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Tech (58 posts)
As I stuck the list to the fridge, I daydreamed about the different lessons we would have every week, how I would combine documentary clips and projects and field trips in a totally inspiring and life-affirming improvised homeschooling situation. I envisioned the children and I racing through a meadow, peering at clouds through homemade cloud-viewers and shouting, "Cumulus! Nimbus!" at each other like greetings in a newly-learned language.
Right. So as it turns out, I apparently don't know how to learn about anything other than by checking out relevant books at the library. Each Monday I stare at the list, and think, Right. India. We were going to learn about India. Hm, guess I'll check out a book. What's next? Animal groups. Okay, I'll find a book. Now don't get me wrong, the disintegrating, outdated science textbooks at my local library are great and all. But I know there must be more engaging ways to learn about new things. And now I know where to find them: Learnist.
This new social media site is essentially Pinterest with a point. (No offense to Pinterest!) Users share their areas of expertise, compiling, say, helpful grammar infographics, or the best works of filmmaker Werner Herzog, or (my favorite so far) words that can't be translated into English. Learnist draws you in and around (I was not exactly looking for Werner Herzog, but suddenly here I am, obsessed) the way Facebook and Twitter do, but with more useful content -- lots of resources for teachers, home cooks, sports enthusiasts, basically, everyone.
So I can space out online and actually be compiling an unofficial lesson plan for my curious kid. Or, you know, myself.
Check out Learnist and request a (free, easy) beta invite!
Is Learning Ever Just Plain Learning?
The Importance of Curiosity
No, I'm not suggesting any sort of twit-pic-ing. Rather, this is about Blog For Your Breasts Day, a day of internet awareness-raising. Breast Cancer Awareness month can be a tricky time for women; we want to get involved and show how much we care and fight against this awful disease, and we suspect that eating yogurt with a pink ribbon on the top isn't quite cutting it. But we're not, most of us, medical researchers. We're not (all) oncologists. How can just caring make a difference? Well, three years ago the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation started Blog For Your Breasts Day, urging women to reach out to their communities and encourage others to take action too. This year the goal is to direct readers toward the Health of Women study. Here, you and your readers can take part in a study for men and women with and without breast cancer that aims to gain a better understanding of breast cancer and what causes it. (And if you don't have a blog, you can share in a Facebook note, too.)
When you take the pledge to participate in Blog For Your Breasts Day, you will be sent an official BFYBD badge to publish on your site. And of course you can also celebrate the way girls everywhere do -- by wearing lots and lots of pink.
Fabulous Ways to Fight Breast Cancer
Hope-Inducing Breast Cancer Cure Breakthroughs
But as anyone who's ever tried to do anything knows, sometimes it's really hard to have willpower. We all have 20 zillion things to keep track of (had to stop typing that sentence to make a note to buy dogfood), so it's not always easy to monitor our own "non-essentials" (just ignored a text from my mother!) -- which is why I downloaded Lift, a free app that helps you to build good habits.
Lift is an easy way to track what habits you want to build, but unlike other "to-do" apps, it connects you with other users. I have to admit, in the week I've had the app I have not been great about updating my lists all the time, but even just knowing I should be checking in has induced me to lace up those stinking running shoes a few more times than I would have otherwise. I think maybe what I like best about the app is the list of habits it suggests, along with the number of people working on each one. The list reads like a poem of hopefulness, a song of self-improvement: Good Posture (2500 participants) / Inbox Zero (2280 participants) / Pray (2251 participants). Write for 30 minutes (2203) / Stop and enjoy life (2063) / Call mom/dad (1993). People want to remember to floss regularly and drink more water and go to sleep on time, but they also want to meditate and work on secret projects (!). One aspirational habit on the list even made me stop short: Tell my wife I love her. (1688 participants).
Lift offers very real and practical help, yes, but it's also telling a story: In many ways, and in every day, we all want to be better.
(via The Next Web)
Fix Your Life
The No-Gimmick Way to Make Real Change
I once read that a house cat will go completely feral within a few days of living outside, a figure I think about every long weekend. It's a common symptom of a little extra time off that we get a bit, possibly overly, relaxed -- those back-to-work emails can be unintentionally snarky, or worse, sound angry when we mean to be jokey. (Or, even worse worse, when we're actually angry.)
We've all done it: written a friend or coworker an email in the heat of the moment, typed out in the garbled language of anger. Or else, sent the boss a note pounded into a smart phone while crossing the street, which you only later realize is characterized by a completely unintentional brusqueness. Thankfully, some smartypantses (smarties pants?) last year invented ToneCheck, a program that makes sure your emails don't sound angry. (That we're only figuring out this now? we're adding to the list of things we wish we were on top of.)
Still: One free download later, your emails will feature this handy key along the bottom:
As your note veers into the spittle-flecked screed territory, the "tone alert" bar increases in concerned red lines. Key phrases are called out, and helpfully labelled with corresponding emotions (over 200 of them, according to the ToneCheck site): "upsetting," "concerning," all the way up to "aggressive." The idea being you'll never accidentally start a digital feud with your sister because she thought you were mad and you thought she was mad and... well, you get the idea.
Increase Your Workplace Well-Being
A Roadmap to Email Sanity
The Email Typo That Led to Love
The voice of NASA administrator Charles Bolden was radioed to the rover, to the surface of Mars, and back to Earth again, which is the first instance of the recorded human voice traveling to space and back again. Somehow he resisted the urge to just recite the opening lines of "Star Trek," and instead congratulated all those who had a part of making Curiosity a reality. Hear the message (and see the maybe-bored, maybe-subtly-inspired faces of listening NASA employees!) here.
Dave Lavery, NASA Curiosity program executive explained on CNN that, "We hope these words will be an inspiration to someone alive today who will become the first to stand upon the surface of Mars. And like the great Neil Armstrong, they will speak aloud of that next giant leap in human exploration."
While considering the deeply strange idea that a human voice is proclaiming the greatness of the United States to an uninhabited (probably) crater on Mars, let's also celebrate the fact that the human voice selected didn't belong to a reality-show star or Hollywood actress or even a political powerhouse, but a hard-working, intelligent employee. Go Charles!
Dare Mighty Things: Celebrating Curiosity
Real Life Visitors from Outer Space
In 2008, when Liz Gerber began teaching mechanical engineering at Northwestern, she set about conveying to her charges that, more than achieving sleek design, an engineer's responsibility is to help her fellow man. "I wanted them to look at problems and succeed in solving them where others have given up," she says. To that end, Gerber founded Design for America, an extracurricular program in which students strategize innovative solutions to social issues. Four years later, DFA chapters have sprouted up across the country: The University of Oregon's group is improving eldercare with Remobile, a spring-loaded chair to help people with physical limitations sit and stand; after learning that hormonal fluctuations can cause dental problems during pregnancy, Dartmouth's team came up with a "smart" toothbrush that detects gingivitis; and Northwestern's DFA team is battling hospital-borne infection with SwipeSense, a roll-on hand sanitizer that clips onto scrubs. "The program is all about human-centered design," Gerber says. "We get to imagine ways to help people thrive."
Can you imagine explaining Facebook to an alien from outerspace? Or your grandmother? "It's, you know, you put...pictures...you share whatever little thought you have...to like 900 people..." "But why?" the alien grandma would ask, and you would have to shake your head and admit that you just didn't know. Then there's the brand-new Camellia Network. This site, founded by a business strategist and a bestselling author, is designed to help kids aging out of foster care. It's a social network that provides a tangible good, the kind of thing that makes you think, "Oh THAT'S why the Internet exists."
You may have never given much thought to what happens to foster kids when they turn 18, but consider this: According to the Camellia Network, "For youth who age out of the [foster care] system without a permanent family to support them, life is often tough. 25% of these youth become homeless by the time they turn twenty. 25% become incarcerated. 60% have children of their own within four years, and those kids are twice as likely to be placed in foster care themselves - continuing the cycle for a future generation." Kind of makes your veins go cold for a minute, doesn't it? I know when I was 18 I was completely ready to be out on my own. By which I mean, in a dorm room where all my meals were provided at a college my parents were paying for, on a clearly defined path to an adult life I'd grown up studying. Imagine trying to find your way without any guidance. Or dorm-meal-plan-provided cereal.
So what can you do to help? Well, thanks to the Camellia Network, you can post a job or internship opportunity, let the Camellia youth know about your healthcare, education, transportation, etc, service, or even just buy a kid a toaster. Browsing the profiles is its own kind of education, and reveals the genius of Camellia Network's premise: when you see a name and a hopeful face, when you read about each person's goals and how they are working toward them, you are suddenly invested. It's not an "issue," it's a person, a young person setting out into adult life without a safety net.
Learn more about Camellia Network's co-founder Vanessa Diffenbaugh's bestselling and widely acclaimed novel, The Language of Flowers (which is about a foster child aging out of the system), at her website here. Speaking of which, in the language of flowers, "camellia" means "My destiny is in your hands." How's that for a poetic call to action?
Visit the Camellia Network to find out how you can get involved.
The Baby You Give Back: Fostering Infants
A Summer Camp That Connects Siblings
The conversation that followed is notable in many ways, not the least of which was the advice Mr. Invented the Computer offered: "Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do." This, from an innovator before there was an internet full of innovators, from the man who, among other notable accomplishments, scanned the first image (in yet another instance of this man's foresight, the photo is, like so much of the Internet today, a picture of an adorable baby). The other advice Runyon shares? "Do things that have never been done."
Yes! Don't you love when inspiration comes from unlikely places? Like that person sitting next to you, maybe, who you've been ignoring while you read?
Beating Your Creative Blocks
The Invention That Makes Everyone Smile
We could all use a little more happiness in our lives. But sometimes the universe forgets it's supposed to be our accomplice, and dumps hail storms AND droughts AND babies smashing cameras AND immediately-spilled iced lattes into our laps all at once. Anyone looking for an infusion of happiness would do well to visit Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show. If you happen to be in Philadelphia you can view the show at the Institute of Contemporary Art this week before it closes. Otherwise, the evidence of the show is archived for all to take joy in -- thank you Internet! -- on Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter. Sagmeister's show features the graphic designer's own rules to live by, based on his ten-year exploration of the topic of happiness, like so:
But the Happy Show also, crucially, invites participants to weigh in by drawing their symbols of happiness (like the heart-cloud above), and answering questions about what makes them happy. For example: What is the happiest word? As the ICA blog points out, the answers often create a kind of poetry:
"What Did You Do to Make Someone Else Unexpectedly Happy?
I took care of a dog last summer. I emailed pictures of her every day to her owners with funny captions.
I admit, these questions, even the idea of the symbols of happiness, seem anodyne until I actually try to answer them in my own head. What IS the happiest word? What WOULD I do with a year off? I can rattle off lots of foods that make me happy (probably too many), but what is my symbol of happiness? It seems like we should know what makes us happy, or how to make others happy. But as the need for such an exhibit, and the outpouring of response they've received via social media, proves, these are not questions we as a culture find easy to answer.
The exhibit doesn't profess to be able to provide happiness either. But it does provide insight, and most meaningfully, a way to connect. Which, when you think about it, might just be a road to happiness in itself.
Sunday night something happened that caused grown-up scientific types to go crazy with happiness, like so:
That's right, the little (one ton) unmanned rover that could has survived its "seven minutes of terror" and landed safely on the surface of Mars, tweeting to announce its arrival: "I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!" And all of NASA breathed a sigh of relief. According to Anita Sengupta, one of NASA's aerospace engineers who had helped create the parachute needed to slow down the spacecraft on landing, "There's no room for error." (And how we loved to see women in that room....)
People even gathered in Times Square to watch the landing and celebrate. Hooray for science!
The Curiosity rover, with no time to celebrate, immediately started taking pictures of its surroundings (and itself, seen below in shadow) and beaming them back to its beaming family at NASA.
Dare Mighty Things! It's a message for everyone's day, on Mars or not.
Real-Life Visitors from Outer Space
Read Comic Books, Learn Science