m very, very good at it. I take pride in my research skills, because it’s one of the things I do that a trained monkey couldn’t do, and therefore makes me feel special. At least specialer than a trained monkey.

Unfortunately my current research project is less than fulfilling.  I’m supposed to be finding one particular line in one of two books.  The table of contents and indices of both books thus far have been less than helpful.  Scanning pages has yielded nothing as yet.  I’m pretty much stumped.  And I’ve also realized how lazy I’ve become.

When I was growing up, in high school and middle school, research meant going to the library and getting books.  The you read, or at least skimmed the books to find the material you needed.  Tables of contents and indices were  key in finding the correct material and analyzing the value of a particular resource.  And I used to be able to do all that well, and fast.  But now, I’m not so sure.  Now, I’ve gotten accustomed to online resources with ‘find’ options within the text and a wide array of summaries and abstracts readily available.  Have I lost my touch?  Or is it only natural to get frustrated with old methods of research that are less efficient?