18 New Planets Just Showed Up

As engineers work to design better telescopes, both earth- and space-based, another kind of astronomy is taking place and teaching us astonishing things about our galaxy. Even though the Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel 8 months ago, the 1.38 terabytes of data (my calculation) that it generated is still being examined — by a new breed of astronomer who writes code at a computer, instead of watching the sky through lens.

They are developing smarter algorithms to scan all that data to identify objects and phenomena that were previously hidden in the digital noise. René Heller, of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, and his colleagues recently uncovered 18 new planets. All of them are small, with the largest being just a bit wider than two Earths. One of the worlds is among the tiniest Kepler has yet found; it’s just 70 percent of Earth’s width. Another orbits in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star, where the temperature might allow liquid water to remain on its surface.

The 18 newly discovered planets, seen in this illustration in orange and green, are all smaller than Neptune, with three even smaller than Earth. The green planet, dubbed EPIC 201238110.02, is the only one in the new haul that might be friendly to life.

Anna Alfonso has written a good description of data astronomy (The State of Data in Astronomy) in her blog, data iku.

There are now 3,972 confirmed exoplanets, worlds that are orbiting other stars, according to NASA’s Exoplanet Archive.

Initial Source: https://on.natgeo.com/2IlA7Xv

Back in the Code

I do not know how many times I’ve said to myself that, “I’ve learned my last programming language.” But it’s what got me hooked on computers, that in 1981 the only way to making them useful was to learn to program them.

Interactive area graphics representing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Click the Image to see the interactive version.

During the last years of my advocacy work I became fascinated by infographics and data visualization. Data viz was more captivating because there was magic there, “..making numbers tell their story,” I use to say.

Anyway, reading about some of the visualizations being featured in the dataisbeautiful sub/reddit, I learned that a lot of people were using a language called R. Above are a couple that I’ve been working on for the past week or so. Click them to see the interactive versions.

“Currently…”

Ancient Library
An Ancient Repository of Knowledge

What was at the core of much of my advocacy for retooling education came from a condition that can best be illustrated by the Knowledge Doubling Curve. Recently adjusted by Faras Batarseh of the London School of Economics, it states that Until 1900, knowledge was doubling roughly ever century. However, by 1950, it was doubling every 25 years. 2000 saw it doubling every 12 months. Today, says Batarseh, “knowledge is doubling every day.”1

There are a number of logical reasons, but it leads to a society that is plagued by VUCA.

  • Volatility is about the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • Uncertainty, describes the lack of predictability and a loss of the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • Complexity, considers the multiplex of forces leading to and confusion.
  • Ambiguity, represents the haziness of reality and the potential to misread information.

Change is the new normal and there is not a single area of study or interest that is not in affected..

and..

Change has embowed a new significance to the word, current.

Public school instruction can no long afford to lag decades behind what is known today about science, health, mathematics, philosophy, and even history. It’s the reason I use to say (back when people were paying attention to what I had to say.)

We need to stop teaching students how to be taught, and start teaching them how to learn for themselves.

We will have achieved real education reform, when no teacher believes that they can teach the same things, the same ways, year after year; and when we are providing them with the resources and the time to retool their classrooms every day.

For this technology-rich and information-driven world, the best thing we can be teaching our children is literacy – learning-literacy.

1Batarseh, F. A. (2017, September 21). Thoughts on the future of human knowledge and machine intelligence [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2017/09/20/thoughts-on-the-future-of-human-knowledge-and-machine-intelligence/

The Next Technology Revolution: Not in my Neighborhood

Fiber, the New Technology Revolution

This is a personal issue to me since our neighborhood in Cherryville is still waiting for wired Internet. There are only seven homes, which are not profitable to warrant bringing in the infrastructure.

I just listened to a podcast interview with Susan Crawford, a Harvard law professor and author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution… For the book, she researched the conditions of fibre optic networking in Asia (Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Korea), comparing what she learned with conditions here in the U.S., as revealed by interviews with citizens and government officials at the local, state and federal levels.

Among her surprising statements were that,

  • OECD adoption of Fibre, the U.S. ranks 25th of 36 nations.
  • The World Economic Form ranks the U.S. as 27th among nations regarding their technical preparedness for future industries.

She says that we are suffering from a number of digital divides, among them are divides between urban and rural, rich and poor, and the gap between the U.S., and Asian and Nordic countries.

To Blame

First it was deregulation of the telecommunications industry in 2004. The competition has concentrated on profitable urban areas, especially affluent sections where high priced services are sold.

Second is big-money oriented governments, such as my state’s General Assembly, who passed a law in 2010 preventing municipalities from creating and running their own fibre networks. This was a response to the town of Wilson establishing their celebrated GreenLight network, which I wrote about here: http://2cents.onlearning.us/?p=4329

Links

One of my Early Computer Programs

My brother found this at my parents’ house the other day. First off, for those of you who are wondering, it’s perforated printer paper. The holes (originally on both sides) are grabbed by the printer’s tractor cogs that pull the paper in to be typed on. The perforations enabled you to remove the hole strips and divide the conveyor of paper into 8 1/2 by 11 sheets. Since computers mostly delt with columns and rows of data back then, the green stripes made reading them easier.

Click Image to Enlarge

But what I’m excited about is what’s printed on the paper, a computer program that I wrote in 1983, when I was still teaching Social Studies in South Carolina. The program is a database application for our TRS-80 (Radio Shack) computers. It enabled students to create datasets for the counties of SC or states of the U.S., or animals by phylum and genus, and then run analyses on them.

I wish that I could find printouts of some of my games. It was such an exciting time when we were free to push the technology, writing and adapting software to support new ideas about learning, because no one else knew what we were doing. It was just computers.

Website Excavations 1

I’ve been working on some web building that, if successful, I’ll share later. But part of the process has been conducting some excavation or digital archeology. I’ve been mining through my original Landmarks for Schools website, looking for old files that, when updated, were merely renamed instead of replaced or deleted. These reveal images of what the pages looked like 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

About “Landmarks for Schools”

With special chisels and brushes and even some dental tools, I’ve been thrilled to see those old pages again. Today, I want to share, with any of you web nerds and code geeks, the about page of Landmarks for Schools. Here is an image and here is a link to the page where you can load it into your browser and read it.

Learning Doesn’t Ever Slow Down

I had a conversation yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster, of Centauri Dreams. He comes over about every other week and we talk about our histories, families, space and tech stuff, and it often erupts into some pretty insightful observations – if only to us. 

But we both agreed that as we are getting older, our learning has actually increasing rather dramatically. Of course, we are also forgetting a lot more as well. 

But one of the truisms I’ve concluded from a career of learning and teaching is that something learned and used once, can easily be relearned, growing our life long toolset. 

Numbers don’t Lie! But…

I follow a subreddit called “DataIsBeautiful.” It’s about data visualization, which I love because it helps numbers to tell their story, and numbers don’t lie.

Data Visualization

People can use them to distort truth by the data they leave out, the scales they use or their statistical methods (I think it might be smarter for us to teach more statistics and less algebra).  The editorial notes (in blue & red) indicate an obvious agenda behind this display, which, in itself would not disqualify it. But this author committed the deadly sin.  He didn’t include the source for his data.

The Viking Warrior

Viking Tomb in Sweden
Viking Tomb in Sweden

In 1878, archaeologists excavating the Viking town in current day Sweden, uncovered an ornate 10th-century burial tomb. Containing a full set of weaponry, including a sword, spear, armor piercing arrows and shield, as well as the skeletons of two horses and a game board, archeologists excitedly announced that they had discovered the tomb of a great Viking warrior.

Of course, being the Victorian Era, it was assumed that the warrior was a man.

That story persisted until 2017, when The American Journal of Physical Antropology announced that comprehensive genomic sequencing had revealed that the warrior was, instead, a woman.

Woman Viking Warrior
Woman Viking Warrior

Even then, there was a backlash, suggesting mistakes in the sampling and sequencing. A second report, published in Antiquity, confirmed the 2017 conclusion. The author acknowledged that it was extremely difficult to assess aspects such as gender roles and identity from cultures that existed so long ago.