A World Of Readers, Thinkers, And Sleuths

“Let your mind wander through time and space, and follow its trail with curious grace.”

With regards to reading books, I’ve gone through several phases in my life. I enjoyed them as a young kid, then hated them in middle school, and was swamped by them in high school. I read mostly magazines and equations in college. But in grad school, I learned to find time for books outside of class and homework, and began understanding them more clearly. And now, well, I don’t really have a definition for it… but I’ll try.

I love books. I absolutely love books and I think they love me. Old books, new books, bright books, dusty books, hardcovers, paperbacks, biographies, picture books, ones with funky-looking text, ones with big characters, cookbooks, humorous musings, philosophical contemplations, new takes on old theories, old takes on novel wonders, manuscripts, adventures, essays, creative ramblings, confessions, ones with good names, and especially the nameless ones. There are so many books to love, and I love them all. I love that I can love them all. They are there for me when I want them and there for me when I don’t want them. I can read when I’m happy, read when I’m sad, read when I’m puzzled, or read when I’m mad. I don’t have a deadline for a book and I’m not tested when I’m done with it. I can pick it up when I want, and can forget about it if I want to do that too.

The book store is one of my favorite places. I really can’t believe how many books have been written. These are the words and thoughts of people from all over the world, on all types of topics, in a sometimes-organized-often-disorganized effort to better understand our world. These are the words of the millions of deceased – those that saw what I could not see – and willingly tried to explain it to a world of readers with whom they have no acquaintance.

It’s also funny that book stores are categorized, because the case can be made to fit any book under a thousand headings. That being said, I’m always surprised at how well most authors can maintain the scope and focus of a single book. I find my mind wandering constantly and, as a result, feel that this is the natural way for me to write and express my thoughts and feelings. Scope and focus are nice if and only if scope and focus are how you feel you can best express your thoughts and feelings to the world.

With that in mind, let me express a small array of thoughts:

1. Books, and literacy in general, provide a channel through which we all can better understand the world in which we live.

2. Reading and embracing books at a young age (including picture books) fosters creativity, analytical thinking, and a drive for discovery and understanding.

3. No book is a bad book, and everyone is an author. We all have something to say, and everything said is worth a read.

4. Writing and reading enables self-realization coupled with the ability to wear other people’s shoes. Books connect and network our planet – the living, the dead, and the unborn.

Lastly, I want to quickly describe a couple web resources that help organize that which we read while making it a most economical endeavor. Aside from all the free content I can get from the web, these are a few of the mechanisms I use to discover, monitor, research, and purchase books:

  • Amazon – I use the built-in “Wish List” feature to maintain a collection of every book in which I’ve had some interest in purchasing or researching more. The Amazon iPhone app is also great – for adding books to the wish list and even purchasing books within a few clicks. I’ll usually walk around the book store, find a title I like, read the front/back covers, flip through a few pages, then look it up right away on the Amazon iPhone app, read some reviews, and either add it to my wish list or immediately purchase a used copy (for around 1-50% of the in-store/new price). Amazon itself is also a fantastic place to find similar books, related but higher-rated books, or books on any other random topic in which you might have a short- or long-term interest.
  • Google Books – I use a lot of Google products because I like having many dimensions of my life synced in the cloud under my one Google profile. Google Books is another one of these and is where I keep track of what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read. I can read reviews (including those from Amazon), write reviews, add personal notes, and even read excerpts (if not all) of the book online. A very nice online, personal library.

That’s about it for now. Love books. Read books. Write in your books. Share them with others. Talk about your books. Recommend your favorites. Have fun with them!

Learning In The Clouds

No, I’m not talking about daydreaming although I have previously expressed my love for and interest in daydreaming as a necessary practice. But here, I’m talking about education and the internet.

It is well understood that education as a discipline has made positive strides in recent decades, but still has many leaps to take. There exists an issue of a profound educational gap between demographics, an issue of comprehensive standards through which student understanding can be measured, and an issue of standards and processes by which teachers can be evaluated for feedback and professional growth, to name a few.

But for this topic, let’s set these issues aside and assume internet access is available for all students and schools. How can the internet be leveraged as an enabler of quality education? How does the existing cyber framework and status of collaborative tools enable efficient and effective education?

Key Themes

  1. Writing/typing enables memory and understanding: As stated in my previous post “Spectrum Logic”: “To put something on paper and organize the information as to make visual sense – in words, lines, colors, and curves – is to recognize some understanding and to create a basis for new insight and discovery.”
  2. Differing opinions and verbiage, on any topic, provide full-spectrum input, fuel discussion, and parallel what’s to be expected in the professional world.
  3. Technical skills are essential. This includes understanding technical concepts, the digital organization of information, social networking, and collaboration.
  4. Relationships are a key to happiness and provide a medium for professional growth. Digital relationships formalize relationships and provide concrete structure between multiple people, enabling this growth in an organized manner.
  5. Exploring and understanding the depths of the internet and related technologies forges new intellectual connections, and more importantly, personal interests.

Core Components

Blogs – As a central medium for information exchange, blogs can be used as a fantastic teaching tool. Imagine a class where after each lesson, different students memorialize class notes, in their own words, in blog posts for the rest of the class to see. Posts can be categorized, commented on, and used as a fantastic medium for discussion. Come test time, the notes are in there for all to see and use as study material.

Wikis – At their core, wikis provide a semi-structured environment for the capture of knowledge. Yes, Wikipedia seems complete, but that’s not the point. Imagine a class that started with a blank wiki, and had an objective to create a new knowledge framework around class material. This would not only prove to be great study material, but would also teach students a good deal about Web 2.0, digital organization of information, and parallel the growth and interconnectedness of new knowledge through links, references, and version control.

Social Networking – Private and/or public, social networks establish relationships, organize contact information, and provide a framework through which individuals can learn about other individuals and interact with them. Whether on a similar interest or topical matter, social networking for a class could be incredibly useful for building new relationships, and easier interaction with peers and professors. You can never replace a hallway conversation or a whiteboard tutorial, but this could better enable those circumstances to take place.

Personal/Team Websites – Personal and/or team websites enable individuals to provide some level of scope to their interests and personal attributes while teaching hands-on technical skills. Building a website teaches organization, visualization, data management, marketing, and a whole boat load of other concepts. Whether as a class or as individuals, website creation forges new intellectual connections and practical skills that directly translate to the professional world.

In the end, there’s a world of opportunity on the web, and as education tackles its outstanding issues as a whole, it’s only beneficial to use and leverage the internet as a medium to foster new learning and create new opportunity for students across the US and the world.

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The Power of Anticipation

In today’s society, gaining an inch can be like gaining a mile.

Soccer takes a lot of skill and athleticism. You need to be able to dribble, pass, shoot, tackle, communicate, see, sprint, etc. But as I’ve stated before (“mind bend it like beckham” – 2/11/2009) it’s just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. You need to think like your opponent and play somewhat of a guessing game, connecting dots before there’s any visible relationship between them. You need to forecast outcomes, intellectually seeing into the future guided by the data that’s available.

This sort of anticipation is an imperative ability for success in the future – within any endeavor. In business, anticipation means a gaining a leading edge on the competition. For defense, it means preparation and contingency plans for what might be likely to occur. In decision-making its gaining threshold confidence in your decision – using as much relevant information to guide a range of actions, opinion,s and ultimately, outcomes. And not to mention, it helps us grab our umbrella when running out the door.

Predictive analytics, although a seemingly new, hot topic today, has been around forever. Prophets, Mayans, Nostradamus, Pythia, lunar calendars, and the Akashwani – in a historical sense the predictions were informed by a variety of sensory stimuli coupled with intuition and a variety of other external factors. Nowadays, it’s really not that different. Today, we have data and semi-sophisticated mathematical processes that parallel conscious perception and intuition. We can quantify much of what could not have been quantified in the past.

“Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of techniques from statistics, data mining and game theory that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future events.

In business, predictive models exploit patterns found in historical and transactional data to identify risks and opportunities. Models capture relationships among many factors to allow assessment of risk or potential associated with a particular set of conditions, guiding decision making for candidate transactions.” (Wikipedia)

It’s imperative that people embrace predictive analytics to inform decision-making. Math doesn’t have to make the decision – that’s mostly for humans – but the math can give a comprehensive picture that outlines components of the decision and also tells us what the decision may lead to (or may have led to in the past) in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary outcomes. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a great example of this, using computer algorithms to predict world events of the future – war, proliferation, conflict, etc. Decisions are not made by computer models, but humans are briefed of probable scenarios in order to make better-informed decisions.

I’ve said this before – math can be simple when it’s made to be simple. It’s a toolbox of problem-solving techniques and thought processes to help guide real-world decisions and understanding. It’s important to not be afraid of the math – start small and grow your mathematical toolbox over time. Take it head on and don’t be overwhelmed. We all have something to learn and we all have something to gain by embracing prediction and anticipation.

So whether it’s sport, meteorology, national security, or adding garlic to the pan, find a way to anticipate. In doing so, my prediction is that you’ll be better off…

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