March 31, 2012

Radioactive Iodine from Fukushima Found in California Kelp

The Scientific American reported HERE today that:

Kelp off Southern California was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after Japan’s Fukushima accident, a sign that the spilled radiation reached the state’s urban coastline, according to a new scientific study.

Scientists from California State University, Long Beach tested giant kelp collected in the ocean off Orange County and other locations after the March, 2011 accident, and detected radioactive iodine, which was released from the damaged nuclear reactor.

The largest concentration was about 250-fold higher than levels found in kelp before the accident.


March 30, 2012

Books, Please - NOT Oil

Here's a fantastic article written by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times. It is one of those articles that EVERYONE should read. :-)

Pass the Books, Hold the Oil by Thomas L. Friedman

EVERY so often someone asks me: “What’s your favorite country, other than your own?”

I’ve always had the same answer: Taiwan. “Taiwan? Why Taiwan?” people ask.

Very simple: Because Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women. I always tell my friends in Taiwan: “You’re the luckiest people in the world. How did you get so lucky? You have no oil, no iron ore, no forests, no diamonds, no gold, just a few small deposits of coal and natural gas — and because of that you developed the habits and culture of honing your people’s skills, which turns out to be the most valuable and only truly renewable resource in the world today. How did you get so lucky?”

That, at least, was my gut instinct. But now we have proof.

A team from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., has just come out with a fascinating little study mapping the correlation between performance on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, exam — which every two years tests math, science and reading comprehension skills of 15-year-olds in 65 countries — and the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P. for each participating country. In short, how well do your high school kids do on math compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig?


Thomas L. Friedman won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, his third Pulitzer for The New York Times. He became the paper’s foreign-affairs Op-Ed columnist in 1995. Previously, he served as chief economic correspondent in the Washington bureau and before that he was the chief White House correspondent. In 2005, Mr. Friedman was elected as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Mr. Friedman joined The Times in 1981 and was appointed Beirut bureau chief in 1982. In 1984 Mr. Friedman was transferred from Beirut to Jerusalem, where he served as Israel bureau chief until 1988. Mr. Friedman was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Lebanon) and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Israel).

Mr. Friedman is the author of “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won both the National Book Award and the Overseas Press Club Award in 1989. “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” was the winner of the 2000 Overseas Press Club Award for best non-fiction book on foreign policy. His 2002 book “Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11” consists of columns he published about the attacks. “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century,” issued in April 2005 and updated in 2006 and 2007, received the inaugural Goldman Sachs/Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award.

“Hot, Flat, and Crowded” was published in 2008, and a paperback edition was issued a year later. His sixth and most recent book, “That Used to Be Us: How American Fell Behind in the World We Invented and How We Can Come Back,” co-written with Michael Mandelbaum, was released in September 2011.

Born in Minneapolis on July 20, 1953, Mr. Friedman received a B.A. degree in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis University in 1975. In 1978 he received a Master of Philosophy degree in Modern Middle East studies from Oxford. Mr. Friedman is married and has two daughters.

March 25, 2012

Technology and Intellect

This morning, I came across THIS ARTICLE by Christina Yu on how "Technology can make students More Intellectual". There, she wrote:

In Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, education professors Allan Collins and Richard Halverson tackle the fraught issue of what it means to be an educated person in today’s society: “Deeply embedded in the culture of schooling is the notion that students should read, listen to, and absorb a large body of facts, concepts, procedures, theories, beliefs, and works of art and science that have accumulated over the centuries. An educated person is one who understands and appreciates these great intellectual products of human history.”

Why exactly is this the case? One of the hallmarks of an educated person is the ability to “think independently;” and how can you do this if you don’t have continuous access to a repository of skills and knowledge (which you presumably carry around you in your head)? This is why, when tests are given, students are generally not permitted to use outside resources. We test to make sure students are indeed accumulating and retaining knowledge as they progress from grade to grade.

All this has economic ramifications as well. As a society, we tend to pay people well if they can be trusted to exercise independent judgment derived from a broad perspective and knowledge base. To some extent, one can only do this if he rises “above” his immediate environment and possesses some abstract understanding of the world (a grasp of patterns and structures) that transcends the day-to-day, tangible reality of his life.

Just in case vs. just in time learning. In contrast, the kind of learning that is typically associated with technology is a much more informal, hands-on sort with a more immediate application. Need to learn how to do something on your computer? Look it up on Google or tap into the right social media networks. Need to send an email to several hundred people? Find a service that handles it efficiently and that allows you to do A/B testing on the subject line. In other words, as Collins and Halverson encapsulate it, school foster “just-in-case learning” while technology fosters “just-in-time learning.”

One of the biggest misconceptions today is that the new emphasis on technology in schools and popular culture will erode the traditional liberal arts education and reorient school so that it favors vocational, practical training (“just-in-case” knowledge) instead. In other words, some fear that technology integration will have students learning the latest trends and techniques instead of studying the classics and deep disciplinary knowledge.