David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
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Are We Worthy of Our Accomplishments?

Sapiens, by Yuval Noah HarariI’ve just started reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. Every page teaches me something extraordinary. For instance, for 97% of the time that Homo (humans) have been walking upright, there were several species of human living simultaneously. Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus, Homo denisova, to mention only a few. It’s only recently, in evolutionary time, that Homo sapiens has emerged as the sole species of human to inhabit the earth.

I just scanned the Amazon description for Harari’s next book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” and these sentences jumped out:

“Famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.”

It makes me wonder how we’ve accomplished so much to make our world more civil, and, apparently, so little to to civilize ourselves.  Are we worthy of our accomplishments?

Dentistry 2.0

3D Rendering captured with a camera mounted rod and assistive music - to boot.
3D Rendering captured with a camera mounted rod and assistive music
I went to the dentist yesterday, for a crown.  I am now using CornerStone Dental Associates in Shelby, NC.  Having used a dentist in the sophisticated city of Raleigh for years, I was not expecting much in this small city.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Actually, I was overwhelmed.

Months ago, they identified a tooth with an abscess, which was no surprise to me.  Cornerstone sent me to a dentist in Gastonia for a root canal, since I needed it done right away and they did not have an immediate opening. I’d had a root canal and crown done in 1973 – an excruciating experience.  However, the procedure went well in Gastonia with very little pain, even though the dentist said it was an especially difficult one.

The cool part was the crown.  My dentist first ground the tooth down.  Not fun, but she let me listen to my music.  With that done, she started the process of creating the crown with a rod that had a tiny camera on the end.  Moving it around, she captured images of the tooth from every angle.  To help, a nearby computer played music in a major key.  If the camera was not getting a clear image for any reason, the tune changed to a minor key.  The computer was assisting her with music.  That blew me away.

Once they got the pictures, the computer created a three dimensional render of that tooth (nub), and the surrounding teeth (See picture).  The 3D rendered file was sent to a 3D milling machine, that carved my new crown out of a cube of composite resin.

Some glue and a little polishing and I was done.

All I can say is Wow!

A Question about Investigating Russian Meddling

There’s been a question, trying to form in the back of my head, like an itch I can’t reach, concerning our investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. elections. I do worry about Trump’s possible collusion with a foreign power and the corruption it would imply – though corruption seems to be the way of things in our capitals these days.

Social Media Vs. VOAI found that itch yesterday, as I was talking about it with my wife — and here it is.

What’s the difference between Russia’s efforts to sew distrust in our government with social media and our efforts to sew distrust in the Soviet/Russian government during the Cold War with Voice of America broadcasts?

There is an important difference, I believe. VOA sought to “win the attention and respect of listeners” behind the Iron Curtain by offering a “consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” (Words from the VOA Charter of 1959.)

We wanted to help intelligent people in the USSR, to recognize true news and reject the Soviet propaganda.

Russia, on the other hand, wants to appeal to unintelligent Americans’ willingness to believe sensationalist propaganda and reject true news.

That’s the difference!

Perhaps, rather than investigating Russian meddling, we should be investigating education policy that wants students to memorize the right answers to questions, instead of teaching them the discipline of asking questions and the wisdom to question the answers.

Coworking Space in Shelby

I discovered something interesting, while leaving Hannah’s Coffee House yesterday. It was a flyer for a new company in Shelby called BizHub. It is a coworking space, opened last August, that serves professionals, creatives and organizations in the Shelby area who have a need for temporary work or meeting space. At BizHub, you and I can rent a desk, a conference room or an office for a week, a day or an hour – professional work space with high speed WiFi, printers, coffee and sodas, big screen TVs, etc and etc. Wikipedia describes coworking space as being “attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, independent scientists or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation.”

A friend of mine, Brian Russell, established the first coworking space in the research triangle, Carrboro Creative Coworking. Even though Carrboro was to far from Raleigh to be practical for my use, the concept fascinated me, as an independent home-office professional.

Jason, with whom I spoke at BizHub, said that they host meetings for groups who found coffeeshops too noisy. They also have business travelers who use their space for working while on the road, locals who need a formal office for a period of time and other professionals who simply need some work time away from their usual workplace.

I loved being an independent worker, what Dan Pink called a free-agent worker, and spaces like BIzHub make it a lot easier to do work independent of corporate or government direction.

Photo by David Warlick

Photos by David Warlick

IMG_1747 (1)

IMG_1748 (1)

Left, Right, Up & Down in U.S. Politics

I ran across an incredible web site today. As someone who is interested in politics, and especially its ongoing evolution, this really scratched an itch. It’s voteview.com and they record all rollcall votes cast by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, going back to the first congress of 1789-1791.

I was looking for data that I could visualize to indicate the degree to which Republicans and Democrats have crossed, implying times of compromise. But I found the following visualization on voteview.com that showed me exactly what I wanted to illustrate.

graphSm
Click to Enlarge

I have marked the region between 1940, marking the beginning of the Roosevelt/Wallace administration and 1980, marking the beginning of the Reagan/Bush era. You notice a lot of crossover between Republicans and Democrats. The Liberal to Conservative scale was determined by the DW-NOMINATE or Dynamic Weighted NOMINAl Three-step Estimation.  I call that period “the good old days,” because it is the period of U.S. political history with which I identify and measure current conditions.

Another interesting application of DW-NOMINATE is the geography data.  You can enter your zip code and you see the ideology of your district’s representatives.  The positions of the red or blue bars are based on the NOMINATE index value of your representatives during that particular congress.  Below and left shows the ideologies of representatives from Raleigh, North Carolina going back to my graduation from high school.  The right shows the ideologies of representatives from Cherryville, my home town, going back to high school.  I just think this is cool!

GeoRaleigh GeoRaleigh

Lewis, Jeffrey B., Keith Poole, Howard Rosenthal, Adam Boche, Aaron Rudkin, and Luke Sonnet (2017). Voteview: Representing places through time. https://voteview.com/

Lewis, Jeffrey B., Keith Poole, Howard Rosenthal, Adam Boche, Aaron Rudkin, and Luke Sonnet (2017). Voteview: Parties Overview . https://voteview.com/

The Things that Catch my Eye

Google Street ViewNow this knocked me off my seat. Ever notice the automobiles people drive in your town or neighborhood? Using the same concepts that enable Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant to understand what they hear you say, scientists are designing computer systems that can understand what they see. It’s called “Deep Learning,” and it’s a form of machine learning, which falls under the broader umbrella of Artificial Intelligence.

Anyway, scientists from Stanford, Baylor and Rice Universities and the University of Michigan used images from Google Street View, 50 million of them, to infer the answers to questions about their communities and neighborhoods such as income, race, education and voting patterns. Specifically, they identified cars parked on the streets photographed by Google Street View cars and matched that with existing census and other survey data. The hard part, that required “Deep Learning,” was getting the technology to identify the make, model and year of all motor vehicles encountered.

One thing that they learned is that a neighborhood where pickup trucks outnumber sedans is 82% more likely to vote for a Republican in the next presidential election. Where sedans outnumber pickup trucks, 88% more likely to vote Democrat. So what do SUVs mean? ..and what about people with garages? ..and what television networks run the most pickup truck commercials?

I’ll be really interested when their computers can identify bicycles. ;-)

Source: Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (https://goo.gl/is2nSX)

Change Your Mind

Fivethirtyeight, in their “New Year’s Resolutions” podcast asked other journalists to submit their new years resolutions. Kmele Foster, from The Fifth Column said that he wanted to make more “good use of the phrase, ‘I’m not sure.”

I like that!

My wife took me to see “Darkest Hour” a few nights ago, and Gary Oldman, as Winston Churchill, said something like, “If you’re not willing to change your mind, then you won’t be able to change anything.”

The heros of the next few years, will be those who are willing to change their minds.

Look to Struggling Students for Your Future Leaders and Game-Changers

Valedictorian Speech

Valedictorian Speech

Karen Arnold, a Boston University researcher has conducted a 14 year longitudinal study of high school valedictorians, finding that they rarely achieve fame and fortune. To be sure, they usually finish college, many earn graduate degrees and about half rise to top tier positions.

“But how many of these number-one high-school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world?” Eric Barker is asking this question in his new book, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” He cites another study of 700 American millionaires, finding that their average high school GPA was 2.9. Of course, not all millionaires are game-changers.

Barker seems to believe that there is a disconnect between the kinds of students we reward and the kinds of graduates that a rapidly changing world needs. He suggests two reasons for this incongruity, both of which I touch on in “The Quiet Revolution.”

  1. “Schools reward students who consistently do what they are told” – and life rewards people who shake things up. Arnold says that in high school, “we are rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system.Speaking to a group at Business Insider’s New York office, Baker said, “In school, rules are very clear. In life, rules are not so clear. So a certain amount of not playing by the rules is advantageous once you get out of a closed system like education.”
  2. “Schools Reward being a generalist” If you are passionate about political history, you have to restrain that passion for time to spend on your Math, Science, Health, and English homework. The real world rewards passion and expertise.

Surprisingly, Arnold’s study found that students “who genuinely enjoy learning tend to struggle in high school. They find the education system ‘stifling’ because it doesn’t allow them to pursue their passions deeply.”

Lebowitz, S. (2017, May 29). Why valedictorians rarely become rich and famous — and the average millionaire’s college GPA was 2.9. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/why-high-school-valedictorians-dont-become-really-successful-2017-5

New Years Resolution: Bring Democracy back to North Carolina

Political scientists, Andrew Reynolds (UNC) and Jorgen Elklit (Aarhus University, Denmark), have designed a method for evaluating the democratic quality of elections around the world. Based on their work in setting up elections in Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan and Yemen, their method has been adopted by the Electoral Integrity Project, who have used it to measure 213 elections in 153 countries. 

A North Carolinian, Reynolds was unpleasantly surprised to find that his own state rated poorly on the democracy scale — on the level of Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. It’s measures of legal framework and voter registration ranked NC with Iran and Venezuela. 

North Carolina’s districting for legislative elections was the worse in the U.S. – and worse than any other country — worse in the world and worse ever recorded.  

According to a compilation of all indicators, North Carolina’s government can no longer be classified as a full democracy. 

We should hang our heads in shame, that we have allowed this to happen. 

Reynolds, A. (2016, December 22). North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy. News & Observer [Raleigh].http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article122593759.html

Use Your Department of Education to…

Consitution
U.S. Constitution

Before this absurd presidential election is over and the chilling potentialities have faded, I want to urgently request something of our next president. 

We are a great country with a wealth of resources, a rich culture that derives from its heritage of immigration and a government that has been carefully designed by some really smart people. We are greatest when we thrive to better ourselves based on the honorable principles that guided the best of our countries designers. As such, we have an immense responsibility to ourselves and to the world. 

In recent months, I have also come to realize how fragile our country is — not because of a failure of resources, culture or even our government (surprise).  It’s because we have forgotten what our country is about and the spirit behind its creation —  and our education system deserves a large part of the blame.  We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so.  But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society. 

We have angrily express our dissatisfaction with how Congress, the President and the Supreme Court conduct governmental affairs.  Yet, according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study, only 36% of us could name all three branches of government. 35% could not name a single one. Only 27% knew that two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate could overturn a Presidential Veto. 21% believe that a 5-4 Supreme Court Decision is sent back to Congress.* Yet the constitution we apparently know so little about grants us the power to select those who will fill our offices of leadership. 

Therefore, I earnestly beseech our next president to use his or her Department of Education to enact a complete overhaul of Social Studies education in America.  We need to understand the history and heritage of our country, both our successes and our blunders.  ..And, additionally, we will not be able to accomplish this without escaping the tyranny of high stakes testing and the multiple choice knowledge that it precipitates. 

The United States has an exciting history that folds into an even more exciting world history, and it all influences nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Learning about that history and its social, cultural and economic implications should be just as exciting — and it can be. 

It should be. 

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” - George Santayana

..or worse, have it rewritten for them!

* Annenberg Public Policy Center. (2014). Americans know surprisingly little about their government, survey finds. Retrieved from http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-know-surprisingly-little-about-their-government-survey-finds/

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
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Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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